Hope Amidst Pain

As I filled out my ballot this morning I felt a tremendous sense of pride. I am the first of my family on both sides to be born in this country at a time when others like me whose families have come to this country from around the world are running for office. Maital and I stood next to our children as we voted, 100 years after women were given the right to vote, with an acknowledgement that we are both very fortunate to be voting in America today. And at the same time it is a painful time for America. There is real fear and distrust, rhetoric and actions from our leaders which defy our country’s core values.

This moment is painful. As Americans go out to the polls and we wait to see the results of the election I am reminded of Rebecca, who in this week’s parashah is pregnant with twins, and experiencing tremendous pain. God’s explanation to her is that there are warring factions, separate nations in her womb. And ultimately one will dominate the other. The Torah describes that responding to the pain, Rebecca cries out- “Im ken, lama ze anochi?” “If so why do I exist?” She cannot understand why life must be so painful. Is it really worth it?

Each election feels like that painful experience of birthing Jacob and Esau. Our nation feels pain and asks the question- is it really supposed to be like this?

Do we see this as the new normal? Of a country at odds with itself that feels like two separate nations? Like Rebecca, can our system sustain the birth pains of the present?

Despite these questions it felt good to put the ballot through the machine I prayed that this pregnant moment leads to more peace, to a return to our core values, and to a confidence in our country’s ability to bare the pain of the current with hope for the future.

With a Little Help from My Friends

Whether you hear it sung by the Beatles or Joe Cocker, the importance of getting by with a little help from a friend is central to the opening story of this week’s parashah, Vayera. The scene opens with Abraham sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day, healing from his recent circumcision, which left him in pain but still conscience of his responsibilities to offer a little help to his friends. Sure enough, three men (angels, according to many Torah commentators) approach Abraham, who immediately rushes to help them on their journey through the desert.

The Torah describes that Abraham rushes around, despite his pain, to provide water and food for his guests. The Midrash describes that in response to the kindness that Abraham offers his guests, God responds, “as you have brought a little water to My emissaries, I will give your descendants water in the desert. As you brought them bread to eat, I will sustain your descendents with manna for forty years. As you gave them shade under a tree, I will give the Israelites a cover of clouds to protect them from the desert sun.” (Genesis Rabbah 48:10)

As we celebrated together this past Saturday evening at our 10/20 event, I was so inspired by the way that Abraham’s sense of kindness and responsibility towards his new friends was echoed throughout the years of our community.… Read more

Gratitude Amidst Loss

There is a Jewish value called hakarat hatov, which I believe to be an important discipline for my life. Hakarat hatov means recognizing the good. There are some moments when I find it more challenging to recall good things happening around me and there are other moments when it is easy to do so. No matter what I am feeling or what kid of day I am experiencing, I believe that recognizing goodness is an important everyday activity. When things are going well we are encouraged to remind ourselves of that goodness and to specify the person that helped to make that goodness a reality. It helps us remember the source of our blessings and helps us appreciate the gifts we receive and never take goodness for granted. When things are not going according to our expectations or when we feel that life is not treating us well, hakarat hatov reminds us that despite all of the reasons for upset there is usually still something to be grateful for.

I imagine that this is what Noach, the protagonist of this week’s Torah portion, feels as he emerges from the ark after God destroys all of creation except for the humans and animals inside of the ark by sending a flood. Looking around, the images of destruction that Noach sees must be unimaginable. What Noach sees must shock him.… Read more

Happenings at Shaarei Tikvah

There were many many beautiful moments over this holiday period. However, there were two moments when I felt that my breath was taken away. The first was at Neilah, the final service on Yom Kippur, when I witnessed families and individuals coming before the ark and standing in front of the Torah scrolls. For some it was a chance to reflect on the past year and offer a prayer for the year ahead. For others it was a chance to meditate on the themes or ideas in the service, and for others a chance to offer blessings to family members. And of course there were tears. I was lucky to witness the way that so many of you connected with this ritual and our sacred objects and spaces. It simply was a beautiful outpouring of emotion and it gave us all hope for the year to come.

The second moment was last week when I saw the final result of our food drive for the Interfaith Food Bank. We collected 140 bags of food! I got chills as I saw Shaarei Tikvah’s generous heart take shape in the hallways and closets of our building and was very proud as I helped our volunteers schlep heavy bags out to the car for delivery.

With the holidays behind us I want to call our attention to some amazing events happening at ST.

The topic for our first Midtown Midrash will be “Communal Responsibility Against Sexual Assault.”… Read more

Healing the Relationship Between North American Jews and Israel

I want to take a moment to highlight next Shabbat, Saturday September 1st.  At services that morning, we will celebrate Eugene and Diane Linett’s 50th anniversary together with their family. In the evening,  we will hold a very special service called Selichot that helps to spiritually prepare us for the Yamim Noraim, the days of Awe, which are a time for introspection and commitment to change in the coming year.

