Category Archives: Sermons

The Message Of The Mezuzzah


By Rabbi Robert H. Loewy


My friends, I invite you to behold the humble mezuzah. You may think of it is a mere trinket, a bit of Jewish decorative art, but it is much more than that. Its essence and how we use it represents a model to solve the world’s problems. Therefore, in addition to it being hung on the doorposts of your house and my house, I propose that one be affixed on the White House and the doors of every congressman and senator. While we are at it, Mahmoud Abbas and the leadership of Fatah, along will the leaders of Hammas need them. Though Benjamin Netanyahu and his fellow leaders undoubtedly already have one, we might buy them new ones in order to grab their attention.

So what is the chochma, the wisdom, embodied in our little mezuzah? It is really quite simple. Have you ever wondered why a mezuzah is always at an angle on the right side of the doorpost? This custom for Ashkenazic Jews goes back to the Middle Ages. Rashi, the great French commentator taught that a mezuzah should be hung vertically, with the top pointing towards the heavens. But his grandson, Rabbenu Tam, also a great scholar, argued that it should be placed horizontally, just as the tablets of the law had rested in the Holy Ark in the Temple. After much discussion, the great decision evolved to hang it on the diagonal with its top inclined toward the inside, allowing peace to rein in a Jewish home in 12th century France. Our humble mezuzah teaches us the importance of compromise.

Social scientists study the art of compromise, the act of people cooperating to make society and organizations possible. Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann discuss five possible orientations to conflict: competition, collaboration, compromise, accommodation, and avoidance. They believe that each of the five orientations are appropriate under certain circumstances and that one should choose an approach to conflict resolution based on the nature of the conflict, not the style that you find most comfortable. Thomas and Kilmann noted that compromise is the appropriate conflict resolution mode when the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground, when equal strength opponents are at a standstill, and when there is a deadline looming.

Like many of you, I find myself frustrated and angry by the political process and tone of our nation at this time. The debt ceiling debate was only the most recent debacle, where partisan political positioning seems to have taken priority over the national good. Personal attacks from the right and the left only serve to demean the individuals involved and diminish the effectiveness and confidence in elected officials. When our elected officials announce in advance that they do not plan to attend a joint session of congress where the President speaks, this reflects close mindedness and disrespect for the basic institutions of our nation. The whole subject of civility in our society is one that I have addressed with you before and I urge you to let our elected officials hear of your disgust.

More than that let them know that gridlock on the major issues of our nation is not acceptable. We certainly can respect advocacy for positions of conscience, for pursuing the best paths to reach goals, but there is a higher standard that must be paramount, the economic, political and social health of our nation. Whether we are talking about the debt ceiling, immigration reform, taxation, health care or any number of contentious topics, responsible leaders must realize that in a democratic system compromise is the only way there can be progress. During times of war, that consensus is more readily reached. Perhaps our national leaders need to grasp the urgency of our present moment in history. Compromise is the key tool to the effective functioning of our government in service to the people.

Avishai Margolit, a professor at both Princeton and Hebrew University, in his book “On Compromise and Rotten Compromises,” refers to compromise as an “ambivalent concept.” One is often praised for reaching an accord to preserve friendship and peace or reviled for acceding. With historical examples, he points out that compromise can be pragmatic and strategic, consider the resolution of the Cuban missile crisis; or compromise can be cowardly and weak, consider the appeasement policies during the rise of Nazi Germany. The book deals with political compromises, those deemed morally acceptable and others, which he defines as “rotten.” A rotten compromise is taken to be a compromise with a regime that exercises inhuman policies, namely systematic behavior that mixes cruelty with humiliation and/or treats humans as inhuman. He will argue that sometimes even justice must be compromised for the sake of peace, but never when it is a “rotten compromise.”

Our rabbinical social scientists of the Talmud approached the issue somewhat similarly: We have been taught: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” (Deut. 16:20) The first mention of justice refers to justice based on law, the second, to justice based on compromise. (Sanhedrin 32b)

Like many rabbis across America, knowing that the Palestinians were bringing their request for a Unilateral Declaration of Independence, I have been waiting until the last minute to fashion my comments for today. As I have said to you before, I do not pretend to be either an expert or a prophet and I am open to interpretations of the situation that differ with my own. I have been monitoring the news, reading and listening to people who have unique access to events, trying to assess developments as best I can. So far, it has been much ado about nothing. Mahmoud Abbas brought his request. It will not pass in the Security Council, either for lack of votes or the promised veto by the United States. Unfortunately that does not make the issue disappear.

