Water, Water, Everywhere…

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A d’var Torah for Parashat VaYakhel by Rabbi Lee Moore

 

 

This post was originally featured in “Torah from T’ruah” – a weekly emailed d’var torah sent from T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.  Each week a different friend/associate of T’ruah examines the weekly torah portion and connects themes of human rights and social justice to the parashah.  To sign up for more, click here.
“I knew something like this was coming,” said the octogenarian with wizened face and farmer’s posture. “I’ve been a township trustee for over 40 years. It used to be that new drilling sites had to be approved by the township. Just a few years ago, the state took our power away. Now they alone can regulate drilling decisions. There is nothing we can do
to stop this.”

At this point, my heart dropped. This was a handful of years ago at a local meeting about fracking in my county seat. I’d seen the movie Gasland and was concerned about how fracking might impact my own region. Since that time, a multitude of injection wells have been filled in my Ohio county, each one a threat to our water supply. Of all the potentially
disturbing facts and figures about fracking, the most disturbing to me was the way that decision-making about such an important and delicate issue had been removed from my locally elected officials.

Three weeks ago, we read G!d’s instruction to ‘make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.’ This week the mishkan, or tabernacle, will be constructed without a hitch. However, before the mishkan was crafted, we can imagine a fair amount of anxiety among the Israelites. If the mishkan were not built correctly, G!d would not dwell among the people. This important and delicate task must be entrusted to the right person.

See, G!d called by name Betzalel, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He filled him with a divine spirit, with wisdom, with insight and with knowledge. (Exodus 35:30-31)

In the Babylonian Talmud (Berachot 55a), Rav points out that wisdominsight and knowledge are the same qualities through which G!d founded the earth (wisdom), created the heavens (insight) and uprooted primordial chaos (knowledge) in Proverbs 3:19-20. Commenting on this Talmudic perspective, Rav Kook points out that “the master craftsman [Betzalel] was privy to the very secrets of creation.

Any complex system – like every natural and social system — is made up of parts that interact with each other. A leader who thinks with a systems-mindset will always try to understand the relationships among those parts, the relationships between the parts and the whole system, and what emerges beyond the parts. This awareness of the very building blocks of reality, a truly systems-perspective, is one way to imagine why and how Betzalel would be the right kind of leader for this project. To steward a process as precious as creating the human-divine meeting place, a leader must understand the essential systems by which life and world are created.

On the same page of Talmud however, another sage sees this story not as a divine decree, but as an inclusive process. Rabbi Itzchak Naphkha reads Exodus 35:30 as Moses going to the people for approval of G!d’s choice. As he reads the story,

G!d says to Moses – Moses, is he suitable for you? He said, ‘Master of the Universe, if he is suitable for you, then all the more so for me!’ [G!d said] ‘nevertheless, go and tell [Israel, and ask their opinion.’] He went and said to Israel, ‘Is Betzalel suitable for you?’ They said to him, ‘If he is suitable for the Holy One Blessed be He and for you, then all the more so for us!’

When Moses gives the Israelites veto power, they do not choose to exercise it. Still, Rabbi Itzchak deduces that ‘One may only appoint a leader over the community if they consult with the community.’ The people are not passive recipients of choices made for them. In Rabbi Itzchak’s version, Betzalel is only made leader because the people affirm him.

To steward a process as precious as water safety, a leader must understand the essential systems by which life and world are created — or at least approach that by employing a systems perspective. AND have the vote of confidence of the people whose water is at stake — whether in Ohio, Flint or elsewhere. We can only hope that those who determine water safety will be guided by wisdom that accounts for future generations’ needs, insight fueled by the precautionary principle, and knowledge of the best ways to balance public health with economic stability.

Dynamic Balancing: Notes from our Omer Count

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Post by Rabbi Lee Moore

Shavuot is just around the corner. Meaning ‘weeks’ in Hebrew, this under-observed holiday among many North American Jews celebrates the offering of first fruits in Temple times and, according to Rabbinic teaching, the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai following the Exodus from Egypt. The period between Pesach and Shavuot is marked by seven weeks of “counting the Omer” each day. As the tradition of Omer counting developed, each week and day came to be associated with its own unique set of reflections, based on the Kabbalistic concept of the Sephirot – emanations that channel the Divine creative force into the manifest world.

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This year, we at Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah invited a group of colleagues to offer their reflections on the various Sephirot and the implications they have for our lives today. Continue reading

Universalism vs. Particularism – Thoughts from Limmud NY

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Last weekend, for the first time in more years than I would like to admit, I participated in the Limmud NY conference, held (appropriately, for those who believe New Yorkers are inherently imperialistic) in Stamford, Connecticut. Limmud is now a global “brand” for dozens of conferences held annually around the world, including the “mother ship” that takes place in England each December. Limmud NY is North America’s largest, with more than 700 participants, and it’s distinctive among Jewish conferences in several ways. Continue reading

The Constant Pull of Past and Future

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The following was originally published December 1, 2014 by eJewishPhilanthropy.  Many thanks to Dan Brown and Maya Bernstein for allowing us to repost on this blog.

