Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Go Forward

I had a call from a colleague and friend today, asking and wondering how do we live life when the world seems to be spinning in ways we did not expect it to be? What do we do when we are fearful?

I would like to share my response because I believe that it will inspire you.

The first chapter of the book of Habakkuk is essentially a long complaint followed by God’s response. It then continues with yet another complaint and another response from God. The book concludes with a prayer or a Psalm from Habakkuk. This book was written, proceeding the fall of Babylon, yet the date of composition of the book cannot be guaranteed just by perusing the book itself. Most likely, individuals who lived after the fall Babylonia in 539 BCE understood much of this book is a meditation on life in an unjust world. They wondered how to relate to God when nations “slays nations without pity,” and “seize homes not their own.”  What do we do when individuals do not place thier trust in God, and how can a pious person deal with this unwieldy situation?

God responds that the answer is clearly written on tablets, perhaps as described in the book of Deuteronomy.

He then says:
הִנֵּ֣ה עֻפְּלָ֔ה לֹא־יָשְׁרָ֥ה נַפְשׁ֖וֹ בּ֑וֹ וְצַדִּ֖יק בֶּאֱמוּנָת֥וֹ יִחְיֶֽה׃
“Lo, his spirit within him is puffed up, not upright, But the righteous man is rewarded with life For his fidelity.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

This verse, initially describes a person whose life is swollen with not good things and who lives a twisted or  unjust life. Perhaps it is one full of deception or one full of egotism. It then moves to a pious person whose faith is in God even under the most dire circumstances. Even though they must live life where justice is delayed or denied, that time according to God will be short-lived. Habakkuk goes on to draw a parallel with Isaiah chapter 11:9, that there will be a time when everyone will know God...

Perhaps today we wonder and struggle, what can we do to make this world a better place? To me the answer is that the most impact we will have is on those who surround us. It is their lives that we can make better. We can speak up when we see injustices, and we can remove blind spots by becoming more aware of the world around us and the systems that work in it – systemic poverty and racism for example. We need to focus our energies on walking in the footsteps of God as a community. The book of Habakkuk ends by saying: “my Lord God is my strength: he makes my feet like the deer’s and lets me stride upon the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19).   

For me God is found inside of us all and when we unite our hands together we can bring the divine into this world through our very actions.  It is my prayer that we live our lives full of tackling difficult and challenging issues, causing ourselves to grow and become better individuals and communities more focused on God and assisting those around us.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Will We Have Faith and Will Our Faith Have Children?

“Rachel is weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not.” — Jeremiah 31:14

This excerpt from the book of Jeremiah seeks to highlight the pain and anguish that the Israelites experienced upon their exile to Babylonia. Jeremiah stood in the moment of deep pathos. The poetry of Jeremiah describes Rachel weeping and her fear that there will be no more children - there will be no more future. The anguish of wondering about the future when all appears as barrenness and desolation is the fear of loss encapsulated in her very being.

Jeremiah saw the Temple burn, he saw the charred city walls, he saw an absence of the royal court, he named the names of those carried away to Babylonia. Jeremiah took note of the brutality of the Babylonians, the damage incurred to the land, the loss of life, the undervalued women damaged and focused instead on the human cost and the human heart. He saw that the exiles were not statistics on the nightly news nor numbers to appear in a book, but that each of the people who died or were captured had mothers and fathers who cared for them, who made them suppers and taught them how to tie their shoes.

The gift that Jeremiah has given us is a language to help us grieve over loss and brutality. He forces us to ask, will we have faith in the face of uncertainty and fear, and will our faith have children? I think it is only fitting that Jeremiah used the metaphor of Rachel weeping for her children. The agony of a mother who has given birth, and experiences the pain of labor only to lose her child to death is something we can relate to even today. Simply put, there is no comfort. The people who lost their lives or were exiled, have evaporated into NOT. “Your injury is incurable, Your wound severe” (Jeremiah 30:12).