The Middle East has changed dramatically during the past year. Egypt is even less of a source of peace and security for Israel than it was before. Diplomatically, Israel is more isolated than in the past with the break of relations with Turkey. Violent and non-violent uprisings in the Arab world have been successful in overthrowing regimes. The one large scale non-violent Arab demonstration that Israel faced resulted in the deaths of demonstrators. This may serve as an omen for the future. Domestically, Israel has had its own massive protests over lack of housing, food prices, jobs, the disparity between rich and poor, inclusive of the disproportionate government funds spent on settlements. Israel and lovers of Israel face a great challenge.

Sad to say, many of the same problems that plague national issues can be found within the American Jewish community. There are those who passionately love Israel, but are totally intolerant of those whose approach to what is best for Israel differs from their own. When Rabbi Rick Jacobs was announced as the next President of our Union for Reform Judaism, his selection was denounced by some who questioned his Israel credentials, not his creativity, scholarship, commitment and insight to lead the Reform movement, but his Israel credentials. I met Rick for the first time in 1998, as we studied together in Israel, something that he does annually, based in a home which he owns and maintains in Israel, as he actively raises funds for a variety of Israel initiatives. So, what is the complaint? That he does not toe the right wing party line that is often espoused by other Jewish organizations. Just as we cannot tolerate this kind of ideological intolerance nationally, neither should we do so within our Jewish community.

This is a pivotal time in Israel’s history. Though there is not an imminent threat to Israel’s survival and well being, the lingering danger remains. Israel analyst, Rabbi Donniel Hartman explains that Israelis face two threats of pikuach nefesh- challenges to Israel’s ultimate physical and spiritual well-being. For some external enemies- Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas are Israel’s primary challenge. However there is a counter narrative, which maintains that with the continuing occupation of the West Bank and the expansion of settlements, the central challenge is “us,” creating a country that is contrary to who we are and what we believe- an Israel that is not democratic, nor pluralistic. Both threaten Israel’s survival.

The difference between lovers of Israel in North America and Israelis themselves is that here the debate tends to be one or the other. In Israel they know that the West Bank is occupied and contrary to principles, but that pulling out is also an external threat. Unilateral declarations will not change facts on the ground. Willingness by Israel AND the Palestinians to sit down and negotiate with one another is the only way ultimately. This is the message that the Secretary of Defense, along with the quartet of world leaders, is delivering this week. All else is politics and window dressing. There will have to be land for peace; settlements dismantled. However, in exchange there must be the kind of security and economic viability arrangements that will be guaranteed. Israel cannot have the West Bank be like Gaza. And hostility from Gaza must cease. Only then will Israel be able to function as the kind of democratic, pluralistic State that it aspires to be and Palestine achieve independence.

I know that many have concerns with positions taken by the Obama Administration. Overall, I do not. Earlier this year I had an opportunity to be on a phone call with Dennis Ross, a senior advisor on Middle Eastern matters in multiple administrations, including this one. He stressed that for those worried that President Obama’s proposals might weaken Israel, keep in mind that all plans are within a context of an unshakable and iron-clad commitment for Israel. This includes providing Israel with the military edge, such as the new Iron Dome missile system, capable of destroying Hamas rockets. The President’s comments from the Spring included security arrangements, no terrorism, no arms, border security and what would be a mutually agreed upon adjustment period. The bottom line U.S. position is that it will not leave Israel vulnerable and must ensure that Israel can defend itself by itself. I can embrace this approach.

And where do we fit into all of this discussion. First we have a responsibility as Jews to be knowledgeable of the complexities of the Middle East. Let us express our support for Israel through our donations, our political advocacy and our physical presence. Once again I would like to see a group from Gates of Prayer go to Israel and I am proposing the Fall of 2012, after the holidays. Let me know if you are interested. Perhaps most importantly, we need to respectfully be ready to embrace diversity of opinions within our community and be prepared to accept reasonable compromises that will assure the physical and spiritual health of Israel.

