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March 9, 2012 / 15 Adar, 5772
Parashat Ki Tissa

I Kings 18:1-38

Reflecting the Divine Image

Just as Moses chastised the Israelites who doubted the existence of the "Unseen God" and constructed the Golden Calf, so, too Elijah confronts those who place their trust in physical objects. He challenges the priests of Ba'al to show that the power of their god is even a consideration when set against the power of God. In a highly dramatic test, the priests of Ba'al fail, leaving the people who witnessed this match to proclaim the words that conclude our worship service on Yom Kippur: Adonai Hu ha-Elohim – The Eternal is our God; Ayn Od – There is no other.

Although pagans paid homage to physical representations of their gods – such as the Golden Calf, the statue of Ba’al – they understood that these objects had no power of their own. Instead, they represented the highest physical priorities that give power to human beings. Today we think of people who express belief in God, and, like the pagans, seem to place highest priority on the material world: money, notoriety, status. The priests of Ba’al were concerned with physical power, whereas the Jewish prophets focused on the essential Presence of God.

In the Torah reading, after Moses chastises the Israelites for celebrating the physical representation of God, he asks God to reveal the Divine Essence. God responds Adonai Adonai, Ayl Rahum v’Hanun… I am the Eternal God, reflecting the Divine Attributes of compassion, graciousness, in control of anger and impulse, kindness, truth, patience and forgiveness. God’s Image is not a physical object: it is in our reflection of these Godly attributes as we interact with those around us. Do we treat them with dignity? Are we kind? Are we patient? Do we control our impulse to impugn others’ integrity?

If we answer "yes" to these questions, then we are, indeed, attesting to God’s Existence as a guiding Force in our lives. We are reflecting God’s Image, and we are what Jewish people call a mensch.

Over the past few months, America has witnessed candidates vying for votes in the American primaries with acrimonious ads and articles attacking opponents’ character and credibility. The ads – which will surely extend through the Presidential election in November – fling derogatory labels and present as “fact” how the opponent will negatively affect America and Americans. We watch in pain as candidates who purport to care about our country fire verbal attacks to shake loose votes in a whirlwind of rhetoric.

Even as Elijah’s message is loyal to God, he does a poor job of reflecting Godliness. He taunts and mocks the priests of Ba’al resorting to magic to convince them that they are wrong. Later, God will help Elijah to understand that Divinity is not found in fiery personalities, earth shattering pronouncements, or the rhetoric, but rather in Kol D’mama Daka – the still, small voice of conscience within the soul. The inner voice should tell us that God is in the way we present ourselves as reflecting God’s Image – how we are a mensch – as we extend dignity and the benefit of doubt to those around us.

The Haftarah ends with the pronouncement Adonai Hu ha-Elohim, the Eternal Attributes of Godly behavior attest to the existence of the Sovereign God. It is our reminder that God is not represented by physical objects: evidence of God’s Existence is in the intangible qualities that guide us to live up to the Divine Image in which we are created, and nothing less.

This week's Haftarah commentary was written by Rabbi Rick Sherwin, Congregation Beth Am, Longwood, FL. A graduate of UCLA, Rick was among the first students to enter the graduate rabbinic program at the University of Judaism, then completed Rabbinical School at JTS (1978). Rick, an adjunct at the University of Central Florida, is proud to be part of the rabbinic line of the Abelson family: he is married to Elissa Abelson (a graduate of JTS), the daughter of Rabbi Kass Abelson (JTS 48), founder of USY. Their son, Rabbi Josh Sherwin (JTS 09), the first fourth generation JTS ordainee, is a Chaplain in the US Navy.

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New Publications

Leadership - Innovation - Community
Understanding the Haftarot:
An Everyperson's Guide

In this stimulating and unusual book Rabbi Charles Simon, Executive Director of FJMC, provides the reader with the context to understand how the haftarot were organized, why they might have been selected and suggests reasons for finding meaning and value.
You can purchase it a number of ways.
Intermarriage: Concepts & Strategies for Families and Synagogue Leaders
If family members and community leaders wish to become engaged in the process of Keruv they often need to ask, "Does Keruv have an ideology and theology? And if so what is it?" Then they need to learn how to respond to intermarriage from the perspective of both gender and religion. This publication reflects the most current thinking about intermarriage to date and attempts to provide family members and community leaders with the needed understanding to effectively work with intermarrieds or potential intermarrieds.
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It's time for Build-A-Pair
The best way to teach about tefillin!

HeneniThe "Build a Pair" Program is a comprehensive and fun learning program to introduce 5th, 6th or 7th graders to the joy and mitzvah of Tefillin in Jewish life. Multiple components interplay to explore the religious significance, the construction of, and the practice of "laying" Tefillin. A comprehensive education program with videos helps the religious school teach students the meaning of Tefillin in Jewish life and practice. Students practice writing their Hebrew/Jewish names and the SHEMA (first line) to insert into pre-made wooden Tefillin boxes. Students decorate the boxes in any creative way they wish, allowing for personal expression. Students either compete or cooperate in writing a "wRAP" song to sing at a Big Event. The Big Event can be the World Wide Wrap (WWW), sponsored by the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs (FJMC), held annually on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday. The WWW program is designed to introduce and re-introduce Jewish men [and women] to the significance of "laying" Tefillin. The "Build a Pair" student program attracts the parents to see their children in their model Tefillin sing the "wRap" songs, allowing two generations (or more!) to join in the mitzvah together, and to let the students' sing their "wRAP" song for an appreciative audience.

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