Tuesday, September 26, 2023

50 Years after the Yom Kippur War Yom Kippur 2023


50 Years after the Yom Kippur War   Yom Kippur 2023




          I thank Helen Mirren for bringing the character of Golda Meir, the Prime Minster of Israel, to life, especially for younger audiences who cannot comprehend the trauma that faced Israel 50 years ago, on this date in the Jewish calendar. I am sure that many of you here are old enough to recall that terrible moment when, on the day of judgment, the fate of Israel weighed in judgment. Some of you were actually in Israel at that time facing the enemy guns and bombs.


I well recall that I had only come back from my year in Israel as a rabbinical student just a short while before and was serving a congregation in New Jersey. I recall someone running in with the news that Israel had been attacked and then the rest of the day and the next several weeks were a time of agonizing anxiety. During that time, my brother-in-law, who was here just a few weeks ago, was hunkered down in his tank, barely surviving, while his wife, back in the rear, had no word of his fate.


I mention this to remind us all that what is going on in Israel today may seem like an apocalyptic disaster, yet I want to keep in proportion the reality that Israel has gone through more such disasters. Somehow the Israelis managed to pull themselves up back on their feet.


It was just 30 years ago, in contrast, that Israelis were caught up in euphoria because the Oslo accords had been signed and peace was finally at the doorsteps for the people of Israel and for the Palestinians. I recall having brought here a spokesman for the American Muslim community, Salam Al- Maryati, to speak about how wonderful it would be. Yet as you well know, true peace was still far, far over the horizon and still is, the Palestinians carried out terror attacks, and Israelis suffered the most shocking terror attack, the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, by one of their own. It would then be followed by a wave of Palestinian terror bombings of public buses, just when our daughter was in Israel as a student.


           Just before I came to Hollywood Temple Beth El, in 1990, I had spent four years in Israel, where I worked as director for the Central Institute for Jewish Studies of the Histadrut-Labor Federation, at Bet Berl, that is the Labor party's college.


          We don't realize it, but Israel is, after all, smaller in population than  Los Angeles metropolitan area, in a way, a very large village, in which everyone knows and is related to everyone else.


In the course of my work, I had met so many public figures, on both left and right. Prime Minister Rabin, then Minster of Defense, and President Peres, then Minister of the Treasury. Yigal Amir, the assassin, lived in my wife’s aunt’s neighborhood, and the assassin’s ex-girlfriend was the grad-daughter of a great Israeli, Rabbi Pinhas Peli, who had given me guidance in setting up my program. A speaker that I had brought as a presenter of Judaism and science, a notable head of Yeshivah and trained academic philosopher, a liberal Orthodox Rabbi, was accused of having encouraged the murderer.


          What is my point ?


          There is no simple " Us" and " Them"  in Israel.


          There is a saying in the Talmud: Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh."  "All Israel are legally liable for each other."  The word " Arev" comes from the word  for mixture, or interweave.


          The historic Jewish people, as well as the people of the State of Israel, is so closely interwoven and bound up each with the other, that it impossible to distinguish " Us" from " Them". A fight, quarrel or disputation is a fight within the midst of family, whether functional or dysfunctional.


          When I was a student at the Hebrew University, one of my professors explained that the great miracle of Israel is not that it had withstood constant onslaughts by more powerful armies, but that it achieved it even though Israelis could not speak peaceably one to another.

          I could only reflect on that years later, when I sat in the office of the Minister of the Treasury, then Labor coalition partner with the right-wing Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. He complained bitterly about the threats to democracy that his partner posed, and then went on to serve in different positions with his erst-while “ enemy of democracy” opponents.


          Perhaps that is inevitable for us Jews when we have kept the dogs of Jew-hatred away from us. We then play it safe, “ sha-shtil”, don’t rock the boat.


                    But when we disagree with each other, and there is no one outside threatening us, we pull out all the stops.


          Perhaps precisely because we feel safe with each other. When we deal with gentiles, we are insecure, we are cautious, so we watch our language, lest there be a riot, lest there be a pogrom.


          With fellow Jews, we let out all the stops. Jews, after all, don't riot against Jews. Jews  ,after all, don't kill Jews. Jews, after all, don't take Jews to lawsuits. Until it is too late.


          If anyone has watched the Israeli Knesset in session, one can see how easily the language turns vicious. It is not new. No one is free of blame.


          There is the left-right clash.

          Opposition Jews call Jews "Fascist" . Coalition members call the leaders of the IDF and the security services “traitors.”


          A century ago, there was a controversial Zionist leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky, who broke ranks with the World Zionist Organization, and with the leadership of the Labor Zionists. He was a dramatic orator and thinker, whose ideas did influence the Zionist leadership. Nevertheless, his enemies blasted him as a  " Fascist", a " Mussolini".


