I think we could all use a little more mercy and compassion. Day after day, the news is filled with fighting, chaos, and tragedy. It can be disheartening and dejecting. We may even find ourselves at odds with the people we love who may feel differently about politics or religion, or who simply interpret an event or action in a different way. It may be difficult to remain civil in the face of conflict, but this week’s Torah portion reminds us that we are capable of great mercy and understanding that can help us respond to trying situations.
A few years ago, I was invited to become part of an interfaith clergy group in Brooklyn. The group had historically comprised mainly Christians of various denominations, and it was trying to get rabbis and imams involved. The group remained mostly Christian, with one imam and me, and maybe one other Jewish clergy member. The first time I attended, I was the only non-Christian present.
I was asked recently: “Do you believe God is really listening?”
Why is it that synagogue and church attendance drops in the summer? For years, churches and synagogues have noticed what has come to be called a “summer slump.” Attendance might drop by as much as 20 percent. It’s unlikely that 20% of attendees are away on vacation. Americans certainly don’t get enough vacation for that to be the case. USA Today reports that “the United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation.”
Recently, a new artisan storefront opened near my Main Street home. As I like to support local artisans, I wandered in for a look. “Our name is Just Jewellery,” said the salesperson. “We specialize in silver and semiprecious stones, featuring the work of several local artists…”
At the end of the week, I embark on a weeklong meditation retreat. As the retreat starts, and for its duration, I will not be permitted to check e-mail or use my phone. Though I’ve gone on over a dozen silent meditation retreats, the prospect of a week away from these distractions still frightens me. I will miss seeing what news stories my friends are interested in and sharing on Facebook, and being able to text friends and family to say “hi,” or wish them a Shabbat Shalom. On the other hand, I worry sometimes that all this focus on building up my virtual self—“Liking” and “Sharing” the right things, posting enticing photos on Facebook, and trying to respond to all of my e-mails—prevents me from experiencing the world around me.
I’ve been looking for meaningful full-time work since crash-landing in Philadelphia in August. After living in Boston for eight years and being known and seen as a resource in the community, I suddenly found myself a stranger again, trying to make it as a rabbi in a new city – one full of other talented rabbis, no less.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We