Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
During this intense period of introspection we Jews are called upon to reflect deeply about our values as individuals and as a community, our behavior and ethical standards, and the condition of our souls. Much of the process of t'shuvah (repentance) centers on “character.”
Here are thoughts for this Shabbat T'shuvah and Yom Kippur:
“The true measure of a person is how he treats someone who can do him/her absolutely no good.” (Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784)
The measure of a person’s character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.” (Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1800-1859)
“A person of character finds a special attractiveness in difficulty, since it is only by coming to grips with difficulty that he/she can realize his/her potentialities.” (Charles de Gaulle, 1890-1970)
“What you are thunders so loudly that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882)
“Rabbi Ilai said: By three things may a person’s character be determined: By his/her cup, by his her purse and by his her anger (koso, kiso and kaaso); and some say: By his/her laughter also.” (Bavli, Eruvin 65b)
“Good character is more important than wealth, good looks, popularity and even education. These things do not guarantee happiness and often they become obstacles to developing good character. Character is ethics in action.” (Michael Josephson, b. 1942-)
“It’s not how you come into the world, it’s how you leave it that is the measure of the man/woman.” (Edward Wahl – my late father in-law – 1916-2004)
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September 19, 2012 | 6:31 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
As Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign for President collapses as a consequence of his flawed character, the following quotations help shed light on what plagues him and far too many in this country. They also offer decent people within both the Republican and Democratic parties insight into what is necessary to understand in order for us to transcend Romney’s callousness, self-centeredness, ignorance, and stupidity. Too much is at stake for this country, for peace between Israel and the Palestinians (both of whom yearn for peace!), for wise American leadership vis a vis the Iranian nuclear threat, and for the international credibility and good standing of the United States for us not to do so.
During these 10 Days of Repentance, Jews are called upon to look within themselves and judge harshly where we are flawed as Mr. Romney seems to be. The tragedy is his case is that he has deep religious faith and has been personally generous to many near him, but his open-heartedness does not extend beyond his narrow religious, social and economic circles, nor does it translate into a political philosophy that can help the most people with the least.
Having said this, we need to be careful as we judge him, for none of us is immune to the failures of character that afflicts him. If we are honest with ourselves, our flaws are likely significant as well.
The following statements are apt relative to Mr. Romney and important as we gauge who is most fit for our national political leadership:
“To blame the poor for subsisting on welfare has no justice unless we are also willing to judge every rich member of society by how productive he or she is. Taken individual by individual, it is likely that there's more idleness and abuse of government favors among the economically privileged than among the ranks of the disadvantaged.” (Norman Mailer, 1923-2007)
“Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” (James Baldwin, 1924-1987)
“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968)
“A man is called selfish, not for pursuing his own good but for neglecting his neighbor’s.” (British Archbishop Richard Whately, 1787-1863)
“It is difficult to get a person to understand something when his salary [i.e. income] depends upon his not understanding it.” (Upton Sinclair, 1878-1968)
“The way to overcome the angry person is with gentleness, the evil person with goodness, the miser with generosity, and the liar with truth.” (Indian Proverb)
“The three are really one, for when justice is done, truth prevails and peace is established.” (Talmud Yerushalmi, Taanit 4:2, circa 450 C.E.)
My hopes for each of you and your dear ones:
G'mar chatimah tovah v't'chateivu b'sefer chayim, l'shanah tovah u-m'tukah, b'ri-ut, asiyah, tikun, uv'chol maaglei chayeinu ha-ishi, hamishpachti, hamiktzo-i, v'hatzibori.
May you be sealed for goodness and written in the book of life for a good and sweet New Year, for health, activism, and restoration in all spheres of our lives, the personal, familial, professional, and public.
September 14, 2012 | 7:23 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
This prayer was written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, (aka The Alter Rebbe), author of The Tanya:
“Dear God – You commanded us that we should ‘know today, and put it back into our hearts, that You are God – in Heaven above and Earth below – there is nothing else,’ and I’m asking You to help me, to keep my mind really clear, that I might see Your workings in the universe, to feel that You are the life that is invigorating me in this very moment.”
(Cited in A Hidden Light: Stories and Teachings of Early HaBaD and Bratzlav Hasidism, by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Netanel Miles-Yepez, with a forward by Susannah Heschel, p. 102)
September 13, 2012 | 6:16 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah said, “No one ever got the better of me, except for one woman, one boy and one girl.” (Talmud Bavli, Eruvim 53b)
He met the boy at a crossroads and asked him how to get to a certain town. The boy pointed to two paths and said, “This is the ‘long and short way,’ (derech arukah u-k'tzarah) and this is the ‘short and long way.’”
