Today is February 22, 2020 -
Joy and learning on Westchester's Sound Shore
2111 Boston Post Road, Larchmont, NY 10538
Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski
Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski was raised in Argentina, earned his law degree at the University of Buenos Aires Law School (1986) and was ordained as a rabbi at the Seminario Latinoamericano (1991). He received an MA in rabbinic literature and a doctorate in Jewish Philosophy from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (1997), where he taught for over a decade. He also earned an MSW from the Adelphi Graduate School of Social Work.
Rabbi Borodowski also studied at the Hebrew University Institute for Advanced Studies and is a graduate of Senior Educators program at the Melton Center for Education in the Diaspora – Hebrew University (1989-1990). In 1989 he was invited to spend a semester at the Hebrew Union College-Cincinnati as the first Conservative rabbinical student from the Seminario Rabbinical School. He is a graduate of the Metivta Institute for Contemplative Judaism (2000-2001) and is certified as an administrator and interpreter of the Myers Briggs personality type instrument specializing in organizational leadership and spirituality. He is a graduate of the Kellogg School of Management for Jewish Leaders (2009).
Rabbi Alfredo also served for 5 years as the Executive Director of the Shalom Hartman Institute for North America.
Exodus-Torah Portion Yitro-Chapter 20, Verse 2 (2/15/20)
“I’m your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt,”…and why Plato, Rabbi Akiba, and Harry Potter knew how to pray.
Instead of beginning the Ten Commandments with a rule, God precedes them with a strange reminder; “I’m the Lord your God who took you out of Egypt.” God seems to imply that the only reason He can command is that He has proven His love for Israel. The liberation from slavery serves as the grounding for Divine authority. Love thus precedes law. Authority must be rooted in affection. If Divine devotedness ceases, God’s kinship collapses. In many ways, our challenge in modernity is not so much the fulfillment of commandments, but our soul’s dispassion for God’s millennial love. When rationalism abandoned faith for cold science and postmodernity fragmented reality, the Divine concern for us was eclipsed by spiritual shadows. Love, not tradition, is our challenge. For centuries, humanity imagined another realm from which we were spiritually and intellectually nourished. Plato called it the World of Ideas. The Jewish Mystics, the Heavenly Palace. And the rabbis, the Celestial Jerusalem. All of them were unified by the wonderful invitation to take a celestial journey beyond the terrestrial boundaries. That parallel existence nurtured them and inspired them to soar into mysterious domains. From those journeys, they brought us precious gifts such as music and poetry. None of those gifts would have been conceivable in the purely material realm. If we lose that dimension, we will become existentially impoverished. Like the great scholar from the University of Chicago, Prof. Michael Fishbein, affirms, “Old Plato and his heaven soaring chariots of ideas have taken a nosedive.” Unfortunately, I add that most of the spiritual world lies at the edge of a meaningless black hole. People tell me, “Rabbi, I feel nothing while praying.” The response for me is clear: “We foreclosed the world of the above and our prayers have nowhere to ascend.” As Rabbi Heschel taught, prayer cannot be a soliloquy; a monologue. Certainly, pray for the love of community, the music, or the poetry. But try to initiate your journey with the possibility that there is “something” beyond the here and now. Reflect upon who or what has taken you out of your personal Egypt. The smashing success of Harry Potter (first volume now in Yiddish) and Lord of the Rings unmasks our craving for the mysterious. God, even God, needed the Exodus to be allowed to command. Divine love, emanating from the heavens is eternal. If the beyond with its everlasting love, sacredness, mystery, is lost, the spirit that elevates us beyond the self will be crushed into the cold dusty ground. This Shabbat taking the Torah out of the ark will be emotional. Linked to Jews in synagogues for two thousand years, we will mimic the revelation at Sinai. It seems to me that despite all our travails, Divine love has prevailed.
Exodus-Torah Portion Beshalach-Chapter 15, Verse 3 (2/8/20)
“God is a man of war; God is His name.”
“God…….God is His name.” This is truly bizarre. If the first statement uses the name of “God,” why is the Torah immediately introducing that same name as unknown? We just used it! The key to solving this mystery lies in the context in which this verse is recited. It appears in the powerful “Song of the Sea,” sung by the Israelites upon the miraculous crossing of the Sea of Reeds. The song crudely details the demise of Pharaoh’s army. The puzzling phrase seems to declare that while God was fighting, God simultaneously maintained God’s name. What does this mean? Biblical commentators explain that God was able to do both, battle and continue God’s general gift of nourishing the world with kindness and love. The first mention of God referred to the battle and the second, “God is His name,” to God’s rule over creation. The particular and universal are thus entangled in a perfect dance. This verse teaches us the fundamental virtue of complexity. We can measure the maturity of a civilization on a complexity scale. The capacity to reside in dissonant opposite views with curiosity and objectivity secures a society of dialogue and depth. The dangers of unilateral and narrow views, of any ideological or political colors, are toxic. God leads the way as God was simultaneously a warrior and a nourisher. God maintained an equilibrium between two seemingly irreconcilable poles. In the same manner, each one has the potential of self-contradiction for the sake of growth. Nobody has the right to hinder our sacred complexities. Nobody has the right to demand from us internal coherence. Each time I read a profound book I experience a transformation. My views shift and contradict much of what I have previously sustained. Am I deceitful, naive or insecure? Absolutely not. There is no cosmic law compelling us to existential consistency. Those who do not understand that we are engaged in a magnificent journey of learning are blindly standing by the side of the road to enlightenment. Imposed intellectual uniformity engenders a savage tyranny against expression and creativity. I don’t care what you believe! But exercise the courage to contemplate the opposite critical view on it. We endowed the world with the longest and most sophisticated sacred argumentation; the Talmud. We are obliged to continue in the footsteps of our sages. After years of deeply studying the Torah, the greatest lesson I have learned is that God evolves. God is a learner. That’s the essential lesson; that to learn is sacred. We must resist a society based on clichés, sound bites, and TV shows of infantile rhetoric that try by all means to simplify our minds and reduce us to puppets. Be free; dwell in your doubts, moments of clarity, and doubts again. We will be warriors of life; nourishers and lovers all at once and we will grow beyond intolerance.
