Thursday, January 27, 2011

God and Survival

Like it or not, humans need four things to survival. Without food, oxygen, water, and shelter, human life is impossible. Why does God create us with the struggle to find each of these things every day? Why would there be the hungry, thirsty, or homeless? Perhaps, each of these things is not just a necessity. God gave us four blessings.

Food is a blessing that we can physically enjoy. To taste a delicious dessert or a warm soup is a blessing in itself. The culinary arts are an amazing field, yet others enjoy creating their own food masterpieces. As beautiful as food can taste, it can be a struggle for some. Each day we choose what to put in the human body. An ice cream cone is a chain on the road to obesity, yet an apple a day can keep the doctor away. We can not blame God for obesity, for we create our own bodies. For Jews, this discipline advances a step further. Orthodox, Conservative, and even some Reform Jews, like myself, keep the Kashrut. The Kashrut are the Jewish dietary laws. These Jews are commanded to abstain from eating and mixing certain foods. God gave us this blessing to enjoy life, but Adonai also presented food to teach discipline to the masses.

Oxygen is life's only constant. We can go days without food, water, and shelter. Seconds without oxygen is so deathly. Oxygen can shows us that some things never fail to happen. To breath is such a simple task, yet it is so crucial. Air is air, right? Wrong! Just as humans have been revolutionizing the culinary arts, they have been revising the air as well. Unfortunately, we probably should have stuck to our original draft. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been forming our own downfall. I speak the truth, not to frighten us, but just to put it out there. As far as we know, Earth is the only place that has the right balance of air to sustain life. Without a clean Earth, we have nowhere to perform the "simple" task of breathing.

Water shows us how to care for others. It is a blessing for our mind and heart. While some of us can just go to the faucet, others walk miles to find a drink. Why? Water presents ourselves with the power of compassion. Those replete with water could lend a hand to the thirsty. Eventually, no one will have to work hard. Instead, thirst is just as much as hunger. What is the difference? Hunger shows on the body. Humans get skinnier and skinnier when they have no food. Thirst messes with the mind. Poor water supply is the silent killer.

According to my own beliefs, shelter is the most important of the four necessities. Shelter brings us together. When shelter is not a factor, humans are just single wanderers. Without a home, the idea of family does not exist. As my father put it a few weeks ago, "Family is the place where no conversation is too awkward." I know I have at least three people that I can come to with anything. This does not even include my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and other relatives. These three people live with me. We endure everything together, whether we want to or not.

During the journey through the desert, the Israelites beg for food from God and water from God. Even in a sandstorm, the Israelites would rely on God to give them the lasting breaths for life. Why does God gives us these shackles? Food brings hunger and morbid obesity, but it also brings the splendors of taste. Water entails the suffering of the thirst, yet we can open our hearts and give compassion. Oxygen never seems to stop demanding of our attention, but it is routine. It provides the smallest stability in the roughest of time. At least, the Israelites had each other. On this Shabbat, may we all rest in our tents together.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

URJ Shabbat

Last night, the Union for Reform Judaism hosted a wonderful service at Congregation B'nai Shalom. Three congregations joined together to observe the Sabbath. Musically, it was delightful. Our guest speaker, Rabbi Elwell, delivered a philosophical sermon on prayer. Not even a blizzard could stop this Shabbat!

For this momentous Shabbat, three synagogues in central Massachusetts came together. Temple Emanu-El of Worcester, Temple Sinai of Worcester, and Congregation B'nai Shalom of Westborough shared B'nai Shalom's sanctuary. Rabbis Matthew Burger, Seth Bernstein, and Larry Milder gave insight into Judaism and led the service co-led. Although the topic is solemn, I found it touching that the rabbis dedicated the Mourner's Kaddish to the late Debbie Friedman and the unfortunate victims of Tuscon, Arizona. The temples also provided us with three beautiful voices. Cantorial soloists Lisa Marcus Jones and Sharon Brown Goldstein joined forces with Cantor Kim Singer. They harmonized beautifully. Although it has been done, these three congregations have not joined forces on Shabbat in a very long time.

As I said before, the cantorial soloists and cantor harmonized quite well. With Rabbi Milder joining them on guitar, congregants did not know whether to pray or just watch the performance. Cantorial soloist Jones' operation of the flute was spectacular. Once she stopped, congregants just wanted the flute to keep going. Overtones are a concept of music theory. They only happen when people harmonize so well that the two notes turn into one note in the room. I heard overtones last night. One congregants of B'nai Shalom told me that they wish we could have music like that every week.