If compromise is essential for the United States, our national home, and for Israel, our spiritual home, how much the more so is it needed within our actual homes and in our everyday relationships? As we recite our al chet prayer, we might want to include:

For the sin of stubbornness in dealing with others

For the sin of always having to be right

For the sin of diminishing people in the eyes of others

For the sin of thinking less of others because they disagree with us

For the sin of taking and never giving in problem solving

For the sin of failing to compromise


Yes, my friends, there is a great deal to learn from the little mezuzah. In addition to its subtle message for compromise, there is something else as well. Inside each mezuzah is the parchment, which contains the words of the Sh’ma prayer. We are instructed to role the parchment in such a way that the first word, Sh’ma, is visible, a reminder that in all that we do, we must listen for the voice of God and the voices of others.



The Resident Alien Among Us

November 18, 2011
By Rabbi Robert H. Loewy


Picture the scene- Head bowed, with hat in hand, in great humility, our patriarch finds himself in a humiliating position, standing before the local leaders: “My name is Abraham. My wife, Sarah, just died. I have been living amongst you, the Hittites, for some time, but I am not originally from here. Ger v’toshav anochi b’toch’chem- I am a resident alien among you, but I need to bury my wife. Please, I’m willing to pay top dollar for the right. All I want to do is bury my wife.”

That, my friends, is essentially the presentation that our patriarch had to make to the Hittites in order to bury his beloved Sarah. The term, “Ger v’toshav,” meant more than literally, “I’ve been living and dwelling” amongst you. More likely it was a statement of status. A modern commentary on our story suggests that historically: “Disposal of real estate to an alien may upset the local demographic balance, impair social cohesion, and weaken the community in its relationship with neighboring cities and tribes.” Abraham must humble himself in order to perform what most of us would consider a basic human right because he is not a citizen.

This anecdote from our Biblical history is indicative of an ongoing theme in the history of the world and our own country. The “haves” are less than welcoming of the “have nots.” Those who currently live in a particular city, state or nation are resistant to newcomers. We certainly know this from our own Jewish history.
When the first Jews arrived at the Dutch Colony of New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant, Governor of the colony petitioned the Dutch West India Company, writing as follows:

“The Jews who have arrived would nearly all like to remain here, but you should know that they, with their customary usury and deceitful trading with the Christians, are repugnant to the rest of us…Due to the fact that they had been captured and robbed by privateers or pirates, they might become a charge in the coming winter. Therefore, we have, for the benefit of this weak and newly developing colony, deemed it useful to require them in a friendly way to depart. We ask most seriously in this connection, for ourselves as also for the general community of your subjects, that the deceitful race-such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ-be not allowed further to infect and trouble this new colony.”

Fortunately for Jewish history, the Board of the Dutch West India Company had a few Jews on it. The reply to Stuyvesant was essentially, “you don’t have to like them, but you do have to keep them.”
The greatest migration of Jews to America came in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Jews along with many other immigrant groups arrived seeking freedom and economic security. While we often romanticize that period, we should realize that all these new immigrants were not received with open arms. In 1912, Reverend AE Patton wrote the following:
“For a real American to visit Ellis Island, and there look upon the Jewish hordes, ignorant of all patriotism, filthy, vermin-infested, stealthy and furtive in manner, too lazy to enter into real labor, too cowardly to face frontier life, too lazy to work as every American farmer has to work, too filthy to adopt ideals of cleanliness from the start, too bigoted to surrender any racial traditions or to absorb any true Americanisms, for a real American to see those items of filth, greedy, never patriotic stream flowing in to pollute all that has made America as good as she is- is to awaken in his thoughtful mind desires to check and lessen this source of pollution.”

So much for Emma Lazarus’s famous poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Recently I had the opportunity to learn from Dr. Jana Lippman of Tulane University, who outlined trends in American immigration policy, inclusive of the inconsistency between professed values and legislation. In particular, during the past two centuries there has been a clear pattern of xenophobia, not just towards Jews, but also towards Chinese and other Asians in the 19th century, Italian and Irish Catholics, really towards whomever the next new ethnic group might be. Four primary fears seem to be at play.

