Back to the Beginning

 

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  So begins our Torah and one of the most familiar and most misunderstood stories in all of literature.  So many ask:  How could God have created the world in six days?  What about the dinosaurs and evolution?  Don’t we believe in that?

Of course we believe in that!  The creation story in Genesis never was meant to offer a scientific account of HOW the world was created.  It is rather an exquisite religious poem offering insight as to WHY we are here.

The biblical authors were not interested in writing science.  The truths of the creation story are the religious ideas that it sets forth –ideas upon which all subsequent Jewish thought depends.

The first assumption of the story is that God initiated creation.  However the world came to be our story contends that a single, good caring God started the process.  God acted with purpose and meaning. Therefore, our lives have purpose and meaning.

In the story, everything builds on what comes before. Note the rhythm and the repetition of certain key phrases:  “And God said ‘Let there be… and there was’”  “And God saw… that it was good.”  And there was evening and there was morning …” These recurring refrains convey a sense of order and intention.

The next major teaching of the story is that we human beings are in charge of and responsible for the world.   Until the text (Chapter 1, verse 26) begins to tell of the creation of human beings, the method by which God creates is simple and clear:  God said, “Let there be…” and the next step in creation unfolds.

When it comes to humanity, though, the method of creation changes.  “And God said: “Let us create humanity in our image after our likeness. And they shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the air on the cattle and all the earth and everything that creeps on the earth.”  And God created us human beings – male and female – in the Divine Image.

That does not mean, of course, that we look like God.  God has no shape or form.  It means that we human beings have God-like powers, and the Almighty has set us in charge of and responsible for the earth.  God gave us awesome power, and we can use it for good or for ill.

The Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 8:11) teaches that we human beings stand midway between God and the rest of the animals.  Like the animals we eat, sleep, drink, procreate, eliminate our waste and die.  But in a God-like way we have the power to think, analyze, create and shape the environment in a way that far surpasses any other creature.

We are the only creatures on earth that can go to the side of a mountain, mine ore from the mountain, and turn the ore into iron, the iron into steel and with that steel forge the most delicate of surgical instruments to heal and to save lives.

We are, also, the only creature that can go to the same mountain, mine the same ore and from that ore fashion bombs and bullets whose only purpose is to kill and to maim.

The implicit and overriding message of the story is that God wants us to use our power to form a just, caring, compassionate society on earth.  But we – not God – must decide if we will.

.  The final religious teaching of the story concerns Shabbat.  On the seventh day God rested, and God wants us to rest too, but not just in the sense of relaxation.  God wants us to have a day each week to step back and ponder how we can do a better job of fashioning the type of society God wants.

Genesis’ magnificent creation story makes no pretense of being scientific.  Rather, it teaches the core values upon which our religious traditions rests.  It teaches that God entrusts the earth to our care. It is, though, as the Midrash (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13) reminds us, the only earth we will get.  May that knowledge inspire us to care for it lovingly and use the talents with which God has blessed us to hand over a safer, sweeter more ecologically sound world to our children and grandchildren.

She Had Me From Hello

                        Lois Lynn Lorsch

December 15, 1961-September 3, 2019

 

Howard (L) and Lois Lorsch, z’l, blessing the Torah during worship at Bat Yam Temple of the Islands, February 2019.

In Howard’s words, “Lois was my wife, soul mate and best friend. She was a great mother to our children, my partner forever, confidante advisor and much more. She was a successful businesswoman and a trusted partner. Most of all Lois was a caregiver.

She loved great wine, cooked with it and, sometimes, she even put it in her dishes. She was a great cook.”

Vickie shared with Howard that President Andrew Jackson had his late wife Rachel’s picture on the wall in front of her bed. He wanted her to be the last thing he saw before going to sleep and the first thing he saw every morning. For Howard too, Lois will always be the first thing he thinks of in the morning and the last thing his mind and heart will see at night.

It was an act of genius for President Alan Lessack to appoint Lois Chair of the Rabbinic Search Committee, and it was an act of mind-boggling courage that Lois accepted the offer.

In a famous country, song, You Had Me from, “Hello,” Kenny Chesney sang, “Your smile just captured me. You were in my future as far as I could see.”

When she first interviewed me, Lois Lorsch had me “from Hello.”

