Rabbi Aft's Corner

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Shabbat Message – Friday, June 6, 2014

June 6th, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

On Tuesday night we celebrated confirmation and the theme of the speeches given by our confirmands was their connection to G-d. There were some beautiful thoughts expressed about how our young people have experienced G-d in their lives. I hope that each of our students and members of their families will open a dialogue on their beliefs about G-d since I sometimes wonder whether we discuss our personal theological views with members of our families and those with whom we are close.

I was speaking with a former congregant to wish him a Hag Shavuot Sameach this week. A few of you will remember Jeff Arch, who was one of the writers of Sleepless in Seattle and now lives in California. Approximately 20 years ago, he and I were having a conversation about our fathers. I was describing how I learned that my father believed in G-d and Jeff remembered that conversation. Although I shared this in a sermon awhile back, I thought I would describe it to you again here.

Over 30 years ago, when I was serving a Reform Congregation in suburban Chicago as its Rabbi/Educator, I arrived home at about 9:00 pm. The phone rang and it was my dad. He said, “Rabbi….” and I interrupted him and told him that as my father he could call me Bruce. He went on to say that he was at a family service which could only last one hour and the rabbi didn’t have time to do the Aleinu. He asked me to tell him on what page the Aleinu is found in the prayer book I had given my mother. He got the prayer book, I spoke to my mother for awhile, he came back to the phone and thanked me for telling him where the prayer was found since he now felt he had completed the service. I asked him why the Aleinu was so important to him and he said that he would never bow down to a human being but he does bow down before G-d and needed that connection. At that moment I learned that my dad had a strong faith in G-d, I was almost 30 years old and that was among the first times I recall having any conversation with either of my parents about G-d.

I hope that we will make time to discuss our faith with those with whom we are close. We can provide models to others and may learn from our dear ones about what inspires us to make connections to the Divine. If you wish to discuss your own personal “G-d Journey” with me, please feel free to call me on the study line (703-866-5531) and let’s get together over the summer to explore our spiritual connections. When our confirmands did this earlier in the week, it was a G-d moment for all of us in attendance.

Finally, as you read this, Sue and I are at the bris of our newest grandson in Indianapolis which is certainly a very special G-d moment. (Don’t worry, we will be back in time for services!) We are now blessed with four grandchildren and are truly grateful for the blessings of new life. Praised are you, Lord, Our G-d, Ruler of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this significant occasion.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

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Shabbat Message – Friday, May 30, 2014

June 6th, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

I think we should have a congregational pool where we pick which anniversary of my becoming Bar Mitzvah will occur when we read Parshat Naso this week. When I became Bar Mitzvah (hint, hint) the Six Day War ended in Israel and, believe it or not, people were talking more about Israel than they were talking about my Bar Mitzvah!

I remember that I did not have to lead the Ashrei (Psalm 145) and we had a Cantor who led the service. I also remember reading a significant amount of the Torah portion, chanting the Haftarah, and giving a speech that was a standardized speech that all B’nai Mitzvah gave. 

What I didn’t know at that time was that this week’s portion contains the Priestly Blessing, “May the Lord Bless You and Guard You, May the Lord Let His Face Shine Upon You and Be Gracious Unto You, May the Lord Lift Up His Countenance upon You and Grant You Peace.”

Each of us has the opportunity to bless those we care about and I hope we will make opportunities around our Shabbat tables to give our loved ones and friends a hug. One of the most touching moments of the Tot Shabbat services that are led by Andrea Cate is when she invites me to offer this blessing and all the parents huddle with their children and their loved ones and hold each other. When Sue and I celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary 25 years ago, we gave each other an adaptation of Proverbs 31, which we have framed in our living room. I share this blessing with many couples at their weddings and hope you will find it meaningful. (see below)

On a very serious note, I hope that you have followed the story about anti-Semitic activity that has occurred in Belgium and France recently. We live in challenging times when we must remain aware that there are places where Jews are not as safe as we are here in the United States. At the recent Jewish Community Relations Council Annual Meeting, it was mentioned that up to 70% of French Jews are considering aliyah (moving, going up) to Israel. Our Federation Director, Steve Rakitt, in his weekly column shared the following:

“This past week, we had the opportunity to see that as Jews, we are all responsible for one another. Israel’s Jewish Agency, a partner of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, came to the rescue of two Jewish Ukrainian families who were stranded at the airport after rebels seized control. The families were waiting to immigrate to Israel and were taken from the airport and flown to Kiev where they boarded a plane for Tel Aviv. Read more about the story here.”

