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Truth Matters

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 09:01


Truth matters! In a time of increasing propaganda, the deliberate repetition of misinformation and outright and blatant lying, we need to reaffirm the value of truth telling.Most people learn the value of telling the truth early in life. Parents can be especially sensitive to gradations of lying. The child may hesitate to be fully transparent. For parents, that betrays a reluctance to reveal the whole truth. There may be a tendency to exaggerate. For parents, that demonstrates something is likely being hidden. There may be a strong denial, with yelling, stomping feet and slamming doors. For parents, that illustrates there is much more to come to light. It's hard to raise a child on lies.    When Jesus was asked "what is truth," he invited his questioners to look at his life and what he represented. Ultimately truth is revealed, or not, in a person's life. We call it integrity. It's about following one's truth no matter what.Gandhi said his life was an experiment in truth. He believed one must follow their truth no matter where it leads. For him, Truth was God. (Now before any Christians get all bent out of shape about this designation, take the time to understand the ancient sanskrit origin of the word Gandhi uses for Truth, Satya. It starts with Sat, the word for Being with a capitol B). Most people who know the value of truth also recognize that truth is elusive. One person's truth can be another person's poison. Truth is usually divisible. We have to establish processes to try and discern the truth in any given situation. So in our government, we establish a free press. We establish freedom of speech and assembly. We establish checks and balances and a tricameral system. We establish courts and a system of justice. We investigate. We try to gather facts, not opinions, but facts. We gather evidence. We interview those who may know something about the event in question. We use an adversarial system in a court of law. We ask a person, "Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God," with a hand on the Bible. We don't always get it right but we try hard since getting to the heart of a situation matters.We went to see the movie "The Post" while it was in Brookings. We recalled those days when we were being lied to by our government. The "good news" out of Vietnam was repeated again and again while the "bad news"was the reality and the truth. Only after the war was over did we discover that Lyndon Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin incident, forcing Congress to allow full scale military action, was a lie and the steady drumbeat of "winning the war"was meant to deceive. We were grateful for a whistleblower named Daniel Ellsberg and a free press with the courage to publish the Pentagon Papers.It reminded me of the other time lying was coming from the oval office. President Clinton said, "I never had sex with that woman." My mother and father would have been all over me with additional questions on that one. Like, "what do you mean by 'had sex?'"Now we have a President who lies consistently. The New York Times has been counting, though the President labels the Times and all of the liberal press as "fake news." And when it comes to the Russia investigation, one has to wonder what the President is hiding that requires such frequent and aggressive activity against others.Let's get to the truth. Let the Russia investigation play out. That was the essence of a response I received to a letter I wrote to Senator Thune some time ago. He seems to be of the same conviction now, given his statement to the Washington Post Thursday about the "Nunes memo.""Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Thursday that 'the Senate Intelligence Committee needs to see [the memo], for sure' before it should be made public. Thune, the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, also told reporters that if the House was going to release the GOP’s memo, they should also release a rebuttal memo from House Democrats at the same time.'I think they have to take into consideration what the FBI is saying,' Thune said of House Republicans angling for the memo to go public. 'I think they need to pay careful attention to what our folks who protect us have to say about how this bears on our national security.'”I, for one, am grateful that at least one Republican Senator is willing to stand for pursuit of the truth and with our intelligence community. We won't reach the truth through partisan politics, suppression of evidence or removing those in our intelligence offices from their positions.        Besides, our democracy is on the scaffold. Democracy can't survive on propaganda, partisan politics and lies. Neither can it survive if foreign agents are allowed to invade and sway our elections. What will Congress do about the Russia sanctions that are being ignored by this administration and cyber warfare from Russia that continues?

"Last Gasp of a Dying Past

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 09:01



After the most recent degrading remarks by our President, I concluded he would have wondered how someone born in such a shithole as a manger, along with all those animals, could be an object of worship.
His foul mouthed remarks about Haiti and Africa, more than any other he has made (and he has made many), sealed the deal for me of his moral character. (Honestly, even after the Access Hollywood tapes, I held out hope he could be changed by the Presidential office).
The President has become the living symbol of the dying and despicable struggle to make America white again (and male). With each passing day, it becomes clearer and clearer that one of his most important agendas is reversing the racial demographics of this country. No more people of color coming in and lots more going out. And he continues to have the support of Republican partisans, who for years have been struggling to find ways to identify with people of color, and failing election after election. Apparently they have concluded that if the battle is lost to recruit people of color to their party, change the equation by sending them home and importing more Norwegians.   
One part of the President's racist method includes broadcasting stereotypes. Early on in his campaign, we learned that all Mexicans were rapists and murderers. He would describe one criminal act of someone in this country without documents, and extend that criminality to all residents native to Mexico.      He included in his web of suspicion the workers from Mexico who re-shingled our home, who repaved Interstate 29, who cared for the cattle who gave us our milk, who picked the vegetables and fruits I ate yesterday, who came to our nonviolence trainings in the Black Hills.
He stereotypes Muslims as security threats, when the evidence is we are far more likely to be killed by a natural born citizen than a Muslim immigrant (the home grown killers are even invading our houses of worship). He institutes a Muslim ban from Islam dominant countries and hate crimes against Mosques and our Christian cousins rise. He foments religious hatred to the point where in South Dakota, some decry an interfaith prayer service at our state capitol. What is so terrible about people of different faiths praying together unless the "other" is a stereotype and not a person?
He stereotypes Haitians. He sends them home. I've been to Haiti. It is the poorest country in the hemisphere. There are historical reasons for the poverty, just as there are historical reasons for our relative wealth. That history is connected. But amidst the poverty in Haiti there is also beauty and joy. It is unlikely one born with a golden spoon in his mouth and always surrounded by the trappings of wealth would be able to see it. He would likely just see a shithole. But I wish the President would try. Please Mr. President, make a trip to La Gonave. Walk the hill from the dock and meet the people as I did. See the human spirit in the midst of the poverty. Understand they don't all have AIDS and be chastened.
He stereotypes Africans! There are 54 countries in Africa. We have long standing relationships with many. What must leaders in those countries think? How does it reflect on all of us? On an earlier occasion he is reputed to have said, Nigerians should go back to their huts! Perhaps he thinks Native Americans should go back to their teepees; and where would they put them?
Recent experience with Nigerians interested in learning about Gandhian nonviolence has helped me better understand the economics in that country. Fossil fuel interests dominate the Nigerian economy. Shell oil is famous there for lobbying government officials with enormous sums of money, destroying agricultural environments and some believe colluding in the assassination of a nonviolent activist.       Nigerians do not live in "huts." That is a racist stereotype! Go, Mr. President! See Nigeria! See the world! And don't just stay in Trump Towers! Perhaps you can stay with my friends, Christopher Ehidiamen, a Christian teacher and leadership consultant for Nigerian corporations. Or maybe be hosted with Betty Abah, of CEE Hope, working with adolescent girls and against child marriage. See the real Nigeria and how we as a country might learn from them, how to be great again.
This President is a challenge for the party of Lincoln; for those who still believe in the Constitution and a democratic society; and most important to me, he's a challenge for the Christian church. Now is the time for the church to proclaim in no uncertain terms that ALL are children of God, born with dignity and deserving of our respect. Now is the time to make Sunday morning, as well as Friday prayers, or the Sabbath, or any other time of the week, the most colorful ever. It's our heritage and our destiny! This President and his stereotypes are the last gasp of a dying past.

Carl Kline

"What Would You Do?"

