Friday, August 28, 2009
The birth of a new community thrills me to no end, and I know that my dad is smiling down on us all from above, and all points beyond.
As we discussed previously, Elul is the perfect time to give and accept slichot (apologies) to and from those whom we may have, or definitely have hurt in the past year. Last year, I read a piece from R' Tvzi Freeman, a very gifted scholar, writer and Rav in the Observant world. Rabbi Freeman had an exercise that he shared with us, and I have taken a little of his exercise and combined it with a little of my own "stuff"* and created what I think works for all of us this time of year.
It matters not whether you are Observant, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Christian, Buddhist, or alien from the Planet of Xenon. Try it out, and see what you think.
Let's start off with a piece of copy or printer paper, or even loose leaf paper, and turn it sideways, so that it is facing you on the table in landscape orientation.
On the piece of paper, let's draw three diagonal lines forming 4 columns, left - to - right.
On top of the far left column, which we will call column one, write "I OWE". In the second column, write "I FEAR". In the third column, write "I COVET", and in the fourth column, write "THEY OWE".
Sit down with your paper and draft four lists. The first being those to whom you believe you owe an apology. The second, write the names of those who you fear. This could be your employer, or mother-in-law, or the neighbor's dog. The third column is used to list all those whom we covet. Are we jealous of the guy at work who just got a raise? The bimbette that received a promotion, even though you work 100 times harder? Frank on the corner who won the lottery? Or maybe, we are jealous of the couple who appear to always be so in love even after forty-seven years.
The big list, friends, is the last one, and probably the easiest one to complete. This is the list of people who have wronged US this past year. That's right. The jerk who stole that parking place. That sorry-excuse for a best friend who dated your boyfriend. Your mother for meddling in your life, or maybe, the girl at work who has no idea that you are head over heels for her and she never even says good morning. All of the people in the fourth list owe you apologies.
Now that we have made our lists, and checked them twice. Tried to find who had been naughty or nice, it is time to begin our Elul Practice.
I have found that sitting in a softly lit or dark room works best. While holding our lists to our hearts, let us close our eyes look as deeply into our Neshama, our soul, as we are able. I usually find mine somewhere in my chest area, and it appears to be a light, not unlike a "Ner Tamid", the Eternal lamp above the Ark in Shul). When we find it, we need to gaze upon it; stare at it; examine it, and dissect it. We need to respect it, be mindful of it and acknowledge it. Once we acknowledge it, and know that it is there, we need to remember how it got there. How G-d placed it there, and left this tiny light inside you when you were born, and how it grows brighter and dims lower from year to year, and month to month and day to day.
Let us now look into the light and examine each transgression of each of the people in list four. Did Billy upset me that much last week? Did my cousin really mean all those things that she said? And we continue to think about each one, and each person on the list, and begin forgiving them. One-by-one, until the list is empty. We might even remember that someone on list four, should really be on list one! If these people, our list four folks ask our forgiveness, great. If not? Well, we have already forgiven them, and forgotten. Our Neshama is clear in that department.
Moving to the right on our page, one-by-one we look into our souls and dismiss our jealousies. And one-by-one, we do what we can to dismiss our fears, for if we have faith, we know that we are protected, and that no harm may come our way.
With our page now almost empty, we need to sit down and make some phone calls. Send a few e-mails. Maybe a letter to Aunt Sadie on Long Island who doesn't hear so well anymore, and has never seen a PC. Maybe we just need to go next door and ask the neighbor for his forgiveness for not being as good a neighbor as we might have been.
Once we have done this exercise once, or twice or a dozen times between now and the First of Tishrei (Rosh haShana), we will truly be able to take the Ten Days of Teshuvah, the Days of Awe, and use our time to redevelop our relationship with G-d.
I have a confession to make. I realized this several years ago, but never had the guts to go public, so to speak. I never trusted the world to know this secret about me. I even tried a few times in my life to change, by acting differently. By acting more "mainstream" and, well, NORMAL. But as the title of this column says, and this I believe that we have all known for a very long time: Normal really IS overrated. It is boring and dull. But it is also safe. And quiet.
I think that I first discovered this about myself when I was seven or eight years old, and every Friday afternoon, my sisters and I would run up the stairs to get quick showers and change into nice clothes... I was pretty sure of this condition when, as a married man with a child of my own I would get excited to meet at my parents house on Fridays, even if it took hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic to get there.
