Sunday, April 22, 2018

What a busy weekend at HTBE!

We have had a triple -header this weekend at Hollywood Temple Beth El

I. The Sheriff's Election Campaign Forum, Thursday evening, April 19

We had two of the three candidate for the office of Los Angeles County Sheriff attend.The incumbent Sheriff, James McDonnell, was out of town, but the other two candidates showed up, Commander Robert Lindsey and Lieutenant Alex Villanueva. It was a spirited and lively presentation and highlighted for all of us how  critical this Sheriff's Department is, the largest in the entire US and the one responsible for safety at HTBE ( West Hollywood. Station). Two key issues emerged: a rising crime rate in LA County ( as opposed to a dropping rate in the rest of the state) and morale and hiring issues at the Department.  I am asking the three candidates for their suggestions for enhanced security for Jewish institutions in the light of the primacy of our institutions being the #1 target of hate incidents in the US.

 From left of image to right, Dr. Allen Zuckerman, moderator, Commander Lindsey, and Lieutenant Villanueva. From facebook page of Candidate Villanueva

Here are the websites of the candidates, in alphabetical order

II. Israel's 70th Birthday- Saturday, April 21

We had a joint service with our Iranian counterparts. It's good that we can get together, two different historic Jewish traditions, and worhship and celebrate together, as we did. 
We were happy to welcome Roy Stein, Director of Video Production for Stand With Us, together with Rebecca Sacher, who helped coordinate our event. Roy spoke of the work of Stand with Us in combating Antisemitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses today.( See their website for more information:
Our Cantorial Solist, Bryce Emily Megdal, joined us to lead  a round of popular Israeli songs and hora dancing.We don;t have any images from Saturday, but you can enjoy her music at

III. Tree of Life Workshop: A Journey into the Inner World. Sunday. April 22

We held our workshop under the leadership of Gilla Nissan, teacher of Jewish meditation and Yuval Ron. accomplished musician today.
Participants explored the mystical Tree of Life, a system of ten energy centers, which exist in our bodies as well in the world around us. "Attunement of these energy centers may lead to mindful and wholesome way of living, improving health and well-being and will lead to a quick and light yet, deep and transformative, experience."

 This was done with a grant from Jewish Wisdom & Wellness, a biennial Festival of Learning, where Jewish wisdom reveals new perspectives on life’s challenges. Programs continue throughout LA this week.

Enjoy a video clip of "Olam Chesed Yibaneh"
Our presenters, Gilla Nissan, on the floor,left, and Yuval Ron, on the floor, right

Center, a wood carving of the Ten Sefirot of Jewish Mysticism


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Two Great Events at Hollywood Temple Beth El This Weekend- Israel's 70th and Tree of Life Workshop

Celebrate Israel’s 70th Birthday with
Hollywood Temple Beth El and
the Iranian American Jewish Federation
                70 years ago, the impossible happened. A people almost wiped off the face of the earth reestablished an independent state of Israel after 2000 years of foreign colonialism, ethnic cleansing and genocide. On Saturday, April 21, the members of Hollywood Temple Beth El and the Iranian American Jewish Federation will celebrate the State of Israel’s 70th birthday with a joint program at noon, following their Shabbat morning services which begin at 9:45 AM.
            Gary Ratner, Senior Executive of Stand with Us will address the gathering. Stand with Us is an international education organization whose mission is to disseminate the facts about Israel and the Middle East conflict and to counter the misinformation and misconceptions that are prevalent in the general community here and abroad. Stand With Us works on campuses, in high schools, in communities, churches and synagogues. Stand With Us has offices across the United States, Canada, the U.K, Australia, South Africa and Israel. For more information, go to their website: .

                There will be a musical presentation of popular Israeli songs led by Cantorial Soloist, Bryce Emily Megdal.  Megdal is a dynamic and thrilling vocalist and song-leader who  officiates at High Holy Day and other special events for Hollywood Temple Beth El.

