Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Introducing You to Introduction to Judaism

We are taught that the person who studies the Torah one hundred times is great, but the person who studies it one hundred and one times gains tremendously more than the first person. What's the meaning of this lesson? I don't think it is saying literally that at 101 times through Torah you become some sort of master scholar in a way the person a page behind you can't fathom. No, I think what it is really saying is that even if you know a lot already (and this applies about everything) continuing to study something important, something you love, that there is no end to the rewards found in that. I mention all this because on Wednesday, November 7th, at 6:30pm, I will begin teaching again at Beth Meier the East Valley satellite division of the American Jewish University's Miller Introduction to Judaism program. While this is a class that one can take for purposes of conversion, that's not the only reason you should take it. The Miller program is a great resource for any person who wants to really learn about Judaism on an adult, meaningful, level. If your Hebrew school years weren't the best, if you grew up learning about Judaism one way, but need new insights into it for your life today, if you would just like to spend another couple hours with me every week because who wouldn't want that - then sign up for this class. To enroll, contact the Miller program office at 310--440-1273 or visit their website at Hope I'll see you next Wednesday! Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Benson

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Come on Over! - Lech Lecha 2012

The focus on the story of Abraham begins with this week's Torah Portion, Lech Lecha. We learn about Abraham, the first Jew, that he was a master of hospitality it was what he did best. This is touted as being a big deal, but is it really? Let's think about it for a moment. Judaism is all about building relationships. Religions in general are about this, the word "religion" is itself related to the word "ligament" and so connection are part of the definition of what religion does. In Judaism we understand that we are most fulfilling God's wishes for us when we are able to offer concern and care to others in our actions, and be able to do so in a way that is not tainted by any egotism or any other unhealthy motivations, but to do it with a whole heart, in a way that enriches us as much as it helps the other. Hospitality, then, at its best, is a mitzvah that is all about this. What else are you doing but taking on the needs of some other person when you show them hospitality? That Abraham was so good at this should only stand to reason. It was a reflection of who he was in all his relationships, with other people as well as with God. We would do well to learn from Abraham's example, whether or not we have guests over! Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Benson

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Noah the Balanced

Noah, about whom we read in this week's Torah Portion, is famously described as being "righteous in his generation". The Rabbis wonder whether we are meant to understand this to mean that in the morally corrupt generation in which Noah lived he was good, but he would not have been considered much if he had lived in a different time. Or, the Rabbis also consider, is this meant in a more general sense, that yes, Noah, was a good man and would have been good no matter when or where he lived. There is no way to know for sure, but that's okay. Wrestling with both answers teaches us something we wouldn't learn from just one. It can be very easy to think that you're great if you are surrounded (or surround yourself with) people who are not as good as you are at some skill. When I was in high school, I was probably the number one biggest fan of Gilbert and Sullivan at Oswego High School. But did that really make me an aficionado, or simply someone who knew just a bit more about a crazy topic than my classmates? This probably doesn't matter a lot when we are talking about light opera, but in real life it can make a difference. It can lead us to be lazy and uninspired, or worse, to be tyrannical and abusive, if we find ourselves in such a position. The beauty, then, of these two teachings about Noah, is that together they teach us to both cultivate and proud of the skills and talents we have and in which we seem to excel, but also we are taught to be thoughtful and even humble about them at the same time. Maybe this was the case for Noah. Maybe he both aspired to be a truly good man, but was limited by his surroundings in how righteous he could become. If so, this recipe for a balanced approach is a good one - for Noah it allowed him to save the world. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Benson

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dust of the Ground

In the story of Creation, which we read this week as we turn back to the beginning of Genesis, the Torah tells us that Adam was formed "from the dust of the ground." The Rabbis suggest that some of this dust came from all the corners of the earth, and that some of it was even from the future site of the Temple in Jerusalem. The lesson of the dust is clear. Each of us is in part, according to this lesson, partially the House of the Lord (as the Temple was). Each of us should also be intimately connected to the world around us. Our religious lives have at their very core a link to the physical world. Work to make yourself an embodiment of God's will in the world just as you are, through His will, an embodiment of God's world. Rabbi Benson

Thursday, October 4, 2012

In the Shade of the Sukkah of Peace

In our regular prayers in the evenings, we make reference to God protecting us in his "sukkah of peace", a metaphorical term that draws upon the imagery of Sukkot, this week's holiday. Though unlike the sukkot built by humans, flimsy and temporary constructions (though the one the Men's Club put up is pretty good!)God's sukkah is meant to provide peace and wholeness to us. I have been thinking a great deal lately about the purpose of the synagogue. And one thing I feel that must be a part of what a synagogue does has to be helping to make improvements in the local community. I have spoken a few times now about this and want to mention it again. At Beth Meier, we do collect food for SOVA, the food pantry,and we are pretty good about that. We filled five barrels during the holidays and our regular barrel is filled a couple times of month. But I would like us to do more. I would like people in Studio City and the surrounding areas to know Beth Meier for having contributed something positive and meaningful to the community. And I would like the members of Beth Meier to feel good and proud about what their synagogue does. And most importantly, I want us to help spread the shade of God's sukkah of peace, by being God's agents and helping some number of those in need. An example of what I mean comes from another Conservative synagogue in Maryland. There they helped to build a playground in an underprivileged neighborhood and did it all in one day! I'm not saying we need to exactly that, but wouldn't it be nice to be able to know that because of our synagogue, something of that sort could happen for people? If you have ideas, and would like to really roll up your sleeves and be involved, please let me know. I wish you all a Chag Sameach, a Happy Sukkot, Rabbi Benson