Just to confuse you, as I mentioned Prime Minister Shamir, the head of the right-wing Likud, he was a member of the very militant group, Lehi—which was po-Stalinist, pro-Bolshevik. It’s just to tell you that it is hard to tell left from right.


          The left-right split is complicated by the religious-secular split.        


          Religious Jews speak of the secular Jews with disdain. The word in Hebrew for secular is " Hiloni, " but many pronounce it "Holani",sick.


          In 1990, the leader of the Ultra-Orthodox, Lithuanian party, Rabbi Schach, was to have supported Labor in favor of negotiations with the Palestinians and was to have declared his support for the Labor Party. Instead of talking about the need for compromise, which he supported, he suddenly began to lambast the Kibbutz movement, Labor's vanguard . When he said " mechaleley Shabbes, boalei nidos, ochlei nevelos",(Violate the Sabbath, have sex with menstruants, and eat carrion)  , broadcast live over Israeli television, any thought of coalition politics vanished.

          The language of militant secularists is hardly better.

          An Israeli journalist, a staunch secularist, in a respectable " Mekoman", a local paper, which is often more exciting than the major national papers, wrote  of a horrible "Big Brother State" , dominated by the religious parties. He used description of sexual molestation and body snatching by haredim, the ultra-Orthodox, in language that would have well fit any anti-Semitic tract.


          The French have a great phrase: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”-The more it changes, the more it stays the same. Or, to take from our own source, Koheleth, “Mah she Hayah-hu sheyihyeh” That which as been, is that which shall be.


          But we sit here, in the US. We are comfortable, at ease ( sort of).

 Older Americans, non-Jews and Jews alike,  have followed the news in  general, and know that Jews in Israel have been the target of historic aggression by outside armies and internal attacks by terrorists.


However, I look at surveys of young Americans. And I am concerned. Younger Americans can barely find Israel on a map of the middle east, if they can find the middle east in the first place. That, I recognize, is part of a historic pattern of Americans being, in general, indifferent to the outside world, as two large oceans separate us physically, and even after Pearl Harbor, the Cold War, and 9/11 reminded us we can’t turn a blind eye, still, we do tend to be distant from other nations’ turmoil. Thus, three Presidents in a row have been trying to pull us out of the Middle East ( with no luck).


But I am concerned about our younger Jews, who like Esther, are reluctant to run to the King on behalf of  her people. Our younger Jews know somewhat more about Israel, but they, like so many young, want to be seen as progressive, as on the side of justice and the underdog, and like their non-Jewish counterparts, have been sold on the idea that Israel’s very existence is an act settler colonialism and white supremacy.


I just give you one example, of a review of Golda by a Noah Berlatsky, criticizing Golda on CNN:


In “Golda,” casting Mirren — a White, internationally renowned, British actress — is a metaphor for the way the film blurs Israeli identity with a generalized White, Western identity. By doing so, it attaches Israel’s moment of crisis to a tradition of triumphalist American military films that validates the virtue of the US, of Israel and of whiteness.”


…. “Golda” turns that into a straightforward story of righteous White Western victimization and ultimate triumph. It’s able to do that, in part, because it makes sense, to Western audiences, for a famous White actor like Mirren to play a Jewish leader like Meir who also broadly fits in the cultural category of “White” for most Western audiences.”



True, Anwar Sadat was on the dark side, but his wife, Jehan, was half-Brit and fairly white.


The Syrians, who attacked from the north in the same Yom Kippur War, were white-bread as well. Certainly, the Syrians I have met, are lighter than me, and lighter than half of Israelis. In, fact, except for the cast of the movie “Exodus”, can you find me some actual “ white “ Jews?

I mean, in Europe, we were Asians, and killed for that, but in western Asia ( yes, Israel is Asian) we are attacked for being Europeans.


Playing this white card, by a Jew, can be a very dangerous game.


For those of you who escaped the former Soviet Union, you recall the Yevsetkzia, the Jewish apparatchiks in the system who betrayed their fellow Jews, until  they in turn were betrayed and liquidated. Or those of you who fled from the Khomeinist regime, you know of so many young Jews who rallied behind Khomeini and against the Shah, believing in a better and open society.


So, I am very concerned for our young Jews, who have no personal experience of the Israel’s precarious existence, and whose professors at Princeton force required textbooks that state that Israel uses Palestinians for body parts.


Yes, it is very easy to turn away from Israel at the sight of turmoil and accusations of “ dictatorship” of the courts, versus “ dictatorship” of the masses.


So it becomes our job, the old guard, to remind or teach our young Jews what Israel has achieved, despite the flaws and despite the divisions.


I say it as “ we”, because, even as Jews of the diaspora, in our support and backing, have had a hand in this.


We, a defeated and devastated people, despised by Christians and Muslims alike, for nearly  2000 years, a people who had one third of our body chopped off in the space of a few years, came back to life to create an independent state, one that held its own against overwhelming military odds, multiple times.


