Monday, March 30, 2009


Since the Seder is very much child-centered-we do many things to arouse the child's curiosity and keep her awake- the asking of the four questions assigned to the youngest member of the gathering is a much anticipated moment. Children wish to please their parents and grandparents while the latter look forward to a few moments of "Naches"-of joy and pride in the accomplishments of their young.(Not to mention the feeling of satisfaction derived from "getting one's money's worth" after investing a good deal financially in either parochial education or special congregational schooling which is also not inexpensive and somewhat of a hardship for many)
The opening word-MAH- is a pivotal word.It can have three meanings: HOW-WHAT, WHY.
The youngster stimulates discussion and narrative-the Haggadah-the telling, regarding the redemption and liberation of the Jewish people by asking HOW-WHAT, in what ways, is the night of Passover different from all other mights of the year. Moreover, she asks WHY , what is the spiritual, historical and philosophical rationale for these differences? To know the how without the why falls short of a full appreciation of the depth of the Passover experience.
I would add a third meaning to the word MAH-it is not only an initiator of a question as much as the springboard for one's sense of amazement and wonder in the face of the miraculous dimensions of Passover. One can paraphrase the opening words in this way:

"MAH -How different is tonight compared with all other nights!"

To evoke and generate a sense of the extraordinary, the marvelous, the feeling of sanctity embedded in Passover-that I believe is the great challenge of the Seder night.
By doing this we remind ourselves and teach our children of the importance of being grateful for the gifts of this celebration-freedom, redemption, rescue,renewal,family, abundance,just to highlight the major blessings. Indeed I believe the operative word of the Seder is contained in the refrain of the popular song-DAYENU, it is enough. More will be discussed about this in later postings.
Enjoy the voices of your young ones asking questions; and if there are no young ones at your table, summon forth the youthfulness and innocence of your own souls to marvel anew at the many miracles and blessings of Pesach.

Friday, March 27, 2009


The long cold winter is over, at least for those of us in the New York metropolitan area.
As warmth wafted in the air, I could not help but take notice of so many almost imperceptible changes...

My movements were slower
my head no longer lower
against wind and snow
temperatures dropping below

any point of endurance,
day after day
there was no assurance,
gloves would finally be put away

all around me I saw,
peoples faces grow soft
no longer wrinkled and raw
with eyes raised aloft

to catch the sun's rays,
shining their blessing,
a good reason to praise
our bodies caressing

I noticed with ease,
old folks ambling on,
landscapers on knees,
sowing seed on each lawn

Laughter and fun
floated over the shrubs,
school classes were done
kids carousing eating subs

feeling heightened relief,
like after a storm,
joy following grief,
that's simply life's norm

I couldn't help but consider
Nature's remarkable mystery
yesterday sunless and bitter
today a new reality

I cannot explain,
Either pleasure or pain

all I can do,
is simply say-I THANK YOU.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Not all Talmudic citations from the tractate Pesachim deal directly or exclusively with Passover-their implications can be far-reaching like the one I encountered in my studies today.
When discussing the requirement to search for the leaven in order to burn it-remove it-the notion of light emerges at the center of the Talmud's deliberations.

"A man should always enter (a town) by day ie. in a circumstance of light, 'and it was good' and set out(of town) by day ie.when it is light,when surrounded by the condition of 'and it was good.' (Pesachim 2a-2b)

If read literally, one could understand the phrase this way : One should enter in a state of -and it was good- and one should leave in a state of -and it was good!
In other words, I believe that the Talmud conveys a profound meaning of how to relate not only to Passover but to all of life as well.
Our lives are made up of comings and goings; they may be physical-going from one location to another, whether to work, school, shopping, the doctor's office, to a movie, to a wedding or a funeral.
Movement also takes place in terms of life's many changes and cycles-these too can be characterized as comings and goings. Our internal lives-our ways of thinking and feeling, our moods and dispositions, our frames of mind and heart are never static-in a constant dynamic flow, they are always in motion, coming and going.
The Talmud bids us to refer to the Biblical statement of Genesis-'and it was good'-as spiritual guidance for our lives. As we journey to the Seder table and beyond, if only we could incorporate the attitude of -and it is good-in all our movements and experiences, every step of our way through life, how grateful and liberating this could be.
Perhaps,in sharing this suggestion the Rabbis hint at the very nature of the meaning of freedom. Wherever we go-in our comings and goings-we can choose to travel not only light but gratefully and hopefully, viewing the landscape around us through the lens of -"And it is good."
When searching to remove the leaven from our hearts, let use make use of the light therein and shine away the darkness.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Prior to Passover we plunge into an orgy of food shopping, anxiously acquiring whatever we can to guarantee our satiety in spite of the many restrictions on food possession and intake. It is like leaping into the Sea Of Reeds,hoping not to be submerged in excess and to pass through without drowning in surpluses of food or worry.
I just returned with my wife from an excursion to a place of abundance that defies description. As we filled our shopping cart with one kind of food and another, in quantities far surpassing actual need, I was amazed at the optimism that takes hold of so many shoppers. Buying huge quantities suggests not only the economic hard times and the reduced cost of food if purchased in bulk, but it points to an underlying belief that the future is secure and we will still be around to enjoy all that food.
I wondered to myself how an African woman in Darfur would experience a day in a place like Cosco? Would she be able to imagine or wrap her mind around this reality or would it represent a delusion, a fantasy, that like a bubble, bursts upon awakening?
While grateful for the abundance and thankful that I would have the needed Passover provisions, I couldn't shake the thought of how so much could be shared with so many who have so little. If each individual shopping cart were reduced in quantity by one-fifth, a fifth that could be funneled to the hungry-here or elsewhere-how different our world would be! Did each shopper need bulging bags of meats, cheeses and cereals to satisfy their nutritional needs? If each bag were a drop smaller, leaner, would we not witness the lean bodies of starving children growing in size and health
in places of desperate need and want?
Is this not the desired result of sincere gratefulness, to generate compassion and to want to share?
In two and a half weeks we will be sitting down at our Seder tables to enjoy the gifts acquired today-before we begin, out of a sense of grateful thankfulness we recite: "Kol dichfin,"-Let all who are hungry join us at the table of plenty -as long as one belly hungrily growls somewhere in the world, our story of human liberation is incomplete and can not be concluded with any certainty of a happy ending.
Be grateful so that you can act compassionately.
Happy Pre-Passover

