myrunningrabbi

Inspirational /Motivational Speaker
Contact AAE Speakers Bureau 800 698 2536

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hirshel@aol.com
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My Rescue In The ER and the Faces of Courage

As a Senior Citizen and a cancer survivor with a weakened immune system I am considered one of the most vulnerable in the Covid-19 crisis. Despite our careful seclusion at home I found my self in jeopardy recently and was rescued in the Emergency Room at the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

The heroism and sacrifice of the medical team was truly amazing and we call them courageous and wonder what we would do if ever called upon.

What does it mean to act with courage?

A recent op-ed in the New York Times suggests:

“We find it easier to admire physical bravery than moral courage. It’s hard for us to see our leaders as courageous. Perhaps we have seen too much, grown too cynical about the inevitable compromises of power. There are no Gandhis, no Lincolns anymore. One person’s hero is another’s villain. We no longer easily agree on what it means to be good, or principled, or brave.

When leaders do take courageous steps, there are as many who doubt as approve…courage, nowadays, is almost always ambiguous.”

And yet-just at that moment of confusion or frustration – we witness an act of courage so unexpected, moving and clear, its grace penetrates our souls.

The morning after the violence and terror at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a presiding Elder in the Church gave a rousing sermon.

“I want you to know,” he spoke through tears, “the doors of Mother Emanuel are open.”

The Reverend’s message and the city’s banners echoes the words of Isaiah, whose message of courage reverberates.

In the words of a Rabbi the truth is, we have been courageous.

We have taken care of parents as they have aged, we have helped patients heal; we have represented those seeking justice, we have sought forgiveness from people we have hurt.

Can we be courageous?
Can we accept our failings and flaws – and those of others – and decide to love anyway?

Can we be honest with our spouse or partner?

Can we set a vision for our life’s work and pursue it?

Can we ask for forgiveness, and forgive generously?

LET THIS BE DAY ONE. LET’S BEGIN.

If I Should Meet God

A disciple came to his rabbi and lamented: “Rabbi, I have all these terrible thoughts. I am even afraid to say them. I feel absolutely terrible that I can even think these thoughts. Rabbi, I simply cannot believe. Sometimes I even think that God doesn’t exist.”

“Why not, my son?” the rabbi asked.

“Because I see in this world deceit and corruption.”

The rabbi answered: “So why do you care?

The disciple continued: “I see in this world hunger, poverty, and homelessness.”

And the rabbi once again responded: “So why do you care?”

The disciple protested: “if God is absent there is no purpose to the entire world. And if there is no purpose to the entire world, then there is no purpose to life – and that troubles my soul greatly.”

Then the rabbi said to his troubled follower: “Do not be disturbed. If you care so much, you are a believer!”

When the atheist Stephen Fry is questioned as to what he would say if he met God, he leaves the interviewer at a loss for words when he responds: “if I should meet God I’ll say: “Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is so much misery that is not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil!”

As a rabbi wrote: “it is time to raise the bar in the conversation about religion and faith, with the knowledge that most people, whether religious, agnostic, atheist, or whatever-ish, truly do want to do what is right, to find and express love, to live a life of purpose, and to be in a meaningful relationship with others.”

“It is good to question and challenge those with whom we disagree, but we deserve more than pithy catch phrases, caricatures of those who we have defined as our enemy, and the childish need to win. Human beings can be glorious creatures who, through conscious choice, can bring healing to the world, and we all need to do this together.”
In my many years as a rabbi, and especially since my illness, I have come to believe that more important than any theology or system of belief is caring, compassion and loving kindness. I have evolved spiritually to believe that no matter what we believe or don’t believe:

The true heart of our humanity is human goodness and decency. @TheRunningRabbi
(Click to Tweet!)


Who is Truly Religious?

These days I wonder if people who choose wounding and hurtful words wrestle with their demons.

In the Jewish tradition, when we wake up in the morning we say: “Let me be swift as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the will of the Holy One.”

We realize that every day is a struggle between our good and bad impulses and although many things are predestined we have the innate power and freedom to make moral choices and follow the path of goodness.
What is expected of us, according to the Hebrew prophet, is to “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Holy One.” When the Sages tried to distill the essence of sacred teaching they quoted this along with: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

I believe that you may not call yourself religious or pious or faithful members of any denomination if you hurt others, because as it is said: “God wants heart.”

Often my congregants would approach me apologetically and say: “Rabbi, I’m not religious.” My response was to ask; do you care about others and are you troubled by the pain in our world? Because if you are then you may be very religious even if you don’t belong to a house of worship and despite your lack of ritual observance…or for that matter, even if you have your doubts about God.

And although I am a rabbi and proud of my Jewish heritage, I have evolved spiritually to believe that we are all children of the Eternal, no matter what religion or belief system, because the true heart of “religion” is human goodness and decency.
When the groom breaks a glass at the end of the wedding ceremony I say this signifies that our broken world is not yet at peace and still needs healing. In the Jewish mind a central belief is “Tikun Olam”… Repairing a troubled world…through our deeds of justice and compassion and loving-kindness.

There is a tale about a venerable rabbi who lived in a poor Jewish settlement in Eastern Europe during the harsh pogroms carried out against the Jewish people.The time is just before the High Holy Days. Suddenly, there is a knock on the door, and a poor disciple enters looking very downcast. “Rabbi”, he confesses, “I cannot direct my prayers to heaven on these Days of Awe in the face of all the suffering in the world and the cruel opression of our people.”

