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September 8, 2017  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

High Holidays 5778

“Anyone meshugga enough to call himself a Jew, IS a Jew.” – David Ben-Gurion. As the High Holiday season fast approaches, we can see why being Jewish can be crazy sometimes. We start the month by proclaiming a new year, yet instead of partying we pray and blow a ram’s horn. We continue on to the most solemn day of the year where we fast for 24 hours and end off with a lavish break-the-fast. Five days later we are sitting outside in huts and shaking plants in all directions. To top it off, we end the month by dancing in circles around the bima with a closed Torah scroll. No wonder people think we are meshugga!

Of course, we know that there is a deeper significance to all these holy rituals. The question is how do we go through this coming month in a way that it will make a difference for the entire year ahead?

There is seemingly a wide gap between the High Holiday season and the months following. Festivals are days of holiness, a day to spend in synagogue and other rituals that connect us to G-D, while the rest of the year, the connection may not be so apparent.

The truth is that everything we do is an opportunity to connect to G-D. Being as our mission is to make this world a dwelling place for G-D, the ultimate expression of this is when even our mundane actions are dedicated to G-D.

Where do we get the inspiration to bring G-D into our day-to-day lives? By harnessing the power of our spiritual journey during the high holidays and using it to fuel us during the rest of the year.

This High Holiday season, let us make a commitment to attend services and celebrate not just because that is what we do as Jews, but to think about why we are doing it and reaffirm our commitment to making this world a G-dly place. Wishing you all a happy and healthy sweet year.

Rabbi Pinchas Adler
Chabad of Pinellas County

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein

For one brief moment on Aug. 21, 2017 a miracle took place. Millions of pairs of eyes turned skyward to watch the solar eclipse. Rabbis argued (what else is new?) about whether or not there was an appropriate bracha, blessing, for a solar eclipse and if so, what was it?

But the real miracle that occurred wasn’t necessarily the eclipse itself. The real miracle was in the coming together of millions of people of all races, genders, religions, sexual orientations, ages and socio-economic classes, wearing silly glasses and hoisting home-made cereal box viewers … all having a good time and marveling at what was happening to that big, bright, gaseous blob known as the sun. Miracles create community.

Our Jewish tradition is rich in the recounting of miracles. From the very first words of Breisheet (Genesis) that teach us of the wondrous miracle of creation, to the plagues sent by God, which led to our redemption from slavery in Egypt, our Jewish Bible and Rabbinic literature are filled with events that could only be construed as miraculous. The Sea of Reeds splits just in the nick of time. A donkey opens its mouth and speaks to the prophet Bilaam. Oil from a tiny flask burns for eight full days, an event that causes us to proclaim, “Nes Gadol Haya Sham … A great miracle happened there.” To our ancient ancestors, these astonishing events were explained through their belief in an all-powerful and ever-present God who came to the aid of those who were faithful followers.

I believe that as Jews living in the 21st century, many of us have lost our sense of wonder and our belief in miracles. We often feel compelled to “figure it out,” and to find an explanation or answer for the marvels that exist in our world. Jewish tradition teaches that we should each say at least 100 blessings every day, but if some of those blessings are for occurrences that no longer seem miraculous, why go to the trouble? After all, if a rainbow is only a refraction of light through water droplets, it’s really no longer a big deal and perhaps not worthy of blessing.

What might it feel like to live one’s life as if miracles happen on a daily basis? One translation of the Kedusha states, “Days pass and the years vanish and we walk sightless among the miracles. Holy One of Blessing, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing.”

As we move through this self-reflective month of Elul, advancing ever closer to the start of a new year, may we each awaken to the daily miracles all around us and may we always experience wonder and delight, ever aware of the blessing that is life.

Rabbi Leah M. Herz
Director of Spiritual Care,
Religious Programming, Menorah Manor

While we celebrate the holidays every year, there is always something that makes it special. One aspect that makes this year unique is that the two days of Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 21 and 22 are on Thursday and Friday, leading right into Shabbat. Interestingly, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for two days in Israel as well. Hence, Jews the world over will begin the year with a three day continuum of holiness, the number three carrying significance of “Chazaka,” something established, or permanent, in Jewish law.

Certainly, this beginning of the year on a high note will help us bring more spirituality and holiness into our daily lives throughout the year.

In fact, while in Israel they only start the year with one “3-day Yom Tov,” Jews outside of Israel will have an additional two times to do so. For us here in the diaspora, we will celebrate the first 2 days of Sukkot, Oct. 5 and 6 and Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, Oct. 12 and 13, both of which are immediately followed by Shabbat. For those living in Israel, it being the Holy Land, one “Chazaka” might suffice. Outside of Israel, we could use the extra boost, and so we begin the year with three sets of 3-day holy days. Looking ahead, it won’t be until 5785 till this schedule repeats itself, so as the famous Yiddish expression goes, “Chap Arein” take advantage of this unique opportunity now.