First is the fear of those with different religions- Protestants toward Catholics, Christians toward Jews, now everybody against Moslems. Next are fears of radicalism, those outside agitators who are coming to tear down the American democratic ways of life, historically including Communists, anarchists, socialists and now terrorists. In much of this we can find fears of race. Originally only those considered “white” were allowed to immigrate, but “white” meant Northern European WASP. Definitions of who is considered “white” have changed, but color of skin continues to be an element. Finally, there are economic fears: The usual refrains are: “They are coming to take away our jobs,” when we know that new immigrants are often the ones to take the least desirable positions in society, jobs that no one else will perform. “They are going to be a drain on our society,” when we know that most are hard-working men and women, who simply seek opportunity for physical and economic security.

When looking at the issue of immigration policy in our country today, as Jews, we need to not only recall our history, but we have to consult our basic values. The Torah teaches us to reach out to and care for vulnerable populations, including non-citizens and resident aliens: “If your brother, being in straits, comes under your authority, and you hold him as though a resident alien, let him live by your side” (Leviticus 25:35). We are repeatedly commanded to care for the needy within our extended family: “If there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements… do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs” (Deut. 15:7). Rabbinic Judaism also entitled non-Jewish individuals to financial and emotional support from the Jewish community in order to create a harmonious society: “Our rabbis have taught: ‘we support the poor of the non-Jew along with the poor of Israel, and visit the sick of the non-Jew along with the sick of Israel, and bury the poor of the non-Jew along with the dead of Israel, in the interests of peace’” (BT Gittin 61a).

Today, we are in need of a fair, just and humane immigration policy. Let us not irrationally pander to fears, but realistically open our doors to those who want freedom, to those who share the same kinds of dreams that our ancestors envisioned, to those who are fleeing from political and economic oppression. Let it be one that realistically screens and protects us from those who seek to undermine our country, but not discriminate against those who might one day be our leaders, thinkers, creative geniuses, as well as those who will perform the basic tasks that make our lives easier and fill critical positions in construction, agriculture, hospitality and retail, to name but a few.

It is time to stop speaking about “illegal aliens” as if they are criminals, who are robbing us. Yes, there are men and women in this country, without proper documented immigration status, who are working in all sorts of jobs, most of them positions that no one else will fill, as the State of Alabama and Georgia recently discovered, when there were not enough workers to harvest crops. Some of our ancestors did not enter the country through official channels either. And what of families who have lived, worked and paid taxes here for decades, whose children were born here? A fair solution to their ambiguous status must be reached.

Some of the legislation that has been passed in states around the country reflects the fears alluded to earlier but not the reality of our nation. In some cases it is mean-spirited and justifies bigotry and discrimination. My colleague, Deacon Priscilla Maumus writes, “Arizona and Alabama citizens were told it was a criminal offense to transport an undocumented immigrant to school, to church or to the hospital. This applied to families, too who are often a blend of documented and undocumented immigrants. A teenage son who is a citizen could not drive his undocumented grandfather to the hospital in the event of a heart attack or his aging grandmother to Mass on Sunday without risking arrest and arraignment. Blended families, with some legal and some undocumented immigrants, are still liable to be separated and a mother deported, while her children remain in the United States.” Parts of the laws in those states have been struck down by the courts, while others remain.

And talk about racial profiling! Can you imagine being stopped for a traffic violation and have to prove your citizenship? This is not likely to happen to anyone who looks like most of us, but if your skin is a darker complexion or if, God forbid, you have a slight accent, that could be the case. For that matter most of the conversation about “illegals” that I hear focuses on Hispanics or Arabs. Funny, how we don’t hear much about the Israelis who are here without proper papers, or the thousands from the former Soviet Union, who are busy caring for our elderly throughout the northeast.

There is no question that national immigration reform is necessary. Our borders need to be secure, so we know who is entering and monitoring them. Many proposals are before our state and federal legislators. Our laws need to enable longtime undocumented residents to earn their legal status and eventual citizenship. Families should be unified not torn asunder. Workers require protection from exploitation and provided with due process.
Our role is simple. We need to monitor state and federal legislation on immigration. I realize that much of it is confusing, but our task is to ensure that what is passed will appropriately address the real issues, not the fears, that people will be treated humanely according to the highest standards of our nation and our religious values. Let us embrace the applicable exhortation, cited in scripture numerous times,  “You shall not oppress the stranger, the resident alien, for you were gerim/strangers in the land of Egypt.” It all started with our patriarch, Abraham, in this week’s portion.