                According to Rabbi Norbert Weinberg, “The State of Israel is one of the modern wonders of the world. The State of Israel is now an amalgam of Jews from such diverse regions as the Middle East, Europe, Africa, India, and central Asia. One of the oldest languages of the world, Hebrew, was reborn as a living, common tongue of this reborn people. In its short history, a gathering of impoverished refugees has become the  leading innovator in medicine, science, technology, and  agriculture. “

                The celebration will be held at the main sanctuary at 1317 N Crescent Heights Blvd, West Hollywood. For more information, please call 323-656-3150 of email:

Tree of Life – A Journey into the Inner World

Sunday, April 22 | 10:00 am - 6:00 pm

Join us for a day of workshop combining heart-opening music, guided meditations, sacred movements and chants from ancient texts. 

We will explore the mystical Tree of Life, a system of ten energy centers, which exist in our bodies as well in the world around us. Attunement of these energy centers may lead to mindful and wholesome way of living, improving health and well-being and will lead to a quick and light yet, deep and transformative, experience.

Yuval Ron is an internationally renowned world Music artist, composer, educator, peace activist and record producer. His book Divine Attunement: Music as a path to Wisdom, won the Gold Medal Award for Best Spirituality Book at the Indie Book Awards 2015. For more information visit:

Gilla Nissan is a teacher of spirituality and meditation, a prize winning poet and a captivating speaker. Her forthcoming book is The Hebrew Alphabet-Allow the Magic to Fascinate You a ground-breaking teaching on the Letters. For more information, please visit: or email

Free Admission- Advance registration required. Limit to 50 participants
Bring your own lunch ( dairy, vegetarian or kosher) or get a bite in local eateries
Registration information:…/tree-of-life-a-journe…/
In conjunction with Jewish Wisdom and Wellness: A Festival of Learning, a project of Kalsman Institute/HUC-JIR and Cedars Sinai Medical Center.
Venue: Hollywood Temple Beth El, 1317 N Crescent Heights Blvd. Los Angeles, 90046

Friday, March 16, 2018

Food for Thought on Chametz and Matzah

Food for Thought on Chametz and Matzah   

            You know that on every one of our 3 festivals, we are to rejoice, so I will begin 
my comments with a few words of humor before I actually get to my theme of this
            You know we Jews love to play on words, especially when we can do so in two
or three languages.

For example, Do you know why we have an Haggadah at Passover?
A: So we can Seder right words.

Of course, all Jews are born psychologists, and Freud was merely verbalizing
what we all know instinctively.  What do you call someone who derives pleasure from the
bread of affliction?

 A matzochist.

Then, of course, all Jews are either doctors, have doctors in the family, and
believe we know more than the doctor . Did you hear that  a group of leading medical
people have published  data  that indicates that Seder participants should NOT partake
of both chopped liver and  charoses.  It is indicated that this combination can lead to
Charoses of the Liver.

There 's a story about a very wealthy, yet very modest, Jewish chap named
Hyman  Goldfarb. Because of his large donations to charities through the years, the
queen wanted to knight him, but he was going to turn it down.
"That's a great honor," a friend asked. "Why would you turn it down?"
"Because during the ceremony you have to say something in Latin," he said. "And I don't
wish to bother studying Latin just for that."
"So say something in Hebrew. The queen wouldn't know the difference."
"Brilliant," Hy complimented his friend, "but what should I say?"
"Remember that question the son asks the father on the first night of Passover? ... Can
you say that in Hebrew?"
"Of course," he said. " Thank you, old sport, I shall become a knight."
At the ceremony Hy waited his turn while several of the other honorees went before the
Finally they called his name. He knelt before Her Majesty, she placed her sword on one
shoulder and then on the other, and motioned for Hy to speak. Out came "Ma nishtana
ha leila hazeh."
The queen turned to her husband and said, "Why is this knight different from all other