We breathed new life into a land that had been neglected and laid to waste by centuries of misadministration by outside conquerors, especially the Ottomans, not the Europeans.


We gave new life to a language , Hebrew, that had been relegated to pious prayers and religious texts, one of the oldest languages in continuous use on earth, and is now the spoken tongue of millions of Jews and Arabs as well.


A people that had been scattered over the entire planet, a  people disconnected from each other in many ways over the centuries, a people of many tongues and customs, a people some of whom were creating the Avant Garde of modern civilization and some of whom were still living in antiquity, have been brought back together to shape one nation, despite such unbridgeable differences.


A people who, at the start of independence, 75 years ago, had to ration the very basics of food, has become Start Up Nation, a nation whose largest city, Tel Aviv, ranks now as the world’s most expensive.


A nation that brought into its borders many times over its population over the space of a few years, people often malnourished, ill, physically devastated, Today, the Israelis occupy spot number 10 in in world in life expectancy, and 4th happiest place in the world, according to a UN report. Israelis are happy-despite facing existential dangers—it is almost Disneyland by that measure.


So, when I look at the demonstrations on the street, in Israel, now going on for close to a year, yes it is demoralizing, and yes Israel does not now seem like the happiest place on earth. However for us all, both Jews here in the United states and for Israelis, both Jews and Arabs (who want to be part of this state of Israel not part of a Palestinian state), it is essential to look back at what has been accomplished despite all the obstacles and despite all the impossibilities.


Theodore Herzl , the visionary founder of the concept of the state of Israel, stated

“ When one will it, it is no legend.”


The State of Israel is no legend. Yes, it is still going through its growing pains, after ¾ of a century, but it is no legend. The people have made it past 1948 and past Yom Kippur of 1973. They will make it past the struggles of democracy and the courts of 2023 and we here are part and parcel of that story.  Am Yisrael Chai. The people of Israel live.




Now that’s what you call living! Kol Nidre 2023


Kol Nidre


2023 5784

Now that’s what you call living!


          I want to share with you this old story, of a funeral procession.

          One of the participants at the funeral takes a look at the funeral procession--- one stretch limousine after another, on and on. Then at the cemetery, a shining gold colored coffin. Flowers by the ton on top, all the family dressed to the nines in high fashion, a marble monument that towers above everyone.

          The participant looks at all the wealth and riches spent for this funeral and decides," Dus Heist gelebt."

          Now, that's what you call living!

In other words, for those of us in need of an explanation of a joke, that is no joke, we are much more focused on what has been achieved in life, than on where we are going in the next one.

Now as we are gathered for the Kol Nidre eve, we are very much focused on what we have really done in our lives, especially in the past year. Tomorrow, we will add the Yizkor service, which is very significant in the Ashkenazi  tradition for a variety of historical reasons. So tomorrow we will focus on those who are no longer with us, but again we will ask the question ,”what was it that they did in their lives and how does it  reflect on us in our lives?”

           At a Jewish funeral, you may have noticed that one person is not allowed to go to the graveside. A Cohen, a descendant of the High Priest Aaron--may not attend, unless it is for an immediate relative. The Cohen will stand on the road leading to the grave, but not step foot on the grounds itself.

That's a strange absence. In antiquity, before there were Rabbis, there were Kohanim, Priests.  We expect that Rabbis to go to the cemetery—why didn’t our Torah allow the Priest, the equivalent of a Rabbi in his day, to go?

          We are given the special regulations regarding the Kohanim- the priests, who, in Biblical times, conducted the sacred rituals of the ancient Temple. The priests had to meet high standards of ritual purity than did the people.

          When did people come to the priest?

          At the birth of a child, the mother would come to give an offering of purification.

          When life was going wrong- the sinner would come to give a sin offering, as a step towards making amends.

          When life was going well, the grateful person would offer a korban shlamim, a peace offering.

          Who would you turn to then, in ancient times, when life came to an end? Why to the Priest, No?

          A few years ago, the burial treasures of King Tut were on display at the LA County Museum on Fairfax. There was a huge billboard on the side of the museum with the image of King Tut on it.

Why do we have a good image of Pharaoh, but nothing remaining of Moses, or Aaron, or the great Kings of Israel?. Blame the priest, or blame the Rabbi of his day.

In ancient Egypt, that's when the priest began to work. We have the Egyptian’s Book of the Dead; we've seen displays of their mummies, and photographs of the pyramids. That art of embalming and preserving the image of the ruler—was the job of the priest. And so it was in other ancient religions--the priest was there to guide the dead in the next life.

          What about our priest, our Cohen? Where is the priest at that moment, just when you need him the most ? Where was the Rabbi of those years? In the Torah, just at that moment, when we would think the priest was indispensable, the priest disappears. - La nefesh lo yitamah beamav-- He shall not defile himself for the dead among his people. Only for his immediate family- father, mother, and so forth.

