All: Another V’ahavta for COVID-19
This week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, includes the V’ahavta, the powerful passage telling us to love God “with all your heart, with all our soul and with all your might.”1 How are we to understand and fulfill these words after another week of infection rates going up when they ought to be going down? The words below are my most recent attempt at articulating a V’Ahavta that reconciles the lofty ideals of Torah with the painful realities of the pandemic. Please consider writing a V’ahavata for COVID-19 of your own and sharing it with others.
Help us to love You with all our hearts, O God,
Even when our hearts are divided between the duty to remain compassionate and the desire to lash out.
Teach us to love You with all our soul,
even when our souls are torn between the responsibility to do what is required and the temptation to revert to what is easy.
Show us how to love You with all our might,
even when we are mightily pulled in multiple directions.
All has never felt like so much.
Not all who should are vaccinated. Less than all we could has been invested. Far fewer than all are as patient as we ought to be.
Forgive Your divided creatures for doing less than our all. Give us all the strength You can.
No matter the circumstances, we will take to heart the commandments You have given us.
We will keep on teaching them to our children.
We will continue to speak of them in our homes and on our way.
Come what may, we will keep them near at hand,
From the moment we put on our masks to the minute we take them off.
Forever may they remain inscribed on the doorpost of our house.
We will not forget them when we walk through our gates.
Thus, we will remember to cherish Your commandments and remain holy unto You.
Now and always, You are the Eternal our God.
You brought us through times of suffering in the past;
Grant us the strength to overcome the suffering surrounding us now.
You are the Eternal Our God.
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
1 Deuteronomy 6:5
Happiness on Tisha B’Ave?
It is in keeping with the ironies of the COVID-19 era that the first opportunity to return to our sanctuary for services other than Shabbat will be Tisha B’Av. This solemn service commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE, respectively, both according to tradition on the 9th day of the month of Av. Until last month, our only in-person services since the Hadassah Shabbat in March 2020 were b’nai mitzvah and confirmation for families only. Now, after a month of joyful “in-person” Shabbat worship, we are opening our doors for one of the most solemn of days. A year ago, we had to hold this service about being driven from our sacred spaces entirely via Zoom. Instead of being forcibly exiled by Babylonia or Rome, we were forced out by a pandemic. Now it is on Tisha B’Av, beginning here at TAI at 10 tomorrow night, that we gathering with our friends from Ohavay Zion Synagogue in one of our sanctuaries for the first time since the pandemic began.
One is not supposed to be joyous on Tisha B’Av. It is a fast day with essentially the same restrictions as Yom Kippur. We will chant the Book of Lamentations, recite dirges and dim the lights as we rely on candles and flashlights while we sit on the floor and listen to the reading. According to some authorities, we are not even supposed to offer one another a cheerful greeting or engage in casual conversation once the service is over.
Yet, to tell the truth, there is reason to be happy this Tisha B’Av, or at least happier than we were a year ago. Thanks to vaccinations we can be together. People who have been relegated to our screens will be physically present. Moreover, we can be joyful for the opportunity to meet OZS’s new rabbi, Shani Abramowitz. So while it is sad that the first service we will be holding together since the pandemic is for Tisha B’Av, we can be happy about sharing our sanctuary with OZS again and welcoming Rabbi Abramowitz to our community. An essential part of progressive Judaism is our capacity to make exceptions. In this exceptional year it seems appropriate to allow for a bit of happiness on a day normally reserved for sorrow. Please join us for services in person or by Zoom. NOTE: Registration is required. To reserve a seat in the sanctuary (seating is limited), click here; to register for the Zoom link, click here.
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
Sisterhood Shabbat, the Sotah and a Time of Reckoning
One year from now we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Rabbi Sally J. Priesand becoming the first woman to be publicly ordained by the Reform movement in the United States. So much change has occurred since then, yet things have not changed anywhere near enough. The fact remains that far too many female colleagues have been subjected to physical and verbal harassment in rabbinical school and in the settings in which they serve. At this time, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Central Synagogue in New York have retained professional investigators to explore how a male colleague with a record of serious misbehavior toward women could become president of our rabbinical school. Rabbi Mary Zamore, executive director of The Women’s Network, has put it powerfully: “No one should be expected to view harassment, abuse and assault as the price they need to pay to be ordained, to serve in congregations or Jewish organizations, and to be members of the Jewish community.”
As we gather tonight for Sisterhood Shabbat, we face a double irony and injustice. One is the abuses of the past; the other is the failures of the present. This week’s Torah portion is a sad example of how our sacred texts contain abusive acts. Numbers 5:11-31 details the process by which a jealous husband can make his wife undergo a trial by ordeal based on suspicion alone. Neither he nor anyone else needs claim to have witnessed something. The accused wife must drink a potion, which will make her sick if she is guilty but have no effect if she is innocent. She must listen to the prayer of the priest, who asks God to make the potion work, and say “Amen.” Neither this Torah portion nor any other contains a parallel or commensurate ritual for the suspect husband.