            Enough, enough, now is  time for some wisdom for Pesah, about matzah- mah nishtanah- not just haleila hazeh- the one night, but "sheva yamim", seven days, you shall eat matzah.! Why matzah ? Why not, in the words of Marie Antoinette, let them eat cake!
            In this zman herutenu, Season of Liberation, Pesah, Passover, no element so dominates the festival as the contrast between "Chametz" and "Matzah", leavened and unleavened bread.
            Our official explanation is that our ancestors left Egypt in haste on the night of liberation and had only enough time to prepare the simple matzah for the journey into the desert. That simple fare has remained for us Jews as the symbols par excellence of our freedom as human beings, subject to no other human being, bound only by the moral and spiritual responsibilities emanating from the Eternal One. Because of that event, the Jew, even in exile, under oppression and persecution, remained free in the heart.
            But mazah is even older than pesah! Lot, Abraham's nephew served it to his angelic visitors 400 years before. Matzah was not only for Pesah-- The Kohanim, the priests, ate matzah through the year with their sacrifical meals.
            The choice of Maztah over Chametz is ironic. After all, the similarities greatly outweigh the difference at first sight.
            Eve the Hebrew spelling is close.  Chametz and Matzah,  share two root letters, Mem   and Tsadi .  The third letter is similar .
חמץ  מצה    מ  צ ה  ח
The only difference between the letter Het  ח of Hamezt  and Heh ה of Matzah is only a tiny space that closes the gap. In pronunciation, the two are similar; again, the difference is a little friction in the throat for the sound of Het .
.           The real difference between the two  is a result of bio-chemistry.
            What can be Chametz?  Only five grains, which by common tyranslation in Europe are-- barley, rye, oats, wheat, and spelt and only when immersed  in  cold  water  for  at  least  eighteen  minutes,  or immediately in hot water or salt water.
 (Modern scholars , however, suggest this translation:
 שיפון Shippon (shifon) – einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum),
כוסמין Kusmin – 
emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccon),
חיטים Ḥittim – 
durum wheat (Triticum durum) and bread wheat (Triticum aestivum),
שעורים Se’orim – six row 
barley (Hordeum vulgare), and
שיבולת שועל Shibbolet shual – two row barley (Hordeum vulgare).)

Rice and legumes, which Ashkenazic Jews avoid during Pesah, are treated as Chametz only by custom, as there was a concern that flour substitutes made from these foods might be mistaken with real flour. These plants  can never leaven, only ferment. That is why Sefardic Jew use rice and beans in their cooking and why an Ashkenazic Jew may eat at a Sefardic meal at which rice is served, even though by tradition, he doesn't eat the rice, unless-- unless the cook is his wife if she is Sefardic.)
            These grains share a scientific peculiarity. Only these five grains of all plants have a combination of four enzymes- B Amylase, A Amylase Oxydase,  and Proteinase. This is the chemistry lesson : it is just that combination of enzymes, in the presence of water, that causes the release of  carbon dioxide which causes the dough to  rise. Other plants degenerate or ferment, causing a  bad smell. Hence, to be chametz, the gain must pass the smell test, which is also required of the grain to be considered as bread, for purposes of the mitzvah of matzah and hamotzi.
            So now, what is matzah?
            It's the same thing as Chametz. A matzah can only be made of those five grains,  never from corn flour, nor rice nor potato flour. Only that which  can become Chametz may be used for matzah.
            What makes the difference? Only  eighteen minutes separate the one from the other, the time between the mixing of the dough and the putting into the oven.
            How so?.
            The dough is baked in an extremely hot oven. This instantly dries up the water, before the leavening can take place, and destroys the key enzyme B Amylase. There is no leavening and  no release of carbon dioxide, the bread stays flat, and you have matzah.
            So why this oddity, this peculiarity that so much effort is made because of eighteen minutes of baking--that which is kosher throughout the year is suddenly forbidden, yet it is replaced by something made from the same source, which is now commanded. This peculiarity becomes the symbol of our liberation from bondage.
The moral lessons are plentiful.
1)     Matzah must be made new, while  Chametz can be old. Matzah must be made fresh and quickly. This is the rule for life--­we have to start each time, in life, renewed, fresh. We can not rely on last years efforts, nor allow ourselves to go stale.
2)     Matzah is simple, while  Chametz is fancy. Matzah reminds us of our ancestral simplicity in life . Chametz symbolizes  all the trappings of  human civilization. Once a year, we put some of it aside, to remember us to return to the basics of our ancestors in a simpler time.
3)      Matzah is flat, while Chametz is puffed up. A Matzah is humble and modest,  true and straight--what you see is what you get. A loaf of bread is all fluff , a lot of air, and less substance. An ounce of Matzah and an ounce of Chametz must  weigh the same, but the Chametz seems greater only because it is filled with hot air. So too, with people-- we are to be straight and honest, filled with human substance,  and not inflated for show  with vain ego.
4)      A Matzah is pure, while the Chametz has impurity in it, a souring of the dough. Matzah is our basic nature, created clean and pure. Chametz is the souring and the gas that is produced in our lives by giving in to our passions and instincts  and the choosing evil instead of good.
5)     A Matzah is fast food, while Chametz is slow.  The Torah describes the matzah as being made in haste, and that the children of Israel could not linger . Legal  contracts always say 'Time is of the essence' and that is true here. The Chametz is puffed up because we waited  too long, we missed opportunities to do good in our lives and with ourselves. The Matzah is permitted to us because we have acted speedily and resolutely.
6)      A  Matzah is poor, while Chametz is rich."Ha lahma anya  - This is the bread of poverty that our ancestors ate in Egypt." Better the poor Matzah made with hard work, than the rich Chametz,  gained by letting things spoil or earned without effort.
            That is why Chametz and matzah are so near, yet so far apart. Hence, the matzah, so poor in texture and appearance, is so rich in meaning for us as we celebrate with our families and friends through the rest of the holiday.
            Hag Kasher v'Sameach--May you have a truly Kosher for Passover holiday and a joyous celebration with all those you love.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Jewish sources in Christian Scriptures: Lecture notes