When I learned the Chair of the Bat Yam. Temple of the Islands search committee wanted to Face Time with me, I Googled her. I learned Lois Lorsch owned and operated an Executive Search firm with her husband, and I could see from her business card photo that she was a very attractive woman with long black hair.

So you can imagine my surprise when this completely bald person with big black-rimmed glasses sat on the screen in front of me.

I thought Ms. Lorsch had been detained and that her husband was there to tell that she would be with me shortly.

But at “Hello” I discerned that this was the woman in the photo. Lois proceeded with the interview without a trace of self-consciousness or hesitation.

By the time I learned that she was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, I was hooked.

“If this synagogue,” I thought, “was so important to this woman that she would undertake this vital job in her condition, it must be a very special place, and this must be a very special woman!”

I was right on both counts.

In our second conversation, long before Bat Yam invited me to be its rabbi, I told Lois, “No matter how this search turns out, if I can ever be helpful to you as you fight this dreaded disease, I am here.”

Whatever help and support I have offered her and Howard pales in comparison to what they have given me.

She was more than a congregant and more than a friend. She was a life-coach who gave me, and all of us, a Master Class in how to live … and how to die. Her determination to squeeze every ounce of joy and meaning into each day God gave her will inspire me, and all of us, as long as we live.

One example: a year ago, Lois invested inordinate amounts of physical and emotional energy to easing the passage of another cancer victim, Bat Yam’s beloved Miriam Bailey, from this life to the next.

“Why?” I asked her. “You need to save your strength.”

“It needed to be done,” she answered.

”When she saw something that needed to be done, Lois just did it because it was the right thing to do.

As for you, God, I am very angry.

Murderers and cheats live long, carefree lives and You allow this to happen to Lois Lorsch! Yes, I am angry, but I refuse to allow my anger to become the arrogance that denies God. I will rage against God, but I will accept that there is so much that we don’t understand and will never understand about God.

Instead, I will realize that, in the words of the Psalmist, “A thousand years are but as yesterday in your sight.” (Psalm 90:4)

It is not the number of days we live that matter, but what we do with them.

So, I will thank you for the gift of Lois’ life. I will thank you for what she meant to Howie, her children, her many dear friends, to Bat Yam and to me.

Through all her tribulations Lois’ devotion to Judaism and her deep spirituality never wavered.  She studied Hebrew with me on Shabbat morning.  She read beautifully from the Torah last December 14, and we had a date for her to read from the Torah at services again in February.

The photo (above) she gave me for my birthday of her and Howard blessing the Torah at services last winter – a photo framed in seashells that she collected – hangs proudly in our home.

Lois was one of Bat Yam’s first Yom Kippur Congregants’ Hour speakers two years ago, and she was magnificent! In her speech she spoke lovingly of how Howard was the perfect partner and soul mate to walk with her through all the joys and difficulties with which life presented her.

Lois was the driving force behind Bat Yam’s decision to adopt the new prayerbook of the Reform movement for this coming High Holy Day season. She fully expected to be there for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Now, the new book will be a monument to her intellectual curiosity, her spiritual depth and her devotion to Bat Yam Temple of the Islands.

Lois lived every day to the fullest. She loved music festivals, concerts, new places, new people and new adventures.

Her doctors marveled at her courage, tenacity and longevity. And at every step along the way –until her final breath– she never gave in to despair or anger.

 Yes, she “had me from “Hello,’” but her goodbye will stay in my heart forever.

Her family and friends all ask: What would Lois do? She would have us embrace and enjoy life as she did. She would have us care about others as she did. And she would have us look whatever adversity confronts us right in the eye and face the future with courage.

Lois Lorsch: her memory will be blessing to all of us privileged to know her.

 

 

 

Barbara Merchant

The Hebrew month of Elul begins this year on September 1.

During this month our tradition calls upon us to scrutinize our actions to prepare for the intense period of repentance and soul searching from Rosh Hashanah through the full day fast on Yom Kippur ten days later.

Soul Searching

Looking back over my life I find myself regretting the all too many times that selfishness supplanted kindness and intensity pushed concern for the feelings of others out of my consciousness.

Our High Holy Day prayerbook urges us to think of others and how we have treated them in the past. This year my interactions with one person from high school come to mind: Barbara Merchant.

