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Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ David Markus

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi David Markus. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English.

 

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah – R’ David Markus from Bayit: Building Jewish on Vimeo.


Shalom a mis hermanos y hermanas cubanos de Klal Yisrael, nuestra familia global judía que, cada dia, se siente más como una familia – a pesar de la distancia.

Espero y rezo que este mensaje los encuentre sintiéndose saludables, fuertes, resistentes y seguros.

La vista desde mi casa en Nueva York es muy diferente a la de hace un año.   Hace un año, me deje llevar y pensé que el mundo era un lugar más seguro y saludable de lo que verdaderamente es.   El coronavirus ha cambiado, para siempre, como yo veo el mundo, mi comunidad y toda comunidad.

Yo puedo imaginar algunas de las imágenes que el coronavirus — y también, las protestas, han traído a sus televisores y a sus dispositivos digitales.   Puedo sentir algunas de las experiencias que estos cambios globales han traído a sus tiendas, a sus familias y a sus barrios: más escásez, más racionamiento, mas penuria.

En la penuria,y tambien en las protestas, tornamos los unos a los otros.   Esta es la manera cubana de hacer esas cosas.   Es como los judios de Cuba han sobrevivido el “periodo especial” y toda adversidad – natural o humana – tanto antes como después.

Honrar nuestra humanidad esencial – y tornar a los demás de una causa colectiva – es una lugar común cubano que muchos norteamericanos olvidan a menudo.   Si bien hemos caído en la tentación de vernos como entes separados — los unos de los otros – el coronavirus nos está enseñando, una vez más, que  estamos interconectados.

El mundo necesita aprender esta lección en lo más profundo de nuestras almas, y, en el alma de nuestras sociedades.   Es una importante lección — y una lección, por demás, muy judía.

El judaísmo nos enseña que, a veces, sólo un cambio radical de perspectiva puede hacernos ver esta verdad y otras verdades fundamentales.   Hay tiempos en la vida, tan fuertes, que lo cambian todo.   En cada vida – en sus vidas y en la mía propia – hay momentos personales que nos transforman hasta el tuétano.   Estos momentos de transformación también son aquellos en los que sentimos más empatía, y esto no es una coincidencia.   Es una verdad espiritual fundamental.

La época del coronavirus no es solamente un época personal: es un momento global, es un momento para toda la humanidad.   Estos momentos cambian civilizaciones enteras, y suceden más infrecuentemente que nuestros momentos personales de cambio – pero igual suceden, ciertos como el flujo de la historia misma.

Justamente la semana pasada, el pueblo judio celebró uno de estos momentos colectivos.   Shavuot, la fiesta de la entrega de la Torá, es el aniversario en la tradición judía del momento en que Moisés y el pueblo de Israel estuvieron juntos en el Monte Sinaí.   La Torá describe que Moisés, y el pueblo, estaban juntos k’ish ejad – como una sola persona – pues solo así podrían recibir los Diez Mandamientos.   Unidos, como si fueran una misma persona, vieron el humo del Monte Sinaí.   Unidos como si fueran una persona, sus sentidos tan confundidos que literalmente vieron el trueno: contemplaron con sus propios ojos las palabras de Dios.

Este momento fue tan confuso que cambio la historia para siempre.   El judaismo, el cristianismo, el islam, el flujo del espíritu, el flujo de la historia misma — todo se remonta ultimamente al Monte Sinaí.

Ésta es una de las grandes contribuciones al mundo — no sólo la Torá, no sólo los Diez Mandamientos, no sólo las reglas del ético vivir – sino también la idea radical de que un momento de cambio de visión: cuando es compartida por todos, puede cambiarlo todo.

En el calendario judío, esto sucedió la semana pasada.   Hecho y cumplido.   La próxima gran fiesta es Rosh Hashaná en unos cuantos meses. – Y entonces, ¿ahora qué?

Tal vez, la lección más grande del judaísmo no es que los Diez Mandamientos hayan sido dados en una explosion de luz y amor en el Monte Sinaí, sino que la Torá no terminó – ahí en ese momento.   Después del Monte Sinaí hubo una gran travesía hacia adelante: ¡Hay más libros de la Torá de Moisés que ocurren después del Monte Sinaí que antes de este!

Esto nos enseña que nuestra Torá, y nuestro judaísmo, no son sólo colecciones de grandes momentos.   La Torá fue puesta en nuestras manos, por toda la posteridad, para cargarla y cumplirla dia tras dia, dondequiera que nos lleve la vida.

Esta es la lección profunda del ese mes que sigue a Shavuot. Es nuestra responsabilidad vivir estos valores, orgullosos de nuestra herencia, pero sin conformarnos con el heroísmo y las luchas de nuestros ancestros.   No se trata del pasado sino del ahora: la humanidad necesita de todo nuestro ejemplo de amor, de empatía y de conexión – no sólo en las fiestas, sino cada dia.

