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:
- Have I taken care of my body through diet and exercise?
- Have I prepared medical directives that are clear and unambiguous stating my desires for illness and end-of-life issues?
- 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?
- Have I reached out to help those affected by recent natural disasters?
- How much stress is in my life? Is it affecting the way I live my life?
- What bad habits have I cultivated that I need to change?
- 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