Rabbi Mel Gottlieb’s Speech at LMU Mass – Aug 25, 2019

HINEI MAH TOV U’MAHNAIM (Psalm 133:1)

AUGUST 25TH, 2019

HOW GOOD IT IS TO DWELL TOGETHER WITH BROTHERS AND SISTERS?

What is good?

1) Togetherness; and 2) overcoming doubt thru communication, honesty and authenticity-expressing doubt leads to discovering the Light in the darkness.

Thank you for inviting me to share a message of faith as we, my brothers and sisters come together at this particular time in our history. HOW WONDERFUL THAT WE BROTHERS AND SISTERS ARE GATHERED HERE TODAY TO PRAISE THE LORD, AND HONOR THE VALUES OF PEACE, LOVE, AND JUSTICE! WE COME WITH THE HOPE THAT SOMEDAY ALL WILL ACKNOWLEDGE THAT WE ARE ALL G-D’S CHILDREN, CREATED IN THE IMAGE OF G-D AND INDEED, BROTHERS AND SISTERS ON A JOURNEY TO UPLIFT OUR WORLD IN GRATITUDE TO OUR CREATOR, AND FULFILL OUR MANDATE TO MAKE OUR WORLD INTO A PLACE OF LOVE, BEAUTY, AND JUSTICE.

THERE ARE MANY CHALLENGES IN THIS, OUR WORLD, TODAY, IN ADDITION TO OUR PERSONAL CHARACTER TRAITS THAT HAVE TO BE CONSTANTLY MONITORED AND IMPROVED.  ONE MAJOR CHALLENGE IS HOW TO RESPECT AND UNDERSTAND THE VALUES, FEARS AND ASPIRATIONS OF THOSE WITH WHOM WE DIFFER, HOW TO LISTEN WELL, HOW TO BE OPEN TO DIFFERENT POSSIBILITIES AND WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THOSE WHO DIFFER FROM US WHILE RESPECTFULLY AND CONFIDENTLY EXPRESSING OUR VALUES, THOUGHTS AND ASPIRATIONS THAT MAY DIFFER FROM OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS. I BELIEVE THAT THE BIRTH OF INTERFAITH DIALOGUE IS A GREAT NEW POWER INTEGRATING THE BEAUTIFUL AND PROFOUND TEACHINGS OF OUR DISTINCT TRADITIONS AND DISCOVERING SERENDIPITOUSLY THAT THE CORE OF EACH TRADITION IS THE SAME VALUE OF LOVE EVEN THOUGH EACH OF US MAY LIVE  THROUGH DISTINCT HISTORICAL EXPERIENCES AND CULTURES THAT EXPRESS THIS VALUE IN DIFFERENT LANGUAGES AND IDIOMS.  IN OUR BOOK OF THE TALMUD THERE IS A DISCUSSION AS TO WHICH IS THE MOST IMPORTANT VERSE IN THE ENTIRETY OF HEBREW SCRIPTURE. ONE SAGE, RABBI AKIVA SAYS IT IS THE VERSE IN LEVITICUS, CHAPTER 19, ‘LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF.’ THE SAGE BEN AZZAI DIFFERS AND SAYS THAT THE VERSE IN GENESIS, CHAPTER 5:1 ‘THIS IS THE BOOK OF THE CREATION OF ALL HUMANITY’ IS EVEN GREATER FOR HE CLAIMS LOVING SOMEONE WHO IS LIKE YOU (YOUR NEIGHBOR) IS NOT SUFFICIENT. WE MUST LOVE ALL HUMAN BEINGS, EVEN THOSE DIFFERENT FROM US, FOR EACH IS CREATED IN THE IMAGE OF G-D.  THE RABBIS DECIDED IN FAVOR OF BEN AZZAI. THE RABBIS REPEAT THIS TEACHING IN THE MISHNA IN SANHEDRIN 4:5, WHEN THEY ASK WHY DID G-D CREATE ADAM SINGULARLY, AFTER ALL G-D COULD HAVE CREATED THOUSANDS AND MILLIONS OF HUMANS IN THE BEGINNING. AND THEY ANSWER TO TEACH US THAT EACH HUMAN BEING IS OF ABSOLUTE VALUE FOR IF YOU DESTROY ONE HUMAN IT IS AS IF YOU HAVE DESTROYED THE ENTIRE WORLD (AND IF YOU SAVE ONE HUMAN BEING IT IS IF YOU HAVE SAVED THE WHOLE WORLD), ALSO TO TEACH US THE VALUE OF EQUALITY, NO ONE CAN SAY ‘MY FATHER IS BETTER THAN YOUR FATHER,’ AND THAT EACH PERSON IS CREATED UNIQUELY, FOR THE SAKE OF ENJOYING THE WORLD AND BEING RESPONSIBLE TO UPLIFT IT. ABRAHAM JOSHUA HESCHEL PUT IT SUCCINCTLY: “EITHER G-D IS THE G-D OF ALL PEOPLE OR THE G-D OF NO PEOPLE.”

