Friday, February 25, 2022

New World Disorder

The world has entered a very dark era and no one knows how this will end. As Russia invaded Ukraine in an offensive and unprovoked attack, this marks the first major war on European soil since World War Two. Despite the worried anticipation leading up to the military attacks, now that the time of peril has arrived, people are in shock and disbelief. Tens of millions of Ukrainians including the thousands of Jews have their lives upended in too many ways to count. Beyond the staggering cost of the lost lives, the ramifications of this conflict are likely to trigger a financial and refugee crisis. There will be far-reaching economic consequences felt here in America. Some people have questioned how such a war in which we witness a return to an authoritarian conquest can occur in the year 2022. The uncomfortable question that we are confronted with is has the world has returned to its pre-World War II state in which the strong take advantage of the weak, and authoritarians are on the march? This disturbing development is just the latest in a string of smashed illusions of the Western world we thought was living in an era of a permanent state of peace and prosperity. On September 11, 2001, we woke to a shattered illusion of the immunity to mass terror and mayhem on American soil. As the years went on and the country tried to rehabilitate itself, it was hit with the financial crisis of 2008. The vaunted financial sector quickly unraveled and the effects were felt well beyond Wall Street. As the country recovered once again, people were feeling giddy about a rising stock market and newfound prosperity. The good times didn’t last for too long. In 2020, the world was hit with COVID, and this time the modern world including the United States realized the vulnerability of its public health infrastructure. A mere two years later the latest bubble has burst. This time with a nuclear power pummeling its way through a weaker neighbor and its menacing presence threatens not just Ukraine but the entire world. (Many have taken notice of the reluctance of Israel to condemn Russia. This is attributed to how beholden Israel is to Russia as it seeks to eliminate terror in Syria and Russia controls the airspace of Syria.) In 20 relatively short years, the great might of the American military, its vaunted economy, and public health infrastructure have sadly unraveled. As the Talmud teaches us, we are living in the days of each day the curse is greater than the previous day. The Talmud cites the verse from the Torah which states בַּבֹּקֶר תֹּאמַר מִי־יִתֵּן עֶרֶב וּבָעֶרֶב תֹּאמַר מִי־יִתֵּן בֹּקֶר. This translates as “in the morning one will say what will the evening bring and in the evening one will say what will the morning bring”. As the Talmud states in these uncertain times, it’s becoming more clear by the second that, we have no one but to rely on other than our Father in Heaven. Let us engage in serious reflection and prayer to the עושה שלום במרומיו or the One who makes peace above to usher in an era of permanent peace for the weary who are beleaguered with uncertainty. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, February 18, 2022

A Process with Dignity

Our shul achieved a significant milestone this week with the Town Hall Meeting on the Mechitza Initiative. I was so impressed with the tone and atmosphere during the forum. While there was not one point of view or opinion expressed, everyone was very respectful of each other. There were no personal attacks or criticisms directed to one another. Our shul was able to present a forum to the community that presented a smorgasbord of opinions that were not necessarily aligned in at atmosphere of Derech Eretz and respect. In an era of increased polarization and divisiveness in the Jewish world and in society at large, this is quite uncommon and a credit to our community. Our objective of the evening was to provide a forum for the membership to hear and be heard. I gained a lot of insight from many of the comments and questions that were communicated and will seriously reflect on everything spoken. I also thought it would be helpful to review for everyone to understand the two fundamental values that are guiding this process. The first value is to ensure that our Kehilla can provide a sacred space for Tefila. An important component in ensuring a sanctuary meets the level of sacredness is having a Mechitza that is halachically appropriate. As I mentioned in my remarks, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein the pre-eminent halachic authority from the 20th century writes the purpose of a Mechitza is to minimize frivolity between the genders during prayer. There are other areas of improvement in the realm of reducing frivolity that we must address. I would recommend this process for everyone to engage in soul searching as to what we all can do to reduce frivolity in the Sanctuary during Tefila. The other core value that is driving our process is our commitment to being a warm and inclusive shul. We are an Orthodox Synagogue AND open to all Jews. It is a badge of honor for us to boast a membership that represents the diversity of the Jewish People. It is vital for Etz Chaim to remain the community shul that is open to everyone. It is a false choice for us to be either a shul committed to Halachic observance or a shul that is open and inclusive. Our commitment to both values are guiding the Mechitza committee in all aspects of this process. While I anticipate that the ultimate conclusion of this process is not something that will make 100 percent of people happy, I do sincerely hope that no matter what a person's viewpoint on this complex issue, all will agree that this process was conducted with the utmost integrity. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, February 11, 2022

