“Lead Me to the Rock that is Higher Than I”

“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I .” (Psalm 61,verse 3)

Since I was ten years old, Psalm 61 has been a favorite of mine.

In those days we read a Psalm each morning in public school. I am glad that practice is now unconstitutional, but I am also glad the experience taught me the beauty of our people’s first prayer book.

Today, one of the mainstays of my personal spiritual practice is to study a Psalm each (well almost each), morning. I move progressively through the book’s 150 chapters from day to day.  Sometimes I spend two or three days on a given Psalm if the Hebrew is difficult or I want to ponder it further.

Since I retired as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in 2011, I have been making my way through the Book of Psalms and starting over when I finish

When I was a ten-year-old camper at the New Jersey YMCA Camp Minnisink, we had Cabin Prayers every night before lights out.  Our counselors or one of the campers would lead the prayer, saying anything he wished.  I really admired our bunk’s senior counselor. His name was Ray. But through the summer, Ray never led the cabin prayers … until the very last night of camp.

 Then he explained he would read his favorite prayer, Psalm 61.

 When, in front of the whole congregation at my Bar Mitzvah three years later, Rabbi Avraham Soltes asked me what my favorite Psalm was, I answered, Psalm 61.  Then he asked me to quote it from memory, and I did.

Because it has remained my favorite, I think it more than a coincidence that as I face rotator cuff surgery tomorrow morning, Psalm 61 has come up once again in my rotation.

My favorite line is:

B’tzar ya-room mi-meni tan-cheri – Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Psalm 61, verse 3).

When I was ten, the main reason I liked Psalm 61 was because the counselor who I looked up to liked it. Now it speaks to my heart, especially the prayer of verse 3.

To me it expresses the hope that if I try my best to do what is just and right, God will lead me to a higher level of ability to do just that.

 As I face surgery tomorrow, I pray, perhaps selfishly, as the Psalm begins:

“Hear my cry, O God, attend unto my prayer.”


  • Let this surgery be successful.
  • Let me be pain free
  • Let me rehab successfully and return to the tennis court
  • But most important, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Let me continue to learn, grow, serve our people and do what little I can to make a more just caring and compassionate society on earth.

If each of us strives — in whatever way our talents and interests dictate –- toward that goal, we will have a better world.

And, “Make a better world, ” has been, I believe God’s most important charge to all of us since the time of creation.



How Should Reform Jews Observe Tishah B’Av? (published on URJ.ORG)


I had never even heard of Tishah B’Av until I was 12 years old and participating in the inaugural season of the Camp Institute for Living Judaism (later to renamed URJ Eisner Camp) in Great Barrington, MA. Since then, I have struggled with the significance of this day for me as a Reform Jew.

On Tishah B’Av, traditionally observant Jews fast in memory of the two magnificent Temples of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the Romans in 70 CE. The day also commemorates other historical tragedies. For example, it is said that the beginning of the first Crusade in 1095, a time of persecution and slaughter of the Jews of Europe and in 1290 the expulsion of Jews from England both took place on that date. Tishah B’Av also coincides with the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

The destruction of the two Temples and the exile of Jews from our sacred land that followed were occasions of death and suffering, so sorrow is an appropriate means of commemoration. Certainly, all the other historical tragedies associated with that date are important to remember, too.

On the other hand, the destruction of the Temple ended the control of a hereditary priestly class over Jewish life and ended animal sacrifice as our chief way of communicating with God. Today, only ultra-Orthodox Jews would like to see the restoration of the Temple and the practices associated with it.

How can we reconcile the remembrance of genuine tragedy with the growth and development of the Judaism that the destruction of the Temple made possible?

I observe a fast on Tishah B’Av until midday, when I study the traditional text for the day, the biblical Book of Lamentations. Then, at 1:00 p.m., I partake of a midday meal in which I express gratitude for the Judaism that has been bequeathed to us over the years, a Judaism that no longer slaughters animals and sprinkles their blood as a sign of gratitude or as a petition to God. I celebrate the fact that a Judaism without the Temple and its hereditary priestly class has been replaced by a Judaism that, through study, prayers and acts of kindness, calls on each of us in our own way to make the world a better place.

Tishah B’Av, for me, is also the day when I begin preparing for the period of introspection culminating in the rituals of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Impetus for beginning the process of repentance comes from the middle of the book of Lamentations: “Let us search and examine our ways and return to the Eternal One!” (Lamentations 3:40)

For Reform Jews, Tishah B’Av can be both a day of mourning and a day of joy. We mourn for the destruction of the Temple, but we rejoice that we have developed strong and resilient ways to thrive as Jews. Mourning the tragedies of the past we let us search and examine our way forward and face the future with hope and courage!


About the Author
Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is the Rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands. He is the author of “Who Created God,” “What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives” and three other books. He is the former president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT.


