Rabbi Deborah J. Brin  Jewish Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling ©2017 Rabbi Deborah J. Brin — Member: Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin Albuquerque, New Mexico  Jewish Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling
Rabbi’s Reflections

Say “I love you” — Kol Nidre 2014

Friday, 16 January 2015   Rabbi Deborah J. Brin There is an app for just about everything. Have you sinned lately? There is a virtual, animated goat that is roaming the Internet collecting sins to be sent off to Azazel. A Jewish media company called G-dcast created the ‘eScapegoat’ last year. Not familiar with the Biblical story of the priest taking two goats, sacrificing one and putting the sins of the community onto the other before sending it off into the wilderness? That’s ok, the website recaps it in a cartoon format and then gives visitors to the site the opportunity to write their sins into a blank window, in a Twitter friendly 120 characters, and then place them on the scapegoat. Just “Google” eScapegoat and you will find it. Wouldn’t it be great if it really were that easy? All we would have to do is type our sins, mistakes and errors in judgment into a box on our screens and hit ‘enter’. And they would be gone. Sent into oblivion. Real t’shuvah, real repentance, turning ourselves around, fixing the messes we’ve made, repairing the damage to relationships and cleaning up our act is much more difficult. Reorienting ourselves internally, so that we “change, grow, soften… forgive” others and achieve forgiveness ourselves takes practice. [Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger, “T’shuvah, Hope & the Struggle for Justice”. Torah from T’ruah. 9/14] It takes so much practice that we are encouraged to do it everyday. In Pirkei Avot, a collection of wise aphorisms from the Talmud, Rabbi Eliezer tells his students to repent one day before your death. The Talmud expands on it. After he tells his students to ‘do t’shuvah’ one day before your death, they question him about it. Does that mean we will know when we are going to die? Rabbi Eliezer replied that since we don’t know when we will die, we should ‘do t’shuvah’ today and every day because perhaps we will die tomorrow. [BT Shabbat 153a]. Wisdom comes in many forms. There is a poster on the bulletin board at my physical therapist’s office. It has a picture of a person slouching in a chair in front of her computer. The caption reads, “sitting kills”. The fine print explains that the forces of gravity are always at work on our bodies and when we sit for long periods of time we age more rapidly and among other things, lose muscle and bone mass. When we move around we resist the force of gravity and in so doing, increase our chances for health. It is a good idea to take regular breaks when working at our desks and stand up, stretch, and move around a little. As the Talmudists say, ‘kal v’homer’. If it is true in such an easy example, it is also true for a harder example. 24-7 the news media stream alarming information, never letting us forget that we cannot control the complex forces that affect our lives. Gravity is one force that we take for granted and don’t even notice. Daily we are becoming more and more aware of the increasing severity of the devastation caused by climate change – droughts, wildfires, floods, and crop failure, are just some of them. We are all vulnerable to disruptions caused by electrical outages. Our North American lifestyle, for rich and poor alike, is dependent upon an uninterrupted supply of electricity. We are all vulnerable to the perambulations of local and international politics, local and international economics, and wars all around the globe. Our bodies are susceptible to viruses, like Ebola, from foreign countries; and our computers and our bank accounts, are susceptible to viruses and attacks from malevolent hackers. We try valiantly to counteract the awareness of the uncertainty, vulnerability and fragility of our lives by cultivating the idea that we are in control and in charge of our lives. Our North American culture has in some way sold us a bill of goods by getting us to believe that if we are smart enough, good enough, clever enough or wealthy enough, we can control the circumstances of our lives. Our world can be unpredictable and frightening. Very few of us can maintain awareness of all the dangers lurking in our world and still get out of bed in the morning. On most days we wrap ourselves in a cognitive cocoon that keeps the awareness of our vulnerability and fragility at bay. We allow the frenetic pace of our lives to carry us along without much thought about the ultimate truths and meanings of our lives. On Yom Kippur we purposely crack open our cocoon and look squarely at the unavoidable aspects of human life and seek out that meaning and those truths. We enact a mythic drama. We mimic our own deaths. The modest white clothes that we wear are reminiscent of burial shrouds. We refrain from eating and drinking. For one long