Friday, October 31, 2014

Private Journeys with Public Meaning: Parashat Lech L'cha

 Our faith begins with the singular journey of a man called by God to rebel against his parents, and journey to an unknown land.  In this week's parasha, God gives Avram a personal directive that changes the course of history:

1And the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you.

א. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל אַבְרָם לֶךְ לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ:
RASHI:Go forth: Heb. לֶךְ לְךָ, lit. go to you, for your benefit and for your good, and there I will make you into a great nation, but here, you will not merit to have children. Moreover, I will make your character known in the world. — [from Rosh Hashanah 16b, Tan.]לך לך: להנאתך ולטובתך, ושם אעשך לגוי גדול, וכאן אי אתה זוכה לבנים. ועוד שאודיע טבעך בעולם:

God's instruction to Avram raises many important questions.  One of the most provocative God's demands is that Avram leave home in order to fulfill his destiny.  Why couldn't Avram think globally and act locally?  Why did he need to separate himself from his family of origin to fulfill the will of a God who demands that every individual honor his parents?  
            Rashi provides an interesting answer to these questions: Avram must journey in order to provide a personal example to the peoples of the world.  While God first assures Avram that he will not have to sacrifice financial stability or a future family in order to go on this great journey, God also then tells Avram that he needs to "make his character/nature known in the world."  As the first Jew, Avram assumes the profound responsibility to showcasing a life of ethical monotheism and a new kind of religious leadership.  Lech L'cha is the story of a personal journey of faith with public, global, historic implications.
           The interplay between personal journeys of faith and public responsibility is one that shapes the contours of our tradition and practice.  This week, I was studying the laws of Hanukkah and came across a beautiful and profound halacha related to when we light hanukkah candles.  We are required to light the hanukkah candles as the sun is setting because it is the time when folks are returning home from work, and can see the candles lit in the doorways of their neighbors (O.H. 672).  When we light the candles in our personal homes to bring light and joy to our families, we must also take into account when our neighbors can see this light. It is our obligation to ensure that as many people as possible in the community can recall the hanukkah miracle.  Our personal household practice of the holiday is inextricably linked to the mitzvah of persumei nisah (the publication of the miracle.)
           Avram had to take a personal journey (which soon became a joint journey with Sarai) to become the leader that the Israelites needed.  But Avram's journey was not exclusively or even primarily a journey of personal growth and exploration -- it was about providing a new type of role model in the world.  It was about showcasing a new kind of life in relationship with a singular God who demanded high standards for behavior and leadership.  Avram was a man who undertook a personal trek to show a public example, and as his children, we should emulate his example: recalling always that we do not live lives only for personal growth and joy, but also to shine the light of Torah for as many people as possible.

Shabbat Shalom

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Stunning Song for Sukkot: Tikun HaGeshem

By one of my favorite Israeli musicians, Yonatan Razel

Taken from our tradition prayer for geshem, rain.

MOADIM L'SIMCHA!!!  מועדים לשמחה

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Rosh HaShanah 5775 Sermons

Ron Shoshani: Tel Aviv Port at Sunset

I am pleased to share my sermons from this past Rosh HaShanah, touching on a variety of topics close to the heart our community.

Erev Rosh HaShanah sermon: Jewish Waterville Year in Review.

As always, happy to hear your thoughts, questions, and critiques.  Feel free to share.

Shanah Tovah u'mitukah (A happy and sweet new year), and Gmar Hatimah Tovah (May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life!) 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rosh HaShanah coverage in the Sentinel!

A beautiful article about Rosh HaShanah preparations at Beth El Augusta and at Beth Israel Waterville. Many thanks to the paper for a great picture of Colby Hillel senior, Sarah Rockford and me in our refurbished classroom.

L'Shanah Tovah!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Rosh HaShanah Piyut

A stunningly gorgeous piyyut (liturgical poem put to music) by Ibn Gvirol to get us ready for Rosh HaShanah.  May this year be sweet, and may the coming days give us opportunity to reflect, rejoice, and renew ourselves.

Shanah Tovah u'mitukah!!


Translation provided by Piyut North America:

Humble of spirit, humble the knee, and statue I approach you with much fear and awe.
In front of You, I consider myself Like a worm, small in the ground.
 You fill the world, there is no end to Your greatness, Can one like me praise you? And with what? The path in not sufficient for angels on high And for myself, how much more so.
 You have brought good and magnified mercies,
Wherefore the soul shall magnify your praise

Monday, September 22, 2014

Colby College Hillel Fall 2014 Newsletter

Shanah Tovah from Waterville!