Heading for the Six-month DL

Aside from my work as Rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands, my greatest joy in Sanibel last season was playing as a member of the Beachview Tennis Club Blue team. I played in the number one spot, compiling a 13-1 record with two different partners.

The guys on the team are really great, and I looked forward to every match and practice. I particularly loved the “tough love” clinics that the club’s terrific pro, Toni Halski, conducts early in the morning. Those sessions were wonderfully helpful.

My right shoulder has been problematic for a number of years. I have done everything I could to avoid surgery:  cortisone injections from time to time, several rounds of physical therapy, and ample doses of painkillers. I probably should have purchased stock in the KT Tape Company.

Unfortunately, playing competitively last season, even though I mostly just dumped my first serve into the box, pushed me over the edge. Since the season ended the pain has been constant.  Tests reveal three different significant tears in the right rotator cuff, and I am scheduled for surgery this coming Thursday, July 26.

While my carefully chosen surgeon says there is no guarantee the procedure will be successful, I am hoping for a full recovery and to be back to playing tennis once again. If I should be so fortunate, though, it will be at the end of an arduous six-month process of physical therapy and rehabilitation.

Aside from the fact that I still love the game, why is a 72-year-old man so eager to be back on the courts?

During my life I have had many years of formal education, but without doubt I have learned more about people, teaching and life in general from the competitive tennis I have played and from the five summers I spent as a teaching pro while in school.

So, I head for the (at least) Six-month Disabled List with genuine regret that I will not be able to represent Beachview next season but with the hope that there will be more seasons in the future for me to feel the joys and frustrations of the game I so love.


Saying Goodbye to Our Home After 21 Years

We are no longer Connecticut homeowners. Today we closed on the sale of our beloved West Hartford, Connecticut home.

Last year I accepted an offer to serve as the seasonal (September through April) rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel, Florida. We moved in immediately after people could return to the Island after Hurricane Irma. We held the Selichot service and discussion that precedes Rosh Hashanah in the home we rented that very evening.

Vickie found the place on a trip last spring, and I moved in sight unseen. The minute I looked around and sat down, I said, “I could live here forever.” Because the Temple community, our neighbors and the friends we made at Beachview Tennis Club have been so welcoming to Vickie and me, we decided to purchase the home we rented and sell our home here. Fast forward to today.

Our Florida home is little more than half the size of our home in Connecticut. So the move involves a major downsize. After all the emotional angst about leaving our home, and all the physical angst of clearing 21 years of accumulated clothes, books, appliances and everything else imaginable from our CT home, we are Florida homeowners.

This morning Vickie and I took a long last look as we walked through the home we have loved. We will miss our quiet cul-de sac-neighborhood. We will miss the charming stream that flows behind the house, and we will miss all our friends at Congregation Beth Israel, and the friends we have made outside the synagogue as well.

All credit goes to Vickie who did 90% of the work involved in getting us to this point.

Currently we are camped out in the lovely home of our son, Ben, his wife, Kristin and their children, 4-year-old Flora and 1-year-old Logan. The kids are treasures, and we love being together.

Since my contract in Sanibel runs from September to April 30, we hope to spend considerable time in the warm weather months here in Connecticut. This coming Sabbath Eve (at 7:30) I will speak at Beth Israel about our experiences during the five weeks we spent in Germany this spring, and I will lead Torah study on Shabbat morning this Shabbat, next Shabbat and August 4.

Even though I am away most of the year, I consider being Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel to be both an honor and a responsibility to help out there whenever I can. I am glad to be able to give our wonderful rabbis, Michael Pincus and Andi Fliegel, a little relief.

When I decided to retire as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in 2011, I had no idea of the world wide adventures that awaited me. The past seven years have been like a dream. Serving Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel has been icing on the cake. I feel very blessed, and I only hope my efforts are a blessing to others as well.

President Trump: Donate Mar-a-Lago As a Refugee Center

It would not completely solve the problem of refugees, but what a magnificent symbolic gesture it would be!

Mar A Lago is a 20-acre estate with a 126-room, 62,500-square-foot mansion. It would make a great center for welcoming refugees to our great country and helping them adjust to their new home.

There they could receive nutritious food, decent clothing, and quality medical care. A cash donation from the President would enable these services

While they are at Mar-a-Lago, officials could carefully vet the refugee residents. All of those found to be drug dealers or other types of miscreants could be sent home.

 What a game changer such a donation would be for Donald Trump! In one masterstroke he could change his image from venal to venerable. He could become the president with a heart of grandeur instead of greed. It would gain him millions of votes in the 2020 election.

Who knows how many future doctors, social workers, teachers, scientists, musicians and others contributing to the greatness of society would look back with gratitude at the chance for a better life they received at Mar A Lago?

Mr. Trump, you can always buy another place for your vacations. And Camp David is already at your disposal. There’s no reason to delay.

So, make the gift! You can save many lives and take a big step in fulfilling your promise to “Make America great again!”