On behalf of my wife Miriam, my family and myself, I take this opportunity to wish you and all your loved ones a Kesiva Vachasima Tova. May you be inscribed for a happy, healthy, and sweet new year.

Rabbi Levi Hodakov
Chabad of Clearwater

As has long been my custom, I attend the annual High

Holy Day preparation seminar that is sponsored by the Miami Board of Rabbis. At these seminars, Rabbis share ideas with each other that assist us in making the Holy day experience more meaningful for the members of the congregations we serve.

At this year’s seminar, one of my colleagues pointed out that some American Jews may not be inclined to be as compassionate toward the suffering of others as our tradition teaches. We live in a society where one of the mottos is, “keep a stiff upper lip,” and another is “God only gives us as much suffering as we can handle.” These sayings reflect an attitude in our society that encourages us to be more concerned with our own gratification than with others’ suffering.

Our ancestors however, taught us a different approach. They observed that some suffering is more painful than any human being can endure. This view is reflected in the fact that in the Torah, the passage describing Isaac’s harrowing ordeal at the hand of his father, Abraham, is immediately followed by the passage that begins with the words, “And Sarah, Isaac’s mother, died.”

According to a Midrash, a work of Jewish sacred literature, that while not included in the Bible, answers a question that a thoughtful reading of the Bible might raise, the passage about Sarah’s death immediately follows the passage about Isaac’s ordeal to teach us that when Sarah saw how severely Isaac’s psyche was scarred, she couldn’t endure her anguish.

One of the Rabbis at the seminar I attended suggested that Sarah’s death coming immediately upon seeing her son in his traumatized state is to remind us that some people endure horrible suffering and that the rest of us must do everything we can to open our hands and hearts to them. I pray that all of us, during the coming year, will find a way to be more compassionate to those who are suffering.

I wish everyone in the community, a Shana Tova.

Rabbi Gary Klein
Temple Ahavat Shalom, Palm Harbor

A few weeks ago, the United States experienced one of nature’s most dramatic phenomena. In the middle of a summer day, the sunlight disappeared, and there was complete darkness. The stars were visible and the temperature dropped sharply in a few minutes. Millions of Americans gathered under the skies to see the total solar eclipse that crossed the U.S. from coast to coast.

Throughout history, in many eras and countless cultures, the occurrence of an eclipse was filled with fear and superstition, creating fantastic myths and folklore. According to Judaism, time is not homogeneous. G-d assigned different energies and forces to different times and seasons. The Talmud teaches that people who are born on different days of the week are prone to certain dispositions.

Though recognizing these propensities, we must be aware that we are not slaves to astrology or zodiacs;

The Judaic view is that it is forbidden to be guided by astrology. Not because it does not exist, but because we are connected with the creator of it all. We have a direct channel of communication with the Lord of the Universe, which is above stars and signs, and He alone can transform everything for good and for blessing.

As the winds of the New Year begin to blow, we turn to G-d Almighty Himself, and tap into the open and direct line of communication that we have with Him. We pray for a happy and healthy new year, overflowing with blessings for us and our families, and for our brothers and sisters all over the world. Shaná Tova Umetuká.

Rabbi Alter Korf
Chabad of St. Petersburg

During the month of Elul that led up to Rosh Hashanah we heard the shofar calling to us out of the depths of so many difficult and challenging experiences. The Shofar will again sound on the New Year calling us to action so that the year ahead brings forth the best that we have to offer. The month of Elul bore witness to disasters, brought on by the forces of both nature and humanity. In the New Year of 5778 we hope and we pray that indomitable human spirit that responded with resilience when the deluge came will inspire us to hear the call. Then we shall know that each of us has a responsibility to create a community, a nation and a world that is guided by our highest values and most deeply held morals.

When we sounded the shofar this past month, these words (from Mishkan HaLev: Prayers for S’lichot and the Month of Elul, CCAR Press, 2017) helped to inspire us, and I share them with the hope that when the Tekiah Gedolah is sounded that we shall all be similarly moved, and we shall all answer the call.

Reach deep – into the sanctuary of the heart.

Reach beyond – to the infinite and eternal.

Reach deep – with every quiet breath.

Reach beyond – summoned by the ancient, ringing blast of the shofar.

Shanah Tova tikateivu v’tikhateimu – May we all find goodness and peace in the New Year of 5778.

Rabbi Michael Torop
Temple Beth-El, St. Petersburg


I served as a rabbi on a retreat for JACS (Jewish

Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others) in the Catskills of Upstate New York. One old timer, who was a mentor, told a story from his days in the biet ha’soar, his self imposed prison. “I was so down,” he said “that I didn’t even know where the door was. So one day after an AA meeting, I saw that there was a broom in the corner of the room. I waited until everyone had left, and then I swept up the room. I made that a practice for myself after every meeting, and began to notice, that my apartment looked different as well. I saw that things had a place where they belonged.”