One of the great challenges of infusing your professional life with Jewish Sensibilities (indeed, the same applies to all aspects of life) is balancing the tension between one’s obligations to those who have come before and those who will succeed us…Maya describes eloquently our need to acknowledge the fears that come from seeing ourselves as a link in a chain of generations, l’dor va dor, and the great importance of freeing ourselves to innovate. Continue reading

An Invitation to Join Us on an Exciting Journey

American Jewish Life in Transition

The launch of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah comes at a time when many American Jews are once again looking in the mirror and pondering the image they see.  Whether the most recent portrait, painted by a large-scale survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, leaves one hopeful or distressed, there is one fact that it is incontestable:  American Jewish life today is diverse, dynamic, and multi-faceted, perhaps more so than ever in the past.

Traditional avenues for Jewish involvement – synagogues, communal organizations, Israel – still speak powerfully to many Jews.  But, many others are seeking new and different ways to express their sense of Jewishness, either as supplements to or substitutes for these traditional modes.  And, for the vast majority of Jews, the major factor that determines whether and how they will activate their Jewishness is encapsulated in a simple question:  Do the Jewish institutions, experiences, people and teachings they encounter enrich and provide real value for their lives?

Fostering Living Torah

We believe that the answer to this question can and should be resoundingly affirmative.  We believe that Jewish wisdom, sensibilities, and experiences can help people lead more purposeful and fulfilling lives.  We believe that Judaism is a dynamic, evolving wellspring in ongoing dialogue with the world around it, and brings a powerful vocabulary of accumulating wisdom to this conversation.  We believe that this vocabulary has grown and changed over time and must continue to do so, but that such change should be made with deep respect for and knowledge of  the insights embodied in our texts, traditions, and historical experience.  We believe that this wisdom is the collective product of all those who have grappled with Torah over the centuries and have used it to illuminate, guide, and ennoble their lives.  We call this “Living Torah,” and seek to place ourselves in this continuum of Torah wrestlers, aiming thereby to keep Torah alive and vibrant.  And, we believe that this Living Torah can be a force for change beyond our own community, as Jews and “Fellow Travelers” from all backgrounds, inspired and guided by its wisdom, act to repair and perfect the world.

Many Jews today have never encountered this kind of Torah.  Happily, we see a movement of individuals, organizations, and even self-organizing groups taking shape across Jewish communities that are offering a growing number of opportunities to change this reality.  Through an exhilarating variety of approaches – from lively and penetrating text study, to creative forms of ritual and spiritual practice, to active pursuit of a more just and sustainable world – they are connecting Jews and others to Jewish wisdom, sensibilities, and experiences that are enriching people’s lives and inspiring them to incorporate Jewish insights and practices into their daily actions in ways both traditional and new.  This movement for Living Torah – one that includes rabbis and educators, grass-roots activists and philanthropists, entrepreneurial innovators and national organizational systems, thought leaders and Jews-on-the-street – has the potential to reshape and reinvigorate American Jewish life in the 21st century.

Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah:  Our Role and Our Invitation

As a foundation, we are privileged to identify with and support this movement.  We take seriously the role we can play in helping to nurture and accelerate its growth.  We plan to do this in a variety of ways — through identifying and disseminating principles of effective practice, sharing the vivid stories of those who are part of this endeavor, grant-making, network- and capacity-building, and being a trusted ally and forceful advocate.

Above all, we seek to be a good partner with others on the journey, learning and sharing our insights as we go.  This movement for Living Torah is still a work in progress.  We want to work with you all to shape the content and concepts that define it, to refine its methods and tools, to forge stronger connections among its members, and to enable it to reach broader constituencies.

We are near the beginning of our journey as a foundation and want and need your insights, your suggestions, your critiques.

Do you see the American Jewish scene today as we do?  Do you sense the moment we sense? What are we missing?  Where are the arenas of opportunity?  How can we work together to make a meaningful difference?  What are the challenges?

Please post a comment to share your thoughts and your experiences.

Please visit our Resources page to read other thoughts about Living Torah and contemporary Jewish life, and please give us your suggestions for additional resources we can make available.

This is a time of both discontinuity and great opportunity for American Jewry, its institutions, and its philanthropists.  We want to do our part to meet the challenge and seize the opportunity.   We look forward to partnering with you in this endeavor.

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