I have struggled with my heart, and inside my head with how to "come out" as it is... What would people think? How would they react? Would I be really, really weird now, as opposed to just really weird before this announcement? Here's what I decided. If I keep this to myself, I will always wonder why I never told anyone. I might even begin to loathe myself as being untrue to myself and to others. If I tell, and spill the proverbial beans, what's the worst that could happen? Exactly.
I am a Shabbataholic. I am a true, dyed in the wool, one-of-a-kind, certified SHABBATAHOLIC.
I love everything about Shabbat. I love the smell of the house. I love the food (obviously, if you have seen me lately); I love reading Torah on Thursday morning in anticipation of being able to say SHABBAT SHALOM that evening because Friday is EREV Shabbat!
I love sitting with my kids and singing Zmirot. I love spending Kabalat Shabbat with my students in Friday afternoon. I love buying Challah and dessert and bringing home flowers and knowing that the week, no matter how good or trying it was, is over.
It is Shabbat. Absent an emergency call, the phone goes unanswered; On Friday night we sing and we sometimes dance. We are together. We are Shabbat.
On Saturday morning, we daven. We thank G-d for all he has given and continues to give, and we hallow his Shabbat as he has asked us to do. And Havdalah time on Saturday evening, as beautiful a service as it is, is also the saddest for me. Shabbat is over. But-- It will be here again in Six days, twenty three hours, fifty nine minutes, and counting.........I am, my dear friends, a Shabbataholic. And I am proud to be a Shabbataholic. Would you like to join me?
Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur Services for the newly formed Congregation Emek haMidbar will be held at the Clarion Hotel in Scottsdale, September 18, 19, 20 and September 27 evening for Kol Nidre and September 28 for Yom Kippur. Shofar will be blown at 7:49pm. Tickets are available by contacting me or another member of the committee. You will be receiving an e-vite just after Shabbat. I will never refuse entry to one who wishes to daven with us, but as there are expenses to cover, we are asking that a minimum donation of $100 per person or $180 for two is made. There is no charge for anyone under Bar/Bat Mitzvah age. Please contact me should you have any questions relative to tickets.
Will you be a link in An Unbroken Chain?
As you may know, we are making An Unbroken Chain, a feature film based on the true life story of a Holocaust Survivor. With a few dollars and a few minutes, you can help us make this film happen. Please visit http://6mfor6m.org for more details about how you can take action.
Thank you to Bob and Michelle Casselman for their hospitality and the wonderful Havdalah reception last week with Congregation Ahavat Shalom. I thank you, Rabbi Allouche for inviting me to participate.
From one Shabbataholic to hopefully many more, I wish you the happiest of Shabbatot. Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach. Ahavah u'Vrachot. Love and Blessings...
--Rabbi Alan Abrams
Friday, August 21, 2009
First, I must set the record straight about a few comments made in that column:
First and foremost, comments relative to my personal vulnerability were spoke directly to my post-illness experiences of acting and feeling at times emotionally stronger than I am in real life. We are all vulnerable to a certain extent and my feelings of exemption from this vulnerability due to having recovered from death were not only unfounded, but the reality of my own vulnerability hit me like a Mac truck of late, as we approach the High Holidays and my second year without the physical presence of my father (more later).
To make this perfectly clear, I must immediately inform some of you that may be seeking my revelation of the identity of the "villain" gossip spreader, that you will be sadly disappointed. Not only will I now reveal this culprit, but I will spill all the beans at the same time. There is no, nor has there ever been any particular "villain". I was not speaking of any one individual, living or dead, that to my knowledge has ever caused me any personal pain by means of Lashon HaRa, rather, I was speaking to the multitude of people who on a daily basis feel the necessity to spread rumours, and bear false witness seemingly for sport. The existence of this 'group' became quite evident to me when my Monday morning browse through e-mail found me reading at least three e-mails (and later answering two or three phone calls), all asking me the same thing: Why had I accused them publicly in this column of committing the act of Lashon HaRa! Was someone feeling guilty?
Let's end that discussion here.
Last word about Sunday's edition: I sincerely apologize to any of you that received multiple mailings of "Normal is Overrated". I was trying an auto-e-mailer, and it obviously didn't work very well, when a mistake in one e-mail address' cause the system to send and send and send. Again, I am sorry to have overloaded you.
