From Rabbi Lieberman

  • Angels of Reunions

    Posted ‍‍ח סיון ה תשעא - June 10, 2011 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    You are probably aware that Judaism provides us with opportunities to imbue with sanctity virtually every experience through the recitation of a b’racha–a blessing. There are b’rachot to be recited upon hearing thunder, encountering a person of unusual stature or extraordinary beauty or seeing a head of state. There is a b’racha to be recited when one encounters a friend that one has not seen in more than thirty days. That blessing is known as Sh’hechianu, a formulation that praises God for giving us life, sustaining us and enabling us to reach special moments…such as reunions. Rabbi Levi Cooper, of Jerusalem’s Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, writes: “This blessing is generally recited at festivals and upon other seasonal events, such as tasting a new fruit. The benediction is also mandated for moments of personal joy, for instance upon the acquisition of significant new possessions. In this spirit, seeing a friend after a lapse of 30 days warrants the recital.”

    There is extensive debate in rabbinic literature over the obligation to recite this blessing. Understandably, the rabbis are concerned that, in certain situations–such as a monthly market-day–one would be so involved with reciting that blessing that one would never be able to engage in commerce.

    There is another b’racha mandated by Jewish tradition when one encounters a friend that one has not seen for a year. It praises God for “giving life to the dead”. Rabbi Cooper continues: “It sounds somewhat strange to recite the blessing over the revival of the dead just because you have not seen a friend for a year; an extended absence is hardly akin to the finality of death. One early hassidic master – Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz (1726-1791) – explained the blessing in mystical terms: The joy of two people meeting creates an angel. This angel has a limited life expectancy of one year. If within this period the two meet again, the angel receives a new lease on life. Alas, after a 12-month separation between friends, the angel is no more. When friends meet again after a year-long absence, the angel is resurrected. The blessing is pronounced over the miraculous revival of their joint angel and thus the benediction over resuscitating the deceased is appropriate.”

    I love that image….loving reunions engendering angels!

    I had two occasions in recent months to think of the blessings that are recited, and created, by reunions. In the first instance, I received a phone-call from a first-cousin of mine whom I’d not seen in at least twenty-five years. It turns out that he has been living in Falmouth for the past six years and only recently discovered that we live in the same town! We had a wonderful reunion.

    On the second occasion, I reconnected with a dear friend I had last seen in 1979. We had met when we were both unemployed, living in New York next door to one another. He was a talented young Brazilian musician and we spent many an evening on the stoop of our apartment building, making music together.

    I lost touch with my friend, wondering often through the decades what had become of him. Then, last year, I opened the Boston Globe to see a photo and an article about my long-lost friend! It seems that he has been a globe-trotting street musician in the intervening decades and he often spends the summer in Boston, entertaining tourists with his music. Through a time-consuming and convoluted process we reconnected by e-mail and finally, in early June, we had our face-to-face, angel-birthing, reunion. It was extraordinary, deeply-moving and spiritually uplifting for us both.

    In a Googling, Facebooking, Twittering age, it is easier than ever to track down those we’ve not seen in years. Not every long-lost friend wants to be found and not every formerly-healthy relationship can be resurrected. But I can personally attest to the power of such encounters and the potential therein to give birth to “angels” of holiness and blessing.

    Reb Elias

  • Wedding Season

    Posted ‍‍ו אייר ה תשעא - May 10, 2011 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    It’s wedding season….and in 2011 I will be officiating at seven weddings, three of which involve a young person who grew up in our congregation. You can imagine, I’m sure, what a unique joy it is to stand beneath a chuppah with a young person I have watched grow up. It is one of the special pleasures and privileges of serving a community, as I have, for over two decades now.

    You may also be aware that, for the first eighteen years of my tenure here it was my policy not to officiate at interfaith weddings. A long reexamination of that policy culminated in my sharing, at the High Holy Days in 2008, a change in my officiation policy. I would henceforth, I announced, welcome the opportunity to officiate at weddings where one of the partners is a Jew and where the couple manifests a desire and intention to create a Jewish family together.

    So, with a number of interfaith weddings on my calendar for this year, let me give you an update on the consequences of my policy change. Here is some of what I have learned (and am still learning) over the past three years:

    •    Every couple, and every family from which the two halves of a couple emerge, is unique. It is absolutely vital that I bring open ears, an open mind and an open heart to the conversations I have with interfaith couples who invite me to officiate at their weddings.

    •    Being asked to view Judaism and Jewish traditions from the vantage point of someone who stands outside of Judaism is crucial to my determining how I can best address the needs and concerns of interfaith couples.

    •    Merely because I have done something a certain way for a long while, or the fact that it’s comfortable to do so, does not necessarily mean that couples are well-served by my decisions. Being asked (or challenged) to reconsider a particular element or ritual in the wedding ceremony has been part of an important learning curve for me.

    •    More than any other life-cycle observance, weddings push me to define for myself my relationship to Jewish law and tradition. What is malleable and subject to transformation? Where lies the bedrock of tradition that I would not presume to alter?

    •    Growing up in a Jewish home is not a predictor of Jewish attachment and commitment. Nor is entering an interfaith marriage a predictor of an attenuation of Jewish connections.  Because there is, in every marriage,  a complicated web of influences and decisions to be made at each step of the way, I view my role as a resource and an educator for all couples but, especially so, for interfaith couples. I advocate for open and clear discussions between partners and for Jewish choices that are reflective of each couple’s unique history and relationship.

    In short, I have not regretted for a moment the decision I made to officiate at interfaith weddings under the conditions I felt it appropriate to impose. Marriage is a wonderful vessel to enfold and nurture kedusha (holiness) and, just as every hand-made piece of pottery is unique, so, too, is every marriage.

    Reb Elias

  • Purim and the Politics of Power

    Posted ‍‍יא אדר ב' ה תשעא - March 17, 2011 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off


    Have you ever noticed the phenomenon in which, as soon as you turn your attention to a given subject, it starts popping up in all kinds of places? Our Text Tuesday group began its exploration of the Book of Esther a number of weeks ago and, since then, I have encountered a number of news articles and essays which, in one way or another, relate to the Book of Esther, to Purim or to both. Just within the past few weeks I came across an essay in the online digest, Jewish Ideas Daily, on “Cyrus, Ahmadinejad, and the Politics of Purim”. Before that, it was a press release from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency documenting Iran?s downgrading of the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai as an official pilgrimage site (calling it a shrine to the “genocide perpetrated by Jews against Iranians” in the fictitious story of Esther).


    As we approach the celebration of the multivalent holiday we call Purim, we will profit from making the time to explore its themes that bring us the ever-new message of the capriciousness of Jewish existence, the vagaries of power, and the need for vigilance in a constantly-shifting political landscape.


    Now, if all of the aforementioned is making you think of events that have been unfolding in Egypt over the past month, it is no coincidence. Among other things, the story of Purim reminds us that political certainties can be transformed overnight; that today?s partner in peace may be tomorrow?s deadly antagonist; that the despot calling the shots today may be swinging from a gallows, or booking a flight for Saudi Arabia, tomorrow. The complex drama unfolding in the Middle East that has sent shock-waves through Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan, has even the sharpest pundits guessing about the outcome and, especially, its long-term implications for Israel.


    And, if we are tempted to view this situation through the lens of the lessons that Purim brings us, what shall we conclude? Is Egypt?s Moslem Brotherhood the “Haman” who must, at all costs, be kept from gaining control? Does the plot of the story of Esther and Mordechai blind us to the fact that it is, more than anything else, a carefully constructed farce, blurring any possible parallels with what is unfolding in the Arab world? Does the implicit message of Purim that, when push comes to shove, only Jews will defend Jewish interests, resonate with us and, perhaps, suggest the relationship we choose with the State of Israel?


    Scholars note that the Book of Esther is one which very much reflects the reality of a Diaspora Jewish community, one that, like its Jewish counterparts through the centuries, knew what it meant to be, alternately or simultaneously, marginalized, valued and, at times, persecuted. This is how many of us understand the position of Israel on the global stage. How ironic that Israel, the culmination of the Zionist dream of escaping the problems inherent in living in Diaspora, should find itself experiencing so many of them: vilification, opprobrium, anxiety, isolation.


    Like you, I will continue anxiously to follow the dramatic changes that threaten to reshape the Middle East political landscape. In the interim, I will throw myself into our celebration of Purim, on Saturday night, March 19with a heightened respect for the holiday?s themes and with a deepened commitment to the joy of Jewish living that it also bring us. I hope you?ll be there to celebrate with me!


    Reb Elias


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