Ustedes fueron ejemplos claros de estos principios – para mí y mi comunidad de Nueva York cuando visitamos Cuba el otoño pasado.   Fue tangible, y muy especial para nosotros. Los judios de Cuba cambiaron para siempre nuestra manera de ver el mundo.   Sospecho que la experiencia no fue tan especial para ustedes, ya que está es su naturaleza día a día.

Ustedes son la prueba del principio judio de que la vida judía es más que fiestas.   Es el amor, la benevolencia, la compasión, y la empatía que nos mostramos los unos a los otros todos los días.   Estas son las grandes joyas de la Torá: amar al prójimo como a nosotros mismos, particularmente cuando esto es difícil.   Es está empatía, nuestra identidad y destino compartidos, que nos ayudarán a cumplir la Torá en nuestros días, durante este momento en que el coronavirus está transformando el mundo.

De mi corazón al de ustedes, les envio bendiciones de resiliencia y salud – y – de todo aquello que necesitamos para vivir estos valores eternos en un mundo que los necesita y nos necesita a todos.

Shalom Javerim.   


Shalom to my Cuban sisters and brothers among Klal Yisrael, our global Jewish family that feels ever more like a family even across the span of distance.  I hope and pray that this message finds you feeling healthy, strong, resilient and safe.

The view from my home in New York feels so different from this time last year.  This time last year, I let myself believe that somehow my world was safer and healthier than it actually was.  The coronavirus changed forever how I see the world, my community and every community.

I imagine some images that the coronavirus – and now the protests – have brought to your televisions and digital news feeds. I can sense some experiences that global shifts are bringing to your stores, families and neighborhoods – more shortages, more regulations, more hardship.

In hardship, we turn to each other.  It’s the Cuban way.  It’s how the Jews of Cuba survived the “special period” and every adversity – natural and human – both before and since.

Honoring our essential humanity – and turning to each other in common cause – is a Cuban truism that we Americans too often forget. If ever we are tempted to regard ourselves as separate from each other, the coronavirus is teaching us yet again how interconnected we are.

The world needs to learn that lesson deeply in our own souls, and in the souls of our societies.  It’s an important lesson — and a very Jewish lesson at that.

Judaism teaches that the more people empathize with each other — the more our lives feel connected on the inside — the more we and our world can heal its rifts and injustices. Empathy is the felt sense that what happens to you happens to me. Empathy grows in shared experience and in knowing deeply that our fate is intertwined.

Judaism also teaches that sometimes only a radical change of perspective can help us see these and other fundamental truths.  Times in life come that are so big that suddenly they change everything.  Into each life, into your lives and my own, come those personal moments that transform us to our core.  Those transformation moments happen also to be the moments that we most feel our empathy – and it’s no coincidence.  It’s core spiritual truth.

This coronavirus moment isn’t only a personal moment: it’s a global moment, a moment for all humanity.  Moments that shift whole civilizations come more rarely than our own individual moments, but they come as sure as the flow of history itself.

Just last week, Judaism celebrated one of those collective moments.  It was Shavuot, the festival of receiving Torah, Jewish tradition’s anniversary of the moment when Moses and the Children of Israel stood together at Mount Sinai.  Torah recounts that they stood together k’ish echad — like one person – for only together could they receive the Ten Commandments.  Together as one, they saw Sinai smoke.  Together as one, their senses were so scrambled that they actually saw thunder: they saw the words of God.

That moment was so scrambling that it changed history forever.  Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the flow of spirit, the flow of history itself — they all trace back through Sinai.

It’s one of Judaism’s great contributions to the world — not just Torah, not just the Ten Commandments, not just rules for ethical living – but also the radical idea that a single moment of changed vision, shared together as one, can change everything.

On the Jewish calendar, that was last week — over and done.  The next major holiday is Rosh Hashanah months ahead.   So what now?

Maybe Judaism’s greatest teaching isn’t that the Ten Commandments were given in a burst of light and love on Mount Sinai, but rather that Torah didn’t end right then and there.  After Sinai there was a great journey ahead: far more of Torah’s Five Books of Moses come after Sinai than before!

We learn that our Torah, and our Judaism, aren’t about big moments only.  Torah was given into our hands for all of time to come – to carry and fulfill day after day, wherever life take us.

That is the deep meaning of this month following Shavuot.  It is on us to live those values, proud of our heritage but not resting on the heroism and struggles of our ancestors.  It’s not about then but about now: humanity needs every example of love, empathy and interconnection that we can offer — not just on holidays but every day.

You exemplified those principles to me and my community in New York, when we visited Cuba last autumn.  It was palpable and very special to us.  The Jews of Cuba changed forever how we see the world.  I suspect it all felt far less special to you, because it’s how you are.