SO WE MUST OVERCOME OUR FEAR OF DIFFERENCE AND GET TO MEET AND KNOW OTHERS, THIS IS THE ONLY WAY WE CAN DEVELOP INTIMACY AND EMPATHY AND OVERCOME OUR STEREOTYPES BASED ON FEAR AND LACK OF KNOWLDEGE OF THE OTHER. UNLESS WE CAN TRANSFORM OUR ENEMIES INTO FRIENDS THEY WILL ALWAYS HAVE POWER OVER US, AND THAT INCLUDES THE ENEMY WITHIN. YES, WE MUST IDENTIFY THOSE ENERGIES WITHIN THAT PREVENT OUR CLOSENESS, ACCEPT THESE DARK PLACES, (R. NACHMAN) MAKE FRIENDS WITH THEM SO THAT WE FIND SELF-COMPASSION AND THE COMPASSION TO LOVE OTHERS WITH ALL THEIR WARTS. AS THE GREAT CHRISTIAN THEOLOGIAN OF THE PAST CENTURY, PAUL TILLICH PUTS IT:”ACCEPT THE FACT THAT YOU ARE ACCEPTED, DESPITE THE FACT THAT YOU ARE UNACCEPTABLE. THIS IS GRACE!”

WE MUST ALSO ENGAGE WITH EXPERIENCES THROUGH WHICH OUR EGOCENTRICITY CAN BE CHANGED. ONE WAY IS THROUGH THE RECOGNITION OF A POWER GREATER THAN OUR OWN WILL AT WORK IN OUR LIVES, A SECOND WAYS IS THROUGH EXPERIENCING OUR SUFFERING, AND A THIRD BY COMING TO CARE FOR SOMEONE OTHER THAN OURSELVES.  AND ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT ALL TRADITIONS REMIND US ‘THAT WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE TO COMPLETE THE WORK, BUT NEITHER ARE WE FREE TO DESIST FROM BEGINNING IT.”(AVOT,2:21). JUST LITTLE EVERY DAY SMILES AND KIND WORDS DO A WORLD OF GOOD, AND BRING G-D INTO PEOPLE’S CONSCIOUSNESS, PROMOTING FAITH AND STRENGTH TO ACT WITH GRACE AND BEAUTY. AS OUR SAGES TEACH, “RATHER THAN WORRY ABOUT ANOTHER PERSON’S SPIRITUAL LEVEL, AND YOUR OWN PHYSICAL NEEDS, WORRY ABOUT ANOTHER’S PHYSICAL NEEDS (ARE THEY HUNGRY) AND YOUR OWN SPIRITUAL LEVEL”(RAV YISRAEL SALANTER).

HOPEFULLY, THIS NEW REALITY CAN BE EMBRACED THROUGH EDUCATION AND ACTION, UPLIFTING VALUES AND VISIONS THAT ORIGINATE FROM THE RECOGNITION THAT WE ARE EACH BROTHERS AND SISTERS GIVEN THE GIFT OF LIFE AND THAT OUR RESPONSIBILITY IS TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR (TO) THIS GIFT AND UPLIFT, HEAL AND LOVINGLY EMBRACE ALL THE BEAUTY OF CREATION AS WE CONTRIBUTE OUR SOULS TO OBVIATE INJUSTICE, CREATE PEACE AND BLESS OUR CREATOR WITH OUR GRATITUDE AND OUR SWEAT AND EFFORT. MOREOVER, AS MEMBERS OF THE HUMAN COMMUNITY AND AS CITIZENS OF OUR PLANET WHOSE CLIMATE AND ANIMALS AND PLANTS WE MUST PROTECT AND NURTURE, WE MUST NEVER FORGET OUR RESPONSIBILITIES TO THEM AS WELL. REMEMBER THE WORLD DOES NOT CHANGE, WE HUMANS CHANGE IT.

THE PROPHET ISAIAH INSTRUCTS US THAT AT THE END OF THE DAYS ALL THE NATIONS OF THE WORLD WILL WORSHIP IN G-D’S TEMPLE AND WE WILL RECOGNIZE THE ONENESS OF ALL HUMANITY, THOUGH OUR OWN UNIQUE WAYS, UNDER THE LOVING CARE OF G-D.

TO CONCLUDE, THOUGH IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO COMPREHEND OR CONTROL EVERYTHING IN THIS WORLD OUR JOB IS TO BE FULLY ALIVE IN THE LIFE WE HAVE, TO PICK UP THE INVISIBLE THREAD OF OUR OWN STORY AND THE STORY OF OUR ANCESTORS, AND FOLLOW IT WHERE IT LEADS US. OUR JOB IS TO FIND THE THREAD OF OUR OWN DREAM AND LIVE IT ALL THE WAY TO THE END. (MEADE). ACTUALIZING OUR GIFTS, ACKNOWLEDGING OUR CONNECTION TO OTHERS, TO THE EARTH AND TO G-D IS OUR HOLY OPPORTUNITY!  FRIENDS, ‘WE CAN LIVE OUT OUR DREAM OR DREAM AWAY OUR LIVES!’ (WICKES). WE ARE CALLED TODAY IN THE SPIRIT OF INTERFAITH AND FRIENDSHIP TO AFFIRM OUR UNIQUE DESTINIES AT THIS VERY HOUR AND THEREBY UPLIFT AND HEAL OUR WORLD AND LET US SAY AMEN!  (ZUSYA).

A Conversation with… Rabbi Ron Li-Paz

Rabbi Mel recently sat down with Rabbi Ron Li-Paz (’13). Rabbi Li-Paz is the Spiritual Leader of Valley Outreach Synagogue in Calabasas, CA. In this wide-ranging conversation, he discusses his path to AJRCA, his experience as a student at the Academy, his work since his ordination, the health of the community and his recent meeting with Pope Francis.

If you’d like to help support AJRCA’s work in training Jewish leaders to transform their communities into places where all Jews can grow toward spiritual wholeness and well-being, please make a contribution here.