Sunday, September 30, 2012
FOR ADULTS ONLY Please skip this if you are offended by certain language
Dear Family and Friends:
Well, footballs are ascending and leaves are descending. Must be Fall. Almost everything about this time of the year is great, except that the Cubs are 34 games out of first with just a few games left in the regular season . In Chicago we like to say, "Wait 'til next year," but maybe this time we should be saying, "Wait 'til the Messiah comes." But we'll keep the faith for the boys in blue. All Northsiders and Northside refugees (like me) will, I expect, be wearing our Cubbies caps, blue with the red C, next April when spring training once again ignites our hopes and fills our daydreams with visions of post season victories.
Shannah Tovah, hopes for a sweet new year to all of you who celebrate at this time of the year. the High Holidays are a wonderful time in the Jewish community. But we don't go to parties or shoot off fireworks to mark the new year, we begin to redirect our lives in order to be better people in the year to come. That all culminates on the most solemn day of the year, Yom Kippur, our day of atonement (ten days after Rosh Ha Shannah, the Jewish New Year).
I had the honor to lead synagogue services again this year for Hillel here at Indiana University. Hillel is the Jewish Students organization on campus. Literally hundreds of students attended our High Holiday services.
It is not unusual for me to get up early on Yom Kippur morning, have a cup of coffee (strictly against the rules, I know), and read the paper just to quietly get my head ready for the heavy morning worship service soon to commence. This is the day of our confession. Pretty solemn.
I once told a Ba'al Shem Tov story called "Why the Ba'al Shem Tov laughed three times." As a matter of fact when Danny Nichols and I were editing the great camp music CD we called, "L'Vracha, For a Blessing," and realized we had space left over on the CD, I recorded that story into a mic sitting in his living room. Anyway, it's a great story about how looking at the brass buttons (one was missing) on a rich man's coat reminded the great rabbi of his parents and their love for each other, and it caused him to laugh several times during Shabbat services. This Yom Kippur I laughed more than three times.
Just prior to leaving for Hillel last week to lead Yom Kippur morning services, my wife handed me a red envelope that had just come in the mail. I knew it was a Rosh Ha Shannah card, and I was right. But the front cover of the card rocked my world. To paraphrase, it said in bold red letters, F*CK YOU, YOU F*CKING F*CKER. Inside was the nicest wish for a Shannah Tovah a sweet year for me and my family. The card was from a friend, a young rabbi, someone who had worked at camp for years....AND IT MADE ME HOWL. All day long, whenever there was a break in the reading at the synagogue, I thought of that card and could not suppress a smile. I felt so like the Ba'al Shem Tov, but on the opposite side of the fence. Irreverence at its best. Hey, whatever floats your boat, you know...that floated mine.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
In each of the Jewish studies classes I teach here at Indiana University though our Hillel program, I try and begin sessions with one or more quotes from Pirke Avot, Sayings of our Ancestors. Pirke Avot, is a book in the Mishna which was redacted around the year 200 after being handed down orally from generation to generation. Laws and discussions in the Mishna became the subject of larger rabbinic debates and comments which are known as the Talmud.
As Rosh Ha Shannah, our Jewish new year rapidly approaches, beginning ten days of personal introspection and redirection, I submit this as food for thought:
Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all men, as it is written (Psalm 119:99) "I have gained understanding from all my teachers."
Who is mighty? He who subdues his passions, as it is written (Proverbs 16:32) "One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city."
Who is rich? He who rejoices in his portion, as it is written (Psalm 128:2) "You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you." "You shall be" refers to this world; and "it shall be well with you" refers to the world to come.
Shannah Tovah, A Happy and Sweet New Year to all.