For too long we have allowed the indignities and injustice of the past to persist. We have failed to protect women – rabbis and congregants alike – from brutish and boundaryless behavior. Like the suspect wife, the Sotah, of Numbers, we have compelled women to drink the foul waters of sexism and sexual harassment under the false pretense of holiness. We have waited for too long to say “Time is up” on these abuses. Many have called this a moment of reckoning for our movement. Let us of our own free will, unlike the Sotah who was forced to convey “agreement,” say “Amen.” In the coming year we will be marking the historic 50th anniversary with lectures, sermons, prayers and actions focusing on justice and equality for women not only in Reform Judaism but throughout our nation and world. It is with tremendous gratitude that we welcome tonight’s speaker, Mindy Haas, executive director of Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass. Let me take this opportunity to encourage the remarkable women of this congregation to maintain our practice of women giving the Torah commentary/remarks on the first Friday of the month and to thank the women of this congregation, particularly Sisterhood, for all you do to make our congregation a place where everyone is treated with dignity and no one is degraded.
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
A Second Time Around: Considering the ‘Twos’ of Passover and the Pandemic
We tend to associate Passover with the number 4. There are four opening questions, four personality types assigned to the four children, four cups of wine each and four blessings to be recited over the food we are required to eat. But this year is different from all other years. This year the number on our minds is 2.
It is not as though we Jews haven’t had our share of 2’s. There are two tablets for the Ten Commandments. In the ultimate example of doubling down they are bestowed not just once but twice. There are two Talmuds, the Babylonian and Palestinian, the second of which has a second name, the Yerushalmi (the Talmud of Jerusalem). We light two candles on Shabbat, the Festivals and the High Holy Days. And, as the Noah’s Ark song reminds us, “The animals, they came on by two-sies, two-sies.” But, as we prepare for this year’s seders, the “two” we cannot stop thinking about is that we are doing this for the second time.
The Haggadah has long held a place of holiness for 2’s. There are two sets of questions. It contains a first and second hand-washing ritual. We dip our parsley twice in salt water and provide a symbolic cup for Elijah and for Miriam. The most poetic pairing for our moment, however, might be that of putting two things, maror and charoset, on our matzo. The Haggadah not only requires us to eat the “Hillel sandwich,” it also tells us why. Though today we are free, we recall the suffering of our past and the pain of oppression that still plagues others. So, too, even in times of suffering, we take hope in the promise of redemption. The two ideas are not oppositional but complementary.
Passover 2021/5781 marks the first festival we are holding for second go-round during this pandemic. We have two intertwined responses to this reality. On the one hand there is exhaustion. We are sick and tired of living this way. On the second hand there is gratitude. In a year defined by a devastating amount of death, we know we should be appreciative to be alive. The one impulse need not negate the other. There is room enough in our minds, hearts and at our seder tables for the two of them. Our initial response is that that we really don’t want to be doing this a second time yet, on second thought, we know it beats the matzo farfel out of the alternative.
We do not have to act as if we are happy about a second Passover during pandemic. But we are not free to pretend this crisis is over or refuse to make the best of our options until it is. Last year I simply was not ready to hold a Temple seder via Zoom. A year later I have come to appreciate the difference between seeing one another digitally and not seeing one another at all. If you do not already have plans for second-night seder, please register for Sunday evening’s program. You can stop by the office by 4 p.m. Friday to pick up a hard copy of the Haggadah we will be using, request a pdf when you register or download it on our website. Last year’s Seder video playlist with Lorne Dechtenberg and I using the Hagaddah developed by Rabbi Kline is on YouTube and is highly recommended to everyone who does not have a Seder plan for Saturday night. The text for this service is also available at Temple, and you can find the pdf here.
For those who might welcome a respite from the usual seriousness of rabbinic remarks, tonight’s message will be in the form a somewhat sillier rhyming story about The Ten Plagues. In the spirit of trying to keep things as interactive as possible, the congregation will be invited to chime in on the final word of each couplet or type it in the chat. Please remember that we are co-hosting Passover services with OZS and Havurah on the Sunday mornings of March 28 and April 4 at 10 a.m. You’ll find the Zoom link here. Dianne Bazell will be chanting Torah and I will be giving the commentary on the 28th. Diane Arnson Svarlien and Emanuelle Wirtschafter Sippy will be chanting Torah on the 4th.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
God of the hurting and heartbroken.
God of the powerful and the impoverished.
God of those blessed with abundance and those abandoned to abuse.
On this week where we read about the severe consequences for the Sin of the Golden Calf, we are reminded of how prone to error we truly are.
The same people who burst into professions of faith at the parting of the waters, succumb to panic when they cannot find Moses, and thank something they took from the furnace a minute ago for freeing them Egypt.
Moses cannot explain their actions, but he still pleads their cause. To expect consistency and rationality from those who have endured centuries of trauma, whose only priority has been survival is to expect too much.
On this week when our State Senate has received a bill that would ban the death penalty for those with severe mentally illness, we ask our legislators to remember that there are those among us who do not have the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, whose culpability should be mitigated by their limited capacity, and whose lack of understanding should protect them from ultimate punishment. We cannot explain the fatal actions of those with severe mental illness, but we can still plead their cause.
Moses does not argue that the people who worship the Golden Calf are innocent. Rather, he convinces God that to destroy them is to break a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to compromise God’s own commitment to the covenant. So too we mourn the pain that those with severe mental illness have caused. We do not profess their innocence nor argue that they should go unpunished. What we do maintain is that to take their lives is to take compromise our love of mercy, our commitment to compassion, and our covenant with conscience.
It is true that Reform Judaism opposes the death penalty under all circumstances, but abolishing capital punishment is not in this bill or even remotely on the table in our state right now. The question is if people who cannot fully comprehend the consequences of their actions can be held to full account. Science and reason, compassion and mercy compel us to reply that the answer to that question is no. Just as God and Moses withheld death from some participants in the Sin of the Golden Calf, we ask that our State Senators withhold the death penalty from those with severe mental illness. Like the destructive deeds of the former slaves who went forth out of Egypt, we cannot explain the fatal crimes committed by those with severe mental illness. We are not called upon to comprehend them. What we are called on to do is to demand justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
May this be out blessing and let us say: Amen.
Please reach out to our State Senators by phone, mail and social media encouraging them to support this legislation.
February 26, 2021
February 19, 2021
February 12, 2021
February 5, 2021
February 5, 2021
January 29, 2021
God of Marvels and Miracles,
On this Shabbat when we hear the story of how You delivered our people at the Sea of Reeds, we pray to be delivered from this pandemic.
Our ancestors fled from Pharaoh. Now we are racing from a virus, hoping that enough of us can be vaccinated before it closes in on us.
We thank You, God, for our frontline workers, who waded into dangerous waters with no guarantee of safety, who put the survival of others before their own.
Like Nachshon1, 2, they refused to allow fear to keep them from moving forward.
We remember Moses’ and Miriam’s words resounding over the waters.
We, too, wish to sing songs of rescue and rejoicing, deliverance and delight.
Our ancestors feared they would die in the desert.
We fear for the lives of family and friends.
Help us, O God, to cross safely to the other side of this crisis.
Bless us with patience and persistence, resilience and resolve.
As you rescued those who came before us, rescue us.
Then the words of Miriam and Moses will be ours, too.
Ozi V’Zimrat Yah, v’ay’hi li lishua.
“God is my strength and my might and has become my deliverer.”
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
1According to Midrash (Rabbinic folklore), Nachshon Ben Amindab waded into the sea even before Moses stretched his staff over the waters.
2 Exodus 15:2
January 22, 2021
Cherished Duties: Liberation, Inauguration and the Holiness of Long Hard Work
The rabbis of the midrash were puzzled by a detail of the liberation story we read this week. Devastated by the death of the firstborn and the nine preceding plagues, Pharaoh finally allows the Israelites to depart. Indeed, having held them in slavery for more than 400 years, Pharaoh wants the Hebrews gone so desperately that he refuses to grant them time to pack. Many are familiar with the verse about the bread dough rising on the former slaves’ backs, but our sages draw our attention to a related element of the story. “Why did the Israelites, though they had cattle, carry their kneading bowls on their shoulders (Ex. 12:34)? Because they cherished their duties.”1
As President Biden and Vice President Harris shoulder the burden of leadership this week, this commentary reminds us that there are duties we should cherish. A kneading bowl might not seem to be a precious object that needs to be positioned on one’s person, but the behavior of our ancestors shows us otherwise. Sustaining one another, providing for one another, breaking bread with one another is a holy act rendering the kneading bowl a holy vessel to be carried by oneself. Leading us out of a pandemic is an urgent necessity and a holy task. It will not be pretty, romantic or glamorous. Like making bread, it will take hard work, mindfulness, patience and attention to detail.
If the last few months have reminded us of nothing else, it is that democracy is demanding work. We often talk about the rights, freedoms and liberties we cherish. We are not quite so quick to pair the word “cherish” with “duty.” Yet the perpetuation of liberty rests on duty’s shoulders. We can no more enjoy the fruits of democracy without the effort of elections than we can feast on fresh bread without someone kneading the dough first. Even with all the anxiety, turmoil and ugliness this election and its aftermath have produced, we must be mindful that the work of democracy is a duty to cherished.
Wearing an “I voted” sticker is not about bragging. It is about saying, “Democracy is important to me.” We thank poll workers and volunteers because without their dedication to duty there would be no democracy to wax philosophical about. The work of voting; counting; recounting; and texting, calling and knocking on doors to get out the vote is over for a while. Just as a dazzling autumn must cede the stage to a long hard winter, the dramatic season of competition must give way to one of disciplined cooperation. It is time to stop running for office and start (or restart) fulfilling its duties. We ask our elected and appointed leaders to approach their tasks like the cherished duties they are. And may we, the citizens whom they are sworn to serve, commit ourselves to doing our work in the same spirit.
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
1Plaut Commentary First Edition, 1981 pages 367, 1714
January 15, 2021
Hold Fast to Hope: Proclaiming King’s Message
Amidst a Pandemic
We gather this evening still shaken by the events in Washington last week and increasingly concerned about the prospects of a safe inauguration and peaceful transition of power. Every Shabbat when we cannot gather together in our sanctuary is a loss, but being unable to gather these past two Friday evenings feels particularly so. Moreover, given that the heart of his message was unity, there is something painfully ironic about being apart from each other on Martin Luther King Shabbat. We pray that this is the only time a pandemic will relegate this service, which we look forward to each year, to a virtual gathering.
We already have dealt with virtual Purim, Passover, High Holy Days, Sukkot and Hanukkah. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the pandemic we have run out of things we are missing out on for the first time, yet we refuse to give in to defeatism and despair. The scholar James Washington aptly titled his anthology of the essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther King “A Testament to Hope.” Dr. King’s life and leadership were just that. In spite of every reason to give up, he persevered. If we want to live up to his legacy, we too must “hold fast to dreams”1 even in the face of dispiriting realties.
As we study the 10 plagues in this week’s and next week’s Torah portions, we can see ourselves in the nightmarish society that tragically chooses to continue to suffer the consequences of injustice rather than discontinue its cruel practices of oppression. Tonight’s speaker, the Rev. Nathl Moore, pastor of Lexington’s First African Baptist Church, will address at least two painful issues plaguing our society in this difficult moment. First, why is it that Black people have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic of COVID-19? Why have more of them been infected, become seriously ill and died at higher rates than their white neighbors, and what are the lessons of health care inequality that must be learned from this devastating failure? Second, in light of last week’s assault on the Capitol fueled by white supremacists and snti-Semites, how can we, as Black and Jewish communities, demand accountability for those who encouraged, enabled and participated in an attempt to violently overturn the certification of a presidential election? How can we work collaboratively to address the hate, misinformation and violence that have stifled our nation’s efforts to realize King’s vision of “the beloved community.”
Please make a special effort to attend tonight’s service and think about what you can do to mitigate the plagues of systemic racism by alleviating hunger, homelessness and health care inequality in Lexington and throughout the country. We hope you will consider a contribution to the Lexington Chapter of the NAACP in honor of MLK Day and Reverend Moore’s message. Click here to donate or send contributions to Lexington-Fayette NAACP, P.O. Box 13655. Lexington, KY 40583.
You also are encouraged to check out the website of the Religious Action Center for ways in which we can address chronic disparities inconsistent with Jewish and democratic values by urging Congress to support an equitable public health and economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
P.S.: Thank you to Rev. Moore for filling in on short notice for our scheduled speaker, the Rev. James Thurman, who was forced to cancel his appearance because of health issues. We wish him a refuah shelaymah, a full and speedy recovery, and look forward to having him address our congregation when he is able to do so.
1 “Dreams” by Langston Hughes, 1922
January 8, 2021
January 1, 2021
December 25, 2020
December 18, 2020
December 11, 2020
December 4, 2020
November 27, 2020
November 20, 2020
November 13, 2020
Tonight, thank goodness, represents a breath of fresh air, something of a return to normal at a time that has been anything but. For the first time since the pandemic, we will have a family service led in part by the students themselves. Not seeing kids in the building is one of the saddest things of this entire crisis. The hallways and classrooms are eerily quiet without children. Yet, just as we tell adults that “our building is closed but our congregation remains open,” so, too, we tell our students that “school is in session even if our classrooms are closed.”
May this week’s reports of a promising vaccine renew our faith and optimism. Let us practice the virtue of being hopeful, both for the sake of our children and ourselves. We are nowhere near “breathing easy,” yet but we can breathe a little easier when we stop to appreciate that the education of tomorrow’s Jewish leaders is in good hands.
November 6, 2020
Wondering when we will have definitive results in this election has brought back memories of other waiting stories. Perhaps you have experienced similar thoughts, associations and reflections during this difficult week. More than 20 years ago, my rabbinical school classmates and I anxiously awaited the placement process phone calls informing us of which prospective congregations would invite us to on-site interviews and eventually job offers. One of our professors, Dr. Stanley Nash, gave us the following piece of wisdom: “Waiting is part of life.” He did not expand on the point. Like the loving rabbi and professor he is, he left the interpretation up to us. With gratitude for his teaching, I offer this prayer:
Waiting is part of life.
Let us consider what the way we wait says about us.
Waiting is part of life.
Let us use our wait time wisely.
Waiting is part of life.
Let us make certain not to keep our state of waiting from paying attention to everything else.
Waiting is part of life.
Let us ask ourselves what is it that we are waiting for.
Waiting is part of life.
Let us discipline ourselves to wait cautiously.
Waiting is part of life.
May we practice the virtue of waiting peacefully.
Waiting is a part of life.
May we take heart by waiting hopefully.
Waiting is part of life.
May we cherish the value of waiting patiently.
As the Psalm for Elul, the gateway to the High Holy Days tells us:
Strengthen your heart with courage, and have hope in The Eternal.1
As Abraham and Sarah waited for the gift of children.
As Jonah waited in the belly of the whale.
As Elijah waited in a cave.
As Moses and the People waited for Miriam to recover.
As our ancestors in Egypt waited for freedom.
As the inmates of death and concentration camps waited for release.
So, too, may we proffer the prayer of those who came before us:
“We wait the morrow with hope made stronger by the vision of Your dominion, a world where poverty and war are banished, where injustice and hate are gone.
Teach us more and more to respond to share the pain of others, to heed Your call to justice, to pursue the blessing of peace.
Help us, O God, to gain victory over evil, to bring nearer the day when all the world shall be one.”2
May this be our blessing, and let us say: Amen.
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
1 Psalm 27
2 Aleinu, Version IV from Gates of Prayer 1975.
October 30, 2020
October 27, 2020
October 23, 2020
Nameless No More: The Legacy of Naamah on the Eve of an Important Election
I once read a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt containing an adage from her mother that the longest-serving first lady and human rights advocate wisely refused to follow: “A lady’s name should appear in the newspaper three times. When she is born, when she is married, and when she dies.” This week’s Torah portion, Noah, presents us with a similar problem. The Bible itself does not provide the namea of Noah’s wife or the wives of his sons. It is worth noting that we are not the first generation to be concerned about the omission. Rabbinic folklore and commentary from Genesis Rabba (circa 300-500 CE) and Rashi (1040-1105) tells us that the name of Noah’s wife was Naamah
Just as Noah is acknowledged for saving pairs of each animal, a modern midrash by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso credits Naamah with “collecting every seed and bulb so that the plants of the earth will also be saved from the flood.” Rabbi Jill Hammer celebrates Naamah as a woman who “endures while the world is destroyed and rebuilt around her. She preserves life and enters a new world to raise future generations. She holds the tools of life. She is the netzach in netzach, the deepest urge to endure. We are most like Naamah when we endure through the storm, prepared to create the future.”1
As we approach the centenary of women taking part in presidential elections, Rabbi Hammer’s words take on renewed importance. This coming week is a celebration of women who carry on Naamah and Roosevelt’s refusal to remain unnamed, unheard, unseen and unacknowledged. Our lineup of female Jewish scholars includes local and out-of-state talent focusing on the legal, historical and social implications of this pivotal moment for our nation. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 27 and 28, we will hear from this year’s Moosnick scholar-in-residence, Dr. Melissa R. Klapper. Her topic will be “Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women and First-Wave Feminism.” While we wish we could bring her to Lexington to speak, we are fortunate she will be engaging with us via Zoom. (For the link, click here.) At services next Friday, Oct. 30, we will have the privilege of listening to Dr. Karen Petrone, a TAI congregant and history professor at UK. She will share her perspective on women’s suffrage and what the struggle to gain the ballot can teach us today as progressive Jews seeking to meet the challenges posed by the #MeToo movement and the disproportionate socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 on women and minorities. Our study sessions on Saturday, Oct. 31, will feature two more female scholars from our community. UK law professor and former TAI president and Religious School director Jane Grise will lead the 9 a.m. session. She will discuss how our courageous ancestors used lawsuits, protests and other avenues to achieve social change, and what we can learn from them. The 11 a.m. session will be led by Dianne Bazell, Ph.D., a former TAI treasurer, past president of Lexington Hadassah and, like Karen, a member of Shir Adat.
At a time when we are deluged by the destructive power of this pandemic and the divisiveness of political discourse, may the endurance of Naamah and Jewish women who played vital roles in the battle for suffrage inspire us to continue working for the day when no one will be deprived of equal rights and opportunities based on gender or treated like a second-class citizen because of their sex. May we put to good use the tools that Naamah and the suffragettes who followed in her footsteps gave us. Let us honor their legacy by enduring the storms surrounding us and preparing to create a more peaceful and progressive future. May the women of this world who bless our lives in countless ways be nameless no more.
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
1 Ritualwell.org “Omer Calendar of Biblical Women,” Rabbi Jill Hammer.
October 16, 2020
As we start the process of rereading the Torah this week with Bereshit, the first portion of Genesis, we are reminded of how beautiful and baffling beginnings can be. The Talmud endeavors to help us manage our expectations when starting new things. Kol chacholot kashot it tells us: “All beginnings are difficult.”1 We have read and reread the opening chapters of Genesis any number of times. What makes this year’s reading different is that, in our lifetimes, we have never begun a Torah cycle during a pandemic. What does creation and being creative mean during a time of such mass devastation? How do we maintain a difference between light and darkness as the days get shorter, the nights get longer, and the virus refuses to call it quits?
