Rabbi KrishefRabbi David J.B. Krishef grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Hebrew and Jewish Studies.  Following a two year stint as a program director at the University of Minnesota Hillel Foundation (serving students at Carleton and Macalester colleges), he entered the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he received ordination in 1994.

Read more about Rabbi David J.B. Krishef

 

Psalm 146

Adonai releases the bound; Adonai restores sight to the blind; Adonai makes those who are bent stand straight. (146:7-8)

Each of these three phrases has been adapted into the morning liturgy in a series of blessings focusing on the experience of waking up, regaining one’s consciousness and identity, rising out of bed, and getting dressed.

Movement is critically important to our health. Physical problem abound when we spend too much time sitting or lying down. For those experiencing weight- or age- or other health-related issues, getting out of bed can be a task requiring significant exertion. It’s simply easier not to move than to move. It’s comfortable to remain bound up in one’s bed or easy chair. It hurts to release the limbs from their curled up position, straighten the spine to sit up, and lean forward to stand. We might rather keep our eyes closed, not only to let us sleep longer, but to ignore both the short term physical toll that activity demands of us, and the long term degradation of our body that non-activity takes from us.

The easy and comfortable path leads to weak muscles, poor balance, back pain and other problems. God created our eyes, literal or metaphorical, to look at our body honestly and see the problems associated with failing to use it properly. The core of Judaism celebrates the exodus from Egypt and freedom from oppression. God gave us a free range of movements that we can do with our bodies, and unless we exercise each one of them, we will find ourselves slowly losing that freedom. Whether we move by ambulating our feet or pushing wheels with our arms or pushing a joystick that turns our chair, we can use our eyes, hands, arms, or legs to see where we want to go and propel us in the proper direction.

So sit forward in your bed or your chair, align your spine one vertebra on top of the next, take a deep breath, and enjoy the body that God gave you!

Psalm 145

Adonai is near to all who call, to all who call God with sincerity. (145:18)

Psalm 145, also known as Ashrei (even though the lines beginning with the word Ashrei come from two different Psalms), is an alphabetical acrostic. From a liturgical point of view it is a popular Psalm, recited three times a day because of the verse, “You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living creature” (verse 16). I love that verse but decided to write about the kof verse instead, because it reminded me of the aphorism attributed to French novelist and playwright Jean Giraudoux, “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

Faked sincerely can fool many people most of the time. In the end, however, living a lie is unsustainable. God is the purest form of truth-detector and will make sure that eventually the lie will collapse. To paraphrase Pirke Avot’s teaching about one mitzvah leading to another (and one sin leading to another), one lie will lead to another lie, to another lie, to another, until the pile of falsehoods collapses from its own weight.

The extent to which one feels close to God depends entirely on the sincerity of one’s belief that God is an imminent presence in the world. There will be times in your life when The Presence is in shadow. Psalm 145, especially this verse, is a reminder that eclipses are temporary and with time, patience, and sincere dedication to one’s religious practice of mitzvot, you will again feel God’s presence.

Service Schedule Change

Last summer’s congregation survey reported and recent conversations confirmed that a number of people have said they would come to services more often than they currently do if only the service was shorter. On one hand, the people who doven in the Ahavas Israel community religiously, week after week, appreciate a traditional service, which, no doubt about it, is long. On the other hand, we want people to be able to find a satisfying worship experience at Ahavas Israel. Therefore, I have proposed an experiment to the Religious Life committee. On the second Shabbat of each month we will alter our Shabbat morning schedule and service in order to shorten the service significantly.

We’ll begin at 9:30 a.m. with bagels and Torah study. The service will begin at 10:30, with a goal of finishing by 11:45. We’ll try this for a minimum of 12 months, but begin to gather feedback after the first six months. Please be patient for the first couple of months. It may take a little experimentation to get the timing right.

I’m hoping that the multi-faceted experience will draw in both those who like Torah study, even if they don’t stay for the service, and those who want a shorter service, even if they don’t come early for the Torah study. I’m also hoping that our regulars who appreciate a traditional experience will enjoy the extended Torah study and also find the quicker service tolerable, once a month.

