Archive for March, 2011

Wishing for peace

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Dear Friends,

As I thought about what I would write this week, I decided to share my concerns about the bombing of the bus in Jerusalem. As we mourn another death in the Middle East, we are all saddened whenever there is a tragic loss.

In this week’s Torah reading as we celebrate Shabbat Parah, we read the section about the ritual of purification which is tied into the section dealing with the Red Heifer.(Numbers 19). As we read this portion we wrestle with what it means to perform the ritual which is described. I often wonder what it can take to perform a ritual of purification that could help us rid our world of the violence which has once again reared its ugly head.

I wish we could somehow develop a ritual that would rid us of the causeless hatred that motivates violence in our world. I hope that each of you will join me in prayers for peace and that each of us will recognize that none of us is ever completely free from violence until all of us are freed from potential acts of violence. I hope that those of us who may have influence with folks who can influence policy in the Middle East will urge our contacts to do whatever they can to help build a more peaceful world.

May G-d who makes peace in the Divine world, grant peace to us, to all Israel, and to all humanity.

Rabbi Bruce Aft

Hag Purim Samaech!

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Dear Friends,

As we approach the Festival of Purim, I want to talk about the leadership role which Esther assumes in the story about Purim which is found in the Megillah or Scroll of Esther. Mordecai, who is Esther’s uncle or cousin informs Esther that Haman, the evil prime minister is going to destroy the Jewish community. In Chapter 4:14, Mordecai tells Esther that if she doesn’t utilize her role as queen to intervene to save the Jewish people, that “help will come from some other place.”

The commentators discuss what is meant by this verse. Many people believe that help will come from G-d if Esther doesn’t intercede. In fact, this may be a veiled reference to G-d in a scroll that otherwise doesn’t mention G-d’s name.

I am intrigued by what this story tells us about being a leader. How many times in our lives are we presented with an opportunity to make a difference in the life of someone? How often are we faced with a leadership moment when our actions could make a significant change in our world? How many times do we respond to the challenge by asserting leadership and when do we back away and not assert leadership?

I am inspired to know that each of us has opportunities to be a leader in certain situations and I hope that Esther will remind us to seize the moment and not let these opportunities to help others go unmet. Let us not wait for help to come from some other place especially if we are uniquely positioned by a particular time and place in our life to be a leader.

Debbie Friedman, the noted musician, songleader, and liturgist who died recently,wrote a prayer of healing in which she asks G-d “to give us the courage to make our lives a blessing.” May each of us have the courage to be “the some other place” from which help can come by being an “Esther” in our generation.

Hag Purim Samaech!

Beginning Book of Numbers.. the census and why we count

Friday, March 11th, 2011

On this Shabbat when we begin the reading of the Book of Numbers in the Torah, a census is taken of the Jewish people. Each of counts and is a vital part of the community. May this poem remind us just how much each of us count and just how much each of our actions can fill our lives with 60 seconds of distance run….This poem was given to me by my parents through one of my brothers when I lost my first Little League baseball game.

IF… by Rudyard Kipling


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

Spring.. A time of renewal and reflection

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Dear Friends,

It is a rite of spring….each year I try to visit either Arizona or Florida at this time of year to enjoy spring training. This week I was fortunate enough to be able to be in Florida and be able to visit four different ball parks and see a number of spring training games. It is a reminder that spring is around the corner and that we are entering a time of renewal as we prepare to celebrate Purim and Passover.

When we go to Florida, my wife, Sue and I have the opportunity to visit my parents’ graves and to visit with a couple who were very special to my parents. Now, since it will soon be 13 years since my dad died and 10 years since my mom died, it was especially meaningful to be in Clearwater and have the opportunity to “chat” with them. This was the first time I had visited their graves since we became grandparents and so this was the first time I was able to “personally” tell them about their great grandchild. Sue and I spoke about how my parents and her dad are with us all the time and although we think of them often, visiting the grave evokes special memories that don’t always appear when I am not in their presence. I call one of my brothers and his wife as they call me when they are visiting Mom and Dad. We talk about whether we feel their presence while we are there.