          So, just when you think you would need a priest the most-- he is not there. Even till today, only if there is absolutely no one else able to do it, may a Cohen take care of the burial. Only if there is no other person capable of doing it.

          Today, we expect the Rabbi to do it, but we have to remember, that in Judaism, the Rabbi is just like anyone else, not sacred, not sanctified, just another Jew  who just happens to know what he, or she is doing. No more, no less.

          This practice goes hand in hand with another Biblical order:

           Throughout the ancient world, when people went to the cemetery, they would leave gifts, often food. Again, in ancient Egypt, in the pyramids, there was always plenty of food. When Pharaoh died, he had food and all his possessions placed in the tomb. In ancient China, when the emperor died, he had all his goods placed in the tomb. Even till today, in many societies there is the same practice, of placing food at the grave, for the deceased.

          What does the Torah ask of us? In Deuteronomy, we were told that every third year, we take a tenth of all our produce, and we give it away--we give it to the Levite, who had no land, to the orphan and the widow, who had no provider, and to the immigrant, who had no job or protector--we had to give it away to them, no questions asked, and then declare," I have not eat of it when I was in mourning, nor have I handled it when I was impure from the dead, nor did I give any of it to the dead."

          Just what was expected in every other religion of the day-- just that was forbidden in the Torah.

          Most religious beliefs worry about the next world--what we do there. How we stay there. What happens to us there. How we get there.

          Jews, too, have no end of speculations, but Judaism, the Torah, came to teach us about this life, this world.

          The priest kept away from the dead, to remind us that we should deal with life.

          The sacred offerings were forbidden to the dead, to remind us that we had to meet the need of the living first.

          The Torah is amazingly silent about what goes on in the next life. We are not allowed to have a séance with the dead, we cannot try to raise the souls of the dead, and we are not told what happens.

          Instead, the Psalms sings out" Lo Hametim yehalelu yah, vlo kol yardei duma"

          The dead don't sing praise to God, or those that go down in silence- “Va anachnu nevarech yah” -But we will praise the Lord from this time on and forevermore. Haleluyah."

What is it that we sing with so much gusto during the service- “ zochreniu lechaiym, meleckh hafets bchayim, vkatvenu besefer hachayim,lemancha, elohim chyaim.,  Remember us for life, O King who delights in Life, and inscribe us in the book of life, O God of Life.”  The concept of a reward in heaven is a big deal for the Rabbis, but they taught us not to pray to get into Heaven, but to stay alive, not to hurry to the next world, but to create a life such that Heaven is here, in our every day actions.

          Thus, Judaism is above all a life‑affirming religion. That's why, when we raise a cup of wine, in celebration, we begin with the affirmation, " LeChayim." That is why one of the most popular symbols in Jewish artwork is the word," in Hebrew" "Chai"-Alive, and the favorite gift to a charity is the number 18, to represent the Hebrew letters used to spell Chai, alive. When we give to a charity, we affirm our belief in the goodness and value of life that God created and gave us.

          There is a very popular slogan, a good one, which I have heard. " God didn't create junk". When God creates the universe, God discovers, over and again, " Ki Tov"-- Behold it is good.

          God didn't make junk, and that includes each and every one of us. 

          It is all for one purpose-- to tell us" Dus heist gelebt"--this is what you call living. This life, this day that we face, each and every day.

          The Torah, Judaism, teaches us how to live. 24 books of the Bible- 63 texts of the Talmud, the numerous books of responsa, midrash, philosphy, and law--all of the come to teach us how to live, to teach us the value and purpose of our lives.

          Therefore, we are commanded to watch over our health, and guard our lives, above all other commands, except for idolatry, adultery, and murder. We are forbidden to engage in any dangerous activity, and for the same reason, commanded to seek good health and medicine. We are taught that God presented us our Torah, our teaching, for one purpose," V Chay Bahem" you shall live because of them." We do not kill ourselves for our religion—or kill others with us to become martyrs—but we do live for our religion.

          The Torah pleads with us to choose life: God has put before us,” Life and death, blessing and curse.  Choose life‑ if you and your offspring would live by loving the Lord your God, heeding His commands, and holding fast to Him  (Deuteronomy 30:19‑20).

          What we need, however, is not just to be alive, but make our lives full. There is a popular book that recently appeared on the teachings and actions of the late head of the Habad Hasidism, Rebbe Menahem Mendel Schneerson. Whether one agreed or disagreed with their philosophy, the title of the book is itself telling.

It is called" Toward a Meaningful Life."

          What the late Rebbe was striving for, and what we are all supposed to strive for, is " A Meaningful Life."

          I want to recall an account that reflected a similar message.

          A few years ago, a vicious criminal held a woman hostage at gun point. She had had a rough life and had found comfort in a book by a Christian minister. She talked about it and read from it to the gunman. It moved him so much that he let her go and give himself up to the authorities. It was a very simple, clearly written book by Pastor Rick Warren, titled,” The Purpose Driven Life,” and the subtitle,” What on Earth am I here for?!”