The miracle of Jeremiah is that he takes the pain of humanity and causes it to become the verbalization of God’s pain over the exile: “Truly, Ephraim is a dear son to Me, A child that is dandled! Whenever I have turned against him, My thoughts would dwell on him still. That is why My heart yearns for him; I will receive him back in love —declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:20). It is not enough that we ourselves are in agony but that even God is in agony for us. Hosea touched on this briefly and other prophets dangled their toes in the water of describing God’s pain but it was Jeremiah who had the courage to do so. Instead of this being God’s punishment inflicted upon us and God judging us harshly, God was described as a grieving mother for her children and her future. Even God is described therefore as helpless. Perhaps God is wondering why history has taken such a ruthless course and expressing an enigmatic yearning for something more compassionate to be revealed during human history.

Today, Jeremiah reminds us to also recognize that as much as we are crying out and wondering why we’re in the agony of loss, God is there as well. That God is embracing us even in the darkness because God is like a grieving mother, an image we can all relate to. I hope to bring the poetry and prose of Jeremiah alive so that perhaps we can find the words to explain not only our feelings but a recognition that our feelings are not in isolation nor are we alone in them. We are at a time in our nation’s history and a point in Jewish history of both excitement and fear. This time is significant but not wholly unique. Perhaps in the study of Jeremiah we can find great comfort and inspiration.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Unity Matters Now

On November 8, 2016 this country elected a man to the presidency who has never held public office. He has never served in our military. No major network or news group predicted his win. This historic event has troubled many. Some have expressed anger and rage, while others are confused and fearful. The future is unclear and for this reason my thoughts go to a story in the book of Samuel.
The people wanted to be ruled by a king. The advantages of a monarchy were idealized; a strong, centralized government with a strong leader to make the people feel secure. But Samuel pointed out a monarchy would also bring heavy taxation, forced labor, and conscription of their sons into an army and their daughters into servitude.
But the people were looking for change and a new model of leadership. The people felt their voices were not heard. We learn from Samuel that the citizens who bear the burden of government tend to be those who are the least able to speak up. Samuel warned that when they were servants to God’s demands God still heard them and made allowances. But now they will be exploited by a king who will not judge them in mercy and love.  (1 Samuel 8:17). 
Samuel prayed to God for guidance. God told Samuel “heed their demands and appoint a king for them.” (1 Samuel 8:22). And so he did. And Samuel's warnings came to pass - the people were burdened greatly by heavy taxation and forced labor; but they also built great cities because of the vision and leadership of the king.
Samuel's warning rings true today. The vision and strong leadership of a new administration creates an obligation to ensure that that government does not exploit those who cannot speak for themselves. We must ensure that all voices are heard.
I recently organized a unity prayer service in Huntsville, Alabama.[1] I gathered together more than 200 people from all walks of life, including various faith leaders and elected officials. This group of souls gathered to march on their soles to show unity and love for all. Together we set the example of our highest selves by marching seven times around Temple B'nai Sholom, just as the Israelites marched around Jericho until the walls tumbled, to symbolically break down the walls which divide us from one another. To me, this concept was perfectly illustrated by the participation of leaders from our Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQ, and Atheist communities. When we reach out to others we recognize the divinity in them and create an I-Thou[2] relationship.
For me, the highlight of the service was the shaking hands and hugging between Rep. Phil Williams (R) and Rep. Laura Hall (D) from the Alabama Legislature. They both rose to the occasion to demonstrate what leadership should be – working together for the benefit of everyone they serve.
I am personally inspired and filled with the renewed hope that President-elect Trump's presidency affords us by underscoring the need to create I-Thou relationships.
My hope is that we find the courage to travel this new path together where we can sing the songs of unity.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Yom Kippur Yizkor Thoughts

Image result for yizkor candle

One of the greatest gifts of Yom Kippur is that we take the time to be contemplative, to be present with one another, to bare our souls to God and to remember our loved ones who have gone before.  This Yizkor service gives us an opportunity to remember that we are simply a link in the chain of tradition stretching back to Moses.  We are individuals woven into the fabric of humanity and the greater world – something that can be easily forgotten as we go about our busy days. 

Yom Kippur’s rituals require us to “check-in” with ourselves and God.  
Rav Kook, the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Israel was walking in a field with one of his students, who reached down and plucked a leaf off of a plant.  Rav Kook responded: “believe me when I tell you I never simply pluck a leaf or blade of grass or any living thing unless I have to.  Every part of the vegetable world is singing a song and breathing forth a secret of the divine mystery of creation.”   Let’s us take a moment to hear the divine song around us, singing to us encouraging us on even in our grief. 