It is a blessing when we care about each other and can save a life. Please use a search engine to follow the story of Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in Cuba, and join the efforts to try to gain his freedom. Please contact those you know who have influence with our government and might be able to rescue him so he can see his ailing mother before it is too late. There are so many people who need our help. Please make a difference in someone’s life;  that will truly be a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bruce Aft

 

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IN LOCO EISHES CHAYIL

From And God Braided Eve’s Hair by Danny Siegel (United Synagogue of America, 1976)


(Husband embraces and kisses wife, then takes her hand and recites:)

I love you
What you have done for me this week,
comforting me,
challenging me,
privileging me with your grandeur,
I shall never have the skill,
the genius
to articulate.
Dragged down again and again
by mundane and commonplace
jobs and burdens,
I am raised by your arms
once more
to your visions of
myself-with-you.
Because of you
I will never know despair
or the claws and clutch
of loneliness.
You are a constant revelation,
a reminder of all the Noble
and the Upright of the Earth,
and I shall never know for what reason
I have been graced by your love.
Companion. Ineffably precious friend.
Each moment is a Bracha-blessing
because of you,
each day a portion of the primal mysteries
of Sinai and Creation,
each tomorrow a taste
of Future Worlds.
My metaphors
are meek:
For you move my soul in ways
only the eloquence-of-silence can express.
And yet,
you see,
I must speak.

I love you.

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Shabbat Message – Friday, May 23, 2014

May 23rd, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

As we celebrate Memorial Day weekend, I hope that we will be sure to remember all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. As I have often said, one of my favorite memorials in the Washington, DC area is the Korean War Memorial, where it states that “Freedom is not Free.” Memorial Day reminds us of how true this is. So in the midst of our picnics, barbecues, ball games, shopping, etc., I hope we will pause to think about all those who have contributed to us being able to pursue these activities in freedom. I also hope we will contact Arnie Daxe, one of our members who can tell you more about Honor Flights and how we can honor those who have served our country. Sue and I have welcomed vets to Washington, DC when they come see the sights and it is truly an inspirational opportunity.

Last weekend I enjoyed sharing some of the wisdom I have accumulated over the years and how I have translated many of the inspirational readings I have received into meaningful ways to identify with our Jewish heritage. I shared the poem Abou ben Adhemand this week I want to share The House by the Side of the Road, which I discussed at the Lunch and Learn on my birthday. Although I don’t know that I have always been a friend to humanity, this poem, which was especially meaningful to my father of blessed memory, is a guide to how we can treat each other. When we read the Torah portion this Shabbat we begin the book of Numbers where a census is taken of our ancestors. This is a reminder that all of us count and we are all vital to our community. Hopefully we can live the words of the Psalm that says “Hinei ma tov umanaim shevet achim gam yachad,” how good and pleasant it is when we can all come together…  (and be a friend to humanity!)

Be safe this weekend and please thank a vet.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bruce Aft  

 

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The House by the Side of the Road - Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)

 

There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house
by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears-
Both parts of an infinite plan;-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened
meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my
house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish- so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

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Shabbat Message – Friday, May 16, 2014

May 23rd, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

As we end religious school this weekend, I want to personally thank Luisa Moss for serving as our Educational Director. As many of you may remember, she came in as our Interim Educational Director three years ago and has served us devotedly for the past three years. As she pursues the next opportunity in her career, I hope that folks will make a special effort to send her a note wishing her well. Each educator always brings unique strengths and we have appreciated Luisa’s loving care for so many of us over these past three years. Wherever Luisa serves next, the new place will have someone who will grow to care very deeply about those with whom she works. Luisa will continue to be with us until the end of June so I hope all of us will thank her for her dedicated service.