day, we drop our routines, our busyness and our pretense that life is predictable, controllable and secure. Yom Kippur has the power to grab us by the proverbial shoulder and shake us up a bit. It is on Yom Kippur while sitting in community, with the traditional melodies washing over us, that we can think deeply about who we are, examine our motives, and ask ourselves if the path we are walking is the right path. The tag line to Mary Oliver’s poem, “who made the world?” says, “tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Our lives are precious. Time is moving along. Each day is a gift and it comes with no guarantees. What are we doing with our wild and precious lives? The title of Harold Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, is telling. Stuff happens. Things happen to us and around us. Some are bad, and some are good. We all have stories to tell of relatives, co-workers, neighbors or friends who died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack, stroke or accident. We all have stories to tell of our own or others’ near misses: mistakes, mishaps or illnesses that could have been fatal but weren’t. The theology of our ancestors teaches us that when bad things happen they are punishments for our sins, and when good things happen we are being rewarded. Kushner soundly refutes those ideas in his book. God does not have daily disaster quotas to fill. We live in a random universe and accidents, illness, mistakes, human error, metal fatigue, and hurricanes are all a part of it. Facing our vulnerability can lead us to new insights and transformation. Yom Kippur may not give us access to the raw emotional quality that will allow us to truly resolve to live each day as fully as possible. What other situations are capable of shaking us up and getting our attention? For those of us who are not in them every day, hospitals can be places where we come face to face with our frailty, vulnerability and helplessness. Visiting someone we know or love who is lying between life and death in a hospital bed can be a terribly unsettling experience. Just before Pesach/Passover last year a member of our community, Juanita Sanchez, may her memory be a blessing, had a sudden and massive cerebral hemorrhage. Immediately after surgery she was responsive to those in the room with her and then she lapsed into an unconscious state from which she never re-emerged. I was very moved by the care and attention she received from her medical team, from her family and friends, and the support that our community gave to her sister and brother- in-law. After one of my visits I came home from the hospital and had an overwhelming urge to call my three siblings and tell them, while I was still alive and conscious, that I love them. I spoke with each of them and in the process it dawned on me that Rabbi Eliezer only had part of the story right. Yes, we should ‘do t’shuvah’ every day, clean up our act, or apologize as soon as we realize that we have done something inappropriate or hurtful. There is more to this then just making t’shuvah. One day before we die, we should tell our friends and family that we love them. We should say ‘thank you’ for everything that they are doing or have done for us. We should notice who they really are, not just look at them through the lens of who we want or need them to be, and we should let them know that we appreciate them. Words really do matter. If someday we have a version of wise aphorisms from our contemporary period, perhaps one of them might go something like this: The rabbi was teaching her students and said to them, it is very important to remember this: one day before we die we need to ‘do t’shuvah’, and one day before we die we need to tell our friends and family that we love them. One of the rabbis’ students spoke up and challenged her. Does that mean that we are going to know when we are going to die? The rabbi smiled at her student and said, no, and that is exactly the point. Since we never know what will happen when we leave our houses in the morning, we need to remember to be actively loving, kind and generous with everyone we know and with everyone we meet during our day. We need to take advantage of every opportunity we have to be a mensch. We never know when it will be the last time for such an opportunity. Many of the rabbis of my generation are thinking about and dealing in new and deeper ways with the impact of death and grief on their own lives and the lives of the members of their communities. A saying of Hillel’s moved us and it has informed our political activism and our communal lives. Hillel said:  “If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself what am I? And if not now, when? "When” is now. This is the time. We have arrived at this moment. Now is all we’ve got. Let us not squander it.
Wisdom comes in many forms. There is a poster on the bulletin board at my physical therapist’s office. It has a picture of a person slouching in a chair in front of her computer. The caption reads, “sitting kills”.