Our scope of creative freedom has been curtailed by COVID-19; not so the creative instinct. The impulse to create is still within us. The new Hebrew year is an invitation to try new things. Why not challenge ourselves to learn something new, to try a creative undertaking we have resisted? We do not have to become experts at it. We call them “creative pursuits” for a reason. It is the pursuit, not the proficiency, that counts. According to the Midrash (rabbinic legend), the opening words of the opening portion are meant to teach us that not even God is happy with the outcome of all creative endeavors. Why does Torah say: When God began creating heaven and earth? In answer to their own question, the sages reply that there were numerous attempts, discarded drafts, underwhelming outtakes of Creation with which God simply was not satisfied.2 Fortunately for us, God didn’t quit — and neither should we.
Frustration, aggravation and disappointment are part of the creative process. We cannot have creation without the creative process. If creation is holy, then the creative process is holy. It doesn’t matter how many pictures we delete, cookie batches we burn or drafts we throw in the recycle bin. What matters is that we honor our Creator by being creative. We bring holiness to this chaotic world when we counter the destructive impulse with the creative one. We have to begin somewhere, so why not here? We have to begin sometime, so why not now? May we find delight in new beginnings, no matter how difficult they might be.
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
1 Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 10b
2 Genesis Rabbah 3:8
October 9, 2020
October 2, 2020
September 25, 2020
September 18, 2020
September 11, 2020
September 4, 2020
for Parshat Ki Tavo
August 28, 2020
August 21, 2020
August 14, 2020
in a Time of Rapid Change
August 7, 2020
of What We Cannot Do
for Parshat Naso
on Shavuot at a Time of Pandemic
May 8, 2020
May 1, 2020
a Summer of Limited Options
For tips from ReformJudaism.org on how to talk to your children about canceled summer plans, click here.
April 24, 2020
Before Israel Independence Day
April 17, 2020
To allow members of our communities to follow along with the livestream of our services, URJ has created:
April 10, 2020
April 3, 2020
March 27, 2020
March 20, 2020
March 13, 2020
March 6, 2020
Thoughts for Hadassah Shabbat
February 28, 2020
to bring me gifts; you shall accept gifts for me from every person
whose heart is so moved.” (Exodus 25:1)
February 21, 2020
As we gather in the comfort of our sanctuary and the warmth of our homes, we are confronted with the painful reality that thousands of internally displaced people in Syria have nearly nothing to cover them from the wind and cold. They have been rendered homeless by a civil war now approaching its ninth year. They will die if they return to their homes, and they will perish if they remain where they are. There is no roof over their heads. Their improvised tents are made from blankets.
Right now, our fellow humans, with little cover between the elements and their skin, are crying out while world leaders leave them exposed to starvation, exhaustion and bitter cold. Perhaps we moderns don’t fear personal retribution from the Divine. Maybe God won’t judge us harshly. But make no mistake: If our leaders refuse to act, history will judge us harshly, and deservedly so. Here at Temple Adath Israel, our Shabbat evening announcements always end with these words. “As we leave, may we take the joy of each other’s company.” Instead of taking the warmth and joy of this place and of our homes for granted, we should share it with others. There are people in our country and around the world who need. No one should be left with nothing to cover them from the cold.
February 14, 2020
(2) Deuteronomy 6:5
February 7, 2020
Voting for World Zionist Congress
January 31, 2019
January 24, 2019
January 17, 2019
Attica Scott and the Women of Exodus
January 10, 2019
We readers have known for a while that Joseph is safely in the palace. But according to a particular midrash (rabbinic folklore), Joseph’s brothers fear that he ended up selling himself on the streets of Egypt. Sex slavery also asserts itself earlier in the biblical narrative, when Judah, one of Joseph’s older brothers, takes responsibility for his widowed daughter-in-law only after she “plays the harlot” for him. Disguising herself as a prostitute was not something Tamar wanted to do; it was the only ploy she could think of to prevent actually becoming one. Clearly, “human trafficking,” though a relatively new term, is anything but a novel concept, as we as a people are well aware, having experienced poverty and persecution from slavery in Egypt, and Nazi concentration/extermination camps.
Turning fellow humans into slaves, including sex slaves, has been with us throughout our history. Forcing anyone into prostitution is cruel and abusive. To target refugees, the undocumented, and those fleeing poverty and violence is even more disturbing. Over and over, Torah teaches us not to oppress strangers, foreigners, widows and orphans because we ourselves were oppressed in Egypt.
Tonight’s Shabbat speaker is here to help us better understand the extent to which human trafficking has become a crisis not only in our community and our country, but throughout the world. More importantly, she is here to tell us what we can do about it. Jacob and his children were far from perfect. So, too, are we. But we don’t have to be perfect to demand an end to human trafficking. Slavery, including sexual slavery, an act of gross inhumanity, can be alleviated only if we have the humanity to combat it. In this year that marks the 400th anniversary of bringing enslaved Africans to this continent, let us confront slavery in all its forms, no matter the victim, no matter the victimizer, no matter the type of force or coercion involved. As we turn from the grand aspirations of Genesis to the brutal suffering of Exodus, the time for The Well’s message is now.