Please take a deep breath and close your eyes.

Perhaps you can hear God calling out to you. 

For some of us, only when we are in a state of absolute vulnerability can we hear God.  Please allow yourself to enter that state of openness. 

As we open ourselves up to God, let us also recall our loved ones who helped us arrive at this juncture.  Please also take a moment to thank them. 

Please take another deep breath. 

Lastly, death is a reminder that life is part of a cycle:
“Birth is a beginning
And death a destination.
And life is a journey,
A sacred pilgrimage –
To life everlasting.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Getting Ready for Yom Kippur

Every year we read the book of Jonah on Yom Kippur. The reading in the afternoon marks a dramatic conclusion for a day of fasting, praying, and introspection. A time in which we truly reconsider our lives, our deeds, and how to best return to God. Often times we are blind to the things which we really need to repent for. Sometimes we can be blinded by greed, selfishness, insecurities or even our ego. It is an extremely painful thing to realize that a mistake was made. Sometimes that realization can only happen years after that incident occurred when our emotions are finally at ease and our insecurities are at a rest.

It is amazing how our personal urge to be the best can sometimes lead us into the most complicated of situations. These situations can be challenging to extract ourselves from. We are scared that we lack the inner strength to be able to overcome them. We have trepidations about our own ability to grow and change in order to become a more whole person.

It was God who called out to Jeremiah saying: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations.” (1:5). A powerful statement from which we learn that God knows our ability to grow. This ultimately is a statement of hope, I believe. The Redak (a medieval commentator) retranslated that verse to say “when I had not yet formed you in the womb, I made you great, and when you had not yet emerged from the womb, I sanctified you.” He was attempting to answer the question of a) are we born evil? and b) was Jeremiah given special instruction so that he would pop out ready to be a prophet? Since most prophets rejected their calling from God initially, was this a sign that Jeremiah did not reject his calling? No, this was saying that we are all made great and that we have all been sanctified by God. That God calls upon us to engage in life. We are asked and called by God to engage in the process of teshuvah when we find ourselves entrapped in one of those complications. We are further called to be in this process every year as a sort of reset button on our life. Our specific calling according to this verse is in fact to be “a light to the nations.” We accomplish this by simply being a light to those around us.

In this case, I would offer my translation of the word navi or prophet to be an example. We are supposed to engage in the teshuvah process to be both a light to those around us and bring us closer to God. When we recognize the divine light within ourselves and the divine light within others perhaps we will be more ready to engage in a process of teshuvah.

This is a process in which we would engage and become more intimate with God, grow in our maturity and develop stronger relationships with those around us. It helps us to channel our anger, fear, and doubt into a statement of profound loving faith by our very actions.

May you all be blessed with the knowledge that you have the ability to engage in this process. May you find within yourself the courage to do so. May we be blessed with a sweet healthy and happy new year.

Shannah Tovah!

Learning from our Doubt - Rosh Hashanah Morning

There is no owner’s manual explaining how to live life. I wish there were. But the truth is, we are all human. We all make mistakes, we all struggle and strive to be better, we all have blind spots about who we are and at various times we all live in denial. It's called the human condition.
I would like for you to hold out your index finger and imagine that it is ruler. From the base of your finger is the span of your life. At the base of your finger signifies when you were born and at the tip when you will die. Now hold up your other hand and take your index finger and your thumb and make a “C.” Determine how much longer you have in this life. My God, that's all the time I have left.
With that amount of time left, I ask myself, how will I live my life? What decisions can I make when presented with various situations so that I am living out my personal life’s motto?

