Parshas Eikev - A Sanctuary of Kindness

Dear Friends,

I am grateful for the warm welcome I have received from so many of you, both in person at the Chai Center this past Shabbos, and via email. Thank you for introducing yourselves and for your good wishes! I am eager to get to know every one of you! If you haven’t yet had the chance, please say hello. (I can be contacted at jvalues@gmail.com). 

During the sermon this past Shabbos, we discussed a very important question. Answering this question is vital to each of us in our personal lives and to our shul’s mission. This is especially so, given how texting, tweeting, Facebooking etc. have altered the way we communicate, and ultimately, how we relate to each other.  People present at the sermon shared some terrific ideas. I’d like to present this question to all of you and invite you to share your thoughts as well. The question arose from the following story about King Solomon’s construction of the temple in Jerusalem.

We are taught that when King Solomon built the temple he constructed an area where all the Jewish people would gather on Shabbos. There were two special entrances that led into this area. One was used exclusively by newlyweds and the other by mourners. When someone walked through the mourners’ entrance, the people gathered there would offer a few words of comfort. When someone walked through the newlyweds’ entrance, the people gathered there would express their congratulatory good wishes. We are told that Solomon created this program so that all of Israel would be kind to each other.

When we share a joyous or distressing experience we recently went though, and listen to others when they share the same, we open a piece of our heart and embrace the humanity of others. This also helps to build and strengthen our communal and congregational bonds. Perhaps more importantly, it evokes our inner goodness, and we become better and kinder people.

A synagogue is meant to be a mini-temple, a mikdash me’at. It therefore behooves us to bring this beautiful legacy of Solomon’s temple into our own shul and thereby into our own lives. In an age when we communicate with people, masked behind the various electronic media we use, a face-to-face sharing, listening and empathizing is vital to preserve and nurture our own inner goodness and sense of community!

The question we pondered during the sermon was, “How do we create an opportunity for us to share each other’s joys and sorrows within our congregational experience? How also can we adapt Solomon’s idea to our own environment?” Obviously, while being mindful of people’s time, “How do we incorporate our own version of Solomon’s idea into the Chai Center, and what should our version of Solomon’s idea be?” Any thoughts?

We gave one idea a try this past Shabbos. At the delicious luncheon following the morning service, attendees were invited to share something, either fortunate or unfortunate, that they experienced during the week - while keeping it short. A number of people had something to share: whether it was about spending special time with a family member, a sudden and abrupt home relocation, the loss of two family members, the excitement of starting a new job, the distress felt upon visiting a prison, getting great reactions from a favorite t-shirt or gratitude for everyday blessings often taken for granted.

I am grateful to everyone for participating. Together, inspired by Solomon’s sanctuary of kindness, the Chai Center aims to be a warm, friendly, and caring congregational community that practices kindness together. (We join this aim with our other goals of providing meaningful, uplifting, and understandable prayer services along with enjoyable, insightful and highly relevant Torah study sessions – including classes on Judaism’s guidelines for treating others with love, respect and consideration).

Please, dear friend, give some thought to this important question. Please share any thoughts you may have about how, with Solomon’s Temple setting the standard, we can enhance the human connection amongst ourselves, build community and bring out the best in each of us.

Again, I would love to hear from you and if you haven’t yet had the chance, please do say hello. (I can be contacted at jvalues@gmail.com.) 

Gut Shabbos and Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Tzvi Muller

Parshas Va'eschanan

A Message from Rabbi Tzvi Muller

I am delighted to have joined the Birmingham Bloomfield Chai Center as its rabbi!  I look forward to working with the incredible people at the Chai Center to engage our wonderful community with the wisdom, beauty and relevance of Torah in our daily lives. I am grateful to the distinguished rabbinic and lay leaders who have lovingly tended to the congregation over the past thirty years. I hope to be worthy to continue to build upon their great work. I am eager to get to know everyone! Please say hello. I can be contacted at jvalues@gmail.com

This Shabbos has a special name: Shabbos “Nachamu.” It is one of very few Shabbosos each year that enjoy a distinct designation. The name of this Shabbos is derived from its notable Haftorah reading which begins with the word “Nachamu,” meaning: “Be comforted.” In this Haftorah (Isaiah 40:1-26), God offers words of comfort and consolation to His people.

It is for this reason that this Haftorah is always read the Shabbos following Tish’ah B’Av. After sadly commemorating on Tish’ah B’Av the many national tragedies we have experienced as a nation throughout our history, we are invited to accept comfort. Indeed, early Jewish sources suggest eating food on Shabbos “Nachamu” that is even more festive than the food one ordinarily eats on other Shabbosos!

However, it is important that amidst seeking comfort in the Haftorah, we not overlook this week’s Torah reading portion of “Va’eschanan.” In this week’s Parsha, Moshe exhorts the Jewish people to pass on the legacy of receiving the Torah to future generations. This is an assignment that remains incumbent upon each succeeding generation. In every generation we must ask ourselves, “What have we passed on to our children and community?” But before we can ask ourselves that question, we first must ensure that we ourselves have received and embraced that which we are meant to impart. This means not just having studied the Torah, but also participating in a community that continuously strives to make the Torah’s teachings relevant to our everyday life. This is the true legacy of Sinai – a community embracing Jewish values to make a positive difference in the world we inhabit. It is up to us to keep this legacy alive.

It is in the knowledge that we are doing all we could to bequeath our cherished heritage to those who will follow us that we will find comfort. This points to a powerful link between Parshas Va’eschanan and Shabbos “Nachamu.” When we can look with confidence toward the continuity of our Jewish mission, we will truly be comforted; we will be uplifted by the word, “Nachamu.”  

I find a source of comfort in the words of former Marxist philosopher Nicolay Berdyayev which, in closing, I would like to share with you. Referring to the Jewish people, he wrote: “Its survival is a mysterious and wonderful phenomenon demonstrating that the life of this people is governed by a special predetermination, transcending the processes of adaptation expounded by the materialistic interpretation of history. The survival of the Jews, their resistance to destruction, their endurance under absolutely peculiar conditions and the fateful role played by them in history: all these point to the particular and mysterious foundations of their destiny.”

Gut Shabbos and Shabbat “Nachamu” Shalom!

Rabbi Tzvi Muller