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 12:34

What would you do? That is the question that lingers long after the last scene in a Belgian film, “Two Days, One Night,” that my wife and I watched recently. So too it is the question that is meant to follow us through Torah, lingering in the spaces that give rise to midrashic searching, to questioning and wrestling. I am hardly a film critic and am wary of watching if I don’t know a film’s “V” rating, the “Victor factor,” whether too violent or too sad, preferring to watch movies mostly to find respite from life’s harsher realities. Drawn to a Belgian film initially as a connection with Mieke’s roots and family, it offered a powerful reflection on life, pushing at times the limits of the “V” rating, but no more difficult than engaging with parts of Torah. The film became for me a commentary on Torah and life, as the two are joined in the context of living life with people, bringing us to ask, “what would you do?”
In the film, which unfolds in the course of one weekend, the main character, Sandra, is away from her factory job on a health leave as she struggles with depression.         
Highlighting the stigma of mental illness as a subplot, the owner of the factory where she works is wary of Sandra’s return. Duplicitously setting the stage for the moral drama that we are meant to become part of, the owner of the factory offers a choice to the other workers.
      They can each receive a 1000 Euro bonus or Sandra can return to work. It can’t be both. With the devoted support of one co-worker who has told Sandra of the insidious choice, labor rights now another subplot, Sandra spends one weekend, thus “two days, one night,” searching out each of the other workers. Gathering courage from out of her despair, she goes to each one to put a human face, hers, on the choice that they and we are faced with. What would you do?
Through the lens of this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayechi (Gen. 47:28-50:26), that question becomes the test of what it means to truly live. Our response to “what would you do?” becomes the moral measure of life, our own and of life itself, of what it means to live with wholeness, integrity, and truth. The question becomes more pointed when made real in given moments of our lives, those times when we need to answer in real terms, not “what would you do?”, but “what are you going to do?”
The Torah portion begins with a setting of the stage, with words that on the surface seem simple, even pedestrian, telling of Yaakov’s living in Egypt for the last seventeen years of his life. Now on his deathbed, we are told, Vayechi Yaakov/and Jacob lived…. That phrase offers its own teaching, a question pulsating beneath its apparent simplicity, “what does it mean to truly live?” About to be gathered to his people, Yaakov’s life swirls before him in all of its days and nights, all of its highs and lows, a life filled with so much struggle and strife, so much pain. Finally finding some solace in the dimming light of harsh truth, a dysfunctional family whose torment he is largely responsible for, there is a certain comfort in the questions that emerge. The questions that begin on one person’s deathbed become for us questions of life that are comforting in their way of encouraging us to live. Yaakov as Yisrael is calling us as his children, b’nei yisra’el/children of Israel to rise up each day to engage life and people with integrity.
The moral choice in whether to think only of oneself and one’s own follows Sandra through the film as she visits through one weekend each of her co-workers. The question put to each person she visits increasingly becomes our own, will they/would we forgo a sizeable bonus to still include among us one whose need for work is equal to our own? So too, Yaakov’s life in flashing before him also flashes before us. As he sees, perhaps through tears, those moments in which he lied and cheated, twisting the bonds of love with his father and brother, colluding in untruths with his mother, favoring one wife and one child to the detriment of all, does it matter that seamy decisions might have been shrouded in the assumption of a greater good, as his mother believed, that he and not his brother was the more worthy progenitor? The question remains, in film, in Torah, in life, “what would you do?” As Yaakov wrestled in the night, so do we and seek our way.
     As his deathbed wrestling plays out, even now more urgently than his wrestling with the angel long ago, Yaakov calls for his beloved son, Yosef, and asks him, even pleads, v’asita imadi chesed vemes/deal with me in loving-kindness and truth (Gen. 47:29). Still in this world, the father asks his son to try to hold him in both kindness and truth. It is only after death that we speak in Jewish tradition of all that we do on behalf of the dead as acts of chesed shel emes/kindness of truth, or true loving-kindness. The frailties and failures of a life do not disappear with death, but are then held as part of one whole, an ideal with which we may struggle at times, yet to be wrapped up in kindness that allows the dead to be more fully gathered to their people. So Yaakov pleads, that he not  be buried in Egypt, but brought home to Canaan to sleep in the ancestral grave in the Cave of the Machpelah.
That Yaakov sought to fully live in Egypt in the latter years of his life gives reality to his lasting teaching for us. It was here, in exile, away from home, away from all he had hoped would be, that he wrestles more deeply and earnestly than he had before. It is here that he finally finds at least an approximation of wholeness, even if yet imperfect, with and within his family. The holy RIM, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Rothenberg reminds us of Egypt as the narrow places in our own lives, Mitzrayim, from meytzar/strait, the places in which we are challenged to yet live with truth and integrity, to make our way without losing who we are. Ironically, it is Yaakov in Jewish tradition who is associated with truth, not as representing the ideal of truth, but as a frail human being who struggles, like all of us, toward the truth. Needing the blessing of truth to help him on the way of truth, we say in words of prayer each morning, thereby making the gift our own, titen emet l’Yaakov/give truth to Yaakov (Micah 7:20). Helping us to see Yaakov’s very human struggles as our own, however they may differ in degree, the RIM teaches, in this way we are also able to live in every Mitzrayim that is each one’s/al y’dei zeh y’cholin l’chi’yot b’chol ha’mitzrayim she’yesh l’chol….
Whether in the day-to-day kindnesses we do for others, even at our own expense, or in allowing for the inconvenient presence of social programming in our own back yards, or in paying taxes with a sense of prideful purpose for the sake of the common good, or in recognizing that “me first-ism” is not the way of truth in either interpersonal or international relations, these are the real life situations in which we are called to act with integrity. These are the “narrow places” in which we wrestle, not in the gathering of our days, but all along the way, in the real moments of life, as in “Two days, One Night.” Holding all of the tensions between kindness and truth, with compassion for our selves and others, the question from film, from Torah, from life becomes our own, “what are you going to do?” emerging from “what would you do?”

Rabbi Victor Reinstein

Singing

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 11:08
There's a singing video making the rounds on social media. Apparently there are more than 12 million people who have viewed it. You see a teacher sitting on the bleachers at her school as a group of young people are singing to her. The children are smiling and moving with the music, even while sitting, and are obviously into the song. They are probably forty or fifty in number, racially diverse, accompanied by what one assumes is their music teacher. At one point he has a short solo part and a beautiful voice. Toward the end of the song the children all hold out a flower they had hidden below their seats and extend it toward the teacher.   
In all of this, we periodically see the teacher, who is crying. She wipes her eyes. She manages weak smiles before the tears flow again. At one point she is so moved she almost falls over backwards. It's as if the power of the music and the energy of their care for her sweeps her off her seat. 
She has cancer. The students know it. They are offering her a love song. It made me cry.
         Another video on social media made me cry as well. This one was of a mother forgiving her son's killer in court. She hugs him. She hugs his mother. She greets all the members of his family. She tells the killer she will always be a part of his life and she will not let the society kill him. She makes it clear that all lives are connected so taking one life affects many lives. She is obviously Muslim and acting out of her faith.
I may be getting more sentimental with age but I don't want you to think most things make me cry. Still, the tears do seem to come more lately and I'm wondering why. They can flow listening to good music or watching good theater. It can happen when I'm telling a story about an event that moved me or reading someone's else's story in prose or poetry. I've begun to seriously ponder what's behind it all.
This is my conclusion so far. In a world seemingly gone mad, I crave examples of kindness and harmony. In the event with the teacher, I saw and heard both. After seeing the video, I wondered about the healing capacity of that experience for the teacher. How did it impact her body? How did it help her fight her cancer?
We are learning some of the physically therapeutic benefits of music. Studies have concluded that music can make a difference for those with brain injuries, stroke, Parkinson's, perhaps even autism. Music therapy has come into it's own. Movement can be aided by rhythmic auditory stimulation. Musical improvisation can help with emotional expression. Singing and respiratory exercises can aid in restoring speech. Even persons with severe brain damage and no speech or movement can be stimulated by music to smile.
Once when I was as ill as I've ever been, the Canadian Tenors sang constantly by my bedside. They moderated the pain as well as any opioid. If I woke in the middle of the night and the CD had run its course, we just started over again. Given how mothers have used lullabies to soothe crying babies for ages, it seems strange we haven't recognized the therapeutic value of music as medicine sooner.
Then there's kindness. It's also about harmony. It doesn't have to be as unusual and dramatic as forgiving your son's killer in court. It can be as everyday as forgiving the person who cuts you off in traffic instead of carrying that anger through your day.
Undeserved kindness is so exceptional it can be life changing. Especially when we know we've done wrong, to be forgiven and embraced is shocking. To be kind and forgiving when we've been wronged, is equally shocking. Kindness sets in motion an energy that creates change. When God does it, it's called grace. 
I confess it's difficult to face some days with harmony and kindness. If one is open to what's happening in the nation and the world, there is bound to be disharmony and upset. At one time we were promised a kinder, gentler conservatism. There are no such claims now. At one time we had political parties that could sing in harmony (with enough practice). Today they sing very different tunes, alone.
Our task is to keep singing. Music and harmony is the way of the world. Do you remember that old round we used to sing, "Music alone shall live, never to die." And our task is to do those small acts of kindness for those with cancer, brain injured, or simply stressed in the super market. 

One of these days maybe we can send a mass choir to Washington to serenade the Commander in Chief and the Congress. Perhaps there could be some healing.

