Monday, September 11, 2017

The Four Weeks of Elul 5777: Week Four – Our Physical Selves

Dear Friends,

Over the past several days we have all been focused on news about the hurricanes, earthquakes and fires that have devastated communities around the world.  In Texas, Florida, the Caribbean and throughout the Gulf Coast we have watched in horror as destructive winds have destroyed homes and business while floodwaters engulfed entire cities.  In Mexico, a catastrophic earthquake has wreaked havoc on already impoverished communities.  Raging fires in California, Montana and throughout the West have engulfed thousands of acres of woodlands – causing our skies to become hazy with smoke.  Reports of massive flooding in Asia and natural disasters around the world are becoming more and more commonplace. Those of us with family and friends in affected areas have waited nervously for news of their safety. Regardless of our connection to affected individuals, the scope of the misery playing out in front of us in real time has is impossible to ignore.

In 1943, psychologist, Abraham Maslow published his seminal theory of the Hierarchy of Needs that posited that unless and until we have our physical needs met, we cannot focus on higher concepts of living and awareness that culminate in what he described as “Self-Actualization.”  If we do not possess the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter; if our physical health and safety are not assured, he wrote, we become stuck in the present and unable to move forward.

While most of us do not have to worry about our daily bread, if we are not physically healthy, then we cannot perform Tikkun Olam - the repairing of our world. Our bodies are holy.  The Torah teaches that we are created B’tzelem Elohim - in the image of God. In this light, taking care of our physical selves is a sacred task.  We also are taught that helping others find health and wellness is a vitally important mitzvah.  The simple act of visiting someone who is ill can make a huge difference in their physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

During this last week of Elul, I want us to focus on our physical selves.  Again, this is by no means a complete list.  Some questions are repeated from previous years.  Hopefully the questions will provide you with a starting point for examining and improving the relationships in your lives:  As such – I offer the following questions:

  1. Have I taken care of my body through diet and exercise?
  2. Have I prepared medical directives that are clear and unambiguous stating my desires for illness and end-of-life issues?
  3. Have I done all that I could to comfort those around me who are affected by illness – have I performed the mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim – visiting the sick?
  4. Have I reached out to help those affected by recent natural disasters?
  5. How much stress is in my life?  Is it affecting the way I live my life?
  6. What bad habits have I cultivated that I need to change?
  7. Have I been avoiding going to the doctor, dentist or other health care professionals due to financial concerns or fear of what I might discover?

Again, these questions are in no way complete.  If answering any of them causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantor Sacks and I would welcome the opportunity.  Note that all of these materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation, contact the Temple and we will send them to you.  They also will be linked to our website and posted on our Facebook page and my blog.

I also want to take this opportunity to remind you about our Selichot program and services that will be taking place this Saturday night, September 16th beginning at 8:00 PM.  We will be welcoming Dena Samuels, who specializes in Diversity and Inclusiveness Training.  Dena will lead a conversation about the work we must do to create a more equal and just society. As Judaism teaches us to struggle with our past, Dena will briefly lead us through an exploration of historical racial injustices to identify the systems that were intentionally created to exploit and marginalize people of color in the United States. She will then discuss how we can use the past to inform our work now and for the future.  Her presentation will be followed by a brief Selichot service using our beautiful new Elul and Selichot prayer book:  Mishkan HaLev – The Sanctuary of the Heart that will help us to welcome in the New Year.

L’shanah Tovah U’metukah – May you have a good and sweet new year,

Rabbi Joseph R. Black

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hiding Behind Our "Screens"...The 4 Weeks of Elul 5777 - Week 3: Personal and Professional Relationships

Dear Friends,

Like many of you, I spend a lot of time staring at screens.  Whether it is my cell phone, computer or television, I am increasingly aware of the amount of time and energy that I devote to social media and electronic entertainment.  The fact that we can summon any type of information at the push of a button – anytime or anywhere, is truly remarkable.  The rapid spread of technology has revolutionized every aspect of our lives.  Mobile commuting has made it possible to redefine our sense of permanent space and even time.  Video conferencing and advances in telecommunication have redefined work space and the classroom.  Long distance calls are a thing of the past.  Last month, when we traveled on our congregational Israel trip, there were no restrictions on our ability to be in daily contact with our homes.

While the easy availability of this technology is beneficial, it also has its drawbacks.  Too many of us (myself included) spend inordinate amounts of time involved in communicating and gleaning information from our electronic devices, with the unintended result of isolating ourselves from the people around us.  The easy accessibility of instant information and entertainment can take its toll on our relationships with those who matter most in our lives. “Unplugging” is often a necessary task so as to ensure that we participate in face to face communication.

In the Deuteronomy 34:10 we read of the death of Moses.  The text states: “Never again did there arise a prophet like Moses who knew God Panim el Panim – face to face”.  The beautiful intimacy reflected in this passage can be seen as a challenge to all of us during the month of Elul.

As we enter into our third week, I want us to focus on the important relationships in our lives: our families, dear friends and coworkers with whom we share a common bond.  An essential part of the process of Cheshbon HaNefesh¬ (taking an inventory of our souls) revolves around asking ourselves to examine the way we treat the people around us.  Do we honor them and acknowledge how important they are to us, or do we allow ourselves to become complacent?  Are we fully present – seeing them panim el panim (face to face), or do we take them for granted?  Are the many distractions – technological and otherwise – with which we are confronted daily lull us into a false sense of contentment?

The following questions are designed to make us think about the status of the many different relationships in our lives.  Again, this is by no means a complete list.  Hopefully it will provide you with a starting point for improving the relationships in your lives.

  1.  How many times in the past year have I taken the love and friendship that others offer me for granted?
  2.  Are there people I have wronged that I need to ask to forgive me?
  3. Will I be able to forgive those who come to me to ask for my forgiveness?
  4.  Have I taken part in any business or personal transactions this past year that were against my religious, moral, or ethical principles?
  5. Have I spent more time looking at electronic devices than I should?  Has this impacted my relationships with others?
  6. Have I allowed politics to come in the way of relationships?
  7. Have I shut out the pain of others in other parts of the world? In my country? My city? My congregation? My neighborhood? My family? 
Again, I welcome your comments and suggestions for additional questions and formats that we can use.   If answering them causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantor Sacks and I would welcome the opportunity.  These materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office.  They also will be posted on my blog and linked to both the Temple website and Facebook page. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation - please contact the Temple office and we will be happy to send them out.

L’shanah Tovah U’metukah – may you have a good and sweet new year,

Rabbi Joe Black