          He gives the answers through a devout Christian perspective, but the title and the question already contain the answer.  Our lives take on new dimensions when we feel a purpose in them, and we have a sense that we are each here for a purpose. It is what the Kabbalists called, Tzorekh Gavohah”, a Higher purpose, that in our living well and meaningfully, we repair and heal God’s universe and even heal the pain inside God.

Can we sum it all up in a nutshell, in the title of a Book, in a Caption?

          The great ancient teacher of Judaism, Hillel, was excellent at condensing great philosophy into the one- minute sound bite.

          This was his prescription:

          Im ain ani li mi- if I am not for myself, who will be for me.

          Sure, look out for number One. We can go through life depending on others. We need to be capable of fending for our selves, caring for our needs, because we can count on the rest of the world to do it for us.

          But, Ukshe ani leatzmi, mah ani.

          If I am only for myself, then what am I?

          We don't live for ourselves alone. We are part of our family, our neighborhood, our society, and part and parcel. We gain our value and purpose when we live also on behalf of those around us.

          Finally, V im lo achshav, eimatai.

          If not now, when.

          If we follows these guidelines, and truly study and learn our religious teachings, we will create our meaningful lives, we will have that modern buzz word," Spirituality," and, while we are alive and well, we will be able to say of our selves," Dus Heist gelebt" --That what you call living.

Besefer Chayim, Brachah ve shalkom, ufarnasah tovah, nezakher ve noikatev// In the book of life , blessing, and peace and good sustenance, may we be remembered and inscribed before thee, we and all thy people Israel, for a Good life and for peace. Amen.Lechayim to us all.

What do you see? Rosh Hashanah Day 2 2023


What do you see?  Rosh Hashanah Day 2 2023


I don't know how many of you are familiar with this, but it is an old Jewish practice that when we give anyone a name or cause someone up to the Torah, we usually use the father's name and I'm sorry, it seems we forget the mother's name.


However whenever we invoke the prayer for illness all of a sudden the tables are turned. We invoke the blessing on the person in the name of his or her mother, and the father is ignored. What is the reasoning behind it?


It is because as we have seen too often in history, that has been running around setting up business, or turning history upside down, but it is the mom who is there with the family caring for the children and when the children are hurt or ill she is the one who is crying. Certainly it was so in earlier times, and today we want to believe that both parents are equally wrapped up in their children's well beings, but I leave it to your judgment and experience if that is really the case.





          We speak in terms of “Yom HaDin”, Day of Judgement, and the image of God as judge, as king, as father, all male, harsh, and cold images. We think of an Abraham, taking his son, unemotionally, up on the altar, the abstract ideologue, so wrapped in his vision, that all else fades away.

          But this is only one half of the story.

          Every element in this season is associated with Atonement, Kippurim, achieving forgiveness, Slichah, and even more so, with a plea for Rachamim. Rachamim, Mercy, or compassionate love, comes from the word, “Rechem”- the womb, the uterus, that part of the woman, as mother, as giver of life, as nurturer.

          Hence, our Torah reading of the first day deals, first, with God remembering Sarah, as he promised. It follows with the tension between two mothers, Sarah and Hagar, as to which son, Isaac or Ishmael, is to be the heir to the message of Abraham. The Haftarah focus on the anguish of Hannah, who is the love object of her husband, yet feels unfulfilled as she is barren, childless. Tomorrow, our Haftarah reading depicts a despondent mother, Rachel, moaning as she sees her children led off to slavery in a distant land. It is the Holy One who now breaks down at Rachel’s tears and declare that the Israel is his own ben yakir li”, my dear son,’yeled sha’shuim”, the child whom he has indulged and spoiled. In the Torah reading of the second Day, too, Sarah is present by her absence. The classical Jewish mother. The Midrash says that as she hears of Abraham hauling Isaac up the mountain, she dies of heartbreak. How do we know? Because in the very next paragraph, Sarah is dead. Father is abstract; mother is all too much there.

          So, this is very much a herstory, not a history.

          At this point, I am going to pivot my focus on to one mother, the one who seems to be neglected, passed over by history, in our version, a least, Hagar. Truth be told, she is central to today’s reading. She is central because in her character, we learn about seeing and sight. We understand that she is blinded by her misery and pain. In story number two, Sarah dies; in this story, Hagar is immobilized and can not see her son’s salvation.

          Sight and its counterpart, blindness, are as much a matter of our insight and outlook as it is a matter of photons striking the rods and cones in our retina.

          Blind people who can see, while sighted people are visionless, is a popular theme for many a writer.

          Many years back, there was a play and a movie; called Butterflies are Free, the story of a young man, blind from birth.

