Sunday, December 4, 2016

Is Hilton Head the Golf Island. Is it the Caring Island too?

This is my most recent column from the Newspaper on what we on the Island are really about. This time of year at Thanksgiving should give us all some time to reflect wherever we live about our priorities. So how about take a read and let me know what you think? All the best
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Saturday, November 19, 2016

New Post from Rabbi Brad Bloom: Davar Torah on Genesis 19 and the Story of Sodom and Gamorah

There are many stories  in the Torah that leave us feeling more perplexed after reading them. The story of Sodom and Gamorah is one example from this week’s parashat vayerah in the book of Genesis. In a nut shel it goes like this. Two supposed holy beings come to see Lot, the nephew of Abraham. They want to stay with him but no one is sure what their purpose is for the visit. 

The word gets out about these two strangers and a group of townspeople surround Lot’s home and demand to see them. The Torah suggests that this crowd wants to rape the two holy men. Lot tries to protect them and offers these people his two daughters. The next scene is that the special holy beings tell Lot that God plans to destroy this city due to its corrupt nature and that they, Lot, his wife and their two daughters, have to leave immediately.

As they leave in a hurry they tell them not to look back over the town lest they turn into salt. Unfortunately his wife disobeys the warning, gazes back upon the city and she turns into a pillar of salt. Lot and his daughters flee to a town called Zoar. The daughters get upset that they have no men to be with and they decide to have sex with their father. So for two nights they give him wine and get him totally drunk and each sister has sex with him with the belief that he will be so drunk that he will never remember his sex with them the next morning.

Let me add one more bit of Torah here which is in the preceding chapter. God announces that these residents of the Negev desert communities Sodom and Gamorah are all wicked and that he plans to annihilate them. Abraham gets into a direct dialogue with God trying to convince him that if he can find fifty righteous people will God retract from his threat to destroy them? God says yes. Abraham says if I can produce thirty, or twenty or even ten righteous people will God relent on his declaration to destroy all of them? Each time God says, “Yes.” In the next chapter the story of Lot begins which I just summarized. Obviously there weren’t even ten and so God went about to destroy the citizens of Sodom and Gamorah.

Abraham shows how he is not afraid to challenge God on his judgement. Each time God agrees to his terms ,yet,  there aren’t simply those ten righteous  people to be found. This is not the first time God carries out a threat of destruction. We harken back to Noah and the flood. In this case Noah obeys God’s instructions to build an ark and never tries to challenge God’s decree to destroy all mankind. Noah’s silence stands in stark contrast to Abraham’s determination and guts to take on God in a debate. This is not so different from Moses who took on God who was about to destroy the Israelite people after the sin of the Golden Calf. There too Moses challenges God’s wisdom and convinces God to relent from starting over with Moses to form a new people. One could say that Abraham and Moses and other biblical figures show that it is acceptable to challenge God’s sense of justice. Again we see that God will change his mind when a powerful case is made on behalf of the Jewish people.

I find this appeal from Abraham to challenge God one of the most fascinating themes of the Torah; to witness how a human being can debate with God.  Why is this aspect of the story important for us? What can we learn about how a society turns against itself. And who is today that must be the one who challenges the status quo to preserve a good and decent society form turning against itself?
Judaism has had a series of biblical characters including the most famous  such as Job who challenges God for bringing so much disaster upon him by killing all who are near and dear to him. Jews have, ever since then, had a tradition of talking and challenging God when they thought God was not acting fairly towards the Jewish people.

Even today Elie Wiesel  taught how Abraham is a different kind of patriarch as compared to the passive and acquiescent Noah. Our best approach is not to say that God is wrong but to ask God to think about his decision. We have this ability respectfully challenge the holy one to rethink a position. In the story of Sodom and Gamorah, God agreed each time with Abraham to spare the citizens if he could produce the righteous people. In the end Abraham never did it and the rest of the story we know.
We are living in times today when we need to produce righteous people who can give credibility to a society like ours and cause us to question our own way of thinking about how we relate to others. Sometimes confrontation does work, depending on the issue. Yet when we can challenge someone to think through an issue, respect them even though we disagree with them we may have a better chance to influence their thinking,
 I know we tend to lambast elected officials as crooks. There is mistrust from the top of the elected leader ladder to the local school board. We have righteous people in this country and in the world. Today we are not just talking about elected leaders but folks who serve society in all sorts of capacities. It is not like we are arguing before God for our position to restore public confidence in our communities. We are, instead, arguing our position to the rest of the community which does sit in judgment upon us. Honesty and integrity are critical values that were not in existence in Sodom and Gamorah. They paid the price.

The rabbis said that when hatred divides a society against itself that society will not survive. Do we need a higher bar of moral conduct and integrity today? Do we also need, besides elected officials,corporate leaders and medical professionals, clergy and teachers and business owners to rise to an even higher plateau of leadership and honesty. We cannot be silent like Noah not even before God. As Wiesel said about the Jewish people which was that we speak truth to power even if it is God. We learn this lesson first from Abraham.

Sodom and Gamorah were communities that we should fear the most. It wasn’t a nuclear bomb or a biological disease that destroyed them. Despite all the pleading of a righteous man it was, in truth, simply baseless hatred and mistrust amongst themselves. A city of people who lost a vision of justice towards themselves and imploded. It can happen to any city, and in any country.

Keeping peace in the House of Worship after the Presidential Elections

My recent newspaper column on this timely topic. We have a right to our feelings about the election. Yet, should we respect boundaries in how we express ourselves inside the synagogue lest we go down a slippery slope and increase the chance of internal division? What do you say?
Have a Happy Thanksgiving.
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Choose your words wisely
I have heard quite few people say things about how blessed they are or the opposite about surviving Hurricane Mathew. Let's take a second look about what language we use to others when describing our own feelings.
What do you think?
Rabbi Bloom

Monday, October 24, 2016

A column to my colleagues about missing Yom Kippur

I published this blog at the CCAR website last week. I thought you might want to read it.
Your insights and reactions are appreciated.

Thoughts about Yom Kippur and Yizkor for a Congregation who did not have Yom Kippur this year.

A great teacher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said; “In reverence suffering, and humility we discover our existence and find the bridge that leads from existence to God.”
It appears that our community has had the opportunity over the last two weeks to experience a dose of all these characteristics. We have been preoccupied whether it was with our own situation or with someone else’s condition that we care about. Did we take some time to contemplate what existence means and how our survival creates a bridge to gratitude and thanksgiving to the Source of Life itself? 

Yet there is another bridge we walk over this morning. It is a bridge towards memory of our loved ones who have passed away this year and in years gone by.Many over the last week  missed not reciting Yizkor for this Yom Kippur.  There are certain prayers and musical settings of the liturgy from the High Holy Days services that become the defining moments in which we all resonate with and look forward to reciting and hearing.For those of us who could not attend Yom Kippur somewhere else surely we missed not hearing the Kol Nidrei, Avinu Malkeinu, Yizkor, the confessions of transgressions and other cherished music and prayers.

That time has since passed and we are on our way to rebuilding our homes and even our spiritual selves. Because this is the time for Sukkoth, we already bid farewell to Yom Kippur. Yet, the tradition allows us a fortuitous opportunity to recover something we lost a week ago. The end of Sukkoth allows to hold a yizkor service on the 8th day. In fact we sponsor Yizkor services not only on the 8th day of Sukkoth but also on the 8th day of Passover and the 2nd day of Shavuot. Jewish law and custom prescribe  the observance of the eighth day in Sukkoth as a Yom Tov in the Diaspora and as an occasion to hold a Yizkor Memorial service. 

Now that we are, for the most part , returned to our homes we may also return to the memory of our loved ones. We are this morning combining the feeling of  Yom kippur yizkor and grafting it onto the Yizkor we traditionally recite at the end of Sukkot. It is our hope to replenish our memories with the loved ones whose names would have been recited from our Yizkor on Yom Kippur itself. We are pleased to provide you with the Yizkor book.

The end of Sukkoth, unlike the Day of Atonement, concludes a holy and joyous harvest festival. Now we call to mind our precious loved ones and invoke their memories within the community. We remember our beloved parents and relatives including our spouses, siblings, children, grandchildren, and cherished friends. We intone the memories of our mentors, teachers and national leaders. Let us not forget those who gave their lives serving and defending the United States of America and the martyrs of our people who over the many centuries gave their lives for kiddush hashem,the sanctification of the Divine Name.

In the book of Proverbs we read, “ner adonai, nishmat adam. The spirit within is the lamp of God Eternal” (Proverbs 20:2). We need that light to guide us over the bridge towards the past, towards the memories of loved ones we come to honor today. These memories have been patiently waiting for us to cross over the bridge and greet them, touch them with our prayers,  see them with the light of a broken heart or a wistful mind hearing their voices or feeling their hands upon us. With Yizkor can we draw the connection between our existence to our memories and tie them together with the spirit of the Eternal One?

I conclude with this prayer from our new Mahzor Mishkan HaNefesh
At birth, a miracle:
You light the spark in every human soul.

Emerging into light, we breathe it in-
the n’shamah, Your sacred gift of life.

And every day, every breath
comes to us as a miracle.

The light within us-unique and precious,
is  with us always, while we live.

when breath has ceased and life has gone;
the n’shamah returns to You.

And the spark that lived inside the ones we love,
unique and precious, beautiful and good,
is theirs no more.

Their light is ours; their radiance now turns in us
the eternal flame of memory.

So we light candles, to keep our love alive,
to bring their light into the world,

A light unique and precious,
ours to treasure, while we live;

A ner timid that lights our days
and gives us strength to journey through the nights.

Dear friends we journey today over the bridge of memory to capture what is still ours.
Hold onto these memories and do not forget them. Cherish them and the light of their memories will warm us in our days and our nights.


New Blog Post Rabbi Bloom: Hurricane Mathew and what we can do about it.

Hi Everyone.
Here is my most recent newspaper column on  Hurricane Mathew and its impact upon Hilton Head.
Take a read and tell me what you think?
All the best