You prove the Jewish principle that Jewish life is more than festival days.  It’s about the love, kindness, compassion and empathy we show each other every day.  These are the great jewels of Torah — to love another as we love ourselves, even when it’s difficult.  It is empathy, our shared identity and shared fate, that will help fulfill Torah in our own day, in this coronavirus moment now transforming the world.

From my heart to yours, I send blessings for resilience and health, and for all that we need to live these timeless values in a world that needs them — and needs us all.  Shalom chaverim.

By Rabbi David Markus. Translation by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

It’s Still About the Team: Re-building Leadership for Community Renewal

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Part of a yearlong series on Torah wisdom about building and builders.

How can you build a community when the people have known nothing but hardship and slavery? Are promises of freedom and redemption enough? What does a people need to feel safe enough to step forward and begin something new?

These are timeless questions, from Moses’ struggle on behalf of the downtrodden Children of Israel until today, when communities around the globe are being rent apart by war and warlords. Syria and Central America may be half a world apart, but for the civilian populations, the result of a breakdown in the social order is the same – misery, desperation, and ultimately flight to places unknown in the hopes of finding a place to build a better life.

So too with the Children of Israel. They were enslaved for so long that when Moses brought God’s message of redemption they were unable to listen, because they experienced “shortness of spirit and cruel bondage.” Exodus 6:9

God’s promises to free the people, deliver them, redeem them, and take them into the land that God had promised to their forefathers, fell on deaf ears. They could not imagine building a new reality for themselves.

Even Moses was dispirited, and complained to God that the people wouldn’t listen to him, and moreover that he was “a man of impeded speech.”

Building something new takes courage, motivation, and the ability to stick with a task despite setbacks and impediments. Even the smallest projects require a concerted effort. To build a community? That takes many people working towards the same goal, each taking responsibility for their own part of the job, knowing that the disparate elements will come together to create a single whole. It takes leadership at all levels; one visionary alone cannot create a new reality without the support of others, both leaders and followers.

God knew that Moses was the right person for the job, but also knew that Moses couldn’t do it alone. So God built what today we would call a leadership team, consisting of God, Moses, and Aaron. And, according to modern feminist midrash, the team included Miriam, called niviyah, prophetess, when she led the women in song after the crossing of the Reed Sea.

Together, God and the three siblings were able to build up the peoples’ confidence until they were ready to leave Egypt. The ten plagues were more than a display of power to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The plagues – which affected only the Egyptians and not the Children of Israel – were signs to the slaves that their cause was just, that their leaders had the strength and courage to help them build a new reality for themselves.

As we read the story of their flight from slavery to freedom, we know that there will be bumps in the road. Again and again, the peoples’ will fails them, and it will fall upon the shoulders of their leaders to ensure the success of their audacious venture. Although most of the time it is Moses who takes the brunt of their complaints, both Aaron and Miriam will have opportunities to step forward and help lead the people.

This is the genius of the leadership team that God built, and it offers a blueprint for today’s community-builders. Each of the siblings had different gifts. Moses had terrific leadership skills, but he couldn’t do it alone. He needed Aaron’s talents as a peace-maker and Miriam’s strengths as a nurturer.

As a pulpit rabbi, I quickly learned that I could not lead my congregation without the help and support of a strong group of lay leaders. Together, we have built a community that encourages its members – both long-time and newcomers – to step into leadership roles.

As our community grows and we build new lines of connection amongst ourselves, we keep in mind that building a community is an ongoing process, and requires a constant influx of new members, new ideas, and new leaders.

This does not mean that transitions are easy.  Change can be frightening. It takes strong leaders to help communities flourish and welcome new people, new ideas, new ways of viewing the world.  

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Today I believe that our nation is at a crossroads, floundering as our leaders refuse to understand the value of welcoming people who are different, and who have forgotten the stirring words of Emma Lazarus that are inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…”

Sadly, the people seeking refuge in our nation today are not being met with open arms. Instead, they are met by walls and barriers, both physical and psychological. They are trying to enter a country that has chosen to turn them away, to deny their humanity and treat them like vermin, not human beings.

People are flocking to our borders, seeking safety and the promise of a better life for themselves and their children. Like the Children of Israel in the desert, they are undertaking arduous, dangerous journeys to a place they have never seen.

The crimes against humanity that are being perpetuated by our own government are tearing down what America has striven to build. It represents an utter disregard for the promise that the builders of our nation made to themselves and to their descendants, that this would be a place where new ideas could take seed and the social experiment that is democracy could flourish.

The challenge is clear. Our task is to seek out and support leaders who are willing to rebuild that which is in danger of being destroyed. May we be blessed with the courage and strength to do so.

 

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By Rabbi Jennifer Singer. Sketchnotes by Steve Silbert.