Thursday, March 19, 2009


For seven days, I sat in silence together with 35 other meditators and three marvelous teachers. Except for "daavening"-chanting prayer services, asking questions of clarification concerning the meditative practice and meeting privately with the teachers, we were expected to maintain silence when we ate, returned to our rooms, walked and sat. Needless to say, this is quite a daunting task for a rabbi, even one who is retired!
The rationale for the silence was to eliminate distractions and enhance and sharpen a sense of mindful awareness that allowed for the cultivation of a calm mind and an open heart.
I confess that I enjoy silence, and solitude. What was particularly amazing was that in fact I was never alone. I was constantly surrounded by community, and in spite of silence, our shared experience of meditating was a powerful means of communication and support.
Paying attention to the breath, becoming aware of the thinking that occupies our mind
relentlessly and randomly , are spiritual activities that deepen our consciousness and allow for the emergence of insight and heightened attentiveness to life in general.
Why did all of us subject ourselves to this exercise? Each one of us participated for individual reasons of many kinds. What unified all of us- young college students,women in middle age, retired professionals -was the desire to return to a space in our lives -our unencumbered souls that we are granted each morning, as reflected in the morning prayer that declares: " My God, the soul that You gave me is pure..." We all possess this unencumbered umbilical spot of grace where we were first touched by God.
I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to return to that spot , and wish to thank my teachers-Sylvia Boorstein, Rabbi Jeff Roth and Joanne Katz. Special acknowledgment is extended to the Isabella Friedman Jewish Retreat Center at Falls River Connecticut:a real Garden of Eden.
Shabbat Shalom


I got lost going to a rabbinic meeting this morning. I ended up in the right town but the wrong synagogue. This doesn't surprise those who know me- I am a bit absent- minded and forgetful these days. I asked the rabbi about the meeting of which he had no knowledge and in the course of the conversation indicated that the rabbi emeritus was in the sanctuary and perhaps he knew the right location of the meeting. At that moment the secretary stepped into the rabbi's office with the necessary information.
I made a point of stopping by the sanctuary to greet the colleague who had been seriously ill and is since retired.
We were pleased to see each other after a prolonged period of time and caught up with one another's whereabouts. It was a delightful exchange. He seemed happy and well; I was grateful.
I finally found the right synagogue and joined the meeting already in progress.
What could have been a source of irritation and annoyance became instead a positive and blessed occurrence.I met a new rabbi, I became reacquainted with a colleague and I experienced the kindness of strangers who helped me find my way.
Of course not all incidents of getting lost are necessarily pleasant-yet, the way we approach them can be influenced by the attitude that we are never sure where we are going and should try to cultivate an approach of being grateful for wherever we are.
A wonderful story is told of a pious rabbi who daily attended morning services in a small town. Each day, at the same hour, he passed by the plaza on the way to the synagogue, and greeted the chief of police who knew where the rabbi was going. One morning, on his way, the chief of police asked him: "Where to, Rabbi?"The rabbi replied: "I don't know!"
Incensed at what he thought was ridicule , the police chief hauled the rabbi to jail. As the door to the jail was about to close, the rabbi turned and said:" You see, I didn't know !"
What a profound truth! Wherever we set out to go, we are never sure about our planned arrivals. What applies to our daily lives is very much true about life in general.
If we do get lost, perhaps an attitude of being grateful will confer on us the ability to experience that occasion as a blessed and meaningful one.After all,perhaps our detours are indeed our destinations.

