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     This week’s Parshah, Mishpatim (Statutes), comes on the heels of the transmission of the 10 Great Words. Unlike last week’s reading which saw Moses ascend Sinai by himself, this Parshah presents 53 commandments to 73 elders standing with Moshe. All told, 74 communal leaders are commanded to care for cattle, prevent cruelty to animals, ensure fair and equitable judicial proceedings, prevent economic mistreatment of borrowers and lenders, keep kosher with an eye towards holiness, safeguard widows, orphans, strangers, promote observance of Jewish holidays and model reverence of God. Strikingly, these mitzvot echo the identifying features of our own Shul and reverberate throughout modern Jewish life, given voice by our own individual households. To picture one lone man, like Charlton Heston, climbing a mountain to experience God brings to mind the compelling intensity of a Divine-human encounter. However, the true greatness of a religious experience is to have a community share in the charting of a course of action like the 74 leaders in this week’s Parshah and the leadership within our Shul, the Temple and expressed by the Lubel family; shared with as many people as possible. May we all study, learn, work and grow in our Jewish experiences, thus influencing our communities.

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This morning I met a disabled veteran. While we both poured iced tea and lemonade for people attending a luncheon in support of police officers who have fallen in the line of duty he shared part of his personal story. A Marine; he was shot during a four-year stint. He told me of people less fortunate than himself and recounted how he had rescued a small group of women and children from a small boat off of Somalia. He ignored my request for more information concerning his injuries and instead spoke of adopting a baby from that incident. He went on to mention that he had adopted a total of 8 children from various locations during his service and brought them back to America in order that they have a better life. As we spoke he became very enthusiastic, not only about his adopted kids and the set of twins born thereafter to his wife and himself, but also concerning the people he now helps as a volunteer firefighter in Citronelle and other communities.

     I asked how he pays his bills if he works as a volunteer firefighter and he explained that he gets benefits which are barely enough. What matters to him, though, most of all is that he be able to help people.  I had a bit of trouble understanding his words; they were a bit unclear. I would not say his speech was slurred but some of his words were slightly unintelligible. I left the luncheon humbled and amazed by his passion to serve others and to care for people.

     If I had been in a hurry I may have not attended to a gentleman who was a bit difficult to comprehend. I may have just tuned him out or left that part of the room entirely. What a loss I would have experienced!

     It brought to mind Moshe who in this week’s Parshah continues to stand up to Pharaoh. Described as having some type of speech impediment both in last week’s Parshah and that of the week before, Moshe demands the freedom of the Israelites. Instead, Pharaoh ignores Moshe, perhaps because of the manner in which he speaks or more probably because he is selfish and a bully.

     Twice in early Exodus we are taught that Moshe is of impaired speech. Rather than be concerned about his own limitations he carries on with the most challenging of all tasks-speaking out publicly to help people in need.    

     We have much to learn from people. If only we would listen to the words of others.

 Shabbat Shalom.

     It's too early to begin buying gifts. It's not even Thanksgiving yet! And it's not the right Parshah - that comes next week-the scene where Jacob gives gifts to his brother Esau in his attempt to reconcile with his twin over his purloining of Esau's rightful blessing. Next week's Parshah always precedes Chanukah and coincidentally brings up the idea of gift-giving, albeit with ulterior motives. Unlike Jacob's stratagem to win over his elder brother, we offer gifts out of love and friendship. It is fun to exchange gifts and to share good times with our loved ones. Year in and year out, gift-giving is fun.

     But this year I am feeling different. This year I can't focus on finding the right gift for that special someone. My thoughts are elsewhere. My thoughts are with 11 families in Pittsburgh, 12 families in Thousand Oaks, thousands of families in the Florida Panhandle and the Carolinas and California. In the immediate aftermath of two horrific shootings, two hurricanes and a chain of wildfires my need for another necktie or snazzy socks is inconsequential. My desire to select just the right pair of earrings or sweater is wholly out of place. In such anguish-laden times I ask myself how I should act as a man and as a Jew. And I continue to hear a still, small voice whisper that I need to show I care; I need to act differently than the hordes of people who are descending upon shopping malls or unlocking cyber-wallets in advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I need to show respectful tenderness and I need to repair the world in my own personal way even though I didn't break it.

     So although it's early for me, I am preparing Tzedakah for Chanukah. That's not to say our family won't exchange gifts-we will-but we are going to tone it down this year. I am sharing with my loved ones, family members and Shul members alike, a personal need to add to the world, to serve others, to make a mark and to keep the memories of those lost uppermost in my heart and those in need of re-building uppermost in my mind.

     Perhaps you will support a variety of organizations and donate to funds in honor of your relatives- -giving a gift of a different quality this year. And for those young parents who have young children- this may be an opportunity to speak of sharing with families who have lost clothes and toys without scaring your own kids  -just by saying "this year we have 3 toys instead of 4 so we can provide a toy to a child who does not have one."

     You might consider donating to Nechama, a volunteer hands-on Jewish disaster response organization which has been on the ground in Georgia since Hurricane Florence demolished the Carolinas or to the Los Angeles Federation in support of Wildfire relief. Both sites are secure. Or you might plant trees in the names of people killed in a Pittsburgh Shul (through our own Shul or JNF). 

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