Restoring Holiness to Our Communities

Rabbi Oren J. Hayon
Temple Emanu-El
September 12, 2008
Elul Sermon #2:
Restoring Holiness to Our Communities
This evening our purpose is to explore the ways we can restore holiness to our communities. The notion of the synagogue as an institution of holy purpose is one that is deeply familiar and dearly cherished by members of this congregation in particular. All of us are acquainted with a Jewish concept that is central to this idea: the concept of tikkun olam, acts of social justice undertaken when a motivated individual or an inspired group of like-minded souls get together to bring meaningful change to the places they live.

Doing religious repair work on our communities has been at the heart of Reform Judaism for decades, and it boasts the same inspiration that drove the grassroots success of other social movements in our country and around the world throughout history.

For us as Jews especially, the roots of spiritual revolution lie deep in the earliest layers of our biblical heritage. Our literature and legends are filled with tales of inspired people rising up to change and improve their world. The dramatic stories of Abraham smashing his household idols, of Moses defying Pharaoh and the cruelty of Egypt, of the Israelite prophets willing to stand up in the face of corrupt and shallow religious institutions, to point accusing fingers and condemn them for their flaws, at risk of censure and exile and even death: this is the legacy of Jewish tikkun olam, of an individual’s potential to personally bring needed change to the world.

But our topic tonight is slightly different. Tonight we are talking about another element of the relationship between self and community, another way of bringing repair and restoration to the places that are broken or neglected. And in contrast to tikkun olam, this is an area that is largely overlooked by much of progressive Judaism today. And it’s too bad that that’s the case, because this idea is just as critical to the way that community develops its sanctity, which is, of course, precisely what we are charged with exploring in this installment of our Elul sermon series.

I want to talk tonight about the moral pressure that a community can bring to bear on its members, rather than the other way around. We all know plenty of stories about heroic and memorable people bringing extraordinary change to the places they live, but what about the converse, what about the ways that the values and priorities of a holy community can push its members to become better human beings?

It might sound simple, but it is an idea that is sometimes hard for us to embrace, and I think that’s true for a couple of reasons. First, we live in the United States of America – and in Texas. The culture of our nation and our state are solidly built on the myth of the rugged individual. Our heroes are cowboys, pioneers, solo entrepreneurs and visionaries. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” was John Wayne and not Jimmy Stewart; we learn by the end of the movie that freedom is really won by the lone gunslinger, not by the politician.

But it’s not just directors of western movies who favor the strength of the individual over the community; anyone who’s worked in the Jewish community has encountered this too. There’s more than a small kernel of truth at the center of that old joke about two Jews and three opinions. We Jews, and especially we Reform Jews, often chafe against the idea that we should compromise our individual autonomy for the betterment of the community or the movement. After all, the whole basis of Reform Judaism, it can be argued, is the existence of the sovereign self, the rational individual governed by the gifts of his own mind and his soul. Being a Reform Jew means being able to stand up to any tyranny – of politicians or law – or rabbis, for that matter – and say no: I know better than you do what is right!

That is exactly why we are so skilled in the art of tikkun olam, of changing what is wrong in the world out there. But what we are significantly less good at is acknowledging the potential of our communities to change us. We are much less comfortable at the art of surrender, at the spiritual practice of allowing ourselves to be changed in substantive and long-lasting ways by the places we live and pray. But if we can do that, hard as it may be, we will have helped our communities achieve new heights of effectiveness and sanctity.

Any adolescent – and anyone who has parented or taught an adolescent, for that matter – can share plenty of stories about the power of peer pressure. The students in our schools are constantly under pressure from their classmates about academic performance, about who to socialize with, about what to do with their leisure time. They can tell you exactly how destructive – and also how irresistible – those forces can be, even if they are driving the student to behaviors and values he or she personally knows to be wrong. But they can also tell you that when kids form relationships with the right kinds of friends, with encouraging teachers, enriching sports or clubs, they will do anything they can to uphold the positive values and priorities that those communities promote. A student that moves in social circles where it’s actually cool to be a leader or a scholar will develop self-motivation toward leadership and learning much stronger than she would otherwise receive from her parents or teachers.

In the same way, when our religious communities exert social pressure on us to act in ways that are right and good, the result is not only that we do better things with our energy and our time, but that we absorb Judaism’s time-tested values about what is right and wrong in the world. Eventually all of us, as members of the community, reinforce its social enticements and rewards for behaving in loving, nurturing, ethical Jewish ways.

