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This Shabbat as you read this message many of you will be out of town enjoying the long holiday of Memorial Day Weekend while others will be enjoying a “stay-cation” right here in Denver. Either way, long weekends provide a perfect time to relish in the joys of summer and to grow ever closer to each other. I have so many fond memories as a child of enjoying the long weekend with my folks at the park playing catch or going to the beach and building sand castles. These long weekends are where some of the best memories of family, friendship and fellowship are made.
Shabbat, too, is about family, friendship and fellowship. It is about communing with God and sharing delicious meals with those we love and cherish. It is about having the time to nurture those friendships that need a bit of work. Every week we are given the blessing of Shabbat and on this weekend we are given an even longer weekend to accompany Shabbat with, let us take full advantage of it!
Throughout this Shabbat and weekend find the time to spend with your loved ones, whether family or friends. Try and find a bit of time to talk to God and enter into a soulful and prayerful conversation. On Sunday go out to a park or take a hike or perhaps just simply catch a good movie with others. The simple acts of love and kindness often produce some of the most lasting memories. Also, don’t forget to find some time to just be with yourself. Self-care is just as important as nurturing our relationships with others so if that means curling up with a good book, then go ahead!
Sending you all wishes for a peaceful, meaningful and enjoyable Shabbat and Memorial Day Weekend!
Rabbi Ben Greenberg
I hope you don’t mind that I use this space of my weekly message to remind you this week about our fabulous Shavuot evening program this coming Tuesday night. Not only will there be cheesecake and not only will we have fabulous kids and teens programming but we will also have a great evening of learning and exploration for all adults who wish to partake as well! Our theme this year is “Journey Through History” and features a fabulous guest teacher, Dr. Ben Elton.
Dr. Elton is a member of the Royal Historical Society of London and completed his PhD at the University of London on the topic of the British Chief Rabbis. Anyone who has ever opened up a Hertz Chumash before the advent of the Artscroll Chumash knows how influential the British Chief Rabbis have been and continue to be in the shaping of the English speaking Jewish world. Please take a look at the flyer for our program and I hope you will consider joining us for this fabulous evening!
Rabbi Ben Greenberg
On the night of May 14th something very special will be happening at our synagogue. We will be immersing ourselves into the texts and traditions of our people (along with good cheesecake!) in preparation for the revelation of the Torah. Like our ancestors some 3000 years ago, we will spend the evening in preparation and sacred study eagerly anticipating the first rays of light and with those first streaks of sunlight across the horizon will we usher in the moment of Sinai.
The Tikkun Leyl Shavuot is a remarkable evening of growth and inspiration. It is a time to connect to the most pivotal moment in the life of our nation. Passover is only half of a holiday without Shavuot. The nights at our Seder and holiday of our liberation are all in preparation for this night and its accompanying morning. Passover is the warm-up and Shavuot is where the experience of the Divine transpires. On Passover we become free. On Shavuot we become a people.
This year our joint Tikkun with DAT Minyan will feature Dr. Ben Elton as a visiting educator. Dr. Elton is a world renowned scholar of Jewish history, with a specialty on Anglo-Jewry and the British Chief Rabbinate. Dr. Elton attended college at the University of Cambridge and received his PhD from the University of London. He is a Fellow in the Royal Historical Society of London and a visiting professor at New York University. He is also pursuing his rabbinic ordination in New York and is the rabbinic intern at The National Synagogue in Washington D.C.
Our program will begin at 6:30 with a special pre-Shavuot learning experience featuring special programming for adults, kids and teens. Dr. Elton will present a fascinating and engaging class at 6:30 for adults on “The Essence of Shavuot” while our youth department has put together a highly interactive and dynamic program for the children and teenagers.
We will break at 8:00pm for evening services and our program will continue until 11:30 with a cheesecake break at 9:30 in the evening. All are welcome to continue the rest of the night with me at DAT Minyan concluding with a beautiful sunrise service.
More details will come in the days to come.
I look forward to seeing all of you there!
Rabbi Ben Greenberg
A rich and meaningful Jewish life is centered on engagement with the thoughts and ideas that have shaped our people for centuries. It is about delving into the great debates of our faith throughout the ages and discovering the eternal spark that has animated and enlivened our heritage. Adult Jewish education is much more than an exercise of the mind; it is an act of the heart and the soul.
