Thursday, September 12, 2019

Shabbat-O-Gram for September 13


The Shabbat Announcements are sponsored 
by Dana and Robert Luther in honor of their son, Michael, becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

Shabbat Shalom

It was fun last night to meet some of our new and prospective members who joined us at my home for dinner.  What impressed me most was how, despite a wide diversity of demographics, they all are looking for the same thing - a place that is warm and welcoming.  Tell your friends about TBE!

Mazal tov to the Luther and Plansky families on Michael's becoming Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat.  Michael is a huge Disney fan, so join us on Shabbat morning to learn where Disney themes and Judaism intersect.  On Friday night I'll be joined by Beth Styles for our service, with musical guest Jason Terry. Join us and see why attendance has remained consistently high through the summer and into September. 

Sunday morning marks the last day of my 11 months of saying Kaddish for my mother.  Sunday is also the first day of Hebrew School, and I'm looking forward to seeing the kids returning from their summer adventures.  

We now have 300 reservations for next Thursday's live-taping of the Unorthodox podcast, featuring Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and Farook Kathwari.  We are expecting many more than that to be here.  While you don't have to reserve in advance, it will help us to prepare if you do.  And by all means, get here early that evening.  Details at the bottom of this email.  Meanwhile, see what all the fuss is about and listen to Unorthodox's most recent podcast.  You can also see that TBE is perfectly positioned right at the top of Unorthodox's upcoming book tour for their "Newish Jewish Encyclopedia."

Israel votes on Tuesday - again.  For a concise summary of the who's what's and why's of this election, see this handy briefing put together by the Jewish Federations of North America.  And for more background, see this recent survey by the Israel Democracy Institute, revealing that Jewish Israelis are in favor of a unity government.  We'll see if they get their wish!

Watch the televised returns as they come in on Tuesday at 8 PM right here at TBE, with insights and background provided by TBE member Pinchas Gross.  Also on Tuesday - from 7-8, you can partake of Rabbi Gerry Ginsburg's series preparing us for the High Holidays.

In Purdue Pharma's Backyard

There is absolutely no reason for us to feel any sense of responsibility or discomfort at the news of the Purdue Pharma opiods settlement.  But as we see the Stamford dateline on all the stories coming out (along with photos of the their headquarters along rt. 95), combined with the Jewish connections of the Sackler family, including their philanthropic history, it can't help but cause discomfort.  This is not a good time to be a Jewish philanthropist, with the stench of Madoff still discernible, along with the still unfolding saga of Jeffrey Epstein, which has sullied the legacy of the Wexner foundation. So what are we to do?

For better or for worse, the Sacklers have never donated a million dollars to TBE - which would have been a good investment, I should add, and I encourage others to do so while our endowment - capital campaign is still ongoing.  Had they done so, would we have given it back?  Ask me when it's not so hypothetical.  For instance, if a hospital accepts a million tainted dollars that have been used to cure diseases, I think the prudent thing would be to pocket the cash but take down the plaque.  The Louvre has done just that with Sackler donations.

But more to the point, this confluence of facts that has landed us right at "ground zero" of the opiod crisis demands that we be more active in dealing with the crisis itself.

So mark your calendars for Tuesday evening, November 19, when we will be hosting Rabbi Rick Eisenberg, an old friend (he attended my wedding) and author of the new book, "Emerging from the Fog: Judaism, Addiction and Recovery: A Spiritual and Fact Based Approach." Read more about the book here.  Rick, who served as a rabbi in Woodbridge and is a lifelong Connecticut resident, wrote this book as a wake-up call to the Jewish community.  His approach draws upon models that extend beyond the 12-Step philosophy.  The opiod crisis is our crisis too, and we can't afford to ignore it.

So, yes, we do reside at opiod addiction's "ground zero."  But so does every religious institution in America.  If we don't step up to help our own parishioners, who will?

