Updated: Aug 5, 2020

All of our eye are focused on the catastrophic destruction wrought by Hurricane Michael. Homes, businesses, schools and more; the infrastructure of life spanning Panama city, Mexico Beach and beyond, is no longer. The remnants of life tell a story which terrifies us to no end- leaving us to wonder over the enormity of a hurricane’s power. Inhabitants of Florida’s panhandle suffered mightily and will continue to suffer for decades while we of lower Alabama escaped a similar fate.

Meteorologists can explain the causes of hurricanes but no scientist can explain why this devastation occurred. We are left with too many questions and too much despair. The overwhelming sense of ‘why’ will never be resolved.

Bizarrely and ironically, this week’s Torah reading is the portion named Noach which describes an all-consuming flood. All life, all civilization was blotted out with only a few remnants surviving. A lifeboat containing the seeds of humanity and the gene pool of animals floated upon the storm waters. The Ark held much more than life within its fragile wooden frame; it held the only hope for the future of all humanity.

What are we to make of the ironic coincidence of reading the flood of Noach during the experiences of our Florida brothers and sisters who were holding onto everything they owned and praying for their very lives? I would never dare draw a comparison between the floodwaters of Noach and the floods of Hurricane Michael. I would never dare teach the message that God wanted to destroy the people in these affected areas. There must be a different lesson we can learn from Parshat Noach.

Look closely at chapters 4-5 of Genesis and we see indications of marriage, child-rearing, the planting of crops, shepherding of animals, city life, forging of implements, musical instruments and more. In modern terms we would summarize this chapter as detailing technologies, cultural expressiveness, institutions of family, commerce, agriculture and the breadth of urban and rural life. If so, why did God destroy the world’s life? What could have prompted God to obliterate everything? The oft-stated

“the world became corrupt ”(Gen. 6:11) might better be read as ‘the world gradually and slowly became corrupt’. The entire society did not change itself overnight into a society of cruelty. Gradually, people began to fill the world with lawlessness and wickedness.

In other words, people gradually began to become selfish and cruel. I see one glaring lack in the world of Genesis. Have you noticed what is missing from the world? (Technologies, cultural expressiveness, institutions of family, commerce, agriculture and the breadth of urban and rural life).

There is no TZEDAKAH! Humanity developed and they failed to establish mechanisms of helping each other. Can a society exist if only with tech, business, equipment and sources of income? No- to found a society which will persist we must have institutions of compassion, kindness and support. A society without agencies which will feed the poor, clothe the naked and provide housing for the homeless is empty. Such a society will crumble and fall. God only brought about the elimination of a society which was already hollow within itself and was about to collapse.

Contrast the episode of Parshat Noach with the overwhelming spirit of caring we are already seeing. Florida State officials have launched massive relief efforts in cooperation with neighboring state officials . National Guard, law enforcement, first responders and other emergency staffs are at work reaching out to people in need. The Cajun Navy, Red Cross and many other volunteers are making plans to assist while generous donors throughout our land will begin to raise funds for those afflicted by MICHAEL even as we continue to assist people still afflicted by FLORENCE. As crucial as the housing, food, clothing, medical needs and more, so, too is the need to extend comfort and support- a gesture, an embrace and the reassuring message that each of us cares for others. The generation of Noach had none of these capacities. The generation of Noach could have learned from us all.

Please plan to assist in any way you can. I will update our Shul members to opportunities to bring holiness and caring into our world. By so doing we will offset the lawlessness found in the time of Noach.

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(All page numbers refer to Etz Hayim)

Sept. 1 - Parshat Ki Tavo - pp. 1146 - 1148

Did you know Moses instructed the Israelites to prepare for a giant shouting match? Joshua actually carried out this directive after Moses died and the Israelites crossed into Israel. Look at the words to be shouted. Do you notice any patterns? In terms of Jewish ritual what is missing? What is included?

Haftarat Ki Tavo - pp. 1162 - 1163

Read verse 10 on p. 1162. Isaiah is speaking to Israel in response to a past war and trying to offer encouragement. What does verse 10 offer us?

Sept. 8 - Parshat Nitzavim - pp. 1165 – 1172

Do you think it is hard to be Jewish?

How would Moses reply to your question? Look at verse 11 on p. 1170. Do you agree with Moses?

