As summer blooms, everyone is talking about plans. Plans for summer adventures. Vacations. Goals for self-care. Time for self-reflection.
And yet, as we go off to our vacations, there are so many in our community who are struggling. So many who wonder about where they will find their next meal. So many who worry about how they will pay their bills.
Are we responsible for the vulnerable in our midst? To what degree?
After surviving the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel had every reason to retreat to his own world. After so much suffering, he would have been within his rights to carve out his own pocket of happiness. To focus on self-care for the rest of his life.
But he did not. He spent his life’s energy going around the world to build compassion and uphold justice. Professor Wiesel taught his students to find their voice, to draw on the strength of history, and to use their hands to shape a better world.
How do we balance our need for rest and relaxation with the needs of the world around us?
See you tomorrow at 8:30.
When Rabbi Gardenswartz shared with me the book Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger, I was prepared for a book about the Holocaust. What I found is a book filled with deep insights not just about that dark time, but directly relevant to our own.
Elie Wiesel reflects in chapter 4, Madness and Rebellion, “It is illegal to shout ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater. But if there is a fire, it is immoral to remain silent… one must raise an alarm in such a moment, even though it will perceived as the act of a madman, even though it makes people uncomfortable.”
Our world is on fire. How do we walk the narrow bridge from madman to witness to agents of change?
See you tomorrow at 8:30am.
Elie Wiesel has a simple and beautiful d’var about faith. He points out that the Hebrew word for faith is sheilah, composed of four Hebrew letters: shin, alef, lamed, heh. The middle two letters, alef and lamed, are the name of God. His takeaway: “God is in the question.” Witness, p. 100.
In other words, our hardest questions-why did God let X happen-are not impediments to faith. They are how we get to faith.
Tomorrow morning we will see this principle play out not only in Elie Wiesel’s life, but in our own.
See you tomorrow at 8:30.
Imagine that somebody at Kiddush that you know vaguely in our community starts up a conversation with you, over a bagel and tuna fish, and says something not only that you disagree with, but that you hate. It offends you to your core.
I think BDS is really important. It is not anti-Semitism. It is not anti-Israel. To the contrary, it is motivated by the deepest Jewish values of seeing the oppressed, and it is going to save the Jewish soul of the Jewish state.
I am loving what the Alabama legislature is doing. It is high time that Roe v. Wade got overturned. It is high time that we realize that life begins at conception. Hopefully with Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, Alito, Thomas and Roberts, we will finally be able to protect the lives of the unborn. Thank God!
I just think our society is getting too permissive. Marriage is between one man and one woman. I am uncomfortable with this acceptance of all these alternative lifestyles. Guess who is winning the demographic race? The Orthodox. Their kids get married young, to somebody of the opposite gender, and they have big families. Lots of kids. Our “progressive values” are going to make us extinct.
In chapter 2 of Witness, Elie Wiesel observes: “It is the otherness of the other that fascinates me.” Wiesel’s move is: not to try to convert the other person. Not to try to find common ground with the other person. Not to write off or ignore the other person. But to listen to the other person with humility and curiosity.
Do you have to be Elie Wiesel to do that? Is there no line that cannot be crossed? If you are the only person doing this radical openness, are you being a chump?
See you tomorrow at 8:30.
A prophet every inch the stature of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived in Boston, a few miles from Temple Emanuel. He built and rebuilt. He loved. He taught. He role modeled. He wrote books. He won a Nobel Prize. He died.
What happened in those classrooms? What wisdom did Elie Wiesel impart that might help us today?
The prophet Jeremiah had Baruch Ben Neriah, a scribe who recorded and preserved for posterity the prophet’s teachings. Elie Wiesel had Ariel Burger, a student and disciple, who has just published a book called Witness which won the Jewish book award. This is a beautiful book that we need now.
Elie Wiesel’s frame is that the world has gone mad. His question is how can we be of the world and not go mad along with it?
Tomorrow morning we will encounter three Hasidic parables that Wiesel taught in his classroom that challenge us to be of this world, without surrendering to its despairs, and ever working on making it a little better.
See you tomorrow at 8:30.
On April 25, 2019, The New York Times International Edition published a cartoon of such profound Jew hatred that the word Nazi is fully deserved, in no way an exaggeration. The Nazis were defeated in 1945. A Nazi cartoon was published by the Times last Thursday.
To its credit, the Times published a withering critique by Times Columnist Bret Stephens entitled “A Despicable Cartoon in the Times.”