Carl Kline

From Resistance to Renewal

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 09:27




         I had been looking through a box of old political, peace, and social justice pins, reminders of long ago demonstrations and projects for the sake of a greater good. I was looking for one pin in particular, one that I had thought about as I read and reflected on the Torah portion called Lech L’cha/go forth, or, as read literally, go to yourself (Gen. 12:1-17:27). I had seen the pin not too long ago, but now it seems to have disappeared, at least for the moment. Perhaps that is part of its teaching, to tell of a time when the way it represents will no longer be needed, when we shall no longer be called to stand up to unjust power and so to speak our truth. Perhaps also, the disappearance of this pin is to remind that what it represents is not enough by itself.
The missing pin is of a black symbol emblazoned starkly on a white background. The symbol is the final letter of the Greek alphabet, the Omega. Perhaps as the final letter it points also to when it shall no longer be needed, to a time beyond which there shall no longer be need to respond to its call. The Omega - Ω –became the symbol of draft resistance during the Vietnam War era, and thereby a general symbol of resistance. I can see that missing symbol so clearly, wearing it on my jacket wherever I went over a good number of years. I wore it when I went to the YMCA where I worked with kids while going to college, and when I served breakfast to many of the same kids early in the morning before school as part of a free breakfast program. So many of the issues are sadly the same today, so many human needs left unmet in the face of inhuman policies and a burgeoning military budget.
Throughout the land there is a movement of resistance rising today. In great gatherings of commitment, in vigils and walks, rallies and meetings, arrests and fasts, we are refusing to cooperate with evil, with brutality, with hate. Raising voices and signs, wearing old and new pins to remind, we are challenging in ways both great and small all that demeans and denies a common humanity that joins all people as one. In the midst of resistance, we still need to pause and to consider that resistance is not enough by itself. Resistance is a necessity of the moment, but even from within the moment and movement of resistance, we need to look beyond, to what it is that will follow when  morning finally comes.
            If a new day will dawn, we need to create its ways now and nurture them into being from in the very midst of resistance, modeling what it is with which we would replace the ways of hate and injustice, of violence and brutality. Children need breakfast, now as then, and our acts of public resistance later in the day will not feed them. The very feeding of children, of doing what is right in public and in private, of refusing to demean another, of standing up for those who are put down and mistreated, of loving in the face of hate that proliferates, all of this is the way of resistance. 
Living lives of goodness and decency, smiling at strangers, helping those in danger of deportation who need sanctuary, all of this represents sacred resistance; the way of the future lived now. Gandhi spoke of the need to create new structures in the midst of the freedom struggle, the meeting of human needs all along the way, as “constructive program.” While essential, it is not enough to challenge what we know is so wrong. Resistance is the starting point, the necessary beginning right from within which we nurture the new world into being.
The critical and creative tension between resistance to evil and the creation of an alternative reality is held between the end of the Torah portion No’ach (Gen. 6:9-11:32) and the unfolding of new possibility as it begins in the portion, Lech L’cha. Indeed, our calling is in those words, go forth, and in its literal meaning, go to your self, find your calling, find your place in the struggle and in the journey. It is here that the Slonimer Rebbe (a teacher of our time) introduces his signature theme, that every person has their own unique task and purpose in this world, their own unique way of bringing tikun/repair. In the midst of resistance to evil, we are each called in our own way to bring goodness and healing with every step of our going forth, to replace evil with good.
The journey of Avram and Sarai, not yet Abraham and Sarah, began before they are told to go forth, before God says for the first time, Lech L’cha. At the end of the portion No’ach, there is a cryptic statement, five simple words, va’yikach terach et avram b’no/and Terach took Avram his son. Where did he take him, and why? From a young age, Avram had seen through the shallowness and cruelty of his society. Both literally and figuratively he smashed his society’s idols and called for a new way, a way that recognized the creator God and the equality of all people created in the image of one God. Resistance had become dangerous and Nimrod as tyrannical ruler of the land sought to kill Avram. His father took him to save his life.
Resisting tyranny, Avram and Sarai pitch their tent along the way. It is a tent whose sides are open in every direction, that from wherever they have come, all who appear might find safety and sanctuary, welcomed without question. On their journey from resistance to renewal, they teach the way of kindness, washing the feet of wayfarers, feeding them, and offering shelter. As our legacy, their way of kindness becomes the constructive program that is at the heart of resistance, creating a new way from within the midst of challenging all that is wrong in the world around us. In the disappearance of a small pin that calls us to resist, a black Omega on a white backdrop is the hope that someday resistance will be unnecessary, 
that we will have arrived in a time of vision fulfilled, of peace and justice, of harmony and hope, the day that is all Shabbat shalom/Sabbath peace. Sowing seeds along the way, deeds of kindness to soften the ground, then shall encircling flowers blossom around the tent of open sides and all shall see the beauty that from resistance has arisen.

Rabbi Victor Reinstein

Living The Nightmare - Living The Vision

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 10:09


            I walked into our bedroom in the midst of the evening news.  The TV screen was filled with the warning of an imminent nuclear attack with the emphatic statement “This is NOT a drill!”   In the split second of seeing the announcement on the screen, I felt the terrible adrenalin surge of fear.  A sense of unreality filled my field of vision - along with an “O God - It is happening!”  And then in a fraction of a second, the newscast continued with the story of the  mistaken alarm that had terrified the people of Hawaii - warning of an incoming ballistic missile aimed at that lush, beautiful, often dreamed of corner of the world.            I had trouble falling asleep that night and when I finally did, my sleep was broken and restless.  At around 3 AM I laid there and asked myself “What’s going on - What is disturbing my rest?”  In an instant the answer came clear.  On a physical level, my body was still processing the adrenaline surge that came with the fear associated with those few seconds of partial truth as I responded to the notice on the TV screen.   But beyond that realization, I also knew that old, deeply seated anxieties were being activated again - memories going back more than 60 years.            I do not recall there ever being much conversation in our home about the possibility of nuclear attack during the cold war.  But what I do recall is the purchase of a gas powered generator - just in case.  I remember the collection of gallon jugs of water that were frequently refreshed and refilled - sitting on the floor in our basement.  I remember the appearance of multiple cans of different kinds of food appearing on the pantry storage shelves at the foot of the basement stairs -this in a time when frozen foods had become the modern suburban housewife’s blessing.  I remember the construction of a rudimentary extra bathroom in the basement.            More vividly, I remember the air raid drills at school, the huddling under my coat in an underground hallway away from windows.  I remember strategizing in my head about getting to the school bus that would take me home to the safety of my family if there was an attack.  I remember wondering what would happen if the bus had to stop and we had to get out and seek cover.  Would it stop next to a ditch where I could find protection?  I remember wondering what to do about wearing light colored clothing and wrapping myself in a white sheet to protect myself from radiation if it was winter and I was wearing dark colored clothing and  a white sheet wasn’t available.  I remember waking from dreams in a sweat because the bombs had come.   I was 9 years old.            As I listened to the follow up reporting on the news, I heard a father telling how he had gathered his family in an inside bathroom without windows - huddling in a bathtub  for protection.              I heard of families running from home to the mountains for safety. I saw people frantically running in the streets, uncertain how to make themselves safe.   I heard of  human beings desperately trying to reach their love ones to say  “I love you.”  A nightmare revisited.            I realized that so little has changed since the nuclear threat trauma of  my childhood.  We seem to still live with the mentality that there will be a safe place to hide - that we can protect ourselves by retreating to a room without windows, that the mountains away from a city will provide safe haven.  I am just waiting for the government’s instructions to keep a supply of white sheets handy to wrap ourselves in as protection from radiation.            At the highest levels of government, nuclear sword rattling seems to be a fun game between bullies who have no grounding in the history of the reality of what nuclear weapons do.   They do not see thousands of human beings being killed instantly.   They do not acknowledge the desecration of the earth, the destruction of the environment, the radiation poisoning and cancer that will kill survivors.  They do not acknowledge the possibility of a nuclear winter in which  humans, animals, crops, and, quite possibly, the planet itself will die.  At times I wonder if the bullies with the power have any inkling that they themselves might be incinerated - or are they so certain that their bunkers will allow them to live on as they always have.            It takes a lot of will and energy and prayer to draw myself back from the edge of the abyss of fear and anger and resentment engendered by the willful lack of consciousness and empathy and compassion that seem to order the days of our supreme leaders.   I want my grandchildren to sleep through peaceful, nightmare free nights.  I want to hold on to the vision of  the Biblical prophets of a time when creation will be at peace with itself.  The best I can do today is turn to beloved thinkers and writers and prophets who continue to hold forth the vision when I am temporarily unable to hold it  myself.   Today, I turn to Howard Zinn:
            To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic.  It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage and kindness.  What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.  If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.  If we remember those times and places - and there are so many- where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, at least the possibility of sending this top of a world spinning in a different direction.  And if we do act, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future.   The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
            I have today to live in a way that human beings should live - - in defiance of all that engenders fear and anger and disgust.  I have today in which to honor the holiness of creation.  I have today in which  to reach out in kindness and compassion to the beleaguered checker at the Stop and Shop.  I have today in which to join my companions in the prayerful rest of Shabbat - re-committing ourselves to the repair of the world.  I have today in which to claim a marvelous victory.

