Once, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was walking past a black Baptist church where regular Sunday services were in full swing. There was ecstatic singing and clapping and even jumping and dancing. It looked like the church scene from Blues Brothers led by Pastor James Brown. Remember that movie? It also had a great musical scene with Aretha Franklyn OBM. The point is, another rabbi who was walking with Rav Shlomo asked him, "Did you see that church? It was packed!" Why are the Jews so unspiritual that they refuse to come to my shul?" Rav Shlomo turned to his friend and said, "Look at the way they pray and then look at your davening- they don't come to the shul because they are so spiritual!!"
I'm proud to say that as far as shuls go, I think our shul is the closest thing we have to the joy of a gospel church. Chazzon Shlomo Abramson has been here for 7 years now and we all look forward to the tunes we've grown accustomed to...
Terrorists burst into a shul just before Yom Kippur, demanding 20 million dollars and a jet plane in ransom. The Governor, being a tough man, said no. The terrorists then announced that they would kill, in quick succession, 3 people. They chose the Rabbi, the Cantor, and Moshe the kvetcher.
They told the Rabbi: "We're going to kill you first. Any last requests?" "Only one," said the Rabbi. "All my life I have wanted to give the perfect drasha.
This time, for Kol Nidre, I have worked on my drasha for many months. It's really great. Before you kill me, I'd like to give my drasha". "No problem" said the chief terrorist. "Give your sermon and then we'll kill you". He turned to the Cantor: "You'll be second to die. Any last requests?"
On Yom Kippur there is an ancient tradition to wear a kittel. On one hand, the kittel's white represents purity as Isaiah exclaims: "our sins shall be made as white as snow". At the same time, the kittel also reminds us of the burial shroud. Jewish people are all buried in the same plain white shroud so we all come before God as equals.not flaunting wealth or physicality, but rather our simplicity.
Along with the shroud-like kittel, we don't eat, drink, or engage in physical labors of any sort. It's almost as if Yom Kippur is a day imitating our day of death. A reminder of what we all have waiting ahead. Like a passing cloud, or the flower that withers..
There is one line in the haggadah that captures the entire essence of what the seder and pesach are all about:
"b'chol dor vador chayav adam lir'ot et atzmo k'ilu hu yatza mi-mitzrayim/ In every generation we are obligated to see ourselves as though we personally came out of Egypt."
A very powerful line, but what does it mean practically? If there is an obligation- a mitzvah, to feel as if the Exodus actually happened to us, in our lives, what is its purpose and how is it practiced?
Don't mistakenly think this is an isolated call for what I'll call "the Exodus mind".
Around 11:30 am every Saturday morning, the sanctuary of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah comes alive with song and dance. I once swore that I would, one day, have everyone in our shul dancing together. That day has yet to come. Most people still sit in their seats enjoying the outward display of joy, but resisting the urge to get up and "let it all hang out".
This dancing and singing is most powerful during the last blessing of the repetition of the Amidah. The blessing is one we all know. It is a blessing that summarizes and emphasizes the value which we as Jews desire more than any other- Sim Shalom- the prayer for peace. Sim Shalom's placement as the last prayer every time we pray must be in order to underscore its importance.
Peace is such an integral concept in Jewish existence that it is the word used for the highest state of being on all levels.
I cannot express my excitement enough over joining together once again for the High Holidays. Every year, we mark time and enjoy the spiritual realignment that is brought about by fearless soul searching, desire for renewal, and our heartfelt prayers. Every year that passes, I feel more and more connected to you- the chaveirim of this holy congregation who are my peers in this spiritual journey that every Jew must make.
What is the core goal of this journey we undertake each year? I'm not talking about the brisket and tzimmis, the family getting together, old and beautiful customs, or even coming to shul! Those are all wonderful and holy aspects of this time. My question is this: What are we trying to achieve on a personal level in terms of our attitude, our life's purpose, and our soul?
Good Yuntif, Good Yuntif...
A Rabbi was walking along the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach and saw one of his congregants, a pious and learned man sitting at an outdoor restaurant. The rabbi thought he'd say hello and maybe sit down for a beer, but as he got closer, he was horrified to see that this congregant was busy smashing crabs with a mallet and popping the succulent meat into his mouth.
The rabbi couldn't believe what he was watching. Out comes the waiter with a plate of shrimp and oysters and as the congregant starts to slurp them down, the rabbi has had enough. He comes running up to the table and shouts, shmendrick! What are you doing?
The congregant nearly chokes on a piece of shrimp, but quickly regains his composure.
"Rabbi", he says, "Have you been watching me this whole time?"
"You shall observe this matter as a decree for yourself and for your children forever. It shall be that when you come to the land that Hashem will give you, as He has spoken, you shall observe this service. And it shall be that when your children say to you, 'What is this service to you?' You shall say, 'It is a Pesach feast offering to Hashem, who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but He saved our households'"(Exodus 12:24-27).
