Simchat Torah Dinner, Dancing and Rejoicing Monday Eve


5:30 Free Pasta Dinner followed by a hakafot (circling) and dancing with our Torah scrolls, including out newly dedicated Czech Memorial Scroll.  We will unroll a scroll around the Social Hall and read the end of the Deuteronomy and then go back to the very beginning of Genesis.   For all generations!  Marcy Yellin will join us.

Simchat Torah is the culmination of the fall holidays.  We welcomed the New Year, reflected on forgiveness and how we will strive to be our best selves, celebrated our blessings on Sukkot, and will dance and sing and give thanks for the gift and foundation of Judaism in the midst of our wonderful community.


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7th Annual Pet service This Sunday

Join Sophie Bendoris ( taking over the reigns from Max Blake) and  Rabbi Adler for the 7th annual Pet Service on the lawn Sunday, October 16th at 9:00 a.m.

Max started this tradition in 2010 for his bar mitzvah project and had continued the tradition each year until leaving for college this Fall. Sophie Bendoris, a recent bat mitzvah, who shares Max’s love for animals has agreed to keep this wonderful mitzvah project going.  Bring your pets, real and stuffed, and a donation for a local animal shelter.  Food, toys, pet supplies, blankets and towels are among the things needed for the shelters. Snacks for humans and canines will be provided!  See you on Sunday!