This beautiful Rosh Hashanah morning we read about Abraham and the decision that he made with Isaac. He was told by God; go sacrifice your son Isaac. Abraham decided to carry out that commandment.
Do any of us really hear the voice of God calling down to as clearly as Abraham did? I don’t. I study, I pray, I meditate and hope that I make the right decision. After all, the decisions that I make impact my life and everyone in it, including this congregation. When should I speak up on a subject? When does holding up a mirror of truth to a congregant help them? When does it hurt them? To be a Congregational Rabbi requires a certain amount of artistry. It is an art that I am still learning and I thank you for allowing me to explore and grow with you.
But now back to Abraham. Many conclude that Abraham did not have a decision to make but that he was simply following the commandment he received from God.  But there are some rabbis who point out that Abraham did indeed make a decision. After hearing the word of God, Abraham walked for 3 days to mount Moriah. The Midrash says that Satan appeared to him on each day asking:  “Are you silly and foolish that you would go and do this thing to your only son?” [1]  We can think of Satan as that little voice of doubt and fear inside Abraham as he was making his decision.
We so often don’t know if what we do is right or wrong. Making decisions is really hard. We want to believe that we are good people and God will protect us and help us make decisions. I’m reminded of the story of the man who was in a flood. He heard the radio report of the rising waters and went up to his roof knowing that because he was such a good man God would save him. A rowboat came by and offered to take him to safety. The man said, "No. God will save me." A helicopter came by and offered him a ride. "No. God will save me." The man died in the flood and when he got up to heaven he asked God, "Why didn't you save me from the flood? Why did you let me down?" God responded, "I sent you a radio report, a rowboat, and a helicopter. What else could I possibly do for you?"
We learn from this that faith is not enough. We must make decisions and take action in our own lives. We must use our faith as a guide for us in making those decisions. 
One of the most poignant stories I have read in the Talmud is of the death of Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai. As he was dying, he knew that his death was imminent. His disciples and students came to visit him. This was a long time custom the rabbis had - to offer one last lecture. As they walked into the room, the dying rabbi began to weep. His students asked, "Why are you weeping?" He responded, "My death is near and I'm unsure if I'm going to heaven with God or Gehinnom – the Jewish version of hell. I am about to face my final judgment."
Though few of us live our lives like Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai, a number of commentators offer reasons explaining why he had fear and doubt at the realization of his final judgment. During the siege of Jerusalem danger was everywhere and the leadership, including Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai, was divided about what decision to make and what action to take. Some offered faith statements that God would come in and protect the Jewish people from Rome, others believed military strength was the answer and attempted to wage a guerrilla war against the Roman Empire. But Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai offered a third option. His option would attempt to bring the nation some peace while still working with the Roman Empire.
Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai met with his nephew who was the head of a group of zealots called the Saccari who was among those engaged in guerrilla warfare by stabbing people to death around the city.
He asked Saccari: "How long are you going to carry on in this way and kill all the people…?" 
Saccari responded that he had lost control of the people and he would be killed if he spoke up.  He told Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai to plan a way to escape the city.
He advised Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai: "Pretend to be ill, and let everyone come to inquire about you. Bring something evil smelling and put it by you so that they will say you are dead. Let then your disciples get under your bed, but no others, so that they shall not notice that you are still light, since they know that a living being is lighter than a corpse." (BT Gittin 56a)
Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai took his nephew's advice and escaped Jerusalem in a coffin. He went to a small city called Yavneh and committed to create a Beit Din or a house of rabbinical judgement and study.

He gave up the idea that Jerusalem as the heart of the Jewish people, and instead made the community's synagogue the heart. This was a radical departure from the past. Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai posited that the Torah was to be studied and revered. He decreed that the way of praying to God was no longer through sacrifice but through liturgy.
Just as an aside, several of his new decrees which became law including: the blowing of the shofar on Shabbat, the "day of waving," the taking of the lulav outside of the Temple, the acceptance of testimony concerning the new moon (Neusner, Development of a Legend, 206–9).
I’ve heard this story many times in many different texts. As a rabbinical student we were taught the story because Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai   was the founder of rabbinic Judaism. I think it was no small accident that Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai   went out of Jerusalem in a coffin. It was symbolic of the death of the temple cult as the center for the community. Leadership was to be in line with his contemporaries and his students such as Rabban Gamliel and his disciples and descendants after him. 
I want to highlight that not everybody was thrilled with the decisions that Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai  made.  Rabbi Yosef, or some say, Rabbi Akiva, applied to him the verse: “[God] turns wise men backward and makes their knowledge foolish” (Isaiah 44:25).  [When Ben Zakkai met with the Emperor of Rome for the safety and security of Yavneh] he should have used the opportunity to ask the Emperor to leave Jerusalem alone. But he thought that such a request might be rejected and he would thus forfeit an even smaller salvation. (Gittin 56b) The debate raged for many generations between rabbis and Jews who had nationalistic tendencies and those who leaned toward pragmatism. 
Looking back we can see the value of what Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai   did. He attempted to create a path to prepare the Jewish people for life following the war with Rome. In the same regard, as we discussed last night, the prophet Jeremiah did the same thing.
Most of us are not leaders of a nation whose decisions have a profound impact on generations to come. Most of our names will not be recorded in the annals of history.  Most of us do not hear God commanding us to sacrifice our children.  Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai even questioned his decision of how he went about saving the Jewish people on his deathbed. 
We all have decisions to make. It is the circumstances of our lives that tend to dictate those decisions. I can look back and realize how the decision Uzi and I made to move to Huntsville, Alabama has impacted us. That decision has been a blessing to me just as I have always worked hard to be a blessing to you.