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, you can turn anywhere to find a way to help, even at the register at Walgreens. Most of us feel a sense of urgency when these natural disasters happen and give with sympathy and n’div libo, from the heart. Hare ze m’shubach, this is certainly to be praised. All the more so, those who continue to help, weeks or months after the news media has shifted its focus. We are commanded to perform tzedakah on a continual basis, and to train us in that, it is customary to put a little money in the pushke right before Shirat Ha’yam in the morning prayers. For the next three months, I’ll set aside my daily tzedaka for the people of Houston.

This time of year, we are compelled to do teshuvah, to turn from the dark side of ourselves to the light. But sometimes it’s too dark to even see what needs to change. That’s when we pick up the broom and start to sweep up. For every good deed makes you feel like the good person that you are, and the better one you could be.

Wishing everyone a bright New Year,

Rabbi David Weizman
Congregation Beth Shalom, Clearwater

I can still hear my childhood rabbi telling the story in our youth machzor every Yom Kippur. In the story, a farmer brings his young son to services on Yom Kippur in the shul of Rabbi Israel ben Eleazar, also known as the Baal Shem Tov, the Chasidic master. The boy, unable to read the prayers, asked his father if he can play his small shepherd’s flute so he too could pray to God. “No,” his father replied, “it is forbidden to play a flute on Yom Kippur.” The boy sat sadly next to his father throughout the day. Every so often he would turn to his father and ask, “Please, Papa, may I play my flute,” and his father would refuse. The boy shifted and wiggled in his seat all day long. Finally, as the Ne’ilah prayers were coming to a close, the boy could take it no longer. He reached into his pocket and dug out his flute. Before his father could stop him, the flute flew to the boy’s lips, and he blew one long, clear beautiful note. The entire congregation gasped. His father, red with embarrassment, grabbed the flute from his son’s hands.

The rabbi quickly concluded his prayers. Immediately after the service, the father ran to beg forgiveness for his son’s ruining the holiest day of the year. “There is nothing to forgive,” the Baal Shem Tov replied. “All throughout the day, I felt as if our prayers were scattered like dirt on the floor. We read the words, chanted the melodies, but it was as if God would not receive them. But then, your son expressed the longings of his heart with his flute in a simple, clear note. That note was the most beautiful prayer all day. Your son’s prayer moved God so much, that the very gates of heaven were opened, and all our prayers were received.” (Chasidic folk tale, retold in many instances, including Gates of Repentance, Chaim Stern ed. 1978 and Every Person’s Guide to the High Holidays by Ronald Isaacs, 1998).

The High Holy Days are filled with so many beautiful rituals that we find in the synagogue as well as the customs of our homes and families. While each one serves a specific purpose to make these days holy, it is easy to become preoccupied with ensuring they are done correctly without ensuring they are done for the right reasons. Indeed, there is tremendous value in doing so, for it is these same rituals and customs that have kept our people alive throughout the centuries. But the story of the little boy and his flute remind us that it is our kavannah, our intention, our purpose and the direction of our hearts behind these prayers and rituals that is essential, that is sacred, that matters most to God.

May the prayers and customs of these Yamim Noraim inspire us to experience a Holy Day season of inspiration and reflection, of joy and renewal. My family joins me in wishing you and your family a Shanah Tovah u’Metukah – A Healthy, Safe and Happy New Year.

Rabbi Daniel Treiser
Temple B’nai Israel, Clearwater

The annual renewal of Rosh Hashanah presents all of us with a unique opportunity. As Rosh Hashana concerns the level of Divine investment, not reward and punishment, it is possible to surpass one’s spiritual level without the need to put oneself through the drastic changes demanded by true repentance. When you are facing investors, your moral standing is relevant only in so far as it contributes to your productivity. Investors are focused on higher returns; they really don’t care much about just desserts. They are looking out for enterprise, determination, intelligence and foresight. They are future oriented; the past doesn’t really interest them.

Rosh Hashana is a time for imagination, for the formulation of daring new ideas regarding spiritual progress. If you have imaginative proposals to submit concerning contributions you are willing and able to make toward the successful future, and you can persuade the Heavenly Court of the sincerity of your intentions, they will increase their investment in you regardless of your past performance. A junior executive can walk out of a director’s meeting on a much higher rung up the corporate ladder than he entered if he manages to persuade the directors to invest in his ideas. Rosh Hashana offers us all the opportunity of dramatic promotions in our level of involvement with God.

We can move overnight from a world that belongs to other people to a world that is created specifically for us. We can pass from a state of relative obscurity where we live in other people’s shadows, to creatures that are literally held in the palm of God’s hand, His attention focused on us constantly. We can define our own reality.

May we all succeed in making a huge spiritual jump this Rosh Hashana. A happy, healthy and peaceful year to all Israel!

Rabbi Jacob Luski
Congregation B’nai Israel,
St. Petersburg

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