The Song of the World

Yom Kippur Day, 2016`

Let’s begin with a story. Or two.
Once upon a time, a young man went to his rabbi and said: “Rabbi, you know I’ve been a pious Jew all my life. But something has changed. When I was a child, I felt very close to God. But now that I’m older, it seems as if God has left me. I go about my daily business, I say my prayers, but I no longer feel God near me.”
The rabbi smiled, as though he’d heard the problem stated many times before. “You may be certain God has not left you, my friend,” he answered kindly. “When you teach a child to walk, at first you stand very close. The child can take just one step, so you must catch him. But as he grows, you move farther and farther away, so that he can walk to you. God has not abandoned you. Like a good parent, God has moved farther away, but is still close by, waiting for you. Now you must learn to walk to God.”
Isn’t that a nice story?
I think so – except for one thing:
I don’t buy it. I don’t buy the rabbi’s answer.
I don’t believe God ever moves away from us. I believe God is ever present and that it is we who move away from God. We do it for innumerable reasons, some of them quite respectable. Perhaps we don’t believe the God described to us in our childhood, especially as we encounter suffering in our lives or in the world. Or we become distant because of the need to earn a living or ferry our children from one place to another or deal with a plumbing emergency – or other reasons we may be less proud of. I’m not going to list any of those – many of them are in the litany of sins in our prayer book today. The point is, in our hectic, stressful, distracting daily lives, it’s remarkably easy to forget that God is in the world.
And that reminds me of a story I like a great deal better.
One fine summer day, the great Ukrainian Hassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, called his disciples to him and said that he had an urgent announcement to make to all the Jews of Berditchev.
“But Rabbi,” said one of the disciples, “it’s market day, the busiest day of the week! Can’t this announcement wait ‘til Shabbas?”
“No!” the rebbe insisted, shaking his head from side to side so emphatically that his side-curls waved in the air. “Now, this minute. As soon as possible!”
And so the rebbe’s disciples ran through the streets of Berditchev, insisting that all the market stalls should be covered and all the shops shuttered and everyone should come immediately to hear the rebbe’s announcement.
The Jews of Berditchev loved their rebbe, but they were nonetheless vexed. “What’s so important it can’t wait?” they grumbled. “A Jew doesn’t feed a family by listening to his rebbe make announcements. He has to earn a living!”
Nonetheless, they trudged to the town square where they found their rebbe standing on a soapbox. He waited for them to quiet down then he said this:
“I am very pleased to announce to you, Jews of Berditchev . . . that God is in the world!” And then, as many Hassidim do, he began to dance with great joy.
For a moment or two, the Berditchev Jews were taken aback and wondered if they’d heard correctly. But then, as the rabbi’s meaning began to dawn on them, they too began to dance. By the time the people of Berditchev danced their way back to the marketplace, sure enough, many of them found God there, waiting for them.
In this story, we find the essence of Jewish mysticism. The rebbe implores his community to step out of their busy distracted lives – where prayers are said by rote and ideals are compromised as a matter of course – and feel the Divine Presence.
It is also the essence of Yom Kippur, which asks us to do the very same thing. It is a day separate from our secular lives, a chance to reflect and renew our acquaintance with the spiritual. When we forget what is sacred in life – and we all do – it’s not because cosmic reality has changed, but because we stopped paying attention.
I often think of these two stories when people come to me – as they often do – to say “Rabbi, I’m having trouble believing in God” or simply, “I don’t believe in God.”
And my answer is usually pretty much the same. “Tell me, what God don’t you believe in? Because it’s probably one I don’t believe in, either…The first thing you should know is, your doubts are healthy – and thoroughly Jewish. Let’s study Jews who, for centuries, have struggled with the same issues.”
The turning away from God is a classic Jewish phenomenon and the best evidence for this fact is Yom Kippur itself. On this day of repentance, we speak of teshuvah – of spiritual return. Judaism assumes that each and every one of us needs to make teshuvah on this day – that each and every one of us has drifted away from God – which to me mostly means, drifting away from the essence of our souls, the divine spark within us and in the world – and needs to wrestle his or her way back.
I use the word “wrestle” quite deliberately here, for the word “Yisrael” literally means “one who wrestles with God.” It comes from the story of the biblical Jacob wrestling with a divine being. We are B’nai Yisrael, the children of God wrestlers, and God wrestlers ourselves. As your rabbi, I have the same struggles as many of you, wrestling with God in my own unique way.
Many of us, for instance, struggle with the Torah because it presents a God most of us don’t recognize in the real world. The God of the Torah is a loquacious conversationalist, who finds the time to argue with Job about metaphysics.
He strikes down the impertinent, rewards those who grovel before him (sometimes) and orders the Israelites to slaughter all of their Midianite prisoners, including the women — except for the virgins and children whom he orders enslaved. Not everyone is comfortable with all that. (And we have thousands of years of commentary on all of this to take into consideration).
Then there is our liturgy, which is loaded with metaphors that personify God – the High Holiday prayers’ central images are of Avinu Malkeinu, our Father and King. While these ancient images of God may work for some of us, others may struggle with them.