Encountering NIMROD, Clarifying Values

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 09:02

Encountering NIMROD, Clarifying Values
During the years of my childhood, my family went camping every summer, sometimes on Cape Cod, most often in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We began with one tent, and as the family grew a second tent was added, our campsite becoming a veritable encampment. My parents were purists, only tents, never any thought of a trailer or even one of the pop-up varieties, a “tent-camper,” as we called them with some scorn. Nevertheless, the tent-campers fascinated me, always eager to befriend the kids of such families in order to get to see their home in the woods up close. Accepting my parents’ good-humored dogma that real campers slept on the ground, I think what really fascinated me, beyond the technology of a tent folded neatly into a metal container on wheels, was the brand name on most, if not all, of the tent-campers. I can still see the letters that fascinated me then, big letters that spelled the word, NIMROD.
I didn’t realize for some time, that the name of the camper was actually the name of a person. At some point I picked up a general sense that this was a famous hunter. Shrouded in mystery, I assumed this Nimrod was a quite a camper, surely sleeping on the ground, probably not very happy to be associated with those who didn’t.
To my surprise, I next encountered Nimrod one year in Hebrew school. Seeing his name in Hebrew letters, I immediately saw the large English letters of his name on those pop-up tent-campers. Suddenly day dreaming of the past summer’s camping trip, enough information filtered through from the page and the teacher’s voice to bring me back to the moment. I started to realize with consternation that this Nimrod for whom the campers were named was not such a nice guy. Maybe he had been a great woodsman, a great hunter, but he was also quite a tyrant,
the one who wanted to throw the young Avram into a fiery furnace for rejecting his countries dogmas, for daring to be an iconoclast, literally smashing his father’s idols on his way to following one creator God in whose image all people are created equally.  I worried for Avram, seeing something of myself in his familiar stubbornness and insistence on following what he believed to be right.
          I thought of those long ago campers as I read the Torah portion No’ach (Gen. 6:9-11:32). Year after year I am drawn to the earlier parts of the portion, to the enticing and familiar stories of No’ach and the ark, of the violence that filled the earth, of God’s promise following the flood never to destroy the earth again, yet waiting desperately for us to make the same promise. I am always drawn to what seems to be the more exciting campsites and the more compelling stories to be told around the campfire. Yet every year as I come to the end of the portion I pause with amazement when I encounter Nimrod. This is the source of the hunter and woodsman who I first encountered, fittingly, in the woods.
In reading of Nimrod this year, I thought of a teaching of the Slonimer Rebbe, that all of the Book of Genesis is meant to help us clarify values, to purify qualities and ways of being and behaving in the world. It is all about taharat ha’middot/clarifying of values. I began to wonder about Nimrod, about the values we are to learn, remembering what he tried to do to the young Avram, feeling the tension between the evil I sensed of him and the trailblazer in the woods who beckoned to me, the young camper who wanted to swing an axe and handle a knife and be a hero.
It begins simply enough, and yet there is something mysterious, as though pushing us to ask, but who is he really? The Torah says simply, Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a hero upon the earth/hechel li’hi’yot gibor ba’aretz (Gen. 10:8). Just what is a gibor, what is the nature of his being a hero? Gibor can be a hero, a mighty one, someone of strength. But what is the nature of that strength? Much of the latter part of the portion of No’ach offers a lens through which to consider how we use our gifts, our strength, how we use technology and intelligence, whether to build a tower of Babel to storm the heavens or to create an ark in which to ride out the storm, offering a model of harmony, lion and lamb together, a way yet to be realized after the flood.
We are told next that Nimrod is a gibor tzayid lifnei ha’shem/a crafty hero before God. Most translations translate tzayid in its more usual meaning as a hunter. In translating gibor tzayid as “crafty hero,” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany) is drawing on a root meaning of tzayid as deceit and deceiver, tzad. The hunter needs to be secretive and quiet, to utilize stealth and wiles.
               As much as I disdain hunting, except by those for whom it is truly for the sake of sustenance, I can respect those who respect the animals, even in the course of hunting them. This is not the way of Nimrod as seen through the lens of a tradition that saw the mistreatment of animals as a precursor to the mistreatment of people. Establishing himself as a great hunter, Nimrod sowed fear with his prowess, gradually turning to people as his pray.
Yitzchak Abravanel, a fifteenth century commentator of both Portugal and Italy, writes that until Nimrod all people were equal, hayu b’nei ha’adam kulam shavim. Abravanel goes on to say that the statement “he became a mighty man in the land,” means he became a tyrant. In a conversation across centuries, that all of this was “before God,” becomes the source of a powerful warning from Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: “Nimrod began to oppress his fellow ‘men’ in the name of God. He was the first to misuse the name of God, to surround brute force with the halo of Divine approval…. Nimrod became the prototype for all those dynastic rulers who craftily crowned themselves with the halo of pseudo-sanctity and whose power, politics and hypocrisy were characterized by the saying, k’nimrod gibor tzayid lifnei ha’shem/like Nimrod, a crafty hero before God.”
In a time when truth flows into the ground like the blood of slain animals, when hubris and hate proliferate, Nimrod appears as an archetype to remind us of danger along the path of life, of danger on the trail, of whom not to follow. He becomes a lens through which to clarify values and qualities, to remind of the treacherous divide between truth and falsehood. Turning from the ways of Nimrod, we strive to restore human equality as it was in the beginning, harmony between people and animals, as within the ark upon the flood, and so with earth, a dove alighting with an olive branch. In a place of peaceful encampment in the woods, lion and lamb together, Nimrod becomes again but the name of a simple dwelling that once so intrigued a young child.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Mountains

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 10:41
     "Our Ascent of the Everest" is the account of Sir Edmund Hillary, who along with Tenzing Norgay, became the first humans to set foot on that mountain peak. The book includes the initial climb in 1951 that established the possibility of an approach from the south and the climb in 1953 that brought them to the summit.      The book is well written with significant detail about the challenges and the natural geography. The ice falls, the crevices, the sheer cliffs, the blizzard winds and bitter cold make for suspenseful reading. And the sheer stamina of the climbers in such rare air is amazing.     Mountain climbing stories are always an attraction for me. Maybe it has something to do with the ancient ideas of how mountains reach into the heavens and if you climb high enough you get closer to God. Or maybe it's the physical challenge of doing something that truly tests your physical, mental and emotional capacities. Or perhaps it's just the sense of pride and satisfaction you feel when you finish a task well done. Whatever, when I read Hillary's account, it's as if I'm right there as well, all the way to the top as they survey the scene from the summit.     I first learned to love mountains in New Hampshire. Granted, they are nothing like Everest and the challenges are far more modest. But there can be similar satisfaction and sometimes the view from the summit can be just as otherworldly.      Once, climbing in the White Mountains, we walked through crusted snow for several hundred yards. It wasn't a strong crust. Every third or fourth step we would fall through thigh high. Pulling your leg out of the snow without going through the crust with the other was far from easy and I could identify with what it was like for Hillary as he described that kind of experience on Everest.     On the same climb in New Hampshire, when we reached the summit, the clouds were below us. You don't have to be at 28,000 feet in the Himalayas to have that experience. It can happen at 4,000 feet as well. And there's an awesome quality to it, where even with knowledge of airplanes and space exploration, one can still feel like you are invading the heavens.      It was instructive to me how Tenzing Norgay offered gifts to the Gods in gratitude when he reached the summit of Everest. As a Buddhist, he believed the Gods of those mountains were responsible for safe passage. And Hillary buried a small plastic cross given him by John Hunt, leader of the expedition. Reverence in the face of such a trying experience and successful conclusion seems natural.     My appreciation for the Everest expedition is tempered by a recognition that we humans always seem to be striving to overcome nature and leaving our waste behind, not always working in harmony with nature and respecting the pristine quality of her beauty. It's certainly understandable why after a terrible struggle to simply survive the elements, the expedition would abandon oxygen bottles, tents and all manner of trash, as they tried to descend alive. Still, some of the most inaccessible places on the planet now have their trash heaps. As Gerard Manley Hopkins would say in his poem God's Grandeur, "all is seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil; and wears man's smudge and shares man's smell."      Saint Bonaventure is considered one of the earliest ecologists. He believed that even the smallest things in creation were significant. If we lost even one species of God's creation, that would diminish the glory of God and our appreciation of that glory. For those of us living in the 21st. century, when wilderness is disappearing rapidly as we invade woods and mountains, Bonaventure's conviction becomes instructive. As some 150 to 200 species of plants, insects, birds and mammals become extinct every 24 hours, the rate of extinction is 1,000 times the norm. Biologists say we haven't seen anything like it since the age of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago.          Bonaventure believed, "The universe is like a book reflecting, representing and describing its Maker.   He, therefore, who is not illumined by such great splendor of created things, is blind; he who is not awakened by such great clamor is deaf; he who does not praise God because of all these effects is dumb; he who does not note the first principle from such great signs is foolish." 

Perhaps the essence of wisdom is seeing utter foolishness in the face of great achievement.