At tomorrow’s Lunch and Learn, where we will mark a significant birthday in my life, I will be sharing the wisdom with which I was weaned. My parents provided much loving instruction to me through poems and other readings that were important to them. Although often these teachings were not given in a particularly Jewish context, I have grown to learn that their instruction was heavily couched in Judaism and Jewish values. We will speak more about this tomorrow at noon. I hope that all of us will share words that are meaningful to us with those about whom we care. I find it interesting that I have served a congregation which is called Adat Reyim for 23 years now, which as a community of friends is really an embodiment of the following poem by James Henry Leigh Hunt, a place where we care about each other.
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:- 
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said
“What writest thou?”-The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still, and said “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

 

May we all be blesed through our love of our fellow human beings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

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Shabbat Message – Friday, May 9, 2014

May 9th, 2014 · No Comments

Mazel Tov to our 2014 Consecration Class!

Dear Friends,

On this Shabbat we read from Parshat Behar with the famous quotation which is found on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. “Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.” The entire quote from Leviticus 25:10 is “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”

Tonight when our young people become consecrated, we will be talking about the importance of consecrating time to return to our families and how we should liberate ourselves from constantly being on call. Many of us never turn off our cell phones and we are addicted to being accessible and connected 24/7. I often wonder how accessible we are to our families when we are constantly accessible to others online, on our tablets, on our phones, on our computers, etc. The Torah portion also discusses shemitah, or the sabbatical year, which is a reminder that all of us need some time off. Professors take sabbaticals every seven years. Rabbis used to take sabbaticals every seven years, but now the recommendation is three to four months every four years in order to not be away too long from the life of the congregation. The land used to be given time off every seven years by farmers, and even G-d rested from creation on the seventh day. But in our generation, we are different. How long can we survive without looking at our phones or other electronic devices? What is the quality of our lives when we never give ourselves time to rest and refresh? Our tradition calls this time Shabbat; a time to stop what we are doing and renew ourselves! As the old commercial used to say for Alka Seltzer, “we should try it, we might like it!”

However, there is one issue from which we should NOT take a rest, and that is to be vigilant and diligent in working toward freedom for those who do not enjoy it. Please take a moment and read this account about the Nigerian girls who have been kidnapped and please send letters to our political officials, tweet, or do whatever you can to help these girls come home.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

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Yom Ha’atzmaut Message – Part 1 – Monday, May 5, 2014

May 8th, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

In honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, I thought I would send some comments from some of the people who went on the trip to Israel In January. As you can see, Israel means different things to different people and hopefully each of us will have the opportunity to experience a pilgrimage to Israel at least once. It is a very special place and, as is said in one of the reflections, Israel needs us and our support. Ehad HaAm, a Zionist, once wrote that more than the Jewish people has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people. I believe that more than Israel needs us, we need Israel to enhance our sense of Jewishness and to be a place that we can call home. We may not like what the government does sometimes, but Israel has been, hopefully continues to be, and, G-d willing, will always be a source of hope for all of us.

Hag Sameach! Happy 66th Birthday to Israel and may our brothers and sisters there continue to go from strength to strength!

Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

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Our Israel trip was a fabulous trip.  The only disappointment was that Yad Veshem was closed the day we first wanted to visit.

I do not like picking one thing over another however since you need something to write about let me pick two. In Tel Aviv the visit to the Ben Gurion House was a highlight for me. Seeing his library with books in French, English and Hebrew impressed upon me the knowledge that man must have had. In Jerusalem the tunnel tour with the history and the fact that we got to the closest point to where the Holy of Holies is believe to be was another highlight.

Bob Berkowitz

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There are several special memories of the trip, but one in particular was the scene at the Kotel on Erev Shabbat. What struck me was not only the size of the crowd, but the chaos! When I said kaddish for my father, there was a minyan present (way more than a minyan), but no one said “amen.”

I was also moved by singing HaTikvah at the Ben Gurion house. And, also by the soldiers, who are “kids” with automatic weapons, who actually look professional.

Carolyn Kaplan

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My first thought of the trip to Israel was the bonding of the group – the spirituality of many of the sites, most notably the Western Wall, seemed to have brought us together. I doubt if I would have experienced the same emotions had we gone on a vacation somewhere else as a group.