Wishing to arrive as quickly as possible, Rabbi Joshua chose the “short and long way” but soon discovered that though that path seemed at the outset to be the shorter route, he couldn’t actually reach the city because the path was obstructed by orchards and gardens. And so, he was forced to retrace his steps and take the other path, the “long and short way.”
This path seemed, at the outset, to be a much longer, more winding and difficult path, but ultimately it turned out to be the surer way between the two to reach his destination.
What’s the meaning of this Talmudic tale? Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liada, known as the Alter Rebbe (i.e. the “Old Rebbe”), taught in the opening pages of The Tanya (see Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s commentary Opening the Tanya, pps. 8-9) that in serving God we have to take the “long and short way” not the “short and long way” because there are no reliable spiritual shortcuts in our effort to come close to God.
Even so, the “long way” doesn’t promise us immediate spiritual elevation either because true spiritual ascent depends on the right preparation and training just as any physical feat requires training.
The Alter Rebbe taught that “the long and short way” can bring great enhancement of our mental and spiritual awareness. But he emphasized that effective spiritual ascent must start from the bottom and move up and does not come as a result of inspiration coming to us from above.
The story of “the long and short way” and the Alter Rebbe’s approach to spiritual growth is based on his understanding of a key verse in the book of Deuteronomy upon which he based The Tanya. We read the verse in this week’s Torah portion Nitzavim. Many Reform congregations read it also on the morning of Yom Kippur.
The key verse: Ki ka-rov elecha ha-davar m’od b’ficha u-vil’vav’cha la-a-soto (“The word is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it.” - Deuteronomy 30:14)
The goal of these High Holidays is to come close to God. Rebbe Yehiel Mikhal of Zlotchov said that our aim is to literally lose ourselves in the divine All like "a drop that has fallen into the great sea and...is one with the waters of the sea and ... no longer a separate thing at all."
It is “the long and short way” that will lead us there because the long way requires us to confront the mind that throws up obstacles such as doubt, excessive intellectualizing and the distractions of the material world (i.e. the orchards and gardens that Rabbi Joshua encountered). The short way is the way of faith that comes only after we successfully work through and around the obstacles in our way.
Only when we become aware of the deep spiritual connection we have naturally to the Creator by virtue of having been fashioned B’tzelem Elohim (“in the Divine Image”) do we discover our true selves linked by soul (i.e. n'shamah) as a reflection of God.
May the beginning of the New Year be one of transcendence and rediscovery for you and your dear ones.
September 10, 2012 | 1:14 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I first posted this prayer on the 10th Anniversary of the September 11 attack, one year ago.
Eternal God, / Source and Creator of Life; / From the depths we have called to you / and we call to you again for courage, strength and wisdom on this anniversary of our nation's tragedy.
Grant us courage to confront our enemies. / Comfort those who stand alone without spouse, parent, brother, sister, or friend. / Open our hearts to them and to the children orphaned ten years ago today. / Enable us to love more deeply all children who suffer. / Accept with mercy our prayers of healing on behalf of the families of the victims / and on behalf of the first responders who became ill at Ground Zero.
Despite the horror and tragedy of 9/11, / our country remains a shelter of peace, / a symbol of freedom, / a beacon light of compassion and justice / to the downtrodden and oppressed of the world.
Strengthen the hands of our people to defend this country / and our common values of freedom and justice. / Inspire our leaders and diplomats / to act wisely and to pursue peace everywhere in the world.
May we teach our children to learn and to think, / To consider and to reason, / To be courageous in thought and in deed, / And to nurture hearts of wisdom / That they may do battle against fear, hatred and bigotry / Using weapons of the spirit and loving hearts.
We offer our prayers / on behalf of our country and government, our President and judiciary, / our officials and institutions, our soldiers and citizens, / upon all who faithfully toil for the good of our country, to preserve democracy in our land, / to advocate for civility between adversaries, and to treat every human being / as infinitely worthy and dignified / by virtue of being created / B’tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image.
Bestow upon us all the blessings of peace, / and may we live to see the day / when swords will be converted into plowshares / and nations will not learn war anymore. / Amen!
