Saturday, August 31, 2013

Everything Old Is New Again

Today is the last Shabbat of 5773, and the Torah portion is the last of the double portions, Nitzavim and Vayelech (Deut. 29:9-31:30).  It begins with the words spoken by Moses, “You stand here, all of you, today, before Adonai your God.”  A few lines later, in verses 13-14, Moses says, “And not with you alone do I make this covenant, but with the one that stands here with us this day before the Eternal our God, and also with the one that is not here with us today”.  The great medieval commentator Rashi explores the meaning of “the one that is not here with us today”.  Obviously, he says, it cannot mean someone who just happened to be absent, since verse 9 clearly states that “all of you” were present.  Rashi and most other commentators believe that Moses is speaking to future generations, to all those who will come after, to us.  The covenant that our ancestors made with God is our heritage.  

But inherited things grow old and stale, and our covenant with God must not grow stale.  A thought from Midrash Sifre on Deuteronomy focuses on the word “today” in the first verse, “Take to heart these words that I charge you today—Hayom—Today—these words are not to be in your sight like some old ordinance, to which no one is paying attention any longer, but they are to be in your sight like a new ordinance toward which everyone is running.”  

Every generation lives in a world different from the generation before it.  We must renew and refresh the covenant with God to make it our own, not some relic from a distant past.  As we face the New Year, may we find strength and meaning in this covenant and may our lives be enriched by it.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Blessings and Curses

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo (Deut. 26:1-29:8), lists the blessings that come if the people will observe God’s commandments, and the curses that will come if they ignore the commandments, or turn away from God to practice idolatry.

 Moses directs the leaders of six of the tribes to stand upon Mount Ebal to deliver the blessings, and the other six to stand upon Mount Gerizim to deliver the curses.  Those who announce the blessings get a much smaller part to play.  The blessings that God promises if the Israelites follow the commandments comprise fourteen verses, while the curses that will befall them if they disobey amount to more than fifty verses. 

Why so many curses, and so few blessings?  Perhaps only a few things have to be right to make us feel blessed.  For most of us, if we have a home, enough to eat, an honorable livelihood, good health and people in our lives that we love, that is blessing enough.  But when we start to desire other things, when we pursue wealth for its own sake, or make the pleasure of eating or drinking or sex into an addiction, when we tell lies, when we abuse those weaker than ourselves, the troubles that follow us can make us wish for the simplicity of a life of blessing.

Throughout the Torah, and especially in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses tries to tell the people what is good for them.  It sounds like reward and punishment, but it is really more like cause and effect.  As the last words of the portion say, “Observe the words of this covenant and do them, that you may make all that you do to prosper”.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Once In A Blue Moon

Tonight's moon is blue.  No, not in color,  Tonight's beer is also blue but not in color either.  But that's a different story.
Blue moons (the kind in the sky) don't come around very often.  The more common kind of blue moon is when there is a second full moon in a single calendar month.  Most months just have one full moon.  The last blue moon of this kind was on August 31, 2012.  The next one will be in July, 2015.  So don't hold your breath for those.
Don't hold your breath for the next blue moon we had tonight either.  Tonight's blue moon was a seasonal blue moon.  Huh, you say.
Most of the time there are only three full moons in a single season but every once in awhile there are four.  Tonight's was the fourth full moon in this season -- summer.
It's not too late.
Step outside and see the blue moon.  And then you can come back inside and finish your blue moon beer.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Face Lift Time

Some think growing old a'natural is fine. Well we don't. We got a facelift. Check out our new and improved web site!

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Just Society

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, (Deut. 21:10-25:19) continues the theme of justice that began in last week’s portion, Shoftim.  Ki Teitzei sets out a list of miscellaneous laws, most having to do with communal and social behavior.  If you find a sheep or ox on the road, you must take it in and feed it until you are able to find the owner.  If you build a new house, you must put a wall around its roof’s edge so that no one will fall off.  If you miss a few sheaves when you reap a field, don’t go back for them; leave them to be gleaned by the poor.  Use honest weights and measures.  Pay a laborer his wages on the same day on which the work was done, because he needs the money.  

The Torah then gives several examples that bring the point home: “You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn.  Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment” (24:17-18). Having been enslaved, even in past generations, should make us forever watchful that we uphold the rights of the disadvantaged in our societies. 

The portion ends with a reminder of the people Amalek, who assaulted the Israelites in the wilderness, shortly after they had escaped Egypt, when they were hungry and tired.  The Amalekites attacked Israel from the rear, where the slow, the old, and the sick were trying to keep up the pace.  The Torah paradoxically enjoins us to “blot out the memory of Amalek.  Do not forget!” (25:19) How are we supposed to remember to forget Amalek?  Perhaps by building a society where the strong protect the weak, where the poor, the old and the sick don’t need to worry about defending themselves, because others will take care of it.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Standing in Judgment

This week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, (Deut. 16:18-21:9) begins with Moses recounting to the people how God commanded us to administer justice.  “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your gates…and they shall judge the people with just judgment”.  The next verses go on to remind us what just judgment is, as it has been stated in the Torah previously on three occasions: no favoritism to any person for any reason, neither out of sympathy for a poor person or honor of a wealthy one, and no acceptance of a bribe.  

This Shabbat is the first one in the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah in which we examine our thoughts and our actions preparing for our own judgment.  We will not stand before any human court of law, but before the divine Judge.   

The belief that justice belongs to God does not absolve us of responsibility in the administration of justice.  We may not shrug our shoulders and say, “God is the true judge; this person will receive divine judgment in time.”  Rather, it gives us an increased responsibility.  Just as God judges justly, we are commanded to follow God’s example, and carry out justice on this earth. 

Rashi, the great medieval Torah commentator wrote: “Do not think in your heart: What difference does it meake if we pervert justice to acquit our friend or wrest the judgment of the poor or respect the person of the rich?  Surely judgment does not belong to God.  For this reason the text (Chron. 19:6) states “but for the Lord” – it is His.  If you have convicted the innocent, it is as if you have taken from your Creator and perverted the judgment of Heaven to mete out a  crooked judgment.  Therefore consider what you do and conduct yourself in every judgment as if the Holy One, blessed be, were standing before you in judgment.  This is the meaning of the phrase, “He is with you in giving judgment”.