We are offering the best from Temple Solel in Paradise Valley Arizona as our clergy team of Rabbi John Linder, Rabbi Debbie Stiel, and Cantorial Soloist Todd Herzog share their weekly insights from our Shabbat services and beyond. Temple Solel is a vibrant and engaged Reform community grounded in relationships and deeds, and elevated by Shabbat and Torah. We welcome all who seek a connection to Jewish life regardless of religious background, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, ability, age, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Rabbi Linder 03272020
Faith in Uncertain Times
March 27, 2020 – Nisan 2, 5780
Temple Solel, Paradise Valley, AZ
Rabbi John A. Linder
As a religious leader, there have been many questions on my mind over the past couple of weeks, as COVID-19 takes center stage across the United States, the latest stop in its unyielding pandemic spread. Foremost, for me, is the question, “How can our respective faith traditions help us navigate this crisis.” In these times of magnified disorientation, fear, loss, uncertainty, and instability, what does Judaism offer, to a solid foundation upon which to stand?
First of all, Judaism has never presented the world as a place of order and certainty. Quite to the contrary, our creation story dismissed from the start any illusion that life will be lived in the perfection of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, after a brief taste of the garden, leave that mythical place behind, and step into the real world of uncertainty and chaos. At the end of the day, the essence of Judaism is to use the agency we have, to respond to a world in which we have little control. To the degree possible, Judaism helps us to make order out of chaos.
That’s the purpose of the Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus that we begin this week. In the ancient world, day to day life was simply much more precarious ours today. All the more so living in the wilderness. Food supply, wild animals and disease presented everyday challenges. The Israelites, momentarily celebrated their first taste of freedom having safely crossed the red sea; with timbrals in hand singing mi chamocha. That party didn’t last long. Now, how that had to figure out how to survive in the world as a free people, fashioning living a holy life in relationship with the one God of heaven and earth. Before turning to the Book of Leviticus, the Israelites have just completed a portable sanctuary, a mishkan, a place for God to dwell. So God is always with the Israelites, whether they are encamped or moving. God is with them.
The first three words we read in this Torah portion are, “Vayikra el Moshe, The Lord called Moses.” That might not be curious to you, but it is to the rabbis over the centuries, trying to interpret the wisdom of Torah. Through the first two books of Torah, when God wants to speak, well, God just does that, he speaks, Vayomer Elohim, God said, let there be light, and, there was light. Vayomer Adonai El Avram, and God said to Avram, Vayomer Adonai El Moshe, and God said to Moses. When God want to speak, he does that, and well, the universe and people have now problem hearing him. But, here for the first time, God firsts calls to Moses, and it begs the question, Why. Why doesn’t God just speak to Moses like he always has, why now call to Moses.
One of the most profound interpretations comes from Rabbi Kalman Kalonymmus Shapiro. Rabbi Shapiro, one of revered 20th centuries Hasidic rabbis from Poland died in Rabbi Shapira's memory is revered, and he is held as an example of faith under enormous duress. He was murdered in the Trawniki concentration camp in Lublin, Poland. Responding to these words, “The Lord called to Moses”, Rabbi Shapiro, drawing from another midrash, images that God is like a human being who cries out to a friend, saying, “help me carry the burden.” Nobody would know more than Rabbi Shapiro, such a burden that God wants help carrying is our human suffering. God feels the suffering as we do. Yet, Judaism’s boldness believes in a God who needs our help in carrying and helping to alleviate human suffering. God takes comfort in not having to carry it alone. So like calling out to a friend, God calls to Moses for help.
And another midrash answering why God needs to call Moses, imagines that Moses is simply too far from God to hear him speak. God has to call out to him to get his attention “Moses, over hear, I’ve got something to say to you.” Perhaps Moses thought, after compl
Rabbi Linder 07/19
Fifty years ago, after the 230,000-mile voyage, Apollo 11 successfully landed on the Moon. The
first time in the history of humanity. If you’re over 55, you likely recall exactly where you were
on that day. I was a 12-year-old boy at Camp Kennebec - a secular, Jewish boys camp in the
north woods of Maine. Just this past Wednesday, I called my life-long friend and brother,
Stanley Weil. We reminisced about gathering in the camp’s mess hall in the middle of that July
afternoon, 1969; some 200 campers and counselors, eyes affixed on a small, staticky black and
white Zenith television set. Little did we know that we were amongst the world’s largest
viewing audience to this day; some 650 million people, a quarter of the Earth’s population,
holding our collective breath; witnessing the successful landing; hearing astronaut Neil
Armstrong report, “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed;” then, some hours
later, Armstrong stepped out of the lunar-module, down the ladder, the first human being to
set foot on the Moon. Armstrong put that singular achievement in perspective for us all,
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was a dizzying, dazzling
moment for this wide-eyed and open-hearted 12-year-old camper. As it is with adolescent
boys’ insecurities, I momentarily turned away from my friends with eyes welling up.