So how can this Father, this King – this Parent and Sovereign as it’s now translated – allow so much suffering? What kind of Sovereign allows the strong to persecute the weak every single day, all over the world? What kind of Parent sends Hurricane Matthew through the Carribean and the American Southeast, killing hundreds of his children? Or, for that matter, allows our dear, sweet Beverly neighbor, Riley Fessenden, “Riley Rocks”, to be stricken with fatal cancer at such a young age?
The Jewish mystics recognize that there is much brokenness in the world and we are here to help in its repair. One version of Kabbalah’s creation myth comes from the 16th century mystic Isaac Luria. (I use the word “myth” as Joseph Campbell did, to signify a story that offers “clues to the spiritual potentialities of human life.”) In this myth God is Eyn Sof, without end, and contracts to make space in which to create the universe. And into this space vessels are filled with divine light so powerful that the vessels shatter – a cosmic catastrophe, a big bang, if you will.
Yes, there is brokenness. But shards of light can be found everywhere, and we humans are here to find them, and return them to their source, to do a kind of cosmic repair of the universe and divine unity. This is the true meaning of the term tikkun olam, world repair.
As my mentor, Rabbi Art Green, writes: “We do not deny the absurdity of life. No human being, especially no Jews, living in our times, could do that… We have seen the depths of human cruelty and the destructive power of nature…We refuse to give into hopelessness. The struggle for faith and the refusal to give into despair are one and the same.”
Where will this struggle for faith lead us? Ah, that’s up to each and every one of us God wrestlers. Is God Avinu — an intimate, loving parent? Or is God Malcheinu, a distant, demanding sovereign? Is God Dayan Emet, the true judge? Or is God HaRachaman, the compassionate one? Is God more like a person, or is God Ein Sof, without end? Or, do we choose related to something else or none of the above?
In truth, all of these concepts of God, however disparate and seemingly contradictory, are one. The ancient rabbis say that God is like a statue that we may perceive from an infinite number of different directions, and from each perspective, we perceive something new.
The mystics teach that the universe is like a garment for the divine and surrounded by divinity. Different metaphors for God help us relate to this eternal divinity in human terms – in different and meaningful ways – but they in and of themselves are not God.
Albert Einstein wrote, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
When we say Shema Yisrael – Listen O Israel, God, our God, is one – we are bearing witness to this divine unity. In a world that seems so fragmented, and so torn apart, it is important to remind ourselves that there is divinity everywhere.
On this day, and this day alone, we recite aloud the second line of the Shema: Baruch shem kavod malchuto l’olam va-ed, blessed is God’s holy name and kingdom, for eternity. On every other occasion, we whisper it, after reciting aloud the first line, Shema Yisrael. Why? Because, say the mystics, today is the day we remind ourselves, loud and clear, that we are part of the divine unity.
God’s “kingdom” is right here and God is right here – not up in heaven, pulling our strings like some master puppeteer – but in this world, within us, within all creation. When we say Baruch shem kavod aloud, we are claiming our place in the universe, and accepting all the responsibilities that go with that claim.
If God is everywhere, in everything, then the potential to encounter the divine is present at every moment. Eating, conversation, work – seemingly mundane activities – have the potential to be made holy. The great mystic, teacher, and activist Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that, “God is hiding in the world. Our task is to let the divine emerge from our deeds.”
It only takes a moment to notice our breath, look at a sunrise, smile at a stranger passing by, or count a blessing. It only takes a moment to be in the moment. But we all know that this isn’t easy. A kind of teshuvah (spiritual return) to which we re-commit at Yom Kippur could be taking such moments. What would the world be like if we all made a whole year of holy moments like these, to let the divine emerge from our deeds?
Highlighting the moral dimension of this mystical teaching, Art Green, student of Heschel explains that, “The only value of monotheism is to make you realize that all beings, including every creature, and that means the rock and the blade of grass in your garden as well as your pet lizard and your human neighbor next door, are all one in origin. You come from the same place..(and) Therefore – and this is the “payoff” line, the only one that really counts:
Treat them that way! . . . That is what it means to be a religious human being.”
All of this brings me back to the theme at which I’ve been hammering away for the last ten days: Relationships matter. All relationships — with ourselves, with our community, with humanity, with all life. God is in these relationships. Our task, as Jews, is beautifully described by Rav Kook, in the fourth melody of his Fourfold song: we “unite with all existence, with all creatures and with all worlds” and with all of them, we sing.
And so, I invite you to sing with me now, the fourfold song. If you managed to stay awake through any of my previous sermons, you were probably wondering when I’d get to it. Because I’ve used it throughout these high holidays as our guide.
On Rosh Hashanah we discussed the Song of the Self and how it differs from the discordant song of selfishness. We discussed the Song of the Nation, and how the ancient ties shared by people in this sanctuary can lead to a unique intimacy, friendship, and sense of belonging – and our congregation’s plans to further increase, and deepen, our relationships and connections. And last night we considered our obligation to sing the Song of Humanity, however difficult we may find that melody in today’s world, afflicted with “othering” and divisiveness.
On this day of teshuvah, of return and transformation, we open ourselves to the unity of all, and even we are not naturally mystics, to think about how this theology can still affect how we live our lives. And I am going to ask you to join with me now in reciting the Four Fold Song with me.