At its very core, Passover is the holiday devoted to and responsible for passing the most basic and fundamental Jewish traditions to the next generation. Notice I didn't say, "to your children", for as Jews, it is our responsibility to pass the Torah to the next generation regardless of whether they are our children or not. This idea is the source of many rabbinic teachings including:
"If someone finds two lost objects, one belonging to their parent and the other to their Torah teacher, the latter takes precedence. While the parent brought the finder into this world, the religious mentor brings him into the next world" (Bava Metzi'a 33a).
"Whoever teaches someone Torah is as if he bore him" (Rashi).
All of us have an equal obligation to be teachers of Torah to the children. This applies year round, but especially so on Pesach. The entire seder concept is the delivery method of teaching the children. We have them ask questions to arouse their interest. We play games and dip our fingers into the wine as well as dip vegetables and eggs in saltwater, make sandwiches, talk about 4 types of children, and all types of other activities our children can relate to. And we tell the story of our people's origins, year after year after year. Passover, more than God's passing over our houses, is the "passing over" of our traditions and history to continue this unbroken chain of generations.
We all have an integral role in this "passing over". It is up to us to make the conscious decision as well as put in the effort to be teachers of Torah. How many of us will take some time, a few minutes, to brainstorm ideas that will arouse joy and wonder, or at least a good question out of the children at our seders?
I am so excited that MMAE is starting our very own institution for passing the torch of tradition this coming year - the Bernie Smith Hebrew Unschool. I hope you share my excitement and want to support this incredible endeavor. At the same time, however, we must never forget that WE are the primary teachers of the Torah and Jewish traditions. Let us rededicate ourselves before the holiday to take that role to heart.
I bless our entire holy congregation to merit happiness, health, peace, and renewal, and may the words which end the seder finally be fulfilled:
"Next Year In Jerusalem!"
DRASHA KOL NIDRE -5773 THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGING
No jokes today. My policy is no jokes on Yom Kippur... besides I have enough trouble trying to repent for the joke I told on Rosh Hashana!
But I will tell you something you may or may not want to hear. I'm going to tell you who to vote for in the Presidential election....uh oh.. Ready...
Should I vote for Romney, or Obama, Romney Obama, Rom Bam, Rom Bam. Rambam! I'm going to vote for more Rambam!!!
I was driving in my car the other day enjoying the beautiful weather and listening to the radio.
The song that was playing was one of the great classic rock songs written by a good Jewish boy named Robert Allen Zimmerman or better known by his rock and roll name Bob Dylan. You've probably heard the song, it''s called "The Times they are a Changing". The song was written in 1964 and many felt that it captured the spirit of social and political upheaval that characterized the 1960s.
So I'm driving and listening to the song. But my mind was occupied with the latest round of riots over the anti-Islam film that were burning in the Muslim world and threatening the lives of the diplomats who serve in our embassies and consulates.
Suddenly I said to myself, "The Times, they are a Changing all right". A shiver went through my whole body and for the first time in a long while, I was afraid.
One of my favorite places to visit in Israel is the holy city of Tzfat. Perched atop a mountain overlooking the lush Hula valley and the steep ravines that descend towards the Kineret the Sea of Galilee, Tzvat is mystical center of Israel.
They say that each of the 4 holy cities in Israel represent one of the elements:
Tzfat- Air, and I can tell you that the air is perfect on that mountain.
The town is filled with small, beautiful synagogues that are each different in layout and artistic flavor. My favorite is the Ari Synagogue.
I can't describe the feeling I get when I walk through the door of this ancient shul. It is a holy place.
The Ari Synagogue was built in the sixteenth century. The founders were Kabbalists, mostly followers of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero and they were joined in 1570 by Rabbi Isaac Luria. Known as the great AriZal, he was the founding father of modern kabbala.
His custom was to pray in the synagogue on the Eve of Sabbath, proceeding from there with his disciples to a nearby field to welcome the Sabbath. It is said that it was during these sessions that popular Shabbat melody, Lecha Dodi, was created.
During the 1948 War of Independence, there was fierce fighting around Tzfat.
The local Arabs turned on their Jewish neighbors and they were joined by strong forces from the British trained Jordanian Legion. The Jews were in big trouble. One day I'll have to tell you the miraculous story of the Davidka and how the Jews of Tzfat were saved, but many miracles happened around Tzfat during that war. One took place in the Ari synagogue:
One day during the war, the synagogue was packed with worshippers seeking shelter from the battles raging around the city. Little did they know, but as they were saying aleinu, a mortar shell was about to fall and explode just outside the shul.
Va'anachnu Korim! Everyone bowed down. The mortar shell hit and the shrapnel tore through the synagogue, flying right over the heads of the bent worshippers and embedding itself into the base of the bema.
You can still see the hole in the bema where the shrapnel hit. Many people put notes in the hole as they do at the Western wall. Miraculously, no one was hurt. They were saved by bowing.
