May 30, 2013

After Birkat HaMazon Learning this Shabbat: "Were the Spies Death Eaters?"

After Birkat HaMazon Learning this Shabbat: "Were the Spies Death Eaters?"
with Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Shabbat Shlach Lecha, June 1, approx. 1:30
Congregation Netivot Shalom - netivotshalom.org

The Israelite spies, sent into the land of Canaan in this week's Parasha, bring back reports of lush land and intimidating giants. What did they do wrong? Come explore Rashi's response! (and explore the secret connections between J.K. Rowling and the Torah!!)

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom

books | music | published essays | prayers | reflections

To join Rabbi Creditor's email listsend a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Shlach Lecha: "Destiny and Choice"

Shlach Lecha: "Destiny and Choice"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Rashi asks about the beginning of this week's Torah Portion in juxtaposition with the end of last week's.  He writes:

"Why is the story from this week's Parasha about the spies right next to the story from last week's Parasha of Miriam?  Because she was punished for being involved in rumor-mongering about her brother, and these wicked ones [the spies] saw this and yet did not ascertain the lesson. (Rashi on Num. 13:2)"

Miriam and Aaron are involved in casting aspersions against Moses for one reason or another in Chapter 12 of Numbers.  Miriam is stricken (presumably, Aaron ought to have been as well) with tzara'at, a spiritual skin ailment traditionally connected to the sin of evil speech.  Ten of the spies in this week's Parasha bring back reports of Canaan that lead to distress and distrust within the Israelite camp.  A close read of the biblical text might help us understand exactly where they went wrong:

At the end of forty days the Spies returned from scouting the land. They went straight to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran, and they made their report to them and to the whole community, as they showed them the fruit of the land. This is what they told him: "We came to the land you sent us to; it does indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large; moreover, we saw the Anakites there. Amalekites dwell in the Negeb region; Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites inhabit the hill country; and Canaanites dwell by the Sea and along the Jordan." Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, "Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it." But the men who had gone up with him said, "We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we." Thus they spread calumnies among the Israelites about the land they had scouted, saying, "The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; we saw the Nephilim there — the Anakites are part of the Nephilim — and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them. (Num. 13:25-33)

Look closely at the order of events. 

The spies tell of the land they toured, listing the sizes of the fruits and the nations therein.  According to Benjamin Bloom's educational taxonomy for levels of abstraction within questions, the spies first shared 'Knowledge', which includes collecting and naming lists and definitions, typically connected with questions like "who, when, where, etc."

When they complete this knowledge-sharing, spies then ascend through Bloom's taxonomy, processing what they've experienced and making recommendations.  Caleb (presumably, along with Joshua) advocates for a path of action: "We can do it!" he says.

The 10 other spies then reveal their own recommendation and say, "We can't do it!" 

The spies' self-negation ("we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves") plays an important role in understanding Rashi's comment.  What is it that they witnessed in the case of Miriam?  They saw that there are powerful consequences for the words that flow from a person's mouth, and that those consequences touch even the greatest among us.  They were tribal leaders and Miriam was a prophetess.  No one in a role of authority can ever forget that the moment they say something it becomes real for others.  There can be no truly objective glimpse into the future – there can only be a commitment to a future.

The spies would have chosen a fate of fear.  Of eternal wandering in the exile of self-alienation.  After all, the opening command of our Parasha, as understood by Rashi, as God tell Moses, "Send out these spies.  I Myself don't need them – they are for your sake, if you choose. (Rashi on Num 13:1)." 

God commands us in this Parashah to empower ourselves as destiny-setting, as deeply impactful people!  And the ultimate negation of this command is to see yourself as a grasshopper.  As Reb Chaim of Volozhin teaches in his magisterial Nefesh HaChayiim:

"And this is the Torah of being a person…: One should never say in their heart, God forbid, 'For what am I and what is my power to enact anything through my insignificant deeds?'  Understand, know, and set in your heart that every detail of every deed, word, and thought is not lost.  Every one of them ascends to its own Source to cause an effect in the highest Heavens. (NH 1:4)"

Miriam's lesson could have taught that to the spies.  And perhaps they did learn something in the end – that fear is as contagious as courage.  Perhaps that is why Rashi calls them wicked – because they were fear-infectors.  (The 'Death Eaters' in Rowling's Harry Potter saga come to mind.)
Rabbi Israel Morgenstern of Pilov once taught:

"Rashi's comment is difficult to understand.  The depth of their wickedness is the reason for the texts' juxtaposition?  Rather a deep idea is hinted to here:  One who does not want to see the truth will not see it, even if it demonstrated to him with clarity.  Their eyes are sealed from ever seeing it."

The land of Canaan, the promised land which they affirmed was flowing with milk and honey, was right there in front of the same eyes that refused to learn from the lesson of Miriam.  They saw it.  But they didn't really see it.  As Chancellor Arnold Eisen of JTS tweeted this past week:

"The spies start out with accurate reporting—until fear takes over & self-respect plummets. Neither is a good basis for destiny."

We choose our destinies.  May we remain informed of the sometimes precarious realities we inhabit and, through it all, lead ourselves and those around us with passion, conviction, and hope.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

To join Rabbi Creditor's email listsend a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

May 29, 2013

From Rabbi Creditor: An Invitation to Torah!

Share this Sunday, June 2 
with Netivot Shalom!

11:00 am - Israel in the Gardens, Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco -http://www.jewishfed.org/event/iig2012 -- wear your Netivot Shalom shirts!


2:00 pm - God-Talk Teacher Cohort with Rabbi Shalom Bochner


4:00 pm - Strategic Plan & Mission Statement Meeting Families with Children below age 18

5:00 pm - Social Action Cooks at Dorothy Day Men's Shelter - to volunteer sign-up at http://tinyurl.com/cnsshelterdinnersignup. For questions email edmal@aol.com  
Join Our List
Join Our Mailing List
From Rabbi Creditor:  An Invitation to Torah!
20 Sivan, 5773 // May 29, 2013 
Our Torahs Are Being Repaired!
Dear Chevreh,
Thanks to Robin Braverman and Caroline Taymor on behalf of the CNS Ritual Committee, Sofer Zerach Greenfield visited Netivot Shalom on May 7 and conducted a complete  inspection of our Torahs, discovering that two of them needed extensive repairs.  
One of these precious Torahs, a permanent loan to Netivot Shalom from the family of Pat Hellman and Steve Gottlieb, once belonged to Pat's mother z"l. Pat and her sister have graciously offered to cover the expenses of the repair of their mother's Torah. Their family's contribution to our Jewish communal life is as precious as, well, Torah!
This means that we now have the opportunity to help us repair our other Torah that required approximately $2,000 of repairs. If you would like to be a support our Torah's repair, please be in touch with me directly at rabbi@netivotshalom.org.
Once the Torah's have made their ways back home, repaired and ready for use, we will hold a special re-dedication, where we'll do some good old Jewish learning and share in the celebration together. More on this soon.
For all we each do to build Netivot Shalom's holy community: Todah, Todah, Todah!
Kol Tuv,
Rabbi Creditor

Only Human

Only Human
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

See God in her eyes,
feel the compassion he seeks,
channel God within you,
don't forget to breathe.

He matters, not as helper, 
but as helped.
Saving a life, she says,
but what of hers?

Sometimes not helping is help enough,
being together God's Holy Presence,
affirming with a glance,
with silence. 

...God in our eyes,
and yet they are human eyes.
God in my soul,
and yet I am limited.

(Don't forget to breathe.)

May 28, 2013

Legacy and Family: A Hadran for Harry Potter

Legacy and Family: A Hadran for Harry Potter

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Author's note: This piece is deeply inspired by J.K. Rowling's final installment of the Harry Potter series. There will be no spoilers, but the emotionality of completing the book just now compels its own Hadran, its own traditional commitment to return and relearn its lessons.

When my wife and I chose the names of our three precious children, we were committed to naming them after family members we had loved and lost. It struck me immediately, when our youngest daughter was named, that the pantheon of my ancestral family was whole again. My Grandma z"l, my Sabbah z"l and my great-uncle z"l were alive again. There are simply no words for the burn in my heart birthed by their names. Naomi Shemer wrote in "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" that saying Jerusalem's name is like experiencing "the kiss of a Seraph." A Seraph is a fiery angel. Shemer was so right.... continue reading here

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

To join Rabbi Creditor's email listsend a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Special guest speaker from Uganda! Join AJWS & CNS in Berkeley on June 5

Click Load Images to ViewClick Load Images to View

Alban Weekly 5/27/2013 Preaching as Sermon Communication

Preaching as Sermon Communication

by Lori J. Carrell

I have a confession. I usually call preaching by another name. I refer to it by the odd and bulkier two-word phrase sermon communication. At best, this word choice raises an eyebrow and a follow-up question from pastors. At worst, the term creates defensiveness, misconceptions, and even distance between some clergy and me. Oh, the power of words!    

This past semester I witnessed this power at work when I invited a guest speaker to my Intercultural Communication class. The students were a highly engaged group on whom I could depend for lively dialogue. I bragged to the speaker about these eager learners, promising highly responsive listeners as the reward for donating his time and energy. The speaker had been asked to discuss language and race, and he titled his talk "The N Word." As this passionate black man and his white colleague pulled up their first slide displaying the title of their session, the room fell silent. Not just hushed, with the usual background noise of laptop keyboard clicks and students shifting in their seats, but completely and utterly quiet.    

During the presentation, this experienced speaker and his colleague had us hear "the word" again and again—voiced by comedians, rappers, white supremacists, and unidentifiable others. Questions from the speakers followed: Do you use this word? How do you use it? Have you heard it used? How does the history of the word affect the way it is used? Does the use of this word in certain contexts affect its use in broader culture? Who can use this word? When can they use it? How could meaning related to this word change over time?    

The pin-dropping pauses lengthened after each question was asked. If you know northeastern Wisconsin, you may be able to guess that, as is sometimes possible in this region, the speaker was the only African American in the room. Finally, one young woman said, "That is a bad word that I was taught never to say." Then someone else added, "But people do say it. You know, they don't mean it in a bad way—um, usually . . ." A few other brave learners commented politely. After the presentation, students wrote about the experience, and nearly all said they were struck by their own unusual silence. One student noted, "That word has so much power. It shut us all up. Nothing has ever done that before." And a senior communication major who had sat stone-faced and unflinching throughout the class session scribbled, "I will never forget this presentation. I had no idea what a word could do."    

You probably already accept that word choice matters. Some words are even considered so hateful and simply "wrong" that their use has been challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, in spite of this country's firm legal and cultural commitment to freedom of speech. "Pastor" Fred Phelps (notice how uncomfortable I am giving him that title) leads his flock to intrude on military funerals and proclaim, "God hates fags." (Oh, the pain of even typing such stuff!) In a 2011 ruling related to this group's hateful speech, Chief Justice John Roberts said, "Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain." Yes, the words we select are critical, and though citizens of the United States—Phelps included—are free to choose any words we wish, the impact of those words on our ways of thinking and being and doing deserves close inspection.    

What difference does it make to think or talk about preaching as sermon communication? Does my use of that term annoy or concern you? Perhaps you are intrigued. Having had this conversation with hundreds of pastors during interactive workshops over the past several years, I am aware that curiosity is a less common initial reaction than disagreement or consternation.    

A pastor who had heard only the title of my recent talk "Transforming Sermon Communication" wrote to me just last week to set me straight: "Preaching is not the same as communication. It is more holy, led by God. Studying communication techniques would diminish the movement of the Holy Spirit." In other cases, clergy have raised their hands to speak, working carefully to correct my usage of the term. "Don't you mean to say that though we are communicating when we are preaching, we are doing something more than that?" or "In fact, preaching is really completely different from other forms of communication, wouldn't you say?"    

Another incredibly common reaction when pastors hear the wordcommunication in close proximity to the words sermon or preach goes something like this: "But only a few preachers still use emotional manipulation to get people out of the pews and down to the altar." The underlying assumption of these initial responses seems to be that connecting the concept communication with the word sermon somehow degrades preaching. Dozens of pastors have shared various versions of seminary preaching-class stories in which the "communication" component of the process was set aside, noted as tangential to textual analysis or even declared unworthy of consideration for preachers-to-be.    

In contrast, as I look through the lens of the communication scholar, this way of describing the sermon or homily elevates expectations for what will happen as a result of the sermon. A communication perspective on preaching brings together the pastor's analysis of the text and the listeners' responses. Because preaching has often been taught as if the text and the listener are separate, I purposefully use the cumbersome term sermon communication to lead preachers and listeners to a different way of thinking about this sacred experience.    

By incorporating the idea of communication, I seek to help capture the essence of preaching at its best: people in relationship with one another and with God, speaking and listening for the purpose of spiritual transformation. I intend for this sermon communication paradigm to pull clergy toward a heightened awareness of critical realities in preaching: the spiritual growth purpose, the struggle to make meaning from spoken words, the concept of community, the profound responsibilities of speaker and listeners, and in light of all that—our tremendous gratitude for the Holy Spirit's participation in the process.    


This article is adapted and excerpted from Preaching That Matters: Reflective Practices for Transforming Sermons by Lori J. Carrell. 

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

To join Rabbi Creditor's email listsend a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Calling All Organizations and Synagogues: Sign the Jewish Community Letter on Gun Violence

Dear Chevreh,


I have been in touch with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) about their gun violence prevention campaign, Zichronam-Livrocha: For Their Memory Shall Be a Blessing.  Our teacher Rabbi Amy Eilberg has also been working closely with JCPA on this campaign to save lives.


JCPA is currently reaching out to congregations throughout the country to ask leadership to sign on to JCPA's national sign-on letter, addressed to Congress.  This national letter will not only show Congress that the Jewish community at large demands common-sense gun law reform, but will also be a resourceful tool for connecting and coordinating with other synagogues within the nation for continued local advocacy efforts.  Please see the attached letter.  That letter was sent in April and includes 24 national Jewish institutions as signatories.  JCPA intends to send another copy of this letter (the text of the body of the letter will be exactly the same) but include as many local Jewish organizations including synagogues, JCRCs, Hadassah chapters etc., as signatories.  JCPA is encouraging all Jewish organizations to sign! 