There is a person who sings the song of the Self. He finds everything, his complete spiritual satisfaction, within himself.
And there is a person who sings the song of the Nation. She steps forward from her private self, which she finds narrow and insufficiently developed. She yearns for the heights. She clings with a sensitive love to the entirety of the Jewish nation and sings with it its song. She shares in its pains, is joyful in its hopes, speaks with exalted and pure thoughts regarding its past and its future, investigates its inner spiritual nature with love and a wise heart.
There is a person whose soul is so broad that it expands beyond the border of Israel. It sings the song of humanity. This soul constantly grows broader with the exalted totality of humanity and its glorious image. He yearns for humanity’s general enlightenment. He looks forward to its supernal perfection. From this source of life, he draws all of his thoughts and insights, his ideals and visions.

And there is a person who rises even higher until she unites with all existence, with all creatures, and with all worlds. And with all of them, she sings. This is the person who, engaged in the Chapter of Song every day, is assured that she is a child of the World-to-Come.
And there is a person who rises with all these songs together in one ensemble so that they all give forth their voices, they all sing their songs sweetly, each supplies its fellow with fullness and life: the voice of happiness and joy, the voice of rejoicing and tunefulness, the voice of merriment and the voice of holiness.
The song of the self, the song of the people, the song of humanity, the song of the world, all merge in this person, at all times, in every hour.
And this full comprehensiveness rises to become the song of holiness, the song of God, the song of Israel, in its full strength and beauty, in its full authenticity and greatness. The name “Israel” stands for shir-el, the song of God. It is a simple song, a twofold song, a threefold song, and a fourfold song. It is the Song of Songs of Solomon, Shlomo, which means peace or wholeness. It is the song of the King, in whom is wholeness, Shalom.
We take good care of ourselves, we take good care of others. We feel some special connection to our own Tribe, perhaps; maybe we feel called to heal the whole wide world. We sing, adding our voices to all the others in the choir.
My prayer for the year to come is that Rav Kook will be our teacher, and that we will sing the Fourfold Song loud enough for others to hear, and to join in. May it be a song of wholeness, a song of integrity and a song of peace, shalom.
Gemar Hatimah tovah, may you be sealed for a good new year.

The Song of Humanity

Yom Kippur Evening, 2016

If you’re a parent, or a grandparent, you probably know that Beverly got a wonderful gift this summer: a new playground at the Dane Street Beach. It was built thanks to the efforts of Rich and Josie Marino, in memory of their young daughter, Bella. Shortly after the playground opened, I had the pleasure of standing with a group of parents as we watched our children climb and swing and spin and do all of the other things kids do on a playground.
Of course, as a parent, it makes you feel so happy, to see your children play that way, with nothing to worry them or make them afraid. We want our kids to be able to play in this innocent way; and as parents we also have to try to anticipate anything that might threaten them.
So as we watched our children playing on that beautiful summer day, someone brought up the issue of “stranger danger.” When do you start warning your kids about strangers? And how best to do it?
One of the parents suddenly spoke up in a stern voice: “You know what I tell my son,” she said. “DON’T. TALK. TO. STRANGERS. Because they will KIDNAP you and they will KILL you!”
The rest of us didn’t know what to say. It’s tough to blame a parent for being protective of her child. But, isn’t it possible to teach our kids to be cautious of unfamiliar people without teaching them to be utterly terrified? – So that they will still do things like say something adorable to random adults on a checkout line at the supermarket?
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized: This dilemma never goes away. We continue to face it as adults, as a community and as a nation.
We face it when we see refugees from Syria fleeing for their lives. We want to help them – but we may hesitate to do so, because we fear there might be terrorists in their midst.
We face it when we see police officers abusing their power – but fear that attempts to restrain that abuse might result in danger to police officers, or to us.
And we face it as Jews when we stand-up for justice, based on our Jewish principles, only to find ourselves sometimes attacked for being Jews. Yes, this is an infuriating phenomenon that is happening with increasing frequency in our country, especially on college campuses.
What, you may be wondering, has any of this to do with Yom Kippur, this day of repentance, this day of teshuvah?
I found myself drawn to this problem – which I call “stranger danger in the adult world” – while studying the third movement of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook’s poetical manifesto, the Four Fold Song. Those of you who were here for Rosh Hashanah will remember it, I hope. In any case, let’s have a look at it again. Please follow along now, as I read the first two paragraphs:
There is a person who sings the song of the Self. He finds everything, his complete spiritual satisfaction, within himself.
And there is a person who sings the song of the Nation. She steps forward from her private self, which she finds narrow and insufficiently developed. She yearns for the heights. She clings with a sensitive love to the entirety of the Jewish nation and sings with it its song. She shares in its pains, is joyful in its hopes, speaks with exalted and pure thoughts regarding its past and its future, investigates its inner spiritual nature with love and a wise heart.
Now, on Rosh Hashanah we discussed the Song of the Self and how it differs from the discordant song of selfishness. Then we discussed the song of the Jewish Nation, and how the ancient ties shared by people in this sanctuary can lead to a unique intimacy and friendship in the present. And we discussed our congregation’s plans to further increase, and deepen, our relationships and connections.
This evening, I want to talk about how difficult it can be to sing the next song – the Song of Humanity – in today’s world. Please follow along again, third paragraph:
There is a person whose soul is so broad that it expands beyond the border of Israel. It sings the song of humanity. This soul constantly grows broader with the exalted totality of humanity and its glorious image. He yearns for humanity’s general enlightenment. He looks forward to its supernal perfection. From this source of life, he draws all of his thoughts and insights, his ideals and visions.
Our tradition teaches that all human beings have a spark of the divine within us, that we are all b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. This doesn’t necessarily mean that God looks like us. The image of God is within us. Our job is to manifest that presence in God’s world, in large measure, through our relationships with others. When I treat another with the dignity that the image of God deserves, when I am treated with such dignity, the divine flows between us, and through us, and has an impact on healing the world. That is Judaism in essence.
And there is so much healing to be done in this world! Elie Wiesel, whom we lost this year, may his memory be for a blessing, wrote: “Human rights are being violated on every continent. More people are oppressed than free. How can one not be sensitive to their plight? . . . . As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame. All these victims need to know they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”
That is why we must bear witness and stand-up to all assaults against liberty and human dignity: Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, trans-phobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, terrorism and all expressions of hatred and divisiveness – all things we are seeing too much in our country and world. Our God is one of compassion and justice and our duty is clear.
But how are we to react when we step forward to do this work and are met with resistance or rejection from those who ought to be our allies? For there is an epidemic of anti-Semitism in America today of a sort that I never experienced growing up. It is bold and insidious and often couched in anti-Zionist ideology.
It tells ludicrous lies such as: The 9/11 attacks were planned by the Jews (this message was recently scrawled on a playing field at Marblehead High School); or the Zionists are secretly, and systematically, poisoning the children of Palestine.
Of course, these are extreme examples that originate from extremist sources. But the rise of a more mainstream anti-Semitism, particularly on college campuses, is in a sense more disturbing – precisely because it is in the mainstream
Listen, for instance, to the beginning of a recent essay by one Benjamin Gladstone, a Junior at Brown University: “Last semester, a group came to Providence to speak against admitting Syrian refugees into this country. As the president of the Brown Coalition for Syria, I jumped into action with my peers to stage a counterdemonstration. But I quickly found myself cut out of the planning for this event: Other student groups were not willing to work with me because of my leadership roles in campus Jewish organizations.”
I wish I could tell you that this is an isolated incident, but it is not. Last year at UCLA, when Sophomore Rachel Beyda was nominated to the student council judicial board, which is equivalent to its supreme court, she was asked: “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how [will you be] able to [consider cases with] an unbiased view?” Then, according to the New York Times, “for the next 40 minutes . . . the council tangled in a debate about whether [Rachel Beyda’s] faith and affiliation with Jewish organizations, including her sorority and Hillel . . . meant she would be biased in dealing with sensitive governance questions. . . The discussion . . . seemed to echo the kind of questions, prejudices and tropes — particularly about divided loyalties — that have plagued Jews across the globe for centuries.”
But perhaps the most explosive example occurred two months ago when the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of over 50 organizations including Black Lives Matter, released a policy platform with concrete ways to address the very real systematic racism in our country.
Stacey Aviva Flint, a Jew of color, wrote in Tablet magazine, in addition to “documenting the grave issues facing Blacks today… To my surprise…the platform crossed the Atlantic to denounce Israel as an apartheid state committing genocide and advocated for boycotting it.”  Genocide.  Now, whatever our views of the conflict and certain Israeli Government policies are, we know that it is not genocide.  We know genocide.
Jewish leaders across the political spectrum denounced this part of the platform.
It may be tempting under these circumstances to simply throw up our hands and say: “To heck with it! Why should I try to help people who misunderstand me, who may even hate me?
Unfortunately, that response simply does not jibe with the moral obligations of Judaism, so eloquently described by Elie Wiesel and Rav Kook. Keeping our mouths shut and “minding our business” would surely be our most comfortable option. But in the words of Stacey Aviva Flint, “Comfort is not an option . . . Jews must take risks to speak up for the powerless . . . . I choose discomfort.”
The leadership of the Jewish Community Relations Council wrote, “As we dissociate ourselves from the Black Lives Matter platform, we recommit ourselves unequivocally to the pursuit of justice for all Americans, and to working together with our friends and neighbors in the African-American community, whose experience of the criminal justice system is, far too often, determined by race. We will not allow this profoundly disturbing development to deter us from values and principles we hold dear.”
But how, then, do we stand-up for these values and principles? Rav Kook, Elie Wiesel and Martin Buber all had the same answer, a single word: Relationships. We must seek friendship – true friendship, of the sort I discussed on Rosh Hashanah – with individuals willing to seek friendship with us.
Let me reiterate: I am not reciting some touchy-feely notion I came-up with on my own. On this, the holiest evening on the Jewish calendar, I am conveying to you one of the most precious fundamentals of our creed.
“When we set ourselves apart from others,” writes Martin Buber – perhaps the greatest Jewish philosopher of the twentieth century – “we become mere egos. It is only when we set out to form relationships with others that we become “human” in the best sense of that word. When we seek to be true friends to one another – that is when the smoldering fire of holiness within us lights up in both ourselves and our friends.”

