The Change-Maker

Sun-soaked mornings and
endless possibilities
Dawn is breaking
literally

Usually I’m steeped in metaphor
but today I hardly need to be
Change is on the horizon and I
wake
to a new day with birds chirping and everything

The smell of success is in the air
and it sparks a nagging fear of failure
as usual
but we forge ahead
Whatever will come
will come

I worry though
I have staked a claim in this
and yet
I know I rarely go down
with the ship
when it sinks
I usually manage to clamber up somehow

And then I stand atop the wreckage
and survey the damage
and say to myself
(and to anyone who will listen)

What good can we make of this mess?
What can we build now?

– EKG’13

POSTSCRIPT

No sooner have I captured my lovely moment of awakening
then it’s gone.
1 dog
2 cats and
15 emails vie
for my attention
They drag me out of bed and into
the realities of the daily grind
There are pets to feed
and vitamins to take and
appointments and deadlines and expectations to meet
It’s a day like any day
after all
and yet
the writing is flowing
so how bad could it be?
I chuckle and sigh
trying to recapture the spirit of that
lost
moment
endless possibility
uncharted horizons
unchecked excitement
moments like that are almost always fleeting
all blessed, sacred, holy things are
or maybe not
the holiest people are the constant ones
after all
but I digress
and the day is calling
and the dog is crying
and life marches endlessly on
smile
lean into it
breathe
Go!

-EKG’13

Turn That Frown Upside Down

Once upon a time an Israeli bumped into a newly arrived Soviet immigrant on the streets of Tel Aviv.

“So, really, how was life back in Russia?” the Israeli asked the immigrant.

“I couldn’t complain,” the immigrant answered.

“And how were your living quarters there?”

“I couldn’t complain.”

“And your standard of living?”

“I couldn’t complain.”

“Well,” responds the Israeli, “If everything was so good back in Russia, why did you bother coming here?”

“Oh!” replied the immigrant, “here I CAN complain!”

This week’s Torah portion finds the Israelites departing mount Sinai and beginning their journey toward the promised land. Immediately, they begin to kvetch. Their main complaint is about the Manna that they have to eat each and every day.

And they don’t just mutter quietly under their breath.

The Israelites complain so bitterly that Moses pleads to God to kill him rather than allow the situation to continue.

This complaining is really bringing Moses down. In fact, complaining brings everyone down –
even the complainer.

Think about it. Try to remember the last time you complained about something: how did you feel as you were voicing your displeasure? When I think about the sensation of complaining – how I feel when I’m sharing my distaste or dissatisfaction with someone else, I can feel the physical manifestations – my voice changes; my shoulders droop; I sigh; my body gets heavy.

Complaining, literally brings a person down.

And when someone else is complaining to you, your physical response is likely not all that dissimilar.

So imagine what an entire nation of complainers must have felt and sounded like!
The very air they breathed must have seemed heavy with tension.

A midrash, in a rabbinic text called Me’am Loez, suggests that when the Israelites complained,
they did so for two reasons. Firstly, they did not know whether the manna would truly appear each day – in other words, they did not yet have faith in God.

Secondly, although, as the midrash describes, the manna had many and varied tastes, it did not contain the staple ingredients they had become accustomed to while living in Egypt.

Rabbi Alan Berg teaches that although the Israelites experienced “a plenteous miracle” it, “wasn’t plenteous enough for them.” They lacked what Rabbi Berg calls “sufficiency consciousness” –
that is, the realization that they had enough to be secure.

Without faith and without the ability to realize that they had enough to sustain themselves, the Israelites misuse their time and energy – spending it by complaining bitterly, (something that usually drives people apart) instead of using it to express gratitude (something that often brings people together).

But perhaps God sees this coming.

At the beginning of our portion, we read a seemingly unrelated passage, where God gives Moses instructions for how Aaron and his sons, should go about lighting the seven lamps on the lampstand in the Mishkan.

Lighting this lampstand – the original Menorah – was understood by the rabbis to be a metaphor
for how we are meant to live our lives.

Rabbi Berg explains that just as lighting the seven lamps illuminates the menorah, so too does living each of the seven days of the week to its fullest, lighten our souls.

Rabbi Berg writes that in this way, the verse, which literally reads, “when you light the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand”, can be understood in the following way: “When you treat each of the seven days of the week as holy, you will illuminate your soul.”

Just as the Israelites, misuse their time – complaining, when they should be giving thanks – so too do we, in our own lives, often preoccupy ourselves with concern over never having enough: never having enough time; never having enough money or possessions.

