Monday, April 22, 2013

Words from Rabbi Todd - Friday, April 19, 2013

Rabbi Todd Markley

Acharei Mot – Kedoshim

Our 6-year-old, Mia, walked into the den this afternoon where I was working. “Daddy, since none of us have school today, can you come play with us?” “I can’t right now, sweetie. I need to prepare for services tonight. A lot has happened this week, and I want to speak with the people at temple about it all tonight.” Mia glanced at the TV on the other side of the room that was running the same looped video feed of police cruisers and beleaguered reporters stalling by re-sharing the same information over and over again. She turned back to me with a look of pity on her face. “Well, it looks like you only have bad things to talk about, so…” – then she shrugged her shoulders and walked out of the room. Thank you, Sweetie.

It has, indeed, been an awful week, made all the more numbing by the juxtaposition of such seemingly opposite emotions. A day of great pride and celebration was, without warning, turned into one of shock and terror. An event meant to celebrate strength and endurance forced us to confront our own mortality and vulnerability. Lives filled with promise and future cut tragically short with only memories left behind. A Patriot’s Day meant to celebrate our freedom now haunted by a stark reminder of the price we sometimes pay for committing to the laudable goal of  extending freedom to all…those with good will and those with malevolent intentions.

In some respects, these contrasting experiences echo those lived by our brothers and sisters in Israel this week. For them, Monday was Yom Hazikaron – the day of remembrance for all who have given their lives defending the Jewish State. Tuesday, the very next day, was Yom Ha’atzma’ut - Israel’s Independence Day celebration filled with rejoicing. Memory and freedom. Mourning and celebration. Grief and joy. Life often asks us to hold onto both at once. The past several days have been a profound and unsettling reminder of that reality.

Fitting, perhaps, that our two Torah portions this week reflect this very theme. The first is entitled Acharei Mot – meaning “after the death,” referring to the untimely demise of Aaron’s two sons as they assumed their roles as priests in last week’s Torah reading. The second of this week’s portions is Kedoshim – The Holiness Code – Torah’s “Cliff Notes” on what it means to live a holy life imbued with goodness, sanctity, and respect for fellow humans and God. Acharei Mot…Kedoshim…after death can follow holiness. Sanctity can be found – even in the wake of loss and pain.

Can we really hold onto both realities simultaneously? Our Jewish tradition teaches that we can. Let me be clear…I do not understand Judaism to seek meaning in anguish. Pain is awful and is not one of life’s goals. Grief is not a desired path to redemption nor is suffering a preferred gateway to the Divine. The vicious attacks that occurred at Monday’s Boston Marathon should never have taken place, and their victims were undeserving of this torment. Our task is not to find God’s hand in the bombs and their makers – two men who gave way to an inclination to make evil manifest in our world. Rather, our task, having born witness to this wickedness, is to keep faith that the human drive towards good can and will overcome that evil, that light can and will cast out darkness, that justice can and will outweigh sin and transgression, and that love can and will conquer hate. Two men committed a horrible crime. In response, hundreds of thousands have reached out helping hands to others in need.

Acharei Mot – Kedoshim
– even in the wake of death and loss there is holiness. There was holiness in the first responders – police, medics, and compassionate citizen-heroes - who ran towards the explosions rather than away from them to lend support to the injured. There was holiness in the resilience of the surgeons, and physicians, and nurses and medical staff who worked around the clock to tend to the wounds which often required two and three surgeries in as many days. There was holiness in the runners who completed their 26.2 mile race, and – rather than collapsing in understandable exhaustion – ran two more miles to the hospital to give blood for the injured. There was holiness in calls from our political leaders to refrain from vigilante justice before we knew the identity of the criminals – to temper our desire to lash back in violence and instead to heed the words of this week’s Torah portion that we should not “hate our kinsfolk in our hearts…nor shall we take vengeance or bear a grudge against them, rather, [we should] love our neighbors as ourselves.” There was holiness in our Needham interfaith community coming together at the Congregational Church last night – Jews, Christians, Ba’hai, Quakers, and Muslims – united in our commitment to stand side by side in comfort, support, and hope.

Acharei Mot – Kedoshim
– After there is loss there can be holiness. We see that tonight as we come together to recite kaddish – a word rooted in “holiness” just like kedoshim – for those whose lives were lost. Even in our grief and our pain, we seek out the holy – reflections of God’s light and God’s goodness found in the faces, the tears, and the actions of our neighbors and loved ones.

My colleague, Rabbi Karyn Kedar, penned these words in the wake of Monday’s attack:

in the light of day
darkness was revealed.
We are in shock. Stupefied. Angry. Sad.

God, If the heart of every living being is good,
and if the soul you have given us is pure,
how does evil appear?

Hear our prayer!

Help us to have faith when there is doubt.
Bring healing to those in pain.
Comfort us in our grief.
Give us courage in our confusion.
Grant us strength
to look straight into the darkness,
defiant and determined
to pursue peace and establish safety
in our fractured world.

Oseh shalom bimromav
You who makes peace in the high heavens
Help us find the ways to make peace here on earth.

And so we pray…

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

(Zechor) Remember by Nancy A. Golden

Nancy A. Golden is a member of Temple Aliyah and a Needham resident. She read the following poem at Yom HaShoah services on Sunday evening, April 7, 2013. The service was a community memorial, co-led by Cantor Gaston Bogomolni (Temple Aliyah), Cantor Marcie Jonas and Rabbi Jay Perlman.

Zechor - Remember
     The days and deeds of all times past,
The hopes and dreams of what will be,
     So what has been can last.

The essence of what we were
     can thrive in what we do
To keep our memories alive
     Each generation through.

In pogroms and ghettos to concentration camps
     We prayed "G-d grant us another day or year"
We fought with faith, and blood, and tears
     To keep traditions we hold dear.

What happens when Holocaust witnesses
     Have had their final day?
Who will keep in perpetuity
     The essence of dear lives snuffed away?

As we tell of our joys and sorrows,
     Of accomplishments and strife,
"Zecher" remains the only link
     That wills our people to survive.

With unbroken spirit, heavy hearts,
     The shedding of our tears,
We, who live, are the messengers
     Insuring future years.

"Zechor" - Remember
     The days and deeds of all times past,
Is our responsibilitty
     So six million memories will last!