On to this evening's insertion.
You may remember this past April when I wrote that the Passover Season is really the "Most Wonderful Time of the Year" (04/07/2009). Celebrating our holiday of independence from slavery in Egypt has always been my favorite holiday, but Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year has always been very special to me personally as well.
It was a time for my father and I to spend in Synagogue together.
On the southwest corner of West Pico Boulevard and Cochran Avenue in Los Angeles, more specifically, at 5258 West Pico, a building stood that for good reason will forever hold my heart at bay and the mere recollection that that old white (later, yellow) brick structure is gone will forever break that same heart.
I do not believe this writer's heart is broken by the absence of structure that once stood on that corner, rather, by the absence of what that building stood for.
In 1961, my father purchased The West Pico Hospital for Animals. Over the years, that animal hospital became a symbol of the changing community. It was a constant during changing and at times challenging times. It was a place where owners of dogs, cats and even a few birds knew that hard times would not stand in the way of their being treated with kindness, love, respect and incredible care. Not one time in his fifty-five years of Veterinary practice did he ever refuse treatment to a pet because the owners could not afford the treatment. Not once did he ever euthanize an animal due to financial restraints. He was just that kind of man. My father's picture was in our dictionary, right next to the word Tzadik. Righteous.
My favorite times were, believe it or not, toiling away in the kennel areas back at Pico and Cochran. The lunch runs to Corey Market across the street, or the days that we would take a nice long walk to Fairfax and visit The Bagel Restaurant and Deli.
I miss my father every day more, but never as much as I seem to miss him at this time of year. The High Holidays were the most special times that we spent in Shul. I think that it is more due to the fact that it was just us. My sisters rarely sat in Shul, and my mother would come by around 11 or so to see friends and to be seen. And she would leave. My dad and I would be in a zone, though. Although we each had our individual ways of davening (praying), we were in complete sync one with another, and it was a rare occasion when we would be reading faster or slower than each other. In Shul on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, it was almost as if we were one person. One neshama, one soul, in two bodies.
You are most likely about ready to look up from your screen and ask what on earth this all has to do with Rosh Chodesh Elul. I assure you that it has everything to do with Elul, and our everlasting wish to start over from the beginning; to take a Mulligan; to get a "Do-Over". To get a new lease on life; a new beginning.
As Jews, we are conditioned to believe that "On Rosh HaShana the Book of Life is written and on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, it is sealed". Who shall live and who shall die; who by fire and who by water; who shall become rich and who poor; who will be happy and who will be sad, and so forth. Rarely do many of us look at the fact that each and every day, we all have opportunity to atone. Each and every day, we have the opportunity to change our lives by virtue of just being a good person. By remembering that we are bound to not treat others in a manner which we would not like to be treated, and to live accordingly.
The first paragraph after the Shema teaches us that G-d asks us to love him with all our hearts, all our souls and all of our might. That we teach this diligently to our children, as our parents taught us.
The month of Elul is the absolute perfect month to live by. It is a time to reflect and to atone. To respect and ask forgiveness of those whom we may have hurt in the past year. Elul, in essence, is an extra thirty days to "settle up" with friends and foes alike. To both ask for and to grant forgiveness. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. We also have the ability to forgive. We should assert and utilize this more often.
The traditions of becoming more spiritual with each passing day appeals to me. How about you? What if we could... What if we could make every month like Elul? If we did, then maybe we as a people, we, as a world might have the ability to get past things like greed and jealousy; selfishness and Lashon HaRa? Maybe just then, could our world be complete.
Until that day, however, we must remember to continue to build and repair our world. This wonderfully beautiful world that G-d has so graciously given us.
During the month, let's do our best to discuss the virtues that are afforded us in Elul. A friend of mine posted just yesterday that she wished we had 12 months of Elul. To this, I say, Amen.
High Holiday Services will be held at The Clarion Hotel, Scottsdale on September 18, 19, 20 (Rosh HaShana), and September 27 evening and September 28 for Yom Kippur. The Clarion is located at the corner of Chaparral and Scottsdale Road. Please check your e-mail after Shabbat, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for complete details and reservations.
Stephanie Silverman Houser greatly appreciates your musical contributions, see her post: High School Grads Come Together 20 years later to Make a Holocaust Film at http://anunbrokenchainthemovie.blogspot.com/. We all need to get involved with this project. It is truly one of the greatest Tikkun Olam projects ever.
