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Articles and Presentations by the Rabbi

Message for Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, 2012

Once, on the eve of the Day of Atonement, Rabbi Zusya heard a cantor in the House of Prayer, chanting the words: “And it is forgiven,” in strange and beautiful tones. Then he called to God, “Lord of the world! Had Israel not sinned, how would such a song have been intoned before you?” (paraphrased from Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim)

While we might marvel at Rabbi Zusya’s chutzpah, his audacity, his remark touches an interesting issue. Imagine God looking down at humanity and seeing all the warfare, all the environmental damage, all the cruelty, all the people struggling in desperate poverty while a handful of others are hoarding extraordinary wealth, all the hatred fueled by the very religious doctrines that God gave us in love, all the failure to learn from the mistakes of the past, all the ways people shield themselves from the suffering of others. And still, God continues to bathe humanity with blessings: the sun rising every day, the cycles of living things providing abundant nourishment and indescribable beauty, sufficient material resources to meet the needs of every being on the planet, the intellect to solve insurmountable problems, the presence of family and community, the emotional capacities to love them and care for them, the power to express our love in the creation of new life. Why doesn’t God burn out? What sustains God to keep giving so much to a species that has so misused God’s gifts and is likely to continue to do so?

Zusya’s answer is truly ingenious. The more broken people have made God’s world, the more beautiful and passionate will be our song of repentance. Our tender music sings out in stark contrast to the shrill screeches of human misery and neglect; the sinewy lament flowing arrhythmically from our hearts offers a welcome interlude from the lockstep heavy metallic thud, thud, thud beating of what we call progress. The music of our prayers is beautiful in and of itself. But beyond that, our prayers proclaim that kindness, reflection, and hope cannot be muffled by the noise of human folly. For this, God can be deeply grateful.

OK, I know that this is not what we like to hear about at Thanksgiving, broken world and all that. Shouldn’t we instead focus on how incredibly blessed most of us are in this society? Most of us enjoy adequate food, clothing, and shelter, a decent standard of living, personal freedom, and access to resources and access to resources and opportunities. We can, and we should, acknowledge how fortunate we are and give thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives. In Jewish tradition we don’t limit this kind of thanksgiving to a single Thursday in November; rather we are told to include the following blessing in our prayers at least three times a day:

We thank you for our lives entrusted to your hand, our souls placed in your care, for your miracles that greet us every day, and for your wonders and the good things that are with us every hour, morning, noon, and night.

If we truly lived with these words implanted in our consciousness, we would live enchanted lives. No matter what happens, we would never forget that the glass is not half empty; it is, in fact, at least 90 percent full.

The trouble is, we don’t seem to be wired to experience this level of fulfillment. We ignore at least 40 percent of the nectar in our glass, and then bemoan that it is still half empty. In the eleventh century, a rabbi named Bachya ibn Pakuda taught that there are three causes for our lack of gratitude. First of all, once we get attached to material possessions; we keep wanting more. If we enjoy our Ipad 2, we now want an Ipad 4, and no matter how happy we’ve been with our Ipad 4, we just can’t live without a Mini. The second problem is that we take all the good stuff we’ve got for granted. Even our new Mini soon becomes just another tool, while our old Ipad 4 sits idle on a shelf alongside the laptop, smartphone, and CD player that we’ve owned since the Pleistocene era. The third problem, according to Bachya, is the one that concerns me the most tonight. This is that we tend to focus on our disappointments, failures, and hurts, and then lose sight of our blessings altogether. Who cares about a little Mini when the rich kid down the street got a sports car for her seventeenth birthday? And what’s the use of having a new car if you knock your back out working out at the club so you are immobilized for the next two weeks?

To be sure, physical pain is something we all would rather be free from. Getting turned down for a job opening or a date does nothing to lift one’s spirits. And even though we may read the newspaper as a leisure activity, the headlines usually don’t do much to brighten our day. But, as the sages of all religious traditions teach us, we have a choice how to react to these events. So let’s say, for example, my insurance premium has doubled, a lab test came out positive, or that stench comes from a raccoon’s nest in the basement. Our rabbis taught that we react positively or negatively to events like these because we assume that they will lead to either good or bad outcomes. But none of us are clairvoyant. We actually have no idea how things will turn out.

Alan Morinis, in his book Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar, tells the true story of a man condemned to a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Unlike countless others, he survived this ordeal and fled to Uruguay. Decades later, he escaped from the political instability and guerilla warfare in Uruguay and emigrated to the United States with a comfortable fortune. It turned out that in the concentration camp he was forced to make soap; eventually this experience enabled him to become the largest soap manufacturer in Uruguay. These twists of fate demonstrate how the consequences of the events in our lives cannot be predicted. Therefore the Talmud tells us to say a blessing if something good happens, and to say a blessing if something bad happens, because we don’t really know which is which.

To be sure, life sometimes throws situations our way that are truly catastrophic and lead to extreme suffering. Yesterday I met a woman who has survived multiple illnesses deemed to be imminently terminal, and in addition she lost her husband to suicide a year and a half ago. She told me how important it would be for me to mention extreme situations such as hers in this talk, to let people know how her difficulties have compelled her to live every day as if it were her last, to speak authentically and passionately, even if it defied social mores and expectations, to dance, to sing, to laugh, to cry, even if this made people uncomfortable. From tragedy and painful confrontation with death emerged a passion for life, a sense of gratitude for each day, and at the same time a sensitivity that her words and deeds, no matter how freely expressed, must never cross the line of causing physical or emotional hurt to others.

But beyond our personal tragedies is the realization that we live in a broken world crying out for repair. The kabbalistic master Yitzchak Luria taught that God initially created a world so perfect that everything was enveloped in radiant divine light. But this light got so bright and intense that the earthly vessels created to hold the light could no longer contain it. All the vessels got shattered. Like Humpty Dumpty, all the elements of a whole and perfect world lie in shambles. It is up to us to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Our human task is to assist God in the work of creation by reassembling all the broken pieces. How do we do this? By feeding the hungry; by struggling for justice; by restoring the damage we’ve wrought on the environment; by ending war and violent hatred once and for all. This is the work of repairing the world, of tikkun olam. As we gather here tonight to pray together, we are repairing the world. When Muslims, Jews, and Christians come together in friendship and mutual respect, we are repairing the world. When we do not allow the bitter struggles that divide our peoples to stand between us, we are repairing the world. And when, ultimately, we sit down together at the conference table to resolve our differences, sensitive to each other’s point of view and compassionate to each other’s suffering, our world will be about as close to being fully repaired as it has ever been.

Tonight, more than anything else, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to engage with all of you in this work of repair. I thank God for bringing me to a community where I can interact with, learn from, and befriend my Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and Bahai counterparts. Through the efforts of good people in this community and in countless other communities around the world, may warfare and genocide vanish from our midst and may the seeds of compassion and forgiveness germinate in fields long infested with the bramble of fear, prejudice, and hatred.

Before I spoke this evening, Father Mark recited one of my favorite Psalms. It is the lament of a man engulfed in brokenness, a man who has fallen into a pit of despair. In Psalm 30 this man recognizes that it is easy to be grateful when one is on a roll:

Va’ani amarti v’shalvi kol-emot l’olam.
And as for me, in the ease of my prosperity I said that I would never be shaken.

But to sustain as a healthy attitude in tough times requires a broader perspective:

Ba’erev yalin bechi v’laboker rinah.
In the evening weeping may set in and abide for the night, yet in the morning there are shouts of joy!

What’s the secret of going from weeping to joy? It’s in the verse

Hafachta mispadi l’machol li pitachta saki va’t’azreni simchah.

The King James Version translates this as:

Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing:
thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness...

If we look carefully at the original Hebrew, we find that the secret of turning mourning into dancing is likened to the miracle of giving birth:

You transmuted my wailing into its opposite, into the exquisitely writhing ecstatic pain of the pangs of birth;
You opened my sack and filled my girth with joy.

Our work together of repairing the world is like giving birth to new life. The process may be difficult and sometimes painful. We may not bear the child we had hoped for; sometimes the baby may not survive to breathe its first breath. And still, whatever the outcome, our efforts to create a better world bring purpose to our lives. We know why we were created, and how we are connected to humanity as a whole. For all this, we cannot help but be filled with gratitude. This is why our Psalm concludes:

L’ma’an y’zamercha chavod v’lo yidom adonai elohai l’olam odecha.
You blessed me with the joy of new life so that glory might sing out to You and never be silent.
Adonai, my God, I shall give thanks to you forever.

East Lansing, Michigan
November 19, 2012


Invocation: State of Michigan Holocaust Commemoration

Tuesday, May 3, 2011, 12:00 noon, State Capitol Rotunda

God of justice, God of mercy. We seek Your wisdom and Your strength.

How can we assure our children and all the children of the world that never again shall they face the sword because they are part of a people that is different from the people in power, or because their faith is opposed by those who have lost faith in human decency?

Throughout history, powerful rulers drunk with greed and blind with fanatic cruelty have deployed fighting men with deadly weapons to increase their power and oppress the innocent.

When Cain slew his brother and set the whole cycle in motion, You left his question unanswered—Am I my brother’s keeper?

God of justice, God of mercy, the time has come to answer Cain’s question. Enough is enough. We are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s protector. We stand here before You today to remember six million of our kin and to honor their memory with the commitment to end the atrocity once and for all. We seek Your wisdom to help us find the answers. We seek Your strength to give us courage to keep asking the question.

You said to Cain, “Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!” Can You not hear the cries of the blood of millions of our brothers and sisters from Hitler’s death camps, and from the Congo, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Cambodia, Chechnyia, Bosnia, and Armenia? Is the collective wail too much even for You to bear? Like us, when You’ve had enough, can You flip the remote to another channel?

Today we flip to the channel of hope. With Your help we will stop the savagery and bring the perpetrators to justice. Extending hands across continents, we will build a global society dedicated to peace and human dignity, protected by the rule of law and the willingness to carry it out, inspired by the prayers of hundreds of religious orientations, rising together in a glorious chorus of diversity:

Oseh shalom bimromav hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol yoshvei tevel v’imru amen.

May the one who creates peace in the heavens grant peace upon us and upon all who dwell on earth. And let us say, Amen.


Invocation for World Aids Day Program

December 1, 2010

If the Bible were written in our time, the Book of Job would read something like this:

Once there was a man named Job, who loved God and who was free from guilt or shame. One day the Devil spoke to God and said, “Does Job not have good reason to love God? For he enjoys great riches and excellent health. Do you think he will continue to love you and carry good thoughts in his heart if he has to suffer?” And God said to the Devil, “Very well. We shall put Job to the test.”

The next day Job woke up in intense pain and began to suffer all manner of illness. Shortly thereafter the man whom Job loved also began to suffer intense pain and all manner of illness. And the man whom Job loved soon died. And Job was overcome with grief.

The friends of Job provided him with rare and precious medicines, and even though Job continued to suffer pain and sickness, he did not die. But the medicines were costly, and Job’s wealth steadily diminished.

And the friends of Job said to him, “It is because you have sinned before God that God has punished you so severely. For you have lain with man and incurred God’s wrath.”

So Job found comfort with a woman. She was dark and comely. She lacked access to wealth or knowledge, but her heart was filled with love. And this woman too began to suffer intense pain and all manner of illness. And the woman whom Job loved soon died. And once again Job was overcome with grief.

So the friends of Job said to him. “It is because you have sinned before God that God has punished you so severely. For you have lain with woman and incurred God’s wrath.” And Job was very confused.

And Job sought further companionship, and his lovers lay with men and they lay with women. And those who had wealth and knowledge were able to control the disease in themselves and to prevent it in others. But those who lacked wealth and knowledge spread the disease to those they loved and died themselves shortly thereafter.

And the friends of Job said that those who suffered were sinners who incurred God’s wrath for their evil ways. So people were beset with guilt and shame and did not seek for diagnosis or treatment. And the disease spread around the world, fueled by stigma against those who were different or powerless. So God wept bitter tears of grief and remorse for the folly of his creatures.

And children were born with the disease and the friends of Job said that the children were sinners being punished for their evil ways. So once again God wept.

And Job strove to educate people about the disease. But the friends of Job said that he was a sinner and those who suffered deserved to suffer. And again, God wept.

Finally Job called out to God, “How can you allow your creatures to suffer so? Why have you allowed this pandemic to spread?”

And God called out to Job from the whirlwind: “Who are you to question my ways? Where were you when your friends and other false prophets preached their poisonous message of hatred? Why have you allowed them to stigmatize those who most need a helping hand and a loving heart? Do you too believe that I want to punish my creatures for loving their fellow man and their fellow woman? What have you done to rescue the downtrodden from guilt and shame? Why have you not taught them how much they deserve love from their Maker, from their fellow human beings, and especially from themselves? Why have you not educated them about this disease? And what will you do in the days to come to unite all who praise my name to eradicate the plague, to heal the afflicted, to comfort the grieving, and to safeguard the vulnerable?”

And Job said unto God, “No longer do I doubt your goodness. For now I understand that those who walk your ways open their hearts to those who are afflicted, while only fools and those with hearts of stone would blame the victims for their suffering.”

And God restored Job’s wealth a hundredfold. And Job used his wealth to establish programs for education, prevention, and treatment of HIV/AIDS. And the friends of Job repented their evil ways and offered comfort and support to all who suffered.

Then peoples of all faiths joined together with you and with me and with all assembled here today in a prayer of comfort and healing for those who are afflicted:

May Divine goodness manifest in those who love you and care for you.
May Divine healing energy penetrate every pore of your body, bring you comfort, and restore your health and your spirit.
May Divine wisdom fall upon those who develop new medications, and upon the physicians and healers responsible for your care.
May Divine spirit pervade your soul, enabling you to love yourself, nourish yourself, have faith in yourself, and achieve what you were put on this earth to accomplish.
And may Divine mercy enable you to beat the odds and bless you with comfort, longevity, and peace.

And let us say Amen.


Address to the “Unity with Diversity” Program

Islamic Center, East Lansing, Michigan, September 29, 2010

Shalom Aleichem/salaam aleikum. This week we observe Sukkot. A sukkah is a fragile hut providing minimal shelter. In our evening prayers, we say ufros aleinu sukkat shlomecha, “spread over us the sukkah of Your peace.” To quote Rabbi Arthur Waskow: “Why not a fortress of peace, or a castle, or a temple, or a tower? Why not something sturdier, hard-shelled, invulnerable—won’t that get us more peace, more security, as we sleep? The wisdom of the prayer is that in fact all human beings do live in a vulnerable ‘sukkah,’ and we can achieve true peace and security if we all recognize that and share our vulnerability with each other—neither in fear and hiding, nor by threat and attack.”

Rabbi Waskow touched upon three key points for us. First, we are vulnerable. Just one troubled soul, one book, and one match can remind us how vulnerable we are. Second, we are not alone. We are all together in the same vulnerable sukkah, and together we can achieve true peace and security. And third, we can learn from the Islamic Center how to respond to attack—not fighting fear and hiding with fear and hiding; not responding to threat and attack with threat and attack; but with restraint, tolerance, and forgiveness, sending the message: Learn, don’t burn.

Yet the desecration of the Quran poses a dilemma. We recognize the wisdom of playing down isolated incidents of harassment, not to fuel the flames of attention seekers. Still, bookburning has horrific resonances for us. As Heinrich Heine said, “Those who begin by burning books will end by burning people." To burn the Quran, the Bible, the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita, or the Diamond Sutra is to pollute the earth with smoke that smothers all that is good and sacred.

Unity with diversity does not mean that we all are one. We are divided on fundamental issues: abortion, same-sex marriage, and most tragically, the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians. On the one hand, we need to be on guard so that shrill voices among politicians and the media, fanning the flames of divisiveness, do not distract us from our work together for peace, justice, and tolerance. On the other hand, our community can be a beacon of light for the rest of the country, recognized not for Quran burning, but for constructive engagement, mutual respect, and shared learning among those with the courage to disagree and dialogue together.

After the 9/11 attacks, this community came together to speak out against Islamophobia and mourn the tragic loss of life. When the Nazis rallied at the capitol, Mayor Bernero organized a “Celebration of Diversity” at Eastern High School, leaving the Nazis alone downtown to hurl their venom at each other. And two years ago, Palestinian filmmaker Yaser Aladam, impressed by the spirit of religious co-existence in Greater Lansing, produced a documentary featuring the Islamic Center, University Lutheran Church, and Congregation Kehillat Israel, screened in Israel and the Palestinian Territories as an inspiration to end the cycle of hatred and violence.

We will continue together to feed the hungry and build houses for the homeless. Let us also take up the call of “Learn, not burn.” We may burn in our souls from past hurts. Let us instead learn about our respective traditions. Let’s build trusting friendships firm enough to withstand the difficult questions. Let’s learn to say “I feel this” rather than “You are that.” And let the sukkah of God’s peace spread out over all of us, our mosques, synagogues, churches, and temples. Aleikum salaam/Aleichem shalom.


Press Statement on Global Climate Change

December 13, 2007

Three times a day, observant Jews around the world read one of the most important biblical passages for our people, Deuteronomy 11:13–21. In these verses, God tells the Israelites that if they obey God’s commandments with their whole heart and soul, there will be abundant rainfall in its appointed time and a temperate climate to support crops for feeding the people and their livestock. However, if their hearts are led astray to follow the false gods of greed, exploitation, and short-sightedness, the rains will cease, the climate will no longer support fruitful harvests, and the land will become unlivable. This extraordinary pronouncement about global climate change, its causes and its consequences, is so fundamental to the Jewish people that we are commanded to place its words upon our hearts, to bind them as a sign upon our hands and between our eyes, to teach them to our children, to speak them both at home and away from home and upon lying down and getting up, and to inscribe them on the doorposts of our houses and upon our gates, so that we and our descendants might enjoy a sustainable way of life.

Along with the rest of the faith community in Michigan, we Jews are deeply concerned about the impact that pollution from greenhouse gases has on God’s creation and on public health. The Bible teaches that we are caretakers of the land we inhabit. It is our duty to protect the land for future generations, and to treat our environment with sacredness and respect. And yet our state alone releases nearly 182 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined emissions of 91 developing countries.

The prophet Isaiah warned our ancestors not to become a nation with unlimited chariots that fill the land with horses, the original source of horse-power. Instead, the prophet commanded them to use their wealth to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and provide for those in need. Unfortunately our consumer-driven economy has ignored Isaiah’s plea. Instead we have earned a stern rebuke from the prophet Ezekiel [34:18]: “Is it not enough for you to graze on choice grazing ground; must you also trample with your feet what is left from your grazing? And is it not enough for you to drink clear water; must you also muddy with your feet what is left?” I suggest that the time has come to wash our feet by demanding auto-fuel efficiency standards commensurate with other industrialized nations: not just 25 or 30 mpg, but rather on a par with Japan's 46.9 mpg by 2015, or the European Union's 48.9 mpg by 2012. I suggest the time has come for the U.S., with 5% of the world's population, to stop trampling the rest of the world’s choice grazing ground with 27.8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and to adopt emission reduction goals comparable to China’s 40% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

This for us is an ethical issue. The Bible commands us to maintain the highest standards of purity, both out of obligation to God and out of consideration for the health and well-being of the entire community. Any step we can take to increase the quality of the air breathed by our citizens, their children and grandchildren, deserves our wholehearted endorsement.


Hanukkah—Complex Holiday for Complex Times

Once again, Jewish people will kindle light for peace for all.

Lansing State Journal, December 10, 2006

After the Jewish people had dwelled in the land of Israel for more than 1,000 years, the Seleucid Greeks occupied the land and outlawed Jewish religious practices. Their defeat by the Maccabees, a local band of Jewish warriors, is commemorated at Hanukkah.

But that's not the whole story. Roughly 1,800 years ago the rabbis in ancient Israel decided not to base the celebration upon a military conquest. They prescribed that we read from Zechariah at Hanukkah, "Not by might, not by power, but by the spirit." They emphasized the miracle that after the Temple was restored, there was only enough oil to burn for one night; and yet the Temple lights burned for eight days. This miracle sustained the optimism, faith and determination of the Jewish people in exile.

In the last century, a new miracle occurred. Three years after the end of the Nazi Holocaust, the State of Israel was established. While there had been a small Jewish presence there throughout history, it was in the early 20th century that refugees from European oppression poured into British-held Palestine.

In 1917, the British government endorsed "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people" in the Balfour Declaration. In 1948, the dream came to fruition.

Like Hanukkah itself, our story is complex. Israel has suffered repeated attacks from its Arab neighbors.

Following an unprovoked invasion in 1967, Israel occupied Arab lands along its borders to protect itself from future attacks. This occupation has endured nearly 40 years. These years have seen repeated terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli civilians; with each attack, attempts to negotiate a return of occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state get sidetracked.

In the interest of security, Israel has taken decisive military actions, resulting in yet more suffering, bloodshed and desire for revenge. New attacks bring new reprisals; new reprisals bring new attacks. Moderate voices in both camps are drowned out by shrieks of revenge.

Still, we remember: "Not by might, not by power."

Both Israelis and Palestinians have suffered immeasurably at one another's hands. We pray for the day we can dwell alongside our Palestinian brothers and sisters in peace. Despite tragic events driving our communities apart, the Jewish community continues to stand up vigilantly for the rights and safety of our Islamic neighbors, as we did following the Sept. 11 attacks.

And we remain confident that when Israel's neighbors recognize her right to exist, when the killing of Jews is no longer glorified in Arab schools, when terrorism is denounced once and for all, the occupation will quickly end.

Hanukkah, which falls on the evening of Dec. 15 this year, is a complex holiday for complex times. We kindle a light in the darkest time of year, and recognize a glimmer of hope. Could Israelis and Palestinians lay down their arms, mourn their losses together, and join in creating a safe and peaceful future? Or is there too much darkness for a tiny light to penetrate?

Perhaps. But at Hanukkah, I pray for a miracle.


Presentation for Global Warming Awareness Day 2004

Michigan State Capitol, Lansing

When the Israelites were about to enter the promised land in Deuteronomy 11, God told them, “If you love Me and serve me with all your heart and all your soul, then I will grant the rain for your land in its proper season: the early rain and the late rain. You will gather in your new grain, wine, and oil, and I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle—thus you will eat and be satisfied.” This was God’s plan: rain in its proper time, a healthy climate, and an abundant planet...But only if our love for the creator of heaven and earth is never compromised by our short-sightedness: “Take heed not to be lured away to serve other gods and to worship them.” What are other gods? The god of greed. The god of materialism. The god of exploitation. And especially, the god of fear. “For if you are lured away to serve these other gods, the Lord’s anger will flare up against you, and God will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will soon perish from the good land that the Lord has given to you.”

God’s message couldn’t be clearer. God is not interested in market share, or output capacity, or deregulation. God wants our love and devotion, our stewardship of the earth, our appreciation and respect for the fragile ecological balance that sustains our lives.

Every morning, we Jews thank God for creating our body as a precision instrument: if a single organ is open when it should be closed, if a single cavity is closed when it should be open, our lives could not be sustained. So it is with our environment: if the average summer temperature increases by too many degrees, if Lakes Michigan and Huron recede by too many feet, if the proportion of greenhouse gasses to oxygen increases by too many percentage points, then whole species of plants and animals are threatened, whole sectors of the economy are in jeopardy, and the abundance of our fields, lakes, and streams is in peril.

In Isaiah 5:24 we read:

Assuredly, as straw is consumed by a tongue of fire and hay shrivels as it burns. Their stock shall become like rot, and their buds shall blow away like dust. For they have rejected the instruction of the Lord of Hosts.

Again, the message is clear: Things are heating up, as long as we choose to ignore the call...the call that comes just a few verses later in Isaiah 6:3, the call of the sacredness of God’s earth and everything on it, the call that blared forth from the mouths of angels in many tongues to the nations of the earth:

Kadosh kadosh kadosh Adonai tzevaoth
Sanctus sanctus sanctus Dominus Deus sabaoth

Holy holy holy is the LORD of hosts.

M'lo kol ha’aretz kvodo.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria Tua.

The whole earth is full of His glory.

It sounds so simple—just love God and appreciate the divine glory of every corner of our planet.

It means to keep our eyes and ears open, to ignore the false prophets of denial, who dismiss global warming as some kind of urban legend. For it’s not too late to heed Isaiah’s warning:

“Dull that people’s mind, stop its ears, and seal its eyes. Lest, seeing with its eyes and hearing with its ears, it also grasp with its mind, and repent and save itself. For how long? Till towns lie waste without inhabitants and houses without people, and the ground lies waste and desolate.”

We don’t need to wait that long. There’s an election coming up in just five months, and we can send the false prophets of denial back to where they came from.

And there’s plenty of work to do before November. Today you are going to learn about some exciting legislative initiatives we can support today, about your opportunity to buy a fuel-efficient hybrid SUV produced right here in Michigan by the end of the summer, about the findings of intrepid scientists and the contributions of responsible business leaders, and you will come away with a cornucopia of suggestions for reversing global warning, both through what you do in your own life and how you support the sacred work of the leaders in this field.

In the words of Isaiah:

“For as the rain and the snow drop from heaven and soak the earth, and make it bring forth vegetation, yielding seed for sowing and bread for eating, so is the word that issues from the mouth of God. Yea, you shall leave in joy and be led home secure. Before you, mount and hill shall shout aloud, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Right now the trees are going it alone, absorbing as much of the carbon generated by us Michiganians as they can. So let’s give the trees a round of applause.

And now let’s be silent for just a few moments, turn off our motors, releasing no more CO2 than what we naturally exhale. And if we listen carefully, we may be able to hear the trees clapping their hands for the work we are doing on their behalf.

God bless all of you, and God bless this beautiful state!


Post-Election Message

Dear Friends at Kehillat Israel,

A long and painful election season has come to a close. I know there are many in our congregation who have put extraordinary effort into the campaign, and many who may be bitterly disappointed at the outcomes. After actively participating in the "No On 2" campaign and voting my conscience on the candidates, I share that disappointment. My optimism may have diminished, but my hope is as strong as ever.

There are few outcomes this year, on either the local or national level, that reflect the views and the values of the large majority of Jewish voters. Religious agenda contrary to our own have swept increasingly into the political agenda, and fear and hatred of those who are different has been written into our state’s constitution. The separation of church and state, the great principle of American democracy that has protected generations of Jews seeking freedom, prosperity, and security, is under siege. And, personally, I share the view recently expressed by Alan Dershowitz that current American foreign policies have both weakened the position of the United States on a global level and threatened the security of the State of Israel.

While we may lose our optimism at a time like this, we do not need to lose our hope. Throughout recorded history, Am Yisrael chai (the Jewish people live). We have weathered the best and the worst political climates, not to mention the most extreme forms of persecution. Throughout the 20th century, we proudly and audaciously sang Hatikva ("The Hope"); even in the most unimaginably dark days of the Shoah when our physical survival seemed doomed, this hopeful vision of a new Jewish future never escaped our lips.

What exactly is the difference between optimism and hope? Optimism, though much better for our physical and spiritual health than pessimism, is nonetheless a naive faith that somehow things will be better tomorrow than they are today. Hope is a confident mental posture, based in fact and reason combined with moral courage and trust in God, that we can join forces with one another and act in partnership with the Divine to participate in creating a positive future. For religious sceptics, God need not be part of this equation; yet a faith in the God that Michael Lerner defines as "the voice of what could and ought to be, calling us from the future and moving us toward the fulfillment of our possibilities" makes the process a lot easier.

Hope is more enduring than optimism; it can sustain us to do the work we have been called upon to do. What have we been called upon to do? "Let justice well up like water, righteousness like an unfailing stream!" (Amos 5:24) "To unlock fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke. To let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke." (Isaiah 58:6)

We have been warned that the Temple was destroyed because of Israel’s idolatry. Idolatry is not statue worship; it is the worship of money, power, and the idols of material culture. More fundamentally, idolatry is bowing down to the false gods of greed, hatred, and fear. If we as Jews are out of the step with the direction our society is going, that is no reason to give up who we are and what we stand for.

This year I have been proud to be part of KI as our congregants have built houses with Habitat, fed the hungry, recycled their printer cartridges, supported overseas Jewish communities, rallied against global warming, and struggled against unjust legislation. We plan to intensify our commitment to Tikkun Olam in the course of the year to come. The more injustice we discover in the world around us, the more opportunity we have to raise up the holy sparks from out of the ashes.

B’Shalom,

Rabbi Michael Zimmerman


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