Maintaining Faith in a World of Multiple Possibilities

We live in a world with multiple possibilities. As the saying goes, “When one door closes, another one opens.” At times in life we feel that we are out of options or wishing we were back at a previous moment in time. However, each moment presents infinite possibilities and opportunities to make our lives better.

In reading through the weekly Torah portions, I think about the Israelites’ lack of faith. In next week’s reading we learn about the golden calf, created because “that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt-we do not know what has happened to him.” How in a span of 40 days did a people who had seen marvels such as the splitting of the sea lose their faith? How did the same people send forth a delegation to return to Egypt even after Caleb said “Let us by all means go forward and we shall conquer the land?” How easy it is to lose trust in one’s leaders as well as faith in a better future.

How relatable is Israel, travelling in the desert where food and water was scarce, becoming nostalgic about a past of Egyptian slavery where at least they had three meals a day and roofs over their heads. The slightest mishap leads to doubts and second-guessing, the “what ifs.” What is missing is faith in a better future and recognizing that we live in a world with multiple possible outcomes, that what is often most important is not the outcome but the process one takes to get there.

Think about a time in your life when you thought you were at the end of your rope, that there was no going on-only to laugh about it a month or two later when your situation changed. While sometimes inexplicable tragedies occur, more often than not things are not irreparable. The line that we say before we read from the Torah is “Those who cling to G-d are all alive today.” What do you hold onto that gives you the courage and faith to continue forward?

In our world of multiple possibilities, what gives me strength is knowing that I will do my part and let G-d take care of the rest. Sometimes I will give things right, other times I will make mistakes but either way I will be complete and whole. No matter what happens to us, especially if it is something beyond our control, we are complete and whole. At the end of the day there’s no could have, would have or should have-there’s only this moment in time and what we can do to make the most of it. When things look bleak, let us maintain our faith in ourselves and in the path on which we walk in this world and may we remember that no matter what the outcome, we will be fine and will find a way to thrive.

Happiness Comes From Within

As a rabbi I have learned that you can never please all of the people all of the time; however you can please all of the people some of the time. The question is when the right thing to do is one which will cause the displeasure of others. Moses, our people’s greatest leader, had numerous periods in which he lost the confidence of the Israelite nation, when they complained and wanted to return to Egypt. If even our people’s greatest leader could not make the people happy, how can we hope to do so?!

Happiness comes from within a person. It’s not something that we can find through materialism or through external circumstances. We often feel ‘if only _______ happened, I’d be happy’. We sometimes look to leaders, be they politicians, social workers, teachers or clergy, to fix our problems rather than reflectively looking inside ourselves. However, a leader is not a savior. A leader’s job is not to try to make others happy; that is each individual’s job. A leader’s task is to act out of the courage of his/her convictions to try to make the world we live in better, but that is not by solving every problem that comes our way. Moses could lead Israel towards the Promised Land but he could not change their mentality, making them excited to leave slavery for freedom and to enter a land of milk and honey. The hard, individualistic work of a positive mindset in spite of whatever is going on is left up to each and every one of us.

It is my hope that each of us will find the inner spirit to meet head-on any challenge we face with positivity, serenity and grace and that we are able to appreciate all that we have rather than taking it for granted. We are blessed to live in the mecca of South Florida with beautiful winter weather and with so much to offer people of all ages. When we recognize that we might not have everything we want, may we take the time to turn inward and see what we can do to better our situation rather than outward to blame others. Let each of us work hard to take ownership of and become the authors of our own lives, and in so doing may we find wholeness and happiness rather than resentment and bitterness. As Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers) teaches “Who is strong? One who conquers his/her impulses. Who is rich? One who is happy with what s/he has.” Our leaders can lead us to the path; may we do our part so that we can reach the Promised Land.

The Young with the Old

In this week’s portion, Moses demonstrates that he is a leader for the entire community. After the plague of locusts, Pharaoh gave in and says “Go and worship your G-d in the desert; who will be the ones to go?” Moses replied, “Our young and our old will go.” This angered Pharaoh who would only allow the men to go. Pharaoh knew that if everyone left they would not return, so he wanted to hold some of the people back. Moses, however, said that either all the Israelites would go or none of them would.