Finally, Rabbi Elwell presented this momentous gather with a very modern topic. With a number of accomplishments in the Reform Movement, Rabbi Elwell spoke on the topic of "Why does prayer matter?" Her words kept people engaged and interested throughout the sermon. A main theme of her sermon was that prayer is different for each and every one of us. I would bet that Rabbi Elwell made a difference on about 90% of the people who attended.

To me, the community in B'nai Shalom pleased me the most. I felt like a part of the "temple posse". As a foreigner of Westborough, this is monumental feat. I had always felt included with this group of temple folk, but last night I was no longer "the new guy". I could tell my entire family felt this way. We had become friends rather than acquaintances.

Unity, music, and wisdom all made last night a great Shabbat service. Hopefully, the three congregations joining collectively could become an annual tradition. If it does, the music could continue to be beautiful. Also, another sage of Jewish wisdom could be brought to our bima. On a cold January night, an event of such magnitude can shine brighter than the Moon.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Commandment One

In Yitro, Moses receives the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Each year as Yitro comes, I intend to analyse the Ten Commandments. Over the next ten years, I will dissect them for every meaning they may have.

To start the Ten Commandments off, God says, "I, Adonai, am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage"(Exodus 20:2). Controversy has come about whether this is actually one of the commandments. Jews have come to agree that God meant this one verse to be its own commandment. Some Christians believe that this is a preface for what is to come. Why should such a statement be one of the Israelite's first and most important laws? Just as the preamble of our constitution starts with "We the people," God declares, "I, Adonai am your God". This one verse is so obvious, yet it seems as though it is necessary for it to be said.

At the time that Moses ascends to Mount Sinai, the Israelites are not the God praising people they were at the sea. They are hungry, thirsty, and stuck in the middle of the wilderness. Some even wanted to return as slaves in Egypt. God feels that all of Adonai's people should know what happened in Egypt. Israel needed to know that Moses was just God's messenger. God parted the sea, Moses held up the staff. God brought the plagues. Before the people elevate to Israel, they must realize that God liberated them. Perhaps, God wanted anyone who studies the Ten Commandments to realize what Adonai just did for the Israelites. It took a lot of power to free the tribes of Israel.

Judaism, at its core, is a monotheistic religion of faith. Over the past year, I have been taking a course on Reform Judaism. I believe in God. My belief is probably a combination of my mother's and father's beliefs. My father believes that God creates, but does not intervene. Once a human is created, God shines through that human. My mother is of the belief that God gives each of us free will. We have a choice of right and wrong. In my opinion, God creates new life and watches over the world. God hears and grants our prayers, but also gave humans the ability to think. Unlike animals, humans can choose how they live. They can live in any place and be friends with anybody. Unfortunately, God's gift of freedom can cause just as much evil as it does good. Belief in God is a beautiful concept.

Why not believe in God? God can be anything to anybody. God can be the weatherman, but God could also be the healer. God can bring change in our lives, or punish our misdeeds. To some, God could be like the "force" in Star Wars. God is the one thing that binds the universe together. When tragedy strikes, we either affirm our faith or curse it. We stop believing because we feel "God stopped protecting us". Maybe God just cannot help the actions of every human. To me, God created humans with freedom and officially restores our freedom. God firmly commands that we acknowledge that we were taken out of Egypt by Godself. Although I do, it does not matter if we believe it or not. We just have to acknowledge it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Going Green On Tu B'Shevat

On Tu B’Shevat of 2009, this blog was just getting its start. To me, ecology was nothing. The phrase “Go Green” was just an annoying cliché. Now, I am a vegetarian who would call ecology a true passion . I regret all those times I could have recycled my drawings instead of furiously crumbling them up in the trash. Tu B’Shevat is the Israeli holiday to commemorate the environment. In particular, we celebrate the trees. More than any other Tu B’Shevat, Israel needs our help. Thousands of trees burned during a series of wild fires occurring on the first weekend of last December. Israelis need our green thumbs to help them reforest their land. Ecology is the latest, up and coming science. Tu B’Shevat is a perfect opportunity to discuss the relevance and how it affects our world.

What changed from 2009 to 2011? There are several events that caused me to go to “the green side”. Most of all, Camp Shomria helped show me the beautiful things that being environmentally friendly can do. When a camper attends this moshava (camp/colony in Hebrew), they are emerged in a village of youth. These youth create their own culture and innovate the camp. At camp, we planted and cared for a garden daily. Tender care enabled the garden to yield produce. Sometimes there was enough produce to make meals for the entire camp. Then, we built an amphitheater using recycled tires covered in clay. Since my depature, the camp has announced that is has uite the ambition for the summer of 2011. Camp Shomria intends to have dozens of chickens and a cow. The camp plans to ets a majority of its milk and eggs from this organic source. In addition, they showed me that compost can actually work and that recycling is not really that hard. Also, my path to be Kosher became increasingly difficult. Instead of worrying about milk and meat, I cut out meat all together. Each day I abstain from meat eating I not only save the animals. Factory farms have one less hamburger to make. Those factories would burn coal to get their energy. A brief television program about how sparse water is in some parts of the world still resonates in my mind. Shortly after, I met Israelis who see the water crisis on a daily basis. On these occasions, I discovered that all humans need water to live, but do not always have a faucet to get it from. If all that was not enough, I read that the Torah tells Jews to be “green”. A majority of the Torah’s laws are written with farmers and agriculture in mind. Leviticus specifically tells us to not over farm the land and to appreciate the fruits the Earth provides us. It just goes to show how much can change in two years.

