Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Smoking Mountain? Thunder and Lighnting? Big Deal

This is a big Shabbat this weekend - the reading of the Ten Commandments in Parshat Yitro. Like the 10 Plagues in Egypt and the Parting of the Red Sea, this is one of the big demonstrations of the Jews encountering the supernatural in a up-close and personal way. But as with the Star Wars prequels, special effects alone can't make a movie and also can't make a religious faith. In fact in both, what you need is a compelling story. As far as Star Wars goes, J J Abrams now gets to figure out a good story for them. For us as Jews, the compelling story is what the 10 Commandments and the other 603 commandments teach us about how to live our lives, how to show care and concern for others, and how to sanctify our time and our relationship with the Divine. So don't get caught up with the thunder and lightning - because the really good stuff comes after that. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Benson

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Elections in Israel - Miracles in Our Days

Earlier this week, this week in which we'll be reading about the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, we witnessed a miracle take place in Israel. What miracle happened? How did you miss out on the news? You probably heard about it, you probably just didn't hear it reported right. The miracle was that Israel held elections. Now, on the one hand, it is a miracle that this did take place given the rather complicated, at least from an American perspective, the Israeli electoral process is, but that's not the only way. We are only too ready to forget but the simple fact that anything involving Jews happen in Israel is a miracle. Let alone that Jews should have a state that is free and democratic and in which Israelis from the most secular to the most religious (although more on that) can vote, that is truly a miracle. And for us, Jews in the Diaspora, there is another level of the miraculous in this election more specifically. The possibility that religious freedom and tolerance may be broadened and strengthened in the days ahead, and that all Jews in Israel may soon be required to do some sort of service to safeguard the miracle of Israel's existence, these are truly things for which we should be thankful and about which we should have hope. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Benson

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hardening Hearts and Daily Reminders

Ever seen a movie or read a book where things seem to turn out unfairly? There is a lingering sense of something like this as we read this section of the Torah and particularly Parshat Bo this week when we keep hearing about how Pharaoh's heart is hardened, and eventually even by God! As bad as Pharaoh is, that always seems a little unfair. But think about it a little more. We all probably have this same problem, although I hope to a lesser degree. How often do we let the little bad habit or the little sense of uncaring or disregard become our regular mode of operating in certain situations? Certainly it is what concerns the parent who wants his or her kids to always say "please" and "thank you". The concern being that if kids don't develop the habit they will not only never say those things, but may also end up with a stunted sense of gratitude and respect for others. When that happens, when the trait can no longer easily or ever be corrected, then it is essentially as if God has done it, because it has become a fixed part of the individual who is, after all, God's creation. So how do we avoid this dilemma? How can we keep from letting the little things we do that are inconsiderate not grow into bigger problems? The answer comes at the end of this parshah. Without a lot of explanation, other than it should remind us of the story of the Exodus, we are commanded about wearing tefillin. But tefillin - almost like the regular saying of "please" and "thank you" come to think of it - are precisely the daily sort of good trait that is needed to help combat the little bad traits. For we do not need the Red Sea to part every day in order to remember God's desires for us; we don't live lives of that kind of monumental stuff every day! We need something little that will stick with us - and tefillin are precisely the right tool. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Benson