A Post-Purim Reflection

A Post-Purim Reflection

Shushan - From Consternation to Joy

"The city of Shushan was in consternation" (Esther 3:1).

"The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy and honor" (ibid 8:16).

The Megillah (Book of Esther) narrates Haman's rise and fall, and the Jewish swing from despair to joy. Haman initially succeeded in convincing the King to place the fate of the Empire's Jewish subjects in his hands. Once Haman issued the royal decree setting the date for the Empire-wide genocidal action targeting the Jews, "the King and Haman sat down to drink." While the Jews of Shushan mourned, the entire city was "in consternation."

Mordecai and the Jewish community publicly mourned the dire fate that awaited them. In Shushan and throughout the vast empire, Jews, engulfed in a seemingly endless black night, donned garments of mourning.

Amidst this travail, Mordecai turned to his only hope. He petitioned, cajoled, and finally convinced Esther to approach the King to plead on behalf of her people. She devised a brilliant plan that not only thwarted Haman, but led the King to hang him on the very gallows the villain had prepared for Mordecai. Then, in a speedy transition, Mordecai replaced Haman as the King's chief advisor.

The Megillah joyfully describes how the day designated for Jewish destruction was transformed into one of glorious victory. The Jews in Shushan and throughout the Empire had "light, gladness, joy and honor."

A beautiful Midrash, quoting the prophet Micah, "… when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light to me" (Mica 7:8) teaches that redemption unfolds slowly. It likens redemption to the darkness of night that slowly and imperceptibly transitions into dawn, the rising sun and the bright light of day. Esther skillfully strategized the series of moves that resulted in Haman's demise. It took careful planning to transform Shushan from a city plunged in despair to one that "rejoiced and was glad." (Esther 8:15).

It's now more than a year that, like Shushan after Haman's decree, the entire world has been living in a time of not merely consternation but of fear, illness, and death. Even if we have, thankfully not been infected and personally touched by the virus, the Covid has impacted our lives. It has plunged us into repeated and prolonged quarantines and isolation. It is only through Zoom and technology that we are able virtually to be with loved ones and friends in good times and bad.

It has been, and continues to be, one long dark "night," but the rollout of vaccines has pierced the veil of darkness. We detect that morning has broken, ushering in the promise of a soon-to-be tomorrow of light. Our lives will then be brightened as we physically reach out to embrace loved ones and friends.

In the year and years to come, may we celebrate Purim in overflowing synagogues and paraphrasing the Megillah, in light, gladness and joy.

From the holy city of Jerusalem, my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach, a Shabbat, a Shabbat of peace and blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Shemot 5781

Shemot 5781

The Final Hour?

There arose a new King in Egypt who did not know Joseph [Exodus 1:4].

In life, we are ultimately judged by our final hour, not our by our finest one. At the outset of his administration, President Trump promised the deal of the century that would put an end to Israeli-Palestinian hostility. The Abraham Accords deserved to be celebrated in the White House last October as a fine hour. Sadly, however, his destructive behavior following the election culminating in the siege and occupation of the halls of Congress, will long be remembered as his legacy.

Whatever fine hours were created during what has been a bitterly controversial administration will be rightfully overshadowed by the horrifying siege of the Capitol.

The Bible records that the enslavement of our ancestors in Egypt began with the new King who did not know Joseph. Given the trauma of the famine, the economic revolution that resulted in bringing great treasures to the Crown, is it really possible that Joseph would not be remembered? Thus, whether it was the existing King or a new one, we must conclude that he preferred not to remember Joseph.

The brutal enslavement of the Israelites ended with devastating defeat for the Egyptians that climaxed with the slaying of the firstborn and then the calamity at the Red Sea. Regardless of what the Pharaoh accomplished, he is ultimately judged by the enslavement that led to the final hours of Egyptian misery, devastation and defeat.

There is virtually universal condemnation of Donald Trump's calling for the gathering of thousands of his supporters in Washington for a gigantic "Stop the Steal" rally. He brazenly egged them on to march to the Capitol and then remained silent for hours as the building was besieged and then occupied. It is a blight that will forever be associated with him and will define his final hour. Also bearing blame and shame are the many who gave open or tacit support to his two-month long vendetta protesting the conspiracy that he felt had denied him re-election.

The Trump administration is effectively over, but sadly, those who enabled him to perpetrate his calumny, dismissing it as an understandable temper tantrum or defending it as his right to pursue all legal remedies, are continuing in their elected positions. Hopefully their support, whether overt or silent, will be remembered by their electorates.

The challenge before our nation is to take to heart Santayana's cogent observation that those who do not remember the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. May these final hours of the Trump administration and the overt and silent approval of its actions be stamped on our historical memory. May all future transitions be conducted in respect, dignity and peace. Honor and respect for our democratic values and traditions demand no less.

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Miketz 5781

Miketz 5781

Two Chief Cupbearers

And the sar hamashkim (the chief cupbearer) did not remember Joseph and forgot him (Genesis 40:23).

And the sar hamashkim spoke up and said to Pharaoh, I am now reminded of my sin (the promise to call Pharaoh's attention to Joseph's unjust imprisonment) (ibid 41:10).

Two years had to pass before the sar hamashkim (SHM) recalled and remembered his promise to Joseph. He, however, is not the only SHM recorded in the Bible. Millennium after Joseph, there was Nehemiah, the SHM to the Persian emperor Artachshasta (Artaxerxes).

Historically, the SHM was not an ordinary servant. As noted in the Book of Esther, kings and emperors constantly indulged in wine, the beverage of choice. Kings, constantly concerned that they might be assassinated by poisoned wine, relied on a trusted SHM to assure their safety. Being constantly at the king's side, the chief cupbearer was thus present as Pharaoh was frustrated by the failure of his wise men and wizards to explain his famous dreams.

The SHM felt comfortable to openly confess his sin and report Joseph's capacity to interpret dreams. Pharaoh's immediate response was to have Joseph brought before him, hoping he might interpret the dream. Joseph was successful and was immediately appointed as Pharaoh's chief advisor and Egypt's Viceroy. The SHM's confession ultimately led to Joseph's rise to greatness and prosperity in Egypt.

Fast-forward several millennia to the royal Persian court in Shushan where Nehemiah served as the Emperor's SHM. It was a pleasant life until he learned that the small Jewish population in Jerusalem was in "great affliction and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down." (Nehemiah 1:3) This led him to come to terms with the fact that, in his comfortable and prestigious position in Persia, he had forgotten about his fellow coreligionists in Jerusalem.

A visibly depressed Nehemiah confessed to the Emperor regarding his inattentiveness to the welfare of Jerusalem's struggling Jews and the unacceptable state of the city and its walls. He then petitioned the monarch to permit him to travel to Jerusalem with authority to be its governor. For the next 12 years, Nehemiah built the walls of the city, expanded its population, and significantly reinvigorated a newly thriving Jewish community in the holy city.

Had the two cup bearers been asked to recount their most significant impact on history, the answer of the first may well have been bringing to Pharaoh's attention the Jewish lad who provided the leadership that enabled Egypt to survive and to prosper during the great famine. Joseph never forgot his ancestry, yet he never left Egypt. As per his dying request, only his bones would be taken to the Promised Land for burial in its soil.

Nehemiah's confession leads him to forego his comfortable and respected position in the Diaspora to travel to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls and strengthen its Jewish population.

Joseph and Nehemiah have their counterparts in contemporary Jewish life. The Joseph model enjoys prosperity and finds fulfillment in the American Diaspora. The Nehemiah model is deeply committed to Jerusalem. Contemporary Jewish history is an ongoing saga of the relationship between the two great Jewish communities of our day. American Jewry, to a significant extent, reflects Joseph's decision to build lives of significant fulfillment in North America. Those for whom Nehemiah is a model, find fulfillment in strengthening Israel and sharing in the shaping and revitalizing Jewish life in the Jewish state.

As a people, we are best served by embracing and celebrating both the Josephs and Nehemiahs in our day.

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing. 

