Showing posts from December, 2013

MLK and a 19th-century rebbetzin teach us about confidence (Torah portion of Bo)

When I was in rabbinical school, I once attended a leadership training seminar in which all those who attended had to share one of their anxieties about assuming a position of  communal leadership.  When it was my turn, I mentioned that one of the things about which I was apprehensive was that it seems to me that religious leaders need to cultivate a charismatic speaking style and stage presence, and that was something that I thought did not come naturally to me. Later on, in the presentation, the speaker addressed my concern and told us a story that was very new and surprising to me.  He said:  Everyone agrees that one of the greatest orators and leaders of the twentieth century was Martin Luther King.  But when Martin Luther King was a seminary student, he was preoccupied by what he perceived as a lack of dynamism in his speaking style.  He felt that he had a lot of ideas -- and a lot of leadership potential -- but he was unsure whether he would be able to transmit his messag

The early life of a mystery religious leader (Torah portion of Shemot)

Let me tell you a story about the early life of one of the most significant religious leaders in world history - someone who was effectively a founder of one of our world’s major religious traditions. At the beginning of this story, this future religious leader is growing up in a palace, living a life of spectacular material comforts:  a life very different from the spiritual path that he would later help to chart for millions of people.  As a member of the king’s family, he has plenty of whatever he wanted.  He is certainly unaware of any suffering or poverty that existed outside the palace’s walls. The king does his best to insulate him from witnessing any pain, any injustice, any suffering.  But one day he does venture out of the palace walls.  And what he sees there challenges him deeply - and changes him forever.  After seeing the terrible suffering that goes on outside the walls of the palace, and after beginning to identify with those who were suffering, he knows he can no longe

Joseph's story, and Nelson Mandela's story: Parashat Vayyigash

Life imitates Torah: As we reach the climax of the Joseph story this shabbat in the Torah portion of Vayyigash, we think of another man who, like Joseph, knew from an early age that he was destined for something special. Like Joseph, he spent many years in prison separated from his family. Like Joseph, it was in prison that he developed the skills -- especially the ability to listen -- that would later make him a great leader. Like Joseph, he had the fortitude to forgive those who were responsible for his imprisonment and to achieve reconciliation with them. Like Joseph, once regarded as part of a despise minority, he ascended to national leadership. Like Joseph, as a national leader he was not without controversy, but he was able to steer his country through a crisis that, without his wise stewardship, could have led to complete destruction. And like Joseph, he lived long enough to see so many of his dreams come to fruition. Yehi zichro baruch - may the memory of Nelson Mandela be for

Statement in support of USH application for GreenFaith Certification

Our congregation is excited to apply for participation in the Greenfaith Certification Program.  This program will help us as a congregation to express our commitment to the protection of our environment -- a commitment we share with our neighbors of many different faiths, and that has deep roots in our own Jewish tradition. One of the central themes of Jewish spirituality is our gratitude for and appreciation of the natural world.  This theme is expressed repeatedly in the Psalms, which encourage us to take nothing in the natural world for granted.  One of the most poignant passages in the Midrash imagines God taking Adam on a tour of the beauty of the natural world and warning him, “If you destroy it, there will be no one to come after you to repair it.”  ( Kohelet Rabbah 9)   The Talmud’s famous story of an old man planting a carob tree whose fruit he knows he will never see  reminds us that Jewish tradition has always prioritized making thoughtful decisions to ensure that futu