Barbara and I

The high point of my high school academic career came when our Guidance counselor, Miss Jane Perry, came into our English class after the first six-week grading period junior year to announce that I stood first in the class academically for the grading period.

As Miss Perry left the room Barbara followed her out into the hall. Two minutes later Miss Perry returned to announce that Barbara and I had tied for first in the class. Somehow Barbara knew that our report cards that period were identical.

Barbara Merchant! Typing her name fills me with regret.

She was very bright and very kind. We should have been friends, but we were always rivals in the classroom and on the school newspaper. Sadly, each of us was denied the position of Editor-in-Chief our senior year because of fear that neither of us would take direction from the other. So she became Feature Editor, and I became Front Page Editor.

It is well over half a century too late, but it is clear to me now that Barbara absolutely deserved to be Editor in Chief more than I. If our rivalry denied her that honor, I am truly sorry. But, things look differently at 73 from the way they looked at 17.

I have Googled Barbara without success, and I do not know what became of her. I want to apologize to her. I know that I did not treat her with the respect and admiration she deserved.

A couple of times we had meaningful conversations, but it was rivalry and envy that marked the way we regarded each other most of the time.

As the month of Elul approaches, and our season of introspection and repentance begins, I want you to know, Barbara, that wherever you are, I am truly sorry.

Is there someone to whom you should apologize? If so, I urge you, do it before it is too late.

Pervasive Fear

The prophet Micah (4:4) succinctly and eloquently articulates God’s ideal for humanity with the words ואין מחריד  – “nothing or no one shall cause fear. The verse envisions or dreams of a wonderful time, “when everyone shall sit under their vine and under their fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.

In Psalm 54 (verse 6) we read a garbled Hebrew verse that might read:  “There they are in great fear, where no fear was.”

In his masterful commentary on Psalms, Robert Alter interprets the verse as referring to a time when the Israelites “were afraid, but it turned out there was no reason to fear.”

Mass shootings over the past several years and particularly the most recent ones (at least the most recent ones as of this writing) in El Paso and Denver bring to my mind a different interpretation of the confusing verse:

There is NOW pervasive fear when previously there was once no reason to be afraid.

  • Just days ago residents of El Paso felt they could shop at Wal-Mart without fear. Now they have learned differently.
  • Just days ago people in Dayton, Ohio blithely went out for a night on town. Now things are different.

So it is all over this country. Places considered safe are no longer safe. No one considers herself or himself safe anymore. We all are acutely aware that the next attack can happen at our synagogue, church, mosque, shopping center or entertainment venue.

It is a horrible way to live.

When I went to school, shooting drills were not part of the curriculum. Now they are.

How has this great country, become a place where the fear of random violence lingers over all that we do?

How did the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” become the “Land of Pervasive Fear?”

The thought of living in constant fear sickens me, and when I look at my six beautiful grandchildren, it sickens me even more.

  • Gun control
  • Reduced violence spewing out of media outlets
  • Better mental provisions for those with emotional disorders
  • Improved public schools
  •  Health care that is the right for all; not the privilege of the wealthy
  • Swift punishment for cops who cross the line 

All of these are agenda items for our society to address yesterday if not sooner if ever we hope to roll back the cloud of once unnecessary fear that hovers over all of us.

 

 

And Now Dayton

There is an old country song that the late Lynne Anderson (of Rose Garden Fame) used to sing on the Lawrence Welk Show. It is called, “I’ve Been Everywhere, Man.” Singing it requires a prodigious memory of hundreds of place names sung at (excuse the expression) Machine Gun Speed.

The next name on the seemingly endless list is Dayton!

Will it ever end?

Will we as a nation ever come to our senses?

Yes, I know, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. How many times have we heard that one? Of course it is true. But it is a lot easier to kill large numbers of people with a machine gun than with a knife.

No, it won’t solve the problem, but it will make a dent if we make a license to own and discharge a firearm as difficult as the process of obtaining a driver’s license.

It is not that tough, but you have to prove that you are capable of operating a vehicle. Still automobiles have killed and will continue to kill millions of people. But how much higher that number would be if anyone could simply buy a car and hit the road?

No, gun control will not eliminate wanton violence.

But it sure would make a difference!

El Paso Today

עד מתי (Ad Ma-tie)

How long?”

In different ways the authors of the Bible’s Book of Psalms ask this question over and over again:

How long will wickedness, violence and terror reign on the earth?

