Archive for February, 2011

What is the sacred space in our lives?

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Dear Friends,

In this week’s Torah portion, VeYakhel, we read a summary of some of the preparations which were made to create the sacred space of our Tabernacle which was used to transport the 10 Commandments.

What is the sacred space in our lives? Where do we go to be holy? These are important questions that each of us must address at some time in our lives. I recently talked to a student who suggested that she has certain places she goes when she is down which she calls her “happy place.” I wonder how many of us have a place that makes us happy. Many of you know that I love baseball and that my happy place is being on the mound, preparing to pitch. But most of you don’t know that the reason that this is sacred to me is not because I am a White Sox fan, and not because I love to play baseball (which I do). The reason that this is a sacred space and a happy place for me is that this is where my father and I bonded. He taught me to pitch, but more than that, he taught me about life when we would play catch with each other. We may have been arguing about other things but I can never remember a time when if he asked me to play catch with him or if I asked him to play catch with me, that either of us would refuse each other.

In fact, I knew he was dying when the last time we played catch, the game only lasted a couple of minutes. It was such a sad moment and yet, I so vividly remember him squatting down behind the plate and telling me to “rear back, lengthen my stride, grip the ball with the seams,” and other little baseball tidbits. One of the most sacred moments I recall was when I stood on the mound at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York near the Baseball Hall of Fame. I pitched, he caught, and my mother took movies (on an 8 Millimeter camera which I am sure none of you remember…)

It was not the Holy Tabernacle, it was not a synagogue, but it was and is a sacred space and happy place to which I return when I wish to remember my mom and dad and when I am seeking inspiration.

May each of us find holy spaces that make us happy.

Shabbat Shalom and thanks for bearing with my trip down nostalgia lane.

Rabbi Bruce Aft
GMU Hillel Rabbinic Educator

the world stands on three things…

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Dear Friends,

As we read this week’s Torah portion which deals with the Golden Calf, I believe that each of us should think about what is important to us and how we relate to G-d. I believe that our ancestors struggled with how to connect to G-d and when Moses didn’t come down from Mt. Sinai when they expected, they built the Golden Calf. Was the Calf an idol? Did they need to see G-d and therefore build a likeness of G-d? And…what does this mean to us in our world as we think about our own personal connection to the Divine and to our religious beliefs?

I recently asked members of our confirmation class at Congregation Adat Reyim whether they could root for a football team in the Super Bowl when there had been accusations that one of their star players may have been involved in an immoral sexual act and had been suspended for a number of games by the NFL. The consensus was that we root for the way our “heroes” play on the field and not what they do in their personal lives. I was troubled by their response because in my ideal world, it should matter what our”heroes” do both on and off the field. However, sometimes I believe that we put aside our moral and religious values because we want our team to win. I am personally as guilty of this as anyone since I hope that the teams I root for have the best players who can help them win. But…then I become concerned that perhaps I too am an idolater who worships winning over good sportsmanship and moral behavior.

As we think about our own careers and what is important to us, I wonder how many of us chase after the idols of money, fame, status, material possessions and other “idols” at the expense of devoting ourselves to helping others, spending time with our families, and making a difference in the lives of members of our community.

Finally, I wonder whether I would have patiently waited for Moses to return or whether I would have built an idol to personify G-d in my life. As members of the Jewish community, I believe that we should strive to pursue justice and to live by the selection from Pirke Avot (Teachings of the Sages) that reminds us that the world stands on three things, Torah (study), Avodah (worship), and g’milut hasadim (deeds of loving kindness). May we be inspired by the experience of our ancestors to study, find time for spirituality, and perform actions that will heal our world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bruce Aft

Words have consequences

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Dear Friends,

At the conclusion of the Amidah, we recite,”Guard My Tongue from Evil and My Lips from Telling Lies.” We know that we should avoid negative speech which we call “lashon hara.” In this week’s Torah portion, “Tetzaveh,” we notice that Moses’ name is not mentioned for the only time after we are introduced to Moses in Exodus, Chapter 2. In his commentary, “Living Each Week,” Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky suggests that “this omission is a consequence of Moses’ having said, when he pleaded for Divine forgiveness for the Israelites, that if they were not to be forgiven, ” Blot me out from Your Book”(Exod. 32:32).

In the end, God does forgive the Israelites, but Moses’ name, although not completely blotted out, is omitted from this portion. Why????

We must always remember that our words have consequences and that although sticks and stones can break our bones, words can break our hearts. When we say something with a mean tone, when we say things without thinking, when we speak angrily, these words have lasting impact. Moses made a statement and G-d took him seriously. G-d was trying to teach Moses and us that when we make a statement,, we need to take responsibility for it. How many of us continue to be overwhelmed by the power of negative rhetoric to create conflicts? Moses was angry with our people for building a golden calf and responded in an angry fashion.

I hope that we learn to temper our temper when engaging in difficult conversations and not make comments that are difficult to retract. May we remember that the lips that utter prayers, the tongue which says ” I love you,” and the mouth which utters many wonderful words, also have the potential to hurt and destroy.

What we say and how we say it is our choice…may we be kind and fulfill the words we pray…”guard our tongues from evil, and our lips from telling lies.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce Aft.

…each of us has a special offering which we bring to the world

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Dear Friends,

On this Shabbat, we read from Parshat Terumah, the section that reminds us that each of us has a special offering which we bring to the world in which we live. Every person had a unique contribution to make to the building of the portable Tabernacle in the Wilderness.

One of the many rewards in the rabbinate is to hear about the good works with which members of our congregation are involved. Alex is another of our special college students who faced some health challenges which you can see from the site below. I believe that through Alex’s project, he is giving back an offering that is a response to his experiences. Often, people ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” They question where G-d is when faced with bad news. Alex’s response to his situation is evidence to me that “When bad things happen to good people”, G-d can appear in the ways in which we respond to our situations and the ways in which others reach out to us.

I hope you are inspired by his video. Please go to and watch the video

I also want to share with you a special offering that was given to me by my dad after a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In light of this being Super Bowl weekend, I hope you find these to be as inspiring as I have.

  • The Ten Commandments of Sports
  • Thou shalt not quit
  • Thou shalt not alibi
  • Thou shalt not gloat over winning
  • Thou shalt not sulk over losing
  • Thou shalt not take unfair advantage
  • Thou shalt not ask odds thou art unwilling to give
  • Thou shalt always be willing to give the benefit of the doubt
  • Thou shalt not underestimate thyself
  • Remember the game is the thing, and he/she who thinks otherwise is no true sportsman
  • Honor the game thou playest, for he/she who plays the game straight and hard wins even though he/she loses the game.
  • Shabbat Shalom,
    Rabbi Bruce Aft