“We treat our days as routine” Rabbi Berg writes, “or we miss opportunities for performing mitzvot.”

In order to light the seven lamps – in order to lighten our souls, and live the seven days of each week meaningfully, we too need to have “sufficiency consciousness”, and we too need to have faith. We need to know how to learn when we have enough to sustain ourselves. And we need to have faith that what we yet need will somehow be provided.

Rabbi Berg suggests that living each day it it’s fullest is the key to unlocking these often elusive abilities.

By freeing ourselves from the burden of complaint and lightening our attitudes by giving thanks,
we can train ourselves to focus on what we do have rather than on what we are lacking.

This takes intentionality and conscious effort. It means catching yourself in the moment of complaint, and spinning it into a moment of praise. It means finding the silver-lining in every cloud,
which may seem like a really un-Jewish idea.

The kvetchy Israelites are the prototype for the stereotypical Jew. Like the Soviet immigrant in the joke, we LIKE to complain.

But our Torah portion this week suggests that as “Jewish” as it is to complain about a miracle, the attempt to lighten our souls is EQUALLY “Jewish”.

It may be in our nature to complain, but God and Torah encourage us to have a daily practice of lighting our internal menorahs – turning each temptation to kvetch and complain into an opportunity to express gratitude.

My own personal practice is to end each day – as I’m drifting off to sleep – trying to think of one thing that happened that day for which I am grateful.

Do I remember to do it every single day?

No. Certainly, there are days when I forget.

But I make sure that ESPECIALLY on days that are long or stressful or difficult – ESPECIALLY on days when I’m feeling the heaviness of complaint – on those days I work extra hardto focus my thoughts on something that DID go well.

Rabbi Berg claims that “sufficiency consciousness” is a path to God, and I’m inclined to agree.

As hard as training our sufficiency consciousness is, many would argue that having faith in God is even harder.

I believe what Rabbi Berg is saying is that one leads to the other.

When we focus our consciousness on gratitude, we connect to the Source of All Things, the Entity from which all things come about. And if we believe that God is somehow connected to the things for which we are grateful, we begin to have faith, that each day will bring something good – however small, however fleeting – and if that isn’t faith in God I don’t know what is.

May each of us find one moment on this Shabbat or in the week to come in which to turn our desire to complain into an opportunity to praise, and may that moment bring us closer to our Eternal God

Baruch Atah Adonai sh’asah li kol tzorki
Blessed are you Oh Eternal, who provides for all our needs.

Torah Teaches Transformation

Our Torah, when you really think about it, is a record of a community in a process of tranformation. Jewish communities such as ours can look to Torah as a model for how to navigate transition, planning and organization, as well as thinking and moving toward the future.

In Genesis we start with the history of the people. We learn about creation and the individuals who founded our religion. We learn from their victories as well as from their mistakes and we find the core values of our tradition rooted in the mythology of our ancestors. The same is true of any community such as this one. Everything we do – every program we have, every worship experience we participate in, every change we consider making – must be rooted in an understanding of who we are and where we’ve come from. We retell our own history – recalling our own genesis – to remind us of our mission and our values.

At the same time, Torah teaches us that as the generations change, the needs of the people change as well. As the Children of Israel grow from the Genesis generation to the Exodus generation, they find themselves facing tremendous transition. They grow from a small family into a large nation. They find the demographics around them change over time. They are forced to adapt to forces beyond their control. They can’t live the way they used to, but they don’t stop retelling their stories of origin either. They don’t forget who they are. They wait for a better time and for Moses, Aaron and Miriam to step forward and show the way.

It is much the same for a contemporary community in transition. The stories of the Golden Ages are followed by the stories of tough times. People come and go. Some survive the upheaval and others do not. Hard decisions have to be made.
And then it starts to get better. The leadership changes and evolves. New visions arise. Plans are made. Things that were long stagnant begin to move.

Leaving Egypt is an extended transition. Some of it happens quickly. Other parts take years.

The Israelites leave so quickly that their bread doesn’t have time to rise. We know this because we eat Matzah each year, but perhaps we don’t think about the deeper lesson. Sometimes we have to make concessions for the sake of allowing for needed change. Does it mean we are subjected to eating only Matzah for the rest of our lives? Of course not – it’s a temporary measure to get us out and on our way.