By Rabbi John L. Rosove, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA
September 9, 2012 | 1:45 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
The following is my contribution to the "Memory Book" of Kehillat Mevasseret Zion (KMZ) on the occasion of their 20th anniversary as a congregation. KMZ is the Reform Synagogue in Mevasseret Zion and is located 15 minutes down the road from Jerusalem on the way to Tel Aviv.
In 1997 I joined my friend and then Director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) Rabbi Ammi Hirsch and 30 North American Reform Rabbis in a mission to Israel. One day we journeyed to Mevasseret Zion to meet with your Rabbi Maya Leibovich and the leaders of the municipality to show our support for their approval of KMZ’s request that 900 dunam of land be set aside in order for the congregation to build a new Reform synagogue in the town. There had been strong resistance before that from the Orthodox of the community and a fire bombing of the synagogue's Gan (Kindergarten) was perpetrated by unknown arsonists. Ammi believed it important to show the Mayor and other city officials that American and Canadian Reform Rabbis representing 1.2 million North American Jews supported this project and the right of Jews regardless of "stream" to not only worship unfettered in the State of Israel but to be supported by the government in the same way that orthodox synagogues and communities were supported.
It was then that I first met Maya and learned more fully the story of your community. It did not take much for me to become one of Maya’s chassidim and proud supporters.
During the following High Holidays when I gave my annual appeal for funds from my congregation I requested that my members increase their gift by 10% so that we could support Kehillat Mevasseret Zion (KMZ) in your building what would become the jewel of a synagogue that is your home. My congregants responded joyfully, happily, passionately, and generously.
I continued asking them for funds for a number of years in that annual High Holiday Appeal, and whenever I would bring my congregants to Israel I would always schedule a visit to KMZ for Kabbalat Shabbat. You welcomed us with open hearts and arms. My families shared Shabbat dinner with your families. Friendships were formed and as a result your community has become Temple Israel’s synagogue home in the State of Israel.
Speaking personally, I am grateful to count not only your Rabbi and her family, but a number of your leaders as among my dear friends.
Our bodies may be at the extreme edges of the west, but our hearts are in the east with you (Yehuda HaLevi).
In your 20th year we at TIOH (Temple Israel of Hollywood, Los Angeles) send dash chamah and hopes that you will continue to grow in heart, mind and soul and touch not only the lives of your members and community, but to serve as a beacon light of yahadut mitkademet, tzedek, g'milut chassadim, and ahavah (Progressive Judaism, justice, loving-kindness, and love) in the State of Israel.
L'shanah tovah u'm'tukah!
A good and sweet New Year!
September 6, 2012 | 8:30 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Soren Kierkegaard said: “It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.”
Though we are always living forward, the life lessons we learn helps to shape our future. Since this is the season of self-examination leading to Rosh Hashanah in 9 days, I offer to you a list of 32 life lessons I’ve learned in my nearly 63 years – there are others, but the number 32 is a significant one in the mystical tradition. It equals the 22 letters of the Hebrew aleph bet plus the 10 “words” of the covenant, and it is the number equivalent for the Hebrew word Lev (lamed – beit), heart, which the mystics teach are the number of pathways to God.
I offer the following, some of which I’ve borrowed gratefully from a 90 year old lady named Regina Brett and published in the Plain Dealer from Cleveland, Ohio (in italics).
They are not necessarily a way to God, but a means to a healthier, wiser and more sacred way of living, at least as I’ve come to believe in them. I encourage you to draw up your own list.
1. God gave us life and our natural abilities only – everything else is either up to us or a result of dumb luck.
2. Life isn't always fair, but it’s still good.
3. Life is short, so cut your losses early.
4. Begin planning for retirement as a teen-ager by developing your passions and interests, for they will sustain you when you get old.
5. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up your present.
6. You don't have to win every argument, so at a certain point stop arguing.
7. Love your spouse above all other people and things. If you aren’t married, then nurture the special friendships in your life.
8. Don't compare your life to anyone else’s as you have no idea what their journey has been all about.
9. If you can’t publish what you want to say or do on the front page of The NY Times, then don’t say or do it.
10. Try not to speak ill of anyone else, but if you must, do so only with trusted friends and then only in order to understand better how to cope better with people like that.