January 3, 2019
A Test of Compassion at a Time of Crisis
December 6, 2019
THE INTEGRITY OF “I DON’T KNOW”:
Jacob’s Admission and the Journey of Humility
December 2019 Bulletin Article
What Hanukkah teaches about making
According to the Talmud, when the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem, they found a cruse of oil thought to contain only enough fluid to burn for one day, but miraculously it lasted for eight. The tale is intriguing on so many levels. What does it teach about sacred space, use of resources and what we leave behind? To some degree the story is reminiscent of how the Prophet Elisha feeds the masses with loaves and fishes that could only serve a few. The lesson seems to be that the question before us is not one of resources but of faith. If God sees that our needs are legitimate and our intentions are good, then what seems insufficient will suffice. The issue is not scarcity of material but our readiness to believe in miracles.
If only it were so. Rather, it seems that people prefer to rely on miracles than to formulate plans. For better or worse, real life is not like the Torah or Talmud. Coaches, instructors, teachers, mentors and friends impart different articulations of the following lesson: The best we can expect at game time, performance time or test time is that what we do then will be as good as our best practice, rehearsal or preparation exercise. Expecting that we will somehow be better, perform better or do better is wishful thinking. There is nothing wrong in wishing or praying for a miracle. What is wrong is to mistake hoping for a miracle with making a plan. Moreover, it is irresponsible to rely on a miracle when people are counting on us to meet our obligations.
The miracle of the cruse of oil teaches us that people are relying on what we leave behind. What story would there be if those who fled the Temple had not secreted away any oil at all? Someone had the composure and foresight to think about what the redeemers of the Temple might need one day. Someone had to have faith that despite the military unlikelihood of it, the Temple would be ours again, and oil would be needed. Faith is not a license to forgo responsibility to the future. Faith requires the commitment to a better future even in the face of present circumstances and demands.
We cannot relegate the responsibility of leaving a sustainable congregation, community, nation or planet to hopes and prayers. Leaving behind insufficient resources and utter messes for future generations is to break faith with those who provided for us and rightfully expected us to do the same for those to come. We cannot justify leaving only enough breathable air and drinkable water to last a few years because we are counting on science and technology to make it last for centuries. “Maybe they will find solutions we cannot even imagine” is not a plan; it’s a cop-out.
The story about the cruse of oil still has the power to inspire. Finding something useful amidst disaster is a theme worth employing to rekindle our efforts when morale is low. But the only practical way to leave enough oil for eight days is to provide enough oil for eight days. Future generations, faced with the challenges of managing congregations, communities and indeed the world itself, will receive little comfort from the knowledge that we fervently prayed for a miracle. What is required of us is to take the difficult measures and make the necessary sacrifices for our descendants to have an existence as good as, if not better than, ours. The Maccabees did not rely on a miracle to save them. Through remarkable efforts they achieved a result we call miraculous.
November 22, 2019
November 15, 2019
of Terrorist Attacks in Louisville and Pittsburgh
November 8, 2019
November 1, 2019
The Great Flood and Our Great Challenge
The offenses compelling God to wipe out the entire earth in this week’s Torah portion, Noach, are rather short on details. The Creator’s blanket indictment that the world is full of “corruption and violence” is lacking in who, what, when, where, and why. God wipes out everyone and everything except Noah’s family and one male and one female of every species, hence the “twosies twosies” lyric in the Sunday School classic “Rise and Shine.” All joking aside this is the ultimate reminder that it’s not our earth, it’s God earth. Or if you prefer a secular articulation of the same assertion; It’s not for any one of us to treat the earth as if it were ours alone or to be inhumane to fellow human beings. This planet belongs to all humankind and all humankind should relate to it and one another accordingly.
We are alarmed at the way God expresses displeasure in this story, yet the narrative seems more and more relatable to our present-day reality. How many times can we have two five hundred-year floods within five years of each other and continue to act as if we should just keep on declaring state of emergencies without doing anything to prevent them? Isn’t “corrupt” a fitting term to describe a society that would
rather appease wealthy polluters than protect vulnerable people? This does not mean that the frequency and intensity of floods are God’s way of punishing us for our sins. What is does mean is that we need to take these things more seriously and act with a greater sense of urgency. To think about and relate to the environment as our responsibility and not someone else’s. That there is a social and moraldimension to how we treat the earth. That there are lessons to be learned from what is happening, particularly when the same things keep happening.
Whether you are a member of TAI or visiting us from another house of worship, please consider attending the “Single Use Plastics Summit for Faith Communities” Tuesday, November 19, 6-7:30 p.m. at Second Presbyterian Church, donating to your favorite environmental charity, and improving your current recycling and composting efforts. The least we can do to cherish the beautiful world God has given us is not to take it or one
another for granted.
October 31, 2019
A year ago tonight religious leaders, elected officials, public safety workers, and neighbors of all faiths filled Nordsworthy auditorium to show their support after the fatal terrorist hate crimes in Louisville and Pittsburgh left us grief stricken. We will never forget this act of kindness and solidarity. Thank you especially to the FCPS main office for providing a space that could accommodate the overwhelming turnout. Our congregation will commemorate the anniversary of the violence on the Hebrew date, but it seems only fitting to thank our neighbors according to the calendar we share with you.
