Friday, October 10, 2008

Kol Nidre Sermon

TGIS (Thank God It’s Shabbat)
Shabbat Shalom!

It is always wonderful to see so many people here on a Friday night. Temple Sinai is a loving community of Shabbat worshippers …. [Rabbi Litwak interrupts]

Excuse me, I have just been informed that tonight is Wednesday. [Crumple up fake page of sermon and throw it backwards to Rabbi Litwak.]

Shanah Tovah!

It is always wonderful to see so many of you here on Yom Kippur. As we begin what is considered the holiest of days, we treat ourselves a little differently tonight.

On most days we take good care of our bodies. We eat healthful food, we wash our bodies and brush our teeth. On Yom Kippur we fast, refraining from food and water for our insides, and soap and water for our outsides. Yom Kippur is a day of abstention.

Most days we wear whatever we find in the closet. Tonight we pay attention to how we look. Some of us wear white, some will not wear leather, some even wear a kittel, the traditional garb worn on only two occasions in a lifetime: under the Chuppah when getting married, and under the lights of our sanctuary when greeting God on Yom Kippur. Many of us will wear a Tallit and Kippah, perhaps for the only day this year. Yom Kippur is a day of mindfulness of our appearance.

Most days we find ourselves focused on the events of the present. We focus on our immediate goals and how we can accomplish them as fast as possible so we can move on to the next goal. But not Yom Kippur. Tonight we reflect upon the past. We take stock of our shortcomings and we pray for a better year than the year that just ended. We think carefully on how we can improve ourselves to make this year a year of blessing. We apologize for our past misdeeds, and we work to improve our bad habits and imperfections. Kol Nidre is a night of reflection, while Yom Kippur is a day of repentance.

Most days we spend our time at work. On this High Holy Day we spend time with family and community. We turn off our cell phones and disconnect from the professional world. We focus on our spiritual gains and we pray. For 364 days out of the year, we focus on the routine; but on Yom Kippur we focus upon the Divine inside us all.

You know, Yom Kippur is kind of like Shabbat! [Retrieve crumpled paper.]

In fact, the Torah describes Yom Kippur as a day of complete rest: Shabbat Shabbaton, the Sabbath of Sabbaths. On Yom Kippur we read Torah and Haftarah just like on Shabbat, and the Haftarah includes the reminder from Isaiah to “call the Sabbath "delight," The Lord's holy day "honored";” in order to seek favor from God.

Where Shabbat does differ from Yom Kippur, though, is in oneg Shabbat, the joy of Shabbat. On Shabbat we enjoy Challah, wine, meals with family and friends, a mid-day schluff, and of course the double mitzvah… (You laugh, but it’s in the Talmud!) On Shabbat we increase our bodily pleasure so that we can increase the pleasures of our souls. We are told to remember Shabbat, honor Shabbat, and keep it holy. Like on Yom Kippur we are not to work on Shabbat, but with a slightly different impetus.

Yom Kippur is Shabbat shabbaton lachem, the Sabbath of Sabbaths for you. Saturday is Shabbat ladonai elohecha, Sabbath for Adonai your God. Every Friday night as the sun sets, we are sanctifying a moment in time that serves as a declaration of our faith in God.

In the 2nd chapter of Genesis we first hear of Shabbat. God spends the first chapter of the Torah creating. Light and darkness, earth, water, sun, moon, stars, plants, and animals. In six days God creates heaven and earth. On the seventh day God rests.

Genesis 2:3 explains, “And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation.”

And there, in the second chapter of the Torah, God creates the weekend.

I think about our calendar. With the calendar we measure time through planetary movement. In one day the earth rotates on its axis once. In one month the moon revolves around the earth once. In one year the earth revolves around the sun once. And yet there is nothing in the cosmos that delineates a week. We have to work out weeks on our own. The week is the only calendrical measurement of time that is not determined by movement of astrological objects. The only one!

That means we can observe days, months, and years. There is ebb and flow to them. It gets dark and light. The moon grows and disappears. The planet gets colder and warmer.

We cannot observe a week happening. No star or planet makes it clear that a week has gone by. We have to pay attention to know what day it is. How many of us go back to work on a Tuesday after a long weekend and say, “Today feels like a Monday!” Even with the calendar in front of us it is sometimes hard to keep track.

The week is not planetary time…it is God-time. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. A week is a Torah-mandated measurement of time!

So celebrating Shabbat becomes a declaration of our faith in God. We stop working because God stopped. And God stopped because God wants us to stop.

In his book The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the daily human quest as a conquering of space. Heschel describes how we build things and acquire things, and these things take up space in the world. We understand our achievements through how we have used our space. Look at what I have built, look at what I own, look at what I can buy. Often we conquer space at the expense of time. We use our days to the fullest of their capacity. In conquering space, we lose time.

My friend Brian joined the US Army after he graduated college. Years later he would describe with great agony some of the perils of Basic Training. Of course, in Basic he had to do a lot of push-ups. He told me that unlike the movies they didn’t have to do 50 or 100 push-ups at a time. They had to do push-ups to Muscle Failure. His drill sergeant would make them push until they were unable to push any more. They would fall on their faces, exhausted, and do it again the next day.

This is exactly how many of us work in our professional lives. We push and push until we cannot so much as open an email, then we drive home, collapse, wake up, and start all over again.

If we keep it up we will cause problems worse than muscle failure. We will have mental and spiritual failure. Eventually something has to give. If we refuse to take time, time will find a way to catch up to us.

The Torah gives us a way to take time. We are commanded not to work on Shabbat. Outside of the restriction against kindling a fire, it does not teach us much more than that. Honor it, remember it, sanctify it, and don’t work. What does that mean?

In the Talmud, Tractate Shabbat lists 39 malachot—39 activities that are not allowed on Shabbat. No plowing, grinding, tearing, writing, baking, cutting, lighting a fire, etc etc. You can probably find a complete list on Wikipedia. These 39 malachot are derived from the work done making bread, making clothing, tanning animal hides, and building the Temple. In strict practice today you either find behavior tailored to allow following the rules, or acrobatic manipulation of the law.

For example, in Israel most hotels place what looks like a mini-package of tissues in guest rooms on Friday afternoon. These are not for blowing your nose, but for use after relieving yourself. Pre-measured toilet paper prevents the observant Jew from tearing on Shabbat.

Some people will put timers on their lights, water heaters, and televisions. That way they can derive the benefits from light, hot water, and their favorite program without actually flipping the switch on Shabbat.

Perhaps we think of these as silly and/or hypocritical. Why waste material and packaging just to not rip toilet paper on Shabbat? Isn’t being environmentally conscious more important to us today? And a timer seems like a waste of energy. If we are not home, the lights still go on. Even more to the point, why is it ok to use the electricity if it is not ok to turn it on?

These manipulations of everyday activities are not done to skirt halachah. The special toilet paper, Shabbat timers and elevators, walking from place to place, not carrying things, and everything we do or do not do on Shabbat serve to make Shabbat special. This is sanctifying Shabbat—making it Holy.

Perhaps this is not what works for us, but to the traditional Jew it makes perfect sense. Our task, then, is to find ways to make Shabbat meaningful for us.

This past November at the URJ Biennial convention in San Diego, Rabbi Eric Yoffe, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, offered some of his thoughts on Shabbat and how to make it Holy again. Shabbat worship is an integral part of our week. In Rabbi Yoffe’s words,
Reform Jews [keep] Shabbat because they need Shabbat. In our 24/7 culture, the boundary between work time and leisure time has been swept away, and the results are devastating…. For our stressed-out, sleep-deprived families, the Torah’s mandate to rest looks relevant and sensible. Our tradition does not instruct us to stop working altogether on Shabbat; after all, it takes a certain amount of effort to study, pray, and go to synagogue. Be we are asked to abstain from the work that we do to earn a living, and instead to reflect, to enjoy, and to take a stroll through the neighborhood…. We are asked to stop running around long enough to see what God is doing.
He explained the centrality of Shabbat worship to Judaism, especially to Reform Judaism. We have a need to focus less on the restrictions of Shabbat, and more on the joy, celebration, and worship.

In 1991 the CCAR Press published Gates of Shabbat, a Guide for Observing Shabbat. In this book, Mark Dov Shapiro describes three types of Shabbat worshippers, three examples of how to take a break on Shabbat and make it holy. He calls them The Walker, The Museumgoer, and The Painter. The Walker serves as the more traditional Shabbat observer. He spends no money and uses no technology. He will go to the park or take his canoe out on a local river. He will picnic at the beach or study with a group of friends. The Walker “puts aside the so-called necessities of modern life and uses Shabbat… [to do] something positive through thought, leisure, and friendship….”

The Museumgoer also stays away from work on Shabbat, but this Jew is willing to drive and spend money, but she puts limits on how her money will be spent. For example, she will not go shopping on Shabbat, but she will drive to and pay the admission for a day at a museum. Shabbat for the Museumgoer is made holy through freedom from necessity. Her activities increase in holiness when she shares them with her family and friends. Of course, these activities can all be done on a day that is not Shabbat. For Reform Jews, what makes these activities special for us is the intent as we do them. We honor Shabbat by refreshing and giving new life to our soul. No chores or errands are allowed.

The Painter is a very different example of a Shabbat observer. God stopped the work of creation on Shabbat and rested. We are to follow God’s example with our rest. Painting can be considered a form of creating, so how does the Painter justify his Shabbat ritual? He uses the book of Deuteronomy, in which Shabbat is described as a reminder of our liberation from Egypt. Therefore, it makes sense to the Painter to allow himself to feel liberated as well. An activity like painting, even though it is not halachically shabbes-dik, can be the perfect restful antidote to the meetings and appointments of the work week. As long as the activity is not something we get paid for during the rest of the week, engaging in some form of art allows the mind to relax while the hands move the brush.

There are many ways to honor Shabbat and sanctify our day of rest. As a gift to the Union, Rabbi Yoffe gave us 52 suggestions. The Gift of Shabbat Box from the Union for Reform Judaism contains a deck of cards, each with a creative way to celebrate Shabbat. Everyone who attended the Biennial in San Diego received a Shabbat deck. Tonight, we are giving a Shabbat deck to each of you. As you leave this evening, please pick up one deck per family from the ushers.

Some of the suggestions will be meaningful to you, and some will not. All of them will get us thinking about how to bring the Shabbat experience into our lives as individuals, as families, and as a community.

Now, I have been playing card games since I was 5 years old, and I know that with 52 cards you can play hundreds of different games. We are going to play a little game this year with our cards. And I am not only referring to the Poker tournament on November 1. Every Friday night as we kindle the Shabbat lights we are going to draw a card from the Gift of Shabbat deck. The following Shabbat, we will briefly describe how that particular card can add meaning to our lives here at Temple Sinai. So when we draw the card that says, “I try to do something cultural on Shabbat afternoon…” the Museumgoer might hear about it and tell us about her Shabbat ritual. Then she or the clergy might tell the congregation about it the following Friday night, just before we draw the next card from our deck.

With the Gift of Shabbat Deck, there are infinite possibilities to enhance your Shabbat experience and engage in sanctifying Shabbat as a community. We will continue to celebrate Shabbat together, and we will find more meaningful and exciting ways to make our Shabbat holy. If you already have a regular Shabbat activity that you do, share it with us. Include your Temple Sinai family in your Shabbat ritual. Perhaps what is routine for you will be inspirational for someone else.

If something happens to you on a particular Shabbat that makes you aware of its holiness, tell us. We want to involve as many people as possible in our exploration of Shabbat worship over the coming year.

Temple Sinai is going to be playing with Shabbat this year as well. We will still offer our beloved programs like Tot Shabbat and Friday Night Live. Tot Shabbat will have one minor change. Instead of 7:00 Tot Shabbat services, we will begin our Tot Shabbat experience at 6:00. After a brief, under-5-friendly service, we will enjoy a Shabbat dinner together here at Temple Sinai. Often these programs will feature one or two of our ECE classes singing songs they learn from Miss Pat, and everyone is always invited to enjoy. Adults should be accompanied by a child.

Our Friday Night Live services are always well received. Cantor Kruk rocks the house, and the ruach is palpable. We will continue Friday Night Live every other month—even numbered months—on the third Friday of the month. This month we celebrate FNL on October 24, which is Shabbat Bereshit. What a way to begin our Torah cycle!

On odd numbered months we are going to try something new. The third Friday of each odd-numbered month will be a Family Shabbat. Family Shabbat nights will begin at 5:30. Family Shabbat services are come-as-you-are, family-friendly, and relatively short. Whether you are coming from work, the gym, or soccer practice, everyone is welcome. Our Family Shabbat experience will tap into our summer camp Shabbat memories. We will lead with guitars and storytelling, creating a tangible, visceral experience that our children and adults will love. We hope you will join us in just one month from now on November 14 at 5:30 PM for our first Family Shabbat.

Friends, this is a major, seed-changing task that lies ahead of us, and some of you will be asked to help. The lay leader, perhaps better than the rabbi, can implement this kind of change to restore Shabbat to its rightful place. At Rabbi Yoffe’s suggestion, Temple Sinai will create a Shabbat Task Force—a cadre of Temple Sinai partners who will meet weekly for eight weeks, experiencing Shabat at Temple Sinai and at other local synagogues. They will learn from the best practices of Shabbat worship and report back to the Jewish Living Committee and the clergy. We will then weave the suggestions of the Task Force in to our own Shabbat worship experience.

The more we experience Shabbat, the more we will understand how Shabbat rest can be liberating.

Tonight is Kol Nidre. It is a night full of spirituality and meaning. Our challenge is to bring some of the Kavannah—the intention—of Kol Nidre to our souls every week.

Tonight we think about the vows we have broken and those we have renewed. Let us make a communal vow to make Shabbat observance, in some way, a central part of our Jewish identities for the coming year.

Tonight we dream. We remember the past and dream of the promise of a rich future. Our dream tonight is of a meaningful Shabbat. Shabbat for us will be a day of rest, a day of revitalization, a day of connection with our loved ones.

On this Yom Kippur, this Shabbat of our souls, we embark on a journey of many chances to experience Shabbat Kodesh, the Holy Sabbath, every week.

So again, I bid you all Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rosh Hashanah Day II

My Trip to the Creation Museum
I never expected all the dinosaurs.

As we rode in the taxi entering the grounds of the museum, they were the first things we saw. Bronze statues of dinosaur skeletons graze all over the vast lawn in front of and leading up to the Creation Museum.

In 1994 Ken Ham set down the plan to build a museum dedicated to creationist theology, and the belief that the world literally was created in six 24-hour days, like it says in the Torah. He strove to build a reasoned, logical defense to those who would question creationism. We’ll get to this later. 13 years and seven million dollars later, he built the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY. It’s about 15 miles south of Cincinnati, so while the CCAR Convention was gathered in Cincinnati this past spring, I had to see it for my self. I invited two other rabbis to grab a cab with me, and soon we were there. Looking at the dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs are a running theme throughout the Creation Museum. There are statues of dinosaurs, animatronic dinosaurs, and a movie about dragons—who are really just leftover dinosaurs. This is contrary to what I knew about creationists. They think dinosaur bones are all fake, right?

It makes for an extremely kid-friendly museum. Think about it—how many kids do you know who are fascinated by dinosaurs? The way they tell it, dinosaurs were created on the sixth day, just like all the other land animals. So when God put all the creatures in the Garden of Eden, the dinosaurs were there with them.

The first room in the museum has an eerily lifelike pair of animatronic men squatting on either side of a partially uncovered dinosaur skeleton. One is an elderly, white-bearded caucasian, and the other is a young-looking Asian man. The old white man narrates a film about their archaeological exploits that plays on a loop. He explains that he believes that the world was created in six 24-hour days, while his friend believes that the earth is [say with a chuckle:] billions of years old.

What struck me about this display is the comforting figure of the Santa Claus-like white man with the message from the Bible, as compared to the Asian “archaeologist,” who believes in a process of evolution that took eons.

The Asian man is the “other,” and that he is far eastern is likely a conscious choice. Asian religions are the farthest theologically from Christianity. They are unrelated to the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. So in the very first exhibit, a perception is established. There is certainty and comfort in the creationist message, in contrast to scientific theory. They are only theories, after all, Santa Claus reminds us. The creationist message is delivered in a nice, calm, soft spoken voice that reminds us of our grandfather. The “others” believe that which is alien, foreign, and not like us. It was an extremely clever presentation, and very scary.

Throughout the museum there is only one path, so it can only be navigated from beginning to end. Before it gets to the creation story, there is an exhibit about the Bible itself. It mostly describes use of the Biblical canon in various communities, most notably that of the Jews. One display has three different versions of the Pentateuch. The first was a reproduction of a stone with ancient proto-Hebrew carved into its surface. The second was a reproduction of a Greek scroll. The third was an actual Torah, marked with a plaque describing it as a scroll from Poland rescued from the Holocaust. I leaned in to inspect it, and discovered that it was open to Genesis 32, the story of Jacob wrestling the angel.

As I read, I thought of how clever the museum’s design is. Hebrew and the display of ancient languages gives validity to the museum’s message. If the words on this scroll were written in a language that the Jews still use today, it stands to reason that the message in the scroll must be fact, right?

Even cleverer is the precise scene to which this Torah was opened. As Jacob struggles with the angel, so does the creationist struggle with the other who challenges the Biblical message.

Before long, a woman I did not know saw me staring at the text and said, “It looks like it’s upside down, doesn’t it?”

I couldn’t resist showing off. I pointed to where I was reading, “it says here, vayivater ya’akov l’vado, and Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until dawn. It’s the story of Jacob wrestling the angel.”

“Where did you learn that?” she asked.

I got a little nervous at this point, “I have a Master’s degree in Hebrew Literature,” I told her quickly. While this is true, I suddenly felt the need to run away into the next exhibit.

From there on in the museum, Hebrew text is prominent. Sometimes it is used like the Hebrew word Metushalach—as a nametag of sorts on the desk of the animatronic Methusaleh. Other times it is in the background of still and electronic displays all over the museum. Consistant use of the Hebrew language serves as a validation of sorts. Every time Hebrew is on display, it is an implicit reminder that this stuff “really happened.”

After the museum’s version of the history of Torah, we get to the Biblical account of creation. We read this story today during our Torah service. God creates the world in six days. Light and darkness on the first day, water and sky on the second, land and plants on the third. The next three days God spends filling the creations of the first three days. Sun, moon, planets, and stars on the fourth day, birds and fish on the fifth, and land animals on the sixth, including the first human being. The Bible does say that after six days, “The heaven and the earth and all their array was completed…” (Gen 2:1). We heard Cantor Kruk chant those very words. They are very much a part of Jewish tradition. This is Rosh Hashanah, after all, and we are celebrating the birthday of the world.

So how do we reconcile what we know about the universe and how it works with what it says it in the Bible? For that I look deep into the wisdom texts of our age, and one of the most venerated scholars known to modern Americans. That’s right, I speak of Indiana Jones. In the third Indiana Jones movie, Dr. Jones writes the word “FACT” on the chalkboard, and says to his students, “Archaeology is the search for fact... not truth. If it's truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall.” Understanding the wisdom of this statement, I often tell the opposite to my sixth grade Bible students. I tell them that facts can be empirically proven through evidence or observation. Truth, according to my definition, is dependent on belief. The Bible is concerned with truth, not facts. Truth is not beholden to logic or reason. We can believe something fully, to the fullest extent of our being, and have absolutely no proof of it.

Remember I said we would get back to the Creation Museum’s “reasoned, logical approach” to answer those who question creationism? This is an attempt to use a system of facts to prove a truth. There is a movie in the Creation Museum called, The Created Cosmos. It is a planetarium-style film, during which the viewers are treated to a tour of the universe as we know it, starting on earth observing the planets and stars, then moving out into space, past our solar system, out of the Milky Way, and eventually as far out as humanity has been able to observe at this point. While looking at the view from millions of light years away, the narrator attempts to prove that the earth is 6000 years old. He says:

Critics claim that it is impossible for the light from these galaxies to reach earth in only 6000 years. They claim that these galaxies prove the universe is billions of years old. But in fact there are several different ways to get light to travel these distances in a short period of time. These include gravitational-time dilation, altered synchronous conventions, and others.

This is logic and reason. Gravitational-time dilation, altered synchronous conventions, and others. After the movie, I asked the two I was with if they had every heard of these. Since none of us had, we looked up these supposed proofs up on line. We found gravitational time dilation, but could not find altered synchronous conventions. Since I was in my home town, I called my high school physics teacher to verify the information.

Gravitational time dilation is a theory that claims gravity is stronger when objects are closer to large objects, therefore light moves faster when close to planet-sized objects. When light moves faster, it distorts the way time is perceived. The proof used for this theory is that when an atomic clock, the most accurate type of clock there is, gets placed on a mountain, it moves slower than an identical atomic clock on the ground—closer to earth’s gravitational field. The problem with this theory is that this is not a measurement of time moving slower; it is a measurement of clocks moving slower.

According to my teacher, another problem with using this theory is that in order for light to travel millions of light years in less than 6000 years, it would have to travel on a path that skirts hundreds of millions of large planetary objects—large enough and close together enough to alter the speed of light. These objects would have to be visible to have this kind of impact, and we cannot see them.

Well, it sounded reasoned and logical before we looked it up. Or at least it sounded like fancy scientific jargon.

One more “proof” from the Creation Museum: While traveling through the Biblical story, we come to a replica of Noah’s Ark. The miniature ark is about three feet long. In the middle of the ark is an open door, with a platform attached to a tiny staircase. On the platform stands a teeny tiny Noah, guiding the animals two-by-two into the ark. The animals walking up the platform include a pair of elephants, a pair of giraffes, and a pair of triceratops.

Oh, yes. The dinosaurs are still around with Noah. You see, according to the museum, the fossilized dinosaur bones that we find in different layers of the earth are real. They just aren’t millions of years old as science claims. On a plaque in the Noah exhibit, it says:

Because things were buried in sequence during the flood, it left a pile of rocks and sediment each time and gave the appearance of layers of strata, which is why scientists misinterpret the layers of strata as coming from different era.

So fossilization was not the result of millions of years of pressure from layers of earth. According to the Creation Museum, fossilization happened in 40 days due to the tremendous pressure from the Great Flood. The extinction of dinosaurs happened slowly over the following two thousand years, with only one or two dinosaurs left by the middle ages—which spawned dragon legends so prominent throughout the world. Presented to the museum-goer as reasoned and logical.

This presentation does elicit questions in the mind of the thoughtful observer. What about carbon-dating? Why haven’t archaeologists found dinosaur bones that are younger than the Flood? And of course: What are you people smoking? Sadly, I had no representative from this culture who I could ask. I did hear a father’s reaction to his daughter’s questions. We were in the Tower of Babel exhibit, and I heard him yelling at her. “Stop asking so many questions!” he scolded her. “Just listen and pay attention. You don’t question this stuff, this is God’s word.”

Throughout the museum, there are monitors with God’s word on display. On every monitor, Biblical quotes flash on the screen while a voice reads the quotes aloud. Each of these screens has different texts, but over the same background. The background is a Torah scroll opened to the very beginning, the chapter we read today. On every monitor the Bible quotes are read across a Hebrew background—the original Hebrew text on a Torah. Remember, Hebrew serves as validation.

Here’s the problem: The Torah on every monitor is upside-down. Mistaking the letters like the friendly woman at the Torah display, the confused designers created a display of upside-down Torah throughout the entire museum.

I am reminded again of high school science. In anatomy class, we learned that the human eye is an amazing instrument for capturing light. It is able to detect different colors of light, adapt to different intensities of light and dark, and focus differently for objects that are far away or up close. When an image hits the optical nerve, however, that image is upside-down and 2-dimensional. The brain then flips this image, and uses information from both eyes to create the 3-D, right-side-up view of the world we enjoy. Without our brains working properly, we would see the world upside-down and flat.

The same is true with any information we take in. There are generally three sides to any story: yours, mine, and the facts. If we hear only one side of the story, we cannot possibly understand it properly. This is even the case when we watch the news. There is no such thing as an unbiased reporter. Opinions are disguised as information, and the medias feeds us constantly with lie after lie, scandal after scandal, anything that sells commercials. The media plays to our anxieties by presenting upside-down images on a screen of rendered half-truths.

When we hear a story from any source, our job is to do our due diligence and check the facts. Don’t trust what you learn from television, radio, emails, or even this bimah. Use your brain. Check the facts.

In just over a month we are going to vote. Voting itself is easy. It takes only pushing a button. What happens before pushing the button is the important part. It is our duty as American citizens to vote with our brains. We do this by thinking first about our values. What is important to us? How do we react to the issues of 2008? How important is one issue over another?

Then we look to see which candidate is a more suitable representation of our views. Based on using our brains, not on believing the stories we are told.

The dinosaurs are long gone. By using my brain and taking in as many sides of the story as I can, I have come to the conclusion that the Earth is in fact much, much more that 6000 years old. The Torah is not a history book about the past. It is a guide to teach us how to live right now. It is full of exhilarating stories about our mythological ancestors and how they overcame tremendous odds to succeed as God’s special people. We can learn from the examples of the great faith they had in God to get them through the difficult times.

One of the lessons from the Bible is that before us at every moment there are choices, and if we choose wisely we will live well. The choices we make are not always as clear as good over evil. More often they are between good and better. It is not always easy to tell which is which. The answer only becomes clear when we use our brains.

May we all use the coming year to ask good questions of anyone who presents a truth to us. May God grant us the wisdom to not take anything at face value, no matter how good it seems. May we use our minds to discover the facts that will lead us into a sweet, healthy, and prosperous 5769.