 Jewish sources in Christian Scriptures

Study Notes:
It is impossible to read Christian Scriptures without recognizing their roots in the Tanach ( our sider of the Good Book) , Jewish thought in the period following the return exile ( as preserved in the “Sefarim Histzoniim”-the Apocrypha and contemporary literature, & the Dead Sea Scrolls) and Rabbinic literature, which while compiled later, is based on earlier traditions.
For that reason, the early Church rejected attempts to separate the Christian teachings from its Hebraic roots ( the Marcionite heresy) and the Protestant Reformation, which opened up European civilization from the hold of medieval Christian thought, was founded upon a deep understanding of the Hebraic roots of Christianity. In my library, for example, I had a Bible dictionary from the 1600’s, by a Protestant scholar,Johanes Cocceis, who relied on Rashi and the Talmud for his definitions. I had a Talmud manuscript facsimnile, published by a Protestant scholar of Judaism, Herman Strack, who also published the Rabbinic parallels to Christian scriptures.

The readers of these notes will soon recognize that, while Jesus is speaking in Jewish phrases and concepts, he is not speaking as a humble country “Rabbi”( a term not yet in use in his day), nor as a prophet, but already as a quasi-angelic or quasi-divine being, who is to bring about the long awaited “end of days”, in which the existing human order will be overthrown. It is already here that the split with the rest of the Jewish people is inevitable.

