Archive for January, 2012

Finding Redemption…

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Dear Friends,

Tonight I will be talking about a verse that is found in this week’s Torah portion which suggests that the young and old will be leaving Egypt upon the completion of the 10 Plagues. In reading this portion, it is clear to me that true redemption can only occur when all of us are able to enjoy life’s blessings.

A colleague of mine, Rabbi Jack Riemer, wrote a piece about the creative ways in which Danny Siegel, a poet and author suggests that we care for others in our community. Two of the ideas that resonated with me were the following:

Emily Davenport was a teenager who heard Danny Siegel speak, and was impressed. The next day she went to a local doughnut shop and asked if she could pick up their leftover doughnuts and bring them to a shelter for the homeless. What gave her the idea was that she knew that adults bring necessities to the shelters—things like bread and soups, but she wondered: Why can’t these people have some luxuries as well as necessities? And so she decided to bring them doughnuts. The owner of the doughnut store had never been asked to donate his leftover doughnuts before, and his answer was, “Sure, why not?” And so, ever since, Emily Davenport goes there once or twice a week and picks up the leftover doughnuts, and her parents take her to the local homeless shelter where she delivers them. No adult ever thought of that idea, but a Bat Mitzvah girl did.

Danny Siegel says that in seventeen college campuses all around the country students are insisting that their college cafeterias purchase food only from places that agree that they do not employ child labor and who do not manufacture their goods in sweatshops. The colleges did not like the idea. They wanted to buy from wherever was cheaper, and they felt that they had enough to worry about making sure that the food they served was safe and sanitary, without having to worry about whether it was ethically made or not. So they tried to fudge and stall on this issue. But these college students are not dummies. If they have been accepted because of their high IQ’s, and their good grades, do these colleges really think that they can fool them or put them off with excuses? The students are on to them, says Danny Siegel, and in the long run they will win.

The people who run the college cafeterias and restaurants may have degrees in business administration or from cooking schools, but the kids are just as smart as they are—and maybe smarter—when it comes to moral issues. I bet on them to succeed, and I predict that in a few more years there will be a lot more than seventeen colleges that will give in to their demands.

I hope that as we seek to bring about the redemption of our world, we will be able to find meaningful ways to help others and look forward to our students, staff, and faculty doing our share to brings blessings to those who are less fortunate.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce Aft
GMU Hillel Rabbinic Advisor

Thoughts for the New Semester

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

I want to share a special moment that I had while recently enjoying some time visiting former students, one of my mentors, and some vacation time.

My wife and I were walking in Muir Woods which is just north of San Francisco and is a forest of Redwood trees. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited. There is a section there which is called the “Cathedral” which is a sanctuary of Redwood trees. There was a special meeting there to honor Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s memory and there was a gathering of those who were involved at the beginning of the United Nations. It is a very peaceful place where one is touched by the sounds of silence and opportunities for meditation.

During other visits to this special place, I have been comforted by the peace of the sanctuary of trees, but on this occasion, I was agitated and frankly didn’t feel like myself. As we hiked further and further into the woods, soon I began to feel better and subsequently realized that I was having a Jacob and the Angel moment. Many of us remember when Jacob wrestled with the angel in the book of Genesis and our traditional commentaries think that he may have wrestled with G-d, another man, the angel Gabriel, or his conscience. He emerges from the wrestling match wounded and limps away (this is why if we keep kosher, we don’t eat Filet Mignon because it is from the section of the cow that is the same section of Jacob that was wounded). We know that Jacob’s name changes to Israel which means to wrestle with G-d.

All of us wrestle with different issues in our lives and certainly I am no different. What I realized as we continued our hike is that perhaps that is what a sanctuary is supposed to help us do. Rather than feel relaxed and comfortable all the time in the sanctuary, maybe we are challenged to wrestle with ourselves and emerge as changed human beings. And maybe that is what college is supposed to be like….A place to wrestle with who we are and who we wish to be….

I hope that as we begin a new semester, each of us will wrestle with our dreams and visions of what we can accomplish. Each semester represents new hope and opportunity and although there may be some wounds along the way, we can change who we are and become the type of people we wish to become.

Enjoy a wonderful semester.

Rabbi Bruce Aft
GMU Hillel Rabbinic Advisor