On Yom Kippur we purposely crack open our cocoon and look squarely at the unavoidable aspects of human life and seek out that meaning and those truths.
After one of my visits I came home from the hospital and had an overwhelming urge to call my three siblings and tell them, while I was still alive and conscious, that I love them.
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin Personalized Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin  Personalized Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling ©2017 Rabbi Deborah J. Brin
Rabbi’s Reflections

Say “I love you” — Kol Nidre 2014

Friday, 16 January 2015   Rabbi Deborah J. Brin There is an app for just about everything. Have you sinned lately? There is a virtual, animated goat that is roaming the Internet collecting sins to be sent off to Azazel. A Jewish media company called G-dcast created the ‘eScapegoat’ last year. Not familiar with the Biblical story of the priest taking two goats, sacrificing one and putting the sins of the community onto the other before sending it off into the wilderness? That’s ok, the website recaps it in a cartoon format and then gives visitors to the site the opportunity to write their sins into a blank window, in a Twitter friendly 120 characters, and then place them on the scapegoat. Just “Google” eScapegoat and you will find it. Wouldn’t it be great if it really were that easy? All we would have to do is type our sins, mistakes and errors in judgment into a box on our screens and hit ‘enter’. And they would be gone. Sent into oblivion. Real t’shuvah, real repentance, turning ourselves around, fixing the messes we’ve made, repairing the damage to relationships and cleaning up our act is much more difficult. Reorienting ourselves internally, so that we “change, grow, soften… forgive” others and achieve forgiveness ourselves takes practice. [Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger, “T’shuvah, Hope & the Struggle for Justice”. Torah from T’ruah. 9/14] It takes so much practice that we are encouraged to do it everyday. In Pirkei Avot, a collection of wise aphorisms from the Talmud, Rabbi Eliezer tells his students to repent one day before your death. The Talmud expands on it. After he tells his students to ‘do t’shuvah’ one day before your death, they question him about it. Does that mean we will know when we are going to die? Rabbi Eliezer replied that since we don’t know when we will die, we should ‘do t’shuvah’ today and every day because perhaps we will die tomorrow. [BT Shabbat 153a]. Wisdom comes in many forms. There is a poster on the bulletin board at my physical therapist’s office. It has a picture of a person slouching in a chair in front of her computer. The caption reads, “sitting kills”. The fine print explains that the forces of gravity are always at work on our bodies and when we sit for long periods of time we age more rapidly and among other things, lose muscle and bone mass. When we move around we resist the force of gravity and in so doing, increase our chances for health. It is a good idea to take regular breaks when working at our desks and stand up, stretch, and move around a little. As the Talmudists say, ‘kal v’homer’. If it is true in such an easy example, it is also true for a harder example. 24-7 the news media stream alarming information, never letting us forget that we cannot control the complex forces that affect our lives. Gravity is one force that we take for granted and don’t even notice. Daily we are becoming more and more aware of the increasing severity of the devastation caused by climate change – droughts, wildfires, floods, and crop failure, are just some of them. We are all vulnerable to disruptions caused by electrical outages. Our North American lifestyle, for rich and poor alike, is dependent upon an uninterrupted supply of electricity. We are all vulnerable to the perambulations of local and international politics, local and international economics, and wars all around the globe. Our bodies are susceptible to viruses, like Ebola, from foreign countries; and our computers and our bank accounts, are susceptible to viruses and attacks from malevolent hackers. We try valiantly to counteract the awareness of the uncertainty, vulnerability and fragility of our lives by cultivating the idea that we are in control and in charge of our lives. Our North American culture has in some way sold us a bill of goods by getting us to believe that if we are smart enough, good enough, clever enough or wealthy enough, we can control the circumstances of our lives. Our world can be unpredictable and frightening. Very few of us can maintain awareness of all the dangers lurking in our world and still get out of bed in the morning. On most days we wrap ourselves in a cognitive cocoon that keeps the awareness of our vulnerability and fragility at bay. We allow the frenetic pace of our lives to carry us along without much thought about the ultimate truths and meanings of our lives. On Yom Kippur we purposely crack open our cocoon and look squarely at the unavoidable aspects of human