Carl Kline

The Dream of Jerusalem:To Dwell Is To Make Peace Where We Dwell

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 11:39


      It is not what I had planned to write about as my Shabbat letter that week. It is not what I wanted to write about. It hurts, bringing tears, to feel enmeshed in the raw politics that swirl in the world around us. I am not a political commentator, but a lover of Torah, of people, of my people, of all people. I am called to respond when people are hurting. I look to Torah as a lens through which to look more clearly, at times as a telescope to see distant realities, and at times as a microscope to reveal what is right in front of us. Jerusalem is a magnet that calls us whether we want to be called or not. We cannot engage in Jewish prayer without speaking of Jerusalem. We cannot learn our holy texts without encountering, without entering the courtyards of Jerusalem. We cannot follow the cycle of the Jewish year and not be among the pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem, bearing gifts of field and flock. We cannot attend a Jewish wedding and celebrate the continuity of our people through one couple’s love without remembering Jerusalem, her destruction and her rebuilding.
        Memories flow unbidden. My first time in Jerusalem, the first morning, a Friday, walking in the streets and suddenly pausing, thinking it all seemed so familiar, taking in the scent through open windows and thinking, it all smells like Bobi’s kitchen. On a sabbatical, approaching the Kotel with my children, pointing out the site of the Holy Temple above. It was during Chanukkah and four year old Yossi rose up in ancient revolt, calling out to an imaginary Syrian-Greek soldier, “there is only one God!” It is the miracle that we emphasize, Yossi, the miracle that happened then, the right to be who we are, for all to be who they are, and the miracle that is still waiting to happen, waiting for us to bravely kindle the light and make peace.
      We had a house guest that week from Jerusalem, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, indefatigable, prophetic campaigner for justice and human rights, rights due to Jews, to Muslims, to Palestinians, to Israelis, to all people because they are people, human rights for all because they are human. It was late at night when he arrived. We began to speak of the day’s events, the day on which it was announced, the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the ancient city at the center of our people’s story. We began to talk, and then it seemed too heavy, too much. We turned to Torah. Rav Arik spoke of his favorite midrash on the week’s Torah portion, the portion called Vayeshev. As in the world, so in the Torah portion, itself a reflection of the world, so much of the mourner’s sackcloth and fasting, Yaakov for the loss of his beloved son, for Yosef now sold into slavery, torn from his family, for Reuven as eldest brother on failing to protect the younger brother. And what is the Holy One doing, the midrash asks, creating the light of the King Messiah/boreh oro shel melech ha’moshi’ach (B’reishit Rabbah 85:1). Before the Messiah will come, though, the Holy One is waiting for us to also kindle light.
     For some there was light on that day of the announcement, for others only darkness. If we would bring the peace and wholeness of the day that is neither day nor night, as we sing of Messianic time at the Pesach Seder, then there needs to be light for all. The miracle cannot be limited, its light constricted. As we stood in the kitchen late at night, two rabbis sharing words of Torah, knowing we were really talking about the events of the day, I shared an insight that came to me long ago on the first word of the portion Vayeshev. There is a fateful dynamic and challenge in that one word. Vayeshev ya’akov/and Jacob settled. With a slight grammatical shift, we have va’y’yashev ya’akov/and Ya’akov made peace. A phrase emerges in Hebrew, yishuv sich’such/to settle conflict. There is a strange rabbinic teaching on the word vayeshev: Every place it says ‘vayeshev,’ it is not but the language of pain/kol makom she’ne’emar vayeshev eyno eleh lashon tza’ar (Sanhedrin 106a).          It is a teaching that has guided my life, to truly dwell, to settle in a place, we need to make peace in the place we dwell. And if not, then, alas, there shall be only pain. The rabbis say further that Ya’akov sought to live in tranquility when it was not yet time, failing to recognize the needs and realities that swirled around him. Offering commentary through the lens of his own gentle soul, the Torah T’mimah, Rabbi Boruch Ha’levi Epshtein (19th century), teaches of the responsibility of those who would walk among the righteous, there is not complete rest for them in this world because it is their duty only to repair the world and to fill its deficiencies/rak l’taken et ha’olam u’l’malei chesronote’ha.
     We were as Jacob that week, and so we are, as he was in that moment of seeking to dwell in the way he wished to before it was time, when there was yet too much work to do to dwell in tranquility. However much we wish to dwell at the intersection of the ideal and the real, it is not that time yet; there is too much work to do. In the relationship of Jews to Israel, in the way of day-to-day details of modern statehood, Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state. We know only too well, though, when we allow it into our consciousness, that another people is still waiting for their state. Palestinians wait for the day when they too will dwell in a way that honors their love for the same city. In our shared love is a glimmer of hope, however hidden the light that the Holy One weaves, each strand touched with God’s tears. It is not yet time to proclaim and to act in a way that threatens the dwelling of others in the sharing of holy space. If only the proclamation had specified West Jerusalem, offering hope and shared yearning for the day when the capital of Palestine would rest in East Jerusalem, when the stories of two peoples would be told in the City of Peace/Ir Shalom. To dwell is to make peace where we dwell. If not, there shall only be pain.           Whether in communal statements or in private conversations, to be true to the very meaning of Jerusalem there needs to be recognition of each one’s dreams. The flowering of the Jewish dream of Jerusalem internationally recognized for what it is as the capital of the Jewish state of Israel depends on equal recognition for the flowering of Palestinian dreams, of East Jerusalem as the internationally recognized capital of Palestine. The needs of Palestinians cannot be as an afterthought in communal, political, and religious statements. The weight of fifty years of occupation will only be made heavier if the fulfillment of one people’s dreams appears to defer yet longer the dreams of the other. If we do not make peace where we dwell, we shall only dwell in pain.
         The dream of Jerusalem has been deferred before, waiting for the right person, the right time. King David desperately wanted to build God’s house, the Temple in Jerusalem, but it was not yet time, as recorded in the Book of Chronicles: And David said to Solomon, My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build a house to the name of God my God; And the word of God came to me, saying, You have shed abundant blood, and have made great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed much blood upon the earth in my sight. Behold, a son shall be born to you, who shall be a man of tranquility; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about; for his name shall be Sh’lomo/Solomon, and I will give peace and quietness to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name… (First Chronicles 22:7-10).
The Torah portion Vayeshev is one of warning, of challenge, and hope, with its gentle teaching that to dwell means to make peace where we dwell, seeds of the future planted amidst the pain of the present. David was not fit to build the Temple because of the blood on his hands, and yet the twisting line to the Messiah begins in this portion, rising from out of the breach. The line of the Messiah begins with the birth of Peretz, born to Tamar and Yehuda, as we see later in the Book of Ruth. Peretz means breach, as a furrow in the ground, a seed of hope planted in the furrow of despair.       The Slonimer Rebbe teaches, a new flowering begins with the blossoming of the light of the Moshiach/she’tatchil tz’micha chadasha tz’michat oro shel Moshiach.
     As Jews everywhere pray for Jerusalem on Shabbat evening, may it be for all who dwell there and for all of the dreams and dreamers that yearn for tranquility. May we breathe in all of the stories that are carried in Jerusalem’s rarefied air, that are held in her ancient stones, that rise in the swirling of her dust. There is more work to be done now, but that is what we are called to do, to repair the world and fill its deficiencies. Not simply to dwell or to declare a dream fulfilled before its time, may Jerusalem yet be Ir Shalom/City of Peace. Blessed are you, God, who spreads the sukkah of peace over us, over all the people Israel, and over Jerusalem…,and over the hopes and dreams of all of her people and peoples, that together we shall make peace where we dwell.

 Rabbi Victor Reinstein














With Apologies to Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 10:36


On this Sunday in Advent, in the Year of our Lord 2017, I have been inspired by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “I am waiting,” and the story of Jesus’s birth as told to us in the Gospel of Matthew:
It’s four in the morning, and I am waiting for my case to come upand I am waiting for a rebirth of wonderand I am waiting for someone to really discover Americaand wail, and I am waiting perpetually and foreverfor a new rebirth of wonderand I am waitingand I wonder if you are wailing and waiting tooI wonder if Joseph wailed when Mary told him she was with child and he was not the fatherand I wonder if Mary wept knowing that her fate was in a man’s hands and he had the power of life and death over her and her childand I wonder if like me they too were waiting for a new rebirth of wonderand I wonder why God chose some no-count couple like Mary and Joseph,living in some backwater hamlet named Bethlehemto make his grand divine entrance onto the world stagewhen Caesar lost his cool and Herod sent his soldiersto slaughter every Hebrew boy child under the age of twoand I wonder if the real point of the Christmas story isn’t to shake us loose from the powerful paradigms of disbeliefthat pull us away from acknowledging the presence of God in this and every other place on this this blessed planet we call our homeor is it really God’s home and there is nothing that is not holyand no one who is not sacred and God comes in this most peculiar wayjust to say, “Hello” and in the soft innocence of a child to tell us now is not the time to surrender to the lethargy of indifferenceor the dullness of disbeliefor the safety of the status quofor you too have found favor in the eyes of Godand in the wildness of holy lovethere no is shelter from the storm no room in the innno safe routines of convention and common sensefor now, today, you must choosebetween the hopes and fears of all the yearsand the only compass God will give you or me or any Mary or Joseph is lovewhich God promises is wiser than the wisdom of humankindand stronger than the strength of the all the armies of all the empiresthat ever marchedand all the bombs that ever fell on upturned facesthen or now  or everso go with Mary, be a Joseph, let your love loose in somenew derring-doand experience your ownrebirth of wonder
Rev. David Hansen

