From the Rabbi's Study



By Rabbi Jenny Steinberg Kuvin 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 —  October 15, 2021




“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become your actions;
watch your actions, they become your habits;
watch your habits, they become your character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

-Lao Tzu


“Character is a person's only real possession.”

-Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883)



What have you built in your life? What has lasted? And, what has wasted away?


Looking at the relationships and creations of your world, introspection is important. One might argue, our sole purpose on our journey is to grow as an individual, expanding our purpose to include generosity and compassion for others. We move during our youth from the selfish pursuit of material success, and journey forward, realizing that these pursuits fail to fill the “well” inside our hearts and souls. It is then that we reach out to others. At this point, our world expands into an overflow of abundance beyond anything we could ever imagine.

No character more exemplifies this journey than Abram. This week in Torah we travel with Abram as he leaves his father’s home and his father’s values to pursue his own vision. He encounters rulers who subjugate only after taking his wife, without Abram’s disagreement and his display of a lack of strength of character. Further along on his journey, Abram’s cousin Lot and his family head to place of danger. Abram acts differently in this later situation by choosing to turn back with an army to save Lot.

The journey of Abram to Abraham has many twists and turns. These stops on Abram’s Hero Journey beg the question, “Why build without building character?” To live a fulfilled life, one in which we are connected to purpose, we must learn to take into consideration the following: all of our thoughts and actions and the implication each has on our future self, as well as the contribution we can make to those in the world around us.

Does Abram want to turn back to save Lot and the others? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he does turn back. In doing so, Abram builds his character in thinking of others instead of only himself. This character creates a strong foundation for the future of his children and our people.

Torah is a great teacher and it continues to show us through its journeys how to live a fuller and richer life. We can build our life on the solid foundation when it is done in conjunction with building character.