Russell Rayman

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There were many things that I found exciting, inspiring, and educational. Here are a few:

  • As an engineer/scientist, I marvel at the capabilities of erecting some of the structures we saw (western wall, the old city in general, aqueducts, Masada), all of which were built with only the technologies available over 2,000 years ago, and some of which were constructed for little or no practical value, but only to massage the egos of the ruling class (e.g., Masada – built for Herod). When I see these engineering marvels I can only think that maybe there was “alien” intervention. The “official” explanations for the existence of these structures are relatively lame from an engineering perspective.
  • A lake that is 30% dissolved salt, in which you can float in a standing position, without paddling, with the water at chest level (the Dead Sea).
  • Putting on Tefillin that I haven’t used (or taken out of their case) since my Bar Mitzvah. I brought them with me to Israel at the urging of Bruce Kaplan, and put them on at the Western Wall with the guidance/instruction of Rabbi Aft.
  • Yad Vashem – basically, Israel’s “Holocaust Museum”. Even though I knew what to expect (because I’ve been told about it all my life, and because I’ve been to places like the U.S. Holocaust Museum), it brought tears to my eyes in many of the exhibits. If one can marvel at pure evil, then Yad Vashem is the gold standard for places to go to learn about man’s inhumanity to man.

Steve Schwartz

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The story of Israel is one that must be told, but more importantly, it must be felt - offering to help a mother lift a baby carriage down to the Western Wall; singing Hatikvah in Independence Hall; walking down Masada; reciting Mi Sheberach at the Wall; walking through the Yehuda Market in Jerusalem seeing people preparing for a Shabbat meal; touching stone and walking on sacred ground from 2000 years ago; tasting the salts of the Dead Sea; feeling the pain and chills standing in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem feeling cries piercing my heart; observing the thousands of reference books at Ben Gurion’s library; giving to the poor; talking to a young soldier about to be inducted into the Israeli army; dancing with a young group of Australian girls at the Wall who had just arrived in Israel with an overwhelming pride; feeling a strong sense of security walking the streets of Jerusalem; sharing Shabbat dinner with other Israeli families; listening to talks from speakers who want to make their dreams come true helping refugees and others learn to share ideas so that we can better live in peace.

My trip to Israel gave me a greater sense of Jewishness, a deep appreciation for the land of Israel and the courage of its people from thousands of years ago. SO much to see and absorb and I truly hope I can go back again soon. Israel needs all of us! HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!

Valerie Schwartz

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Yom Ha’atzmaut Message – Part 2 – Wednesday, May 7, 2014

May 8th, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

I am sending you a picture of our group when we were in Israel standing by the Western Wall. This could be you sometime! Please let me know if you are interested in helping plan another trip to Israel or traveling there. We all had such a good time as you could tell from the reports sent on Monday.

Also, please note this article sent to us by a member who suffered the loss of her husband. It is a very moving account of her pilgrimage with her son and others to Israel.

Hag Sameach! Happy 66th Birthday to Israel and may our brothers and sisters there continue to go from strength to strength!israel group

Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

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Shabbat Message – Friday, May 2, 2014

May 2nd, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

This week when we read from the Torah, Parshat Emor, we read about the sacredness of time and our Jewish Festivals. I couldn’t help but think of these lyrics from Jim Croce that always remind me that our time is limited and discovering how we can best spend our time is sometimes challenging. I remember when I was a teenager and a high school student teacher in my English class told us that in order to do something one likes, one may have to give up something that one would have liked just as much.

I suppose that the reason this is on my mind today is because of the blessing of the birth and bris of our newest grandchild. As I watch one of our sons become a father for the first time, I reflect upon my own time as a father, upon the memories of my parents and Sue’s dad, and upon the precious moments I have spent with members of my family. As I reread these lyrics, I celebrate the moments I spent with those who are special to me and also realize how many missed opportunities there have been. The excuses were plentiful…we can always find things to do that take us away from what is important.

I hope that you will read these lyrics, think about creating special memories, and not be bogged down by routine and by saying that we are too busy to enjoy sacred moments. We cannot save time in a bottle so let us make time to spend the days we have enjoying the company of those we treasure.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

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If I could save time in a bottle

The first thing that I’d like to do

Is to save every day

‘Til eternity passes away

Just to spend them with you

If I could make days last forever

If words could make wishes come true

I’d save every day like a treasure and then, Again, I would spend them with you

[Chorus]

But there never seems to be enough time

To do the things you want to do

Once you find them

I’ve looked around enough to know

That you’re the one I want to go

Through time with

If I had a box just for wishes

And dreams that had never come true

The box would be empty

Except for the memory

Of how they were answered by you

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Yom HaZikaron & Yom HaAtzmaut - 
Israeli Memorial Day & Independence Day 

 

Israel’s Memorial Day is Monday, May 5 and Israel’s Independence Day is Tuesday, May 6.