This Shabbat afternoon we are beginning a new class series that I hope you will be able to join me for. The Rabbinic Mind will explore the thoughts and legal rulings of some of the greatest rabbis throughout Jewish history. Their opinions have shaped the very course of the Jewish future and we can best understand where we are going by learning where we came from. This class will traverse time and space as we travel through the centuries and from places as varied as the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Montreaux, Switzerland.
The Rabbinic Mind will meet every Shabbat afternoon, one hour before Shabbat mincha. This is a perfect way to spend your afternoons: a lively exploration of Jewish ideas followed by mincha and a delicious seudah shlishit. I look forward to seeing many of you at the class!
Rabbi Ben Greenberg
The double Torah portion of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim contains a most beautiful expression of Divine desire for the Jewish people: “kedoshim tehiyu, ki kadosh ani, Hashem Elokechem – You shall be holy, for holy am I, the Lord, your God.” We are directed to strive for a life infused with holiness. We are enjoined upon to be nothing less than holy.
What is holiness though? It is a word that takes up a lot of space in our imagination and conjures up many differing approaches, not all of them complementary with each other. Perhaps, the simplest way to derive a meaning for the word is to see it in context, in its most broad sense possible. The imperative to be holy is followed by an elaborate list of mitzvot. In that context then, holiness is a life imbued with the call of God and a commitment to live within the framework of God’s law and love.
We live in a remarkable era of halakhic Judaism. We live in a time where both men and women have the ability and the resources to access the highest levels of Jewish learning and scholarship. The pages of our rabbinic tradition are wide open to all who seek entrance, irrespective of gender. Likewise, we live in a time where both men and women are beginning to be valued for their wisdom, insight, intelligence and leadership in the Modern Orthodox community. We no longer deny our community the talents, brilliance and leadership of 51% of its population. We are better for it.
All who wish to live a life imbued with the call of God, men and women, are able to do so. All who wish to not only commit themselves to a life within a framework of God’s law and love are able to do so, but now both men and women, are able to exercise visionary leadership in that community as well. All are able to live their lives with kedusha, with authentic holiness that resonates with who they are and the time they are living in.
This weekend we in Denver are privileged to be hosts to one such remarkable woman who is transforming the very landscape of Modern Orthodoxy and bringing a seat to the table of communal leadership and empowerment for all those who wish to be there regardless of gender. Rabba Sara Hurwitz is an inspiration and an extraordinary human being. Sharon and I are privileged to call her a colleague, mentor and friend.
I hope you will join us throughout Shabbat to learn from her and be inspired by her.
Rabbi Ben Greenberg
This weekend is dedicated to Genetic Shabbat – a program that began 4 years ago in Chicago and has now spread throughout the country. Genetic Shabbat takes place on the Shabbat where we read the Torah portions of Tazria and Metzorah, portions of the Torah dealing with diseases. Whether we are thinking of having children, are done having children, have grandchildren or great grandchildren, we all must be aware of these issues that affect our community.
This is something that is very close to as it is for many Jewish families. It is extremely important that we educate ourselves and our young people about these issues so that we have the proper knowledge to make the correct decisions.
What is a Jewish genetic disorder? Certain inherited conditions occur more frequently in various ethnic and racial groups than in the general population. Such is the case for Jews as well, particularly those of Ashkenazi ancestry from Central and Eastern Europe. It is important to note that scientists have identified diseases that can affect those of Sephardic descent. Most Jewish genetic disorders are severely incapacitating, and some are tragically debilitating, leading to death in infancy or early childhood. Both parents must be carriers for a child to suffer from the disorder. It is of the utmost importance for all of us to be aware of these disorders and whether or not we might be carriers.
With every couple that I meet with before I perform a wedding, I discuss with them the importance of being tested. I encourage all of us to become more away of the diseases that can and do have an impact on our community.