          His mother reminds him of the children's tales she composed of "Little Donny Dark" with his slogan" There are none as blind as those who will not see". While the line may sound trite and commonplace, it rings too true for us all--there are those who have no eyesight, yet know very well where they are going, and others, with 20/20 vision, who are constantly walking into walls.

          For Rosh Hashanah, for a time in which we are to look inside ourselves, it is appropriate that our Torah reading of both days deals with being able and ready to see.        

          The first days reading deals with mother Hagar, abandoned in the desert, outcast, with her son Ishmael, who is dying of thirst. She has given up all hope, steps back at the distance of a bow’s shot because, “I cannot look at the death of my child.” God hears the child’s cry, an angel asks, typical Jewish fashion, a question, “Mah Lach Hagar?” Literally, “What’s it for you”, a kind ironic surprise, to say,” What are you worried about, what’s the matter.”Then”Al tiri”-Don’t be afraid!

          Just then, our reading says:

 Vayifkah eyeneha-God opened her eyes and “hiney”-behold there is a well.

          Where did this well come from so mysteriously? Our Rabbis never liked the idea of miraculously appearing wells. “Hiney”-It’s here. !

          Our commentaries suggest that the well had been there all along. In her anguish, Hagar had been blind to the solution, to the well of water next to her. By putting fear aside, she was able to see what was there, all along. Water, life, and a future for her child and his progeny.

          On the second day, we read of Abraham and Isaac. This is a parallel with the Ishmael account, only here, Isaac is in danger. We know nothing of Abraham’s emotions. That is common in Biblical story-telling, and he is, unlike the mother, the macho, the stoic—doesn’t show anything. But here, too, we realize that he is blind, for we are told, with the same word as used in the story of the well, " vayar vehiney ayil aher"-Abraham sees and ,”hinei,behold there is another ram, "a ram to offer instead of his son. Did the ram just mysteriously appear?  Rather, it was there because Abraham was no longer blinded by his zeal, ready to recognize that his loyalty to God did not require the sacrifice of his beloved Isaac. Appropriately, the site is then called: Adonay Yireh"-God sees."

          So, we learn form our mothers, and from our fathers.

          Sight, ordinary eyesight, as we sense it, depends  as much on what our mind creates as what our eyes see. This is one of the classic givens of psychology.

           Sight itself is just a mass of information- light in its different frequencies strikes the retina, hits the rods and cones, and provides stimulation to the optic nerve. It is the mind which comprehends these as light and dark, colors, shapes-- it is our mind which then coordinates and interprets to produce vision. This is true for physical vision. it also holds true for emotional and spiritual vision.

          In truth, people who are physically blind can often be aware of sights that most, with good eyesight, are blind to.

          "Better blind of eye than blind of heart (Midrash Ahikar 2.48) is how the Midrash phrased it, or" Not the eye but the heart is blind,” in the words of the poet, ibn Gabirol (Mivhar Hapninim).

           Helen Keller, deaf and blind from the age of two, who established so much of the principals used today in making the blind self-sufficient, once claimed:

          "I have walked with people whose eyes are full of light, but who see nothing in woods, sea or sky, nothing in the city street, nothing in books. What a witless masquerade is this seeing:

          It were better far to sail forever/

          In the night of blindness/

          With sense and feeling and mind

          Than to be thus content with the mere act of seeing.

They have the sunset, the morning skies, the purple of distant hills, yet their souls voyage through this enchanted world with nothing but a barren stare."

                    Hagar, lost in the wilderness, was blind to a simple well; with words of hope, she could see what was there all along. Abraham, a man of vision, could see that his ultimate sacrifice did not include his own beloved son.

           We too, like them, need to open our eyes constantly both to our physical world and to our immediate personal world. We can find a paradise or we can be blinded and find a hell--or worse--- a boredom.

           Being able to see the spiritual, the healing, the noble and the sacred is a special gift in itself. Our very religion is based on the readiness to see what others have missed. It is Moses who goes into the desert to discover the burning bush, and this is how the poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning described the experience:


          Earth's crammed with heaven

          / And every common bush afire with God/

          But only he who sees, takes off his shoes/

           The rest sit around and pluck blackberries."

          This thought was echoed by the quintessential American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who put it this way," If we meet no gods, it is because we harbor none. If there is grandeur in you, you will find grandeur in porters and sweeps."

          Two centuries ago, the English mystic and poet, William Blake warned against a world taken over by the cold force of reason and the wheels of industry--He presaged a world of guillotine, gas chamber and gulag. He called for a return to vision, in his words:

          To see a world in a grain of sand/

And a heaven in a wild flower/

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand/

And eternity in an hour.

           The very essence of the Jewish people, our ability to exist for so many centuries, is precisely because we, as a people, as a sacred community, followed in this pattern of being willing to open our eyes to visions of the sacred.

          An ancient Midrash describes Abraham our ancestor having a vision of a castle glowing with shimmering lights. A voice comes from heaven and tells him," Can there be such a glowing, shining castle without the Lord of the castle." Thus, it is said, he saw the sanctity and holiness in the world, and recognized the existence of a divine source of this sanctity.

