Friday, April 29, 2011

You can count on it...

Welcome to the days between Pesach and Shavuot, when the weather turns warmer, and we literally cannot wait until the end of the year (I don't know about you, but my kids are counting down the days until the end of school and the start of summer).

In the Jewish year, we also participate in our own "countdown" known as the Counting of the Omer. Between the two holidays (one celebrating our freedom and the other celebrating our receipt of the Law), we mark each day that passes, ceremonially also marking down the time that passed between Egypt and Sinai for our people.

In my family, we also have a tradition of counting our blessings, taking the time to note the things in our lives for which we are grateful. We sometime conduct our gratitude ritual at the dining room table, or sometimes in the middle of a busy afternoon. We take turns, each counting off and naming something that we appreciate in our lives, sometimes naming people, sometimes events, and sometimes even naming TV shows or movies we have watched recently. We are sometimes playful, serious, or just plain silly, depending on our mood at the time. But no matter what, every time we do this - we stop and acknowledge all the things we have for which we can be grateful - we are always reminded how lucky we truly are.

May you be reminded, in our own people's time of counting, what truly matters in your own life, and may you have the time to count the numerous blessings in your own life. Happy Omer!!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lessons from Pesach

The following editorial appeared April 18, 2011 on the The Washington Jewish Week website and is reprinted with permission.

As Jews throughout the world gather this week and next to commemorate our deliverance from bondage in Egypt, many of Israel's neighbors (Egypt included) are undergoing populist upheavals that bespeak a yearning for liberation.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether the parallels between the two narratives are simply superficial - or whether the Arab revolutionaries of 2011 can apply some valuable lessons learned through the ancient Israelites' struggle for freedom.

One of those lessons, we believe, is that the Jews were liberated not simply for freedom's sake, not only to remove the whip from the hands of their Egyptian taskmasters, but for the higher purpose of serving God. In effect, they exchanged physical slavery for a different kind of servitude.

And with this "spiritual servitude" came a wealth of responsibilities that are spelled out in the Torah's commandments, many of which are instrumental in creating a just society.

This is a lesson that the leaders of the rebellions in Arab countries would be wise to heed. Getting the authoritarian monkey off their backs - whether it is Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, Bashar Assad in Syria or other dictators - is the first, but not the final, step. It is necessary, but not sufficient to construct a viable alternative to despotism.

Parliamentary democracies are one possible result of these revolutions. Waiting in the wings, however, are other, unsavory outcomes: restoration of the ousted ruling elites, the establishment of military rule, the creation of an Islamist totalitarian regime.

Only by endeavoring to create governments and societies based on justice, the rule of law, basic human rights and good international relations can the rebels realize the essential value of their newfound liberty - and ultimately resist backsliding into tyranny.

As we celebrate our holiday of redemption from slavery, we hope they are able to secure the blessings of true freedom.