But at the same time, it takes the Israelites many years to get back to the kind of eating they did in the Golden Days, before the famine that sent them into Egypt. Their diet goes through a transition of it’s own. From Matzah to Manna, with periods where meat is plentiful and others where it is scarce. It is 400 years of slavery and 40 years of wandering before they can eat whatever they want. Some changes happen very quickly. Others are only for transitional purposes. And some take a very, very long time. So Torah teaches.

The Israelites also teach us about the steps of transformation. The first thing the Israelites do is take stock. As they are leaving Egypt, the Torah recounts for us who the Nation of Israel is made up of and what they have with them, as well as what they don’t. This reminds us that any process of growth, transition and transformation requires us to ask three fundamental questions: Who are we? What do we have? And what do we need? Like the Children of Israel, we take stock, we figure out what kind of people our community is comprised of, what resources we have and what resources we are lacking. And all the while we keep in mind the stories of our heritage so that our core values, mission and identity are not compromised. This is stage 1.

As soon as the Israelites are free from the dark times they faced in Egypt, they take time to organize themselves. They group themselves by family, clan and tribe. Moses finds others to help him share the responsibilities of leadership. There are leaders who worry about the religious needs of the people and leaders who worry about the day-to-day running of the community. Rules and regulations are written down and taught to the community. And then, once the organizational structure is set in place, the next set of questions are asked and answered: Where are we now? Where would we like to be going? What do we need to do to get there.

At the end of Stage 1, the Israelites are at Mount Sinai. They are their for a long time. They do not leave Mount Sinai until they are organized and have a plan of action for moving forward. From the time they arrive there, early on in the Book of Exodus, all through that book and through Leviticus, and into the beginning of Numbers, they stay in the Wilderness of Sinai. Organizing. Planning. Trying things out. Changing what doesn’t work. And making sure that everyone knows what his or her role in the community is.
Then they set their sights on the Promised Land, and begin to move forward.
That is stage 2.

Stage 3 is all about implementation and revision. As the Israelites wander, they remind themselves of their mission, their goal, their rules, and they face new-challenges and have to adapt to new demographic changes and external forces. Some of the planning and organizing that they did at Sinai is helpful to them. Some of it has to be revised. All along their path they stop, set up camp and take stock before moving on. This is an important lesson for us as well. Even when we begin to immerse ourselves in the transformations we have envisioned, we shouldn’t do so without frequent and thorough check-ins, always asking ourselves if we are on track. Are we closer to where we said we wanted to be? And if not, what do we need to course-correct?

It seems to me that Temple Beth David, today, has moved passed stage 1 and is well into stage 2 and moving toward stage 3. The tough times are behind us and the most volatile of the tough choices and transitions have been made. During that transitional stage your brave leaders made difficult decisions and led you in making assessments and plans for the future. Temporary changes were necessitated by the initial fast-pace of the changes. For a while, there was no time to let your bread rise, and you ate Matzah while you made your way out of Egypt and came to settle at Sinai.

And then, this year, with a new Rabbi and leadership in place, you began to take stock. Organizational structures have been and continue to be clarified. We have asked and continue to wrestle with the question of who is our community made up of and who is our community missing. We’ve done an accounting of our resources. We know what we have and what we would like to have. We know what we love about ourselves and what we’d like to change. And we have set our sights on a goal of where we’d like to be in the future. Much has been revealed to us at Sinai and we have begun to really plan how to move forward.

And now, with stage 3 on the horizon, we look ahead to a period of implementation and revision. Some of what we’ve planned over the past few years will take root. Some will fall short and we will need to come together again to rethink, revise and renew. There will be successes and failures, and we will stop many times along the way to make-camp, and recount, and reconsider. And it will take many years for us to get where we are going. But we are moving forward, just as the Israelites did. Through the Wilderness. Towards the Promised Land.

Interestingly, the Torah ends before the Jews enter the Promised Land. The Book of Deuteronomy ends with us camped across the River Jordan. We can see the Promised Land but we are not yet there. Again, Moses leads the people in a process of review. The story of the journey is retold. The rules are recounted. The Israelites see what has changed over the years of wandering and what has stayed constant. Joshua is appointed to lead them into the next phase of their journey. But we don’t see them get there. Just as they are completing stage 3, they find themselves, somehow in a new Stage 1. One journey morphs into another and the Torah ends in the middle of the story, without us ever having reached the Promised Land.
And then it begins again.

And it’s the same for us. If we are moving forward in healthy ways, we will never reach the Promised Land. We will always be reviewing, reconsidering and setting new goals. And just as with Torah, we will always return to a retelling of the stories of our genesis, remembering who we are, what we care about, how we came to this point in our journey and how we want to move forward in the year to come.

Stages 1 and 2 and 3 are just markers along the road. They overlap and cycle back upon themselves, and although it’s important to know where we are on the path and where we want to be, we must also remember that reaching the end of the journey also means beginning something new.

From the moment I met you all and joined in this journey with you, I have been excited by the vision the values the plans the successes and the challenges of this community. The transition from stage 1 to stage 2 took a lot of collaboration and a lot of work and a lot of people played a lot of different parts. Now, as we look ahead to stage 3, I can’t wait to see how our hard work and planning will play out and I’m so excited to discover what will happen when we reach the points where we will take stock and set our sights on new destinations.

May we always have the wisdom of our Torah, our Traditions and our Ancestors to guide us on our path. And may we be ever-aware of their voices in our lives.

Kein Yehi Ratzon.

The Greatest Love Story of All

Try to remember it.

The air was dry and crackling with electricity.

There was thunder and lighting but the sky was not dark.

The breeze felt like the breath of God upon your face.

You and all those around you stood facing the mountain,

your eyes upraised –

waiting;

listening;

receiving. . .

Yes. You were at Sinai.

We all were.

Do you remember?

The Midrash tells us that every Jewish soul was there – Abraham and all those who came before the generation of Moses, and all of us who were born after, and another midrash tells us that even those who were not born Jewish but chose Judaism – they too were at Sinai, and so were the Gerim Toshavim – those members of the Jewish community who were not Jewish themselves but chose to live among the People of Israel.


So you see,

we were all there –

born Jews,

Jews-by-choice

and those who love us and live among us.


We were all there at Sinai.

Do you remember?

Or do you think it’s impossible?

That we couldn’t have been there ourselves?

That we can’t possibly have memories from another life;

from another time and place;

from a story that may not even be historically accurate?

How could we have been there?

How could we remember?

It’s a dream, Rabbi,

it’s a fairy-tale.

But don’t we remember our dreams? …

Love stories are powerful things.They outlive time and reality;they make the impossible possible.

In the best love stories, people fall in love and lose one another and then find each other again – sometimes after terribly long periods of time, or against tremendous odds, or across long distances.


In high-school I was captivated by the famous saying:

If you love something set it free, 

if it comes back to you it’s yours,

and if it doesn’t it never was.”

This idea that love conquers all – that two lovers always find their way back to one another – has always captivated and enchanted me.

 And I’m not alone.

Entire industries are built on fairy-tale endings – from Disney movies to romantic comedies and romance novels.

We all like a happy ending;

We all like a good fairy-tale.

We all root for the prince to rescue the princess –

or sometimes it’s the other way around.

And no one ever says – “Impossible!”

(unless they’re nursing a broken heart themselves)

The industry of love stories never crumbles under the weight of reality. It holds up with a magical power of its own.

If we’re smart, we don’t question love when it happens. We don’t worry about chemical reactions and hormones and pheromones. We allow ourselves to be caught up in it; outside of time and space and scientific reasoning; outside of rationalization and logic and understanding.

 And that’s where Sinai is.

 Or didn’t you know?

The story of the People of Israel and Our Torah is the greatest love story of them all.

In the Zohar, a famous Jewish mystical text from the 13th century, we find the following passage:

To what can [Torah] be compared? To a lovely princess, beautiful in every way and hidden deep within her palace. She has one lover, unknown to anyone; he is hidden too. Out of his love for her, this lover passes by her gate constantly, lifting his eyes to every side. She knows that her lover is hovering about her gate constantly. What does she do? She opens a little window in her hidden palace and reveals her face to her lover, then swiftly withdraws, concealing herself. No one near the lover sees or reflects, only the lover, and his heart and his soul and everything within him flow out to her. And he knows that out of love for him she revealed herself for that one moment to awaken love in him. So it is with a word of Torah: She reveals herself to no one but her lover…and his heart and soul and everything within him flows out to her. That is why Torah reveals and conceals herself.

It’s a stunningly beautiful passage, evoking powerful imagery and reminding us of the best parts of falling and being in love.

When we find ourselves in love, we feel we have discovered someone or something that was previously unknown to us, and we might even feel like we have discovered something that was previously unknown to the world; that no one else has ever found or felt before.

This is the princess, hidden deep within her palace, and her lover who is hidden too.

This is Torah, that so often seem to be hiding behind ancient languages, mysterious grammatical constructs, strange stories, and foreign, often challenging, ideas.

