Four words. They are just four words. They make up a simple sentence. But how you say this sentence makes all the difference in the world.
What can I do? Emphasis on I. Meaning that I am so small, the world is so large. My energy is limited. The problems of the world are unlimited. What can I do? Not much. A recipe for contraction.
But then there is: What can I do? I cannot do everything. But I can do something. What can I do to make our world a little more decent. A recipe for doing something.
Which way do you say it? Are you a what can I do person? Or a what can I do person? What life are you living? What life do you want to live?
In the spirit of these questions, and in the week of San Diego and Yom Hashoah, I want to tell you two stories about a man named Rabbi Herschel Schacter who died six years ago at the age of 95. He never said what can I do? He made his troubled world a little more decent.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/in-the-wake-of-san-diego-what-can-i-do/
I want to name a problem that is very common, perhaps almost universal, but we don’t talk about it. If not now, at Yizkor, when?
It is the problem of recency. It looks like this. Your loved one was fabulous when he or she was in the full bloom of their life. And then, X years ago, they faced a serious health challenge.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/the-problem-of-recency/
When I used to sing competitively, I remember there was always this moment. I would go with my vocal studio to various competitions, which they always held in some university auditorium far away. After months of practicing and preparing, we would pile 4 or 5 divas into a small beat up car for whatever number of hours it took to arrive at the competition location. In the car, we would be singing vocal warm-ups, or blasting out musical theater tunes, or perseverating about which song we should sing first. (The way these competitions work is that each singer gets to choose their first piece, and if they choose wisely and the judges like it, they can ask for additional songs.) And after the anxious ride, and a quick change of clothes and a dash to the stage, I remember the feeling walking out in front of those judges. If you were lucky, they would let you sing your first full song, and then another. Sometimes, a judge would interrupt with a curt “thank you” and then leave you worried about what they didn’t like it.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/half-hallel-our-passover-challenge/
Host Cantor Elias Rosemberg interviews pianist Constantine Finehouse on how he got started with the Temple Emanuel Chamber Music Concerts. Plus, listen to a sneak peak of some of the music that will be featured at our upcoming concert on May 5th.
Learn more about the event here https://www.templeemanuel.com/event/chamber-music-concert-series/2019-05-05/
I have a confession to make. I am a hopeless romantic. Starting when I was a little girl, I devoted endless hours to dreaming about what it would be like to meet my partner and fall in love and live happily ever after. I have journals from when I was 12 peppered with lists of what my ideal partner would be like because I was convinced that if I could imagine him clearly, he would appear.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/beyond-linens-n-things/
What a complicated time. Today is Shabbat Hagadol. We are supposed to prepare ourselves for the first seder next Friday night. But most of the big issues that one might discuss at our s’darim are even more fraught than usual.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/conviction-and-humility/
Help me finish this sentence. You cannot be any happier than…your least happy child.
The emotional life of a parent is deeply connected to the emotional life of their child.
Perhaps that is why there is such a thing as a helicopter parent.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/helicopters-teacups-and-swimmers/
At the beginning of chapter two in the megillah, the talented heroine of Purim is introduced by two names. In the words of the megillah:
[And he was the guardian of Hadassah, (that is, Esther) the daughter of his uncle] (sung)
Why did she have these two names? The midrash explains that Esther was born green. Literally. Her skin had a sallow, yellowish-green tone and for this reason, she was named Hadassah—myrtle. As a little one, she looked like the plant. But as she grew older, God made a miracle for her. God concealed her green skin and made it so that anyone who saw her experienced her as the most beautiful woman in the world. That’s why she was named Esther—Esther for hester—the Hebrew word meaning hidden.
The miracle of Purim is not just that Esther saved the day. The real miracle of Purim is that Esther found the courage to be herself no matter what.
Purim is over. Let’s take off our masks. No more Esther syndrome. It’s time to be you.
Every year the Oxford Dictionary comes up with a Word of the Year, a word that captures the ethos and mood of our time. For 2018 the word of the year is toxic. Toxic was used widely to describe our natural environment, relationships, culture, politics, the state of our national conversation.
The word of the year is toxic because all too often our world feels toxic.
Here is my question for you. If the world is toxic, do you have a counter world to which you can retreat where you feel safe and sound, seen and heard, loved and valued?