 

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, four new holidays have been added to the Jewish calendar – Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). In Israel, these holidays are observed as national holidays.
The Israeli Knesset established the day before Yom HaAtzmaut as Yom HaZikaron, a Memorial Day for soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and in other subsequent battles.

Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, marks the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. It is observed on or near the 5th of Iyar in the Hebrew calendar, which usually falls in April.

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Shabbat Message – Friday, April 25, 2014

April 25th, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

This is an interesting week on the Jewish calendar. On this Shabbat morning we read from the Torah portion Kedoshim, which is the Holiness code and describes how we are to treat others in a special, kind, and holy way. The most famous verse is “Love your neighbor as yourself” which became the source of the Golden Rule, which says “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or as Rabbi Hillel said in response to a question about the essence of Judaism, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others, the rest is commentary, go study.” We also are commemorating Yom HaShoah v’HaG’vurah, the day set aside on the calendar to remember the Holocaust. We also remember the strength, courage, and heroism of those who tried to help others.

As we think about the interactions of human beings, are we among those who stand idly by while others suffer or are we among those who demonstrate our love of our neighbors through courageous acts where we try to make a difference? Today when we hear of the death of the doctor in Afghanistan and others who devoted years of their lives to helping children in this war torn region, we are reminded of both the barbarism of those who do NOT love their neighbors and the strength of those who were trying to make a difference.

On Sunday night, there will be a commemoration of Yom HaShoah v’HaG’vurah at the JCC at 7:00 pm. I hope you can be there to show solidarity with our survivor community and to remember this dark period in our history. How do we respond to this tragic event we will remember on Sunday night? Do we give up and say the world is a terrible place or do we seek out ways to make a difference in the lives of others?

One of my memories of which I am not proud was that early in my rabbinic career at Adat Reyim, I spent more time talking about the O.J. Simpson trial than I did talking about the genocide in Rwanda. Who knows whether a comment from the bima might have inspired someone in our congregation who knows someone who knows someone who might have been able to alleviate that suffering? Finally in 2008, I offered a college credit course for high school students and subsequently a graduate course at George Mason University in Religious Response to Genocide. Hopefully that course helped to educate a younger generation to be vigilant in combating hatred and bigotry. However, I can never undo my lack of response to the horrible events in Rwanda and hopefully none of us will ever have to tell our children that we stood idly by while the blood of our neighbors was shed. We say NEVER AGAIN and yet, sometimes do less than we might to try to help alleviate suffering.

May the convergence of reading the Holiness code and Yom HaShoah v’HaG’vurah inspire us to remember and to be active in helping others.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

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Last day of Passover Message – Tuesday, April 22, 2014

April 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

Today is the last day of Passover and it is customary to light a Yahrzeit candle in memory of our loved ones. If you forgot last night or didn’t know it was customary to do so, it is not too late to light one. I believe that the reason we light a candle and have a Yizkor service is that this gives us a ritual through which we make time to remember our loved ones. In our busy world, sometimes we get so caught up in our routines that we don’t make time to think about those whose love and guidance have helped fashion who we are. I hope you will make some time today to remember the people whom you care about. During services today, I talked about how when we remember our loved ones, we don’t mourn their deaths, but rather we welcome them back into our lives, remembering the good times and thinking about how what they taught us might serve as a guide as we face the challenges of life.

I remember how my dad would make comments about my pitching and tell me to lengthen or shorten my stride and to watch how I gripped the baseball when I would throw it. I realize now he was talking about more than pitching and whether he realized it or not, these teachings could inspire how to live our lives. How do we stride toward our goals? What do we do to pursue our dreams and do we sometimes lose our grip on things and need to change the way we are looking at something? Some of you will remember that my mother used to tell me not to overdo it when I would pursue activities and one Yom Kippur I switched the order of the words and realized that I sometimes try to do over. How many of us live with regrets about things which we wish we could do over and now we just need to move on or as some like to say “roll with it”? May today bring us good memories to treasure in the days ahead.

On a separate note it is also customary to begin counting the omer on the second night of Passover. As we count the omer for the next several weeks, I hope this site will provide inspiration for your personal counting of the omer. Although I do not always subscribe to the beliefs of Aish, these meditations raise important topics to discuss and provide meaningful questions to address. Daily Omer Meditation - Aish.com

Hag Sameach,

Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

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