The Promise of Peace

Sun, 12/17/2017 - 13:46


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.So begins Charles Dicken’s story, The Tale of Two Cities. I ask you, on this second Sunday in the season of Advent, are these not the times in which we live.
         Some men like our president speak in superlatives. Others like Senator Grassley deride the “little people” whom he accuses of spending “too much money on booze, women, and movies” while he and others in some brazen act of reverse Robin Hood steal from the poor and give to the rich. People living in high places have no qualms about transferring billions of dollars to the wealthiest one-percent, or discrediting and desecrating sacred institutions of democracy, or exploiting their power for personal pleasure, or waging preemptive wars in the name of peace, or inflaming Jerusalem in some new orgasm of violence. “We will bomb you into oblivion,” Donald says. And he means it. As if to reward him the stock market climbs to new heights. These are the best of times. These are the worst of times. It is an age of wisdom and an age of foolishness.Stay woke my friends. Stay woke. Can you hear the voice of John crying in the wilderness? After the killing of Trayvon Martin the black community’s response was “stay woke.” Become aware. Be aware of the ways which racism, sexism, class-ism, militarism, economic and environmental violence, and the desecration of sacred places like Bears Ears National Monument affect the way we live. Stay woke to what is happening in our communities and the world in which we live. Stay woke.Developing a healthy paranoia doesn’t mean you’re crazy. Maybe it’s just you trying to be healthy. Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight a highway for our God in this moral desert. Stay woke until every valley is lifted up, and the crooked places made straight, and the glory of the Lord is revealed in some shimmering moment of truth. Stay woke.The birth of Jesus is not about a strange event that happened once upon a time in village far, far away, long, long ago, when a child was born. The birth of Jesus is the story of the enfleshment of God. That is what the word “incarnation” means. It means “going into flesh.” The Spirit going into flesh. And, Mary’s flesh magnified the Lord. Robert Frost gave voice to this powerful promise of hope in a poem in which he wrote:But God’s own descentinto the flesh meantas a demonstrationthat the supreme meritlay in risking spiritin substantiation.Spirit enters fleshand for all its worthcharges into earthin birth after birthever fresh and fresh.We may take the viewthat it’s derring-dothought of in the largewas one mighty chargeon our human partof the soul’s ethereal into the material.Frost, a prophetic poet, believed the greatest enterprise of life is our penetration into matter, carrying spirit deeper and deeper into matter.The meaning of the incarnation and the doctrine of transubstantiation is the celebration of the mighty charge of the ethereal into the material. The Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us full of grace and truth.What does all this mean to you and me in practical terms? What am I trying to tell you about the promise of peace? We have just witnessed seven murders in ten days in Wichita. The habits of violence are deeply ingrained in our culture and in us. It is fair to ask if peace is possible. Like the prophet Habakkuk we stand on the ramparts of the besieged city and ask, “Is there any word from the Lord?”My friends in the Satyagraha Institute tell me there is. They offer these three steps, which they call three key principles for peace:1.     Change happens one person at a time. A community will change only to the extent that individuals in the community are willing to change. And we, each one of us, can be instruments of change. We can create ripples of change that will alter the nature of our relationships and our communities and our nation and the world.
2.     The path to change requires face-to-face interaction, meeting, and dialogue. If we want to      be agents of change we need to spend quality time with others who can help us work through difficult questions. Nothing can replace the power of studying, eating, reading, talking, walking, working and relaxing with others.
3.     Deep change, like fast-acting yeast, takes time. So stay woke, my friends. Even now God’s spirit is charging into earth in birth after birth. And you are a child of God. And that is amazing and wonderful and very good.
Rev. David Hansen

Among the Trees and Grasses, Finding Solace and Strength

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 10:36

From words of Torah, prayers form, words become vessels to fill with our soul, Torah filling us, each of us filling Torah. It is the way of sacred scripture in every tradition, encountering God and ourselves in the seeking, in the shimmering union of text and context. As we make our way along the path of Torah from week to week, wooded glens open before us, places to pause and rest, oases from the strife and struggle along the way of life. There is succor for the weariness and worry held in the details of our own lives, and for the collective worry from all that assaults us in the political climate of these times. Given the gentle beauty of our sensibilities, we can’t in conscience put aside our awareness of those who suffer, or not consider the ways we might help to meet their needs. Yet even here, there are times when we need to pause, to sigh, to breath deeply, to remember the beauty of the world all around us and within us. There are times when we may recall places of beauty we have been, that gave of their gifts to us and helped us to relax.
             Perhaps a pond deep in the woods, a beautiful flower we saw along the path to get there. Perhaps it was a mountaintop and all the beauty along the way of hiking higher and higher. Perhaps we didn’t have to go very far to come to such a place, delighting with the flowers and bushes that grow along the sidewalk, roots of trees breaking through the cement that invades their space. And in the changing of seasons, now to stop in the midst of all that swirls and see our breath that comes from within and reminds of a place even deeper where our very soul abides. Seasons continue to turn in their way, snowflakes then to melt upon our skin. We hold the memories of what has been, sensing the beauty, seeing it with eyes closed with all the freshness and clarity of when we were there, of when it was new and now, time and place shimmering, gifts of forest and field continuing to touch, to inspire and infuse.
It is the essence of an exquisite teaching of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) that is rooted in the Torah portion Chayei Sarah/the Life of Sarah (Gen. 23:1-25:18). Following the trauma of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, of father’s intended sacrifice of son, Yitzchak goes out into the field to meditate, va’yetze Yitzchak lasu’ach ba’sadeh lifnot arev/and Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field at the turning of evening (Gen. 24:63).  It is the same root, whether of language or spirit, la’su’ach/to meditate, to pray, to converse, and so too the root of si’ach/a bush, a shrub, green and verdant growing things. So from his own traumas, so much pain and sorrow in his life, Rebbe Nachman would go out each day to be alone in nature, among the trees and grasses, finding solace and strength in field and forest. From words of Torah he formed words of prayer, May I merit to make it my custom to go out each day to the field and be among the trees and grasses and every shrub of the field. And there may I merit to be alone and to increase in conversation between me and the one to whom I belong (Likutei T’filot 2:11).
It is all in the way of Yitzchak going out into the field that Rebbe Nachman teaches, words of Torah become prayers, become vessels, become places of respite, of sanctuary. I share his teaching as I translated it long ago while sitting in the woods of a Jewish summer camp, children’s voices all around, laughter and joy to inspire, Shabbos coming near.
             Know, that when a person prays in a field, then all of the grasses come within the prayer, and aid the one praying, and give to the one praying strength in their prayer. In this way, prayer is called “sicha” (in all of its layers of meaning, prayer, meditation, and shrub). This is in the aspect, derived from B’reishit 2:5 which says “si’ach ha’sadeh/shrub of the field.” Every shrub of the field gives strength and aids one in their prayer. This is the aspect of B’reishit 24:63, “And Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field,” that his prayer would be with the aid and strength of the field, that all of the grasses of the field would give strength and aid to his prayer. For this reason, prayer is called “sicha,” as explained above. Therefore, in the curse in D’varim/Deuteronomy 11:17 (which is in the second paragraph of the Sh’ma) it is said, “and the ground will not give its produce/v’ha’adamah lo titen et y’vulah,” for all of the produce/herbage of the earth needs to give strength and aid within prayer. And when there is a defect or barrier concerning the earth’s giving aid to prayer, of this it says, “and the ground will not give its strength. And even when one is not praying in a field the produce of the earth still gives aid to their prayer. That is to say, all that supports a person, for example, eating and drinking, goes forth to provide such support (as eating and drinking support the body, so the produce of the earth also supports the soul and aids one’s prayer). When one is in the field, however, then nature’s support for their prayer is greater, then all of the grasses and all of the produce of the ground give strength to their prayer, as explained above. And this word “produce/yivol” can be derived from the first letters of the verse (Gen. 24:63), “and Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field/Va’yetze Yitzchak La’su’ach Ba’sadeh…, for all of the produce of the field prayed with him, as explained above… (Likutei Moharan Tinyana 11).
        As we go out each week to meditate in the Sabbath field, L’cha Dodi/Come Beloved, so may we find beauty and rest among all the delights of Shabbos.     Aid and support given to our prayer, continuing then to inspire and nurture as we re-enter the world of time, may we merit to remember what we have seen and known, strength given to body and soul, renewed and refreshed.
Rabbi Victor Reinstein