Here are some sample parallel texts.
A.      The Gospel According to Saint, John:1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 
Jewish source: The first systematic Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, used the term Logos ( Word) to mean an intermediary divine being, or demiurge. Philo followed the Platonic distinction between imperfect matter and perfect Form, and therefore intermediary beings were necessary to bridge the enormous gap between God and the material world. The Logos was the highest of these intermediary beings, and was called by Philo "the first-born of God." Philo also wrote that "the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated."( Wikipedia).  Aramaic equivalent: Memra. Hebrew: Dibur, also, “Chochmah”, Wisdom in Proverbs.
B.Golden Rule:
“One gentile came before Shammai : Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot. Shammai pushed him away with the builder’s cubit in his hand.  The same gentile came before Hillel. He converted him and said to him: That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation.( Go study. Talmud Shabbat 31 a)
This phrase is found both in the positive “do” and “negative” don’t” in Jewish texts a century or more before this time. Hillel’s admonition is that platitudes are just that, without definition and specification of application, a classic Jewish perspective.
C.      Klal gadol- The great principal
One day an expert in the law stood up to test Him. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26“What is written in the Law?Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” 27He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”… 28“You have answered correctly,” Jesus said. “Do this and you will live.”…( Luke 10:27. In Mathhew and Mark, Jesus says it to the scholar)
 (Leviticus 19:18) "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Rabbi Akiva says: This is the great principal of the Torah. Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 30B ( However, in the same context, Rabbi Akiva’s collegues,Ben Azzai disagrees and says: This is the account of the story of humanity…He created humans in the divine image.”Gen 5:1. He explains that morality based on the self is self-defeating, unless we ground each other in our shared divine image, a far greater concept).
D.Turn the cheek
 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h]39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.(Mathhew 5)
On eye for eye: Mishnah Bava Kamma 8:1 One who injures his fellow is liable for five categories of payment: damages, pain, healthcare, unemployment, and shame.
This is a rejection of the position of Saduccees, the priestly party, who took the Bible text literally, and insisted on eye for eye, literally.
I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. Isaiah 50:6
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. Lamentations 3:30
The understanding here is that affliction is not from one’s enemies, but from God, and is to be accepted as “ tough love” ( yisurim shel ahavah- afflictions caused by love, as in the classic statement by fathers,    ” This hurts me more than it does you”).
 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; 22For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you.…Proverbs 25:21
Ex 23:5 If you see your enemies donkey under a burden, you must help him with it.
Another understanding of these statements was promulgated by scholars, such as Dr. Albert Schweitzer ( who set up health clinics in Africa) that these are conditional morality statements, based on the idea that the end of times is around the corner, tomorrow, and therefore, there is no time for tit-for-tat; the end of days will resolve all disputes!
E.Sermon on the Mount ( Matthew 5)
He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit,   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Isaiah 66:2 “These are the ones I look on with favor:    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,    and who tremble at my word.
 Blessed are those who mourn,    for they will be comforted.
Isaiah 61:2 to comfort all who mourn,   and provide for those who grieve in Zion—.
 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,    for they will be filled.
Isaiah 55:1 “Come, all you who are thirsty,    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,    come, buy and eat!( drink and eat the words of the prophet)
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
And the Sages taught: About those who are insulted and do not insult, who hear their shame and do not respond, who act out of love and are joyful in suffering, the verse says: “And they that love Him are as the sun going forth in its might”(Judges 5:31). Shabbat 88b
F. The Lord’s Prayer: Matthew 6
This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,--Avinu Shebashamayim  (“avnan d bishmaya” in reconstructed Aramaic)
hallowed be your name,-yitgadal veyitkadash shmay raba ( Kaddish text)
 your kingdom come, yamlich malchutey (kaddish text)
And lead us not into temptation,– al tavienu lo liday chet vlo liday averah ( morning prayer)   but deliver us from the evil one.’-vehaser mealenu oyev, dever veraav …vhaser satan milefaneu umelachareynu ( evening prayer)
Jesus is complaining about people who pray too long. It is reflected in a Rabbinic dictum that the ideal prayer is that of Moses for his sister, Miriam,” Al Na Ref Na La”-5 words only,” God, please,heal her, please.”

G. Jesus as a dissident Pharisee:
The Fulfillment of the Law Matthew 5  17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
It is clear that Jesus, while in conflict with the Pharisees, is setting Halakhah as the standard to pass, not eliminate.
Washing hands?
Matthew 15 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Note- This is not a Biblical, but Rabbinic law.This is not yet a hard fast Jewish law- it is still debated by Rabbi Akiba many years later.
Shabbat  Matthew 2:27
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” ( Note the twist from “Man” to “Son of Man”.)
Talmud Yoma 88b  Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda, says that it is stated: “But keep my Shabbatot” (Exodus 31:13). It implies that there are circumstances where one must keep Shabbat and circumstances where one must desecrate it, i.e., to save a life. Rabbi Yonatan ben Yosef says that it is stated: “For it is sacred to you” (Exodus 31:14). This implies that Shabbat is given into your hands, and you are not given to it to die on account of Shabbat.
What Jesus has done is usurp everyone with his own status as” Son of Man.” Son of Man is a term of that period to mean a semi-Divine being, like the Logos, that comes to bridge between God and mortal man. It is this attribution, more than the claim of “ Messiah” that sets up the divide between Jesus and the rest of the Jewish world.

