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Showing posts from 2007
Shmot 2007/5768: "A World Without Children's Voices"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

The very beginning of Shmot/Exodus includes the following familiar narrative:

"A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him. (Ex. 2:1-4)"
The power of Moses' birth is largely lost when read in the context of his rescue by Pharaoh's daughter. Once we realize that his birth immediately follows Pharaoh's declaration that every male child born be thrown into the river (Exodus 1:22), the act of a certain man and woman of Levi gains in significance.

In fact, says the Midrash:

"... when Mose…
VaYigash 5768/2007: "Closer, Come Closer"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

An often overlooked message of the Joseph stories is the theology implicit in the way he explains the story to his brothers upon disclosing his identity. Joseph says:

"Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come forward to me." And when they came forward, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be distressed or reproach Yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure Your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and God has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt. (Gen. 45:4-8)"

In other words: The b…

Channukah 5768: "Contagious Flames"

© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

On the eve of the Seventh night of Channukah, these thoughts are shared in hope that the many internal conversations in our communities continue and ignite a healthy flame in the world around us. The circle perhaps begins in every individual, touching our shul community, our local neighborhood, state, our Country, Israel, and the world. As our Channukah experiences have likely contained many moments, both joyous and sad, I pray that all our homes be filled with increased light.

One classic source for an understanding of Channukah is found in the Talmud, in which we read:

"Our Rabbis taught: The mitzvah of Channukah is one light for a person and their household. The 'beautifiers' (Mehadrin) kindle a light for each member of the household. The 'extreme beautifiers' (Mehadrin min HaMehadrin), — Beit Shammai maintains: On the first day they light eight lights and thereafter they are gradually reduced, but Beit Hillel says: On the first day…

Prayer for Building an Aron Kodesh

Prayer for Building an Aron Kodesh
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Adonai, Infinite One, guide our hands.

Our hearts and minds are full of Yira, wonder, and Ahavah, love, as we commit to building this Aron Kodesh to house our sacred center, the Torah.

We have infused it with our imaginations, with history, with dreaming – and we pray that all who seek You find an aspect of this Holy Vessel with which to connect.

As we build, we build not just for ourselves, but we build for our children and for countless generations. As we place materials together, we mirror the builders of the Mishkan, Your temporary desert home from so long ago. We are mindful of the Beit HaMikdash, the Jerusalem Temple. We remember all the homes our community has known, and pledge to incorporate our community’s essence of this new container of Zikaron, Eternal Memory.

We build out of Ahavah, love, and Mesorah, the commitment to share and continue Jewish tradition. What we commit to building now is leDorot, forever.�…
A Reflection on Conservative Jewish Halacha© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

When inherited tradition and modern ethics collide, we might (and I believe should) define Torah according to Rabbi Ellie Spitz, who wrote "Torah is the unfolding narrative of the Jewish people." Our subjective sense of "what is right" IS Torah. And Halacha answers to Torah. So to the question: "if Halacha conflicts with ethics and reason, do we then reject the Halacha?" I respond as Maimonides did (according to Moshe Halbertal's "People of the Book"), by committing to making sure our implementation of the Torah conforms to our understanding of the world.

This is perhaps a reformulation of Rabbi Joel Roth's formulation of Halacha (in his "The Halakhic Process") as resting on the "grundnorm", a concept created by Hans Kelsen, who used the term to denote the underlying basis for a legal system. I believe that our grundnorm is "Torah", b…
An Ode to Remaining Broken: In a New York State of Mind© 2007 Rabbi Menachem CreditorWhat can you possibly do when the words “New York” can bring you to both your warmest childhood memories and to your hardest moment of life?Cars lined up in the street all the way down Broadway, people aching to give blood, give anything. No cell phone reception. Suddenly it’s 9/11, and you’re simply never going to be again who you were just this morning. This incredible pain. If you were “there” the shattered soul you own can break down looking at a policeman’s badge, a fireman’s hat, a person’s face, a lost father’s picture held by a child.How quickly we forget, and how hard it is to find anyone who understands. YouTube is full of the videos from “The Concert for New York,” full of the faces of the audience, still raw and reeling from rupture. Even Billy Joel seems to be working hard to get back into his New York State of Mind. The music is a strained roar – a conscious refusal to die.Here …
In Response to Matthew Taylor's "UC Must Divest From Israel's Apartheid"

In "UC Must Divest From Israel's Apartheid" Matthew Taylor spins and has misunderstood the realities in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories. It is far from clear that "normal life is impossible" within the Palestinian Territories because of aggressive Israeli policy. Fiscal and social collapse have largely been issues of failed self-governance within the PA and Hamas, and framing this anti-Israel campaign as exclusively one of human rights for Palestinians without once mentioning the terrorist onslaught against Israel in the last five years simply fans the flames of antisemitism (Jewish self hatred yet again) and anti-Zionism without sharing the burden of blame with gravity and balance.

No nation is immune to critique. No nation is perfect. But Israel's global prominence (due perhaps to the mystifying eternal Midd…
My God Doesn't Take
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

I cringe every time I recite "The Lord gives, the Lord takes, blessed be the Name of God," in the Book of Job. And I recite it often, at funerals and in mourning rituals. When my mentor Rabbi Neil Gillman challenged a class of almost-rabbis to translate the Hebrew phrase "Baruch Dayan Emet" roughly "Blessed is the True Judge", also a traditional response to hearing of a death) I refused. I don't mean it. I won't mean it. But I do say it. I recite both formulae, gritting my teeth every time, at funerals and other moments of mourning.

Loss and sadness call for ritual response, but associated Jewish rituals are typically full of words that betray even the best intentions to comfort. Do I believe that God takes people's lives or that a "True Judge" would end a life mid-course? I do not. And while when during the Amidah we recite "God who takes life and resurrects" I …
Yom Kippur 5768: "Truth and Love"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot ShalomWe begin with questions: What is faith? Can we have absolute faith in any source? Who has the right to judge the past? Given what we know about the transmission of the Torah and of tradition in general, and given the difficulty so many of us have with the question of absolute authority, how can we know what has truly happened and should our behaviors and decisions be based upon any tradition at all?? What is true?All words are human. We recite every Pesach that God’s outstretched arm brought us out of Egypt. Since it is a core Jewish belief that God has neither hands nor arms, such a description is an expression of God's power – a metaphor – and not a conception of God in physical form. Metaphor is rampant in the Torah. God has a heart. God is pleased. God gets angry. The literal Hebrew idiom for God’s anger is that "God's nose flared." But these are metaphors, analogies to …

A Yom Kippur Adaptation of Natasha Bedingfield's "Unwritten"

© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

We stand unwritten, undefined
Just beginning with pens in hand,
ending unplanned

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the window
Let the sun illuminate the words
that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin

No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips

Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Not Three Lonely Paths: “Reclaiming HaZedonot VeHaShegagot”

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
based on the original in Rabbi Samuel H. Dresner’s “Prayer, Humility, and Compassion”

A moment of prayer at a time of grief may break a proud heart. An unselfish act of love may take a person so out of herself that prayer will become possible. At what point God’s Love enters a person’s life and the course it may follow cannot be predicted, but of nothing should we be more certain that that it is continuously trying to break in upon us, to heal us, to visit us with comfort and compassion.

Prayer, humility, and compassion are three ways in which God enters the life of a person. They are not three lonely paths, each leading to its own end. They are connected one with the other, interacting constantly. For at the root of them all is God’s Love for all humanity.

The drama of receiving God’s Love and sharing it with others is surely the most profound action of human existence. But for that Love to enter at all, we must first raise the many heavy barriers to our hea…

A Prayer for the Preschool of Netivot Shalom

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Dear God,

With the world swirling around us, with the High Holidays bringing such intensity to every moment, I offer you my deepest thanks for the children in our shul's school who played, danced, and sang " Lashevet LaKum" (To Sit, To Stand) and "LeShannah Tovah" today, and for allowing me to hear them.

Thank You for the gift of incredibly devoted parents. Thank You for our teachers Lauren, Ofra, and Thea, who have guided grown-ups and children through a transition period. Thank you for David and Joe's tireless work, for Michael's skill and heart.

