It was so wonderful to bring in the New Year with all of you. What a blessing to have David Wasser leading us in prayer! They were truly Days of Awesomeness! Thank you also to our musicians: Angela Libman (vocals), Dan Cohen (percussion), and Jonathan Finkle (keys).
Join us for more music and song at Sukkot Friday Night Live (Oct 6). You can shake your lulav and eat in the sukkah Sunday morning (Oct 8), and at 4pm, we are hosting a men’s l’chayim with scotch and cigars in our home sukkah.
Now if I were to ask you, “What is the holiest day of the Jewish year?” You would probably say “Yom Kippur.” However, the Netivot Shalom taught that Sukkot is actually holier than Yom Kippur. Why? It is the climax full moon of the holy 7th month of Tishrei. All of the work of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur has prepared us to more fully appreciate eating, drinking, and celebrating on Sukkot. On Yom Kippur we had to negate our bodies and cry “Avinu Malkeinu!” (Our Father Our King) up to the heavens. On Sukkot we have to feast and sleep in the womb of the Shechinah (Feminine Divine Presence) also known as “Sukkah.”
We also learn that Sukkot is holier than Yom Kippur for another very important reason. On Sukkot we are not just praying for Israel, we are praying for all nations. In the ancient Temple, seventy bulls were offered, one for each of the 70 nations of the earth. Our national vision from the Torah is Universalist because we hope for all nations to live free and in peace. Yet we are also very Particularist in our need to be have our own indigenous homeland.
Recently we sang “Hatikvah - The Hope” Israel’s National Anthem at a school family service. We stood around the Israeli flag and I asked, “What is the Hope that we are singing about here?” One of the clever students read from the translation in front of her, “To be a free people in our land, Zion and Jerusalem.”
“Yes, this is true and in addition to this the Jewish people have a hope that includes all nations.” In this time of great division the Jewish people have an essential message for the world, that it is possible to be both Nationalist and Globalist at the same time.
May the joy that we offer up on Sukkot and Simchat Torah bring peace and abundance to all of the nations of the world.
Chag Sukkot Same’ach! (Happy Festival of Sukkot)
Summer is a great time for immersive Jewish experiences. As I am writing this some of our congregants are on their return flight from Israel and others are immersed in the exuberant village culture of Jewish Summer camp. Positive immersive Jewish experiences are essential to our survival as Jews in the exile.
My own daughter Sophie is having her first Jewish Summer Camp experience right now at Eden Village (an organic Jewish farm camp). During our tour, Sophie noticed that a hen was loose and walked over and snatched the hen up just a few feet away from a swarming bee hive! “The Chicken Rabbi” was kvelling… But the main reason I smile when I think of her is that now she will know how it feels to live and practice Judaism in a village-like setting.
The challenge with these experiences is that they end too soon and then we return to our mostly fragmented Jewish life. Mordechai Kaplan (among others) noted that the Jewish people have thrived in the exile largely because we were forced to live in close-knit communities. Perhaps this is one of the factors why Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods have grown in recent decades while Reform and Conservative have shrunken significantly. Orthodox Jews often live in the same neighborhoods so that they can experience Shabbat together without driving.
If we want to grow and strengthen our own community we need to meet more often on Shabbat and engage in mitzvoth together. We might also try an immersive experience together in Israel or a Shabbaton weekend at Camp JORI. May the Holy One bless us that we will get together more often this year.
Kayitz Tov! Have a Good Summer!
If you live in Rhode Island you’ve probably heard of Allie’s Donuts, a legendary stop on the way down to Narragansett. I’m sorry to report that they fry their famous donuts in animal fat (not kosher L). However, I do spend a fair bit of time across the street at Allie’s animal feed store. Recently I was picking up some Purina goat chow and grassy hay when the friendly woman at the register said, “Boker tov Rabbi!” She was proud to share what she learned on her recent church mission to Israel.
“Rabbi, it is my husband’s birthday. Please can you give him the Ironic blessing?”
“Ironic? Oh, you mean the Aaronic blessing of the high priest and the whole Cohen family? Isn’t it ironic? We just chanted that prayer from our weekly Torah reading.” At this point the other costumers were getting shpilkes and the look on her husband’s face told me he wanted out.
“I am from the tribe of Levi,” I explained “I can wash the hands and feet of the Kohen, but I don’t have any special ability to bless. Your blessing has more power since we give blessings with love and you clearly love him very much.”
“Rabbi, do you think they are going to build the third Temple?”
I responded, “For 2,000 years we have been praying every day to return and rebuild our Holy Temple. It is hard to imagine how this would actually happen anytime soon. However, my friend Steve is a Kohen and I’m sure when the time comes, he would be happy to bless your whole family.”
July 11th is the 17th day of Tammuz, when Jews around the world will fast to commemorate the day when the Romans breeched the walls of the Second Temple. It was the beginning of the destruction of the Temple. Today about half of the world’s Jews live in Israel and the rest of us are displaced in a “foreign” land. In the Midrash and Kabbalah, Israel is compared to the moon whose greatness lies in her power to receive and reflect light. Sometimes in history she is bright and full and at other times her light is completely hidden. Our mission is not to convert everyone else to Judaism, but rather as the Prophet Isaiah said we are to become an “ohr lagoyim, a light unto the nations.” This means we are to enlighten other nations with our righteous way of life and the wisdom of our holy Torah. As a post-modern Jew, I am glad to say that besides the Torah, I also been personally enlightened by my Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist friends and their traditions. Maybe Mama Adamah (earth) is like the human body that has multiple chakra points (energy centers). Jerusalem, Rome, Mecca, Uluru-Ayers Rock etc. each one reflecting a unique spectrum of Divine Light. Traditional Judaism asserts that if rebuild the Temple, Jerusalem will become a fountain of light for the whole world.
In 2,000 years of exile, we have never been this close, yet we have also never been this far. Most contemporary Jews are embarrassed and even horrified by the thought of building a Third Temple. They warm up to the idea a bit more when I ask them,. “What if the Temple Mount was shared by all of humanity as a holy site that is kept by Muslims and Jews?” It may seem impossible, but according to Dr. Moshe Sharon of Hebrew University, it has already happened. Some early Arabic sources from the time of Muslim conquest report that Jews lit a menorah in the Bayt al-Maqdis' (Arabic for Beit Hamikdash or Holy Temple), burned incense, and received blessings from “wuld Harun,” Arabic for "the sons of Aaron." In an early Jewish Midrash (Nistarot Rashbi) calls Muslims the initiators of Israel's redemption and refers to one Muslim ruler as “Builder of the House of the Lord.” http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-Features/The-Shape-of-the-Holy
Once it was Christians who persecuted the Jews. Today our Christian friends are almost as excited about our return to Israel as we are. If healing can happen between Christians and Jews, then with G!d’s help so may it be for Jews and Muslims. Amen.
Rabbi Aaron Philmus
Rabbi Aaron brings a traditional style and approach of prayer to the conservative synagogue. He has a background in ecology and Jewish education and teaches Torah through agriculture and wilderness skills, and plays guitar as a way to bring music to the synagogue. He’s a naturalist who believes that everything stems from nature, and he understands the plight of others who are less fortunate, and how to use the land to enrich ourselves.