          There are those of us who go through life seeing the flames of divinity in every wall and corner. There rest of us see and hear nothing, only pitch black.      


          On  this Rosh Hashanah day, we need to learn, both from our mothers and our fathers, may we open our eyes like Hagar and see the wells of sustenance, may we open our eyes like Abraham and find our offerings of thanksgiving, may we see infinity and eternity, may we find cheyn vahesed- Grace and favor-- in the eyes of God and our fellow man and woman. Amen.

The Purpose of Adam


          The Purpose of Adam  2023 RH Day 1


          I will tell you a story about the Hebrew school teacher, the melamed, who wanted to show off to the Rabbi how well his smallest children, in first grade, had learned their lessons. The Rabbi as schedule to visit the class, and he would show how well they learned.

          " Yankele", when the Rabbi asks you," Who made you," you will say "God".

          Itzik, when the Rabbi asks you " from what" you will say" from the earth".

          They study this lesson over and again, and finally, comes the day of the visit.

          The Rabbi walks in and the little children fall silent in awe at the distinguished visitor.

          The Rabbi, as expected asks the children" Who made you?". Nobody answers, Silence. He asks again. No answer. And again. still no answer. Finally, one little youngster raises his hand.

" Please Rabbi, the boy that God made--he is home sick with the flu."

          Fortunately, we know the answer, and we don't need to look for the boy who is home with the flu.

          Still, if we talk about God making man and woman, we can ask, " What is this Adam, this man and woman, that God created. It's an ancient question, probably as ancient as the day Adam first opened his eyes.


Now as we're talking about creation of the human being and this is Rosh Hashanah we want to talk about this as the beginning of the Jewish year we may ask ourselves the question of what it is that we are celebrating or marking.


Like everything there's no straight answer, we have to think through the why’s.


First we have to understand that there is a dispute in the Talmud itself about when the world is created so that according to one sage it was created in the month of Nissan the month in which Pesach falls. On the other hand there's another sage who states that the world was created in Tishri. That is this month, of course, which we always assume is the reason we have Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the year at this point. (Talmud Rosh Hashanah 10 b). Thus, when we blow the Shofar in the Musaf, we announce, Hayom Harat Olam-Today, the world came into being.!


However to confuse matters more we have a conflicting theory that Rosh Hashanah is not the birthday of the world but the birthday of the first human being, Adam. That would mean that the creation of the world actually takes place six days before, on Ellul 25, and Adam is the culmination on the 1st day of Tishrei.


Here is the source Pesikta d Rav Kahana 23 :1

תני ר' אליע' בעשרים וחמשה באלול נברא העולם.


Rabbi Eliezer gives an hour by hour description of the first day of the human being from the moment that he is shaped through to the moment that he enters Eden, through the moment that he sins and is brought to judgment. At the 12th hour ,the end of that day he is then acquited.


בשתים עשרה יצא בדימוס מלפני הק"ב. א' לו הקב"ה, אדם, זה סימן לבניך כשם שנכנסתה לפניי בדין ביום הזה ויצאתה בדימוס, כך עתידין בניך להיות נכנסין לפניי בדין ביום הזה ויוצאין בדימוס. אימתי, בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש (ויקרא כג:כד).


From this the Rabbi concludes that the holy one told the first human ,”this shall be a sign to your children that just as you came before me in judgment on this day and left my presence acquitted so in the future your children shall stand in front of me in judgment on this day and they shall go out as aquited,  and when is this? In the 7th month on the first day of the month.


This is a great moral tie in for us with Rosh Hashanah because the creation of the world whether 6000 years ago or 6 billion or 60 billion really doesn't affect us not one way or the other. But tying in this beginning of the year with the beginning of our coming to grips with our weaknesses and then finding our compassion and our being cleansed of our weakness, that becomes the real reason for making this Rosh Hashanah the beginning of our year.

                    One of the ancient scholars of Israel, Ben Azzai, said that the greatest verse of the Torah is found in the 3rd chapter of Genesis:

          " This is the book of the history of Adam. God created Adam in the divine image, male and female he created them."

          This idea, of the human being as the pinnacle of creation, and as , indeed, the goal of creation, is much laughed at in popular thought—we are, it is claimed, no more than a variation of the dna molecules we share with a worm, or even a bacteria. It is a very distressing world view, one which leaves us human beings as miserable wretches, of no intrinsic sanctity.

To make matters worse, we are in an era in which all our concepts of what it means to be human are in question. What is male , what is female? As we move towards Artificial Intelligence, can silicon chips have a soul?   

The question of what it means to be human goes back to the first Adam. I don’t know if a whale asks” what it means to be a whale.” I don’t know if a dog asks “what it means to be a dog?” But humans have been asking, and in antiquity, the answer was depressing.

Our modern responses are a throwback to the ancient pagan concept, as we have recorded in the sagas of the middle east, that ancient Israel knew very well and rejected, that the human is shaped out if the blood of the demon and condemned to feed the gods.

          Judaism comes to oppose that perspective. Hence, Rosh Hashanah marks the creation of the human being.

          A member of my former congregation, Reuven Weisman, of blessed memory, had been a noted Jewish educator, and he taught me a saying from his father, a noted Rabbinic scholar in earlier days.

           What is man? He is like Jacob's famous ladder, Sulam muztav arza v rosho magia hashamayma   .We are a ladder, whose base rests on earth, but whose head reaches into the heavens."

          We may be mere mortals, tiny, limited , but our souls, our potentials, our mind, and spirit, are capable of reaching to the heavens. Yes, at core, like the earth we are made from, we share the dna of the worm and the bacteria. But as humans, we are not doomed to be stuck in the mud, “Sulam mutzav artsa” the ladder whose foot is stuck in the mud, but “ Rosho magia hashamayma”, the head can reach the heavens.

                    What  better statement of the regard for the human potential, than these words by Rabbi Nehemiah. " One person is equal to all of creation."    ( Av d Rabbi Nathan 31)

          The human , Adam, is not some miserable victim, to accept is miserable passivity what nature has given out.

          A sceptic once challenged Rabbi Akiba-- who creates more beautiful works--God or man?  After all, look at the skies and the heavens.

          Rabbi Akiba answered."These objects are out of our reach, true, but what ever we can get our hands on,we can do better. Man creates more beautiful works. God produces wheat , but we make fine cakes. God  produces flax, but we make fine clothing of it."

          It is the human being who is capable of bringing perfection and completion to the world. It is man, meaning both male and female, who are God's partners in creation, partners in creation when we act righteously and do good.

          In Kabbalistic lore, mankind is created precisely to complete the creation of the universe. We are created, the mystics said, lezorech gavohah, we are created for the greatest need, for tikun olam, to restore the world to its pristine glory.

          If we are to see our selves as the pinnacle of creation, we also need to see that we are often miserable brats, falling far short of our potential. That is what we see in the second story of creation, when Adam and Eve are out and about in the real world.    

          I had the privilege of serving as student secretray to one of the great religious teachers of this century, Rabbi  Abraham Joshua Heshel, who had marched arm in arm with the late Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma , Alabama. This is how he described the quandary of the human, created in  the divine image, yet striking out on day 1 in the Park.

          “ All  of human history as described in the Bible may be summarized in one phrase: God is in search of man.

When Adam and Eve hid from his presence, the Lord called," Where are you"( Gen 3:9).

          "God is in need of man for the attainment of his ends ...  

God is looking for a" partner in creation" . . .He continued, in quoting the ancient sages," The wicked rely on their gods, but the righteous are a support for God."

          God is always looking for us. He needs us, but we don't always want to be found. When we are found, we don't always want to answer to our failings.

          When  Adam sins, he covers himself with the infamous fig leaf,  hides in the bushes , and then blames his wife, Eve. She in turn, blames the snake. No one wants to take responsibility.

          The same thing happends with Cain, version 2.0 to the Adam 1.0.

          God asks Cain a simple question," Where is your brother , Abel?," and Cain denies all responsibility," Am I my brothers keeper?."

          God is always calling us, and we are always either hiding, or coming up with lame excuses. We run away from what we are capable of , run away from our potential.

          We have tremendous capacity for good, which we often are afraid of letting loose.

          The Danish philsopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, offered this advice:

           A possibility is a hint from God. One must follow it. In every man there is latent the highest possibility; one must follow it. " He then continues, we each must say: Trusting to God, I have dared, even though I was not successful; in that is peace , calm, a confidence in God.  But to say: I have not dared; that is a woeful thought, a torement in  eternity."

          I'll tell a fair answer to such a challenge. A teacher  tried to explain life to his students:" Life is like a game."

           One student raised his hand, If life is like a game, how can we play if we don't know where the goal posts are?"( Charles Wallis)

          Here are the goal posts-- two goals in Jewish tradition-- Beyn adam lamakom and beyn adam lehavero--Between human and God, and between human and human.

          Beyn Adam lemakom-Between Human and God--these are the acts of worship, the disciplines  of Judaism, the cycles of the day, the week and the seasons.

          This is the easy goal to reach. Even if you miss the goal post by miles, God is an easy going referee, and you get the points.

          Between human and human--these are the moral acts of righteousness and lovingkindness, and this is the harder goal to reach. The referee is not God, but your fellow, your neighbor, as well as stranger.   With people, a miss is as good as a mile.

          Keep these two goals in mind and you will surely score the goals, or make the basket or hit a home run.       

          May we all, indeed, see the day, when humanity, perfected under the kingship of teh Almighty, will prove worthy of being the culmination of creation. Amen.