11. Don’t procrastinate seeing doctors. It may save your life.
12. Carpe diem. Take pleasure in this day and do that which inspires you for we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
13. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
14. Breathe deeply as it calms the heart, mind, body, and soul.
15. Take your shoes off whenever possible as studies indicate that doing so will prolong your life.
16. Too much alcohol and drugs dull the mind and loosen the lips compelling us to say things we may mean but don’t want said and to say things we may not mean at all.
17. Get a dog or a cat for the love for and from such a creature is unlike anything else you will ever know.
18. Over prepare, and then go with the flow.
19. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
20. Speak the truth but only when you know you can be effective and only if it doesn’t cause another person unnecessary harm or hurt. Otherwise, just be quiet.
21. Stand up to bullies wherever they are and whenever you encounter them.
22. Time really does heal almost everything.
23. Don’t fear or resist change for it is natural, necessary and an opportunity for growth.
24. Love is not just a matter of the heart – it comes from God.
25. Learn Torah as often as possible – it will enrich, change and enhance your life and it will inspire you to do things you might never choose to do otherwise.
26. Being outdoors is almost always better than being indoors.
27. Don’t envy anyone else’s talent, circumstances or life – you already have everything you require.
28. Be modest.
29. Be forgiving.
30. Be kind.
31. Be generous.
32. Be grateful.
Now, let’s live our lives forward.
September 5, 2012 | 5:43 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I have a friend who is convinced that President Obama and the Democratic Party are undermining the United States of America and that the President has “thrown Israel under the bus.” He believes that any statement is permissible in pursuit of victory by the Republican Party in November. He has no problem with the lies and distortions of the truth by the RNC, Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan, and the Super-Pacs that are supporting the Republican ticket. He justifies their political lies and distortions by saying that the Democrats do it too.
In fairness to truth, the Republican Party has thrown truth under the bus in a way that I have not seen in my life-time. The Democrats admittedly choose facts, skim the truth and mislead as well, but objective fact-checkers place the greatest sin of political fabrication upon the Republicans over the Democrats by factor of 3 to 1.
In this pre-High Holiday season when t'shuvah (repentance) is the principle occupation of the Jewish community, this wanton disrespect for truth is a major obstacle to true repentance and is contrary to every ethical principle Jewish tradition cherishes.
Far too many Americans dismiss objective truth when it runs counter to their passions, opinions, prejudices, and self-interests, and they believe whatever the most virulent voices are preaching.
Compare and contrast public opinion in Canada vs. the United States on the question of whether Global Warming is a scientific fact. According to a 2012 Angus Reid Public Opinion survey, 58% of Canadians believe that Global Warming is a scientific “fact” as compared with 42% of Americans. In a September 2011 Stanford University poll in conjunction with Ipsos and Reuters News, 91% of all Democrats consider Global Warming a fact as opposed to 66% of all Republicans.
Why the differences between our two countries and between the two American political parties? The surveys show that there are significant differences depending upon region and education. Those in urban areas with higher education accept the science of Global Warming as a fact far more than those living in rural areas with less education.
And there is one more factor to consider – who watches “Fox News.”
Canada does not license “Fox News” to be broadcast in that country because it does not consider it news. Rather, it considers it opinion and the licensing board seriously questioned “Fox News” journalistic integrity. One can watch “Fox News” in Canada, but it has to come through an American feed.
Republicans watch “Fox News” far more than do Democrats, and one of Fox’s pet positions is to promote skepticism about the science of Global Warming despite a very large consensus in the scientific community that affirms Global Warming as a scientific fact.
How can one explain the positions taken by another friend who told me that Obama is anti-Israel, a socialist, that the Affordable Care Act is a government take-over of the health care industry, and that global warming has not been proven. I asked her where she got her information, and she said “Fox News.”
Rashi said “God’s seal is truth” (comment on Sanhedrin 94b). Truth has all kinds of meanings, but with regards to continually seeking objectivity in news and reporting, the journalistic profession holds to a high standard of fact-checking and objectivity.
As we move through this next week when the Democrats meet to nominate President Obama and Vice President Biden at their convention in Charlotte, consider these words of wisdom on the pitfalls and importance of truth-telling for individuals and for us as a nation:
“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” (President John F. Kennedy)
“Fear distorts truth, not by exaggerating the ills of the world…but by underestimating our ability to deal with them…while love seeks truth, fear seeks safety.” (The Reverend William Sloane Coffin)
“When money speaks, the truth keeps silent.” (Russian proverb)
“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” (George Orwell)
“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)