The Psalmist’s question 3000 years ago is my question today. Vickie and I were in a Wal-Mart in Fort Myers when hell descended on a Wal-Mart in El Paso. So I feel more connected than usual to this latest outbreak of hate filled terror.

It was easier today than in other shootings to envision my wife and I mowed down by machine gun fire as we vainly scrambled for refuge in a crowded store.

How long will we allow the NRA to allow people with AK-47 rifles to unload their magazines on innocent people? How long will we allow lives and dreams to be destroyed in an instant just because someone feels like doing so?

Mass shootings are no longer unexpected. Each subsequent tragedy raises the questions not if there will be a next one, but where and when will the next one be?

So twenty more people are now dead. Scores of others are seriously wounded because the Congress of the United States is content with our nation having the highest rate of deaths to gun violence in the world.

Stricter gun control will not stop all the shootings, but they will stop many. Background checks for all, licenses for all and a ban on assault type weapons are necessary – no brainer really –steps our nation must take.

 Rabbi Sarah Hronsky wrote that we must never become numb to the carnage that the NRA fights for the right to occur and too many Senators and members of the House of Representatives condone by their failure to act.

The second amendment to our Constitution speaks of the rights of states to arm and train a “well-regulated militia.” The second amendment does not say that anyone or anybody should be able to possess and use a weapon capable of killing dozens of people in little more than an eye blink.

Our gun laws are a national disgrace!

Health care should be a right not a privilege for those who can afford it. Owning a gun by contrast should be a privilege like driving a car, for which one must prove oneself worthy and capable.

We Americans need to have the guts to vote for politicians who will stand up to the NRA and pass gun laws that will save lives.

We need to vote for a President who will lead the way to a safer United States.

How long? How long until this country finally comes to its senses?

 

A Trip to Savor 

 

pcFDkOwqSp26zqpFc0MYLQPastor John Danner and I at the Peace Wall at the border of Gaza comparing our messages of hope that this troubled part of the world may one day know harmony and cooperaton.

Our congregation’s joint trip to Israel with Sanibel Congregational UCC exceeded my fondest expectations!

The only previous interfaith journey to Israel I had undertaken was one that I co-led with an anti-Israel Arab Professor from the Hartford Seminary twenty year ago.  It was not a joyful experience.

While I tried to present and model an open-minded, “let’s listen to both sides of the conflict,” perspective, the professor took us to a Palestinian village where his selected panelists heaped venomous attacks on the very existence of the Jewish State as we sat in a beautiful auditorium community center built for that Arab village by the Government of Israel.

When the Professor begged off our visit to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Va-Shem, claiming he did not feel well (he was absolutely fine that evening), I truly regretted having agreed to co-lead this “journey of understanding.”

By contrast our joint trip this summer was an absolute joy.

There were 42 in our group, almost equally divided between Christians and Jews. My UCC counterpart, Rev. Dr. John Danner was a model of sensitivity, open mindedness, wisdom and pastoral concern.

For me one of the true highlights was accepting the invitation of Rabbi Ada Zavidov to deliver the D’var Torah at Kabbalat Shabbat services at Kehilat Har El in Jerusalem, the oldest Reform synagogue in Israel. On this visit to Har El, I spoke in English for the benefit of my wonderful group of fellow travelers about the vital principles of human conduct found in the Holiness Code, Leviticus, chapter 19.  It warmed my heart to know that every idea I expressed was an ideal that Dr. Danner and his congregants could wholeheartedly affirm. Our religious differences are real, but we share common moral values and a fervent desire to use our respective faiths as springboards to help repair our broken world.

It was the second time in 5779 that I had the privilege of preaching at Har El. The first time in October I spoke in Hebrew about the lessons of the stories of Noah and the Tower of Babel. Then I was visiting my son Leo, who at 42 made the decision to begin rabbinical studies and spend his first year of the five-year graduate program at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. His address to our group this spring was a genuine highlight of the journey.

Leo has an extensive Jewish background, but he knows well there is no shortcut to becoming a genuinely credentialed rabbi. The day-in, day-out, interactions with Professors and other students are absolutely essential to a rabbi’s legitimacy

A shortcut course and a bit of flair and charisma may help one become an effective leader of worship, but to become a rabbi, worthy of that venerable title, takes years and years of full time concentrated study. Anything less is akin to calling an EMT a physician.