Shabbat Shalom

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Shabbat didn't feel very "shabbesdik" this morning. The meditation session preceding the regular service offered me the opportunity to focus my mind on the shabbes in my soul;that was not to be-I felt nauseous ,and on top of the physical discomfort I was gripped by a feeling of emptiness and anger; even the opening prayer-my favorite-"Modeh ani lefanecha"-I thank You for the new day-somehow lost its power to elicit any gratitude from my heart. Frustration grew; isolated emotionally ,almost feeling claustrophobic, I left the service and took a stroll, considering not returning until after the service was over.It was a balmy spring-like day; I felt the need to be outdoors. In my concern that my absence would cause my wife worry, I returned to the service and took my seat alongside Rose. I sat quietly, eyes closed, unable to participate with my customary enthusiasm ,especially the singing that I enjoy so much.
As the service unfolded, Rabbi David paused in order to add a comment of spiritual import. He talked about the meaning of Yud Hay Vav Hay, the ineffable name of God,urging the congregation to try and share one understanding about this divine name, namely the Source of love leading to Oneness.I suddenly heard my name with the assurance that the love embedded in God's name was being directed to me and to the congregation.
The painful and dark stoniness in my heart was softened and a space for light slowly opened. A few minutes later, the most adorable child was brought into the shul carried lovingly by her aunt, Ariel, Rabbi David's wife. I turned to catch a glimpse of her and my heart melted further. The cherubic face of a child and the angelic concern of Rabbi David cleansed my heart of its blockage and constriction, and allowed me to receive the joy and serenity of Shabbes back into my heart.
Rather than the beginning of the service, the "Modeh Ani lefanecha" prayer succeeded in touching my sense of gratefulness at the conclusion of the prayers. As I recited the prayer for a second time, not only did I direct my attention to God; Rabbi David too was the focal point of my thanks and gratitude.
Thank you, mori v'rabi-my teacher and my master.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


The story of Purim contained in the scroll-megillah-of Esther is considered by scholars as not entirely historical; as a matter of fact, most serious students of the Bible understand this work as an expression of the Jewish people's perception of its precariousness in exile and the relief provided by the miraculous turn of events that conferred defeat upon Israel's enemies and victory for the Jewish people. The story is entertaining, melodramatic, suspenseful and illuminating ,all at the same time.
Perhaps its lesson can be extracted from the theme of unpredictability and reversal as a natural part of life's unfolding.
If we examine each character in the story-Haman the villain, Mordechai and Esther,the hero and heroine respectively, the larger background cast of players-the Jews of Persia, we discover how the end of the story marks a total reversal of each one's status from the story's beginning.At the outset, Haman is elevated in rank. At the conclusion he is ironically elevated as he swings from the gallows fifty cubits high; Mordechai and Esther are anonymous Jews in exile; by the end of the Megillah they are celebrities; the Jewish people finds itself as victim in the throes of imminent catastrophe as the narrative unravels; they are victors and celebrants at the story's close.
Is life not like this? Witness today's economic realities; only a short while ago, affluence was certain and growing; homes skyrocketed in value, the stock market's gains only burgeoned in size and third world economies were exploding with prosperity.
Today, the world economy is in the doldrums; amidst confusion, anger and fear, we find ourselves victims of phenomena over which we had no control and of which few had any understanding .
The story of Purim and today's world coincide to inform us painfully and dramatically that life is indeed invariably a process of ups and downs, reversals and changes.
Perhaps if we were to consider Purim's message more carefully , we would be more inclined to prepare and protect ourselves against upheavals that occur as a natural component of the workings of the natural world.
Awareness of this unpredictability could cushion us emotionally and spiritually so that at the end of the day we could have the strength and the hope to recognize that the gifts of "Light, joy, gladness and honor" is a God-given gift in all the circumstance of our existence.
Purim thus reminds us to be thankful for this understanding and awareness.
Happy Purim

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Today is the seventh day of ADAR, one week before Purim.The date is not recognizable to most as a date of any particular significance. The Talmud however informs us that this was the date on which the "lots" fell as designated for the destruction of the Jews of Persia." When the the lot fell on the month of Adar,he(Haman) rejoiced greatly saying,The lot has fallen for me on the month in which Moses died. He did not know, however, that while Moses died on the seventh of Adar, he was born on the sixth of Adar."
It is further reported in the Talmud that: "The Holy One Blessed be He does not smite Israel unless he has created for them a healing beforehand."

Afflictions befall all of us. No one can escape hardship, pain and suffering.It is an integral part of human life. Each one of us carries her own "peckle," his own bundle.
But, within the grand scheme of things as understood by the Talmud the capacity to heal is embedded in the reality of life as well. Moreover, it was created first out of God's sense of concern and compassion. We can't always prevent bad things from happening; nor, it appears ,can God wish it so, for whatever reason.Nevertheless, the capacity to heal has greater and more enduring significance than the reality of life's setbacks and suffering.
To heal means more than taking a pill. Needless to say, I would never belittle the miracle of modern medicine with its array of medications that bring healing to so many.
The healing I have in mind is the healing of the mind, the heart and the human spirit.
If we would consider for a moment the extraordinary capacity of the human spirit to transform hurt into healing, pain into progress, grief into goodness, then I believe we are left with the unmistakable conclusion that the gift of healing is indeed a miracle.
As we approach Purim, another powerful reason for gratefulness emerges, one that deepens the already profound meaning of Purim as a holiday of miracles.