Spirituality is not a hobby, not another task added to life.  It is a way of locating the sanctity that hides within the mundane.

One of the casualties of modern life is contemplation.  Our ancestors walked to work each morning and at evening, they walked home.  There was time to consider, reflect, wonder and dream.

There are so few opportunities built into our lives for reflection and for contemplation.  It takes an act of will to find that kind of quiet time.  The Rabbis understood that without order to our prayers, the tasks of life and the temptations of leisure would soon overcome our commitment to pray.  They knew that given the chance, Dow Jones, weather reports and sig-alerts would invade our silence.  “You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world,” shouts one station.

No.  Give yourself three minutes and you’ll find your soul. 

Continue Reading

The Life We Choose To Live

Majorities may rule, but they do not judge.  This is each person’s task and bigness has nothing to do with it.

Consider for a moment:  Commerce is concerned with profit.  Nations are concerned with security.  Nature is concerned with survival.  Only human beings are concerned with moral values, with ethics, with ideals.

And, because this is true – and it is true – our task is clear enough.  First, we must know what is ours and ours only.  We, and we alone, hold the key to life.  Without each of us, all is a jungle.  All is darkness.  And, we must be prepared to speak out and defend what it is we truly are, and what it is we truly represent upon this earth.

More important, by far than the words we speak, or preach, or write, is the life we choose to live.

The Baal Shem Tov, some 200 years ago, discussed the role that human beings must play upon this earth; and this is what he said:  “We each must know that from the time of creation there was never created another human being exactly like each of us.  If there had been, then there would have been no reason for our creation.  Humankind’s goal is to fulfill one’s own individuality.”

Continue Reading

The Rose Talked Back

The man sweeping the synagogue paused for a moment.  He looked at the flowers lying about in disorder.  ‘What waste!’ he said to himself.  Those roses had adorned the pulpit at a wedding an hour before.  Now all was over and they were waiting to be discarded.

The attendant leaning on his sweeper was lost in thought when suddenly he heard a strange sound.  One of the roses replied to him.

‘Do you call this a waste?’ the flower protested.  ‘What is life anyway, yours or mine, but a means of service?  My mission was to create some fragrance and beauty; and when I have fulfilled it my life has not been wasted.  And what greater privilege is there than to adorn a bride’s way to her beloved?  What greater privilege than to help glorify the moment when a bride and groom seal their faith in each other by entering the covenant of marriage?

Our little flower paused for a moment to watch the man’s face, and then continued her discourse.

‘Roses are like people.  They live in deeds, not in time.’

Finding God

You need some concept of God that matters. For many of us, it is just a name we invoke on special occasions or holidays – but not a God present in our lives. We need God – a certain kind of God – a personal God or God who cares and who can feel our pain!

The Talmud tells us: “The fool says in his heart there is No God.” Notice where he says it! – In his heart because that is where the search for God begins – not in the brain but in the heart. Any one whose heart is unfeeling, such a person cannot find God. I believe the underlying issue is that you have to crack open the shell of yourself. It begins in your soul.

There has to be some sense that God cares, or to whom are you praying?

  1. An omnipotent force that does not care about you?
  2. Some force that works through nature?

I have to believe I’m heard.

I think the only place that you can feel God in your life is internally. I think that God whispers to people; and what is significant about a whisper is that you can ignore it – you don’t have to listen if you don’t want to. (Still small voice–Kol D’Ma Ma) Do you ever hear the still small voice?

You believe in God because this is how you cope in the world.

When we pray, it is not to ask God to make our lives easier. I remember my beloved teacher, Rabbi Maurice Davies of blessed memory, saying: to expect the world to treat you fairly because you are an honorable person is like expecting the bull not to charge you because you are a vegetarian! Our belief in God does not take away our problem but can help us surmount the problem.

We discover resources within ourselves that we never knew we had. Where did they come from? The answer for me is the verse in the 40th Chapter of Isaiah. “Those who trust in the Lord will have their strength renewed. They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not grow weary.”

The World is Mine

TODAY, upon a bus, I saw a lovely girl with golden hair.  I envied her; she seemed so happy, and I wished I were as fair.  When suddenly she rose to leave, I saw her hobble down the aisle.  She had one leg and wore a crutch; and as she passed – a smile.  O God, forgive me when I whine.  I have two legs.  The world is mine.

AND then I stopped to buy some sweets.  The lad who sold them had such charm; I talked with him – he seemed so glad – and as I left he said to me: “I thank you, you have been so kind.  It’s nice to talk with folk like you.  You see,” he said, “I’m blind.”  O God, forgive me when I whine.  I have two eyes.  The world is mine.

LATER, walking down the street, I saw a child with eyes of blue.  He stood and watched the others play.  It seemed he knew not what to do.  I stopped a moment, and then I said:  “Why don’t you join the others, dear?”  He looked ahead without a word, and then I knew – he could not hear.  O God, forgive me when I whine.  I have two ears.  The world is mine.

WITH legs to take me where I’d go – with eyes to see the sunset’s glow – with ears to hear what I would know – O God, forgive me when I whine.  I’m blessed indeed.  The world is mine!

Times to Hold On - Times to Let Go

There may be times when we need to hold on and hold on for dear life. But there are also times when we need to let go in order that life can resume and carry on.

Some of us have held on tightly to marriages that have bloomed, blossomed, and then died; and we don’t know what to do – there is a time to hold on – and there is a time to let go.

Some of us have held on tightly to jobs that have demanded and confiscated all the time and energy we could muster, and crushed our spirits and brought us to the brink of depression and despair – and there is a time to hold on – and a there is a time to let go.

Some of us have held on tightly to beliefs and convictions that haven’t made much sense – in fact, they have been dissonant and distancing and destructive; and we’re perpetually caught in the throes of indecision – there is a time to hold on – and there is a time to let go.

Continue Reading

To Look, To Help, To Grow

Looking out his window on a weekday morning, Nachman of Bratzlav noticed a disciple of his, Chaikel by name, rushing along the street. Rebbe Nachman opened the window, called out to Chaikel, and invited him to come inside. Chaikel entered the home; and Rebbe Nachman said to him, “Chaikel, have you seen the sky this morning?” “Yes, Rebbe.” “Tell me, please, Chaikel, what did you see in the street?” “I saw people, carts, and merchandise. I saw merchants, peasants, men and women – all coming and going, selling and buying.”

Continue Reading

How can we become better people?

How can we improve ourselves and become better people? I want to share with you a conversation that I overheard.

I have no idea what came before or what came after, but this was the part that I heard: the woman said, “Let him live on campus, George.” The man: “No!” The woman: “Why not?” The man answered, “Because I said no; and what would he think of me if I backed down?”

That fragment of dialogue has stayed with me. It has stayed with me for two reasons. One, because this is the season of the year when we are taking an account of our behavior; and the other reason, because we have all said similar words like that of the man. Haven’t we? Don’t we all take positions and then feel too embarrassed to back down?

Continue Reading

Our Memory Fails Us

We often find ourselves divided – wife, husband, partner, sibling, child, parent, friend. Things happen. We both experience them.

You see them your way – colored by experiences in your past, or by resentment, or impatience.

I see them my way – colored by fear and pride – by the fact that I am myself and I am not you.

So, our memories of what happened were different from the start.  And then, before we knew it, memories hardened into myths and myths into dogma.  We stared across the chasm, but we didn’t see each other.

Continue Reading

Rabbi Sally - The People's Rabbi