Wednesday, April 29, 2009


"We thank You, for the miraculous deliverance,for the heroism and for the triumphs in the battles of our ancestors in those days at this season."

These words were recited in Conservative congregations on this day of Israel's 61st birthday. I imagine that most of us are familiar with these words because of their association to Hannukah and Purim;indeed, the Orthodox do not recite these words today; Somehow, al hanisim-the miracles were performed only in the distant past,and these sacred words are not to be uttered for miracles of contemporary significance.
As is the case of all prayer we are bidden to recapture ,recognize and rediscover the miraculous in our personal and collective lives.Similarly, for us to fully grasp the wonder of Israeli independence, we must look backward in time-'Bayamim ha-haym-in those days-so as to renew our sense of gratefulness and wonder at the uniqueness of that historical event.
Beyond our current cynicism and for many others, indifference, the al hanisim prayer summons us to once again enter into an experience of re-enactment, of re-living, re-membering, the original moment of Jewish national resurrection by reciting words of memory and renewal.
"In the days that Your children were returning to their borders...the gates to the land of our ancestors were closed before those who were fleeing from the sword. When enemies from within the land together with seven neighboring nations sought to annihilate Your people, You, in Your great mercy, stood by them in time of trouble...You gave them courage to meet their foes, to open the gates to those seeking refuge and to free the land of its armed invaders... For all these blessings we shall ever praise You."
The past beckons us to rediscover the reason for the anniversary celebration of Israel.
So mired are we in the intractable, and dangerous deadlock that stands in the way of peace, that our hearts are closed to the marvel of Jewish renewal on the land of Israel, a renewal of autonomy in all aspects of human life, a renewal of pride in achievements that encompass every field of human endeavor-from the arts to the sciences and the world of commerce, a renewal of the Jewish spirit and ethos as an eternal people. Can we forget for a moment that the gates of Israel are open to every single Jew no matter the circumstances or status of that individual? How can we not be proud knowing that millions our our brothers and sisters have been rescued because of Israel? Moreover, Israel has been a haven for refugees of other nationalities, whose only criterion for entry into the land was the human need for protection and refuge.

Sixty one years is quite a short span of time in the life of a nation; it is still middle age for individuals living in our modern age when life expectancy has soared!
Yet, so much has been done -so much has been built, restored, strengthened and revitalized as a result of the heroism of our people and the goodness of the Source of life.
How can we not be grateful? How can we not praise and rejoice, singing songs of hopeful renewal and further growth toward that eventual messianic moment of peace and well-being for all?
Go back to 1948-bayamim ha-haym-and remember- in that memory Israel lives-AM YISRAEL CHAI!

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Sitting by the elevator, a blue paper gown covering my body, I waited for the procedure to begin. I closed my eyes, and began to meditate, focusing as I normally do, on what I can be grateful for at that particular time. As I mindfully toured my body, I recognized that I was pain-free; I was thankful for that blessing! Questions arose in my mind concerning the possibility of the discovery of some ailment :what is the doctor going to find as he scans the large intestine with a marvel of modern medical technology? Polyps? If so, will they be benign or , heaven forbid, malignant? Diverticulitis? a scary name that evokes much concern! Perhaps after all, nothing at all? I mindfully paid attention to the gift available to me and others living today of this technology that can bring so much preventive benefit to so many."Modeh ani lefanehcha" I heard myself recite in my mind. I entered into a space of gratitude, realizing that whatever the outcome of these tests, I, living today and not twenty years ago, have an extraordinary advantage and gift, one that can only better my health and my life.

The procedure was quick and painless. Under a mild anesthesia, I caught a very restful half hour nap. The happy culmination of the experience was evident as the doctor approached with a smile on his face and a thumbs up; all was well!

As I left the medical facility I felt myself grateful for so much-the positive outcome, the wonderful nursing and physicians' care that made the ordeal comfortable, endurable even enjoyable. Their competence, good humor and genuine kindness were all sources of profound gratitude.