The first of the monthly Torah Study Shabbat services will take place on June 11. Subsequent dates will be July 9, August 13, September 10, October 8, November 12, and December 10. The schedule will be:

  • 9:30 a.m. bagels and Torah study
  • 10:30 a.m. Service
  • 11:45 a.m. Kiddush

Psalm 144

Adonai, what is a human being that You should care about him, a mortal being, that You should think of him? A human being is like a breath, whose days are like a passing shadow. (144:3-4)

Every living thing has value, not matter how long or how short the life span. From a eternal God-perspective, their is no difference between a fertilized embryo which lives a matter of weeks or months and a person who lives a full life. God’s quality of caring and love applies equally to the child who died in utero and the elder who lives 102 years surrounded by three or four generations of descendants.

One way to understand the Jewish position on abortion is to say that it does not ignore the embryonic life simply because it is unborn but neither does it give more weight to the woman simply because she is older. Rather, it treats the two of them as equally human, but if the embryonic life is threatening the life or health of the mother, then we take the embryonic life to spare the mother’s life. In the same way, if a mugger showed a gun and declared, “Your money or your life,” the potential victim or a bystander would be justified in taking the life of the mugger.

Another way to understand the Jewish position on abortion is to see the baby as a dependent life akin to a limb of the mother. Just as one may remove a person’s limb when it threatens the health of the body, one may remove an child in utero if it threatens the mother. No matter which way one analyzes the ethics of abortion in Jewish law, midrash infuses the embryonic life with a soul. In other words, an abortion is not the killing of a soul-less child, but rather the necessary killing of a soul who is endangering another’s life.

While I have not seen a midrash which addresses what happens to the soul of a child which did not get the chance to be born, I imagine, because I believe that God cares about every soul, that the unborn soul whose life was cut off goes back to the Divine storehouse of souls. Every soul deserves a chance to live a life. A soul whose life was cut short before it could experience the trials and triumphs of a human life ought to be given a second chance to be born.

Psalm 143

Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for before You no creature is in the right. (143:2)

The American political system abhors changing one’s position on issues. They call it “flip-flopping.” Apparently, they believe that from the very first moment that a future politician takes a public stance on an issue, whether that be in an election for high school student council or maybe an op-ed piece published in a college newspaper, that one’s positions should be consistent and unchanging.

Most of us are not so consistent. Over time, we do grow and mature and our positions on issues change. Sometimes they become softer, sometimes they become firmer. Sometimes we learn something new that causes us to reject a position completely and embrace its opposite. Yet at the same time, most of us hang on to and defend whatever it is that we believe at the moment with the strength of a dog with a chew-toy.

It is very frustrating to have a conversation with someone who is so certain of his own set of truths that everything that you say is judged and found wanting. The rest of the Psalm speaks of God’s beneficence, faithfulness, and gracious spirit, but this verse peers into a different Divine facet. It is the experience of being in a relationship in which you can never do anything right, no matter how hard you try.

Reflecting off this verse, I promise not to be stubbornly enslaved to every belief, but rather to take gentler positions and be kind to those who disagree with me. I promise to affirm the inherent value of those in relationship with me and not judge so harshly that they despair of ever meeting my standards. I promise to look to God beneficence, faithfulness and gracious spirit as a model of behavior.

Psalm 142

No one cares about me! (142:5)

The sentiment expressed by our verse can be read either as a heartbreaking way or in a childish attention-seeking way. There are certainly people who have fallen off the margins of community because of illness or age-related infirmity. They are people who disappear, little by little, from attending worship services, classes, shopping at the supermarket, taking walks in the neighborhood. What happens when no one really pays attention? When time passes and after they haven’t been seen for some months, they realize that they have been forgotten? Their pain is real and their complaint is real and my heart breaks for them.

There are the people whose own bad choices alienate others around them. Those who make constant demands on people who befriend them, for whom no matter how much is done for them, it is never enough. Their cry of “No one cares about me” is plainly untrue, and one has to admire those who care enough to continue showing love despite the ingratitude.