Before going about the business of collecting Moon rocks and soil, making this more than a
Cold War competition between the two earthly superpowers, rather helping earthlings better
understand our cosmic creation story and our place in the universe, Neil Armstrong and Buzz
Aldrin set up an American flag and a plaque that read, “Here men from the planet Earth first set
foot upon the Moon. July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.” Armstrong then took a
photograph of Aldrin saluting the American flag.
All the while, unsung hero, Commander Mike Collins, was orbiting 60 miles above the Moon, his
job – to collect his fellow astronauts and return safely to Earth. Collins, alone in his command
module, yet not lonely, described being awestruck by the magnificent spectacle of seeing the
moon up close. “The sun,” he said, “was coming around it, cascading and making a golden
halo…As impressive as the view was of this alien Moon seen up close, it was nothing compared
to the sight of the Earth. The Earth was the main show. The Earth was it. It’s tiny, it’s shiny, it’s
beautiful, it’s home and it’s fragile.”
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy boldly (and with much controversy) set the course for
America to invest in space exploration, specifically aiming to put a man on the Moon within the
decade. What a shame he wouldn’t live to see that day. In announcing the program, Kennedy
declared, “There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet.” Kennedy
provided an infusion to NASA while America and countries around the globe were embroiled in
conflict. Indeed, it was enticing to move our gaze from earthly concerns, into the unexplored
frontier of outer space.
Rabbi Linder B'haalot'cha 06/21
In this week’s Torah portion, B’haalot’cha, we find the Israelite community, and those who have chosen to join them, on the first anniversary marking their Exodus from Egypt. In this first year, God has given the Torah to all present at Mt. Sinai (and each generation to follow), and the entire community has participated in building the portable Tabernacle or Mishkan, at the heart of which is the ark to carry the stone tablets of Torah. Those tablets, a manifestation of the divine, will now serve as the Jewish people’s living, eternal guidebook and moral compass; helping them navigate their way through the wilderness to the Promised Land, and wherever the road will lead our people.
The Israelites now have what they need to continue their journey, though understandably, with great trepidation of the unknown. The familiarity of slavery in Egypt is more comforting than the uncertainty of freedom that lies ahead. As with all human beings, the Israelites need signs and guides to accompany them on their journey. The divine signs from the parashah come in the form of a cloud. When the cloud settles upon the Tabernacle, the Israelites know its time to stop and set up camp. When the cloud lifts, they know it’s time to, literally, pull up stakes and resume their journey.
When I read the wonderful news this morning that Joy Harjo was just named America’s next Poet Laureate, I thought about the lovely alignment of stars between Harjo’s poetry and this week’s Torah portion. In Eagle Poem , Harjo writes:
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear;
Can't know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
The sustainability of humanity and the earth entrusted to our care depends upon our ability to open our whole selves to signs all around us, so often offered from the natural world. As Harjo experiences the divine in sky, earth, sun, moon and eagle, so do the biblical authors image the divine as a cloud rising and settling. Only when we see ourselves in these signs, are we able to follow the moral compass of Torah. As this Shabbat is ushered in by the Summer Solstice, blessing us with an abundance of sunshine; let that light help us to see and know that we must take the utmost care and kindness in all things.
Rabbi John A. Linder
Rabbi Langowitz 04/26/19-"As we move through this Shabbat which closes our Passover experience; may we look for freedom for ourselves and others in acts of routine remembering. May we search for the right technologies to help us feel at one with others, to feel present with others, to feel present for others, even when our locations and experiences place us far away….."
Rabbi Langowitz answers questions on the role of religion in public life; how Jewish identity informs our engagement as American citizens; moving from case based concerns to ethical necessities of a just society and including all peoples narratives in our stories and how we go forward.
Rabbi Cohen is visiting us from Minnetonka, Minnesota
Rabbi Norman Cohen is rabbi emeritus of Bet Shalom Congregation in Minnetonka, where he was senior rabbi from 1981 through 2015. His engagement in interfaith learning with Christians goes back to his college years at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he graduated with honors in 1972. He earned his master’s degree from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1975 and was awarded an honorary doctorate of divinity there in 2001. Rabbi Cohen returns to Holy Cross College every year to serve as chaplain and advisor to Jewish students and faculty, and he also visits Hebrew Union College as a teacher in practical rabbinics. He has been an adjunct faculty member at several colleges and universities in Ohio and Minnesota, including St. Catherine University and St. Olaf College, and also at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. He has authored numerous magazine and newspaper articles and the book Jewish Bible Personages in the New Testament (University Press of America, 1989). He is currently working on a new book, tentatively titled Stereotypes and Misconceptions that Christians and Jews Have about Each Other and What to do about Them.
Shabbat Shalom from Temple Solel Paradise Valley, Arizona on December 28, 2018 with Rabbi John Linder. www.templesolel.org
These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. - Exodus 1:1-4