Some Resources on Heshbon Hanefesh (Soul Searching) during this month of Teshuvah

Teshuvah comes from the word meaning "return."  Heshbon Hanefesh is "soul searching" (Literally, taking an accounting of the soul), which is what Jews do during the month prior to the High Holidays and on the Ten days of Repentance, the High Holidays themselves.

Here are some other ethics-ercises I recommend for Elul:

As we approach the Days of Awe, our annual exercise in self scrutiny and stock-taking can be a daunting task. Rather than highlight a single ethical dilemma this week, I offer here some suggestions, some "ethics-ercises," as it were, to assist you on this journey.

Study Maimonides' "Laws of Personality and Character Development." Find the texts here.
 Dr. Rambam had some fascinating insights on human behavior and the relation between body and soul.

 Note especially the following advice:

2:3 - There are times when one shouldn't be moderate - there is no middle road with regard to arrogance and humility; we should all aim for Moses-esque super-humility.
2:4 - Cultivate silence.
2:5 - Enough with the kvetching already!
2:6 - Don't be a phony.
2:7 - Find middle ground between moroseness and being giddy
4:1 - Dr. Rambam's diet - only eat when you are hungry!
2:4 - Get 8 hours sleep
2:7 - Eat poultry first
2:11 - Avoid fruits (!)
2:15 - Exercise (and move those bowels, too!)
4:23 - A Torah sage needs to have these things in his community (includes a blood letter and a latrine)
5:7 - No Yelling!!
5:13 - Be honest
6:3 - Love everyone

Another good site for Elul is Jewels of Elul- a daily dose of inspiration, created by Craig Taubman. Pearls of wisdom are shared each day, culled from an eclectic array of voices.

Check out The Mussar Institute, which, according to their website, "exists to provide people with ideas and practical tools deriving from the Mussar tradition in Judaism that will help, guide and motivate them to develop and improve the qualities of their inner lives, in fulfillment of the potential of their souls as well as for the benefit of the world." 

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs suggests that we focus on civility.  As they put it, "This sacred season impels us to consider how we speak and listen-in our relationships and in community-as a central part of our work of teshuva/repentance." Given the tone of political dialogue in Washington - not to mention the accusatory self righteousness that has infested American Jews' conversations about Israel, civility has become a major concern. See their Civility Statement and additional resources on civility.  And see my call for Civility Metrics: What Can Be Done About Toxic Political Climate).

Interested in improving your Business Ethics? See the website of the Business Halacha Institute. I find it to be a superb resource. Also see the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, another excellent resource.

I've collected some more links and resources, spiritual preparations, guided meditations, etc. in my blog entry, Preparing for the Awesome Days.  The road ahead will not be easy, but we can be comforted that the hard work of Teshuvah can also bring about great reward, simply in the doing. In this case, the journey itself is far more significant than the destination. The following wisdom from Nachman of Bratzlav can guide us:

"Know that it is necessary to judge each person favorably, and even someone who is completely evil, one needs to search for and to find in him some little bit of goodness, that in that little bit, he is not evil. By means of this, that one finds in him a little goodness, and judges him favorably, by this, one elevates him actually into favorable judgment and returns him in teshuvah... for how is it possible that there is within him no little bit of goodness at all - that he never did any mitzvah or good thing in his whole life? By means of this, you can find within him another small bit of good, a place within him that is not evil, and judge him favorably... until he returns in teshuvah...

... So too a person needs to find (a point of goodness) also within himself... even when he begins to look into himself and he sees that there is within him no goodness at all, and he is full of sins... even so it is not permitted to despair because of this, rather he needs to search and to find within himself some small point of goodness... and even if he begins to look at this good thing and he finds that it is full of flaws... despite all of this, he can extract from it some point of goodness, and continue to search for and collect other points of goodness and by means of this they will be made into niggunim ("melodies")... and then he will be able to pray and to sing and to give thanks to God..."

Good luck on your journey, and my best wishes for a year of sweetness, fulfillment and love.
Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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