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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Focusing on Something Good for a Change!

Shalom Y'all!

Too often I find people spend an inordinate amount of time stressing or focusing on the negative.  Unfortunately, there are never enough optimists around...however, I am not sure that being a continual optimist is great either.  It does seem that what is best for everyone is that we all have a sense of or a grasp of reality.  Sometimes we have to focus more on what is actually going on and less on what was going on or what used to happen.  I have read several articles this week pointing out the fact that Antisemitism is on the rise all over the world.  As a young Jewish kid growing up in Columbia, S.C., I certainly experienced my fair share of acts of this kind.  Truthfully, though, the root of these acts is ignorance.  I am not saying that those who perform these kinds of acts are ignorant people.  What I am saying is that these people do not have experience with these kinds of people that are different from them.  And, unfortunately, for many people, all they are able to rely on is the misinformation fed to them by others who are just as inexperienced.

Guess what?  Each of us has things/ideas/thoughts/etc. that make us ignorant of something.  No matter how open minded you think you are (and this goes for everyone), there was something you said once or thought once that could be understood by someone as ignorant.  When I speak to youth or teach classes to adults, I base my classes on the fundamental belief that each one of us is equal - in every definition of the word.  However, I have also said and done things that have shocked others (including my wife).  Maybe it was meant as a joke...or one of those famous "I am just kidding" statements.  Regardless of your intention, these statements are often heard and misunderstood by someone.  So, the reality is that we should all do a better job of treating others as we would want to be treated - you know, the Golden Rule (originally from Leviticus 19:18).
 ואהבת לרעך כמוך:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself : I am the LORD.

What is often missed is the GOOD that happens, especially when we dwell on the BAD.  Just about a week ago, I tweeted an article I read (from the JTA - The Global News Service for the Jews):

There were a few responses and a few likes on Facebook.  However, this article went mostly unnoticed by the majority of people that I am connected to.  Now, I do not mean to target those that may have missed the post.  I do post a lot of things on Twitter and Facebook.  But, in a world that spends too much time looking at the bad, I was hopeful this was an article that would get MORE attention.  After all, when people act in ways different from how we expect - it is worth noticing, especially if it is for the GOOD!  So, a few days passed and it sort of was forgotten or just not remembered.  However, yesterday afternoon, I received an email from a congregant that outlined the same actions in the above site.

This article comes from the Foundation for Ethnic article written by Rabbi Marc Schneier.

Entitled "Willingness of Muslim Leaders to Denounce Antisemitism," this article begins by telling us about a study that should be of no surprise - the increasing number of attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions worldwide.  There is the mention of the trend of violent attacks on Jews by Muslims in Europe.  Yada, yada, yada, right?  We have seen this time and time again throughout history...someone beats up on the Jews.  What Rabbi Schneier focuses on next, however, is of much more significant importance.

"In an ever-increasing number of countries, especially in Europe and North America, Muslim leaders have been speaking out against anti-Semitic attacks by Muslims and vowing to stand together with their Jewish counterparts in opposing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.  The willingness of European Muslim leaders to speak out publicly against violent anti-Semitic attacks carried out by their co-religionists began in the United Kingdom in January 2009..."

"Last March, in the wake of the killings in Toulouse, large numbers of French Muslims took part in interfaith demonstrations and candlelight vigils in Paris, Marseilles, Nice, Lyon, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Bordeaux, Dijon, Lille and other cities to denounce Merah's evil act."


Ok, enough of the caps.  Truth is - this is the kind of news that no one sees.  Why?  Because, our expectations, no matter how wrong or right, make it hard for us to accept these as nothing more than publicity tricks.  Guess What?  These acts are not for publicity.  These actions are coming from those who really want to sit down, live in peace and embrace each other.  This is not something we should take lightly - we should be thankful and celebrate these happenings!