May love and reason yet triumph over fear and hate. May our country become a place where civility and decency are practiced by all of us, no matter our religion, race, class, gender, sexual orientation or nation of origin. May the words we heard and things we witnessed a year ago tonight inspire us to lead lives of goodness everyday of our lives.
To our fellow Lexingtonians we say Todah Rabah. Thank you for the message your presence sent to us a year ago. To watch that auditorium fill up with friends was an act of love we will never forget. As the psalm teaches: “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.” In the Jewish world when we depart from a house of mourning we say “Next time on a simcha, (a happy occasion). May we soon gather together in the hundreds to celebrate the defeat of racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, bigotry, bullying, violence, selfishness, greed and deceit.
As Rev Mark Johnson of Central Baptist teaches: “It’s not OK but it’s going to be OK.”
A day of truth is coming. A day of justice is coming. A day of freedom is coming. A day of love is coming. A day of healing is coming. A day of joy is coming. And although it can’t come soon enough the time is coming soon. May all of us live to dance and sing on that great day. And let us work to make it so.
October 25, 2019
October 11, 2019
October 4, 2019
Just as you have blessed and inspired us with your love
for one another, tonight we share this blessing with you.
May the Source of Love bless you with abounding affection.
May the Source of Strength bless you with patience,
persistence and perseverance.
May the Source of Compassion bless you with kindness
May the Source of Wisdom bless you with discernment, judgment and insight.
May the Source of Courage nurture your resolve to face challenges with hope and optimism.
May the Source of Joy bless you with happiness and
holiness, lots of laughter and long life.
May the Source of Peace bless you, your families, and all who love you with the wholeness and oneness that only peace can provide. And let us say together: Amen.
September 27, 2019
and 2 More Communitywide Opportunities
September 13, 2019
September 6, 2019
This week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, (meaning judges) begins with three interrelated commandments. First the community must appoint judges and magistrates. Second these individuals must be impartial and free from corruption. Thirdly the people must pursue justice if they hope to thrive in the promised land (Deuteronomy 16:18-20). Peace and progress are not unconditional guarantees. They are contingent on a society dedicated to justice. Judges can not maintain justice in a vacuum.
Ironically, it was just yesterday that we rabbis who have had the good fortune to travel to Guatemala with American Jewish World Service received word that any number of judges in that nation are now afraid for their lives. Judges who maintained the rule of law, sent corrupt officials and war criminals to jail, and refused to be intimidated by government threats are now terrified about the potential fall out of anti-corruption laws being overturned and those who violated them released. Human rights advocates lauded these judges as Guatemala’s fire wall against things becoming even worse. That fire wall has now become imperiled by approaching flame. We sometimes forgot how dangerous being a judge can be, especially in dictatorships, failed states and countries coping with extreme poverty and violence. I can’t hear about foreign journalists being imprisoned, kidnapped or killed without thinking about my brother Jacob. Nor can I learn about judges anywhere being threatened without thinking about my brother Benjamin, a Superior Court Judge in California. No righteous judge anywhere in the world should be faced with threats of retaliation for fulfilling their obligations to justice. There can be no just society when judges are coerced or corrupted by injustice.
On this Sabbath named for judges may we be mindful of the role they play, grateful for the integrity it requires, and watchful so that no nation can intimidate its judges with impunity.
August 30, 2019
August 23, 2019
August 16, 2019
July 19, 2019
July 12, 2019
We cannot continue to hold them captive, certainly not under the conditions that have been verified by multiple agencies.
and will not free all captives under any and all circumstances. The voice of idealism maintains that if we cannot even wish or pray for the freedom of children in captivity, if we do not acknowledge to God and to one another that the current situation is unacceptable, then how can we even begin the work of demanding their release? On this day after Independence Day, a day celebrating our freedom from being governed in a way our founding fathers deemed unjust, let us demand immediate changes to conditions in detention centers that we know to be unjust. If we cannot safely and speedily set these children free, we must at the very least
implement radical reform of the places in which they are being held captive. Baruch Atah Adonai matir asurim. Blessed are You, O God, who frees the captive.
June 28, 2019
Just as the River Jordan parted for Joshua and the people on their way to the Promised Land,* would that the waters of the Rio Grande have parted this week for Oscar Ramirez and his young daughter, Valeria, fleeing poverty in Central America.
May the drowning of Oscar and Valeria Ramirez move us to action as well as tears. May their deaths help us to see that no democracy can continue to drive imperiled people to such desperate acts. Let’s go down to the river to pray and to repent. Because teshuvah (repentance) is called for now. Repentance for enabling circumstances contributing to such fatal outcomes. From now until the crisis stops, let us approach all rivers in the spirit of repentance.
June 21, 2019
June 14, 2019
June 7, 2019
May 31, 2019
May 24, 2019
May 17, 2019
May 10, 2019
May 3, 2019
April 26, 2019
April 12, 2019
Congratulations and Concerns
April 5, 2019
“I Am Not a Leper!”
Rescuing Humanity from Humiliating Afflictions