We should do this for its own sake, not for any reward. And yet, I might as well tell you: The rewards can be very great. I realized last May when our synagogue was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. As many of you know, we convened a meeting here in this sanctuary and invited Robert Trestan from the Anti-Defamation League to lead a discussion about anti-Semitism in our community.
I invited numerous Beverly clergy to attend this meeting and five of them came: the Reverends Kent Harrop and Beth Longhead from First Baptist; Reverend Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson from First Parish Unitarian-Universalist; Myozen Joan Amaral from the Zen Center; and Reverend Manny Faria from St. Peter’s Episcopal. Rev. Tara Olsen Allen from Second Congregational wanted to be here, but was unable to attend.
It was a nice turnout; but as we stood together on the platform to sing Mattisyahu’s peace anthem, One Day, I realized something: All of the pastors who stood-up for us that night were individuals with whom I, and others in our congregation, had personal relationships. They’d been to our house for dinner – in fact, most of them came to a Passover Seder that Chuck and I hosted – and we’d been to their homes; or I’d shared long walks and deep conversations with them; or we’d met together in common cause on behalf of the needy.
Several of them spoke about this when they expressed their support for our community. That’s not to say that other Beverly clergy who weren’t here didn’t care about what happened. But there’s no doubt about it: Relationships matter.
I’d like to say a few words, in particular, about our relationship with First Baptist. For years now, we’ve held Monday Night Suppers for the needy in their building. In recent years, many of us have gone on Reverend Kent’s contemplative kayaking trips – to enjoy God’s creation in silence. Earlier this year, Reverend Kent told me that he wanted to host with me a public discussion on the meaning life – in a bar. Of course, I was pleased by the offer. “But Kent,” I asked him, “why in a bar!?” His eyes lit up as he answered me: “Because…I want to call it: A Rabbi and a Baptist Minister Walk Into a Bar.”
The point is, the folks at First Baptist are our true friends, who are willing to stand with us when we are under attack. Recently, I walked into their lobby and saw, prominently posted on a bulletin board, a newspaper article, under the heading “Our Friends at Temple B’nai Abraham.” It was the Salem News’ coverage of the dedication of our Czech Memorial Torah Scroll last year.
And let me add – this is important – when Rev. Kent came to our synagogue to stand with us after we were vandalized, he brought along two large poster boards full of beautiful handwritten messages from members of his congregation, expressing their revulsion at the vandalism and their solidarity with our community. You see: Relationships matter.
Yom Kippur is a time to commit, or recommit ourselves. And so I pledge to redouble my efforts to help this congregation – us – form relationships that build bridges. Not long ago, I was pleased to join with other local clergy in forming the Beverly Multi-faith Coalition. I was also invited by Mayor Cahill to join the Beverly Human Rights Committee, along with the Superintendent of Schools, the Chief of Police, and wonderful community leaders representing Beverly’s diversity – all with the aim of combating hate and bringing people together.
And to this I add joining with ECCO, an Essex County interfaith community organization. One of its missions is to bring congregations together for things like potluck dinners, to forge relationships across race, and class. To listen to each other’s stories, to challenge each other’s worldviews when necessary, and to work together to better our community and country.
I hope you, too, will think about dedicating, or rededicating yourself to forming new relationships – particularly, relationships with people who may fall out of your comfort zone.
Shortly before she was murdered in Auschwitz, Rabbi Regina Jonas — the first ordained female rabbi in history — wrote that,
“Unselfish dedicated love toward
all [God’s] creations
[is what] upholds the world.”
Surely, if she could cling fast to these ideals in the face of such inconceivable persecution and suffering, we, too, can do so despite the insults and provocations that will surely come our way.
Tomorrow we will consider the last part of Rav Kook’s Fourfold Song, The Song of the World. But on this night of teshuvah, I ask us to consider how we will sing the song of humanity in this new year. As we chant the litany of sins in our liturgy, we know that they are in the plural “we” because we are all responsible for each other, and we can each make a difference in this troubled world by drawing more divinity into it.
Let us go forth, holding in our hearts Elie Weisel’s most famous statement, which is both a prayer and a poem: “The opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference.”


Second Day of Rosh Hashanah, 5777/2016

The essence of Torah — and therefore of our creed — is lovingkindness, to love our neighbors as ourselves. But how do we acquire this sacred lovingkindness, this combination of energy and patience, and righteousness and understanding, that makes what we call a mensch? The Talmud answers in one sentence: “Torah can be acquired only through friendship.” (Talmud, Berakhot 63b)

Judaism is relational – as we discussed yesterday when we spoke about the meaning of community. And our tradition regards friendship as the key to human relations. But we have a tendency to use the word “friendship” carelessly sometimes – to forget what it really means.

My niece, Ava, recently reminded me of the true meaning of friendship. She’s fifteen and lives in Southern California. Not long ago, she met up with one of her girlfriends who, she could tell, was upset about something. A discreet inquiry revealed that the poor girl had a painful condition that required her to have an ultrasound. Tearfully, Ava’s friend said that she had been through the ultrasound procedure before and it was horrible. In order for the ultrasound to work, the patient had to have a completely full bladder and that meant she had to drink water — and drink it and drink it and drink it, way past the point at which it became merely uncomfortable. It was a kind of torture.


First Day of Rosh Hashanah, 5777/2016

Shannah tovah, good morning. It’s wonderful to look out this morning at all of you in this full sanctuary on this holiest of days. And such a full sanctuary reminds me of a story I heard not long ago.
It seems a Jewish woman was lying in bed on a Saturday morning. Her husband gave her a shake and said, “Come on, now, honey, it’s time to get up! We’ve got to go to synagogue.”
“UGH!,” she replied, “I don’t want to go to synagogue. I don’t like synagogue!”
“You don’t like synagogue? What don’t you like about it?”
“Where to start? I don’t like the services. And I really don’t like the sermons. And besides,” she sniffed, “that congregation – nobody likes me. No matter how hard I try to be friendly, they just don’t like me. So I’m not going. Why should I? Give me one good reason why I should?”
Well, her husband crossed his arms over his chest and looked sternly down at her.
“I’ll give you three good reasons,” he said. “First, God expects and requires a Jew to go to synagogue. Second, I’m going, and I’m taking the kid, and a decent Jewish family goes to synagogue together. And third –in case you’ve forgotten –
I don’t know the identity of this unfortunate family – it’s just a bit of gossip, the sort one hears in rabbinical circles. But it does make me grateful for the congregation we’ve got, because the honest truth is – seriously, now – I always want to come to my synagogue.
Because I always want to get together with you. I look forward to studying together; praying together; working together for social justice; sharing meals, supporting each other, celebrating together, and all the other things that we do together. Because, as Alan and Sandy have said better than I could, our community has a unique warmth and spiritual connection – and I never come here without feeling it.
Always, when these High Holy Days arrive, I feel proud and excited as we prepare to embark on this journey of reflection, teshuvah and celebration.
But I’ve got to tell you: It came just in time this year. The last 12 months have been what we call, in Yiddish, a tzimmes. And not one of those sweet, yummy tzimmeses your grandmother used to make for the holidays, with the carrots and the sweet potatoes and the raisins, all mixed together with honey and lemon.
I’m talking about a real-life tzimmis – a jumble, a muddle, a cacophony of bad news. And the bad news always seems to come wrapped in hatred, vitriol, bile and, alas, too frequently, violence.
We’ve had an epidemic of violence — criminal violence, terrorist violence, state violence, domestic violence, racial violence. Violence that breaks our hearts, every day. We’ve also had an epidemic of sheer nastiness, in our public discourse.
But above all, what’s troubled me over the last year, has been the epidemic of othering.
Do you know what I mean by other-ing? “Beware the “other” – the other race, the other religion, the other nationality. Beware the unfamiliar person, the one who makes you feel a little uncomfortable or – dare I say it? – a little guilty.
Beware the immigrant man – he’s coming to take your job!
Beware the transgender woman – she wants to invade the bathroom stall next to yours, God forbid!
Beware the Muslim four year-old in your child’s class – she may be an operative for ISIS.
And, while you’re at it, beware the Jewish kid in your college student government – he may be an operative for the International Zionist Conspiracy.
Beware the other!
You don’t have to be a genius to see what’s at the bottom of this: Fear. Stress. Ignorance.
But here – at last! – is some good news. Judaism is uniquely well-suited to confront, and to do battle against, fear, stress and ignorance. You might even go so far as to say that controlling this three-headed goblin has been one of the main purposes of Judaism for the past 2,000 years.
And so, on this day of new beginnings, I want to share with you what I regard as one of Judaism’s most inspiring calls to the sort of spiritual life that can help us lay this goblin to rest. It is called the Shir M’ruba or Four Fold Song and, hopefully, you will find an orange copy of it on your chair.
The Four Fold Song is the work of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, of blessed memory. Now, if you are unfamiliar with Rav Kook and his work…how can I describe him to you, this great man?
I can tell you that he was born in present day Latvia in 1865, and, even as a child, he was recognized by the sages of his time as an illui, or genius of the Torah. I can tell you that in 1904, he arrived in the Holy Land, and was later named Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of British Mandated Palestine.
I can tell you that Rav Kook was many things – scholar, educator, activist, politician, poet and author, and above all, mystic. Yet the essence of Rav Kook’s holiness, I think, is most evident in his ability to unite diverse groups of people. He was rabbi not only to the Old Yishuv Jews in their black hats and black coats, but also to the secular-minded kibbutzniks, in their overalls and farm caps – and just about everyone in between. He spoke to everyone, and how he got through to so many will, I think, be apparent in just a moment.
For Rav Kook’s response to the pestilences of fear, stress and ignorance, and all the curses and tsorris they bring, can be summed-up in a single word: Relationships. And, as always in Judaism, we begin with the relationship with the self.
“There is a person who sings the song of the Self. Shirat Nafsho. He finds everything, his complete spiritual satisfaction, within himself.”
The Song of the Self. For Judaism teaches that each of us has the right to sustenance and love, from ourselves as much as from others. Our sages insist upon it, and so do our Jewish mothers. We are commanded not only to eat, but to en-choy!
But this song of the self is a far cry from a song of selfishness. Because the song of the self, though a beautiful melody, and a necessary one, is merely a starting point. Our great sage, Hillel, famously said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” But he didn’t stop there, did he? He went on: “If I am only for myself, what am I?” And to this question, the Four Fold Song also continues:
And there is a person who sings the song of the Nation. Shirat Ha-umah. She steps forward from her private self, which she finds narrow and insufficiently developed. She yearns for the heights. She clings with a sensitive love to the entirety of the Jewish nation and sings with it its song. She shares in its pains, is joyful in its hopes, speaks with exalted and pure thoughts regarding its past and its future, investigates its inner spiritual nature with love and a wise heart.
It is the Song of the Nation that brings us together on this holy day. We come to this place to feel a sense of belonging and connection. We come to talk to God – however we may understand God – in a spirit of mutual respect. We come to stand together against hatred and injustice, and to find sanctuary from the chaos and craziness of our world.
We are free to be as private as we like without ever having to feel alone, because we pray as a people, even when we pray silently as individuals. And how much more as a people, when we raise our voices together in the words of our ancestors, to magnify and sanctify the forces of light, through which we seek to mend and repair ourselves and this broken world.
I sing the Song of the Nation when I’m in Israel, walking the paths of my ancestors, breathing in the air that somehow feels more spiritually nourishing than anywhere else I have ever been. I also sing the Song of the Nation when Israel is under attack and I come to her defense; and when I pray for the wellbeing of her people – my people. And, too, we sing this song when we passionately disagree with each other about Israeli politics and policies. For the Song of our Nation has always been one of innumerable voices.
It is a powerful, powerful gift, this song of the nation, and we owe it to ourselves, and each other, to make use of it as much as we can.
One of our members, whose family has belonged to this synagogue for generations, recently shared a story about something that happened one night, about half-a-century ago. “I was twenty-four, lying on my bed feeding my 6 month old son. My two year-old daughter [lay] sound asleep. It was ten p.m. when the phone rang and my husband answered it. From the sound of his voice, I knew my beloved mother had died. The next evening there was a minyan at my home and Saul Axelrod was the first to arrive. I had never met him. But he gave me a warm comforting hug. And at that moment, I knew that I would be okay.”
Now, how can this be? How can a hug from a total stranger have such power? Because, in that moment, that young mother in mourning knew two things: One, that Saul Axelrod is a mensch, and when you’re in mourning, it is good to have a hug from a mensch; but, also, she knew that Saul’s hug symbolized the love and support of an entire community, a community bound by thousands of years of common history, values and commitment. That’s a powerful hug. And that is what is meant by the Song of the Nation.
Another member of our community recently shared that when her daughter fell ill, she sent a message to our Sisterhood’s Bikkur Cholim asking for prayers for healing. By the time she saw me coming in to the hospital to check on her, she knew it wasn’t just me joining her at all – it was as if our entire community was walking in to the hospital behind me. That’s when she knew that TBA was her community.
And yet another mother shared this Jewish teaching with me as she wrote of feeling supported by community when her daughter went through surgery – “Separately, we are as fragile as reeds and as easily broken…But together, we are as strong as reeds tied in a bundle”. It was as if her family were right in the middle of that bundle of strong reeds.
These are just a few examples of so many, of how we sing the Song of the Nation here at Temple B’nai Abraham. But I also want to mention something else: The importance of teaching this song to our children. Let’s all have a kvell together over a little poem by one of our kids that Lauren Goldman, one of our teachers, shared with me. See if you can hear the song of the nation in this magnificent lyric verse by Arianna Bocchino:
Halloween is coming!
So is Rosh Hashannah!
I might dress as a ghost
Or, maybe ,a funny llama!
It’s nice to keep a smile on your face
Even when you’re sad
Because there are things to look forward to
Like Rosh Hashanah with mom and dad!

