Of Light and Jewish Mission/Shabbat Beresheet
By Yosef Israel Abramowitz
As many of you know, I have been spending my days and nights thinking about light. So when Bill was looking for volunteers for divrei torah, I gravitated to this one.
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.
Since I’m not certain the drasha itself will make any sense, I’ll share the basic punch-line at the beginning.
The Jewish people through the ages have represented hope and the progress of civilization. Light is a symbol of hope and of God’s presence. From our small community here, we can be a “light unto the medina,” a “light unto the Jews”, and, if God shines her light down upon us, a “light unto the nations,” which is what Isaiah promises in this week’s Haftorah.
Some observations about this week’s torah portion:
God’s first spoken words in the Torah are “let there be light”. Since God didn’t have to deal with the bureaucracy of the State of Israel as we do, light was instantly created.
Then God did three things with this light:
– And God saw that the light was good (1:4)
– God distinguished between light and darkness (1:4)
– And God called the light day and the dark night. (1:5)
But it wasn’t solar light…
Light and darkness are created on the first day, and yet the sun and moon are created only on the fourth day. This order of creation teaches us that there is light in the universe that is not dependent upon heavenly bodies or the life cycle of stars.
Almost every day ends with “and it was evening, and it was morning, x day.” We learn here that time is marked in relation to light.
The only day that does not have this formula is Shabbat. “And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. And the heaven and earth were finished, and all the host… (Gen. 2:1-3) Why?
Perhaps because the creation of hope and God’s presence in the universe does not end when we light Shabbat candles or seek out three stars in the stars. In other words, all of creation in the first six days is tangible. Even the absence of work, as we know on kibbutz, is tangible. The creation of holiness, however, is ever-lasting, not time bound. And intimately inter-twined with light.
Even without getting Kabbalistic about it, Judaism and light go well together.
** All holidays and shabbatot begin with the lighting of candles.
** From Mishkan and Temple days on, we have had a ner tamid, an everlasting light, in our holiest places.
** Consider Noah Morris’s drasha on the menorah as the symbol of the State. He teaches that the menorah is a similar, although an upside down, replica of the rainbow from next week’s portion. That the covenant of Noah was from God down to humanity and so is the direction of the colors. The covenant between God and the Jewish people faces heavenward, with the flames flickering upwards, carrying our prayers and affirmation of our relationship to God.
Since God created light, and we are supposed to try to emulate God, then, we, too, are supposed to create light.
But if we are only creating light by which to see in the physical sense, we miss our chance for the Jewish people to shine anew with a positive role in the history and evolution of civilization.
So in these first lines of Genesis, I believe we celebrate the dawn of Jewish distinctiveness and mission. Read more
We aquired Sh’ma in 1998 and this essay is from our premier issue. The only thing I would change/tone-down is the God talk and instead replace/add ideas about spirituality. Enjoy!
Willing Communal Rebirth
Yosef I. Abramowitz
Even more than a critic of American Jewish communal life, I am an optimist. My theology of optimism directs me toward a God and a way that commands me not only to choose life personally, organizationally and communally, but gives me the audacity to believe that individuals with ideas can spark miracles.
Yes, we need more and better educational programs, synagogues and initiatives. And yes, our foundations, donors and federations need to take more risks to chart new directions. Yet if Bill Gates were to convert to Judaism and donate his entire fortune to the American Jewish community, would we squander the opportunity on more of the same, uninspired thinking and lackluster programming that has failed to connect with much of this generation of American Jewry?
What is missing is a sense of mission. And without mission, without vision, we are simply tweaking a problem that needs instead an inclusive back-to basics approach.
I offer these thoughts as a point from which to begin a sacred conversation that will continue in these pages as well as on http://www.shma.com/.
click here for more…
Jewish Social Action Month
Building Unity through Positive Action
We invite you to join Jewish communities, organizations and individuals from around the world in celebrating a month of social action and Jewish unity. The Hebrew month of Cheshvan – which in 2007 will be from October 13 until November 10 – has been declared Jewish Social Action Month.
This year’s Jewish Social Action Month (JSAM) promises to be once again an amazing time of increased unity and positive action involving Jews from many countries and perspectives. Every group or individual is welcome to mark Jewish Social Action Month in the way that is most meaningful to them and their community. Cheshvan can be a month to launch new social action projects or increase your existing efforts. The actions can be large scale projects or simple acts of individual kindness. They can be focused on the Jewish community, on the wider world or the environment. Jewish Social Action Month presents endless possibilities for you and your community to make a difference. Each act is important in itself and will also link you to this global Jewish effort to make the world a better place (click here to view some of the action from previous years).
Jewish Social Action Month is an initiative of KolDor, a global network of young Jewish leaders, the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel and socialaction.com. In just two years since its launch, JSAM has evoked a remarkable response. Political support has come from the Presidents of both Israel and the United States of America, British parliamentarians, US senators and congressmen, Israeli Knesset members and others. A wide spectrum of Jewish religious leaders, major institutions, youth groups, communal organizations and many others from around the world endorsed the initiative and created exciting and widespread programs. Jewish Social Action Month was introduced into the Jewish calendar and into the lives of many. See www.cheshvan.org for a fuller indication of partners and projects.
This wonderful support revealed a hunger in the Jewish world for the opportunity to unify around our traditions of tzedek (righteousness) and tikun olam (repairing the world). Help make Jewish Social Action Month even more of a global celebration. Mark the first of Cheshvan, October 13, on your organizational calendars as the beginning of Jewish Social Action Month. Start planning the social actions in your community that will make this Cheshvan a month of meaning and justice.
Jewish Social Action Month belongs to everyone who wishes to take part. Contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org ) for more information. Please download this form to let us know about your support and how you’re planning to mark Jewish Social Action Month so that your efforts can be publicized and everyone around the world can join in the success.