life and seek out that meaning and those truths. We enact a mythic drama. We mimic our own deaths. The modest white clothes that we wear are reminiscent of burial shrouds. We refrain from eating and drinking. For one long day, we drop our routines, our busyness and our pretense that life is predictable, controllable and secure. Yom Kippur has the power to grab us by the proverbial shoulder and shake us up a bit. It is on Yom Kippur while sitting in community, with the traditional melodies washing over us, that we can think deeply about who we are, examine our motives, and ask ourselves if the path we are walking is the right path. The tag line to Mary Oliver’s poem, “who made the world?” says, “tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Our lives are precious. Time is moving along. Each day is a gift and it comes with no guarantees. What are we doing with our wild and precious lives? The title of Harold Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, is telling. Stuff happens. Things happen to us and around us. Some are bad, and some are good. We all have stories to tell of relatives, co-workers, neighbors or friends who died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack, stroke or accident. We all have stories to tell of our own or others’ near misses: mistakes, mishaps or illnesses that could have been fatal but weren’t. The theology of our ancestors teaches us that when bad things happen they are punishments for our sins, and when good things happen we are being rewarded. Kushner soundly refutes those ideas in his book. God does not have daily disaster quotas to fill. We live in a random universe and accidents, illness, mistakes, human error, metal fatigue, and hurricanes are all a part of it. Facing our vulnerability can lead us to new insights and transformation. Yom Kippur may not give us access to the raw emotional quality that will allow us to truly resolve to live each day as fully as possible. What other situations are capable of shaking us up and getting our attention? For those of us who are not in them every day, hospitals can be places where we come face to face with our frailty, vulnerability and helplessness. Visiting someone we know or love who is lying between life and death in a hospital bed can be a terribly unsettling experience. Just before Pesach/Passover last year a member of our community, Juanita Sanchez, may her memory be a blessing, had a sudden and massive cerebral hemorrhage. Immediately after surgery she was responsive to those in the room with her and then she lapsed into an unconscious state from which she never re-emerged. I was very moved by the care and attention she received from her medical team, from her family and friends, and the support that our community gave to her sister and brother-in-law. After one of my visits I came home from the hospital and had an overwhelming urge to call my three siblings and tell them, while I was still alive and conscious, that I love them. I spoke with each of them and in the process it dawned on me that Rabbi Eliezer only had part of the story right. Yes, we should ‘do t’shuvah’ every day, clean up our act, or apologize as soon as we realize that we have done something inappropriate or hurtful. There is more to this then just making t’shuvah. One day before we die, we should tell our friends and family that we love them. We should say ‘thank you’ for everything that they are doing or have done for us. We should notice who they really are, not just look at them through the lens of who we want or need them to be, and we should let them know that we appreciate them. Words really do matter. If someday we have a version of wise aphorisms from our contemporary period, perhaps one of them might go something like this: The rabbi was teaching her students and said to them, it is very important to remember this: one day before we die we need to ‘do t’shuvah’, and one day before we die we need to tell our friends and family that we love them. One of the rabbis’ students spoke up and challenged her. Does that mean that we are going to know when we are going to die? The rabbi smiled at her student and said, no, and that is exactly the point. Since we never know what will happen when we leave our houses in the morning, we need to remember to be actively loving, kind and generous with everyone we know and with everyone we meet during our day. We need to take advantage of every opportunity we have to be a mensch. We never know when it will be the last time for such an opportunity. Many of the rabbis of my generation are thinking about and dealing in new and deeper ways with the impact of death and grief on their own lives and the lives of the members of their communities. A saying of Hillel’s moved us and it has informed our political activism and our communal lives. Hillel said:  “If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself what am I? And if not now, when? "When” is now. This is the time. We have arrived at this moment. Now is all we’ve got. Let us not squander it.
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