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Over the past recent weeks and months you and I have experienced contentious electioneering and campaigning both on State and Federal levels. We have heard rhetoric which has verged on the hostile. I have noticed, especially in our local and state campaigning cycle, candidates vehemently championing their church observance and attendance. If it were not so offensive and sad it might almost be humorous to see certain candidates trying to ‘outchurch’ others. It is ironic to see and to hear on TV expressions of church attendance as being a basis for goodness and qualifications of public service when the intimations are that the opponent is not attending church and therefore unqualified or worse. Put bluntly- ‘how can you say you are such a good person as to deserve the public’s trust when you impugn your opponent’s character?

In this week’s Parsha known as Balak, named for a Canaanite king who is afraid of the approaching Israelites, we learn of a pagan prophet named Bil-am. King Balak encourages prophet Bil-am to curse the Israelites with the hope that the Israelites will become weakened and demoralized, making it easier for King Balak to prevent their entry Into the Promised Land.

     Strikingly, Bil-am is introduced to us as a pagan. Although he is not part of the Israelites, he is described as a prophet of God. How powerful it is for Torah to attest to God’s having direct communication with a pagan! Unlike certain modern communities in the 21st century which delegitimize people of different religious perspectives, Torah seems to accept Bil-am at least until he violates God’s trust, not on religious grounds, but by choosing to curse others. It is Bil-am’s misuse of words which is his undoing; a man who is gifted with hearing the Word of God loses his identity and his life because of his refusal to use his words appropriately with his fellow man.

     Can we learn from our Torah to use our words constructively? And remembering that our public servants do represent us both symbolically and politically, if they misuse words, is it only their responsibility or have we encouraged this misuse in some way?

Shabbat Shalom


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Updated: Jun 29, 2018

At one time or another in our lives each of us has suffered loss. And at one time or another each of us has had the opportunity to receive comfort and to offer solace. Having walked in the shoes of sorrow we know how important it is to stand by someone else who is now suffering.

     Most of us have experienced Shiva; either visiting someone in a house of mourning or receiving comforters. We know the pain and emptiness. We know the challenge of trying to find the right words when none exists and the dread of being left alone after people leave even when we desperately need to be left alone. Entire books have been written about the power of Shiva; the importance of community members’ bringing food to the mourners and insisting they eat because mourners, left to their own confusion, will forget to eat.  Each of us works through grief in a particular fashion but support by others is essential for us all.

     This week’s Parsha, Parshat Chukat, ushers us into two very different Shiva experiences. Within the very same Parshah, Miriam the Prophet and Aharon the Great Kohen die. Remembering that Miriam guarded baby Moses floating in a river and led the women in celebratory song after crossing the Sea, we see her pivotal role in safeguarding the Israelites’ future by being active near water. No wonder that the Rabbis crafted a compelling and inspirational Midrash which describes a miraculous spring of water as appearing at every stop throughout the wilderness, providing Israel with water, because of the merit of Miriam. Yet, unlike the outbreak of weeping over Aaron’s death a bit later in the Parshah, the Israelites do not appear to weep or grieve at all over the death of Miriam (Numbers 20:1). Immediately after the mention of her death we can almost hear across the divide of 3,300 years the desperation of the Israelites who themselves are thirsting for water to such an extent they seem to be at death’s door. Might it be that they are so focused upon their own physical needs that they cannot even see that their leader Miriam has died before their very eyes?

     Some paragraphs later her younger brother, Aaron, is described as dying and the entire nation of Israel weeps for 30 days (Numbers 20:29). Having slaked their thirst with the water brought forth form the rock and now standing nearly at the edge of the Promised Land the Israelites are in a different mental and emotional condition. Their eyes are open to their loss and they weep. As a community no longer facing a grave threat of extinction they are now able to grieve together.   

      Perhaps we can learn from these two different Shiva experiences. As members of a community we have a communal obligation – to share our perspectives with others who may be so preoccupied with their emergency needs that they are incapable of appreciating the losses we all share.  A community grows in strength by being a community of caring and sensitivity.


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Updated: Jun 29, 2018

Mention the name Benedict Arnold and a whole host of emotions comes to mind. The best-known traitor during the Revolutionary War; Arnold offered to turn West Point over to the British in exchange for money and a commission in the British army. Feeling unappreciated by Congress, and others in the Colonial military, Arnold sought honor from his enemies. His plan came to light and he abandoned his own troops- eventually leading British forces in battle against Colonists and ultimately settling in England after the war. To consider that an individual would betray his own people fills our hearts with dread. Treason is so reprehensible that it carries special distinction. It is the only crime mentioned in the Constitution. Considered a most heinous offense, no actual punishment is stipulated and it is left to Congress to set an appropriate punishment if and when a person if found guilty ( Article III, section 3).

In this week’s Parsha we learn of a revolt against Moses. Korach, a first cousin of Moses and Aaron, complains that Moses has taken too much leadership upon himself. Korach gathers 252 other malcontents and they all accuse Moses of leading Israel for his own selfish reasons. Moses, shocked, falls to his feet. Later, he seeks out the rebels and attempts to reconcile with them. They refuse to discuss their grievances and a face-off ensues. Eventually, an earthquake settles the dispute by swallowing Korach and his co-conspirators, leaving many other Israelites afraid, confused and questioning Moses’s authority. Ironically, the death of the rebel Korach, which demonstrates God’s endorsement of Moses, leads to other Israelites’ challenging Moshe and Aharon. It is as if Korach’s revolt gave other individuals permission to rebel against Moses too.

Could it be that people are more easily incited to revolt, aggression and hostility when they see people in leadership roles acting aggressively and in self-serving ways?

How we live our lives is up to us. How we follow the pathways and conduct of others, including our leaders, speaks volumes about our morality and integrity.

May we live the right way, daily, throughout 2018.


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