We do indeed have much to look forward to in the coming year. Last year, we adopted, repaired and dedicated our Czech Memorial Torah Scroll, honoring the martyred Jewish community of Brno. Every one of our b’nai mitzvah students now reads from its holy words, and when they do, the light of the Jews of Brno, and all who were murdered in the Shoah, sparkles for all to see. That, too is the Song of the Nation.
But this year I would like to announce a challenge that can be, in its way, no less exhilarating: To get to know each other better.
Yes, I am serious. We need to get to know one another, so that we can sing this Song of the Nation as loudly and harmoniously as we dare, so that we can strengthen our community and each other.
I’m asking you to talk to one another – not just about the Red Sox, but about the things that keep you up at night and the things that get you up in the morning. This is something we need as individuals and as a community. This is the harmony of the Song of the Self and the Song of the Nation.
So don’t be surprised, or put off, if you get a phone call inviting you to a house gathering of some sort by one of the people leading this effort (Jerry Schwartz, Eve Noss, Ken Hartman, Arnie Cowan, Linda Goodspeed, Eileen Edelstein, Tom Cheatham – and a few others yet to be confirmed). All mentschen. Really. Having coffee or a drink with any one of them alone is time well-spent, as many here already know.
The call will be an invitation to schmooze with old and new friends and exchange ideas about what we really care about. No one will ask you for money or try to get you to volunteer for anything. We’ll be calling because we want to know you better. Why? Because our sages teach us that relationships are the key to beating back the demons of fear, stress and overwhelm.
There’s a story told about sage of ancient times, Honi ha-M’agel, or Honi the Circle Maker, who lived 2,000 years ago. According to this story, Honi ha-M’agel fell asleep for seventy years and, when he awoke, found himself unable to form meaningful friendships with people of an unfamiliar generation. ..
His desperate prayer became a Jewish proverb that has resounded across the millennia: “Companionship! Either companionship or death – Hevrutah oh metutah!” (Taanit 23a)
On Yom Kippur, I’ll have much more to say about the second half of the Four Fold Song. For now, I invite you to follow along with me, as the circles of relationships grow wider and deeper, and we bring this holy quartet to its conclusion.

“There is a person whose soul is so broad that it expands beyond the border of Israel. It sings the song of humanity. This soul constantly grows broader with the exalted totality of humanity and its glorious image. He yearns for humanity’s general enlightenment. He looks forward to its supernal perfection. From this source of life, he draws all of his thoughts and insights, his ideals and visions.
And there is a person who rises even higher until she unites with all existence, with all creatures, and with all worlds. And with all of them, she sings. This is the person who, engaged in the Chapter of Song every day, is assured that she is a child of the World-to-Come.
And there is a person who rises with all these songs together in one ensemble so that they all give forth their voices, they all sing their songs sweetly, each supplies its fellow with fullness and life: the voice of happiness and joy, the voice of rejoicing and tunefulness, the voice of merriment and the voice of holiness.
The song of the soul, the song of the nation, the song of humanity, the song of the world—they all mix together with this person at every moment and at all times.
And this simplicity in its fullness rises to become a song of holiness, the song of God, the song that is simple, doubled, tripled, quadrupled, the Song of Songs of Solomon – Shlomo —of the king who is characterized by completeness and peace, Shalom.”



We give thanks for our beautiful community, and blessings to you and your families as we begin 5777 together.

Sunday evening service begins at 7 PM.

Monday and Tuesday services begin at 8:45 AM

Family Services both days from 10-12.  The kids will then come into the sanctuary so we can join together in blessings and celebration, followed by Kiddush and apples and honey.