Friday, January 17, 2014

Tu B'Shevat - The Impossible Dream

                Shabbat Shalom! How lovely it is to be here celebrating Tu B’Shevat, the birthday of the trees, together today. You may know that Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth of the month of Shevat was actually on Thursday. What you probably don’t know is that Thursday was also the anniversary of the publication of a book often considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written, and one of the earliest works of modern literature. I have never read The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha but have become fairly familiar with the stories through the theatrical adaptation, Man of La Mancha. The music from the play is great, and the song “The Impossible Dream,” is particularly beautiful – I’ll come back to that in a minute.
            Tu B’Shevat is the birthday of the trees, a date that was set by the early rabbis of the Mishnah, based on Biblical passages. Traditionally, Tu B’Shevat was about the season of planting in the land of Israel, back when people all really depending on their local farms and the planting season was important to pay close attention to. Now, we treat Tu B’Shevat more like a Jewish Arbor Day and Earth Day combined. As Jews, and particularly as Reform Jews, Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is a very important value for us to live by. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the environment is one of the most important parts of this world that needs repairing. Of course, we should also try to repair the world by feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, making peace where there is strife, but ultimately, if the environment gets destroyed, even the well-fed, warmly clothed, peaceful communities will be at risk. This is why even ancient Jewish law commanded Jews to respect and protect the environment in times of war, so that the violence would not disrupt nature!  Tu B’Shevat is a great time to pause and reflect on our Jewish values and responsibility to the Earth that supports us.
            Cleaning up the environment can seem really hard. Some things we take for granted will eventually have to completely change, like our fuel source. It is not up to any of you alone to discover a new source of clean energy, find the money to collect it in whatever way that new energy will be collected, or implement it as the new fuel for most of the world to replace our current oil dependence. However, it is up to all of you to do what you can to cut back on resources by trying to walk, bike, or take public transit when possible. To turn off the water while your brushing your teeth and try to fix leaks so as not to waste water. To turn off lights and heaters or air conditioners when you leave a room or your home. To reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as possible. It may seem difficult, but it’s up to all of us together to “Dream the Impossible Dream… to right the unrightable wrong… to try when your arms are too weary, to reach that unreachable star.” For Don Quixote, his impossible dream was a manic quest for knighthood, pursuing chivalry and fighting windmills he thought were giants. For us, as Reform Jews, the impossible dream is a quest to perfect the world, to make our own Messianic Age. To take care of each other and the Earth we share. This Tu B’Shevat, plant something, recycle something, say something nice to someone you know, go for a walk or bike ride, show your appreciation for the Earth and the people you share it with. May you all live to see a greener Earth. L’Shana l’ilanot tova and Shabbat Shalom.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Parashat Bo - Brothers and Sisters

            Throughout Genesis we see serious sibling rivalries: Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. The book of Exodus, on the other hand, doesn’t offer any insight into Aaron and Moses’s relationship. When Moses makes his excuses, expresses his fears to G-d about going to Pharaoh, G-d soothes him by promising that Aaron will speak for him. Parashat Shemot shows Moses and Aaron meeting in the desert, and depicts it in a positive light, but we never see Aaron’s thoughts, feelings, or reactions to G-d’s command to go to Moses and help him with his confrontations of Pharoah.
            By this week’s story, Parashat Bo, Moses seems to have already gained some confidence. Aaron goes with him to warn Pharaoh of the oncoming 8th plague (locusts), but Moses himself speaks to Pharaoh. By the time the Pharaoh has endured the locusts, promised and then revoked the promise of freedom, and sat in total darkness for three days, he summons Moses back to negotiate. Not Moses and Aaron, just Moses. Aaron’s important role no longer seems necessary. Once out in the wilderness, he will have a new important role of high priest, but for now, he’s sort of left out. And yet, he never seems to take that out on Moses. He remains Moses’s second-hand-man, goes with the flow, and is a very passive character. I can’t help but wonder what might be going on his head. Later in the Torah, there are a few inklings that Aaron might have his moments of being resentful, jealous, or insensitive about Moses, but throughout the process of freeing the Israelite slaves, Aaron stands quietly by Moses’s side, following orders from Moses and G-d without question. Even in Midrash, the rabbis offer explanations and details on why Aaron is needed to speak for Moses in the beginning, but not on how Aaron might have reacted to this appointed role.
            Whatever Aaron might be thinking or feeling during this process, he clearly understands what is really important. If he is feeling resentful or jealous of Moses’s greater importance, he doesn’t let it get in the way of what he and Moses are trying to accomplish. For those with brothers and sisters, you may have experienced, or probably will in the future, that sometimes your brother or sister eclipses you, and sometimes you will rise above them. You each have special skills and callings, individual weaknesses and failings, and sometimes you will get more praise, and sometimes your sibling will. Sometimes you may feel like your imperfections are being compared to your siblings’ perfections, and sometimes they might feel the same way about you. For those without siblings, you might find that you have a close friend you love like a sibling, and with whom you feel similarly competitive, who makes you angry in a way that only someone you really love can. The lesson we can learn from Aaron and Moses, the key to keeping Shalom (peace) in the Home with our siblings, or between close friends, is to remember that it is neither your siblings’ or friends’ faults, nor yours, that you are different and have different roles in life. Be proud when your sibling or friend succeeds, stand by and support them. When you are the one getting all the attention, remember to reach out to them and include them in your success.
            Siblings fight. Sometimes close friends fight, too. They get jealous of one another. More importantly, though, they love each other. They support each other. They are happy for one another’s successes, and comfort one another in times of trouble. There is no bond quite like that between brothers and sisters. When you find yourself feeling angry or resentful at your sibling, may you all remember Aaron and his support of his younger, more important brother, remember Moses and his willingness to depend on his big brother for help, and most of all, may you remember to take care of each other. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.