Social Networking is fast becoming the most active source of marketing anywhere. Many networking groups exist right here in the Valley of the Sun, like Austin's Who's Who, and Raven Events, among others. The best place I have found to find these groups is Gelie's NetworkingPhoenix.com. Head on over to http://www.networkingphoenix.com/ and get ready to meet some incredible people.
One Thousand Days plus One Week is the length of time that our brother Gilad Shalit has been kept captive by Terrorists in Gaza. Let us please try to keep him in our thoughts and in our prayers this Shabbat.
When I was in Jerusalem in February and March, I was handed this prayer for Gilad.
May it be your will, oh L-rd, our G-d and G-d of our Forefathers, that You shall take pity, forgive and have mercy upon Your servant, Gilad, son of Aviva and Noam Shalit And You shall save him in both physical salvation and compassion, together with all the hostages and prisoners of
Israel, Your People. Amen.
May your Shabbat be restful and relaxing. May your weekend be filled with happiness and in the company of family and loved ones.
From the Midbar that we call Arizona, I wish you Shabbat Shalom, and send Ahava u'Vrachot, Love and blessings.
--R' Alan Abrams
Sunday, August 16, 2009
The Week that Was and the Week to Come...
This past week, I have learned that I am still vulnerable, as are we all. I am still subject to inner and emotional pain, and even though, my beliefs are solid and true, G-d cannot shield us from feeling and emotion. If he did, we would not be ourselves, and that would be worse.
This past week, I learned that "Lashon haRa", the Jewish ethical standard for not gossiping or talking about others is really not practiced nearly as much as it is preached, and that many who preach about how to avoid Lashon haRa, and how to live without gossiping and without speaking ill of people, are at times truly the largest offenders. Many of those use Lashon haRa in the form of Omission, as opposed to out and out gossip.
In other words, one who promises to support a person, and at the same time makes a recommendation against that person, even if by means of abstention, or not commenting at all is surely as guilty as the one who is open and honest about his bad feelings toward another, right or wrong. By his silence alone, he is commenting in a negative manner. This is surely Lashon haRa. Especially if the offender carries with him great public support, admiration and respect.
A few weeks ago, in Parshat VaEtchanan, we again read the Ten Commandments. We read about keeping Shabbat, the Sabbath, and about honouring one's father and mother; and about bearing false witness. We also read the words of the "Shema", the cornerstone for all faith, that
G-d is one, and that we should love Him with all of our heart, soul and strength; and we read how to go about doing this (Deuteronomy 6). We also read what would happen if we do listen, and what would happen if we do not (Deuteronomy 11:13 - 21).
Tonight, I ask you this series of questions: Have we not followed? Have we fallen into a pattern of worshiping not G-d, but a different G-d? One who is green in colour and has different numbers in the corners? 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100? Have we become greedy to the point that G-d has taken offense and closed up the Heavens to rain, thus causing our crops to fail?
Could it be that our failing economy and lack of sustainable peace is a result of our own doing? This is not an answer for me to answer, but for us all to contemplate and do our best to repair this beautiful world that G-d has created for us. This is not a time to gossip and spread Lashon HaRa. We are only a few days from the beginning of the month of Elul. The beginning cycle of atonement leading up to the New Year and Yom Kippur.
Let us all do our best to end this year on a high note. With happiness and love in our hearts.
That said, the week is new and it really is time to move forward and to not spend so much time looking back. I need to learn to be better at this.
Tomorrow morning will bring me a new group of Third Graders and I cannot remember being this excited for the first day of school in a long time. Thank you, NI and MS for this incredible opportunity.
Plans for the High Holidays are quickly falling into place and hopes for wonderful Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur Services are being worked on constantly. We are hopeful for a new year filled with joy and love; old friends and new, and maybe even a whole new Congregation and Community to build. Remember that we are only, but five plus weeks away, so please watch your e-mail boxes this week for details. If you are in the Valley of the Sun and wish to be included in this mailing, please let me know.
More on the month of Elul and how we can put our arms around the traditions, old and new, will be published, G-d willing, within the next week.
From the dusty and blistering August heat of the place that we call Midbar Arizona, I wish you Ahavah u'Vrachot. Love and blessings for a Shavuah Tov. A good week, filled with health, happiness and abundant sunshine.
--R' Alan Abrams