I've shared with you some positive decisions from our history. Abraham went to mount Moriah and his faith was renewed. Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai helped saved the Jewish people.
But what about the consequences of a bad decision?
When Moses received the 10 Commandments, the Jewish people gave in to their doubt and fear during his 40 day absence and made a fateful decision. They created a golden calf to worship.
God spoke to the people and said: “God, God, a compassionate and gracious God, long-suffering and magnanimous and true love, keeping that love for the multitudes, forgiving sin, transgression, and the misdeeds, but surely not cleansing them entirely, revisiting the sins of the fathers upon their children, down to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7). 
This passage was adopted into our liturgy somewhat early on in the formation of our liturgical practices in the early rabbinic period started by Rabbi Yahaan ben Zakkai.  It was altered to say: “God, God, a compassionate and gracious God, long-suffering and magnanimous and true love, keeping that love for the multitudes, forgiving sin, transgression, and misdeed, and cleansing!”
The rabbis transformed the verse in the Bible from “not cleansing” to “cleansing.”  The rest of the verse is about revisiting the sins of the father upon their children down through the generations was also cut.  God no longer seeks retribution and punishment upon unclean sinners. God forgives us and cleans us in unconditional compassion. At every opportunity, we are taught that even if we make bad decision, we have an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start over.
We will make mistakes. I have made some mistakes. I am a human rabbi. The humanity in me allows me to see the humanity in you and to unconditionally love you and help bring you closer to God. Sometimes I view us like little plants, we struggle to reach toward the sun. Sometimes we are blocked by shades from trees; sometimes there’s something about the inherent nature of the plants which makes for the reaching a challenge, but I believe that there’s an inner force inside of us that reaches out toward God to obtain nourishment. That nourishment for me has and always will be love.
The first step in the process of repentance is not between us and God. The first step is in recognizing that we erred.  Only then can we correct the error by naming it and apologizing.  Apologizing to ourselves and/or others. Together can we grow into a beautiful garden of flowers reaching out toward God.

After all, as Jeremiah taught: Blessed is one who trusts in God,
Whose trust is in God alone.
That person shall be like a tree planted by waters,
Sending forth its roots by stream:
It does not sense the coming of the heat,
It leaves shall be forever fresh and luxuriant;
It has no care in a year of drought,
It does not cease to yield fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

The decisions we make will not always be the best ones, but if we look at and examine life as an opportunity to grow, then our decisions will help us reach the sun and be nourished by God's love. May you grasp this opportunity for tushvah, repentance, and make the most of it. After all, we need to make our life here on Earth count!
Shannah Tovah!!!!!!!!!!