An American Thanksgiving

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 14:30
     This Thanksgiving, some things I saw on the internet made me think more seriously about the first inhabitants of this land. One writer told the traditional Thanksgiving story of friendship and a shared meal with the usual characters like Squanto, helping the early settlers plant and harvest their escape from starvation.     Another told the story about how the first Thanksgiving was proclaimed by then Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Bay Colony, as a celebration for massacring the Pequot people. The Governor wanted prayers of gratitude in the churches for this great victory. One commentator of the day remarked, "Let the whole Earth be filled with his glory! Thus the Lord was pleased to smite our Enemies in the hinder Parts, and to give us their Land for an Inheritance." Another said God had destroyed the enemies of his people; "Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling (Mystic) with dead bodies." 
       A third video shows some young Native American women telling the story of theft, pillage, rape and terror and then turning over a laden Thanksgiving table.      Different people see history through different eyes. But European Americans should all be able to recognize three things: we stand on stolen land that belonged to someone else; the original Americans are still with us; the first inhabitants continue to petition for recognition of their rights, like clean water and sustainable economies     And although there are still Christians who stereotype all tribal peoples as pagan or heathen, the informed are aware of the deep spirituality and sacred traditions that have been carried on, even in the face of government prohibition and attempted genocide.      For fifteen years I coordinated a program in reservation communities where people came from many different countries and across the U.S. to immerse themselves in traditional and contemporary Native American life. We carried our home, a couple of tipis, on the top of our vans and without watches or rigid plans camped on the property of hosts and welcomed visitors as resource persons. As often happens in Indian country, people heard of our interest in learning and wonderful elders and teachers found their way to us.     During and after these programs I was sometimes invited to ceremonies, including the sweat lodge ceremony. It's not my place to say too much about sacred ceremonies of Indian people. But as a Christian pastor, I must say that the sweat lodge experience for me was like a whole body experience of baptism, of being born again.
       One is cleansed not only of the bodily toxins but through prayer, of the emotional and spiritual toxins as well. If the arrogant and self righteous in the Christian community could give up their sense of superiority for just a moment, to truly learn of this sacred ceremony, they  might recognize that other traditions have similar and just as meaningful ways of approaching the Creator.      Some Indian people have confessed that when they first heard about Jesus from the early missionaries, they understood. Their culture encouraged them to be willing to suffer for others. They were schooled in the value of generosity. There was an emphasis on the common good. So when they heard about this person who went to his death for others, it fit with their traditional understandings. Their sun dance ceremony represented something similar. It was about purification and sacrifice.      What those same Indian people didn't understand was all the baggage that came with Jesus. Baggage that eventually resulted in the destruction of indigenous people and the outlawing of their most meaningful ceremonies. Those of us of European descent would do well to confess it. It was the self righteousness and manifest destiny of those early pilgrims that resulted in the elimination of the Pequot people. It was the papal declaration of the Doctrine of Discovery that set the stage for stealing land and exterminating resisters. The Christian religion brought colonial baggage to this continent, conquering for Christ.       And in many ways, that nativist spirit is still too prevalent in the land. The cartoon of Indian people cutting off new immigrants from Europe is altogether appropriate in a Trumpian climate. One cartoon has the picture of an Indian man with the words,  "So you're against immigration? Splendid! When do you leave?"     We need to work harder in this culture to incorporate some traditional indigenous values. We're in relationship, with all that is. When you enter the sweat lodge ceremony, you remind yourself of this reality. You are also reminded of the elements of all life: water, fire, air and earth. You are reminded we can't treat the earth like a thing and expect it to give fruit in its season. We can't treat the waters like our toilet and expect to be healthy. We can't use and misuse the others around us and expect mutual aid.     Religious leaders from all across the country disowned the Doctrine of Discovery at Standing Rock last year. They confessed God did not give anyone a right to take lands occupied by others. Now it's time to give flesh to that confession. A good first step would be respecting Native sovereignty and Native values when it comes to pipelines.

Carl Kline

Dialogue

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 12:28
         Recently I was reminded of a book I read years ago, The Miracle of Dialogue by Reuel Howe. One time Director of the Institute for Advanced Pastoral Studies at Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, he was an author of several books and died in 1985. His insights into dialogue and his understanding of its importance to the human community remain.
      In the opening paragraph of his book he writes, "Every man (sic) is a potential adversary, even those whom we love. Only through dialogue are we saved from this enmity toward one another. Dialogue is to love, what blood is to the body. When the flow of blood stops, the body dies. When dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hate are born. But dialogue can restore a dead relationship. Indeed, this is the miracle of dialogue."      On some of my early visits to India, the only available option for communicating with my family was Western Union. The offices were few and far between and telegrams were not a very accessible option. Of course, I sent postcards. But they didn't arrive till after I returned home. There simply weren't any options for actual dialogue in those years. Eventually the telephone connections were made and one could call with some degree of proficiency. Now, with the internet and cell phones, one can cover those distances in an instant and relationships can be maintained with a constant flow of dialogue.         That's not to say computers and cell phones are always used for dialogue. It's amazing how quickly we have moved from using the Post Office to electronic mail; from computer email to cell phones; from cell phones to texting. It is less and less common to hear an actual human voice on a cell phone. Now most scroll through words on a screen, with no actual human contact, ignoring or responding as the mood moves us. There's no dialogue, no human touch, in word or flesh.         Howe writes about some of the barriers to dialogue. One obvious barrier is language. Wanting to learn Spanish, I audited a course at SDSU. To my chagrin, I discovered homework and study was required. Traveling later in Latin America, I learned that non verbal language is universal. Although an English Spanish dictionary certainly helps.        Another barrier to dialogue is the defenses we put up, perhaps fueled by our anxieties. It might be "the dog ate my homework" response of the child to the teacher. Or perhaps blaming the sibling for the broken vase with "she made me do it." Neither of these responses further communication about the problem. Nor do they move one closer to a goal of dialogue, establishing "the truth."        This past week I saw a critic of some of my columns, especially those I've written about global warming. I suggested we should have coffee together so I could visit with him about climate change, since he seems to be denying its existence. His response was that he had his books and reading to tell him about climate change. For him, no dialogue was necessary. Perhaps he prefers an adversarial relationship.     He certainly has models for adversarial relationships in the federal government and partisan politics these days. Now we have a tax bill before us that was once again crafted behind closed doors. There were no hearings, no inter-party debate or compromises. The legislation that results will boil down to a matter of purely partisan political power.
         When we lived in Massachusetts we were participants in a house church. Every Sunday morning a different person would host our gathering and we would have different "celebrants." It might be a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister or a layperson. We would share bread and wine together and always have a dialogue sermon. There was mutuality, a chance for questions and comments; a time of listening and exchange. That dialogue broke down the barriers of background, age, gender, tradition, etc. We were all in relationship and the blood of our church body was flowing.There was a gathering of a small group of young people at our home recently. Each person spoke at some length about what is giving meaning to their lives. It was an exceptional experience and the time passed quickly. Afterwards, one of the participants said, "we need to do this again. We never have conversations like this anymore."

            It's true. Dialogue that brings relationship into being is in danger of disappearing in a culture distracted by materialism and consumerism. Dialogue that can bring back a relationship that was near death is in danger from rugged individualism and an increasing fear of the "other and being "right." But for those of us who believe in the life giving qualities of dialogue, we must press on. As Howe says, "There is only one qualification to these claims for dialogue; it must be mutual and proceed from both sides, and the parties to it must persist relentlessly."
Carl Kline