“Without helpful doubts…the human family cannot advance.”
I.M. Wise, “Wandering Jews,” 1877, Selected Writings, p. 182.
Exodus-Torah Portion Bo-Chapter 10, Verse 26 (2/1/20)
“We shall not know with what we are to worship God until we arrive there.”
Pharaoh finally accedes to allowing the Israelites to leave the city to celebrate a festival. However, in a last move for control, he demands a detailed list of Moses’ needs. Moses responds that only on the ground, at the time of celebration, could he assess the needs. We long to control the future by planning. It is instinctive; an impulse. Lack of certainty and control of our lives is one of the most uncomfortable feelings we can experience. Moses teaches us that sometimes we must trust the process and have faith that at the right moment clarity will emerge. We need to lower our natural anxiety and learn “to arrive there.” When we relinquish the struggle to control life, we will experience a profound sense of liberation. In fact, we will become more centered and effective in our journey. A rigid approach to life will be replaced with a universe of possibilities. Today, I woke up to learn about the tragic death of Kobe Bryant (41) and his daughter (13) in a helicopter crash. It shook me to my core. They were the incarnation of the American dream. They had it all. But life is a risk; a beautiful risk. We live because despite pain, disappointments, and reversals, the flame of hope burns within us. Yes, some planning is necessary, but learn to focus on the moment. The more you dwell in the here and now, the more your anxiety will diminish. There are no reassurances in life, but the fact that we exist just for an instant is one of the most wonderful mysteries of the universe. We trust, like Maimonides teaches, that in the cosmic order good surpasses evil. I pray that when you arrive to your “there,” all your expectations will be fulfilled. But know that the journey is as meaningful as the destination.
“The whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the important thing is not to fear at all.” -Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav
Exodus-Torah Portion Vayera-Chapter 10, Verses 9-10 (1/25/20)
Pharaoh said, “Go, worship the Lord your God! Who are the ones to go?” Moses replied, “We will all go, young and old: we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds; for we must observe the Lord’s festival.”
This week a prominent church shocked the spiritual world. The Cottage Grove Church in Des Moines, IA, announced that members 60 years old and above were “invited” to leave the church and asked to pray for two years at a different location. The reason? They wanted to attract new young families and the aging population was a “non-attractive component.” Organized religion in America is in trouble and sociologists unfortunately predict more desperate survival measures. I just can’t imagine the pain of those asked to leave their sacred home because their very existence is a burden. This is why I rejoice by Moses’s words, centuries ago, in the verse above. He demands Pharaoh allow the Israelites to travel three days away from Egypt to celebrate a festival. Pharaoh asks who would go, and Moses answers with words of sacred inclusion: “The young and the old.” When it comes to community, age does not matter. When the Israelites left Egypt, Moses had many rational excuses to leave the frail behind: a ferocious army was just miles away, they needed to be fast, and the elderly would need tremendous help to walk through the sand. But Moses was uncompromising, “all of us or nobody.” This simple verse entailed the wonderful beginning of something endearing to Jews – peoplehood. We have built homes for the elderly, brought food to the home-bound, paid the rent of those in desperate straits. All these righteous acts flourished from this infinitely compassionate verse. The sages teach, “You shall stand before the elderly.” That’s a core moral principle of our tradition. Age for us entails experience and wisdom. Sulam is a proud descendant of Moses. In our spiritual home, age is represented by the most active and committed people.
Exodus-Torah Portion Shemot (1/18/20)
Verse: “He (Moses) turned this way and that and, seeing no one about, he struck down the Egyptian (who was mistreating the Hebrews) and hid him in the sand.
Many commentators explain that the looking to both sides meant that Moses felt that he was the only one present and nobody else but him would defend the slaves.
Moses was presented with a dilemma; either I take care of this very difficult situation or nobody will. He is not alone. How many of you have by yourself taken care of a sick loved one? How many of you have assumed financial obligations while others suddenly disappear? Sometimes we receive no help from others, but we don’t quit. We stand strong. We do above and beyond our share because we know that love for others, and our responsibility are sacred. If you are one of them, you have Moses’s DNA. We are commemorating the life of Martin Luther King. From his speeches, it is clear that the story of Exodus was his main inspiration. How fitting to begin with Exodus this Shabbat in his honor. He stood so many times alone when nobody dared to speak. As we journey toward shabbat, may all the lonely soldiers of life be blessed.