(I've also attached a press release that may be useful to you, as well in convincing others that this is worthwhile.) Please consider adding your organization or your synagogue's name to the letter.


If you'd like to sign on to the letter, please email Taylor Lustig with the official name of the organization you represent. Please let Taylor know if you have any questions (tlustig@thejcpa.org or 202-212-6035). Taylor works in the Washington, DC Office of JCPA and is coordinating their gun violence prevention campaign. 

If even one life is saved through our urgent work, then we've saved a world. May many more worlds be saved by the commitments we make as shuls, jcc's, and communities.

Kol Tuv,


Rabbi Menachem Creditor

To join Rabbi Creditor's email listsend a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

May 23, 2013

now available on Amazon: PEACE IN OUR CITIES: RABBIS AGAINST GUN VIOLENCE (second edition)

Now available on Amazon.com:







Second Edition


Foreword by Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Introduction by Pastor Michael McBride

Afterword by Teny Oded Gross

Edited by Rabbi Menachem Creditor


Second Edition Afterword by Dr. Erica Brown




1             FOREWORD: Violence, Jews, and Justice

Rabbi Jill Jacobs


3             Introduction: Seek the Peace of The City:  The Moral Mandate for Gun Control

Pastor Michael McBride


7             A Letter That Changed My Life

Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler


9             "And None Shall Make Him Afraid": The Jewish Legacy and Guns

Rabbi Steven Greenberg


17          Where is Our Strength? Bearing Arms in Jewish Thought

Rabbi Sheldon Lewis


23          I Live on a Quiet Tree-Lined Street

Rabbi Shalom Bochner


25          Becoming Actors

Rabbi Nina Mandel


29          A Prophetic Response to Gun Violence

Rabbi Menachem Creditor


35          The Name on The Bullet

Rabbi Jack Moline

37          Unnecessary Danger: A Jewish Reflection on Guns, Violence and Personal Safety

Rabbi Aaron Alexander


41          Answer Our Prayers: Remarks at the National Cathedral Gun Violence Vigil

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld


45          Testimony Before the Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee on Gun Violence

Rabbi Michael Adam Latz


49          Be Like Busch: An Open Letter from Four American Rabbis to the NRA Membership

Rabbis Aaron Alexander, Sharon Brous, Ronit Tsadok, and Menachem Creditor


53          On the Sandy Hook School Tragedy

Rabbi Sam Weintraub


59          You Shall Not Murder

Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin


65          The Blood of The Children Cries Out from

the Ground!

Rabbi Gary S. Creditor


69          The Blood of Your Fellow

Rabbi Daniel Kahane


71          Guns and Moses

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman


77          For Their Shoes

Rabbi Menachem Creditor


79          Waking Up: Gun Violence and Inequality

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann


89          Rising to Face Indifference to Gun Violence

Rabbi David Baum


97          Gun Owners: Who Will Stand Up and Say, 'Enough?!'

Rabbi Aaron Alexander and Rabbi Ronit Tsadok


101        It is Time to Put a Stop to This!

Rabbi Jack Riemer


107        Several Questions

Rabbi Gary S. Creditor


111        The Weapon's Shame: A Case for Gun Control in Jewish Law

Rabbi Ari Hart

115        Are They His Adornments? On Guns and Masculinity

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen


119        Newtown and New Orleans, Oak Creek and Oakland

Rabbi Amy Eilberg


123        When God Cries

Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky


127        God Full Of Mercy

                Rabbi Ben Goldstein


129        Gun Violence in Our Country: A Crisis for Every Single American

Rabbi Aaron Alexander


133        To Stay Awake

                Rabbi Noah Z. Farkas


137        The Ten Commandments and Gun Violence

               Rabbi David Kaiman


141        Passover, Non-Violence and Gun Control

                Rabbi Aryeh Cohen


144        The Fifth Child

               Rabbi Joshua Hammerman


147        Karpas -Drenched in Tears: A reflection on Gun Violence in our Society for the Passover Seder

               Rabbi Ron Fish


151         AFTERWORD to the First Edition: A Just Day

                Teny Oded Gross


153        AFTERWORD to the Second Edition: Blood Upon Our House

                Dr. Erica Brown


157        Contributors

Total Pageviews

Letter to the Forward in response to "Whose art is it anyway? Inside the cultural battle between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters"

Though I appreciate Mira Fox considering my music part of the artistic canon (" Whose art is it anyway? Inside the cultural battle betw...