Ya know what?  I am a rabbi at a suburban synagogue in Atlanta.  Yes, Atlanta, Georgia.  Ya know what else?  We have a congregation of people who are committed to making the above news reality.  We work together with our religious brethren from all walks of life - from our Protestant neighbors across the street to our Muslim neighbors from the next city over.  Is this easy?  No.  Sometimes, it is quite hard...but if we all come to the table with a REAL desire for change, we can make it happen.  That's it - WE CAN AND WILL MAKE IT HAPPEN!

When you sit down to dinner this evening, start talking about what is going on - the bad and the GOOD!!!!

May we all live in a day when the news above IS reality!!!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The "GUTS" of Parashat Mishpatim

Shalom Y'all!

When we open up the Torah and read the words of Parashat Mishpatim, we find many, many rules.  These rules tell us what we should and should not do in a variety of situations.  For example, Exodus 22:27, "You shall not curse a judge, and you shall not curse a leader among your people."  Ironic how that is the first rule I quote...of course if you open a newspaper, read a news report online, you can always find someone who is cursing, bashing (or use whatever word you'd like) our leaders - on both sides!  In the Torah, when we are told not to curse a judge - this is an implication to not curse God.  Ultimately, it was God who chose our leaders and it is in God's name that these leaders lead...they pass judgments based on the Torah.  So, when we curse our leaders, we are ultimately cursing God.  I am not intending to suggest (not even for a second) that our leaders today are chosen by God...but if we are all created b'tzelem Elohim, "in the image of God," then surely all of us carries something of God in us - just something to think about!

For the remainder of this blog, I would like to focus on what I believe to be the underlying (and maybe even obvious to some) message in each of these "rules" or laws that we find in Mishpatim.  Often, this Torah portion is referred to as "The Book of the Covenant."  After all, this portion contains approximately 11.5% of the 613 Commandments.  However, what is especially important about this portion is that these laws or ordinances (Mishpatim comes from the Hebrew word Shofet which means Judge) are Bein Adam l'Chavero, "between man and his fellow man."  These laws speak of how we should and should not act toward each other.  In this parasha, we find the following, "a life for a life," "an eye for an eye," "a tooth for a tooth..."  These words have been debated since we received the Torah.  For modern Jewish thinkers, the punishment described here intends that the punishment should fit the crime.  If someone kills another, his punishment should be equal to the life.  That is extremely hard to think about...and even more difficult (maybe even impossible) to figure out the value of a life.  An eye for an eye...a tooth for a tooth - again, these are hard to value.  So, what do we do?

According to Rashi, "If he blinded his fellow man's eye, he gives him the value of his eye, which is assessed in terms of how much his value was decreased by his blinding with respect to selling him as a slave in the marketplace." (Rashi's commentary to Exodus 21:24)  In the Talmud, we find further discussion of this matter (the 8th Chapter of Baba Kamma - 83b-84a).  Maybe this made sense in the time of the Rabbis...but what do we do today?  We have a court system set up in the United States that allows us to seek compensation for our losses.  So, that is how we "deal" with this today.  Of course, it is impossible to try and figure out "if the punishment fits the crime."  So, we must put our trust in the Court System (even if we do not agree with their decisions).

Bottom line - This Torah portion speaks to us about how we treat each other.  Even the slaves and servants referred to in this portion are given equal treatment (as their resting on the Sabbath), regardless of whether they were Jewish or not.  And, even the animals are to be treated fairly.  "For a six-day period you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall desist, so that your ox and donkey may be at ease and your slavewoman's son and the stranger may be refreshed." (Exodus 23:12)

Friends - in a world in which we are constantly arguing over the "rights" of our fellow man and woman, it is vital for us to recognize several key points: 1) God made Laws that proved to us of the equality of man/woman, 2) Sometimes our interpretations may be is up to us to discuss and learn together and from each other, 3) As God has continually returned to redeem us (from Egypt all the way to today), so should we seek to redeem those who live in desperation.  We may not agree on a lot of things...but we can agree that one life = one life.  It should NOT matter where that life lives or how that life lives.  What should matter is that the lives are equal!

Kein Y'hi Ratzon!  May this be God's will!