We are taught by Jewish tradition that it is a mitzvah for us to accept from our community what is called tochachah – admonition or rebuke. This is a well-established but largely-ignored principle: that we are commanded to help the community carry out the obligation to correct its members when we see them going astray. When we see a friend or a colleague or a family member going down the wrong path, we have to gently and lovingly reprove them if their action threatens the community’s ideals. We automatically have a stake in the well-being of the people we love and the people we share community with; we have an obligation to them. We have to help let them know when they are missing the mark so that we can all get back onto the right path together.

There is an intriguing commentary on the Shulchan Aruch – the exhaustive 16th century collection of Jewish law – which addresses a fascinating legal inquiry. The question is asked: Is it sufficient for a Jew to follow the commandments simply because he sees his friends or his family doing them, and not because he believes that the tradition insists upon it? The commentary responds: No. Even if you are following the actions of righteous people who are doing everything right, your obligation is not discharged until you acknowledge that the reason for acting Jewishly is that you are a part of a holy community, not that you are imitating holy people. Without knowing that mitzvot come for the purpose of serving God and strengthening the Jewish people, you might learn to value the individual over the community, which might in turn lead you to haughtiness and a disregard for Jewish values, to the sin of what Alan Morinis calls “spiritual mediocrity”.

Despite all the good that it can do, and all the good it has done, tikkun olam can be a narcissistic religion when practiced alone. If we conclude that our only Jewish calling is to change the world in ways we think are positive, then we may never learn to be self-reflective or open to spiritual growth. But working to cultivate the virtues of humility and modesty, on the other hand, acknowledging that there are ways the community can change us for the better – that is an entryway to Jewish enrichment and development.

This month of Elul is a time of our most earnest moral self-scrutiny. Next week at this time we’ll be learning together at our congregational observances of Selichot. Dr. Morinis will share with us the tools and the techniques of the Mussar movement, which were developed precisely for this reason – to help Jews recognize the traditions and resources outside of ourselves that can help make us better people. It is a deeply important subject for to spend time on as this reflective month of High Holy Day preparation draws to a close.

Judaism’s gifts of spiritual self-improvement can help prime us for the approach of the High Holy Days, but its regimen is not necessarily comfortable. The hard work of teshuvah – repentance and apology – does require some abdication of the ego, which always hurts a little. But in the end, the High Holy Days are not about tikkun olam; they are about tikkun atzmi – not repairing the world, but repairing the human self with the guidance and support of our community. Allowing ourselves to be changed by our community and not the other way around is often uncomfortable, but it is always worth it.

There is a wonderful legend told about Rabbi Akiva, the wise ancient sage of the Talmudic world. As the story goes, Akiva – before he was Rabbi Akiva – had reached the age of 40 without ever having amassed a single piece of Jewish knowledge. One day, he was walking near a natural spring and he noticed that a slow drip of water had over time worn a hole through a large stone. At once, Akiva was enlightened. He said to himself, “If something as soft as water can bore its way through something as hard as stone, then the words of Torah can certainly penetrate my soft heart of flesh and blood.” He returned home and immediately committed himself to learning the traditions of his people.

We are all free individuals, and we are all at liberty to live our Judaism in the ways that our own hearts and consciences compel us. That is at once the marvel and the challenge of Reform Judaism. We have to discover that our freedom does not override the obligations that come along with living in relationship with others. It is an art more than a science, but we can find ways for our sprawling spiritual liberty to be shaped by the wisdom and the goodness of our Jewish community.

We do this by learning about what our tradition teaches, what its texts really say, about justice and truth and morality. We do it by allowing ourselves to be swept up and embraced and yes, changed, by the marvelous traditions and the penetrating wisdom of Jewish life. By continuing to work toward strengthening relationships and connection with other human souls, by standing alongside them and helping lift them up with our presence and our love and by realizing how it feels to have ourselves moved and improved by being a part of something this large.

And in that way we can cultivate the spiritual heart that Rabbi Akiva felt beating within him, the soft and pliable spirit that allows the goodness and the promise of Judaism to change us. That is the imperative of this month of Elul and of the entire Jewish year: to see and make real the vision of our selves as better than we are – loving, kind, spiritual beings, privileged to be a part of, and changed by, this beautiful Jewish community of faith.

May this be God’s will. Amen.