These are truly the dog days, with so many out of town. So if you are here, we would love to see you this evening at 7:30 and tomorrow morning at 9:30. As you meander on the back porch or beach, you are invited to check out our photo album from last week's barbecue along with the recent family picnic. Also see some photos of my trip to Peru.
Last week was loads of fun. I've reprinted at the bottom of this email the installation remarks given by our new president, Mia Weinstein, as well as my own comments regarding our newly restored parking lot. What I can't reproduce is the priceless look on everyone's face when the cantor followed my remarks with her pitch-perfect Joni Mitchell version of "Big Yellow Taxi."
Is Self Inspection Possible?
No, I'm not talking about the Iranians and The Deal. I said my piece about it last week, and I'm happy that my op-ed was featured by the Times of Israel and has been widely shared, especially among perplexed rabbis. This week the Reform Movement came out with a position statement that roughly parallels my own. Lots of other views have been shared this week, and I continue to recommend that people stay informed, read especially the views of experts, come to their own conclusions and express them to our representatives.
Meanwhile, let's continue to focus on raising the level of discourse and lowering the temperature. That means hearing all sides, not jumping to conclusions or rushing to accuse.
The question of Iranian self-inspection came up this week in relation to the Deal. This clearly is a topic that deserves serious scrutiny and willingness to listen to and discuss reasoned explanations.
But while Iranian self-inspection might be controversial, during this month of Elul, Jewish self-inspection is essential. We call it " heshbon ha-nefesh," literally "taking accounting of the self," and that's what I'll be focusing on tonight and on Shabbat mornin g. You can download my "self scrutiny" source packet here, with a focus on this week's portion of Shoftim. You'll also find there some spiritual practices for you to implement in order to make the most of this time of reflection, along with passages from kabbalistic and hasidic sources, as well as Tao Te Ching.
"First, judge yourself," a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov said. "Then and only then, using the same yardstick, you can begin to judge others."
Self inspection is possible then - and advisable. And no nuclear scientists need be present.
Installation Remarks by Mia Weinstein, TBE's New President
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I would like to welcome all our returning and new members as well as our many guests to this wonderful evening of BBQ and Barechu. The theme of the evening is a perfect expression of the spirit of our congregation - a combination of warm, social gatherings and spiritual services.
It is my honor and privilege to serve as President of the Board for the next 2 years. We are a very active board, comprised of individuals who are committed to the vision and mission of our congregation. Each one of our board members serves on at least one committee and is more then likely reading, writing or acting upon at least one temple email daily. As evident by our lay leadership, our congregation puts an emphasis on inclusiveness and spirituality. We are trustees who have been members a long time to newly joined members, trustees with young children and those who are empty nesters, professionals and retired persons, the list goes on. This is how we strive to serve the temple by reflecting our congregation. Yes, the board is charged with the responsibility of the financial health of the temple, but equally important is our job to provide opportunities for our congregants to engage with Hashem, with the Rabbi and the Cantor, with us, and with each other.
I encourage all of you to take advantage of the wonderful religious, social and learning programs we have here at Temple Beth El and to get involved in the vibrant community that we cherish and are proud to be part of.
Comments on the Dedication of our Restored Parking Lot
In Peru last month, I visited a beautiful excavation, the Incan Temple to the Sun, in a place called Ollantaytambo, which was destroyed by the invading Spanish in the 16 thcentury. You can tell it had been destroyed, because the stones were scattered all over the ground - pristine sacred stones, thrown down, and they remain exactly where they were tossed to this day.
There's a certain beauty to ruins, especially sacred ruins, and I immediately thought of Jerusalem, where we can see the exact same thing - the stones of the Temple scattered just below the extended western wall at Robinson's Arch.
We were there just a couple of days before Tisha B'Av, the day commemorating the destruction of the Jewish Temples, so those stones spoke to me, of the common experience of Jews and the Inca, of the stories of foreign invasion and suffering..... of the cruelty ... and how fortunate we are that, while the Inca are no more, we Jews have somehow survived.
So here I went to a place where there almost no Jews... and still I discovered a Jewish connection.... through the cruelty of the Spanish (who tried to destroy both the Incan and Jewish civilizations simultaneously) , and the dogged resilience represented by the scattered, sacred stones.
There is a classic song about the Western Wall:
Hakotel - eizov v'atzevet
Hakotel - oferet vadam
Yesh anashim im lev shel even.
Yesh avanim im lev adam.
The kotel, moss and sadness.
The kotel, lead and blood.
There are people with a heart of stone.
There are stones with a human heart.
Just a few days ago, our parking lot looked like one of those Incan ruins. And it got me to thinking about the sanctity of place. Re'eh is all about the sanctity of place and the sanctity of time. Shabbat. festivals - time. Place: the place of holiness (as opposed to places of idolatry). What makes a place holy? The times that we have spent there....
How many tears have been shed in this parking lot? How many key decisions have been made on this parking lot?
The parking lot is the prozdor - the entrance way, the place of anticipation.
Think of a bar or bat mitzvah or a wedding couple about to enter the building.
Think of a widow, about to enter the place where her departed spouse is about to be remembered.
Think of a rabbinical candidate, looking up at the wooden beams of our entrance way for the first time, wondering whether the architect wanted to emulate Mt Sinai.
We haven't paved paradise by putting up this parking lot - we've repaired it! We've made it better. And safer.
For the parking lot was a victim of a horrible winter and decades of New England meteorological battering. This parking lot survived quite a bit, but it could not survive last winter.
In making it safer, we are following two important Jewish principles. One is to save lives at all costs - pikuach nefesh. The other is avoid lawsuits at all costs.
And there is also hiddur mitzvah. The beautification of the mitzvah. This is a beautiful facility and a safe facility. And while the repair came with a cost, it was a cost we could bear without an excessive burden on the congregation. That's because this congregation has answered the call so generously and so often and we can be confident that will happen again.
We are a beautiful congregation, inside and out. And now we can welcome people with a smooth entryway, solar panels on the roof and our magnificent mitzvah garden. And a playground too.
But it all begins with the stones --- these stones, with a human heart.