Finally, there are those who make conversation difficult by turning every interaction into a litany of complaints, about their physical condition or an expression of their bitterness about real or imagined injustices in the distant past. One by one, the family and friends drop away because they can’t stand the negativity. These kind of people isolate themselves by their behavior because others do not want to be around them. For them, it is true that “No one cares about me,” but it is hard to work up sympathy.

When you find yourself echoing the complaint of our Psalmist, first, make sure you haven’t placed yourself there by our own behavior. You attract more company with sweetness than with bitterness!

Divre Harav – May/16

It used to be, back in pre-modern times, that there was a tall, thick wall between Jews and Christian. Jewish identity was protected by this wall, which formed a protective barrier around us by making it very difficult for outsiders to get in. There was a way through the way from the Jewish side to the Christian side, but Christians didn’t want anyone going the other way so they guarded their side of the wall. Jews were suspicious of anyone who tried to cross onto our side, examining them carefully and turning them away several times before finally letting them in.

As the 18th century enlightenment dawned, the walls between communities began coming down, replaced by neat picket fences. In general, people stayed on their own sides, but we begin having polite conversations over the fence. Most elements of the Jewish community welcomed the new openness in society, although some Hasidic or what came to be known later as Hareidi Jews built new, higher, walls around their lives.

As we reached the late-20th century, the picket fences began to be perforated by gates and more often the not, the gates were left open. People freely visited each other’s homes, married and raised children together. Jewish identity, once so clearly defined by walls or fences, became more challenging to define.

In the early 21st century, we live in a society defined by the consumer marketplace. Shoppers have access to food, clothing, and products from around the world delivered right to their doorstep at the click of a button. Religious community is not immune from this. It is easy to design a ritual that precisely reflects an individual’s Jewish identity, including elements from Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam, if you wish. A religious community like ours which reflects a particular path to God has to compete in this marketplace and demonstrate how and why our path is rewarding, meaningful, compelling, and true. We host visitors wishing to sample our product. If they like what they see, they might consider staying in our area; otherwise, they move on and sample another community.

Our challenge, then, is to maintain appropriate boundaries that preserve our identity, but at the same time keep our gates open and welcome visitors, knowing that many are just passing through but some will stay.  And those who stay will enrich our community by the many gifts they bring with them.

Hebrew Words of the Month:

  • ger – In the Bible, a stranger living in a foreign community; in post-Biblical Hebrew, a convert.
  • kahal or Kehillah – congregation
  • Adah – congregation. Adat – ‘congregation of,’ as in Adat Shalom
  • Bayit – house. Beit – ‘house of,’ as in Beit Yisrael. Sometimes written in English as Beth, as in Beth El.

Psalm 141

Adonai, set a guard over my mouth, a watch at the door of my lips. (141:3)

Considering all bad habits, the compulsive desire to get in the last word is a tough one to break. It is rooted in a desire to win. The combative spirit bursts forth upon spotting the chance to raise oneself up by correcting, chastising or further clarifying.

Communication ought not be a competitive sport, but even a cursory glance at the comments below published articles often reveals a high level of belligerent language. The character of “Topper” in Dilbert is that guy you avoid speaking to, with his unbelievable ability to turn every statement into a soliloquy about himself.

You say, “I’ve been reading this great book called ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude,” and I’m thinking that most of the misfortune that people experience in their life is connected to their poor choices. What do you think?”

He responds, “Absolutely right, I’ve made great choices and that’s why I just got a promotion, and in my spare time I’ve been writing my own self-help book which will help you get our of the rut you’re in.”

Or the response to “I just got a new dog and I finally trained him to stop peeing in my slippers!” is “Great, my dog barks once when he needs to do #1, twice for #2, and three times when he wants me to change the channel! He hates CNN – much prefers Fox News.”

And then there are the people who can talk in long, multi-page paragraphs without checking to see whether the listener is still listening. But even those of us who want to listen and show sincere interest in the other person find ourselves occasionally responding in ways that are more about our insecurities than about the other person’s needs.

The wise words of the Psalmist remind us that we ought to have a door at our lips that we should regularly close, or a least a filter which regulates how many of our words escape our mouths.

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