Haftarat Nitzavim - pp. 1180 – 1184

This is the LAST HAFTARAH OF CONSOLATION! The season of Tisha B'Av

recovery has ended. Now it's time to begin our year. Read the opening phrase of the Haftarah on p. 1180. Look at how happy Isaiah is! Imagine God as your personal tailor! How would you feel if God clothed you in God's own finery!

Why is this Haftarah just before Rosh Hashanah?

Sept. 15 - Parshat Vayelech – pp. 1173 – 1179

Moses commands the Israelites to not be afraid as they prepare to enter the Promised Land. He then commands Joshua to not be afraid. Compare verse 6 to verse 7. Does this order make sense? Would you have given these orders in this way?

Haftarat Vayelech - SHABBAT SHUVAH

(a special passage read between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) - pp. 1234 - 1239

This Haftarah is composed of excerpts of 3 different Prophets. It's very special. Can you

deduce why these three different passages are read on this Shabbat?

Sept. 22 - Parshat Ha-azinu - pp. 1185 – 1195

This Parshah is very different from most other parshiot. Just glance at the page without reading the words. What do you notice?

Haftarat Ha-azinu - pp. 1197 – 1201

Samuel is the composer of this Haftarah. He lived about 250 years after Moses. Why is this Haftarah passage partnered with the Torah reading?

Digital art work by Gadiel Gal

Sept. 29 – Sukkot -.pp. 538 – 545

The special Torah reading begins with Moses on Mount Sinai after the sin of the Golden Calf. Why do we read about this event on Sukkot? Don't the Sukkahs they built represent vulnerability and a need for protection? What's the link between the holiday and the Torah reading?

Haftarat Sukkot - pp. 1260 – 1262

Sukkot's main theme is protection. The most vulnerable circumstance of all experience is war. A great war is symbolically described as taking place and eventually Israel will be safe and secure. In effect, the message of Sukkot is emphasized.

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Updated: Aug 5, 2020

Perhaps you have noticed that caterers, waitresses and waiters always enter a specific door and exit the opposite door. Entering and exiting the kitchen in a prescribed manner eliminates mistakes and helps to avoid accidents. It's a rule. It is a small rule but it can help to keep people safe and to prevent damage and financial losses. The same goes for work, school, hospitals, libraries, stores, businesses ,etc. We all need to know how to enter a building and how to begin a project as much as we need to know how to exit a building and conclude a project. Signage, training and peer pressure all help us to start and finish, exit and enter.

    This week's Parshah comes immediately on the heels of last week's Torah reading as all Parshiot do. However, there is a thematic link between these two Parshiot. Last week, we read Kee Teitzay which literally means "When you go out" and this week's Torah reading is Kee Tavo means "When you come in." Last week's Parshah of 'when you go out' describes the anticipated exit from the wilderness and preparing to take the first steps across the River Jordan. Uppermost in the minds of the Israelites will be combat and conquest of the land and, necessarily, rules concerning combat are set forth and a modicum of humane conduct during warfare is demanded.

    This week's Parshah, ‘When you come in' views life very differently. Taking for granted the fact that the Israelites have successfully defeated the Canaanites, the opening of this week's Parshah describes mitzvot associated with a bountiful harvest. Moses speaks presumptuously about the fact that the Israelites will have made the land their own, and after harvesting great gifts of produce, will perform two specific mitzvot.

    Upon successfully harvesting produce every Israelite farmer is expected to come to the Tabernacle or Shrine to give a basket of produce to the Kohen. Speaking publicly but not the words of a prayer, every Israelite will utter the exact same proclamation; describing his having left Egypt and becoming free he has worked the land and collected the crops.  Immediately, he presents the basket of produce to the Kohen and the next paragraph calls for him to share food with the poor, the widow and the stranger.

    The sequence is key. Having made his home secure and reaping the benefits of hard work, gratitude to God is expressed in two public manners; a personal proclamation whereby his own personal life story is entwined with history and fulfilling the essential mitzvah of feeding the hungry. Life is hard and we must fight to stay alive but if we do not share our food with those in need and we do not see ourselves as transforming history within our own experience, we have not fulfilled our life's work.  The sense of meaning in combat emerges from the hard work of weeding a garden, watering the crops, tending the plants and doing everything in our power to prompt the ground to share its life energy with us even as we share our own life energy with others.

    May we establish meaning in our lives by the manner in which we exit and the manner in which we enter locations and phases of our lives.

P.S. The observant reader of this email and last week's email will find one mistake when comparing the two. Have you found my error?

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