From Rabbi Lieberman

  • To the New Year

    Posted ‍‍יב טבת ה תשעז - January 10, 2017 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    golden-circle-new-year-vintage-background_1017-6008To the New Year
    W. S. Merwin

    With what stillness at last
    you appear in the valley
    your first sunlight reaching down
    to touch the tips of a few
    high leaves that do not stir
    as though they had not noticed
    and did not know you at all
    then the voice of a dove calls
    from far away in itself
    to the hush of the morning

    so this is the sound of you
    here and now whether or not
    anyone hears it this is
    where we have come with our age
    our knowledge such as it is
    and our hopes such as they are
    invisible before us
    untouched and still possible

    [From Present Company, Copper Canyon Press, 2005. Copyright © 2005]

    The last stanza of Merwin’s poem offers such a potent image to carry into the new year– ”hopes [....] untouched and still possible”. Leaving behind a year in which so many precious hopes were sullied beyond recognition or simply obliterated beneath the weight of disturbing new realities, it is so important to renew our commitment to birthing new, untouched hopes and to nurture them to maturity.

    In his speech addressing the Democratic National Convention in 2004, President Barack Obama said: “In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? [... ] I’m not talking about blind optimism here — the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; [...]the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!”

    Twelve years later we are called upon to exercise that very same audacity, to generate hope and, from a foundation of hope, to address the many challenges awaiting us in 2018 and beyond.

    Reb Elias

  • The Morning After

    Posted ‍‍ט חשון ה תשעז - November 10, 2016 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    Head in HandsNovember 9, 2016…….The Morning After

    I am not a believer in serendipity. Nonetheless, I am always pleased when it shows up.

    I went to sleep late on the night of Tuesday, November 8th already understanding that Donald Trump was headed to victory. Awakening early on Wednesday morning, I made a cursory examination of online sources to confirm my fears, and then turned it off. There would be time enough for analysis, hand-wringing and lamentation. Besides, I had an 8:00 AM appointment to have my car serviced.

    At the dealership I retreated to the quiet room (Thank you, Falmouth Toyota for that mini-oasis from the blare and bleat of television!) and pulled from my briefcase a newly-published book that Lori had picked up for me at the library, knowing of my longstanding interest in poetry: The Best American Poetry 2016, Guest Editor Edward Hirsch, published in September of this year.

    Poetry often serves as an escape hatch for me, a way to momentarily set troubles aside and to view the world through the prescription lenses of another sensibility. Sometimes I am even blessed with insights, comfort or inspiration that I can take away from my encounter with a poem.

    So, this morning I cracked open this volume and read the introduction by the series editor, David Lehman, who chose to share William Butler Yeats poem “The Second Coming”, written in 1919, a poem which includes the now-famous lines: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Commenting on those two lines Lehman writes:

    “The aphorism retains its authority as an observation and a warning. Think of the the absence of backbone with which certain right-minded individuals may be said to have met the threats of one bloody ism or another since the 1930s. Or consider our self-doubt and shaken confidence today, our lack of unity, the stalemate between rival factions. (In at least one sense our House is divided against itself.) On the opposite side, jihadists and advocates of Sharia are rightly known for their extreme zealotry. All totalitarian regimes are based on dogma, and all dogmas demand of their followers a ‘passionate intensity’ capable of overwhelming all other considerations.”

    So, avoiding Facebook and online news sources, I searched online for some poetic expression to feed my need for solace and found this: O Me! O Life!

    Walt Whitman
    Source: Leaves of Grass (1892)

    Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
    Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
    Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
    Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
    Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
    Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
    The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

    That you are here—that life exists and identity,
    That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

    Kenneth Duva Burke, an American literary theorist who had a powerful impact on 20th-century philosophy, aesthetics, criticism, and rhetorical theory, called literature “equipment for living”. I am glad that I am able to keep at hand poems that speak to me and which provide solace, uplift, necessary questions and inspiration–the “equipment for living”–that I will need now more than ever if, as Whitman believed, each of us “may contribute a verse” to the powerful play that demands our involvement as long as we are privileged to draw breath.

    Reb Elias

  • Why I support Ballot Question #4 – Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

    Posted ‍‍יב תשרי ה תשעז - October 14, 2016 By in Rabbi's Thoughts, Uncategorized With | Comments Off

    israel-mmj-flag[1]In one of my High Holy Day sermons this year, I explained my support for Massachusetts Ballot Question #3, which would prohibit certain methods of farm animal containment, a measure fully in consonance with Judaism’s command that we not inflict unnecessary suffering on animals.

    In that same sermon I made passing reference to my support for Ballot Question #4, which would legalize recreational marijuana for individuals at least 21 years old. I want to take this opportunity to articulate my reasons for supporting this ballot initiative.

    I came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It was when I entered college, in 1971, that I first experimented with “soft” drugs: marijuana, Quaaludes, LSD. I was an experimenter, never a regular user, but I am glad for my exposure to those substances and those experiences. For me, they were part of the process of maturization, of learning to make decisions on my own about what was in my best interests.

    Fast forward to 2016, the year in which I read Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari, an eye-opening account of the tremendous and unnecessary toll that the criminalization of drug-use has taken on our society and our world. It lifts up for examination, and shatters, many an assumption about the nature of addiction, U.S. federal drug policy, and the ever-increasing price we pay for treating drug-use as a justice issue and not a public-health issue.

    The increasing number of states authorizing the medical use of marijuana is encouraging, even if Massachusetts is dragging its feet in establishing an appropriate number of dispensaries. I know, personally, a number of people whose lives are made easier and whose suffering is diminished, through their use of marijuana.

    Ballot Question #4 has a broader goal: the legalization of marijuana for purchase and consumption by adults over 21. Massachusetts would join Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C. in adopting such a policy. What has been learned from the experiences of those other localities?

    Here are some facts worth noting:

    • Marijuana arrests have plummeted in the states that legalized marijuana, although disproportionate enforcement of marijuana crimes against black people continues.

    • Statewide surveys of youth in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon found that there were no significant increases in youth marijuana use post-legalization.

    • Tax revenues in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have all exceeded initial revenue estimates, totaling $552 million.

    • Legalization has not led to more dangerous road conditions, as traffic fatality rates have remained stable in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon.

    • Prescription drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Many of these overdoses are related to the increasing number of people taking opiate-based medications for pain related conditions. Marijuana has been shown as an effective treatment for pain, and has a better safety profile than opiates with less risk for dependence and no risk of fatal overdose. States that have passed medical marijuana laws have seen a decrease in opiate related mortality, and medical marijuana patients are claiming that the use of marijuana as a substitute for opiates is resulting in relief without the worries about dependence.

    [Source: ]

    One of the more compelling reasons to legalize marijuana is to remove it from the hands of criminal enterprises, thereby reducing and helping to eliminate the violent crime to which that illicit drug trade gives rise. Our nation’s experience with Prohibition offers stark evidence that the legalization of substances that people will use, whether legal or not (i.e. alcohol and tobacco), is a far better option for society than prohibition. Moreover, the harm done by alcohol and tobacco, both of which are legally consumed, is well-established and substantial. The harm associated with marijuana use is, largely, anecdotal and pales by comparison with that of alcohol and tobacco.

    There are certainly legitimate questions about the implementation of marijuana legalization, if the ballot question passes. But those questions and practices will be left to the legislature to craft, just has been done in other localities, to best address the needs of our Commonwealth. I urge you to make the time to research this topic for yourselves and to bring the knowledge you gain with you into the voting booth on November 8th.

    Reb Elias

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