Did You Hear That?

This Shabbat we read the story of Mt. Sinai – the great moment of revelation when Gd speaks to Moses and the Jewish people, teaching them the Ten Commandments.  We are taught that, to this day, Gd’s voice continues to issue forth from Mt. Sinai – calling upon us all to live up to our highest potential.

 

Does anyone hear Gd’s voice today as it resonates from Mount Sinai?

Given that archeologists are not certain where Mount Sinai is, it is pretty clear that no one hears the Voice.  And, if you claim to hear the voice, many will accuse you of being crazy.

 

Despite this, it is so important to point out that the great Baal Shem Tov, a mystical rabbi who lived during the 18th century, insists that we all hear the voice and when we do, we are not crazy.  The Baal Shem Tov teaches that every time that an unexpected thought, idea or impulse just pops into our head, a thought, idea or impulse that leads us in a positive direction, inspires us -we have heard the voice of Gd calling from Mount Sinai.

 

What the Baal Shem Tov refers to as God’s voice, some might call our creativity or our conscience.  But to assume that the thoughts, ideas and impulses that have the ability to change our lives originate from within us is arrogant.  This world is filled with tremendous wisdom, much of it being grounded in Torah and the story told at Mount Sinai.  At times, we are lucky enough to be engaged by this wisdom.  The wisdom ignites something within us and changes us.  It is at these moments, when we come in contact with wisdom that we have the ability to hear voice of Gd – the source of all wisdom, speaking to us, teaching us, changing us.

 

May you find the time to listen for the voice of Gd.

 

A Terrible Week?

“The entire community of the children of Israel complained against Moses”

Exodus 16:2

This has been a terrible week.  We are all troubled by the murder and destruction in Arizona.  The death of Debbie Friedman, a pioneer in Jewish music, has rocked the Jewish world.  Personally, one of our dogs has been in the animal hospital clinging to life as a result of a rare disorder.  On top of this, I began my week in the ER, receiving 6 stitches to my foot. I have spent the rest of the week in an attractive foot boot, hobbling around on crutches.

This week the Torah teaches us that our ancestors were incapable of seeing the glass half-full.  The minute the Israelites leave Egypt and the pain and suffering that must have been a part of their lives in that country, they begin complaining to Moses.  “Why did you take us out of Egypt!  We had it good there compared to our new life in the desert!”  How quickly they forget the work and abuse associated with being slaves of Pharaoh!  How easily they saw the challenges of their new life, a life of freedom, as being worse than life as slaves.  Granted, they were hot, hungry, thirsty and tired in the desert – but they were free.  As we read this story it is so easy to think: “How ungrateful and short-sighted our ancestors were!” We forget, however, that we can so easily identify with their misery.

This has been a terrible week.  A week that saw violence on the national stage, the silencing of a musical inspiration on the Jewish stage and emotional and physical challenges on my personal stage.  I confess, this week, I complained to God.  I asked: “WHY!?”

Of course, there are no real answers during the challenging times.  There are blessings however.  During weeks like these, we need to cling to the good things in life: the heroic efforts of those in Arizona; the immortal music of Debbie Friedman; the fact that my stitches will be out in just a few days and I will still be able to run my marathon; and the fact that my family has been fortunate enough to have an incredible veterinary team looking after our dog.

But when we are truly challenged, we can’t see the blessings.  We act like our ancestors did upon fleeing Egypt.  All we can do is focus on the negative.  Sometimes the negative stuff is so overwhelming, it is hard to focus on anything else.  The bad seems to outweigh the good.  It becomes all-consuming.  This is what happened to me this week.  But, as Shabbat gets closer and I reflect upon this week’s Torah portion and the complaints of our ancestors as they left Egypt, I realize that while the bad stuff has been really heavy this week – the good stuff is there.  
As I give myself time to appreciate the good stuff, I realize that it is beautiful.

I pray that this Shabbat, my family and I can focus on the blessings in our lives and experience the simple joy of being together.  And I pray that each and every single one of you can do exactly the same thing.

For many of us, this has been a terrible week.  But, it has also been pretty amazing.  The fact that I can write these words and you can read them is all the proof we need.

The Moon

This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year. (Exodus 12:2)

As we read the Torah this Shabbat, we read the story of Pesah – the story of our ancestors fleeing Egypt and beginning their long journey to Israel. As the journey begins, a new month begins and Gd explains to Moses that this new month will mark the beginning of a new year – a new beginning for the Israelite people. Tradition teaches us that at the moment Gd told Moses that a new month was beginning, Gd pointed out that the moon was beginning her cycle again. A new moon, explained Gd, was the sign of a new month.

We just began a new month in Judaism this week – the month of Shevat. And, in a few days, we will celebrate Tu B’Shevat – the 15th of Shevat – the new year of trees. Just like Moses, we know Shevat began this week because the moon began her cycle again. With good eyesight and clear skies, you should be able to see the new moon in the sky tonight.

The moon is incredibly important in Judaism. It helps determine our months, years, holidays – all of our holy times. Why the moon? Why not the all-powerful sun? Why an object so much smaller than the sun? An object that is forever changing – and sometimes even disappearing from the night sky? An object that does not give off its own light – but rather reflects the light of the sun?

Because, the moon captures the essence of humanity.

We are not all-powerful. We are constantly changing and evolving. There are days when we feel whole and days when we feel like a fragment of ourselves. There are even days when we disappear into the darkness of night. But, if we persevere, we know that we will shine again – our light will only get stronger. And where does our light come from? It comes from the world around us. We can’t live alone. We need others in our lives. We need relationships. We need interaction. These are the things that fill our lives with light. And this is the light that we reflect back into the world – light that makes the world a more beautiful place.

At the beginning of every month, Judaism teaches us to bless the new month saying: And Gd told the moon to renew herself, as a crown of beauty to those He carries from the womb (meaning humanity), for they (we) are likewise to be renewed. Each month our tradition reminds us we get a new beginning – a new beginning to grow stronger and fill the world with incredible light.

This new Jewish month – this new secular year – may it be a time of renewal for all of us. And may we all grow stronger each day, filling the world with the light we receive.