Gratitude in a time of fear
Meditation and Mindfulness
with Rabbi Aaron Bergman
Sunday, November 22nd 9:30am
Adat Shalom Synagogue
I will be forever grateful to Rabbi Efry Spectre z’l, one of my beloved predecessors at Adat Shalom Synagogue, for introducing me to the works of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel zl.
I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in the early 1980s. Rabbi Spectre gave a class at the Hillel House on Heschel. I was intrigued and started reading Heschel on my own. His work spoke to me in a deep and profound way. It fueled my interest in becoming a rabbi and still influences me to this day.
One of Heschel’s great teachings centered on Shabbat, and how it was one of the great contributions of Judaism to the world, not just in having a day of rest, but in thinking about what mattered most in our lives, and how we could be partners with God in creating beauty and meaning in the world.
This is what Heschel wrote about Shabbat:
“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”
This approach to Shabbat is key in understanding our Torah portion. It begins, “Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them:
These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do: 2 On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. 3 You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the sabbath day.” (Exodus 35:1-3).
The rest of the reading is a detailed description of the Tabernacle and the articles of the priesthood. Why is Shabbat juxtaposed with the construction of the place where God’s presence will dwell with the Israelites? As Heschel indicates, time is just as sacred as place. Without creating sacred time, a place cannot be holy. It will just be a building.
I talk to a lot of couples about the kind of home they are establishing. I tell them the single most important factor in the happiness of their home is whether they make sacred time for each other. This means that they give the best of what they have to each other on a regular basis, and not just the dregs that are left after a long week of work. A vacation to the fanciest place a week or two a year cannot make up for a lack of quality time spent together on a regular basis.
Even a modest home becomes a palace when people who say they love each other spend time in a relaxed and happy way. Our homes become like the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle and Temple.
This is why Shabbat is such a gift. Every week we know that we will have a good day. That is rare in our tense and stressful times. We light candles, have a good meal, and express our appreciation for all the great good in our lives.
Heschel said, “With our bodies we belong to space; our spirit, our souls, soar to eternity, aspire to the holy. The Sabbath is an ascent to the summit.” Thanks to Shabbat, no matter where we are, we can create a place of beauty and joy.
“Jewish Views on Evil”
A 3-part series
with Rabbi Bergman
Mondays, March 16, 23 & 30,
11:45 a.m. and
Monday evening, March 30 at 7 p.m.
Is evil an independent force? Are there evil people or are there people who commit heinous acts? What can we do to prevent evil occurrences? Rabbi Bergman will look at classical and modern texts on the problem of evil
and discuss how they apply to our own times. The community is
welcome. There is no charge. You
may bring your own dairy/parve
lunch to the daytime programs. Complimentary drinks and dessert
will be served.
The March 30 evening session will summarize the three daytime discussions.
Reservations are requested by theFriday before. Please contact Sheila
Lederman, (248) 851-5100, ext. 246
or email email@example.com
Every year, a month before Passover, Jews dress up in fun costumes, host parties, deliver tasty packages to friends and give donations to charity. We do all this because it’s actually mandated by the holiday, Purim, which is a Jewish Halloween of sorts – except there are no ghouls or goblins or tricks.
Purim is the day on the Jewish calendar when our brethren around the world dedicate the day to poking fun of our religion, making fun of our rabbis and engaging in parody and satire about the very thing we usually take so seriously: what we believe.
Especially in light of recent current events around the globe, not taking yourself so seriously is an important part of any religion. On Purim, students are allowed to make fun of their rabbis. Congregants make goofy jokes about the liturgy and the tradition. It’s a very light-hearted and celebratory day, tied to the idea that if you take yourself so seriously all the time, it creates a problem.
Every fall, after the solemnity of our Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is a 25-hour fast day to avenge our sins, we have another light-hearted holiday called Sukkot. The juxtaposition is no coincidence – sure, we have the serious and the harsh, the contemplative and the reprimand. And then we have the fun.
Balance is key in any organized community. It’s imperative, actually. In Judaism, and in all religions, we have mechanisms built-in so we won’t take ourselves that seriously.
Although it falls on March 5th this year (beginning at sundown on the 4th), Purim is actually the last holiday of the Jewish calendar because Passover is considered the start. That’s the holiday that’s all about God doing everything for us, where the Purim story is about human beings taking some responsibility.
The celebration of Purim is very lighthearted, but the story of Purim itself is quite serious. It takes place after the Babylonians destroyed the First Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and took the Jewish people to Babylonia as captives in exile. The Persians then conquered the Babylonians.
The Jewish people lived safely in Persia for a while until a vicious anti-Semite named Haman tried to convince his King Achashverosh to destroy the Jewish community. Thanks to the bravery of a Jewish woman named Esther and the strategies of her uncle Mordecai, Haman fails and is himself destroyed.
Purim is a reminder of how quickly our safe and comfortable world can be turned upside down by fanatics, and how much diligence and courage is needed to prevent that from happening. Mordecai and Esther took their responsibilities very seriously, but did not take themselves too seriously. They did what was needed.
Part of being responsible includes knowing when to take things seriously and knowing when to let things go. It’s the wisdom of realizing that we shouldn’t fight over everything and that we can laugh at ourselves a little bit.
If a tradition is good, it can take a little poking at. Only insecure people are afraid of parody or criticism. Most religions include built-in checks and balances – while we are responsible for setting an example, doing right, making the world a better place, we can also have fun and enjoy our lives.
Those who are forbidden from criticizing the establishment build up resentments. And at a certain critical mass, those resentments explode.
In one of our sacred texts, Pirkei Avot, which translates as Lessons of the Fathers, we are reminded that rabbis are not to separate from the community. I interpret that as preventing the leaders of a community from building an inflated sense of their own importance.
On Purim, everyone comes together to eat, drink and be merry. We get silly. We dress up. We make fun. We regain a healthy sense of perspective that tempers any lingering anger or hostility. It’s like our built-in release valve, showing us that religion is important but not more important than people.
This is a picture of my father, my brother and me in front of the gates of Auschwitz during the March of the Living in the spring of 1999. In 1944, my father said goodbye there to his mother, brother and sister. He was later separated from his father at Plaszow, the camp that was near Schindler’s factory. My father was the only one to survive. To this I day I cannot watch the movie, Schindler’s List, knowing that someone in there was my grandfather, and that he was not saved. It is unbearable to think about.
My father was not liberated at Auschwitz, but he was liberated by the Americans, something for which he is eternally grateful. He returned to Germany in the 1950s, but this time as an America soldier.
Below is an unusual picture. How do you pose with your dad, a survivor of Auschwitz, at the very gate he had entered decades earlier. My brother and I decided independently on very serious looks. My dad is smiling broadly. He made it back, and he brought the next generation he and my mom, Sharon, created.
We as a people are still, and always will be, vital and alive no matter what.
Am Yisrael Chai.
Here is a link to my father’s story, including video of his testimony:
I pray for the hostages in the kosher supermarket in France, the family who just wanted a peaceful and happy Shabbat, and pray for all those suffering from terror at this very moment.
I also wonder how much of what we are seeing today is a result of European indifference to increased anti-Semitism, and anti-Israel rhetoric?
I was reminded of this passage from the last world war.
MARTIN NIEMÖLLER: “FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE SOCIALISTS…”
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
I was the guest rabbi today on Shmuel Rosner’s blog.
Here is a link to the full site: