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D'Var Torah

May 27, 2016

This is my final Shabbat message as CEO of AJFCA.  On June 6, I am joining ...

This is my final Shabbat message as CEO of AJFCA.  On June 6, I am joining the National Human Services Assembly, an organization committed to the advancement of human services across the United States.  I am excited about the move, but I am sad to be leaving this wonderful organization, and, particularly, the incredible professionals and lay leaders across our network who work so passionately on behalf of the clients and communities they serve.  Writing my weekly messages has been one way for me to connect with many of you, and to connect the work you do with the Jewish values and teachings that inform and inspire so much of what we do.

A few years ago, Lisa Budlow and I co-authored a piece called "Jewish Family Service Agencies Collectively Perpetuate the Jewish Way."  One of the themes we shared was the following:

The Jewish story is an amazing chronicle of survival through the ages.  From our suffering as slaves in Egypt, through years of exile and wandering, surviving pogroms in Russia, the horrors of the Holocaust and centuries of attack, the Jewish people has overcome and reached freedom and prosperity.  Without our sense of amcha, of Jewish peoplehood, this survival would not have been possible.  Today, our network of Jewish family service agencies provides a platform for us to stand and be counted as Jews who survive and achieve.  We were all slaves in Egypt, we were all present to receive the Ten Commandments at Sinai and we are linked together generation to generation, each taking our place in this long and distinguished history.

It has been my privilege to stand with each of you as participants in this rich history of the pursuit of justice.  I know you will continue to go from strength to strength, together, a people.
Shabbat Shalom and Kol HaKavod.
(As of June 6, my new email is lsherman@nassembly.org, let's stay connected.)

Lee I. Sherman

April 8, 2016

This past Tuesday evening, I attended a lecture by Marc Gopin, Director of the C...

This past Tuesday evening, I attended a lecture by Marc Gopin, Director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution, and a professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. A graduate of Yeshiva University and Brandeis, Dr. Gopin has been active in conflict and peace interventions throughout the world, and in the past 15 years, in particular, throughout the Middle East.  During his talk, Dr. Gopin examined how the inability to respect and understand the "other" is the key barrier to the achievement of peace and justice.  He highlighted the Torah's most frequently repeated commandment, to accept the stranger, because we were once strangers in the land of Egypt (so core to the teachings of our upcoming Seders), as reflective of the Jewish perspective on justice.
At times in Torah, the directive to accept and include the "other" is revealed in the broader text.  This week's parashah, Tazri-a, is an example of this.  There is extensive discussion of how one can be cleansed after the emission of various bodily fluids.  Are these commandments for the purpose of health concerns?  Perhaps on the surface, but, more importantly, they provide instructions on how to include even those once tainted into our larger society in as effective and expeditious a manner as possible.
Dr. Gopin's talk was sponsored by the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies, for its series on "Imagining Justice in Baltimore".  Our city has been challenged by societal inequalities for a long time, much of which have risen to the surface in the past year.  As we learned from Dr. Gopin, if we are to find peace and justice, we must start by recognizing and working to understand the "other," and, then maybe we can include all in our larger community.  A Torah lesson for us all.
Have a peaceful Shabbat. 

Lee I. Sherman 

April 1, 2016

All of us confront daily stresses in our lives. They range from the mundane (eve...

All of us confront daily stresses in our lives. They range from the mundane (every traffic light on the way to work was red causing me to be late!) to the serious (a loved one has suffered a tragic loss), but each one causes a range of concerns and emotions that may elevate your heart rate. And then, there is the world around us that we see on our continuous news cycle: a bombings in Belgium and Pakistan; mass shootings in schools and concert halls; terrorist stabbings of innocent community members; hateful rhetoric targeting minorities, religious, ethnic, and otherwise identifiable groups. Stress, way too much stress.

This week's parashah, Sh'mini, continues our reading in the Book of Leviticus. It is a book full of rituals and rules, many of which appear archaic to our modern practices, but which are described in great detail. In Sh'mini we read of customs in the mishkan (and the unfortunate deaths of Aaron's two sons), as well as some of the laws of kashrut. Last week we read about sacrifices; before that it was slavery. How do we in 2016 relate to each of these commandments?

I don't know that we can relate to each commandment if we attempt to do so only literally. But, as we read the Torah as a whole, and think about the rhythms of life reflected in the rituals described, we can find comfort in our tradition that allows us to keep moving forward despite the stress and unpleasantness we may encounter. That is where we can find the foundation for our resilience. I only hope that we may return to the more mundane rituals of life soon.

May we all have a peaceful Shabbat.

Lee I. Sherman 

March 25, 2016

I understand that politicians need to make a case for themselves to get elected....

I understand that politicians need to make a case for themselves to get elected. And, certainly it takes some amount of self-confidence and ego to project the kind of person we want in our leaders. But, how much self-promotion is too much? How much vanity should we tolerate, instead of the reliance on the strengths of others?   

In the Haftorah to this week's parashah, Tzav, the prophet Jeremiah admonishes the people for their faults that will bring forth the crumbling of their society and the Temple. He admonishes and then we hear his words of possibility:

    Thus said the Lord:
    Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom;
    Let not the strong man glory in his strength;
    Let not the rich man glory in his riches.
    But only in this should one glory:
    In his earnest devotion to Me.
    For I the Lord act with kindness,
    Justice and equity in the world;
    For in these I delight.

Even if one does not have a deep belief in the Divine, there is a lesson in these words. We must go beyond the reliance on and egotism of the self.  Look to the greater meanings, our universal and community values. An important component of leadership is humility - the willingness to listen to and rely on others for their wisdom and knowledge. This spirit of collaboration is how we build a strong society. Let's hope that the leaders we elect will model these words.

Shabbat Shalom

Lee I. Sherman