Rabbi's Letter

January 17, 2018
1 Shevat 5778
Dear Friends,

What a busy week here at B’nai Israel and this is the quiet time of year. That makes me laugh because we are so blessed to be crazy busy all of the time here at B’nai Israel. What a great commentary on the thriving Jewish life we have to share.

This week I would like to share with you the sermon I wrote for this past Shabbat of Va’era. It seemed to be a conflation of the happenings of the universe all coming together at a soulful intersection which always hints to me of the mystery of Torah.

When our eyes are open and our minds sensitive to the limitless lines of connection that abound all around us, we begin to see how our lives intersect at so many places and on so many levels.

This is where my soul converged over the Dr. Martin Luther King Weekend with the story of Exodus as they converged.
Shabbat shalom everybody.

Well this has been a challenging week for me in terms of sermonizing,

Actually, I’ve been excited all week to teach you about a beautiful piece of Torah here in Vaera.

You know, that we are thick deep in the Passover story right now and though, those of you who know me know that I take every opportunity I can to teach in my sermons and my classes about the central, the very core story that makes up the Jewish mission, this, the tale of human enslavement and God’s will that humanity be set free, I thought that I would leave slavery aside on this Shabbat, something I’m rarely apt to do.

I wanted to share with you the beauty of a passage that we read this week where, once we have entered the Book of Exodus, God says to Moses, I was known as El Shadda i to your ancestors, (back in the Book of Genesis) the God of nature, but I am going to share with you, Moses and my Israelite children, My CORE name, I am……… 
                          Yud Hey Vav Hey. (four Hebrew letters)

We call this name the Tetragrammaton  יהוה is the four-letter biblical name of the God of Israel. 

This name of God that can only be translated through the verb of TO BE,

The closest translation is…… I am what I have been, I am what I am and I am what I will be.

Now that’s some name!

This name is a process, it is living, it is pulsating, it is integrating and it is evolving.

I wanted to make sure you understood that the once upon a time the Biblical Hebrew text had NO vowels at all. It wasn’t until the Massorites in the 9 th century added all of those little scribbles that became the mechanism for determining the vowels of the consonants and the right way to pronounce the words. 

Before that the Yud Hey and Vav functioned in Biblical Hebrew as vowels for the text. In other words, in a very esoteric sense you needed to have Gods name in your mouth to be able to pronounce the words correctly, that alone is a beautiful lesson, and yes, I could and probably will, one day write a sermon on that. So wait for it!

Yud Hey Vav Hey are ALL vowels, the tradition says that we are not allowed to pronounce the name of God, no, it is too sacred, too presumptuous of us, too arrogant even. How dare we mere mortals say God’s name?

While what the prohibition really means is that, you can’t pronounce the name of God, it is all air, all vowels, it is all breath, IT IS BREATH.
In the Book of Exodus, God is ready to tell us Jews, I am as close to you and your own breath. That is a God who wants an intimate relationship with humanity. God is present in your breathing.

Yes, that’s the direction that I wanted to take this week with my sermon but something happened last night after my Spiritual roots class had gone home and I sat down to watch the evening news.

During the time of this week’s story in Egypt 3300 years ago,

We were refugees
We were a homeless people, stateless
We were poverty stricken, disease ridden, we were despised and belittled. We were enslaved and blamed for our own degraded state in life. We were called, and not for the first time, vermin. We were refugees.
Or if I am to use the modern vernacular, we were LOSERS.

We were the target of racists and the aggression they brought to our peoplehood was deeply destructive and demoralizing. We couldn’t get up……until we could!

What is a racist?
It is a human being who believes NOT what is written on the first page of the Torah, that all human beings are one creation, one family and ALL created in the diverse and beautiful image of God.

A racist believes that there are, more worthy, and less worthy human beings and that worth can be determined by the physical attributes of imagined races, color, gender, poverty, sexual orientation, physical weakness and mental impairment.

That is a racist, it is someone who believes that there are different races of people, rather than believing that there is one human family with a million brilliant differences among them.

I wasn’t going to talk about slavery this Shabbat…..and then I watched the evening news last night

If I were going to be vulgar, which I wont, because I am a Rabbi, a public figure, a model of behavior and a teacher by virtue of my position. Not unlike any other public figure of service to the common good,

but if I were going to be vulgar, I might say that being a slave, being the object of racist aggression, that being a refugee , that being a human soul with no place to call home and to wander aimlessly in search of a secure corner of the world to settle, must feel like one is living in a filthy hole.

Perhaps that is what it must feel like……
YET, we would NEVER describe someone’s life that way, GOD forbid!

Because we are NOT racists. We love God’s humanity as we have been commanded to do.

We were once slaves in Egypt and we found our way out. Why? So that we could learn how to help others who are caught in the jaws of a life deemed unworthy by those with the power to enslave.
So we could help those who have no voice, or who others refuse to hear.

I wasn’t going to talk about slavery until I watched the evening news.

What must it feel like today to be a Haitian, an African, an El Salvadorian or poor black child?

Who wants these worthless people in our great country?

Rabbi Julie does.

And Id bet everything I own in this world a hundred times over, to say, Loud and Proud that God does too.

Tell the children that we are NOT racists.
Tell them what a racist is.
Tell them that it is wrong.
Tell them that NO ONE should ever speak such ugly words about someone else’s home, or color, or gender, or worth.

Counter the lessons that are seeping into the cells of our collective psyche that reek of hatred and racism and crude materialism.

Teach the children that Money does not make you great,
Goodness does
America has the potential for greatness ONLY in as much as it reaches out its arms for the displaced, the poor, the homeless, the huddled masses yearning to be free. The black, white, brown, yellow, I don’t care what beautiful color God ‘s paintbrush used, I care about decency.

Racism is slavery
It enslaves the other under the guise of arrogant power
It enables violence and it destroys morality

Tell your children that God loves diversity. Tell them that human potential has no boundaries. We are all capable and those that have MUST reach a hand out to those who have little.

Don’t forget from where you have come
We started as slaves
Our greatness is ONLY in the way that we are committed to eradicating slavery all together.

I cried last night out of shame, out of knowing how many people were hurt by such ugly sentiments. Out of the mouth of the highest and most powerful office on this planet, such words.……. I cried because God is looking down and asking, what are you doing? What in God’s name is going on? I have asked you to STOP racism, stop hatred and STOP cruelty towards each other. Why then is it growing?

So my intended soft and wispy sermon about God’s name being found in your deep inhale and exhale, and that the mystery is THAT close, has morphed a bit into another cry for freedom, for love, for goodness to rise up and crush the forces of evil that breed hatred and division.

Sometimes things need to be said

Racism is a beast and if you don’t feel threatened by it today, watch out for tomorrow.

Take your stand, we, the Jews, are the original freedom fighters.

Racism is evil. Take a stand.

Shabbat shalom
באהבה ושלום

Shabbat Shalom to all!
הרב אלישבע בת דוד ודבורה
Rabbi Julie Kozlow
(910) 762-1117 ~ B'nai Israel phone