I recently saw a film, and read an article, that made me realize we have all won the lottery. No matter what issues or problems we have going on in our lives, and we all have issues or problems going on in our lives, we have still totally won the lottery. The holiday of Purim is not just fun for the kids, it is super relevant to adults because it deals with the very real and adult theme that luck happens and has a huge impact on our day to day lives. How should we respond to the importance of luck as an important driver of our lives?
Sometimes I feel like a spiritual hustler (and I don’t mean I daven quickly). I meet young people in bars and cafes and ask them questions about their Judaism. Questions like, “what do you love about being Jewish?” and “do you feel it is important to live a Jewish life?” But sometimes their answers catch me off-guard. So many young adults are living Jewish lives for other people in other times. We are so committed to safeguarding what we received that we’ve forgotten why Judaism exists in the first place—as a way for us to connect with God, with ourselves, and with our larger Jewish community.
I want to raise a large question with you today, which is this: Is knowing more better? Is knowing more facts about yourself, your history, your biology, your family history, better? In our reading this morning, the High Priest, the Kohein Gadol, keeps in a pouch above his heart an ancient device intended to discern God’s will on hard questions. It was called the Urim v’Tumim. Let’s say there were a vexing question the Israelites could not answer on their own. The Urim v’Tumim was an instrument of decision that only the High Priest could use that would enable him to ascertain God’s answer to this hard question. He kept this instrument in a pouch above his heart.
Namely: How should we think about the aspiration to be the greatest, the best? Is thinking this way, is dreaming this way, is acting this way, I want to be the best, healthy? What happens to our heart when we are focused on becoming the goat? I remember as a teen being drawn to the climactic line in the poem Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. “To strive to seek to find and not to yield.” Is this a good thing? How does the goat beat the ram? With a lot of help from our friends. That is true for Tom Brady. That is true for all of us.
It was early in the morning. I had just sat down at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee, when I happened to look out the window and caught my breath. A deer stood there, ears erect, eyes darting around. I live in a condo in Boston, built along a busy street by VFW Parkway. Where did that deer come from? How does it spend its days? Is it always wandering between scraps of forest, pockets of grass and trees? Does it miss just running through the woods, without having to dodge cars and hide from people? Where does it go during the day? And as I pondered the deer’s predicament, I began to see the ways in which we are all like that deer. Our lives are hemmed in on all sides with work and obligations. So many of us wake up extra early to nibble at that patch of grass—the 5 minute meditation app, the chance to drink a cup of coffee sitting down, to read the paper—and then we’re off, darting from task to task until late at night.
When you see somebody do something that you do not understand–perhaps it is puzzling, perhaps it is more than puzzling, it might even be offensive to you–how are you supposed to think about and respond to this challenging conduct? Consider three vignettes. Read the full sermon here https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/their-battle-that-you-know-nothing-about/
I was recently speaking with my son Sam about a book he was reading that he was raving about. He said it was giving him so much to think about every day when he went to work and interacted with his colleagues. The book is Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman.
Have you ever read a book that articulates a concept that you have never quite heard that way, but it totally captures reality? You say yes! O my God, yes! I never saw it before, but what she writes is so true. And helpful. It is going to help me take up my game!
Read the Sermon here: https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/becoming-a-multiplier/
We knew it was coming, this report from an expert who had been spending a lot of time investigating, but when it landed, it really hurt.
I am talking of course about the recent report that concluded that French fries are bad for you. According to Eric Rimm, a professor of nutrition at Harvard, French fries are, in his cruel phrase, “starch bombs.” He argues that French fries—even though they are made out of potatoes, and even though potatoes are a vegetable, that grows from the ground, and even though vegetables that grow from the ground are usually good for you—in the specific case of French fries, they are not so good for you.
Read the full sermon here: https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/after-the-crash/
There is a town in northern California called Paradise which was destroyed last month by fire. Ninety percent of Paradise residents lost their homes. What this meant for the people who lived in Paradise was brought home to me by an article I read about the Paradise High School football team.
Read the sermon here: https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/love-in-paradise/
Tomorrow night we will be singing the song of a man who died 28 years ago. Had he been alive, Leonard Bernstein would be 100 years old. However he died relatively young, at the age of 72. And yet, all these years later, we still think about Leonard Bernstein.
Which raises the question: do you have to be a musical genius for your song to play on after you are no longer here? Let’s say that you are an ordinary person who works and loves and lives and gives and passes, with no soundtrack attached to your name. Is it possible that 28 years after you pass people will still remember and celebrate you?
Read the full sermon here: https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/a-song-that-plays-on/
November 24, 2018
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