To my surprise and delight, going green has been fairly easy. Of all my ventures, I would say becoming vegetarian is the toughest feat. Even that seems to be getting simpler to do day in and day out. In the case of recycling, all I had to do was be conscious of my paper usage and where I put paper that no longer needs to be kept. Did you know that the regular recycling will also take cardboard? To me, this meant that there was a way to save all those trees that become tissue and cereal boxes. The easiest thing to become greener, that I am doing, is to be more cognizant of shutting or unplugging electronics as I leave the room. This reduces my family’s consumption of fossil fuels. As a result, my family has even started picked up on the eco-friendly habits. We are becoming a “green” household. I expect the progress to continue forward. All it took was gentle reminding. The key to our success has been consistency. We came to the realization that little things are never actually little. Just as an actor can never have a “small role”, an ecologist never does a “small task”. Earth can be saved, but every one of us actors has to put on the show. Life is not that different when we do these things, but our future descendants’ lives are being saved.

Every once and a while, Tu B’Shevat and Martin Luther King Jr. Day occur during the same week. Martin Luther King Jr. had a worthy cause that people did not always listen to. In a country fighting two wars and lifting itself from a fallen economy, the environment is usually put on the back burner. A report by Yale University in 2008 told us that the United States is the 39th greenest country. Israel is the 49th. Tu B’Shevat is a tough time for Jewish Americans to make a difference because it is in the pit of winter. One way we can help the Earth is by donating money to help the Jewish organizations plant trees in Israel. With the election of President Barak Obama, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams have become a reality. Why do we say that an eco-friendly Earth is impossible?

What are my hopes for the future of the environment? First of all, I am sure that we can each increase our recycling efforts in the world. I believe that we can transform ourselves into a world that does not have to throw away paper (except for tissues and toilet paper). Personally, I know I need to reduce the time I take in the shower. I know I can turn my 10 to 20 minutes into 5 to 10 with a little bit of effort. In my household, I hope to set up a small to medium sized compost. Composting is a wonderful way to reduce waste. Anything that is not meat, fish, or poultry can be composted. My only challenge is to find a way to keep animals in the backyard away from the container it will be in. As a country, I believe we can rise up as a nation to become a leader on the next list Yale releases. As a Jew, I think we can still honor the Torah and Tu B’Shevat by planting trees in Israel and making sure all Israelis, Jewish or not, have sufficient drinking water. As a world, I think that we need to equally distribute our water and protect our animals. A polar bear should have the freedom to roam the Arctic, just as we roam our cities. Call me a hippie, but I think with a little bit of spirit and work, the Earth can be green as Martin Luther King Jr’s dream is a reality.

Cited Source

"The World's Greenest Countries - Newsweek." Newsweek - National News, World News, Business, Health, Technology, Entertainment, and More - Newsweek. Harman Newsweek, 23 Jan. 2008. Web. 17 Jan. 2011. .