I love the preparation and the cleaning. There is a sense of urgency and importance as I sort through all my family's food stores and find chametz hidden away in the back of my pantry. It reminds me how blessed I am and how much more I have than my ancestors ever could have imagined having.
The Torah is very clear about the prohibition against chametz- leavened products on Pesach. Not only can't we eat chametz, but we can't own it or have it around. Eating chametz on Pesach is considered one of the most serious "no-no's" in the Torah.
Without refrigerators and freezers and lacking the abundance we moderns take for granted, it was much easier for our ancestors to get rid of all their chametz. They would just make sure to eat it.
These days, very few of us eat all the chametz in our position. We fill out a sales form and authorize Rabbi Shapiro (what a handsome guy if I do say so myself) to sell it on our behalf.
Where did we arrive at the custom we have today of selling our chametz? It is based on an important concept in halachic law- "The Torah is concerned with the money of the Jewish people". In other words, the Torah is not supposed to cause undue financial hardship.
Thus, when Jewish innkeepers (who operated saloons) complained that if they had to drink all their expensive chametzy liquor before pesach, they would be drunk until Rosh Hashana, the rabbis devised the option of mechiras chametz- the selling of one's chametz to a gentile. Today, the custom has become so widespread that we take it for granted.
I, however, as much as possible, like to get rid of (read "eat") all my chametz. Starting in March, I don't buy any new food except for the basics- milk, eggs, fruit, and vegetables. It is time to enjoy the wonderful surprises that await my discovery in the recesses of the freezer.
The beauty of this is that by the time Pesach rolls around, I will be starting over from scratch. Just like my ancient ancestors leaving Egypt and my more recent ancestors in Shtetl Europe.
As we start fresh once again through the cycle of the Jewish year, Helene, Lila, Avi, and I wish you a Zissen Pesach and a Chag Kasher V'Sameach!!
RABBI'S MESSAGE - MEMORIAL DAY - MAY 2011
Shalom Chaveirim! Hello Friends!
We ask You oh God, Creator and Sustainer, Source of the universe and Giver of all wisdom, that You protect and watch over the armed forces of the United States of America wherever they may be- on land, at sea, or in the sky.
Each and every one of us knows in our hearts that it is only because of the great sacrifice of these men and women that we are able to live here in Baltimore, free from fear.
Oh God, who desires the gift of freedom for all humanity, we don't take our freedom for granted. You have bestowed upon us the greatest blessing of all- we have known the gift of peace.
Those of us, myself included, who have not served in our armed forces, may not fully appreciate this blessing. We have lived in the embracing shelter of peace our whole lives. Death is not something that comes by the sword, but through too many Big Macs. Let us never forget that if not for our courageous soldiers, peace in our land would be a dream, a fleeting illusion.
And so we consecrate this day as a memorial, a holy and hallowed tradition, to honor, thank, recall, and praise those soldiers who paid the ultimate price for you and for me, for our parents and for our children. And though we remember them today, it is incumbent upon each and every one of us, that we should take a moment every day, to thank America's fallen soldiers.
Without soldiers, there is no peace for our country, but without dedicated citizens, there is no purpose for our country. Each of us has an invaluable role to play here in America. May each of us be blessed in our individual roles to enhance and protect our society. May we live to honor our historic role as builders and servants of this great nation.
May you only know from goodness and blessing all the days of your life.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro
RABBI'S MESSAGE FROM ISRAEL - MARCH 23, 2011
Dear Beloved MMAE Family,
I stood at the Kotel today and poured out my heart for the good of our congregation and our families. I prayed that Hashem would bring health and healing, opportunity and employment.
As I davened, I felt so fortunate to once again stand in the place that is the center of our religion. I also realized that it felt very close to home. Our sanctuary at MMAE is a little replica of the Western Wall. This is true in spirit as well as in design. As my mind's image of our shul was superimposed on the Kotel plaza, I felt so happy and blessed to be your rabbi. Going to the Kotel felt like coming home.
Then I heard the sirens. First one, then another and another. I remembered that sound from 2001 when I was living here. Those sirens can only mean one thing. My heart fell. It is so difficult for me, your rabbi, to hold this great happiness and gratitude in one hand, while trying to hold the pain, the horror, and the sadness of today and of the last few weeks in the other.
We live in such an imperfect world. It is impossible to understand. Why is Hashem so hidden? Even your rabbi does not have an easy answer for this. My instinct, though, is to respond to evil with great acts of kindness and piety. As I have said in the past, "If you believe in the power of destruction, then you must also believe in our power to create, to fix, and to heal" (Rav Nachman).
I am deeply moved that as a congregation we raised over $300 for the Jewish poor of Baltimore and over $600 for the Fogel family children on Purim alone. We breathed new life into an old Torah, and brought smiles of joy to the faces of all who participated in our Purim party.