On our recent trip it was just as important to me and my fellow Jews as it was to the Christians in our group to visit the holy places of their religion. Worship at the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, visits to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth and the opportunity for our Christian friends to re-experience baptism in the Jordan River were moving experiences for us Jews to better understand Christian roots and practices.

Pastor Danner, while scrupulously respecting boundaries, offered loving and Jewishly affirming explanations that enhanced all of our understanding. I’d go with him again, to Israel or any other place of mutual interest.

 

 

Strong, Savvy Biblical Women; Clueless Men

After my lecture on “Strong Biblical Women” in Bordesholm a woman came up to me and said, “You should write a book about what you just told us.”

I was very touched.

I am not ready to write a book on the subject, but I hope this essay is of interest.

In preparation for this lecture I asked my rabbinic colleagues in a closed forum on Facebook (due to strict confidentiality requirements of the site, I am not referring to any of them by name) to offer an example of a woman they would include if they were giving the lecture. Their suggestions were very helpful, and I am most grateful to them.

I began by offering a quotation that I have chosen to appear at the bottom of on every page on my web site: “Repeatedly in the Bible, it is the woman who ‘gets it’ and the man who is ‘clueless.’

I originally wrote those words in defense of Eve who, “has been maligned for generations for the supposed “fall of man” when in fact; she is – in my view –the heroine of “the elevation of humanity.”

(From Why the Kof? Getting the Best of Rabbi Fuchs?)

I chose to leave Eve and several other very strong women out of my lecture because of the Talmudic lesson I learned from my late Professor Samuel Sandmel many years ago: Tasafta mirubah, lo tasafta,” (B. Rosh Hashanah, 4b)which essentially means, “If you try to do too much, you end up doing nothing at all.”

In the course of a one-hour presentation, that was a vital point to remember.

I began, then, with Rebecca. One may certainly question the way she went about things, but one cannot deny that she had greater insight into what God needed in terms of an heir to the Covenant of Abraham than did her husband Isaac. She acted decisively on her instinct.

Because the story is complex and time was a factor, I did not delve into the character of Tamar and her impact on Judah in the Joseph Story. If I ever should write the book suggested to me, Tamar will receive lengthy treatment as she does in What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives. (WiIfM? FOiBN)

For time reasons as well, I did not delve, as several suggested I should, into the fascinating case of Zelophehad’s daughters. Their story marks a vital first step in establishing a woman’s right to inherit her family’s property.

For the same reason (and because they too are written about in WiIfM? FOiBN) I only briefly touched on the vital roles played by

six women who made it possible for Moses to stand before Pharaoh to demand the liberation of our people.

Because I was speaking to a church group in Germany I made one exception: I dealt at some length with the role of the two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who defied Pharaoh’s decree to kill any Hebrew boys they helped birth. As I point out in WiIfM? FOiBN:

The example of Shiphrah and Puah stand as

a sharp rebuke for those who excuse their

ethical misdeeds with the claim they had no choice—they were simply following orders from their superiors.

Case in point: During the trial of Nazi war criminals

at Nuremburg, Germany, defendant after defendant

attempted to justify his action on the basis that he was just following orders. The courage of Shiphrah and Puah is timeless testimony that “just following orders” is no excuse.

 

(In the book I cite Nora Levin’s, z’l, example in The Holocaust, pp. 241-244, of the commander of Einsatzgruppe D, Otto Ohlendorf.)

 

I next spoke about Deborah from the book of Judges. In her time pagan Canaanite forces under the direction of Sisera were vexing Israelite settlements.  At that time there was no nation of Israel, just a loosely organized group of tribes and as individual entities, they were vulnerable to invasion.

Deborah successfully united the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali to thwart the incursions. She summoned Barak, a leading General, but he refused to lead the troops unless Deborah went with him into battle. She was a judge, military leader, prophet and poet, one of the Bile’s strongest characters of either gender.

I also mentioned Samson’s unnamed mother. She received God’s vision that she would bare a son who would begin to redeem the Israelites from the Philistines, but when she told her husband, he was sure they would die. But Manoah’s wife knew better. She was another example of a savvy woman with a clueless husband.

