Friday, January 28, 2011

Sorry I can't make it!

Dear Waterville community:

Friday night services will be happening this week, but unfortunately I will not be able to make it this week due to weather. I tried my best to make it. I will be sure to tell the community when I will return.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Schedule for Upcoming January 27-30th Visit!

I am excited for my next visit to Waterville!

On Thursday night (the 27th) we will be discussing Israeli author David Grossman‟s new and widely acclaimed novel, To the End of the Land
.
At 5:00 pm on Friday the 28th, there will be a pre-Shabbat activity for children in the congregation.

We also will have a potluck dinner and services Friday night (the 28th at 6:00pm and 7:00 pm respectively) and Saturday morning the (29th at 10 am). There will be a sermon on Friday night and interactive learning on Saturday morning.

I will be available if anyone in the community wants to get together on Saturday night or Sunday morning for personal visits or any type of programming. Please feel free to email me if you want to be in touch! risaacs@colby.edu


Be Sure to Share the Burden: Parashat Yitro

We all know the personality type: Someone who takes all responsibility for himself, does not know how to delegate or does not want to do so, wears himself out, and resents those around him for not pitching in. At the end of the day, the do-it-all hero, fails himself and the community he seeks to serve.

In parashat Yitro, this know-it-all do-it-all, is Moshe Rebbeinu, Moses, our teacher. However, in this portion, our teacher is the one who is learning. Not only is he learning leadership from his father in law (awkward), but also from a man who is a priest from Midian. Moses, the ultimate Israelite, is taught how to be a better Jewish leader from non-Jewish clergy.

Regardless of Yitro's religious faith, he sees Moses' leadership style and knows it is bad news for the Jews. Seeing Moses adjudicate all cases alone, he tells Moses: (Genesis 18:17-18)

יז וַיֹּאמֶר חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, אֵלָיו: לֹא-טוֹב, הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה, עֹשֶׂה.17 And Moses' father-in-law said unto him: 'The thing that you are doing is not good.
יח נָבֹל תִּבֹּל--גַּם-אַתָּה, גַּם-הָעָם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר עִמָּךְ: כִּי-כָבֵד מִמְּךָ הַדָּבָר, לֹא-תוּכַל עֲשֹׂהוּ לְבַדֶּךָ.18 You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it yourself alone.

When leading a community with great needs and limited human capital, it is easy to take the burdens all upon yourself. Every success and failure is personal, and you feel the need to carry the concerns and anxiety of everyone upon your shoulders.

However, this mode of leadership will wear the leader out and it will ultimately damage the community. Sometimes the most important part of being a leader is delegating responsibility and asking for help. This move is not an act of weakness or laziness -- it is what shows true concern for your personal endurance as a leader and care for your community. Giving up some of the burden takes courage, faith, and the ability to withstand the initial stumbling of others as they assume new tasks. However, in the long run, even though it is the hard lesson to learn, it the right choice to make.

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shabbat Brings Star NFL Player to Consider Judaism


From Ynetnews: [Ricky] Williams remains open-minded as he explores various Jewish customs and laws. According to Williams, his first real Shabbat experience appealed to his inner-spirituality. “When the day shifted from Saturday afternoon to Saturday night, even my thoughts shifted,” he recalled. “There was something very pure about that Saturday.”

Click Here for full article.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Believing without Seeing: Parashat B'Shallach

When judging the veracity of a claim or an event, we are always inclined to turn to the eye witness. In Jewish law, the role of the eid עד, the witness, cannot be underestimated in legal proceedings. So much of what we believe is connected to what we can see presently and what we have seen in the past. That which is "seen" and verified is that which we believe to be real. The influence of sight in the formulation of our beliefs is highlighted in this weeks portion: B'Shallach. In this portion, the Israelites see the approach of Pharaoh's army as they flee, but do not see, at least initially, God's redeeming power. In Exodus 14:10-11, the Israelites express their fear:

י וּפַרְעֹה, הִקְרִיב; וַיִּשְׂאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-עֵינֵיהֶם וְהִנֵּה מִצְרַיִם נֹסֵעַ אַחֲרֵיהֶם, וַיִּירְאוּ מְאֹד, וַיִּצְעֲקוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶל-יְהוָה

And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were so afraid; and the children of Israel cried out unto the LORD.

יא וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, הֲמִבְּלִי אֵין-קְבָרִים בְּמִצְרַיִם, לְקַחְתָּנוּ לָמוּת בַּמִּדְבָּר: מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לָּנוּ, לְהוֹצִיאָנוּ מִמִּצְרָיִם.

And they said unto Moses: 'Because there were no graves in Egypt, you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, to bring us forth out of Egypt?

The Israelites claim that they should have stayed in Egypt -- certain slavery was better than a precarious existence that would probably be deadly. It was only when they see God's power that they affirm their faith in the God of their ancestors: (Exodus 14:31)

לא וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-הַיָּד הַגְּדֹלָה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה בְּמִצְרַיִם, וַיִּירְאוּ הָעָם, אֶת-יְהוָה; וַיַּאֲמִינוּ, בַּיהוָה, וּבְמֹשֶׁה, עַבְדּוֹ. {ר} {ש}31 And Israel saw the great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians, and the people feared the LORD; and they believed in the LORD, and in His servant Moses.

When our ancestors saw miracles, they believed. In the desert without wonders and visions, they doubted. What do we do when miracles are not always visible in our lives? How do we retain faith in a life that often feels more like desert wandering than standing at the edge of the sea?

Sometimes we are lucky enough to see God's influence in our lives. We acknowledge blessings that we receive, we appreciate those moments that are so providential that they cannot be mere coincidences. However, at other times, there is nothing to see.

I do not have an easy answer for how to maintain faith and hope in darkness. However, I do believe it is an essential part of our lives as humans and as Jews. We cannot see the future, and therefore, we must have hope and faith to invest in the present. Without the hope that we can improve the future, our present becomes desolate and depressing. Our liturgy, the constant reminders to praise and acknowledge God, help us access our ancestral memories of redemption. They force us to see the bounty in front of us when we have taken it for granted.

On this Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, let us remember to give praise and acknowledge blessing. More importantly, let our community plant seeds for tomorrow even when we are not sure that we will receive our desired results. Positing faith in the unknown is a critical step toward survival and ultimately, redemption.

David Brooks, NY Times columnist, quoted Reinhold Niebuhr in his column this week. His words, I believe, have quite a bit to teach us:

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. ... Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”

Shabbat Shalom




Friday, January 7, 2011

Israeli Song of the Week: (Song of the Circle) קול גלגל

This week's words of Torah will be provided by the Israeli band "Fools of the Prophecy." I remember first hearing this song at the 10th anniversary commemoration of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv. It was a moving ceremony with Israeli political leaders, musicians, and personal friends of his, President Bill and Hillary Clinton. This is a great, beautiful song with which to welcome Shabbat. You can access a translation of the lyrics here.



Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Maine-Tel Aviv Connection

On a Shabbat walk around Tel Aviv, I walked into one of the most surprising, strange, and exciting museums I have ever encountered in Israel. It did not have biblical artifacts or commemorate great moments in Zionist history. Rather, it was the museum of a colony of Mormons from Maine that settled in Jaffa over 100 years ago. It is a house from Maine in a colony of houses from a group of Mainers that were inspired to settle in the Holy Land. I cannot explain how crazy it was to walk into an entire house filled with Maine paraphernalia: maps (which of course included Waterville!), hats, model ships, and books about Maine history.

I could not take pictures of the museum because it was Shabbat, but you can check out pictures and history here from the Jaffa American Colony website.

Shavua Tov! (Have a great week!)