The Wonders of Our Past and Future

I often think about the future.  

Of course, that is pretty vague.  I think about tomorrow, weeks ahead, months ahead…and so on.  I also think about the next “Journey.”  Some refer to this as the Afterlife…however, what if it is just one continuous life?  I have read a lot on this subject – I mean, I am a rabbi.  I even teach a class on the Jewish understandings of “Heaven and Hell.”

It makes a lot of sense that we would dwell on our time as a “living biological being” on earth.  After all, it is right in front of us.  We cannot ignore it.  And, we are not really able to comprehend what we do not understand – which of course is everything before and after our time on earth.  

When I think about the future, I try to focus on the positive “what ifs.”  It is not always easy, though, when I consider so many of the terrible things that are present in today’s world including terrorism, natural disasters, mass shootings and the list goes on.  My “inner” Yetzer Tov (my good angel) reminds me of all of the wonderful things – my wife, my beautiful family, my wonderful congregation and so much more.

Times of Wonder

Think back to the first time you smelled a new born baby’s head…what about the first flowers of Spring.  Have you found true love?  Remember how your heart felt when you saw your beloved after an absence?  These are only a few examples of the wonder there is in the world.  

When approaching the end of life, people often will tell me they are not afraid to die.  They are looking forward…why?  Some are looking forward to no longer being in pain while others are excited about the next stage of their lives.  Even those who struggle with God or the Heaven/Hell idea are still sometimes excited about finding out what’s next.  On the other hand, some are afraid of how their families and friends will cope with their passing.

One of the first words a Jewish person utters in the morning is: Modeh Ani L’fanecha, Melech Chai v’Kayam, She’he’chezarta Bi Nishmati, Bechemla, Rabah Emunatecha. “I offer thanks to You, ever living Sovereign, that You have restored my soul to me in mercy: How great is Your trust.”

Every day that we wake up and open our eyes, we should be thankful for the day that is ahead.  Even during our daily struggles, we should look for reasons to be thankful…things to amaze us: the wonders of every day.  This is not always easy.  For many, this is a rather difficult task.  It is, however, a struggle we must work through.  We should find these moments of wonder and hold on to the memories.

Looking Back and then looking forward again

When we think of those who have had indelible imprints on our lives, especially those who have died, should we only remember the wonder?  What about the pain that we feel?  Perhaps we are angry as we do not understand why they are gone.  Perhaps there are also uncomfortable or bad memories that are hard to forget.  I firmly believe that the “bad” experiences and memories are just as important as the “good” ones.

Do not get me wrong.  Sometimes, it is impossible to look past or forget these bad experiences.  And, sometimes these experiences overpower the good ones.  That is ok.  All of the experiences we have in life impact us and help us to become who we are today and in the future.  So, look back and find those memories: the good ones and the “not so good ones.”

You have them?  Ok, now look forward again.  If you do not understand why, that is ok…let these memories help you to move forward.  Do not let them overpower you.  Do not forget them…hold on to them.  Recognize them for what they are.  This may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do.  That is also ok…this is how we move forward.

Let me end this blog with a prayer:

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam, Mi M’vareich et Ha’avar shelanu v’et Ha’atid shelanu.

Blessed are You Adonai, Sovereign of the Universe, who blesses our past and our future.

Rabbi Erin Boxt serves Temple Beth El in Knoxville, TN.  


Modeling the Behavior at CCAR Convention

One of the most important aspects of my rabbinate is continuing education.  I firmly believe that in order for me to be able to teach and serve as rabbi to my congregants, I must first model the behavior.  While I do try very hard to read and study as often as possible, I am so delighted and blessed to be able to spend these precious days together with my friends and colleagues from around the world.  I attend the CCAR Convention to learn, pray and reconnect (or in some cases connect for the first time) with friends and colleagues.

As this was the first full day of the CCAR Convention 2018, I knew it would be a very full and fulfilling day.  Shacharit services this morning were inspirational and spiritual.  Being present while we recognized and honored our 50 year colleagues was awesome.  Seeing a full bimah of colleagues attending this convention for the first time was definitely exciting.  And of course, listening to the rousing and stirring words of President Stern opened our eyes to the possibilities and wonder of the coming year.

This year, the CCAR Convention intended to focus our efforts on being engaged in our communities throughout the world in renewing our dedication to the rights of all – whether they be civil, religious, political, etc.  As such, the opening session entitled “Rabbis and Civic Engagement” was intriguing and challenging at the same time.  California Comptroller Betty T. Yee and Mayors Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento taught us about some of the challenges and successes facing California.  I believe that the challenges facing California are not a California problem.  These challenges are facing many if not all of our communities.

Civil discourse in the United States – and abroad – is vital.  We cannot turn our backs or close our eyes to the problems that so many of our congregants, friends and neighbors are facing.  As we are constantly reminded in our Liturgy, we must remember we were strangers in a strange land and God took care of us.  We have a tremendous obligation to face these problems with our neighbors head on.

