Before creating the human being, according to a Midrash, God consulted the angels of heaven. The Angel of Peace argued, “Don’t create him! He will bring war into Your world!” The Angel of Compassion countered, “He will do kindness, create him!”
It’s well past 10 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, and the halls of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) are filled with the sounds of creativity. In one room of the Encino Conservative congregation, the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony winds down its rehearsal, packing up instruments as its musicians prepare, finally, to go home.
One night some years ago, two powerful Jewish men in media, one from New York and one from Los Angeles, were walking together through the streets of Jerusalem when they hatched a little idea.
This year, we return to the wisdom offered by our rabbis during the High Holy Days in years past. What follows are excerpts from some exceptional sermons and High Holy Days writings; many more voices could have been included, of course, but we hope this will inspire you to revisit your own synagogues’ archives.
Each culture has rituals and customs surrounding death, and Judaism is no exception. Jewish tradition and the Jewish community provide mourners with structure and direction during the grieving process.
This is the beginning of your life’s great adventure. At your bar/bat mitzvah, we spoke about you becoming an adult.
For the child whose parent has been diagnosed with cancer, each day becomes fraught with uncertainty -- will Mom or Dad be there today when I get home from school, or back in the hospital? Will Dad be too sick to come to my softball game? Why does Mom have to take that medicine that makes her feel so bad? Isn't medicine supposed to make you feel better? All kinds of questions culminate in that most sinister and heartbreaking of all queries, lurking like a spider in the corner of the child's mind: Is my Mom (or Dad) going to die?
We believe in a God who dreams. The Torah is the story of the transaction between God's dreams and human reality. God dreams of a world of goodness. God creates humanity - fashioned in the divine image - to share the dream. But human beings betrayed God's dreams. We filled the world with violence and murder. God despaired of having created humanity and decided to wash the world clean. But one human being caught God's eye - one good man. So God saved Noah and his family, together with a set of earth's animals to begin the world again.
Seeing Beyond Our Culture.
Did the first people to read the Bible know they were reading "The Bible"? And if not, what was it they thought they were reading?
One Sunday morning, many years ago, as parents came to pick up their kids from the Hebrew school where I taught, I overheard a conversation. "How was class?" A father asked his son.The child began to whine. "I hate Hebrew school," he said. "It's boring and stupid, the teachers are mean, and the kids aren't nice. I don't want to go any more." The father stopped, turned to the kid,and said: "Listen, when I was your age, I went to Hebrew school and I hated it. It was boring, the teachers were mean, the kids weren't nice, but they made me go, and, now, you're going to go too!"
What a tragedy.
According to my son, Disney's "The Lion King" is the greatest film ever made. He saw it three times in the theater,and insisted on playing the soundtrack every morning on our way to school. All the way to kindergarten, we sang the film's stirring theme song, "The Circle of Life," until, one morning, I listened to the words.
Child rearing, it turns out, is a relatively short-term project. The truth is that we don't have them for very long. Eighteen years, that's all. Eighteen years, from birth until they move away to Stanford. If your child is 5, you've got 13 years left. If your child is 8, you've got 10 years. If your child is 11,you've got only seven years -- just a few years to put them to bed with a story and a song, to make them breakfast, to stick artwork upon the fridge.
I learned most of my theology not from my teachers but from my children. When my daughter, Nessa, was 3 years old, we had a routine. Each night, I would tuck her into bed, sing our bedtime prayers, kiss her good night and attempt to sneak out of the room. Halfway down the hall, she began to scream, "Abba!" An avid reader of Parents magazine, the Torah of parenting, I knew what to do: I walked back to the child's room and turned on every light. I looked under the bed. "No alligator, Nessa." I checked the closet. "No monsters, Nessa." I surveyed the ceiling. "No spiders, Nessa. Now go to bed. Tomorrow is coming, and you've got to get to sleep," I'd say. "Everything is safe. Good night." "OK, Abba," she said, "but leave the light on."
Everything in Creation has a purpose, teaches the Midrash. But when someone gave us a gift subscription to People Weekly magazine, I was left to wonder if I had found the first truly purposeless thing in God's universe.
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner tells of the time he brought a nursery-school class into the synagogue sanctuary for a tour. He showed them the bimah, the ner tamid, the cantor's and rabbi's lecterns. Finally, the tiny kids stood before the huge doors of the Holy Ark.
Why is it that when Jews seek spiritual wisdom, they'll go almost anywhere except their own traditions? Look into any cult, any radical new therapy, any metaphysical society or meditating community, and you'll find Jews far beyond our proportion in the population. And should they come to Judaism, there is a thirst for the esoteric. "I want to learn your spiritual secrets!" an impassioned searcher says to me.
A couple with whom I'm close had their first child, so I ran to the bookstore to get them our favorite book on child care. I had forgotten the exact title (it was always "the baby book") and the author's name, so I thought I'd just scan the shelf until it turned up. Shelf? Try shelves -- six of them, each 8 feet long and 10 feet high, and all on parenting. Need advice on building self-esteem, teaching morals, successful potty-training? There are volumes to teach it.