Disagreeing with Respect

I have been very encouraged by the reaction of the shul membership since the Mechitza initiative was rolled out. I do not mean to suggest I am encouraged in the sense that everyone subscribes to the position that I have articulated on this issue. I recognize that there is a great diversity of viewpoints in the community and some people who I respect greatly have an opinion on this issue that is not necessarily aligned with my position. I am specifically referring to the tenor of the communal conversation on a potentially divisive issue. Just because something has an issue to become potentially divisive does not mean it has to be divisive. The ability of a community to have a level of mutual respect and tolerance towards others with different viewpoints is not always easy. It requires a great deal of listening and reflecting. This is not to suggest that one should seek to adopt the opposing view of someone else. It is essential for someone to accept the opposing viewpoint from a family, friend, or community member as their reality. The Gaon of Vilna writes that the highest form of listening is acceptance. The Gaon clarifies that acceptance does not mean agreement. If a family member or friend expresses a different point of view, it is so important to listen, reflect and accept that this is their position. If you ultimately conclude differently than your friend on an issue, that is fine. The barometer of a successful conversation is in what manner people will listen to each other with respect despite the opposing views of others. It is with this sentiment that I am excitedly anticipating the Town Hall meeting upcoming this week for our membership on the Mechitza initiative. I am not expecting everyone to have a monolithic position on a complex issue. I am also not assuming everyone will align with the position of the Rabbinic leadership of the shul. I am confident that no matter someone feels, the conversation will be conducted with tolerance, mutual respect, and Derech Eretz. In an era of increased polarization and division both in the Jewish world and in society at large, let us become role models in our ability to tackle complex issues with grace. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, February 4, 2022

Start with the WHY

Start with WHY. It’s important to reflect and engage in soul searching as to why we attach importance to various pursuits in life. In our professional lives and workplace, we can fairly easily communicate what we are doing and (if competent) how to perform the tasks. A more complex question is the WHY of the job. Is it merely to get a paycheck or is there some more noble mission that you are pursuing? I think this challenge to find your WHY applies to the purpose of having a shul. Most can easily explain what a shul is or how to pray or learn. That is the easy part. The WHY a community or neighborhood needs a shul requires more reflection. Is it simply to have individuals gather for a minyan and daven together or is there a higher and more noble purpose? If individuals gather for a minyan in a home or elsewhere, does that serve the same purpose as having a communal Beit Haknesset? This week's Parsha of Teruma provides an insight into this conversation. G-d told Moshe to instruct the Jewish People. וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם. This is translated as “You shall make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them”. The mandate to create a central house of worship with the Mishkan followed by the Beit Hamikdash is articulated clearly in the Parsha. In the simplest sense, it's for the Divine presence to manifest itself in this mundane world. Of course, G-d’s presence is everywhere, but one can connect to the Shechina in a place that was consecrated for worship and prayer. There is much distraction and noise and it is not easy to find that escape that provides a means for that connection. The Mishkan and later the Beit Hamikdash offered that opportunity for Man to connect with G-d in the most ideal manner. The Talmud teaches us that in the absence of a Beit Hamikdash, a Beit Haknesset or shul can fill that void. It is far more than a collection of individuals praying. It is a group of individuals transformed into a Kehilla that is seeking to connect with the Divine Presence in a space that has been consecrated to allow for the G-d’s presence to manifest with no parallel. A hallowed space such as a shul should be an area with the respect it deserves. Any sort of frivolity should be minimized or eliminated. It is a privilege for a community to gather in this sacred space to connect with the Almighty. In every consideration as to what direction our shul embraces for the future, it is not sufficient for one to communicate the WHAT and HOW. We must confront the WHY of our shul. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Pro Choice in Judaism

One of the basic tenets of Judaism is the concept of free will. This fundamental belief states that no one is preordained for greatness or ...