Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sabbath-Of-Sabbaths-O-Gram, Judaism's Top 40 #1 - Torah

Sermon Spoiler Alert

Yom Kippur is also known as the Sabbath of Sabbaths, which makes this the Shabbat of Shabbat-O-Grams.  I look forward to seeing everyone tonight.  Sermon Spoiler alert - on Kol Nidre night, I'll be talking about how our personal stories impact the overall Jewish story.  I'll be sharing some remarkable ones, but in truth, we've heard a number of astonishing stories already this year, in our "This American (Jewish) Life" series.  You can catch up on some of those here at our T.A.J.L website.  Also, for those into NPR's "This American Life," the E-zine Tablet has started airing a monthly podcast of the Israeli version of This American Life (in English).  It's very good.  And finally, our Book of Remembrance this year has become a Book of Life, as for the first time, we are including brief testimonials about the lives of those whom we will be recalling during Yizkor.  Here are this year's testimonials.  I hope that on the holiday, people will take time to reflect on what these people meant to us all.  As this practice becomes more established, I also hope that more of you will take advantage of the chance to share these stories over the coming years.

So now that I've given away Kol Nidre's theme, what about Yom Kippur Day??  Sorry, only one spoiler alert allowed per Shabbat-O-Gram.

Some more tidbits

  • We were delighted to welcome Cantor Magda Fishman to our bima this Rosh Hashanah for her first High Holiday services here.  She brought a special energy and passion to our prayers.  Assisted by Beth Styles and our choir, the music has been awe-inspiring. Click here for a sampling  of what we've been hearing from Cantor Fishman (Avinu Malkenu and Carlebach's "Return Again"), and what we will hear again on Yom Kippur.   Feel free to share these recordings with your friends, and by all means share the excitement that we are all feeling here at TBE!   Also, I am positively ecstatic that Beth Styles will be increasing her involvement here, with a special focus on enhancing our Shabbat programming.  STAY TUNED for some very exciting news about Shabbat @ TBE over the coming weeks. 
  • Don't forget to return food bags for Person to Person, and if you can, to help out on Monday as the food is put on the shelves.  Did you know that between our Mitzvah garden and CSA collections donations, we have provided over 500 pounds of fresh vegetables to food agencies this year! 
  • Download this Roundtable on Teshuvah, which we will discuss during the break on Yom Kippur day (note the time: 3:30 PM).  
  • Our next TBE Israel Adventure is scheduled for next July, most likely toward the beginning of the month. Click here to see itinerary and other information (based on a late July departure) - there will be slight modifications if we move the trip to a July 6 departure.  Please let me know if you have any interest.  We'd love for you and your to family join us! 
  • iBless:  At the end of services on Yom Kippur, when the final shofar blast is sounded, I will invite people to turn on their cell phones (which should not be on the rest of the day) and call someone who is unable to be at a service, so that that person can hear the shofar.  Also, just before  that, when we bless the new babies born since last Yom Kippur, those whose children / grandchildren cannot be here are welcome to bring their phones up to the pulpit to show a photo or live image of said baby.

Teshuvah Resources

At this time of year, as we write ourselves into the Book of Life, our attention turns to heshbon hanefesh - soul searching. And for that we look to our old friend Moses Maimonides.  Click here to find a complete version of Maimonides' Laws of Teshuvah (Repentance) online.  Also see Maimonides' Hilchot De'ot, the Laws of Character Development

Also, has some excellent material on Teshuvah. Check out these brief essays:

Completing Repentance
Severe Decree
Factors in Repentance
Types of Forgiveness
Attitudes Towards Repentance

Finally, this passage is a reminder that we need to plan our time wisely and prioritize our personal goals for the upcoming year.

Raba said, When one is led in for Judgment he is asked, 

1. Did you deal faithfully [i.e., with integrity]?
2. Did you fix times for learning?
3. Did you engage in procreation?
4. Did you hope for salvation?
5. Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom? 
6. Did you understand one thing from another? (B. Shabbat 30b-31a) 

To everyone, an easy fast and G'mar Hatima Tova. And if I have caused harm to pain to you in any manner, I ask for your forgiveness.

Judaism's Top 40:  #1 on the charts - Torah

And at long last, the countdown ends - Judaism's Top 40: #1 on the charts, for this week and all time:
The word Torah, which literally means 'instruction, doctrine, law,' comes from the Hebrew verb yārāh, to show, direct, or instruct.  Torah, then, is much more than a scroll in the ark.  It is a verb - to "do Torah" is to live a pious life and, most of all, to constantly be engaged in learning.

As MyJewishlearning discusses:  "Torah" can refer to all of traditional Jewish learning, but "the Torah" usually refers to the Torah she'bi'ktav, the written Torah, also known as the Humash (the five volumes or Pentateuch, sometimes referred to as the Five Books of Moses). Readings from the Torah, which are divided into 54 weekly portions (parshiyot), have always been the centerpiece of the Sabbath morning service, and as such, its stories, laws, and poetry stand at the center of Jewish culture.

The first-century sage, Ben Bag Bag, taught, "Turn the Torah, and turn it again, for everything you want to know is found within it." (Avot 5:25) The study of Torah can be both an intellectual adventure and a spiritual journey. The many meanings of Torah offer the potential to add greatly to one's life.

In the broadest sense, "Torah" refers to revelation, the direct communication between God and Israel that took place at Sinai.  Is the Torah a direct transcript of that revelation?  There are many different ways of looking at this key question, which is really the line of demarcation separating the various denominations. The chart on ths page outlines the different views, with a focus on the range of views of the Conservative movement.

Here's an excerpt:
A Judaism that will speak to the emerging twenty-first century generations is only beginning to emerge. In contrast to Kaplan's era, its point of departure will be the Jewish mystical rather than the rationalist tradition. A radical spiritualization of Judaism's truth, begun within Hasidism some two hundred years ago, needs to be updated and universalized to appeal to today's Jewish seeker. It offers the possibility of a religious language that will address contemporary concerns while calling for a deep faith-based attachment to the essential forms and tropes of Jewish piety. Mystical religion by its very nature shifts the focus of attention away from the positive/historical and inward toward the devotional/experiential. The question is not: "Do you believe that God created the world, and when?" but rather "Do you encounter a divine presence in the natural world around you?" and "What does that encounter call upon you to do?" We are not concerned with "Did Israel hear God's word at Sinai, and how much of the Torah was given there?" but rather "Can you feel yourself standing before the mountain as you hear the words of Torah?" The "events" of Israel's sacred narrative are read here as myth rather than history, but their voice is made more powerful rather than less as they call forth deep personal engagement and commitmentThe God of this religion is not the commanding Other who rules over history, but rather the still, small voice from within that calls upon us to open our hearts and turn our lives toward goodness, even in the face of terrible human evil and the inexplicable reality of nature's indifference to our individual human plight. This sort of new mystical or Neo-Hasidic piety turns toward the natural world as a source of inspiration, seeing existence itself as an object of wonder and devotion. It finds the miraculous in daily life and tends to focus its religious energy on the building and celebration of human community.
Such a renewed mystical Jewish faith can come in many forms regarding the degree of traditional observance it calls forth. It may serve as a theology that underlies a full "orthopraxy," a richly detailed observance of Jewish law, as it surely does for some of its most devoted adherents. It may also call forth and justify new forms of religious expression, as it has in Jewish environmentalist circles, among others. These variations in practice will have much to do with the personal needs and backgrounds of those drawn to it, but there seems to be a strong attraction toward fuller forms of observance, as was the case with original Hasidism. This is a religion that is all about cultivating spiritual intensity, awakening the heart. Such a faith, especially in the context of Judaism, seeks expression in traditional forms. But while doing so, it also remains wide open to creative and original readings of the classical sources, always ready to hear the renewed Torah that emerges from within the contemporary community. It understands that observance is never to be seen as an end in itself, but as a means of arousing the heart and as an expression of that heart's fullness and desire to give, both within and beyond the Jewish community.
See more at:   See also Did God Write the Bible?   Weekly Torah portions

That concludes our "Top 40." In case you missed them, here is our entire countdown.  Let me know which ones you are interested in exploring at greater length!

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