Modeh Ani-I am blessed with another day on which to recognize life's many miracles.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I am particularly grateful for Passover this year;aside from all the many pleasures of Passover that are readily evident-delicious and abundant quantities of food unimagined by our grand parents, warm and wonderful Seders, a vacation from school for many, a thawing of winter's cold and the brilliant emergence of flora and fauna that spell springtime, whenever an insight occurs to me as a result of the holiday I feel particularly blessed.
What characterizes Passover liturgically is the daily recitation of Hallel- a formal sequence of Psalms that constitutes the body of praise by which we articulate our gratefulness to God for the myriad miracles and spiritual opportunities contained in the Festival experience. What struck me as unique this year was the awareness that we recite a special blessing thanking God for the Mitzvah of "reciting the Hallel."
I have pronounced this blessing for years; this year I ask myself-why a blessing? Usually the blessing precedes a physical act -lighting candles, taking the lulav and etrog, sitting in a succah, donning the talit-prayer shawl and the tefillin, phylacteries-but why a blessing and a commandment regarding reciting praise to God? We do not recite a specific blessing before we pray? Why is it that tradition found it necessary to insist on a special blessing prior to praise?
Simply, one does not need a mitzvah, a commandment, a special divine urging to pray-this comes naturally, especially in circumstances of fear and vulnerability, under conditions of need and deprivation. To petition is as natural as a baby's cry for her mother's milk.
To praise, however, to recognize and experience an attitude of gratefulness and articulate praise and thanks to a Source of that feeling of gratitude requires cultivation and special introspective and mindful awareness. To praise represents an advanced level of spiritual awareness, an inner development that religion attempts to foster and expand, deepening our attentiveness to and concern for life. What transforms the Jewish festival from a moment of mere celebration to an opportunity for grateful expression is this kind of liturgical response to the occasion of the day.
And so we are presented with a challenge and a privilege, a mitzvah, to transcend our consciousness from ourselves and our immediate environment and focus for at least a few moments on the Source of our being, of our celebratory experience and of the gift of our deliverance and liberation.
Perhaps one day our Hallel , the words of Psalms, will rise up naturally, instinctively,from the very depths of who we are so that a blessing will not be necessary to engender praise of God in our lives.
Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Passover eve is one of the busiest mornings of the Jewish year. This year for thousands it will be even more hectic as many will take time away from Passover preparations and make their way to open spaces ie. parks, fields and roof tops, to bless God for creating the sun. According to Talmudic tradition, every 28 years the sun's position in the sky is identical to when it was first created. While we can recognize the scientific inaccuracy of this understanding, its spiritual insight is a source of profound wisdom and inspiration.
Thousands will gather ,take a hurried glance at the sun-if,of course it is not overcast as it appears to be now as I write these words, and recite a blessing -"Praised are You....Source of Creation."
Why am I at my computer and not surrounded by hundreds of fellow Jews all chanting the blessing at this time? Clearly, the event is impressive, even memorable. It brings our people together and provides an opportunity for the experiencing of a profound spiritual sense of awareness of the grandeur and majesty of nature. We hopefully sensitize ourselves to recognize with utter gratefulness the gift of the sun and all of life's entire dependence upon it for survival and well-being.
My reservation regarding this ritual is connected to the natural likelihood of the rapid dissipation of this consciousness precisely because it is surrounded by so much spectacle and relegated to a one-moment experience in the context of an extended period of time. Like Mt. Sinai, with its thunder,lightening and other elaborate pyrotechnics, the sustainability of the impact is often limited. Considering that Israel only days after witnessing Sinai were quick to exhibit ingratitude and lack of faith,we can understand that built into the drama is the the tendency for the memory to recede when placed in a setting that is everyday-like and ordinary.
Let me quickly add that this blessing is a daily requirement which makes it ,I believe, a powerful instrument for on-going spiritual awareness that has the capacity to alter our perception of life and our response to it.
While there is always room for the sensational, I prefer the still, small, voice echoing in my mind as I awaken each morning, look out my window and am gifted with a vision of the sun's beauty and warmth, knowing that a Beneficent and Compassionate Reality has not only created this gift but sustains it and bestows its blessing upon us each day.
"Praised are You-I am grateful this morning as on all mornings- to the Source of Creation."Amen.

Moadim le-simchah-a joyful Pesach of sweetness and gratefulness.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Another gem from the crown of Torah worn with peerless resplendence By Rabbi J.B.Soloveitchik is a comment that I wish to share and elaborate upon with you.
Again taken from his commentary on the Haggadah-"The Seder Night-An Exalted Evening"- we are nurtured by the following words:
"The tale of the rabbis in Bene-Berak was not just an isolated historical event, but rather the perennial drama that has been enacted since antiquity, hundreds, indeed thousands, of times. The people who acted out this drama with tears and blood were not five or ten scholars, but countless individuals in each generation,anonymous fathers, unknown mothers, forgotten teachers, nursemaids, lonely souls and tragic people. All of them were involved in one task...:They were talking of 'yetziat mitzrayim,' the Exodus, all night."

What makes the Seder so powerful and enduring is our grateful recognition of the story tellers who during the night- when darkness swept over our people- evidenced the faith and courage to tell the story of survival and reassure a downtrodden people that a new generation will come forward and eagerly announce that a new day is dawning-it is morning and the "time for reciting the Kriat Shema has arrived!" The meaning of morning resides in our ability to adhere to the unshakable conviction of the Shema- of God's love for each and every member of the human community and that ultimately God is One, the underlying spiritual reality of the universe as that of unity and harmony.
It is the potency of the "sippur"-the story of the Exodus-that will enable us to link up with freedom no matter how dark and dismal the night. As long as there are story tellers, there is reason to hope, the glimmer of dawn will continue to flicker in our memory.

Hag Sameach v'kasher-A joyous and gratitude-filled Passover.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Why is this eve of Passover different from all other Passover eves?
As I prepare for this Passover, I am profoundly grateful for a commentary on the Haggadah that brings me utter spiritual joy. The commentary of Rabbi Soloveitchik, zt"l, the legendary Orthodox leader of 20th century, is a source of Torah that is all sweet.I am grateful and privileged to share one insight with you.
When commenting on the injunction-"Ve-higgadeta le-vinkha,"and you shall tell your child,"(Exodus 13:8), the Rav says the following:"The Haggadah consists of two separate components-narrative and hallel, praise."
I understand this comment to mean that the entire spiritual enterprise of Passover night, of the Seder in all its magnificent and exalted dimensions and experiences,is to instill in the participants the profound insight of gratefulness to God at this moment in our lives. The narrative itself contains the unmistakable implication of the unfolding of the miraculous and the marvelous in the Jewish experience of freedom. At the center of this event is God as the Source of miracles and the Giver of Freedom. Thus, without the inclusion of hallel,without an awareness of the gift of freedom, the Seder as an authentic experience is impossible; the narrative without praise is a mere story, not a narrative of Torah and spiritual significance.
It is no surprise to me that before the Seder can be viewed as "Nirzah"-as acceptable to God and to ourselves, as an act of completion and fulfillment, it must be preceded not only by narrative, the eating of Matzah , a full and hearty meal and the drinking of four cups, but "Hallel"-the emergence in our consciousness of feeling deep gratitude to God for the miracle of Passover. Until we can praise ,we cannot feel the quality of -Nirtzah-of completing our task and declaring -Next Year in Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom.