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Congregation Or Shalom
835 Darby Paoli Road
Berwyn, PA 19312
Tel: 610-644-9086


Kami Knapp Schechter

Andrew Levin

Education Director:
Larisa Averbakh

Office Manager:
Lauren Porter

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Dvar October 25 & 26 2019

Friday, October 25, 2019: Show Up For Shabbat weekend


Tree of Life, etz haim. The name itself evokes the creation story we read this Shabbat, Bereishit. We read this week about the creation of the world, from the distinction between light and darkness to the creation of humans. But before humans are created, all else in the world is created. Day three: “Let the earth sprout vegetation: seed-bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” The earth brought forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And G-d said that this was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third Day. (Chapter 1: 11-13)


We learn from our parsha that trees have been intimately connected with us, with humans, to help sustain our lives. By giving fruit for nourishment, for cleaning the air we breathe, for providing us with shelter amidst weather conditions. Therefore G-d’s creation of trees was an integral part of the infrastructure to maintaining our life.


Chapter 2 verse 9 we are granted a tree specific to the giving of life: “And from the ground the Lord G-d caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.”


Our parsha poetically provides a metaphor for the commemoration we are here for tonight: the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh just one short year ago. This weekend is Show Up for Shabbat. Following the tragedy last year a Shabbat was designated to encourage all to show up for shabbat to show the world, we are not afraid, we will not be deterred from our worship, from our communities because of hate. In other words, we will not be denied our gift of the tree of life (community) which we were given by G-d as marked in this week’s parsha. 


Our parsha presents the trees of life, good, and bad within the same pasuk (verse). This teaches us that our life stands between good and bad. Our personal and communal choices between good and bad effect our lives and as we saw last year and many times prior, the sickly roots of the tree of bad can creep into the roots of our tree of life and destroy it from within. Show up for shabbat is our community’s way of separating our life-sustaining roots from the tree of bad. By saying you may try to infiltrate us, you may try and poison us but we will not allow it. We will draw of the tree of good to combat the poisonous roots of the tree of bad. 


And this is the deep message from this week’s parsha. When bad begins to incringe, when we start to feel rottenness creeping in we must push against it. We must draw from the good and push the bad away. Bad is only combated with good. 


On October 27, 2018 we lost 11 people from our global Jewish community, we lost them because of hate, because of evil. Jewish communities throughout the world were left devastated, frightened and unsure of a way to stop the escalating hate. And many of our communities still hold these feelings. Unfortunately, we see hate crimes increasing with a recent American Jewish Committee survey reporting that: “Approximately nine out of every ten American Jews believe antisemitism is a problem in America.


More than eight in ten say it has gotten worse over the past five years.


Nearly half of American Jewish young people say they have been victims of antisemitism.”


So how do we stop this hate, how do we keep ourselves and our communities safe. We take the lesson from this week’s parsha, we see how, like the garden of Eden, our lives are amidst trees of good and bad. We be aware of the tree of bad but we don’t let it encroach upon our roots. We come together as community and strengthen our roots so that we are less susceptible to the bad. 


And when tragedy strikes we feel the pain and the loss. We make it a point to remember those lost and mourn them. We use this remembrance to bring us together to be stronger. Let us remember the 11 lives lost one year ago:

Joyce Fienberg Richard Gottfried Rose Mallinger Jerry Rabinowitz Cecil Rosenthal David Rosenthal Bernice Simon Sylvan Simon Daniel Stein Melvin Wax Irving Younger


Let us honor them by becoming stronger together.

Read: Tree of Life by Monica Brown


Saturday, October 26, 2019- Or Tamid Hebrew High Shabbat Service

Emet: truth

This past Tuesday we celebrated Simchat Torah where we marked our reading of the very last parsha in our Torah: V’zot HaBracha and the return to the beginning of our Torah with Bereishit. Why do we read both parshas on Simchat Torah and not V’zot HaBracha last Saturday and Bereishit this Saturday? Because our sages taught that our love for Torah runs so deep that we race to return to re-reading Torah the minute we finish reading it. We don’t want a minute without Torah so we rush back into reading it from the beginning. 


Why do we read Torah? Why is it the central symbol for Jewish community? Why do we treat Torah with so much respect? Because our sages teach us, Torah is emet: truth. This doesn’t mean that all in the Torah is true, it means that by engaging with Torah we can discover truth within ourselves, our community, and the world. How do we learn that Torah is emet? 


The first word from parshat Bereishit is Bereishit, in the beginning. Bet, resh, aleph, shin, yud, tav. Therefore in the first word of our first parsha we receive the letter Aleph. Our very last parsha V’zot HaBracha, the first word of the parsha v’zot ends in tav. Vav, zayin, aleph, tav. Therefore in the last parsha we receive the letter tav. 


What is the beginning letter to the aleph-bet? Aleph. What is the last letter of the aleph-bet? Tav. And what is the middle letter of the aleph-bet, mem. Where do we find mem within the Torah? In all of the parshiot between Bereishit and V’zot Habracha. Thus we put the characters together: aleph, mem, tav and we get the word emet. We take the Torah as a whole and we receive: Truth. 


But finding truth is not simple or quick task. We slowly read the Torah in its entirety over the entire year, which shows it takes us a full year to complete the word emet. It takes time to find truth. 


Today our Hebrew high students have led most of the service. Their ability to lead certain aspects of the service come from being bar and bat mitzvahed. They are adults in the Jewish tradition. But they, you, are also on a journey. Some may say your bar/ bat mitzvah was the aleph to your journey to emet. As you continue on your journey, which will take a long time, let this week’s parsha and our transition from the end to the beginning from aleph to tav and back to aleph show you that Judaism is a circle. Once we think we have come to know emet, we have come to the end of our knowledge, we circle back and begin anew with aleph. I once had the Jewish journey described to me as a spiral, not a circle. We begin with aleph and we circle around over and over but each time we circle we start from a place a little different from last time. Over time our circles become a spiral which can carry on infinitely. 

I hope that as you journey through life you continue to look to Torah as emet. This doesn’t mean that pieces within the Torah be taken literal or that you can’t be shocked or even not agree with parts of the Torah, but that you use Torah and continue to grapple with it so that you may discover your truth, your truth within you. If Torah causes you to feel emotion, whether through agreement, disagreement, joy, or sadness, that means it’s emet is working, it’s causing you to explore the text and your own values, life, goals, etc.


In this week’s parsha we receive the tree of life, etz haim. We sing this song at the very conclusion of our Torah service. And what does this text mean:


Eits chayim hi lamachazikim ba,

Vetomecheha me-ushar.

Deracheha – d’rechei no-am,

Vechol netivotecha shalom…

Hashiveinu Adonai eilecha v’nashuva

Chadeish chadeish yameinu k’kedem

Chadeish chadeish yameinu k’kedem…

A tree of life to those who hold fast to it,

and all who cling to it find happiness.

Its ways are ways of pleasantness,

and all its paths are peace.

Help us and guide us, inspire us and provide us

With the wisdom Your Torah can show.

Cause us to learn, renew and return,

Just as in days of old.


May Torah always be a Tree of Life for you.