[1] Legends of the Jews p.226-7

Jeremiah's Message for Today - Erev Rosh Hashanah

This year marks 15 years since 9/11. The attack was of such magnitude to the heart of American consciousness has never been the same. In a similar scope, the attack on Pearl Harbor also led to a shift that led into the Cold War. These traumas transformed our community. 
We now live in an era dominated by fear and uncertainty. An era which is reactionary. Prior to 9/11, we took so much for granted - our safety, our wealth, and our power in the global sphere.  We did not know the difference between Sunni or Shiite or Islamist strands of the Islamic faith, but we know now. That day unleashed an evil rarely seen.  An evil which creates a feeling of great uncertainty.  Is it safe to walk down the beach in France? Can I go dancing at a nightclub in Orlando? Or visit New York, New Jersey or a mall in Minnesota and be safe? 
This time, this period of fear and uncertainty, recalls  a similar time in our Jewish history.    In the opening chapter of the book of Jeremiah, we learn that in his lifetime 2500 years ago there were five different kings – indicating the amount of uncertainty. There was captivity of Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem. There was deportation and displacement. There was great questioning of the future of the Jewish community And, within that community, a questioning of the presence of God.
Jeremiah had an impossible task as a leader. He had to help his community comprehend the loss of independent rule, the royal family, the Temple, and lastly, what appeared to be a broken covenant with God. 
The events during the time of Jeremiah and the events today can be paralleled into TWO distinct categories.   Sociological and theological.
I want to simply draw the parallel between the feelings of uncertainty experienced by people  in the time of Jeremiah to the feelings of uncertainty that we have today. Our world, is changing at an astounding rate. The effects of climate change are real, the political dominance and the economic monopoly that America had in the world is changing and the moral certitudes of the past are no longer quite so certain.  This uncertainty has led to a seemingly inability to listen to one another long enough to agree on the problem. And if we cannot come together to define the problems we face, then we cannot come together to solve them either.

Let me take you back to Jeremiah's time to really understand what the destruction of the Temple meant. The Temple was a place where God was worshiped, where sacrifices were offered, where taxes were collected – it was the heart of the community. The people of this community knew for certain that whatever happened in their community was a mirrored up in heaven. If neighboring nations  were engaged in a battle then God was engaged with that other people’s deity in battle in heaven. If a group of people lost the  battle it meant that their deity died. 
There had been a covenant between God and the Israelites.  In exchange for His blessing and continued presence, His people promised to obey His commandments. God promised to be present for His people  This covenant began during the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was reestablished with Moses and again with David. But by the time of Jeremiah there was a belief that God’s temple, by its very presence in Jerusalem, would protect the city and its inhabitants. Because the people of Jerusalem  felt protected, they lost their way. They were not focused on obedience to God's commandments. They had forgotten to live a life based on the story of the Exodus narrative, based on our deliverance from slavery. Instead they focused on increasing their own wealth (Jeremiah 5:26-28 and 2:8). They took things for granted and perhaps even felt a sense of entitlement.
The religious leadership had forgotten to put God at the center of their activities. They wanted to make everyone happy and not hold up the mirror of truth. 

It can be argued that we too have lost our way in our relationship with God. There is an increasing secularization of our society. There is a decrease in affiliation with religious organizations
We must ask the challenging questions:
Are we in danger of losing our relationship with God?
What parts of us need to be revealed so that we are not living in denial of the current situation?
Have we allowed ourselves to be pulled away from God by the temptations of shiny new objects and the worshiping of the cult of celebrity and the cult of anti-intellectualism in America?

Jeremiah attempted to answer these questions in an exceedingly radical way. Jeremiah knew what the problem was – the lack of attention placed on living a life with God at the center.  He understood too, that because of that deficiency the people were suffering.  He needed to break through their denial of why they were having a problem, help them the accept the problem they were facing and lastly help them grieve over what was lost. He wanted the Judeans to break through the denial of keeping everything as the status quo and accept that their decisions to do so had negative consequences for them. It is impossible for an individual who is not ready to engage in cheshbon nefesh, an accounting of their souls to identify a problem and truly repent.  The Israelites were not prepared to even look at themselves to explore a problem, Jeremiah had problems with other prophets of his time who told the people everything would be ok.  But because of the people’s rejection of self-reflection the nation was going to lose and did lose everything.  The covenant with God was frozen and numb there was no possibility for newness because the people were numb from the pain. Only once the criticism that Jeremiah offered was embraced and understood, faced and accepted, was liberation from the pain of suffering the loss of their nation a possibility. By grieving and letting go of what was, Jeremiah presented an opportunity to face what could be. We know today after much psychological study of grief that mourning is a process that we go through in order to be able to let go of what was lost.  Jeremiah attempted to offer the people a path to mourn.  
When they were ready to listen he then offered his people were two prophecies that helped shape their future and free them from the negativity of the past. Those two prophecies can also offer us a path forward in our feeling uncertain about the future.  They can provide a path for us to walk down and to live a more balanced, whole and holy life.