While we were visiting this year, we had an honest conversation and spoke about any number of things including an update about the kids, what is happening in our lives, and then concluded this “rite of spring” by reciting Kaddish and leaving stones. This year, while we were visiting, a staff person from the cemetery stopped by to see if there was anything she could do for us. We asked her for some stones to leave on the grave which remind us that death is hard and that the memory of our loved ones, should remain forever. Although flowers may die, it is possible that stones could last forever and hopefully the memories of our loved ones stay with us forever.

She brought nine stones this year and Sue and I placed them on the graves in the pattern of a Chanukah menorah. We spoke about how their lives had provided light to us and how many of their actions sparked some kind of positive behavior in the lives of their children. We also used this as an opportunity to have a discussion about certain harder issues(perhaps also sparked by putting stones on the graves). As children, all of us, at one time or another, probably had/have some kinds of challenging issues we face(d) when dealing with our parents and we used this as an opportunity to try to make peace about some of those issues. As we were doing this, we were inundated by bugs flying all around us and crawling on us. However, as we addressed some of the more challenging issues, we noticed that the bugs began to dissipate. There were still a few around at the end of our conversation, but hopefully in the same way that there may be some issues between parents and children, we made peace with many of these issues which hopefully will no longer “bug” us.

Why am I sharing this with you? I share this with you because I hope that if there are issues between you and anyone in your life, that you will try to face them while they are living so that our loved ones can rest in peace and even more importantly, that we can live in peace without regrets about dangling conversations(check out the Simon and Garfunkel song with this name) or unfinished business. Judaism teaches that death offers ultimate forgiveness to the deceased since there is no longer any way in which they can ask our forgiveness nor can we ask them for forgiveness. I hope that we can have honest and loving conversations with those with whom we are close when we have the opportunity. As we walked away, Sue remarked that one thing was for sure…even in the midst of challenging moments, we should remember that our loved ones generally meant well when they did what they did.

As a personal aside, we then went to my parents’ favorite place in Dunedin to watch the sun set over the water. It was moment of beauty where as Sue and I sat next to each other, we could remember the beautiful aspects of their lives and to remember the light they brought to this world. We then briefly saw the man who who had been so wonderful to my parents as they aged and we shared a very special moment when he wrapped his hand around my neck and brought me close to him. Perhaps a vicarious hug from my parents? I will never know, but I can hope…

May their memories be for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

hazak, hazk, v’nithazek…may we be strong and strengthen each other

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Dear Friends,

As we complete the reading of the book of Exodus this week, I am inspired by the generosity of our ancestors. We read about all the details of the contributions and how the donations were used. I believe that we learn how important it is to be aware of how our gifts are used when we make contributions. We live in a world where sometimes people who we think are trustworthy, violate our trust and misuse our gifts. Even Moses was subject to intense scrutiny. People were suspicious that he might have misused their resources for his own benefit. I wonder what this says about our trust in our leaders and also what it says about our trust in ourselves. I wonder how many of us are worthy of the trust which people place in us.

Recently, an older person was telling me about a scam in which a close friend seemed to be in trouble. He donated to this internet site and then found out that someone had hacked into his friend’s e-mail and made this request. The older person lost a significant amount of money but as he put it, it was a cheap tuition payment to make to learn an important life lesson.

Isn’t it a shame that we live in a world where we have to be so very careful? And yet…it was no different in Biblical times when Moses wanted to be sure that no one suspected him of impropriety.

I hope that we will all be trustworthy in all of our endeavors. In fact, we read in the midrash that when we interact well with others we become closer to G-d. I believe that it is awesome when someone trusts me, but also am somewhat nervous because this is a huge responsibility. In Midrash Rabbah, it says that ” a person should strive to please people as strenuously as one strives to please G-d (Exod. Rabbah 51:2)

Finally, on this Shabbat when we finish the book of Exodus, we read hazak, hazk, v’nithazek…may we be strong and strengthen each other. May each of us in being trustworthy help to strengthen a community where sometimes trust is a rare commodity. We can change that perception through our own actions and with the change in culture help to repair our world.

Hazak, hazak, v’nithazek.

Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft