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On Dreams and Craters

There are three types of craters in this world.

The first, with which we are probably most-familiar, is when an object impacts the ground with such speed, power or force that it leaves a hole in its wake. A meteor zooms through space, ultimately entering our atmosphere, smashing the earth and creating an impact point as small as a few centimeters or as large as a thousand miles across. A volcano erupts and lava pours out, pulling down the soil above it.

The second type of crater is formed – and here’s where we get technical and scientific – it is formed when water erosion tears at the soil of a particular location, while, simultaneously, plate tectonics raise the land surrounding that erosion. There are five craters of this type named in the world, all of them in Israel. They are called a makhtesh. And the largest makhtesh is Makhtesh Ramon, about 51 miles south of Be’ersheva, where, in the middle of the Negev desert, the land opens up into a giant chasm 500 feet deep surrounded by a ring of rock 24 miles long.

The third type of crater is the impact left in the wake of transformative human behavior, when individuals so thoroughly challenge the status quo, revolt against ingrained assumptions or speak truth to power such that life as we know it, in that space, that situation or that entity is changed entirely, possibly forever.

And I want to speak with you tonight about this third type of crater, which is forming, as we speak, on the slopes of the second. Read more

Awake

While the Temple stood in Jerusalem, thousands upon thousands of Jews would enter its gates every day to join in the business of Jewish offerings to the Divine. Along the southern wall of the holy complex was the Hulda Gate, actually a pair of passages – three arches on the right side and two on the left. Any person entering the Temple came through this entryway.

The Mishnah recounts that there was a very particular process for entering Beit HaMikdash – the Temple – through the Hulda gate. Not much different than the system of driving or walking that we live out to this very day, everyone entered on the right and exited on the left.

Thousands of Jews every day, approaching their Creator in service and admiration passed through the three arches on the eastern side of the Southern Wall as they entered, and passed through the two arches on the western side as they left. Imagine the enormity of the experience. Thousands of worshippers walking through three narrow passages on their way into the complex, and then again through two even narrower passages on their way out. A flood of devotees approached through small channels of entrance and exit all in the same direction.

But there was an exception to this flow. Read more

Thanks

One year ago today, I stood on this pulpit and spoke with you about the children’s poem “Where the Sidewalk Ends”, that classic piece of poetry that explores the profound meaning found in the liminal space between asphalt and concrete.

We discussed the metaphor implicit within Shel Silverstein’s writing, how the messiness of that place where the sidewalk ends is the reality of all our lives, the meaning implicit in this holiday of the New Year. How each and every year we live our lives in the turbulent space where the sidewalk ends, where the smoke blows black and asphalt flowers fill pits and cracks, and that our purpose on this earth is to find a way to walk forward in spite of life’s messiness. Read more

Hot Days in a Mild Summer

These have been some tough days at the end of a mild summer. Many of us have reached places and times where it feels like the mourning will never see morning, where it may never end, the pain of the absence wholly un-soothable.

I know I have.

And the holidays are coming. How will we celebrate the new year without the mom/sister/daughter/wife that we loved so much? How will we – dear God, how will we – stand straight during Yizkor on Yom Kippur?

I’m spending much time writing sermons right now. And that means reflecting back on last year’s High Holy Days, in order to craft my messages for this one.

I came across my Yom Kippur sermon moments ago. I thought I remembered what I had preached. But I did not.

The words of that speech have left me filled with a mix of tears and solace, memories of love that did exist, that I long to remember this day.

With great appreciation to myself from one year ago, to our ability to continue to learn the same things we once thought we knew, and for the love that I continue to be reminded did once existed in the flesh…

My mom has no apology to offer for getting sick, no repentance to do. She does not need to atone for this devastating reality. That is all a distraction – a painful, futile way of avoiding what actually matters.

She could die – all of us could die – and God forbid, our loved ones should stand by our grave side and mourn not only losing us, but also all the time we wasted feeling bad for the ways that we were human.

All my mom need do this Yom Kippur and every day for the rest of her life is to keep doing the thing that she has done best since her diagnosis, that she has done every day of my life – to keep on loving me, and my sister, and my family, and life itself; filing the earth with more and more hesed with every breath she takes.

She loves me. And I love her back. More than anything in the world.

And that’s nothing to apologize for.

Justice

A strong believer in the critical importance of international standards of law and justice in the wake of the travesties and human atrocities committed against the world’s most vulnerable citizens during the twentieth century, I follow seriously any attempt to bring individuals and entities to trial before the International Court of Justice. And so it was, with that perspective in mind, that I was amused by the story in this morning’s Jerusalem Post, about a Kenyan lawyer attempting to bring the State of Israel to the Hague for the death of Jesus.

The case is, obviously, absurd by almost any measure of the word. The Bible is a book of meaning, not a court document. Ignoring the fact that the Church long ago gave up on the theological presumption that Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus, suggesting culpability through to the modern state of Israel (or Italy!?) is nothing short of ridiculous. And any assertion that some lawyer from Kenya in 2013 has grounds on which to sue, makes the recent California debate vis-a-vis Proposition 8 and alternative claimants look like an open-and-close case.

But none of that has me itching nearly as much as the fact that, even assuming a crime was committed in the crucifixion of Jesus, and assuming that responsibility can and should be levied at modern Israel, and that this lawyer has grounds on which to sue and make this case, seemingly lost in this episode is the fact that there is no statute of limitations placed on the crime, no ability to realize that, two thousand years later, it might just be time to move on and forgive.

That should not mean forget. We Jews, after all, are the most successful rememberers on this planet. But no one would ever suggest – honestly – suing Italy for the destruction of Jerusalem, Iraq for the destruction of the First Temple, or all women for our banishment from the Garden of Eden.

The fact is, as important as justice is, as crucial as it is to hold people responsible for their actions and, in our modern world, ensure that the most vulnerable are protected from those with power, we cannot allow such systems of accountability distract us from our own needs to let go and move on. Otherwise, we all have claims on someone else. Each of our peoples have been wronged by history, cheated, destroyed, swept aside.

But how long do we hold on to past centuries’ curses, letting that hurt prevent us from celebrating this century’s blessings?

We are closing in on the High Holy Days, a time when we will ask for forgiveness, from our friends, from ourselves, from our God. We will try to let go of all the pain we have caused in this last year.

But how much time will we spend letting go of the pain others have caused us?

The reality is that, in focussing, endlessly, on the wrongs committed against us by others, the only person we hurt is ourself. The wrong-doer has likely moved on. Continuing to wait for an apology, continuing to feel hurt and cheated, continuing to wait for justice to be meted only keeps us on and endless merry-go-round of pain and longing, when sometimes it’s just time to move on.

Who cares if they righted their wrong? Are you going to let your life continue to be destroyed by the pain they have already caused, or are you going to move on, go forth, and grow, despite, or to spite them?

Justice is important. Crucial, in fact. And no one can be expected to come to terms with the pain caused to them, just because.

But sitting around and waiting for an apology, or searching for it so long after the fact that all the players are long since gone, is a waste of your own life. And certainly a waste of the good that universal understandings of justice can do for this world.