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Showing posts from 2010

The Greatest Miracle

I am endlessly amazed by our great city.It is one of the most exciting places in the world to live.People in our congregation, people you run into any day on the streets around here, are committing to changing the world, and making it a better place.Perhaps that’s why it’s all the more shocking to realize that Washington DC is a city racked with terrible poverty and injustice.You wouldn’t know it walking around this lovely Northwest section of the District.But you only have to go a couple of miles from here, to other neighborhoods, and the city looks radically different:dangerous neighborhoods, crime, drugs, desperation.When you study the statistics, the numbers are staggering:one out of eight households in the District of Columbia struggles with hunger-related issues.The number of families on the foodstamp program in the District is at an all-time high, with 120,000 residents—one fifth of the population of this city—using foodstamps.In recent months, perhaps because of the economic d…

The Evolution of Hanukkah

Perhaps you have heard some Jews laugh and brush off Hanukkah:“If only people knew how relatively minor and insignificant Hanukkah is,” they say, “they would never make such a big deal of it.” Have you ever heard this before: “It’s not that Hanukkah isn’t important—of course, it’s an important holiday about a miraculous victory of the Maccabbees,” they say. “It’s just that, compared to major holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Pesach, Hanukkah can’t—if you’ll excuse the expression—hold a candle!” I grew up hearing this message about Hanukkah, that it’s a nice, pretty holiday, but it’s not that important. And implied in this is the rather guilt-provoking message: You know, Jews of America, if you were more serious about your commitment to observance, you’d know that Hanukkah is getting more press than it deserves. And more than this, the secret that we Jews have to acknowledge is that the only reason Hanukkah gets all the attention it does is because of Christmas. All the Jewi…

The Spirit of Israel

It’s very difficult to open the newspaper these days and not feel depressed and overwhelmed.I recently read how the national economy is inexorably careening toward ruin.By the year 2020, he writes, the United States will need to pay one trillion dollars a year just to keep up with interest on the national debt.The national leadership here in Washington looks forward to years of partisan politics and struggle over basic issues of taxation and healthcare.There seems to be no end in sight for on-going struggles in Israel and the Middle East.What are we supposed do to do when we come up against news like this—on a daily basis?We understand that each of us has a responsibility to do something to help our country, our society, our planet.But in this fast-paced, globalizing world, it’s all coming at us so fast.It’s hard to resist the reaction of simply going numb, into denial rather than face the onslaught of unthinkably frightening prospects for us and for the world.How can we, indeed, resp…

The Blessing of the Forbidden Fruit

There is something eternally fascinating about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.We are endlessly amazed by Adam and Eve’s foolhardy giving-in to temptation and eating of the forbidden fruit.In many ways, it’s the perfect story. Every time we circle back to it, there’s some part of us that wants to shout out to Eve—‘don’t do it!’It’s an eternally relevant story because we know that we’re just like Adam and Eve.Somehow, just like them, we eat of that Tree too, despite our better judgment:we mess up, we stumble over ourselves, we fail—just missing the perfection we almost had.It’s also a perfect story because it allows us to get angry at God:what was God thinking?Why put that tree right there in the Garden and then forbid it?It’s the perfect set-up! It’s the proverbial placing-of-the-cookie-jar right in front of innocent hands and eyes, after all.And yet, despite the maddening frustration of this story, it is the perfect typology for our human condition.Plumb the depths of the Tree…

Seeing the Good

There’s a true story told by Jacques Lusseyran, a member of the French Resistance during World War II who was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Buchenwald. While there, he was put in Prison block 57, a building meant to hold no more than 400 men, but which housed over a thousand men, literally pressed together with no room even to lie down.It was, of course, a living nightmare—daily beatings, brutal slave labor, and no place even to sleep with decency.Even so, explains Lusseyran, there was one old man in block 57 who managed to move around—all the men instinctively gave him a tiny bit of space, in some kind of gesture of reverence.The old man’s name was Jeremy, but his nickname was ‘Socrates,’ because somehow whenever he opened his mouth, the simplest most beautiful words and stories of wisdom emerged.Unlike all the other men, who often screamed and fought and cried out in anguish, this Jeremy, this ‘Socrates’ was always peaceful.Lusseyran writes, “He observed things of the spirit w…

Sacred Pluralism

There is a Hasidic story told of a great master named Reb Zusya, who lived two centuries ago.Once Rabbi Zusya came to an inn, and when he saw the innkeeper, he looked right into the innkeeper’s soul and saw long years of sin.For a while Zusya neither spoke nor moved as he sensed all the terrible things that this innkeeper had done in his life.But when he was alone in his room which had been assigned to him, the shudder of vicarious experience overcame Zusya in the midst of singing psalms and Zusya cried aloud:“Zusya, Zusya, you wicked man!What have you done!There is no lie that failed to tempt you, and no crime you have not committed.Zusya, foolish, erring man , what will be the end of this?’Then he enumerated the sins of the innkeeper, giving the time and place of each, as his own, and sobbed.The innkeeper had quietly followed this strange man.He stood at the door and heard him. First he was seized with dull dismay, but then penitence and grace were lit within him, and the innkeeper …