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How Moses Ends Genesis

How Moses End Genesis
Exodus’ fourth portion could be nicknamed “The Israelites Escape”. In this poignant moment in the Torah, the Israelites are running across Egypt after God struck Pharaoh and his citizens with the tenth plague. God sends Moses to the Sea of Reeds for a final awe to display before Egypt. According to the Torah, Pharaoh’s army chases the Israelites to the sea. When the Israelites feel like they are trapped, Moses lifts his staff. God releases an eastern wind, and the Sea of Reeds part to make a path for the Israelites to crossover. Pharaoh chases the Israelites on the path, but the Israelites make it across. Pharaoh does not. Miriam leads her fellow people in the Song of the Sea. The newly liberated caravan took their first steps into the wilderness this week. It was a bumpy road this week as the Israelites complained and cursed God almost every second since they sang the Song of the Sea. God, Moses, and Aaron have the challenge of getting the Israelites to be appreciative of what they have; freedom.
All these years I have been “anti-Joseph”. Joseph was my least favorite of the four Genesis men. Genesis concludes with the portion of Vayehi. Each time I have gone through it, I have always been disappointed. Joseph breaks this chain of men who die in the Promised Land. Instead, Joseph is embalmed like a mummy in Egypt. At last, light has shined upon Joseph. On the eve of their escape, “Moses took Joseph's bones, who had exacted an oath from the children of Israel saying, ‘God will be sure to take notice of you, then you shall carry up from here with you” (Exodus 13:19). It is such a minuscule detail in the portion, yet I feel so satisfied reading it. Every good story has reincorporation and here is the Torah’s reincorporation. Moses is officially freeing the slaves. In my opinion, Joseph is being freed just as much as the other Israelites are.
When we leave a place, we take our important belongings. Our precious photographs and favorite memories come with us. What do we classify as an important object? Sure, Joseph was taken out of Egypt. What about all the other Jews who died in Egypt? Do they not deserve to be freed too? As liberating as Moses releasing Joseph is, we need to think about what we would take. If we had just hours to leave the country to a brand new land, what would we bring? I would be sure to have my family. Of the Jewish items in my home, I would be sure to have my Tanak and tallis. Also, I few of my many yarmulkes would come too. The only real material, non-sacred object I would bring is my autograph picture by Joe DiMaggio. On the contrary, some people would classify that as sacred. Would I bring the dead bodies of my ancestors? I would say most likely not. Surely, packing for the wilderness would really show the values we see in our world.
Does returning somewhere bring about the same feelings as when we left? If Moses were to go back to Mount Sinai, would he feel a sense of liberation? Packing or reorganizing brings us back into the memories of a house, a town, or even a country. When my parents go back to Rockland County, do they feel a sense of freedom? As terrifying as an Auschwitz visit could be to a Jew, how important is it to return to where our people suffered? We always plan the future out. We are all about progress. What happens when we pack so quickly and move so quick, we cannot smell the roses? I believe Joseph gets left behind.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Debbie Friedman

I just read on Facebook and confirmed with an online Jewish newspaper that Debbie Friedman has passed away this afternoon. She was hospitalized for a few days with pneumonia. I always wanted to meet Debbie Friedman. My hope was to have her be invited by my congregation for a Friday night service. Debbie Friedman was the queen of Jewish music. My rabbi would often sing her songs or just reference her musical genius. Although I never met the musical genius, I admire her. First of all, I just had a very mild case of pneumonia, so I guess I could say I have a lot sympathy for what she must have gone through. Secondly, I am a musician. Only a special woman like Ms. Friedman could sing, compose, and play instruments as she could. Finally, Debbie Friedman revived synagogue service life. A conservative synagogue will sing the traditional melodies, but Friedman's tunes make Reform Jews smile. We will miss the Jewish Mozart that was Debbie Friedman. Like Mozart, she could write piece after piece and each would sound wonderful. Just like Mozart, she died way too soon for her time.

Debbie Friedman (1952-2011)
My favorite:

-JTA. "Debbie Friedman, Jewish Songwriter and Performer, Dies." Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 9 Jan. 2011. Web. 9 Jan. 2011. .

-"Debbie Friedman." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 09 Jan. 2011. .

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Prove it!

God brings the last trio of the ten plagues upon Egypt this week. First, an eastern wind blows locusts onto all the fields. Second, the Egyptians have darkness forced upon them for three straight days. Third and finally, God brings the horror of death to Egypt overnight. In addition to get the Israelites liberated, God brings the plagues to show to Pharaoh that the Eternal is the one, all powerful God. Moses describes to the Israelites how to avoid the angel of death. God instructs the Israelites that this day's legacy will become the festival of Unleavened Bread or Passover.

Why does God need to prove something to Pharaoh? If God had only brought one plague, would it have been enough to free Israel? Pharaoh's magicians could match God's early plague. It took all ten plagues to get through Pharaoh skull that God existed. The Torah says that God stiffened Pharaoh's heart. It is almost like God had unfinished business in Egypt. God wanted the Egyptians to know that God is one. It seems like Israel is always trying to prove themselves.

As Americans, we always associate proof with what is real. We need to see it to believe it. It is part of our bio-laws that all criminals are innocent until proven guilty. Now, not all court cases need the wrath of God as evidence, but criminals have slipped through the system. What if God had only brought blood? What if no one believed in God? We see God all around us. It is up to us to recognize it.

Mordecai Kaplan believed that God did not make nature happen, but God is nature. Kaplan thought that everything from the hurricanes we see to the sunrise each day is God. This would mean that God's proof happens everyday. Does God need proof?

If God is the Ruler of the Universe, why do we demand to see God? Maybe we are not meant to see God. In this week's portion God told Moses that it would terrible if he saw the face of God. God's ultimate mystery helps us believe. Judaism is just a religion where we do not necessarily need to prove it!