Subsequently, the Editorial Board apologized for the cartoon in an op ed entitled “A Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism.” Many leading Jewish thinkers refused to accept the Times’ apology.
All of this takes places against the backdrop not only of Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Yom Hashoah, but the recent ADL report that Massachusetts had the fourth-highest number (144) of anti-Semitic incidents in 2018.
How do we understand the Times’ grave sin here? Was publishing spine-tingling Jew hatred an aberration, a mistake, or does it confirm long-standing Jew hatred and Israel hatred? Should we accept the Times’ apology? These questions I leave up to each of you.
On Shabbat morning, I want to take this crucial conversation to a higher level and ask a personal question: what is our personal connection to this issue? How shall each of us, personally, respond to this issue? What does this unsettling and scary time demand of each of us? Are we being summoned now? Does history have its eye on you?
We are going to consider a gorgeous source from Lord Jonathan Sacks that will take your breath away and has the very real potential to change your life.
In a recent Talmud class, one of our learners observed that beer commercials always show people who are young, hip, fit, healthy, happy, and in love, living and loving life without a care in the world. They drink. They play. They laugh. They barbecue. They enjoy the beach. Happy and perfect.
Why is that not us?
Are we not the beer commercial because we carry the heaviness of Jewish history?
Or are we not the beer commercial because it is not the human condition? Life is not like that. Real people are not like that.
This question-from whence comes the complexity, the weight, the lack of ease-is reflected in a special reading associated with Pesach, day 8. We read the Song of Songs, which is supposed to be a love story, the canonical equivalent of the beer commercial, young lovers in love. But it is not. As we will see the lovers in the Song of Songs can never get it together. They yearn without fulfillment. They seek without finding. Their love is deeply felt and not consummated. The Song of Songs is the opposite of the beer commercial.
We are going to consider Song of Songs in the context of two other love stories, also dark, also true, and also ours– Abraham and Isaac, and Leonard Cohen’s final song, You Want it Darker, in which he says Kaddish for himself, written a few weeks before his death. This song is his midrash both on Song of Songs and on Abraham and Isaac. We will study his lyrics and hear him sing it.
We don’t do easy days at the beach. Because we are Jewish? Or because we are human? What do our love stories say about us?
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
In his evocative column this week entitled “The Moral Peril of Meritocracy,” Times columnist David Brooks raises the question: when you are broken by life, what does that brokenness do to you?
Life had thrown them into the valley, as it throws most of us into the valley at one point or another. They were suffering and adrift.
Some people are broken by this kind of pain and grief. They seem to get smaller and more afraid, and never recover. They get angry, resentful and tribal.
But other people are broken open.
The foundation of our Exodus story is that we were broken. We were slaves. For 430 years.
Tomorrow morning, our last class before the first seder, we will see how the Haggadah provides us with a roadmap for how our brokenness can make us better and stronger. It is not easy. It is at least as likely that our brokenness makes us smaller. But it is possible. What do we need to think about, what do we need to be working on, so that we can will ourselves from our broken place to our better and stronger place?
Your Exodus is in your hands.
Shabbat shalom and chag kasher v’sameakh,
Think about one of your biggest and most persistent problems. Your Mitzrayim. Mitzrayim does not only mean Egypt. Mitzrayim is also an existential category, a narrow place from which you need an exodus. We all have some Mitzrayim-relational, financial, professional, health (tomorrow is mental health and inclusion Shabbat at Temple Emanuel), emotional, from which we need out.
The Mishnah in Pesachim describes the Israelites’ exodus from their Mitzrayim. Wish we could all enjoy an exodus like this.
He brought us forth from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to rejoicing, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to a great light, from servitude to redemption. Let us say before God: Praise God. (10:5)
The Israelites are blessed here with a very happy arc. A linear arc. They were slaves. No more. Now they are free. They were in darkness. No more. Now they are in a great light. They were in mourning. No more. Now it’s time to celebrate.
Is that arc real? Does this happy arc apply to you and your Mitzrayim? If so, great. Good for you. But what if this arc does not take you in? What if there is no happy, linear arc? What if your darkness hangs on? How else can we see the trajectory of our lives? What other moves does the Seder have for us? The first seder is two weeks from tonight. Let’s get ready.
See you tomorrow.
[Shabbat morning, March 29 | 8:30 – 9:30 am] Impurity. What is the impurity in our world from which we need to rid ourselves?
Tomorrow is Shabbat Parah, when our tradition invites us to think about impurity, a word and category that we never otherwise use.Read More...