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High Holiday D'var Torah in time for the election!

Here is one from the beginning of school for my Jewish Traditions class, but as it is election appropriate I will share! 

As the days of awe or Jewish high holidays approach I am struck by the idea of communal responsibility. As jews we are accustomed to the idea that we each have the power to change our own fate by partaking in mitzvot, or good deeds. During the high holidays we are judged for the good deeds that we have done, and repent for the times when we have sinned. We undergo personal teshuvah or return by asking for forgiveness in our lives, we apologize to our loved ones, and we reflect on ways we have transgressed promising to renew our committment to torah and righteousness. We are given the opporunity to pray for mercy and inscription in the book of life. But what would it look like if the high holidays were about communal forgiveness and responsibility?

In reading Eliyahu Kitov's "The Book of Our Heritage" he speaks not only of the individual but additionally of the communal. He writes, "Each person has merits and transgressions. If one's merits exceed his transgressions-- he is a tzadik; if one's transgressions exceed his merits -- he is rasha; if both are equal-- he is beinoni. The same applies to each country. If the collective merits of its inhabitants exceed trangressions, it is deemed a just country.  If their transgressions exceed their merits, it is deemed iniquitous. And the same applies to the entire world. .... if a countries transgressions exceed its merits, it is subject to immediate destruction. This judgement is not quantitative one however, but a qualitative one."

But how do we measure a countries transgressions? How do we know if our merits exceed our transgressions? In the United States where we have varying opinions on how we inact freedom and whose opinion is right it certainly seems like a hard task to judge. Do we measure by what laws seem just, what attitudes seem appropriate, or what acts of kindness outway our policies? If our whole country felt that each decision they made would be judged in terms of merit or destruction would they we be able to work together for the sake of the countries survival?

As I watched the democratic convention this past week I related to Past President Bill Clintons speech when he cited the mere fact that the discussions revolving around the upcoming election has changed from statements about the issues our country is facing to statements about individuals themselves. Bill said, he was not raised to hate replublicans whereas implying that todays generations are taught that their opinions vary so much from the oppossing party that they don't even attempt to see the goodness in the others opinion and therefore we have become a divisive country rather than one which works together.

Bill says, " Though I often disagree with Republicans, I never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate President Obama and the Democrats. After all, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to my home state to integrate Little Rock Central High and built the interstate highway system. And as governor, I worked with President Reagan on welfare reform and with President George H.W. Bush on national education goals. I am grateful to President George W. Bush for PEPFAR, which is saving the lives of millions of people in poor countries and to both Presidents Bush for the work we've done together after the South Asia tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake.
When times are tough, constant conflict may be good politics but in the real world, cooperation works better. After all, nobody's right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day. All of us are destined to live our lives between those two extremes. Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn't see it that way. They think government is the enemy, and compromise is weakness. "

How are we suppossed to live in a divided country like this? When we view eachother as the 'other' and not see ourselves as sharing responsibility for our countries merits how will we face gods judgement together? It seems that politics in our country has turned into the blame game more than ever before because we find ourselves in a depressed situation where we have dig ourselves out and each party thinks that they have the answers and if elected they will enact them. What we don't realize is that we have so much work to do just to speak the same language again. Each party talks about hope, and change and the capacity to build greatness while each party maintains that  they will not give in to the opposing side. Regardless of who is elected we must committ to working together to shared goals of kindness and the qualitative goals not the quantitative numbers for either side to achieve. In order to be a country that is worthy of other nations respect we must take communal responsibility for the transgressions we have communally committed.

As Kitov shows each person plays a role in this communal judgement. He says, " Each person should therefore see himself-- during the entire year-- as if he were half meitorious and half guilty. Likewise (should he see) the entire world as half meritorious and half guilty. If he commits one sin-- he tips the scale of guilt for himself and the entire world and causes its destruction, as well as his own. If he commits one mitzvah, he tips the scale of merit for himself and for the entire world and causes its salvation as well as his own.' Kitov sites Rambam with this idea.

This is not the first time in Jewish history where destruction for sin was at stake. In the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah Abraham pleads with god to save the cities if he is able to find righteous men, when he is not able to find enough rightous men the cities are in fact destroyed. I fear that our country too may get to the point where we are no longer able to outway our merits with our transgressions. Everyday that we continue to produce hate for one another is another day when we are not moving forward towards mitzvot.

