Archive for April, 2010

Rabbi Aft’s last dvar of the semester

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Dear Friends,

As I write this final parsha column for the spring, I wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed being a small part of Hillel for this year. I hope that we can continue to build upon what we have done when we return in the fall and look forward to getting to know more of you better.

I am always inspired by the power of our sacred text to impact upon our lives. As we read the Torah and think about the ways in which its lessons provide direction to our lives, I find that the Torah is truly a tree of life to those who hold fast to it…(as the prayer says….)

A colleague of mine, Rick Sherwin, wrote the following in a discussion about counting the omer (we count each night between the second night of Passover and Shavuot, the omer which is a way in which we prepare for the spring harvest through counting a special barley offering…. between Passover and Shavuot….

“…An aspect of the mitzva to count each of the 49 days is to create a bridge between Pesach and Shavu’ot, between physical liberation and spiritual freedom. ”

Immediately upon leaving Egypt, the generation of the Exodus was hardly prepared to embark on a completely new way of life. They could not automatically emancipate themselves from their previous environment, a society encompassed by the spirit of superstition and paganism. In anticipation of their new role as GOY KADOSH, a nation of holiness, they were charged to transform themselves one step at a time until they were ready to receive the Torah at Sinai. Freedom from slavery is incomplete without the freedom to study Torah.

The underlying message to both themes is to count each day and to thank God in the process. The psalmist teaches (Psalm 90): Teach us to count our days [and to make every day count]…For the days of our lives are limited, the time is short and our days are soon gone by and we fly away.

Individuals whose lives have been characterized by enslavement to routine may ultimately ask themselves, ‘Where have the years disappeared? What have I done with my years?’

As I think about my time at GMU this spring, I have realized just how quickly time passes by when we are having a good time. I hope that as each of us thinks about our own personal journeys, we will find ways (or experience revelations) which will help us to find meaningful ways in which to spend our days. I also hope we can find special times to study the Torah and our sacred writings…they can make such a difference in our world.

Finally, please remember that May 9 is Mother’s Day and if you are fortunate enough to be able to see your mom, please tell her how much you love her. And if you can’t see her, please call her….and if you and she are estranged or in conflict, perhaps this can be the Mother’s Day to make peace…and if your mom is no longer in this world, I hope you have good memories…

Rabbi Bruce Aft

Parshat Acharei Mot/Kedoshim

Friday, April 16th, 2010

This week we read Parshat Acharei Mot/Kedoshim, which includes a discussion of what it means to be holy.

We also read about the Yom Kippur ritual where a goat was sent to the wilderness carrying the sins of the community with it. Often commentators use the description of this ritual to remind us of how easy it can be to scapegoat an innocent person and blame them for things for which they have no responsibility.

I can’t help but think of the recent suicide in Massachusetts and the horrible consequences of bullying. I think we live in a world where too often we pick on individuals who appear easy targets to carry our sins and mistakes. I hope that when we see someone innocent under attack, we can find creative ways to support those who suffer the consequences of being bullied.

This week we also celebrate the 62nd anniversary of the State of Israel and as I sat at a lecture about Zionism recently, I was inspired once again by Theodore Herzl’s quote, Im tirtzu, ain zo aggadah…if you will it, it is no dream.

I hope that each of us will be inspired by our State of Israel, to continue to dream about ways in which we can make a difference. Israel may not be a perfect place and politically we might disagree, but we can never forget the wonderful ways in which Israel had provided a home for many who were bullied and scapegoated during WW II. We must also celebrate the specialness of knowing that we have a spiritual home that unites us with our ancestors and reminds us of our connection with our roots. We pray for the leaders of Israel that they will be guided to make wise decisions that will lead to a peaceful future.

Rabbi Bruce

Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Commemoration Day

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Dear Friends,

As we mourn for the victims of the Holocaust this week as we commemorate Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Commemoration Day, I hope that each of us will take a minute to think about what we might do to help victims who are experiencing genocide as you read this. At this time of year, we are reminded that we live in a world where the hatred and bigotry which killed six million Jews and five million others, continues to permeate our world, particularly in Darfur and the Congo.

I personally don’t believe that it is fair to say that the perpetrators of genocide are simply evil people. I believe that people do evil things and that each of us needs to be aware of potential hatred and stand up for the people and causes in which we believe. I remember Rabbi Yoachim Prinz’s comment at a synagogue in Berlin that “the greatest sin is the sin of silence…”

We all remember the comment made by Pastor Martin Niemoller that when they came for the communists he didn’t stand up because he wasn’t a communist, and when they came for the trade unionists, he didn’t stand up because he wasn’t a trade unionist, and when they came for the Jews he didn’t stand up because he wasn’t a Jew, and when they came for the Catholics, he didn’t stand up because he wasn’t a Catholic, and finally when they came for him, there was no one left to stand up….

May each of us make a pledge today to make ourselves more aware of genocide that occurs in our world and try to do something (write a letter to a public official, do a fundraiser for victims, make a donation…whatever…) to show we care.

In the Book of Leviticus, we read that we should not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor and in the Talmud, Shabbat 54A we are told that we are responsible when a member of our family, a member of our community, or someone in the world does something to hurt someone. May we take this responsibility seriously and speak out against injustice when we see it.

Finally, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Poland at this horrific time. May the memories of all those who died in the plane crash be a blessing to their families and friends and may the people of Poland find the strength to deal with this tragedy.

Rabbi Bruce Aft

Passover Dvar

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Dear Friends,

During Passover we read about the song at the sea which is part of our prayer service when we sing Mi Chamocha. We give thanks to G-d for allowing us to escape the Egyptians and to cross through the Red Sea on dry land.

It is interesting to note several things about this passage from Exodus and from our prayer book. First of all, we know that Nachshon is the one who took the first step into the Sea and that the miracle only occurred once Nachshon showed that he had faith that G-d would help him and then the miracle occurred. How many times do we wait for a miracle to occur in our lives and expect someone to make it happen for us? We need to be active partners with G-d in the work of tikkun olam….repairing our world. Although Nachshon showed faith in G-d, I often wonder whether G-d has faith in us that we will do our share to make the world a better place.

Second, we note that G-d helped us to go through the water on dry land….not only did G-d help us through the Red Sea, but G-d didn’t even let us get our feet wet…Once Nachshon went into the water, G-d performed the miracle that allowed us to get through with dry feet. How often do we think that we have done enough by performing a mitzvah, but could have even been more conscientious and yet are satisfied that we have done enough….which leads to the third point…

How do we ever know if we have done enough to repair our world? Each of us is so busy and there are so many causes in which to get involved….

I hope that during the final days of Pesach this year, we will liberate ourselves from apathy and will do as much as we can( maybe it will never be enough, but we are also taught that we are not required to finish the task, only to participate in it..).

May we be inspired to do ALL we can to help others.

Rabbi Bruce