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Fri, 11/17/2017 - 12:18

Perhaps it was a Hint of HopeRabbi Victor H. Reinstein

          There was something different to me in the tone of a recent Black Lives Matter vigil. Something seemed different in the surrounding atmosphere, in the collective air that we all breathe, even as we gather to remember such as the choking cry of Eric Garner, pleading while held in a police chokehold, “I can’t breathe.” As we approach the two-year anniversary since the vigil first gathered, I try to be there on the first Thursday of each month whenever I can, making it on most months. The difference I felt was not in the warm connection among those who stand with each other. It was not a difference in direction or sense of purpose. The crowd seemed somewhat smaller than at other times, though not small, equally vibrant and committed regardless of numbers. I closed my eyes, often quietly praying the mincha prayer while standing in line, conveniently facing east. Offering the prayers of afternoon, I join my own way of prayer with the prayerful spirit surrounding all who are there. So too, connection is made with all the passersby, smiles, waves, and simple words, God’s image carried before us in so many different ways, a reminder of why we are there, of the common humanity that joins us all.
The difference this time seemed to be in the connection and interaction with passersby. There is always the supportive honking of a horn as cars pass, a wave and a smile from drivers, from cyclists, from pedestrians, people stepping from the bus, hurrying on home from school and work. Last night there was an uncharacteristic shout from the driver of a pick up truck, fist punching the air beyond his open window, yelling, “go Trump.” A collective sigh went up from the otherwise silent vigil, an expression of dignity. That seemed to be part of the difference I felt in tone, a dignified weariness. We are in it for the long haul now, and it is hard. The hate, the brutality, the coarseness even come to Jamaica Plain.
               In standing together, we find strength, singing and sighing together, reminding our selves and passersby that we are all on this journey together.
And so too, passersby reminded us last night of our purpose in being there, reminding of the larger picture and of the human connection that joins us all. Yes, the driver of the truck who shouted at us offers one type of reminder, and a challenge. Perhaps some day he will appreciate our perseverance and even stop by to talk, even to stand. That happened to me once as part of another vigil, one seeking peace and an end to militarism, of US testing of submarines in Canadian waters. Every week a heckler came by, sometimes drawn to my kippah, often stopping right in front of me, shouting, too close for comfort. It was a weekly vigil, and every week I spoke calmly to the man as he leaned in, crossing boundaries of comfort and respect. I came to know well the markings on his face and the East European accent in his voice. Over time, I asked him of his story, of his family, from where he had come, gradually sensing a softening as he offered short answers to my questions. One week I was not able to make it to the vigil. During that week of my absence, I was told that the man had come by as usual, but he was quiet, asking the others, “where is my rabbi?” From then on, it was different, a connection made. The man never joined the vigil, but he no longer came by to harangue, only to talk and affirm the human connection that inheres among us all, affirming that we were indeed a peace vigil.
There was something more at the recent Black Lives Matter vigil that I continue to reflect on, to feel tearful and hopeful about.  There seemed to be a different way of interaction with African American passersby. Perhaps I have missed such interactions in the past, but I was struck last night by the number of African Americans of all ages who stopped at various points along the line to say “thank you.” There was something deeply moving in these simple words, but something that also made me feel awkward, even embarrassed. Standing up for justice, standing up in the face of our neighbor’s oppression and our own is what we are called to do because it is right, not as an act worthy of gratitude. It is an act of tz’dakahin its most basic meaning of acting for the sake of justice, for the sake of making things right, as called to action by the Torah (Deut. 16:20), tzedek, tzedek tirdof/justice, justice shall you pursue. In the whiteness of most of the vigil standers, it is an obligation to stand for those without white privilege, precisely the reason and the need to cry out that “Black Lives Matter,” that those facing injustice most directly not be left to cry out alone. In my discomfort with expressions of appreciation, perhaps I am also being too critical, failing to see an expression of the very connection we seek among us. The simple words of thank you can be heard as an expression of solidarity, that we walk hand in hand even as we stand. It is not that there are more white people standing in the vigil on behalf of black people. We are standing, black and white together, whether some are standing in the silent line, some passing by, some smiling, some praying, some knowing the scourge of racism all to close to home, together seeking justice, offering love and hope along a busy street as life goes by.
              Most of all, I was moved to tears by a mother and son. She stopped right by the end of the vigil line, right by where I most often stand. The woman smiled and offered those two beautiful words, “thank you.” I simply smiled, wanting to hug her, but refraining. I have thought since that I might have said, “We are all in this together.” Perhaps that was conveyed in my smile.
            She then stood nearby, bending down to speak earnestly to her son of about seven or eight years old. She spoke into his ear, turning to point to the signs that said she mattered, that her son mattered. The two came closer again to the line of vigil and still with the same warm smile nodded her head, holding her son so close, and then to both him and to us sang out in prayerful cadence, “yes, Black Lives Matter!” Of love and justice joined, mother and child affirmed, so were we. As the two turned then to leave, I said to her the same two words, heartfelt and true, “thank you.”
In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayera (Gen. 18:1-22:24), God weighs whether to tell Avraham of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities so filled with violence, with hate for the stranger, for the poor, for the wayfarer that soon all shall crumble and be no more, unable to be sustained. The world is founded on love and kindness, not on hate, olam chesed yibaneh/the world is built on loving kindness (Psalm 89), and only in our so building each day as God’s partners shall the world be sustained.
 In telling Avraham, it is with the hope that we shall keep the way of God--to do righteousness and justice/v’shamru derech ha’shem—la’asot tz’dakah u’mishpat (Gen. 18:19) Mishpat refers simply to justice. Tzedakah, as we are commanded to pursue it, is justice infused with love, with a quest to do good, to right what is wrong. Often joined together as a phrase, mishpat usually precedes tzedakah in the language of the Torah. Not here, in the face of such violence and social breakdown, love needs to infuse justice if we would rebuild the world and our society as it is meant to be.
Each of us is touched by the love and kindness that brings us to stand in a vigil, to bear witness that Black Lives Matter, our weariness transformed into faith and perseverance. Of passersby who shout from fear and hate, and of those who smile and say thank you, we are all joined as one. Pursuing justice with love in the way of ancient command, tzedek, tzedek tirdof/justice, justice shall you pursue, reminding that every child matters, every life, so we shall build this world with love.
We cry louder, greater witness needed, when one person’s mattering is forgotten, a mother passing by and explaining to her son, grateful for the opportunity, a moment of gratitude that joins us all. There was something different in the tone, in the fall air filled with our silence and our song. With gratitude for the breath of life and for each one’s presence, touched by simple words of thank you, hand in hand we stand that no one should ever have to plead for the next breath that doesn’t come. Something different in the air, perhaps it was a hint of hope.



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Thu, 11/09/2017 - 16:28

Stilling The Sound of the Ruthless       
        It is mid- November.  The weather has turned seasonably cooler after a prolonged departure of summer.  At least two human beings refuse to acknowledge that “the season” has ended - - still taking a leisurely swim in the waters of the Sound - even though there is a brisk breeze and the thermometer reads 43 degrees!  Rusty oak and sage-y green-brown blueberry leaves carpet our lane and the night sky is more visible at an even earlier hour.  The vacationing crowds of summer are gone. Fall has finally made an appearance.  Winter is not far off.            An even more gritty sign of the demise of summer is the increased level of activity as the island prepares to serve and care for the segment of the year-round population that is hardest hit by the onset of autumn and winter - women and men who depend on seasonal employment,  our elders, and our homeless population.  During the summer when the summer resort wealth seems to abound and there are jobs that go begging,  it is easy to forget that the summer bounty does not last, nor does it benefit everyone.            And so the organizational meetings  gear up again.  The call goes out to the community for  hygiene packs - soap, toothpaste, tooth brushes, deodorant, packages of warm tube socks, winter clothing - for distribution to the souls who will utilize the Houses of Grace - winter shelter organized by the island churches. Volunteers gather for training  - - people willing to  spend the night sleeping on an air mattress on the floor to help staff the shelters.        Back packs with  necessary school supplies are organized and distributed. Soups are  made and frozen for later distribution. Nightly community meals are planned. The Island Food Pantry hours  expand.    Volunteers make the food pick-ups at the local supermarkets and libraries and churches to keep the Pantry shelves well stocked. “Clothes To Go”  welcomes folks to come and “shop” for needed items while they await their turn in line at the Food Pantry.  No money changes hands.   Thanksgiving Dinners will “pop up” at various churches, at the VFW, and the American Legion Hall.  The Committee On Hunger will distribute baskets with turkey and all the trimmings to families in need.  All this in the service of being sure that no one goes hungry or without shelter for lack of attention on the part of the community.              Even with all this activity on the part of this island  in the service of people in need, no one believes or is fooled into thinking this is how the need SHOULD be answered.  The work and concern and loving service is indispensable - -  but in a “land of plenty” it should not be so.  In a true “land of plenty” there would be adequate affordable housing for all.   There would be functioning systems in place to assure affordable fuel.  Families would not be making the choice between feeding  themselves and keeping the house warm.              Our community is one of hundreds around the country who keep expanding our “band-aid” capabilities to care for the most vulnerable among us as the highest law making body in the land tries to figure out how to limit the funds and resources available to address these same issues nationally.  We do a pretty good job. Fortunately, we know we can carry on this way for awhile, seeking to gain some balance here between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”   There is enough consciousness and enough conscience to keep the community motivated.             But what about Puerto Rico?  What about Gulf Coast communities still struggling to regain “normal”?  Where is the “balm in Gilead” in communities where the lines between “haves” and “have-nots”  are obliterated by natural disaster that destroys without discrimination, leaving an entire population without adequate resources for recovery?   Where is a generous sense of accountability on the part of our national government?  Why is the well being of so much of the population of this land not the top priority of our national leaders?              I take hope and direction from the words of the prophet Isaiah’s  psalm of thanksgiving (Isaiah 25:1,4-5), verses that follow on the almost apocalyptic judgments of God against those have ignored and transgressed against the Holy Vision for humanity:
O Lord, you are my God’I will exalt you, I will praise your name;for you have done wonderful things,plans formed of old, faithful and sure.For you have been a refuge to the poor;a refuge to the needy in their distress,a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.When the blast of the ruthless waslike a winter rainstorm,the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;the song of the ruthless was stilled.
            In no time at all, the airwaves will be filled with the sounds of Christmas.  What we hear, depending on the day and the choice of music, will either re-enforce our national predilection for ignoring the most basic needs of the human community in favor of rank consumerism, militarism, and partisanship or it will inspire us to embrace the vision of wholeness expounded in Isaiah’s words - - a wholeness where the “song of the ruthless is stilled”.  May there be a profound silence........
                       
 .......and after an appropriate pause, may we fill the silence with the music of the sounds of  “plans formed of old, faithful and sure...”, plans that embody justice and compassion, kindness and generosity, well being and hospitality.  May it be so.
Vicky Hanjian              

Living Nonviolence