Good news and maybe bad news. The cabinet has finally voted officially to take in nearly 500 refugees but says that it will deport the rest to countries willing to grant them asylum. This could be a breakthrough, if they mean what they say. Since Egypt is not willing to grant them asylum, then hopefully this means that the U.S., Canada, Australia and others will take in the rest of the refugees. If, however, it means sending back to Egypt, then we have failed our ancestors. For the Ynet story, click here.
The Jewish Social Action Month Cheshvan issue of the journal Sh’ma will be devoted to Sudan/Darfur and genocide. For BabagaNewz’s treatment of Darfur, for kids, click here.
For the full investigative series I penned for JTA on the Sudanese prisoners in Israel, click here.
According to the Nobel Peace Prize: The Norwegian Nobel Committee has received 181 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007. Among these are 46 organizations. The number of nominations for 2006 were 191, and for 2005 199.
The Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 will be announced on 12 October at 11:00 am local time. (Oslow)
Peoplehood.org has inside information that the Moscow Helsinki Group along with the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union have been co-nominated. Leonid Stonov, UCSJ’s director of international bureaus, will be in Moscow on October 12th with our partners from MHG. (Click here for joint blog on human rights in FSU) The Soviet Jewry movement is the greatest human rights movement in the history of the world, freeing over a million people without the shedding of blood. It has yet to be recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize committee. Nor has the Nobel been awarded to any watchdogs against the Putin Administration’s clamping down on human rights. David vs. Golieth. If UCSJ/MHG don’t get the prize this year, I’m hoping Al Gore does.
UJA-Federation of NY does JSAM! (from cheshvan.org)
The COJP Task Force on Strengthening Jewish Peoplehood in New York has made its grant decisions for Jewish Social Action Month (JSAM) 2007, for social action projects taking place wholly or in part during the Jewish month of Cheshvan, which corresponds to October 12 - November 10, 2007.
A total of 17 grants have been approved, at an average funding level of approximately $3,000 each.
- Four grants are to synagogues;
- Three grants are to college campus-based Jewish organizations;
- Five grants are to JCCs and YM-YWHAs;
- Four grants are to other UJA-Federation network agencies;
- One grant is to an Israeli organization whose project will invlove Jewish schools in New York and Israel .
The nature of service/social action includes assistance to the elderly, refugee and immigrant populations, orphans in Ukraine and local poor, programming for the developmentally challenged, environmental issues, support for emergency medical services, cultural preservation, and outreach to Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans . Several projects offer participants a variety of options for their volunteer placement.
All projects include a meaningful Jewish service learning component, which teaches volunteers about the Jewish values of community service and social justice, and in some cases explores Jewish source material on the particular focus of the service, such as caring for the elderly.
With regard to the goal of building community by encouraging diversity among volunteers, some of the projects bring together distinct groups such as Ashkenazi and Sephardi teens or Reform and Persian Jewish professionals, while others seek to attract volunteers from a broad range of backgrounds.
New Coast-to-Coast Partnership Reinvigorates Jewish Intellectual Monthly
Sh’ma, a monthly journal launched 37 years ago by theologian Eugene Borowitz in the midst of the turbulence of the Vietnam War period, has been given a new lease on life. A financial restructuring at Jewish Family & Life (the publisher), challenged Sh’ma to stitch together a new fiscal partnership that draws on the resources — financial as well as intellectual — of Jewish seminaries, university Jewish studies centers, and communal philanthropic leaders. The new partnership mirrors the fundamental commitment of the journal to pluralism and thoughtful deep engagement with ideas.
What won’t change is the magazine’s minimalist format, its commitment to the widest range of honest, candid discussion about tough, intractable topics and its belief in the capacity for reasoned, serious discourse — all these features remain.
“What has changed,” according to editor Susan Berrin, “is the magazine’s new, concerted focus on the meaning of Jewish learning and leadership.” The monthly publication will examine the ways in which Jews study and experience their culture and religion, creating deeper conversations between the seminary, the academy, and broader communal institutions. “Through this new collaboration, Sh’ma remains committed to intellectual independence and the indispensability of debate about how Jewish life remains endlessly fascinating” says Berrin.
Still sponsored by Jewish Family & Life (JFL), it will now be sustained, both financially and intellectually, by many of the leading institutions of Jewish learning in the United States in a unique coalition that transcends partisanship. According to JFL’s CEO, Amir Cohen, the new sponsors are: Hebrew College’s Rabbinical School, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, The Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program, Indiana University, Taube Center for Jewish Studies, Stanford University, Frankel Center for Jewish Studies, University of Michigan, The Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation, Carol Spinner, Bruce Whizin, and Marilyn Ziering.
For Immediate Release
Madonna and President Shimon Peres exchanged holy book presents; she presented a copy of the Zohar and he an illustrated Tanach. For the past decade that Madonna has been studying Kabbalah, she has not embraced Judaism, although followed many key practices, like not performing on Shabbat. Peoplehooders know that we’ve been predicted that she will continue to take positive steps toward identifying Jewishly. With Peres, she took a key step, saying she is now an ambassador for Judaism. See AP story here. See Ynet story here.
Peoplehooders know that we called Madonna’s spiritual journey as far back as 1990, I think, after Like a Prayer came out. For my column in 1997, click here. Madonna has read the column and liked it very much, according to press reports.
Click here, an oldie but goody. An easy fast.
Attaining Divine Forgiveness
Communal worship, seeking forgiveness, and these three family rituals can help make more Yom Kippur more meaningful.
By Yosef I. Abramowitz
Yom Kippur, unlike most Jewish holidays, has few home rituals. It is made for communal worship.