I had the opportunity in the afternoon to attend two truly educational sessions.  The first session was “Freehof Institute: The Jewish-Christian Dialogue in an Age of Sharp Divisions.”  Rabbis Mark Washofsky and Denise Eger taught us of their own experiences with the Halacha regarding the Jewish-Christian Dialogue.  Rabbi Eger explained that the process of Halacha is a process of arguing and discussing legal/ethical issues for understanding and to continue the living tradition of Halacha.  Rabbi Washofsky helped us to understand the necessity of translating Halachic sources to make sense for our time, as our rabbis have been doing for centuries.

The second session was “Problematic Texts and the Religious Other in Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue.”  In this session, we studied some of the texts from the Torah, the New Testament, and the Koran.  For me, the tremendous take away was that while it is absolutely possible to misinterpret or misread our sacred texts, the more challenging option (and perhaps the one that is most often not attempted) is to read, reread and then reread again our texts with the sincere attempt at understanding.  If we are unable to understand the “true meanings” of our texts, then it is incumbent for us to know that we have not tried hard enough to understand.  We should open our eyes to the “other” in attempting to understand our own sacred texts.

Dinner out with our colleagues was a great way to wrap up a very full day.  It was nice to kick back and enjoy good food and great company.  I am sure that the next days of our convention will bring many more occasions for spirituality, study and fun!

Rabbi Erin Boxt serves Temple Beth El in Knoxville, TN.  This is his 5th CCAR Convention.






Convention Israel

An Eternal Optimist in the Land of Israel

What a powerful week of study, friendship, camaraderie and spirituality.  During the CCAR convention this week, over 300 rabbis, spouses and friends gathered together to learn, pray and (re)experience the joys of Israel.  In our final day, we traveled to the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya.   We began the morning with a panel moderated by Rabbi Rick Block.  This panel, in which we were able to learn from Professor Uriel Reichman, IDC Herzliya President and founder and Amnon Rubinstein, former Minister of Justice and Education, discussed 10 questions facing Israel today, focusing on Israel and Democracy. Shortly after the panel, we were addressed by Ron Prosor, the Permanent Israeli Ambassador to the UN, who gave us an overview of some of the challenges of being an Ambassador for Israel to the UN.  These morning sessions really helped to give an “inside look” not only at the political situation Israel finds herself in, but also to the positive possibilities that lie ahead for Israel and her neighbors.

After a short coffee break, we were broken up into 3 tracks: 1) Start Up Nation and the Israeli Entrepreneurship Spirit, 2) The Crisis of Governance in the Middle East: Implications for Israel and 3) Between Positive Psychology and Education.  As I am really interested in how Israel is able to maneuver as the only Democracy in the Middle East, I chose to go to the section option: looking at the Crisis of Governance in the Middle East.  The presenter, Amichai Magen, is a senior lecturer at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya.  In his lecture, Magen began by presenting a triangle of the Modern International Order.  This triangle, with Peace in the middle, had as its three points: International Organizations, Economic Interdependence and Democracy, with arrows going from every point to every other point.  According to Magen, true peace can only be obtained when the governance structures really do have relationships that lead to and depend on each other.IMG_0606

Israel, a very young country, is actually one of the oldest Democracies on Earth.  This is significant, as she is surrounded in Northern Africa and the rest of the Middle East by nations that are neither democratic and are not served by major world institutions such as the Euro League.  The situation really does begin to fall apart and becomes extremely fragile when those institutions that are specifically created to help to proctor peace are either not in existence or under-utilized, whichever the case may be.  There are major consequences of this crisis of governance in the MENA (Middle East and Northern Africa) region which include conditions of instability, understated uncertainty in the area regarding diplomacy among others, threats to regional security, and of course humanitarian problems.

While this area of the world does seem to be in a constant state of flux and can sometimes be scary and/or at least frustrating for Israelis, there are also some areas of good, some areas of hope.  To start with, there is some room for alignment (even it is luke-warm at best) of key interests between Israel and the pragmatic Arab states of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia towards an “Axis of Stability” in the region.  With the rise of Kurdish autonomy and possible statehood, there is a chance for Turkish-Israeli rapprochement.  This would certainly give Israel another potential partner in the region– a plus for anyone who supports and loves Israel.

This convention challenged each and every one of us in so many ways, and I leave Israel to head back to my community with more knowledge – with lots of ideas and ways to help educate and inform my congregation.  Israel is not perfect; however, she is a beacon of hope in a region that unfortunately has very little hope.  As the only democracy in the region, Israel must continue to lead the way in so many areas – in her democracy and human rights to begin with.  While I believe this region has a long road ahead, I do believe that peace will come…with God’s help, sooner or later.  Dr. Magen ended his presentation with the following quote, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist,” by David Ben-Gurion.  Yes, this is why Dr. Magen, and I as well, remain an eternal optimist with respects to Israel and her neighbors.

Rabbi Erin Boxt  serves Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, Georgia.  This is his third time at a CCAR Convention.