We pray all our dreams come to fruition, that the souls of our children feel Jewish warmth and personal love, that they touch, smell, taste, hear, and see their shul as a fun, special, sacred space for spiritual exploration and developmental curiosity. We pray that every moment of growth for our Preschool community be accompanied with healthy intentionality, and with the explicit desir…
Rosh HaShannah 5768: “Love Endures
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

[note: this is an adaptation of the remarks shared on the second day of Rosh HaShannah at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, CA.]
Names mean everything.

We learn from tradition “kishmo kein hu / we are the embodiments of our names” (I Sam. 25:25). When a baby’s name is chosen, parents search their memories and imaginations to imbue their child’s new name with redemptive dreams. While our children were named for members of our families who had died, we struggled to find meanings within their names that would suggest powerful and positive directions for their lives. What a supreme challenge, to venture into the unknown future of another, to shout their destiny every time you whisper their name.

Consider, then, the power of a person choosing to change their name, to claim a personal dream, a path not yet assigned!

In Jewish tradition, a name change can occur for a number of reasons, the most common of which is a tim…
9/11 2007: "My Heart is in the East"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Today is not like any other day. And yet, on the day before Rosh HaShannah it's hard to find someone whose eyes are pained like mine today, here in Berkeley, CA. I spoke last night to a sweet group of people of my memories of being in Manhattan 6 years ago today, my family's struggle to find each other, the baby beginning to grow within my wife, and people connected, but perhaps more to the person speaking than to the world that had changed for us all.

And every year the experience changes. There isn't liturgy. I've lit candles before, sung songs, felt the power of Tisha Be'Av creep into this universal day, recognize terrifying similarities between today and the binding of Isaac narrative, and today I sit even further away than every before from the place that, as my father has put it, will forever define the generations alive today.

What can we do today to make today different? Should today …
Yamim Nora'im 5768: "Reaching Beyond"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor
The image of the person is larger than the frame into which they have been compressed.
Adapted from Abraham Joshua Heschel

Each of the upcoming holidays brings us closer. Closer to each other, closer to our spiritual home, closer to those we remember. Rosh HaShannah reminds us that our world is a universal inheritance, Yom Kippur teaches us about inner and individual rebirth, and Sukkot invites us out of our homes into the waiting experiences of nature and consistent interaction.

A central challenge of our modern world, as I’ve experienced it, is leaving our sheltered homes to get into the car (itself a smaller sheltered world), arriving at our destination (shelter of a different kind), and returning via the same isolated route. This is one of the redemptive aspects of taking walks with new friends and sharing small group programs (as opposed to large group davenings) – we are out of our familiar s…
Fun and Trembling: Playing Rosh Hashanah Blog TagRabbi Menachem Creditor[note: This post is a conversation shared with and initiated by my friend and teacher Rabbi Hayim Herring, executive director of STAR: Synagogue Transformation and Renewal, who asked some friends to play a game of pre-Rosh HaShannah "virtual tag", and to invite every blogger we know to play, and to share our thoughts as we prepare personally and professionally for the Chagim. See the links that will be added to this blog entry as they are created! - rc]1] Life is incredibly precious, and the craziness in any one part can take over the others. The Personal Priority Holiness Code, (in which self must continuously gain as it gives) should be: Family, Community, World.2] Change for change's own sake is a mistake. Feel the need, allow it to express itself in the voices and faces of others before responding.
3] Birth is a process. It takes time, and rarely goes according to plan. Remembering the &quo…
A Reflection on the Conservative Movement © 2007 Rabbi Menachem Creditor
The deepest teacher to call the Conservative Movement home was Abraham Joshua Heschel, who prescribed the medicine required for rediscovering a dynamic Conservative Movement. He wrote: "To understand the meaning of the problem and to appreciate its urgency, we must keep alive in our reflection the situation of stress and strain in which it came to pass… and the necessity of confronting and being preoccupied with it." We, the inheritors of a Conservative Movement which has allowed itself to become more institutionally conservative than personally moving in recent decades, have spent enough time complaining about what is. It is time to confront where we are, armed with a surging hope for what can be.
We must see the birth of healthy movemental communication.The websites and publications of our core institutions represent fragmented visions of the whole at best.Where are the Conservative Jew…
The Shoah Scroll
(submitted to J.)

Irving Zale's letter " One Liturgy, Aug. 10" brought home for me both the power and the virtual impossibility of a unified prayer language. The liturgical practice for Tisha Be'av, as Zale points out, includes the Book of Lamentations, but the insertions into the prayers for the day vary widely. Yom HaShoah, whose very name changes according to venue (in Israel it is intentioned as a day of both victimhood and valiance as "Yom HaShoah vehaGevurah"), and whose date also varies (note the U.N.'s declaration that January 27 be marked as "Holocaust Remembrance Day"), has eluded so many attempts at ritualization.

I propose, however, that one recent attempt is worthy of communal reconsideration: The Shoah Scroll, written by Avigdor Shinan, a professor of Hebrew literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and commissioned by the Schechter Institute in Israel, is an evocative, authentic, and newly traditional text…
Clouds Shifting, Blessings in the Silence
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

As I sat in my shul sanctuary with a person l barely knew,
someone who had come looking for a rabbi to pray with her,

I found myself strumming my guitar,
sharing melodies,
staring at the clouds forming and reforming
in a clear blue sky.

Infinity was just right there.

And in the pauses between words and music,
I looked over and saw this very sad person smile.
Her face was full of possibility.

And the clouds kept shifting.
Aspaklaria: The Looking Glass -- "Finding Our Voice"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

In making The Prince of Egypt, a recent DreamWorks movie based on the biblical Exodus narrative, the filmmakers consulted with religious scholars for authentic guidance. They were particularly interested in God's voice – should it be male? Female? Digitized and therefore not-human? In the end, they decided that when God would speak to a character, God would speak in the voice of that very character. Val Kilmer's voice was used both for Moses and for God. Unfortunately, God only speaks to Moses in the movie, and so the theoretical female voice of God never actualizes.

Perhaps the moviemakers had learned the following Talmudic text:

"Rabbi Shimon ben Pazzi said: ‘From where do we learn that one who translates the Torah is not permitted to raise his voice above that of the Torah reader? Because the Torah says, "Moses spoke and God answered him by a voice. (Ex. 19:19)"…
Parashat Eikev 5767/2007: “Where Truth Awaits”
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

in loving memory of Israel “Swede” and Evelyn Goldstein z"l

It is precisely in the nexus between birth and death that Truth emerges. In what other possible way could the very Source of Life become apparent?

What defense can we manage when mortality fills our imaginations? How can dreams be limited when the first cries of a child fill the air?

We are commanded in this week’s Torah portion to ‘cast the images of their [idols] into the fire. (Deut. 7:25)’ Might we not read this instruction as a teaching that anything that seeks to encapsulate Infinity is a lie, and cannot remain as it is?

A baby is only newborn for a finite amount of time. Growth is the ongoing process. Nurturing and witnessing growth is an enduring and changing path.

Death is an event. The journey of the soul beyond this world continues. Surviving is an unending passage.

Infinity is palpable in the immediate…

Legacy and Family: A Hadran for Harry Potter

[note: this piece is deeply inspired by J.K. Rowling's final installment of the Harry Potter series. There will be no 'spoilers', but the emotionality of completing the book just now compels its own 'Hadran', its own traditional commitment to return and relearn its lessons.]

Legacy and Family: A Hadran for Harry Potter
© 2007 Rabbi Menachem Creditor

When my wife and I chose the names of our three precious children, we were committed to naming them after family members we had loved and lost. It struck me immediately, when our daughter Raya Meital was named only a few days ago, that the pantheon of my family was whole again. My Grandma z"l, my Sabbah z"l, and my great-uncle z"l were alive again. There are simply no words for the burn in my heart birthed by their names. Naomi Shemer wrote in Yerushalayim Shel Zahav that saying Jerusalem's name is like experiencing "the kiss of a Seraph." A Seraph is a fiery angel. Shemer was so right.…