Rabbi Ben Greenberg
This week we will experience once again Yom HaShoah, the day chosen by the State of Israel as the official moment to commemorate the unspeakable tragedy and attempted genocide of our people right in the midst of the 20th century, right in the midst of enlightened and modern Europe. Whenever I teach about the Spanish Inquisition or the Chelmenski Massacres, it is personal because it is part of the fabric of my people, but there is a certain level of detachment to those events. On the other hand, whenever I grapple with the Holocaust, it feels powerfully and tremendously real and present.
For the first part of my childhood I grew up with the belief that none of my family was touched by the devastation of the Shoah. I never heard about it in the home and my grandparents were silent on the issue so I assumed that my family simply left Europe before the nightmare began. It was only after I grew a bit older and began to ask some pointed questions to my grandparents did I realize how deeply the Holocaust touched our family. Indeed, it took me years to realize that the silence was testimony to the magnitude of pain and suffering that my grandmother and her sister lived with on a daily basis.
Sometimes the pain is so overwhelming; the hurt so intolerable that the only thing we can do is to be silent. There are no words to console or expressions to mollify. If time can be said to heal those wounds it is moving very, very slowly. Perhaps that explains the puzzling reaction by Aaron in this week’s Parsha to the harsh and unexpected death of his two sons, Nadav and Avihu. In fact, his two sons were murdered by a raging fire that bears little rhyme or reason; a fire that we cannot explain or fits within our way of understanding how the world should work. The word “Holocaust” means in Greek to be consumed by fire. Upon receiving word of the death of his two children, the Torah says “va’yidom Aharon,” and Aaron was silent.
When I think of Aaron’s silence, I think of the prolonged silence of my grandparents and their generation of our family, who did not and could not speak of the atrocities they experienced, the dislocation and uprooting they lived through and the sudden, vicious loss of their parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. Their grief was heard through their silence, so too was Aaron’s grief expressed through his silence.
Our Biblical ancestors provide models and archetypes for future generations. Aaron, in this Biblical moment, gave us the permission when facing severe grief to not talk if we are unable to do so. Through Aaron’s example, we learn that it is alright to just sit in the silence of our grief.
This Yom HaShoah, I will be thinking of my grandparents and of our Biblical grandfather Aaron, as we once again grapple with what cannot be grappled with, attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible and reconcile ourselves with the irreconcilable. And through it all I will be mindful of the words of Elie Weisel about the dangers of another type of silence: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Rabbi Ben Greenberg
Classes are cancelled and the office is closed, but services are still in full swing. Check the schedule below for updated Shabbat and Service times.
This coming week we will sit down at our sedarim and immerse ourselves in the ancient rituals of our people. We do so in order to not simply know the story but we do so in order to experience the great epic of the Exodus ourselves. The Sages, of blessed memory, instruct that each and every generation must see itself as having personally left Egypt. The rituals we perform, the words we utter and the foods we eat are meant to evoke the full range of human emotion in order to transport us back to the days of ancient Egypt, to the land of the Pharaohs, and be ready to be redeemed.
Indeed, it is not difficult for each and every generation to identify the unique Egypt that enslaves them. The word in Hebrew for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means “from the constraints,” because ancient Egypt was a place of constriction, servitude and enslavement for our ancestors. In every generation there are those aspects of our personal lives or parts of our societal context that enslaves us. What are those elements in your life? What is the Mitzrayim that you seek to free yourself from this Passover?
Personally, all who know me know that I am a bit of a technology geek. I love new technology – experimenting with it, learning how to use it and learning the limits of it – and I often desire to have the latest and greatest technological advancement. When analysts of social change discuss the waves of adaptation to new technologies, whether the personal computer, the Internet or mobile devices, they discuss the “early adopters,” those of us who take that first step. I am definitely a technological “early adopter.”
My fascination with technology though brought me to a habit of when waking up, before even getting out of bed, going to check my phone. Even though it was rare an email was sent to me in the middle of the night that was not spam, nonetheless, I had developed an irresistible habit of first checking my phone before doing anything else. It took me a lot of mental focus and self-awareness to break that habit. For me, that was an example of an element of Mitzrayim.
These nights of the seder, pause and consider the areas in your own life you wish to overcome and how we can all move from constriction to openness, from enslavement to true freedom.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher v’Sameach,
Rabbi Ben Greenberg