H Jesus as a Zealot, Jewish militant nationalist: Mark 15 22
22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity ( Tyre & Sidon) came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

It is to be noted that Jesus miracles are clearly reiterations of the miracles of Elijah and Elisha. He is indicating that he is the avatar of Elijah that has come to mark the end of days. He is sent here to deliver the children of Israel. Therefore, he pished away the pagan woman, and only answers here when she demeans herself in his presence.  Contrast: Elisha is sent to Zarefat in the same pagan area to be protected by a widow and he helps her-she is clearly a foreigner!
Jesus is against missionizing: Anti-conversion Matthew 23:15
… 15
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You traverse land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. 
Militant    Matthew 10:38
 33But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. 34Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn ‘A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.… 36A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me
This is the direct opposite of the words of the prophet, Malachi: Elijah will return to bring the heart of the fathers back to the sons, lest I smite the earth.”
Jesus calls for rejection of parents. When Elijah appoints Elisha in his place, Elisha must first take leave of his parents before he can follow Elijah, with Elijah’s blessings. It is very clear at this point, that Jesus no longer sees himself as long-awaited Eljah, but is the  placing himself above Elijah in importance.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Curing the National Pain Yom Kippur 2017

Curing the National Pain   Yom Kippur 2017
            Those of you who were here Rosh Hashanah the second day will recall that I spoke of the power of stories.
            Among my favorite story tellers is Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. You see, my Hebrew name is Nachman, too. He is Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and I am Rebbe Nachman of West Hollywood. He is famous for his Kafkaesque stories.
            Among his stories is one called the Tale of the Princess. I am going to read you only the opening few sentences:
            “Once, there was a king. The king had six sons and one daughter. The daughter was very dear to him, and he would cherish her exceedingly and play with her very much.
One time, while he was together with her on a certain day he became angry with her and the words, "Let the not-good one take you away!" escaped from his mouth. At night she went to her room; in the morning no one knew where she was. Her father was very afflicted and went here and there looking for her.”
The story goes on and on, a never ending story, of how the king’s trusted servant is sent out to find and return the Princess to her father. But I will stop here, as I have gotten to the point of the story that interests me.
The story is filled with kabbalistic meanings.The is King is of course, the Ain Sof, the Infinite One. The daughter is the Malkhut, the Kingdom, the Malkah, the Queen, the Shekhinah, the divine presence. She is the vehicle whereby the infinite is engaged in the finite world. She holds the spiritual and physical realms together.
Now, we come to the end line—the Princess is captured by the “ Not –Good One”. That is the “ Other Side” in Kabbalah. The universe is in turmoil. Something has come between God and his universe and he has become angry. In Rebbe Nachman’s twist on kabbalistic philosophy, even the King, the Inifnite One, has an anger-management problem. We, as Jews, as God’s servant, have to repair the terrible breach.
            We have a national breach here, as well, in which a mood of discord and anger seem magnified beyond the norms. 
            I am not going to get into politics. People have posted how much they appreciate that we have managed to avoid it, and allowed them to feel the warmth of the services.
            So,  instead of politics, will talk of "Unpolitics." I will talk about healing, what we call, in Jewish parlance, tikun hanefesh, repairing the soul, of getting us down from our national malaise. It will begin, here, today, in this sanctuary.
            Almost all of us use Facebook for posting. We share events, we share news, we share images, and we share moods.
            I believe that you have noticed something happening with the posts in the past year. The posts are becoming increasingly volatile.
It started with using all caps on key words, then on entire posts. “All caps” is a stand in for “shouting”. I saw more as time went on. Soon, “Caps” was not enough. The people at Facebook clearly enjoyed this, so they allowed for more shouting--oversize fonts and dark red backgrounds. No longer just screaming, but screaming bloody murder. Families and friends have suddenly been “ unfriending” and “ unliking” each other.