When we find ourselves in love we want to be around the one we love all the time. We find reasons to visit them; we make excuses to be around them; we fall all over ourselves to arrange a meeting, and if they permit us, we bind ourselves to them with fancy pieces of paper, sacred words, and vows of life-long commitment.

This is the princess’ lover, passing by her gate constantly and looking for her everywhere.

This is Torah, which we bind ourselves to in a weekly cycle of reading, and when we complete it, we go back to the beginning and start again.

We never tire of walking alongside the Torah.

We never finish without beginning anew.

We weave Torah into the fabric of our daily lives,

living by its words and its wise teachings.

It’s a lifelong commitment we make –

we have “date-night” each Shabbat

and we mark special

anniversaries each year –

This is the day that we found you”;

This is the day Moses introduced us”;

This is the day that God brought you into our lives”

Do you remember?

When we find ourselves in love, we find ourselves revealing our deepest truths and our most closely guarded secrets with the one we love. Usually we do this bit by bit – an emotional strip-tease. We peel back the layers of ourselves – like onions – and the truth of us bring tears to the eyes of the one who loves us in return.

This is the princess, revealing her face to her lover and then withdrawing.

This is Torah, who has a different secret to reveal to us each year as we look at it with fresh eyes – a year older, a year wiser, more experienced, more jaded, more knowledgable, more cautious.

The truth of our lives impacts what we discover anew in Torah each year.

Torah entices us with mysteries and reveals that which we most need to know. And we love her because she seems to always know which message we need to hear.

But the princess also conceals herself and Torah does too.

Too much knowledge can damage a relationship.

Too much revelation can damage a soul.

Some things are best revealed slowly –

at the right time, in the right ways –

a person who loves you knows what to hold back

in addition to what to share;

So too does Torah know.

So too does God.

When we find ourselves in love, we feel that the one who loves us, sees in us things that go unnoticed by others. They look at us as if we are the most beautiful thing on earth. They seem to see nothing else. We captivate them and are captivated by their loving gaze in return.

This is the princess, who is not seen or reflected on by anyone other than her lover.

This is Torah – often misunderstood, misinterpreted and misrepresented by those who don’t love her enough to see what’s beyond the surface to search beyond the challenging language; to struggle against the foreign ideas; to find the beauty of the truth in the deeper layers.

Only a lover can see what others miss, and tradition teaches that only the People of Israel have this special relationship with Torah, seeing what others miss; loving what others mistrust or malign.

Where others have built upon Torah’s foundation to create something new, we are the ones who say to Torah:

Never change. We love you just the way you are.

Finally, when we find ourselves in love, we find that we are motivated to be our best selves. You make me want to be a better man,” one might say to his lover.

We want to be the best we can be for the one we love and we want to make the world a place that is worthy of their being in it.

We do things for those we love 

that we might not think to do for ourselves

and usually we are better for it 

and they are better for it 

and the whole world is better for it.

This is the lover, who knows that the princess revealed herself to him to awaken love within him.

This is Torah, which provides the loving guidance we need to be our best selves, and to take care of others and the world around us so that it can be at its best too.

Torah inspires us and we are better for it

and others are inspired by us and they are better for it

and so the world is better for it

and perhaps even God is better for it.

All because we are part of a great love story;

A love story that has enabled us to survive against tremendous odds,

and to travel great distances,

and to live many lives throughout centuries of time.

Our love story is the love story of the Jewish people;

The love story of a People and their Torah;

A People and their God.

It is a love story of humanity.

It is a love story of the world.


And love stories live outside time and space 
and reality and scientific understanding.

Love stories are the stuff of dreams, and yet, every once in a while, we find ourselves within one, and so we know that they are real.

Which is why I know that I was at Sinai

and that I met the love of my life there.

You were there too.

Close your eyes.

Turn your face up toward the mountain.

Feel the breath of God against your cheek

perhaps you are crying or smiling

You hear the thunder but there is also the warmth of the sun.

Energy crackles in the air around you.

You have found Torah. You are in love.

You feel peaceful and safe

because you know that this love will be with you for always:

in all lifetimes

in all places

in all moments

in all dreams.

It is a love that transcends all other things.


You are at Sinai.

You are home.


Do you remember?

This week may we cling to this moment of revelation and keep it safe within us, with all other moments of personal and communal revelation, and may we know it is always there with us, and may we not need a yearly reminder to feel the joy we feel right now.

Kein Yehi Ratzon. May it be God’s Will.