Why did Moses argue for the children to come? The medieval commentator Chizkuni states that “the way of children is to celebrate.” Rabbi Harold Kushner brings two alternative interpretations in The Etz Hayim Humash: that “no celebration is complete without children” and that “a child without parents is an orphan but a nation without children is an orphan people.” The last point is especially poignant, without the children there is no future.

The commentaries are great at emphasizing the children but I believe it is equally important that Moses said the elderly must go as well. Elders bring wisdom to the community through their past lived experiences. They also provide a sense of historical precedent as to why things are as they are. Moses knew that just as the children are necessary so too are the older individuals. As we must look towards the future, so must we also remember the past and what brought us to this present day.

Moses felt it was important that everyone be able to leave Egypt, regardless of their age. This has a lot to say for how the Jewish community works: that everyone is a valued member of our community. The way of a successful synagogue is to leave no one behind, showing each person that he or she has a valued, integral place in our community.

At Bet Shira Congregation, we have brought together people from multiple congregations, whether Temple Zion, Samuel Or Olam, Bet Breirah or others. As your rabbi, I value each and every one of you exactly as you are. Our identity is not determined by where we came from but by who we are. As we move forward towards a future yet unknown but with exciting possibilities, let us remember that we are stronger together. Like Moses who went forth with the young and the old, we too must go forth united in our goal to perpetuate Conservative Judaism in South Dade. When we are together, what is not possible to achieve?

When we feel torn in life, may we us remember the excitement we shared as children, curious, with wonder and open towards the possibilities of the unknown. If we do that, we will transcend the experience of מצרים, those narrow places which constrict us and harden our hearts. Many of us, myself included, struggle with uncertainty, yet as I learned from the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, nothing is permanent and everything is ever changing. Let us keep mind of this lesson today and every day.

I’m Wrong You’re Right

Why do we break a glass at the wedding? Remembering the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem is one reason given but I’m going to give you another. Sorry Howard but when you break the glass in 2 week it’s the last time you’ll be able to put your foot down. After that Danielle will always be right. The defense rests its case (for those who don’t know, Danielle’s a Defense Lawyer, and Howard’s a Plaintiff).

All joking aside, being able to admit when you are wrong and another is right is extremely difficult to do. We think ‘if I only rationalize the situation, she’ll see it my way.’ After all, we understand why we act the way we do. To truly take a step back and say ‘I did wrong here’ when that is the case is truly a mark of bravery and courage.

Even the hardheaded, stubborn Pharaoh admits wrongdoing at the end of Parshat VaEra. He says to Moses חטאתי הפעם: ה הוא הצדיק ואני ועמי הרשעים. After the plague of hail, Pharaoh said, ‘I have sinned this time: G-d is in the right, and my nation and I are the wicked ones.’[1] This is a startling statement: Pharaoh, who believes that he himself is god, admits wrongdoing. For a split second he gets off his high horse and says to Moses and Aaron, ‘You know that G-d, you believe in? He’s right and I’m wrong.” If Pharaoh can do it, all the more so must we when the situation calls for it.

Admitting we are wrong is challenging. It is far easier to harden our hearts, continuing in the same direction we began. However, our greatest leaders each admitted their mistakes. When the Prophet Nathan exposed King David’s sin with Batsheva, our greatest king ever, David, saidלה  חטאתי “I have sinned against G-d.”[2] When Judah, who our people is named after, realized he sinned against Tamar by withholding his youngest son from her, he said צדקה ממני, “she is more righteous than me.”[3] Admitting wrongdoing when exposed is the hallmark of a leader, as well as a sign of a good partner in a relationship.

Danielle and Howard-we are so honored to be here today as you celebrate your upcoming marriage. As lawyers, both of you understand how to argue from the perspective of your client-and you do this on opposite sides of the aisle. However, as a couple you are on the same team. We know that through communication and working together you will conquer any challenges that you face in this roller-coaster and obstacle course that we call life. Always remember the love you share and the way you care about one another, letting that shine through. Howard-it doesn’t hurt to keep in the back of your head the following mantra: My wife is always right.

Mazal Tov on your aufruf and upcoming wedding. To crystallize the joy we feel about this celebratory event, please turn to the handout in your Shabbat sheet which we will read responsively.

[1] Exodus 9:27

[2] 2 Samuel 12:13

[3] Genesis 38:26