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D'Var Torah

March 11, 2016

I haven't been able to walk into an IKEA store for years without breaking in...

I haven't been able to walk into an IKEA store for years without breaking into a cold sweat.  All I can think about are all those "easy to assemble" pieces of furniture that I have brought home and end up looking nothing like the samples on the showroom floor. They wobble and list to one side, or fall apart altogether. Over and over I hear the voice of former AJFCA Board Chair Dick Blankstein: "Every Jewish male's most feared words are some assembly required."

This week's parashah, Pekudei, leaves no room for error or faulty construction. As we come to the close of Exodus, the Tabernacle is complete, along with all of the decorative accompaniments, including priestly garments. The level of detail is exhaustive in color, size, composition, and more. In constructing something so intricate, every element requires attention and clarity of design. This is how you move to perfection.

In our programs and work with clients, we also require great attention to detail. Planning and preparation, careful consideration of the proper tools, all make a difference in the work our agencies do to build stronger communities comprised of individuals who can reach their full potential.  Far better than the skeletal instructions from IKEA.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Lee I. Sherman

March 4, 2016

Each year at the Academy Awards, we root for our favorite films and stars to be ...

Each year at the Academy Awards, we root for our favorite films and stars to be recognized as winners. Sometimes we agree with the results, and sometimes not.  I try not to get overly obsessed with the contests, but I must admit to expressing my opinion, now and again. And, this year there was one award that just seemed particularly right for highlighting the work that we do and the clients that we serve.

"Son of Saul" won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. This is a Hungarian movie about two days in the life of a Soderkommando at the Auschwitz concentration camp. It is a harsh personal story, bringing a subjective perspective to a time and please which is sometimes too easily objectified, for better or worse. It is a difficult subject, certainly not a cinematic fantasy escape. But, it is the message of the Holocaust, person by person, that we must continue to tell.

Our colleagues at the Claims Conference helped to finance this film, as they have done with many others over the years. We who serve the survivors of Nazi terror can appreciate the heightened awareness of their situations that films like "Son of Saul" can raise with the general public.  Through the support of the Claims Conference, and others (like the Federal grant highlighted below), our member agencies bring dignity and recognition to Holocaust survivors every day. Go see the movie. Tell your friends and family to go see the movie. And, remember that there are still many who need our support and they, too, each have a story.

Shabbat Shalom  

Lee I. Sherman

February 26, 2016

In the nonprofit world and the Jewish communal world, we often speak of "le...

In the nonprofit world and the Jewish communal world, we often speak of "leadership." We seek to train future leaders, we worry about the lack of leadership, and we admire and honor great leaders. Most often, we debate what it takes to be a great leader. What are the traits? How do we identify them in a person? How do we know it when we see it?

This week's parashah, Ki Tissa, is well know for the story of the Golden Calf. We all know about this rebellious act of a lack of faith, Moses' angry and immediate response, and Moses' ability to advocate for a second chance to inscribe the tablets with the Commandments that form the foundation of the Jewish people's Covenant with God. We also see a contrast in leadership styles. With Moses on Mount Sinai to receive the commandments, Aaron is left in charge and quickly loses control. He must know how wrong it is to form the molten image as a replacement for God, yet he not only allows it, he orchestrates this blasphemous act. Is he merely trying to appease the people? Stop a revolt? Does he believe in this activity? It may be difficult to determine his precise reasoning, but as an example of leadership by appeasement, we see how dangerous that tactic can be.

By contrast, Moses upon first hearing and then seeing the celebration around the Golden Calf is angry, giving visual evidence of his displeasure by destroying the sacred tablets he carries. But, more importantly, he takes immediate action. He tells the people he will advocate on their behalf for another chance, and he does exactly that. He executes on his promise and his vision. Certainly a trait we can all agree we would like to see in the people we put in positions of leadership.  

Shabbat Shalom.

Lee I. Sherman 

February 19, 2016

One of my favorite places in Israel is the Old City of Tzfat. I love the winding...

One of my favorite places in Israel is the Old City of Tzfat. I love the winding streets, the sudden views of distant mountains, and the many artists in the shops and galleries. As the birthplace and center of much of Jewish mysticism, there is a sense about Tzfat that connects you to the beliefs and practices of Jews across the centuries. Visits to the many old synagogues of Tzfat inspire those connections. From the ornate to the simple, they share much which makes them familiar even at the first impression.
Perhaps more than anything else, I always look for the Ner Tamid when I enter a sanctuary for the first time. It is always there. It is always lit. And, it casts its light on the ark beneath it, which contains the sacred Torah scrolls. In this week's parashah, Tezaveh, we read the commandment that launches our tradition of the Ner Tamid, the eternal light. We learn of its connection to the original tabernacle and how it is the one element of that tabernacle, the Mishkan, that has been consistent through the ages and is so essential to our sanctuaries today.

There have been many times in Jewish history when the Ner Tamid has faced being extinguished, but in the words of Matisyahu the flame stands strong:

exposed menorah glowing in the shadows of destruction
trailblazing through affliction
brushing off the branches golden
standing strong flames
dancing like a lion roaring rising out of nothing (Aish Tamid)

There are lessons for all of us in the strength of the eternal light and the Torah with which it shares its light.

Have a bright Shabbat.

Lee I. Sherman