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Vayak'heil (Exodus 35:1-38:20) -- The Spiritual Challenge


In Our Lives:

Where do we feel spiritual? Do we need rituals to feel spiritual? How do we physically or emotionally get to a place where our souls feel thoroughly nourished? Spirituality is individual and yet many may feel the ability to reach an inner peace when doing similar rituals or upon seeing similar sights. Unlike other religions Judaism doesn't have a specified place in which people travel towards on a journey, like the hajj towards Mecca for the Muslim faith. Nor does Judaism have a desirable mental state of achievement like complete "nirvana" for the Buddhist. There is no pilgrimage, or living person, that Jews feel hold their key to spirituality. Yet rituals exist that many Jews partake in and may feel helps them towards a collective feeling of holiness.


Our current world is constantly tuned in to our "gadgets"; computers, phones, and e-readers consume our days at work, home, or school. I find more people I know seem to be walking around in a daze or utterly dependent on their iPhone/iPad/ Blackberry for the latest media update. It becomes easy to forget what it is like to connect in person anymore, and even when we are in person the “gadget” has begun to take precedence! Spiritual connection either with ourselves or with others seems to be quickly becoming a thing of the past. Does anyone take the time anymore to sit and reflect? There is not necessarily a link between religion and spirituality, one does not need to be religious to be spiritual; you can have an innate sense of connectivity without participating in any religion. But, how do we expect to solve our own challenges anymore or find a way to see the bigger picture of our own lives if we are buried in updates of Jennifer Aniston’s new hairdo?


Reflecting:

How do you highlight your values, and find meaning in your life? You may feel most in touch with your own and others spirits during meditation, or in a shared contemplative space, or even by engaging a friend or family member in deep conversation. It is all about reminding ourselves what is important to our well being so that we can prioritize what to make time for. Finding ways to be spiritual may help us figure out how to eliminate our stress, be present with nature, people, or our own thoughts. By allowing ourselves to be fully present we continue to strive towards our best selves. Try focusing on one thing fully, unitasking instead of multitasking. Reach out to those who may need to hear from you. Take comfort in the spaces around you. And allow the power of making time to change your outlook by allowing yourself the art of reflection. In other words: unplug and relax! You may find you learn more about the ways you do enjoy to spend your time then by losing all your time to updates which aren’t pertinent to your life and values. This week is national 'unplug' Shabbat. Join the challenge and take advantage of life before the cell phone. I unplug every week and find myself craving Shabbat every other day of the week. We live in a world where we are constantly accessible to work, school, and there is an expectation of an instant response. Imagine what making time for family and friends again would look like and how much your connections with others would strengthen.


From the Source:

Abraham Heshel, a famous Jewish philosopher argues in his famous book The Sabbath that Shabbat is a “sanctuary in time”. Meaning there is no specific physical place but rather for Jews the weekly gift of time allows us to find ourselves in a greater connected world, or Olam H’aba, the world to come. This past week the Torah portion Vayak'heil continues to talks about the creation of the mishkan/ or tabernacle. The tabernacle was a sanctuary which Jews built and prayed in after the exodus from Egypt. The past week’s piece of Torah talks about the elaborate process of engaging varying people’s skills, and finding extravagant fabrics to ordain their space with. Jewish law uses last week’s Torah portion to teach how to keep Shabbat by abstaining from the exact 39 activities that were done in the creation of the tabernacle. This is how we know the difference between work and rest, since work was used to build; our abstaining on Shabbat is equivocal with rest. While the tabernacle was constructed as a particularly holy place and adorned as such it now only remains in Jewish history. For Jews Shabbat is the holiest of spaces, or time. In this portion we not only see what a physical space should look like according to Jewish law but more importantly we are reminded of the covenant between G-d and the Jews to keep the Sabbath holy. Our time is precious and even if only for one day a week it should reflect our spiritual values so that we can feel fully present and whole. Think of how much more we could accomplish all week if we take the time to feel spiritually nourished!


Join me in The Challenge: http://www.sabbathmanifesto.org/unplug


A great book about Shabbat in today's technological challenges: The Sabbath World by: Judith Shulevitz http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/books/review/Goldstein-t.html

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