We get carried away. We become so sure of our position that we block out any other position.
A handful of students at UC Irvine a few years ago discovered that they could block the Israeli Ambassador from being heard just by being obnoxious. Now, it has spread to many campuses, wherein a core of students effectively barred speakers from appearing. The first targets were Israeli speakers, and while far-right speakers have been the ostensible targets, it has spread to the point that UC Berkeley spent  $600,000 on police protection to enable a columnist for the Jewish Journal to speak because someone had decided he was a Nazi.
It happens on the right- it happens on the left. We are living in some echo chamber. One person sends one message and is echoed a million times over because of very effective and powerful social networking. This is how, our sages taught us, the plague of frogs began. One frog croaked, and then a second frog appeared, and another and another, until the land was flooded with croaking frogs. 
Even if we are mostly decent and well-thought, what we see outside is a cacophony, magnified, until it overwhelms us. A plague of croaking frogs.
It is time to turn things around. And it will start with us. It will not come with demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, it will not come with twitter –blasts of denunciation and empty symbolic acts.
We all know that disease is contagious, but now we also know that the contagion is not solely spread by microbes. There is a famous case of the June bug epidemic, in which workers in a factory showed signs of illness from an infestation of bugs. There were no bugs, but people fell ill and were hospitalized. People infect each other in many ways.
It also means that health is contagious.
Social service agencies discovered that when they brought people together in social networks that shared activities and healthy living advice, these healthy behaviors spread from person to person all around .” We call this process “contagious health.” (
Contagious health.
If it is true for physical health, then it is even more so true that Emotional health and social health are contagious.
I want to start a health contagion here, at Hollywood Temple Beth El. We can undo the rancor and the divisiveness around us. So we need to make our first steps.
We start with ourselves.
First step- we are commanded, as Jews, to celebrate in “ Simcha”, in happiness. The same Rebbe Nachman of our story , taught”- Mitzvah gedolah -“It is a great command to be happy always and fight away sorrow and bitterness with all one’s might.” It’s a mitzvah, a command-  Happiness is a big task. That’s why our Declaration of Independence made it a basic right: “The pursuit of Happiness”  
Our happiness requires also that we broadcast it:
One of our Sages, Shammai, himself very impatient and honestly blunt, nevertheless insisted  .” Greet every human being  “besever panim yafot” - with a pleasant face, with a smile.  I assume the Dalai Lama studied Pirke Avoth, because he too said: “My practice when I see someone, is to smile”
Take that inner happiness and broadcast it out side. Do it on the street, do it your emails, do it on the phone, do it on your posts. Even if you don’t feel like it, do it; it will be contagious. It will come back to you. Instead of flaming and shouting, send good messages. Report on good things you have seen or observed.
Next step-
We all know the phrase “ kina hora”- no evil eye, Ayin HaRa. It is a look of jealousy, a look of meanness. There is its opposite, “The Good Eye”. 
The Rabbis teach that one of our key goals to attain is ” Ayin Hatov”, the Good Eye. ( Avoth 2:10)
What if we would look at each person we meet with a “Good Eye”. That means to look for good aspects, good potentials. Suddenly, instead of seeing people in silos, we begin to see individuals. Instead of splitting ourselves up- left versus right, red versus blue, bi-coastal versus fly-over states, race versus race, male versus female, and all the other tiny button-holes we are pegged into, we suddenly see people, like ourselves.
The Torah tells of a very old Abraham, who sits in his tent in the heat of the day, presumably after his circumcision, and God has appeared to him. He sees three strangers walking in the desert sun and abruptly abandons God, gets up and runs to greet these strangers. He did not ask what party do you belong to, what is your position on x, what passport do you have. At that moment he saw three people in trouble in the desert. Our commentaries teach us from this that reaching out to our fellow human being is greater than being with God because that is where God is to be found.
Looking at our fellow human being and seeing the presence of God. That is the “Ayin Tov”- the Good eye.
The third step-  cultivate a circle of people who are positive, who can help you grow and whom you can help grow.