We will begin our evening at 8:30pm with a fascinating conversation about one of the relationships in our lives in need of healing this year- the relationship between North American Jews and Israel.

One of my teachers and colleagues, Rabbi Menachem Creditor, recently featured in the Jewish Week  will have a conversation with Maital Friedman about the rough edges of this relationship.… Read more

Judaism is not just about observing laws. It is about treating people well.

Rabbi Israel of Rizhin once asked a student how many sections there were in the Shulchan Arukh (16th century code of Jewish Law). The student replied, “Four.” “What,” asked the Rizhiner, “do you know about the fifth section?” “But there is no fifth section,” said the student. “There is,” said the Rizhiner. “It says: always treat a person like a mensch.”

In this week’s parashah, Vaetchanan, there is an interesting passage which relates to this story. “You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and God’s testimonies and statutes, which God has commanded you.  And you shall do what is right and good (hayashar vehatov) in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.” (Deut. 6: 17-18)… Read more

Reflections from Jerusalem Parashat Devarim 5778

Hi friends!  My time in Israel is winding down and I am getting ready to head back to the US in a few days.  My experience here has been very rich and meaningful.  I spent most of my time in Jerusalem except for a day in Tel Aviv and in Haifa.  I read about but did not witness the attacks in the South of Israel.  Thank you to those of you who reached out to make sure I was safe.  The learning I did with many rabbis of all denominations was fascinating and inspiring and I am looking forward to sharing it with you in sermons, classes, and in my writing.

In my last week here I am reflecting on the experience of visiting places at which something meaningful occurred in my past. … Read more

Greetings from Jerusalem!

I hope you have been enjoying your summers thus far. I am grateful to be in Jerusalem these few weeks where I have been enjoying my time learning with incredible teachers and over 150 rabbinic colleagues at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, including a number of rabbis and educators from Westchester! Most days go from 8:30am to 9:30pm and are filled with fascinating courses and lectures that have been filling my mind and my notebook with precious Torah, which I am excited to share with Shaarei Tikvah.

I want to offer you a few nuggets of Torah from the learning… Read more

When is God Raising our Hands to Heal?

One of the things I love about being a rabbi is the opportunity to explore the unanswerable questions of life with congregants. I find that some of the most challenging questions tend to arise when we feel the strongest need to connect with the Divine. We may find ourselves in crisis because of the uncertainty that comes along with these questions and we wonder about the possibility of God’s presence in our lives when we or our loved ones are suffering. As many have done before us and as many will inevitably do in the future, we ask ourselves, “Where is God?

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner z”l responds to this question in a piece he wrote… Read more

Caring for the Stranger in our Land: A Call to Support Immigrants in America

 

A few weeks ago we read from the Torah in Parashat Mishpatim, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The Torah sees a direct relationship between the experience of our own oppression and our ability to care for those who are marginalized. Additionally, the Torah specifically calls for the protection of the widow and orphan and describes the punishment of mistreating them. “If you mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to me, and My anger shall blaze forth and I will put you to the sword, and your own wives shall become widows and your children orphans.” (Ex. 22:20-23). In fact, 36 times in the Torah, Israel is commanded to be compassionate to those that require assistance. This message is what separates the nation from its enslavers, reminding the Israelites and by extension the Jewish people how we should act when faced with the opportunity to care for the stranger.

Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a situation that calls on us to remember our own oppression.  Shaarei Tikvah’s Social Justice Committee is leading an effort to encourage all of us to recognize and respond to the concern for immigrants in our country. Thousands of individuals known as Dreamers who came to the US at a young age through a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which temporarily shields them from deportation and allows them to study and work legally, may be deported to a country that was never their home and possibly be endangered. (See some of their stories here.) In addition, we are concerned for the safety of many other immigrants who have come to the United States as a safe place to live and raise their families, who need support to help them integrate in a healthy way into their communities.

We are encouraging anyone who cares about the futures of these immigrants to respond to their needs right now. We have partnered with Neighbors Link which has been providing education, employment and legal services for immigrant families throughout Westchester County since 2001. A few months ago we learned about Neighbors Link in a presentation by a few of their leaders at Shaarei Tikvah. Check out the attached documents to read about this organization, which describes the mission and the work that they do along with volunteer opportunities in which we should all consider participating.

We encourage everyone to consider taking action in three ways. First, think about volunteering at Neighbors Link to connect with the immigrants who are supported by the organization. Second, please consider a donation to help Neighbors Link build its capacity to support more immigrants integrating into their communities. Currently, Neighbors Link is fundraising for an ESL Program (English as a Second Language). Please see the attached wish-list which totals $2,796 and see what you could do to help them achieve this dream. Please make your contribution directly to Neighbors Link as mentioned in the attachments.

Third, in order to advocate for immigrants, please send your email address to Robin in our office. In addition, we will keep the congregation apprised of additional ways to get involved in this issue.

Thank you for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of thousands of people.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Baldachin and the Social Justice Committee
rabbi@shaareitikvah.org