My next example was Hannah, Samuel’s mother. Compared to her Eli, the High Priest at Shiloh was a bumbling fool.

Five Megillot and three are about women.

There are five books of the Bible designated as Megillot(scrolls), Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations Ecclesiastes and Esther, and these are associated with Passover, Shavuot, Tisha B’Av, Sukkot and Purim respectively.

Three of the five Megillot are about very strong women. Purim celebrates the courage of Vashti and Esther. Song of Songs(as per the interpretation, I arrived at when studying Song of Songsin my D.Min program at Vanderbilt Divinity school with the Womanist scholar, Renita Weems) tells of a woman strong enough to resist the blandishments of King Solomon’s harem to follow her shepherd lover.

I concluded my talk with Ruth The story tells of Naomi’s faithfulness and Ruth’s loyalty and the reward she receives to become the great grandmother of King David. David, according to both Jewish and Christian traditions, is to be the ancestor of the Messiah.

Another woman I left out whom several of my colleagues suggested I include was Huldah the Prophetess, who exerted strong influence on King Josiah at the end of the seventh pre-Christian century. Because of my colleagues’ suggestions though I did read up on her and was able to include her in the answer to one of the questions from those who attended.

Again, I left out important women due to time limitations. Still I hope the examples of Rebecca, the six woman who saved Moses’ life, Deborah, Hannah, Samson’s mother, Vashti, Esther, the heroine of Song of Songs, Naomi and Ruth were sufficient to convince participants that far from being unimportant, many biblical women outshine the men around them in terms of leadership ability and perception of what it was God needed them to do. They are important roe models for young women today and an inspiration to all of us.

 

 

 

 

What Happened at Sinai?

landscape mountains clouds fujisan

Is this what Sinai looked like? (Photo by Donald Tong on Pexels.com 0

Shavuot commemorates the pivotal moment when God revealed Torah on Mount Sinai.

So unique in history did the Sages of our people envision the event at Sinai that they imagined the whole world coming to a complete silent standstill.  In the words of the Midrash:

When God revealed Torah at Mount Sinai, no bird sang, no cow mooed, no bad of grass rustled in the wind. (Shemot Rabbah29:9)

 What makes this moment so unique?

At Sinai the Covenant God made first with Abraham alone became the privilege and sacred responsibility of the entire Jewish people, past, present and future.

What actually took place at Sinai? It should surprise no one that our Sages fertile minds produced a number differing Midrashim. Here are four: 

No one else wanted it.

In one God offers Torah to all the nations of the world. But when they hear what it says –Don’t cheat, don’t steal, treat the stranger the widow, the orphan and the poor with special dignity and respect – they all reject it out of hand. (See Sefer Ha-Agadah (Bialik and Rovenitzky, editors, vol. 1, p. 59). Only Israel accepted God’s offer.

The Godfather Midrash

Another Midrash, that I like to call The Godfather Midrash, has God lift Mount Sinai and hold it over the heads of the assembled Children of Israel.  Then God says, either you accept and pledge to observe my Torah or I shall drop the mountain on top of you. (B. Shabbat 88A and B. Avodah Zarah 2B)

This Midrash teaches us the vital lesson that our only purpose as a people is to be teachers and examples of the ideals of Torah to the world.  Indeed by adherence to these ideals we become in the words of the Prophet Isaiah; “A light to the nations’ (Isaiah 49:6) a worthy example for all.  If we are not willing to accept the responsibility of adhering to the Torah’s ideals, there is no good reason for us to continue to exist.

There is even a third Midrash that states that Israel’s willingness to accept Torah was so important to God that the Almighty threatened to break the promise made after the flood never to destroy the world again unless Israel agrees to embrace the Torah and its ideals (B. Shabbat 88A).

We must show we are worthy

A fourth Midrash stresses the importance of passing the ideal of Torah to future generations. In this one the question is not, are we willing to accept the Torah?  It is rather, how will we demonstrate to God that we are worthy to receive it? When God asks us to offer guarantors of our worthiness, we offer the deeds of our patriarchs and our prophets but God finds neither of these acceptable.  Only when we pledge the loyalty of our children to God’s teachings does God reveal the Torah to our people. (Shir Ha ShirimRabbah, Chapter 1, Section 4, Midrash 1)

The rabbinic method of interpretation encouraged creative thought.  There was rarely only one acceptable point of view on any question. Indeed there are no fewer than four different rabbinic versions of how the greatest moment in our religious history came to be. There are others as well. Each, though, stress our privilege and responsibility to study Torah and pass its teachings on to the net generation.