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman 
Senior Rabbinic Scholar 

Shabbat Vayeshev Hanukkah 5781

Shabbat Vayeshev Hanukkah 5781

The COVID-19 Hanukkah

This year we celebrate our Festival of Lights in the midst of a dreadful pandemic, and, for far too many, literally in the shadow of death. The masks, social distancing, limited gatherings and even lock downs that mitigate the ravages of this plague, are unwelcome intrusions into our lives and communities. We are heartened, however, by the imminent rollout of vaccines that will liberate us from this dreadful plague. This glimmer of light fills us with hope.

Hanukkah is a festival of hope. For seven nights, we add an additional candle, and then, on the eighth night, we rejoice in the sight of our fully illuminated Hanukkiah. It's a powerful symbol that we can, and will, successfully transition from darkness to light and from despair to salvation.

The first verse of Maoz Tzur* (Rock of Ages}, a beloved hymn of spirited affirmation of survival, is often sung immediately following the blessing and the lighting of the Hannukiah. The remaining four versus retell and celebrate deliverance from four ancient enemies: Pharaoh who enslaved our ancestors; Nebuchadnezzar, the  Babylonian tyrant, who destroyed the First Temple; Haman of the familiar Purim story; and Antiochus IV, who desecrated the Second Temple and whose severe decrees sought to destroy Jewish religious life.

This year we are still in the grips of Covid-19, the virus that has wreaked havoc upon our lives, our families, our economies, our societies. God willing, we will celebrate Hanukkah 2021, liberated from this deadly virus that, like the oppressors of the past, was ultimately overcome.  When we kindle our Hanukkah candles and chant the first verse of Maoz Tzur, may we be heartened by the faith that even the darkest of times ultimately give way to the light of the morrow.

*My Refuge, my Rock of Salvation! 'Tis pleasant to sing Your praises.
Let our house of prayer be restored. And there we will offer You our thanks.
When You will have slaughtered the barking foe.
Then we will celebrate with song and psalm the altar's dedication

My soul was sated with misery, My strength was spent with grief.
They embittered my life with hardship, When enslaved under the rule of 
Egypt.
But God with his mighty power Brought out His treasured people;
While 
Pharaoh's host and followers Sank like a stone into the deep

He brought me to His holy abode; Even there, I found no rest.
The oppressor came and 
exiled me, Because I served strange gods,
and drank poisonous wine.
[a] Yet scarcely had I gone into exile,
When 
Babylon fell and Zerubbabel took charge; Within seventy years I was saved

The Agagite, (Haman) son of Hammedatha, plotted to cut down the lofty fir

But It proved a snare to him, and his insolence was silenced.
You raised the head of the Benjamite, (Mordecai)
;the enemy's name You blotted out.
His numerous sons and his household You hanged upon the gallows

 The Greeks gathered against me, in days of the Hasmoneans.

They broke down the walls of my towers, and defiled all the oils.
But from the last remaining flask a miracle was wrought for the Jews.
[d]
Therefore the sages of the day ordained these eight for songs of praise.

From the holy city of Jerusalem, my fondest wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing and a Hag Hannukah Same'ach – a spirited and joyous celebration of our Festival of eternal hope.

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar 

Shabbat Vayishlach 5781

Shabbat Vayishlach 5781

Of Deborah and Mary

Deborah, Rebecca's nurse, died and was buried under the oak below Beth El (Genesis 35:8).

Deborah's death is recorded following Jacob's settling in Beth El. The Midrash was obviously curious about the cryptic reference to this woman who is simply referred to as Rebecca's nurse. The Torah alludes to her in the verse, "So they sent off their sister Rebecca and her nurse along with Abraham's servant and his men." (Genesis 44:59) Yet she remains nameless until the time of her death. This verse, that at first glance, seems to be unimportant and irrelevant conveys an important lesson.

From the moment of Rebecca's birth, Deborah was her nurse and part of her life. When Rebecca left her parents' home, we can assume that Deborah was the surrogate mother who was always available for comfort and counsel. While not known outside of the family, she was an important member of the household.

The Help, a book made into a movie, portrays the role of African-American maids in the South, who played significant roles in the lives of the families they served. Despite the structure of Southern society during segregation, many of the "help" had significant influence upon the white children they helped raise.

This cryptic reference to Deborah, the nursemaid, may be the Torah's way of honoring women, who, while maintaining their roles as the household help, nonetheless had an impact on children during their formative early years. The honor given to Deborah affirms not only her personhood, but also that of all who fulfilled—and continue to, fulfill—similar roles.

In years past when in New York, Rae and I would spend the day visiting the graves of our parents, her sister, Mickey, and our grandparents. They are buried in various Jewish cemeteries in the New York area, and each stop was an important "memory" trip. Included in our itinerary were a few minutes at Mary's grave in a large sprawling Catholic cemetery on Long Island.

For many decades, Mary was embedded in Rae's family. She arrived from Poland in the beginning of the last century and worked for Rae's grandparents, the Goldbergs, on their farm. Following its sale, she remained with the family caring for the grandparents and then for Rae's mother who suffered from Parkinson's disease. Mary was very involved in raising Rae and her two sisters, Mickey and Mimi. Although illiterate, she learned a few prayers and taught the girls the Modeh Ani, the prayer recited upon awakening to thank a compassionate God for enabling us to begin another day. The girls always knew and loved their mother, but Mary was very much a part of their lives.*

Rae would place flowers at Mary's graveside, and we would reminisce about this woman who died without any descendants, but did have an important relationship with, and a significant impact, upon these three sisters.

I think of Mary every time I see Minoso and Shulkah. Shulkah, a widow now along in years and Minoso live in an apartment close to mine in Jerusalem. Shulkah's constant smile and bright eyes project her warm and generous spirit. Minoso, a pleasant and young Philippine woman makes it possible for Shulkah to remain in the home she shared with her husband of many years. Every afternoon, the two of them leave the apartment for their daily walk. In this regular outing that both enjoy, Shulkah sees many of her neighbors who elicit her infectious smile.

Minoso, on the other hand, entered Shulkah's life when aging and its side effects required a caregiver to enable her to live in the home she happily shared with her husband of many years. The "Minosos," male and female alike, are the contemporary Deborahs and Marys, who, for whatever the period of time, are embedded in families as nursemaids, companions, or caregivers for aged or terminally ill parents or spouses. Their presence and dedication are invariably a blessing that is often appropriately acknowledged and thanked in obituaries and eulogies.

May Mary's memory be for a blessing and may Minoso and Shulkah enjoy their daily walks together for many years to come.

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

*Mary adopted the family name and was legally Mary Goldberg. She was a "lapsed" Catholic, but when diagnosed with leukemia, she returned to her childhood faith. Prior to her death, Mary requested the money she had saved be used for a high mass and burial in a Catholic cemetery with a gravestone simply identifying her as Mary Goldberg. To this day Mary is fondly remembered for her endless care and love.

Noach 5781

Noach 5781

The First Quarantine

Noah and his family stuck in the ark for one year and one week is the first recorded quarantine. I suspect that he was tired of the restrictions, but he had no option but to remain in what was a floating menagerie.

We too have tired of the pandemic. The seemingly endless quarantines, the masks, the social distancing are all burdens. We no longer want to hear the daily litany of the number of infections and deaths. We have learned to use Zoom as the medium of our contact with others, but we long to again enjoy "four eye" conversations and the joy of physical contact with family and friends. We are also understandably skeptical of claims that we are rounding the corner

God, tiring of human transgression, and of the social orders filled with violence, regrets having created Adam and Eve. Yet God is not quite ready to give up on humanity. He selects Noah, his three sons and their wives to survive the great flood in the Ark for which they were ultimately to exit and begin rebuilding the world.

The raging rains lasted for 40 days and 40 nights. It then took many months until the waters abated and the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. Noah exits with God's charge ringing in his ears: you are to rebuild the world and create a new and moral social order. These were no small tasks, no minor challenges. For Noah and his family rebuilding the totally devastated world was undoubtedly a daunting and virtually impossible task.

It's very much what we will be facing once the pandemic is defeated. Hopefully the vaccines will be effective, and we will emerge out of our quarantines and isolation to pick up our pre-Coved lives. Children who have lost many many months of classroom education, the small business owners who have to rebuild, their employees, far too many of whom have been reduced to poverty, symbolize the daunting challenges facing us. Rebuilding economies and healing our many physical and social wounds will not be easy. It will require fortitude and patience.

Hopefully our response will not emulate Noah's. Faced with the monumental challenge of rebuilding, he plants a vineyard, makes wine, and falls into a drunken stupor. It's not an unusual response when facing a seemingly impossible challenge. We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed and the desire to find an outlet that deflects, but for a moment or longer, the task before us.

Yet the Biblical account of Noah and the flood should give us hope. It required a great deal of patience to get through that year in the ark. The story ends with Noah's family ultimately exiting and despite Noah's negligence, to begin rebuilding the world and propagating humanity. Fortunately God has resigned himself to human failings and promises to have more patience with us. We are both energized and confident by His vow never again to destroy or to endanger all of humanity, and we are here today to tell and retell this amazing story.

I have no way of knowing when we will reach our proverbial Mount Ararat, and we can emerge from the quarantines to pick up the pieces and move forward. The moral of Noah and the great flood is not to abandon hope, and when the time comes to successfully rebuild and refashion our world.

May we be blessed to soon enjoy the end of the restrictions and limitations imposed upon us by the pandemic. Let us have the fortitude and determination to emerge from this difficult and seemingly endless trial to make tomorrow a far better day.

From the holy city of Jerusalem, my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Succot 5781

Succot 5781

Making Music with What Remains

I was saddened, but not surprised, by the news of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death. It was obvious that she was fighting a desperate battle to stay alive until the inauguration of a new President. Alas, like all mortals, she has breathed her last. She is celebrated in death, as she was in life, for her ongoing struggle for gender equality and a fair and inclusive social order. She earned the honor of being the first Jew and first woman to lie in state at the Capitol. She clearly deserved this expression of national gratitude.

RBG, as she was affectionately called, bemoaned the divisiveness and ugliness that has infected our society. Liberals and conservatives with differing ideologies have erected a wall of separation. For RBG, however, respecting your opponent's humanity outweighed the issues in contention.

Antonin Scalia was a legal giant. Even as RBG was an icon for the left, he was an icon for the right. Each of these legal giants was committed to his/her legal philosophy. They were as often as not on the opposite side of the issues, but they were close personal friends. They were guests in each other's homes; they celebrated family holidays together; they respected each other's humanity.

RBG was a mentsch. This manifested itself not only in her long legal career as an advocate, a judge and then as Justice, but in her relationship with the many young lawyers fortunate to be her clerks. She demanded excellence but had deep affection for them as human beings. She celebrated their birthdays and apparently was a shadchanit, who helped young people find one another, to build lives together and, on occasion, was the marriage officiant.

The famed violinist Itzhak Perlman entered the concert stage supporting himself with his two crutches. He sat in his chair, picked up his violin, assured himself that all was in order and indicated to the conductor he was ready. No sooner had he begun when one of the violin strings snapped. Perlman, however, barely flinched. He continued to play with but three strings, changing, adjusting, improvising and innovating to the symphony's amazingly successful conclusion. Responding to the enthusiastic standing ovation, he simply said, "It is our task to make music with what remains."

The story, whether true or legend, is an apt metaphor for life. Perlman, a victim of polio, continued despite his physical limitations to make music all his life. Each of us during our lifetime is inevitably confronted with difficulties and frustrations. The quality of our life is determined by our ability to make music with what remains.

On a plaque on RBG's wall and woven into one of her famous collars is RBG's favorite biblical text, "Justice, justice shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20). In a real sense, this was her marching order in a lifelong journey to make America more inclusive and more just.

The fragile succah is a powerful reminder of human fragility and that of a just society. May we invite RBG's spirit into our succah and be strengthened in our resolve to help build that just, inclusive, and respectful America, to which she dedicated her life.

Her death is a great loss; the quality of our social and legal discourse is, and will continue to be, affected. Yet generations come and generations go and assuredly those who were inspired, instructed, and defended by RBG will continue to play her music with what remains.

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing and a Chag Succot Sameach, a festive and joyous celebration of Succot

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Rosh Hashanah 5781

Rosh Hashanah 5781

Adapting

Living with the pandemic is an ongoing challenge. Changes in our lives have affected relationships and altered how and where we do our work, study and pray. It has not been easy. The story of Abraham's concubine, Hagar, provides a perspective during these days of trial and challenge.

The first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Torah selection includes the story of Abraham's banishment of Hagar together with their son, Ishmael. They are dispatched to the desert with only bread and water.

Wandering in the vast wasteland, their water soon gives out. Overcome by thirst and dehydration, a weeping Hagar, awash in self-pity, collapses opposite an immobilized Ishmael. It is then that an angel of God calls her to open her eyes to behold the well of water within her sight. She and Ishmael drink, fill the bottle of water and continue on their journey. They successfully exit from the desert to build new lives.

Hagar survived by transcending her self-pity. Surviving the pandemic likewise requires overcoming the tendency to be immobilized by the challenges of the moment. The human capacity to adapt to trying circumstances and difficult situations is an amazing blessing, that can be neutralized, however, by self-pity.

Face masks are uncomfortable and social distancing seriously compromises the experience of intimacy. We have, however, discovered the power of Zoom and other technologies to enable us to convert our homes to office workspace, classrooms, prayer sites and most significantly, into virtual venues for family gatherings, for both simcha and sadness. By successfully overcoming the Hagar response we have transcended much of the pain, frustration and isolation caused by the pandemic.

Our Synagogues and Temples have proven to be innovative in adapting to the many limitations that are a consequence of the pandemic. High Holiday services will be different this year, but they will nonetheless be inspiring and meaningful. May the prayers that our lives speedily return to normal be fulfilled, and may the strength and resolve demonstrated during this crisis be an ongoing source of inspiration for us all.

From the holy city of Jerusalem, my best wishes for a Shanah Tovah U'Metukah, a year of blessings, good tidings and of health.

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Shofetim 5780

Shofetim 5780

Life Matters

Justice Justice shall you pursue… (Deuteronomy 16:18)

If one is found slain… Lying in the field and it is not known who has slain him… The elders of the city nearest the slain man shall wash their hands and say our hands have not shed this blood, nor have our eyes seen it… (ibid 21:1, 7)

Moses in his final discourses to the Israelites instructs them to build a just and moral society in the Promised Land they are poised to enter. He challenges them with three words in the third verse of this week's Torah portion: Tzedek tzedek tirdof, justice justice shall ye pursue.

If a man is found slain in the field and it is not known who has slain him, a just society assures the safety of all in its midst. Life matters even when the identity of the victim is unknown. To pursue justice is not solely justice for the residents of the community or for its privileged members, the pursuit of justice demands embracing the underprivileged, the stranger, the "other." It's an ongoing task requiring commitment, initiative and determination. Society is to be proactive in establishing and maintaining the highest standards of righteousness and integrity.

If an apparent victim of violence, is found in the field i.e. not within the boundaries of any community, it's easy to dismiss it as another unsolved crime, but not so in this instance. Here all the elders of the city closest to where the body is found must gather at the nearest "mighty stream" with a one-year-old heifer and engage in a profound rite. They are to break its neck and then washing their hands in the brook proclaim their innocence by reciting, "Our hands not shed this blood."

The Talmud notes it is inconceivable that the elders committed this crime. Why then this profession of innocence? This was to proclaim that this stranger did not enter their city only to be denied hospitality and departed without provisions and an escort to guide and protect him on his way. The elders speaking for their community were affirming that the stranger's life was of consequence. Life matters. All life matters even that of the stranger. The pursuit of justice demands we be concerned about the welfare and safety of the outsider and "other."

This ancient rite is rooted in the Biblical and Rabbinic teachings that the stance of "live and let live" it is contrary to the obligation to be proactive in the pursuit of justice. We are mandated to assume responsibility for the safety of others and that basic needs of food, shelter and security are assured to all.

This yesteryear's rite unfolded at the banks of a raging stream, a metaphor developed at a later age by the prophet Amos who portrayed "justice welling up as water and justice as a mighty stream." He framed an eternal challenge to nurture justice and to make it a powerful and ever living force in our communal and personal lives.

This ceremony of bygone days is no longer practiced, but like a mighty stream its message continues to flow focusing us on pursuing justice and affirming that life matters.

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Devarim (Shabbat Hazon) 5780

Devarim (Shabbat Hazon) 5780

He Bent the Arc

In the first chapter of Deuteronomy, the fifth of the Five Books of Moses that we begin reading this Shabbat, Moses praises Caleb for his courage and his faith. Forty years earlier he was one of the twelve men dispatched by Moses to scout out the Promised Land. Ten of the twelve lauded the beauty and fertility of the land but bemoaned that the imposing Canaanite cities and its well-trained warriors would be impossible to overcome. The report sparked a rebellion against Moses and God.

Caleb undaunted by the mass hysteria silenced the people with the assurance, "Have no fear of the people of the country for the Lord is with us." The agitated community would have pelted him with stones had not the presence of the Lord made itself felt.

The rebellion sealed the fate of the generation of the Exodus. Other than Caleb and Joshua all over twenty years of age would perish during a forty-year trek in the desert; the children and grandchildren would cross the Jordan into Canaan. Forty years had passed, and Moses, prior to his own departure from the scene, recounts with admiration Caleb's bravery in confronting the mob and assuring them that with God's help they would prevail.

For Moses, Caleb was a profile in courage. His faith in God and in the destiny of the people fired his courage. Regrettably, his peers were not so blessed.

I first met John Lewis in 1986 when he was the underdog candidate for Congress. We met for a morning cup of coffee, and I was impressed by his candor and humility. His leadership role in the civil rights movement was well known, and he was widely respected as a champion for human rights issues.

He narrowly won that election and served in Congress for over 30 years until his recent death. He quickly became the conscience of the Congress and was well not only a voice for justice for the African-American community. He spoke up on behalf of Soviet jury and for the State of Israel.

Some years ago, the Congregation had a one day mission to visit the National Holocaust Museum in DC. I contacted John Lewis and invited him to meet with us in the Museum's rotunda. He graciously accepted and spoke with great sensitivity about the Holocaust and the challenge of quashing evil before it takes permanent root. He ended with the affirmation of "Never Again." We sensed had there been individuals with John's passion for justice and with his courage to speak truth to power the Third Reich might not have taken root in Germany.

I had the honor introducing him at a Rabbinical Assembly convention in Atlanta. He was enthusiastically received by my colleagues for his unyielding opposition to prejudice based on religion, color, or ethnicity.

I was present at the Governor's mansion to celebrate the publication of his biography, Walking With The Wind. In his talk, John reflected on the time that he applied for a library card in Alabama was turned down When he grew up the government was all too often an enemy of the people of color. His presence at the mansion of the Governor of a historic Southern State was significant, but there was still a long road ahead in the ongoing challenge of bending the arc of history toward justice.

It's an American story. This son of a sharecropper in rural Alabama rose to be a leader in national and state government. Yet he never backed away from his deep-seated commitment to speak truth to power. He was rightly called the conscience of the Congress; more appropriately, he was the conscience of so many of us. This modern-day Caleb awakened every morning to begin a new day to continue his life work of "bending the arc of history toward justice."

Completing this task is more than a forty-year trek. It's an ongoing mission to arrive at the day when "Justice shall well up as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream." (Amos 5:24) May he rest in peace.

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and of blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

*The haftara or prophetic selection on the Shabbat before Tisha b'Av is the first chapter of Isaiah that begins with the words Hazon Yeshayahu, the vision of Isaiah.(Hence the designated name of Shabbat Hazon.) In this chapter the prophet mourns that the faithful city (Jerusalem) that once was "filled with justice and where righteousness dwelt… they (now) do not judge he case of the orphan and the widow's cause never reaches them." This powerful chapter is a fitting the segue into the annual Black Fast that this year begins on Wednesday night.