That same verse of Pirke Avot that talks about the “ Good Eye” also states, in the list of desirable attributes—A good neighbor—and chaver tov,a good friend.
In truth getting a good neighbor sometimes is out of our hands,  but getting a good friend is in our hands and is something we can do. In every bad neighborhood, there are good friends, just as, in the best of neighborhoods, there are bad friends.
If we build a circle around us of positive friends, who build us up, whom we can lean on, we begin the process of spreading our immunity. Eventually, our circle will grow, and we will change those around us. You can start building your healthy community with the people here today at Hollywood Temple Beth El.
Finally, the last step, in our search to cure what ails us:
Do we wish to live long and well? The psalms tell us: “ Netzor leshoni mera.“ Keep my mouth from evil. “Sur me ra”. It’s Google’s famous slogan, “ Don’t be evil.”  “V’aseh tov”. and do good. That’s the challenge. We move away from attacks, pot-shots, innuendoes, slights and slurs-whether in person, or email, twitter, Insta- this and that. 
We move on to “Do good”. That’s the big challenge.
Anger and hatred are contagious, they spread when there is no group immunity. Good deeds and good words are vaccines. As in all vaccines, they create a herd immunity, wherein even the dour and morose are saved by the goodwill of the others.
There is even scientific support. You see, if you don’t believe the rabbi because he quotes the Torah, or the sages, or even the Dalai lama, surely you will believe a science report. This is from a chemist who specialized in pharmaceutical chemistry. You want to live longer? Here is his explanation:
“Genuine kindness creates feelings of warmth and connection, as does love.” In short, it produces agents in the body that lower blood pressure, stimulate anti-oxidents, and relieve inflammation, among other benefits.
. (How Kindness Can Heal The Body .Published on May 11, 2017 by David R. Hamilton PhD)
For this project to succeed, we need to begin with the first step within the context of community. Remember that the internet, ipads and smartphones were prophesied to solve our great problem of loneliness and isolation. With so many friends and so many likes, we must all feel very, very happy. But we are not. It tears us apart as much as it brings us together.
We need flesh and blood, people we actually know. We need community to help us stay well.
I have seen it in my former congregations and in this one. I have seen it when someone has died. It is the circle of friends and companions coming to the home, bringing food, calling up, visiting, that helps us all deal with our pain and move on. It is found in reaching out to each other in times of trouble.
It is also in good events- in weddings and Bnai mitzvah celebrated together. I just officiated at the wedding of a young man at whose Bar Mitzvah I had officiated some 25 years before. People have come to me with memories of something I said over 40 years ago. Memories of good things.
We are an old establishment by Los Angeles standards, going back nearly a century, to the early studio founders, the Laemmle of Universal, the Warner Brothers, the Meyer of MGM
That is a glorious past and we have an opportunity to create a glorious future.
 We are at a unique junction here at Hollywood Temple Beth El. We sit at the major north-south and east-west thoroughfares of Los Angeles. We are in the heart of a region of artists and musicians, entertainers and performers, young people trying to find themselves and older people still trying to find themselves, and just plain folk.
We will soon continue with our memorial to the martyrs of our people. We are here because we are heirs to a stubborn and stiff-necked people who have survived the worst that humanity could devise. Yet we are here because we are the heirs to those who refused to give up, who refused to lose hope in the ultimate redemption of humanity. By supporting this community at Hollywood Temple Beth El, we give testimony to their dedication.
We will then continue with our Yizkor service in memory of those whom you loved during their lifetimes. Among you today are those whose parents and grandparents dedicated themselves to this community. Again, as you involve yourselves in this community, you bear active witness to the love and support they gave you.
With you, we can create a community of support and friendship. Here is the first step in reversing the alienation, the loneliness, and the anger. I will start with us and spread out, a good contagion, to the rest of the country. We can instill in us all with words that we use in the Jewish wedding ceremony:“ Ahavah v’ achvah, shalom v ‘reut—Love and  brotherhood and sisterhood, peace and friendship” and then we will find “gilah-rina-ditza v Chedvah” -Joy – and song- gladness and laughter.

May we see this happen, here, today, on this Yom Kippur Day, this day of redemption and reconciliation. Amen.