From the Rabbi's Study
WE ARE STRONG
By Rabbi Jenny Steinberg-Martinez JD CHT
The peaceful Buddhist country of Tibet was invaded by Communist China in 1949. Since that time, over 1.2 million out of 6 Tibetans have been killed, over 6000 monasteries have been destroyed, and thousands of Tibetans have been imprisoned. When the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Sanctuary, was invaded by the Chinese, and the surviving monks were sent out into the world to survive, he called upon Jewish leaders for advice. Why? It is because we are strong in our identity and have remained true to ourselves in a life of Diaspora. With our strength we have managed to touch all four corners of the globe with our wisdom, joy, and traditions.
The summer time in the Western World brings celebration, barbecue, swimming and fun. It seems a strange time of year for our most somber holiday. Tish B’ Av, the sacred fast, arrives this month to remind us of the 9th day of Av a day when a number of disasters in Jewish history occurred, primarily the destruction of both Solomon's Temple by the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Second Temple by the Roman Empire in Jerusalem.
Tisha B'Av is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and it is thus believed to be a day which is destined for tragedy. The observance of the day includes five prohibitions, most notable of which is a 25- hour fast. The Book of Lamentations, which mourns the destruction of Jerusalem is read in the synagogue, followed by the recitation of kinnot, liturgical dirges that lament the loss of the Temples and Jerusalem. As the day has become associated with remembrance of other major calamities which have befallen the Jewish people, some kinnot also recall events such as the murder of the Ten Martyrs by the Romans, massacres in numerous medieval Jewish communities during the Crusades.
So how do we honor this day with an appropriate balance of reverence and optimism? This is how; we claim our Diaspora as a beginning and not an ending. We claim our Diaspora as a call from God to persevere in the world and be a force of Torah for all to experience. We claim our strength. It is when we claim these things that we can help bring unity and healing to the whole world without preoccupation with what was lost; for we have found more than we have lost. We have found our power. We are strong!
*To read more about the Jewish and Buddhist conversation: The Jew in the Lotus, by Roger Kamenetz
Rabbi Jenny's Bi-Monthly Sermonette — May 1, 2022
THE EVER-EXPANDING LOVE OF TORAH
Rabbi Akiva said: This is a great principle of the Torah:
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself"
When the self-help movement of the late 1960’s -1980’s arrived there was a rush to look within and heal the wounds of oneself. This was a new phenomenon. You wouldn’t find your grandparents asking questions about “loving themselves” before then. In fact, this sort of self-reflection and attention might be viewed as selfish and narcissistic. After all, the community and the family were the center of concern. The rights of the self and the individual were second or maybe even third.
This thread of tribal preference was at the center of the Jewish Community. One found purpose and identity of being Jewish through tradition and practice. Those in search of an individual connection to them- selves through Judaism could not find it. As a result, many Jews became culturally identified only and sought deeper meaning in psychotherapy and eastern philosophy.
Is there is a place in Jewish life for self-love and healing? Yes. It is our role to evolve with society and provide a Jewish community that reflects the spiritual yearnings of those who seek. We can expand our interpretation of Torah to include the deeper needs of the modern Jew. The craving for self-realization, healing and love has an answer in Judaism. This answer may not only grow our community but fill its belly like an overflowing cornucopia.
This week we read from Kedoshim the central tenant of Torah “love thy neighbor as thyself.” What love were they referring to? Was it the love one practiced when following the Commandments and the rules of Halachah? Or is there room for a more expansive love? One can read this as an invitation to question to what degree the Jew loves themselves. For if you do not practice tolerance, kindness, acceptance, and patience with yourself, how can you even think about loving another?
By creating a place to ask these questions, we breathe life into Torah and expand the love and meaning inside of it. Calling on ourselves as Jews to look for a way to be more loving to ourselves, we then reach out with this ever-expanding love to those members of our outside communities. We become builders of bridges to the world, by first building the bridge to our own hearts.
"You can't really love someone else unless you really love yourself first."