Jeremiah told the Jews living in exile in Babylonia to live life. They were to build houses, plant gardens, make memories, and have children and grandchildren (Jeremiah 29:4-6).  More astounding than that, he instituted a practice of praying for the government.

The prayer that I lead you in each Shabbat and holiday service is a prayer for the welfare of this  country;  a practice that began with Jeremiah. He advocated that while we live outside of Israel we are to create a thriving community. The community of Jews that was created in Babylonia, and existed there for thousands of years, is like our community here in Huntsville. We have children here, we build houses here, we create a life here, and we pray for peace here.
We have a relevant and vital community here and it is mandated by Jeremiah to support the Jews worldwide by supporting our congregation.  We are strong Jews here.  By participating in the Jewish community we can become even stronger and more cohesive as a community. This is a community which I have seen be a blessing to its members and one which I am honored to by the rabbi for.  Thank you for giving me that honor.  May I always live up to the opportunity given to me.  May you also be able to be strong members here, supporting the congregation and helping it continue to thrive just as it has since the 1870s.
We are good citizens in Huntsville because we are good Jews. The hope Jeremiah gave the Israelites was to take the tools and the resources that they had available and keep on living. Winston Churchill famously said KBO – Keep Buggering On.  It is our obligation in the face of uncertainty and in the face of limited resources to Jewishly live life to the fullest.
To live a life full of Judaism and to bring that gift to our children by making a strong temple.

The second prophecy that Jeremiah offered was that we must be partners with God.
The God of Jeremiah was strong enough to heal the world.  But God did not do it alone.  God relied upon Jeremiah’s imagination to challenge the people and ask: how do you imagine God? Do you see God inside of your family/friends/self or small miracles which occur around you daily? 
Toward the end of Jeremiah’s life he gave a last and hopeful prophecy.  He was told to buy a plot of land and he was told by God that God does not close the door without opening a window. “I will surely gather them from all the countries, where I have driven them in My furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and cause them to live in safety. They will be My people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one path, that they may always revere Me, that all may go well with them and their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing them good, and I will inspire them to fear Me, never turning away from Me. I will rejoice in doing good for them and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. (32:37-41). 

The statement that we will fear the Lord, is not about fear, but rather AWE.  We will have a relationship with God based on love and that we will humble ourselves before God’s presence. God’s will acts regardless of our desires. God will shower us with love and not stop doing good for us.  God is so great, that God’s vision and power is beyond anything we could construct.  
What Jeremiah was saying to the leaders in exile was that they needed to examine their own lives and recognize a new manna from which to eat to feed their souls. For Jeremiah there had to be a relinquishing of what was so that the leaders could receive the potential of what could be. We will dream of possibilities and together we will make them a reality. We will release God, as Jeremiah attempted, from our conceptions and expectations so that we can see God for what God is. God offers us comfort and promises God’s presence to energize us to have fresh faith. The God of Jeremiah was powerful, liberated and free.

This is the power and potential of God. Does your vision of God allow you to tackle the tough issues in your life? 
Are you willing to recognize God as powerful enough to take bold stands in the face of tyranny as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did when facing the Nazis? 
Are you open to seeing God as capable to changing the hearts and minds of America as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr did when he worked for racial justice in this country?
Do you take every opportunity to speak out against the plagues of society in the public square or simply wander back and forth between home and work?

Are you willing and able to be a partner with God. Or do you simply lie in your own anguish clinging to the pain of missed opportunities for improvement. There is mourning to be done as a community, there is grief work that needs to occur, because the Temple may not be everything we would wish it to be.  But together we can dream and together we can create a community based on love here in Huntsville.   We need to apply those lessons then to society.  Just imagine how united we could make society.
It is the role of our congregation to apply the prophetic literature in imaginative way, to practice acts of gimilut hassadim (acts of loving kindness) in a concrete world to improve our existence and engage in Tikkun Olam (repair of the world). 

While this may be a period of uncertainty, with uncertainty comes an opportunity to develop something fresh and new, something transformative.

May this year give us the ability to be open to naming our problems, the strength to mourn opportunities lost, the possibility of using our imaginations for the good and the courage to act on them. 
Shanah Tova!