Hag Shavuot Sameach!

Busy and Fulfilling Five Days

Sunrise over Husum

Road Trip

If Vickie and I were a baseball team, we have just completed our longest “Road Trip” of the season.

At noon on Friday we began our two and a half hour train trip to Husum. There we were the guests for four nights in the charming “Holiday Apartment” of our wonderful friends, Rita and Horst Blunk. (See Blog post: “Rita and Horst.”)

This past Shabbat eve it was my privilege once again to conduct Kabbalat services at the Jewish synagogue in Friedrichstadt. The synagogue was not totally razed by the Nazis on Kristallnacht (as so many others were). The Nazis threw hand grenades inside and destroyed all Jewish artifacts.  Then they commandeered it as an Officers’ Headquarters. 

After the war it was returned to the Jewish community. There is a large photograph on glass where the ark once stood that shows the destruction of that spot.

Since there was no longer a Jewish community in Friedrichsstadt, the synagogue became a cultural center and Jewish museum. In 2015 I had the privilege of conducting the first Jewish service in that city since the Nazi takeover.

What an occasion that was. 70 people jammed the small sanctuary, at least 50 of whom were representatives of the Christian community who had come to pay their respects.

This Shabbat’s service was a much smaller affair, and I guess that is a good thing. I am glad that a Jewish service in Friedrichstadt is no longer a novelty.

On Shabbat, Rita and Horst had planned to take us on an excursion to the North Sea Island of Sylt. The weather, though, was too cold, so instead we toured other charming areas in the North Sea Region. It was a wonderful day.

We see more sheep, cows and horses than people (almost) in Germany’s beautiful North Sea coastal region.

Sunday was a long, busy and very fulfilling day. In the morning, I delivered the sermon at the St. Marien Lutheran Church in Husum at the invitation of Pastor Friedemann Magaard. Pastor Magaard has an admirable history of activity aimed at interfaith understanding and affirmation. To acknowledge and protest the uptick in anti-Semitic activity in Germany (see my essay on this subject in ReformJudaism.org https://reformjudaism.org/blog/2019/06/03/rising-anti-semitism-germany-ground-assessment?utm_source=Share&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=BlogPost&utm_content=Fuchs). Dr. Magaard wore a kipah during the service.

It was a privilege to return to his church. 

Speaking in the Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) in Husum

During the service, Dr. Magaard invited any interested worshippers to join me for a study session in their new community building next door. I wondered if anyone would come, but to my joy thirty people crowded into the small room to study the coming week’s Haftarah portion from Hosea. I was moved by the depth of the questions the participants asked and by the observations they shared.

Torah study at Marienkirche, Husum. To my left is Dr. Uwe Ehrich, who translates for me in Friedrichstadt and Husum.

Afterwards, Rita, Horst, Vickie and I enjoyed a scrumptious lunch prepared by Friedemann’s wife, Andrea, an Urgent Care physician, in the charming garden of their lovely home.

In the evening at the invitation of Dr. Marcus Friedrich, I delivered the sermon at services in the magnificent St. Nickolai-kirche, the largest cathedral in Flensburg. 

Dr. Marcus Friedrich and I at the conclusion of the service in the Nikolai-kirche in Flensburg

After the service a young couple, the woman from Ireland and the man from Israel asked if I would say a blessing for their infant son. I was deeply moved by their request and was happy to do so.

Offering a blessing for this couples infant son

On Monday, I presented a program run at the Catholic Church in Flensburg. The organizer of the program, Claudia Linker, who wrote a generous endorsement on the back cover of And Often the First Jew, skillfully translated my remarks into German.

Tuesday during the day Vickie and I taught a wonderful group of HS students at the Tast Gymnasium in Flensburg. Then in the evening Rita and Horst drove us to Kiel for the fourth of seminar sessions I am conducting on “Revelation in Jewish Thought.” After the seminar Pastor Martin Pommerening drove us back to Bad Segeberg where we tumbled into bed with wonderful memories of a fulfilling trip and in eager anticipation of a “day off” Wednesday. 

Nightfall in Husum