It is getting cold in the hut as the fire dies down and the rabbi gestures and gives an answer without words. He takes the poker by the fireplace and stirs the scattered embers. They burst into flame again and there is warmth and light where the rabbi sits with his student who laments the state of his world and cannot bring himself to direct his prayers to the Holy One.

And the disciple, watching this, realizes the rabbi is giving an answer to his pessimism and he declares: “Oh, now I see Rabbi.”

What does the disconsolate student see? What do we see? We are like the flickering embers when we despair because of all the coldness and indifference and cruelty in our world. But just as the embers bring renewed warmth and light when they are moved closer to each other so do we human beings when we encourage one another with acts of kindness.

“Don’t settle for a spark…. light a fire instead!”@TheRunningRabbi (Click to Tweet!)


To Live Without Regret

Joan Didion writes:” “Life changes fast. Life changes in an instant. An ordinary instant”. It happened to me when I went from the indestructible “Running Rabbi” to needing a blood transfusion because I was so weak. As I lay in my hospital bed, wondering if I would survive the leukemia that ravaged me, I put on my headphones and listened to Willie Nelson singing: “Maybe I didn’t love you…Maybe I didn’t hold you all those lonely, lonely times…Little things I should have said and done, I just never took the time…But you were always on my mind…You were always on my mind.”

Yes, we think there will always be a second chance for that embrace. And we tell ourselves “someday” we will devote more time to those we love and the truly important things that matter. But what if that “someday” never comes?

Jewish wisdom enlightens us that we never know which day will be our last. If we realize that life can be cut short in an “ordinary instant” then the challenge is how do we get our priorities right?
We must never take our friends and loved ones for granted. When I counsel wedding couples I tell them that no matter what conflicts we have with our spouses during the day we should always end the day with a kiss and say ” I love you.” Maybe it sounds corny but I found out it works.

To live a life without regret we must realize that the journey of life is fleeting and not let time pass without embracing those we love with all our heart and soul.

To live a life without regret we must shed the childhood belief that we are unattractive or unintelligent or unlovable. As adults we must rid ourselves of the delusion that we are always right and always the victim.

To live a life without regret we must shed the myths and look at the reflection in the mirror and see ourselves blemishes and all.

A Hebrew prayer cautions us against self deception: “May we ask for honesty, vision, and courage. Honesty to see ourselves as we are, vision to see ourselves as we should, and the courage to change.”
My life has taught me that we have only one brief time on earth and we cannot know what an uncertain tomorrow may bring. So let us get ourselves “a heart of wisdom”.

May we live life to the fullest and without having to regret. @TheRunningRabbi (Click to Tweet!)
“The past is over. The future is a mystery. The here and now is all we have. This moment is a gift! “


What to Wish For

A Russian short story portrays an aristocrat who has only a few days to live. When he replays the tape of his life in his mind he realizes he has wasted most of his life in the pursuit of wealth and power devoid of real meaning. He is desperate to rewind the tape but it is too late.

So, think of the time you have until the tape runs out and contemplate how you spend your precious time. The Rabbis said: “Change for the good one day before you die”, and since we never know when that is:

We must treat every new day as an opportunity to measure the goodness of our deeds.
@TheRunningRabbi (Click to Tweet!)
This reminds us to be careful of how we spend our time and to value life and enjoy it, because once it’s gone it can never be retrieved.
A nurse named Bronnie Ware devoted herself to working in Hospice care in Australia. She wrote a book about what she witnessed first hand: “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”. When she questioned those entrusted to her as to whether they had any regrets and if they would have changed anything, these are the themes that emerged.

1. I WISH I’D HAD THE COURAGE TO LIVE A LIFE TRUE TO MYSELF, NOT THE LIFE OTHERS EXPPECTED OF ME.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people have not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”

2. I WISH I HADN’T WORKED SO HARD.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3. I WISH I HAD THE COURAGE TO EXPRESS MY FEELINGS.

“Many people supressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocore existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

4. I WISH I HAD STAYED IN TOUCH WITH MY FRIENDS.

“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

5. I WISH I HAD LET MYSELF BE HAPPIER.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habbits. The so called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have stillness in their life again.”

Yes, death can instruct us how to live. We can follow the examples of others to live more meaningful and fulfilling lives. We can summon the strength and courage we have within to enrich our lives.

Whatever time you have remaining may you be true to yourselves and make every day a blessing.


Extremely Unrandom Acts of Kindness

Think for a moment, of a time in your life, when you felt pretty low, Maybe you were breaking up with someone. Maybe someone you love was sick. Or maybe you lost someone or something that meant a lot to you. What did it feel like when someone offered you kindness. What did that do for your spirits?

We live in a world that values kindness. A search on Google for “random acts of kindness” will produce thousands of results. Random acts of kindness are in life insurance commercials and something positive to end the Evening News on television. The homeless person who spends his last dollar to help a friend in need. The rich man who leaves his company to serve meals in a homeless shelter.

Random acts of kindness make us feel really good as they should. But the thing about a random act of kindness is that as it’s name suggests …just random. The person who receives it has to rely on a whim. Either you are feeling incredibly grateful one day or your feeling very guilty on another day. As someone has said, they make the world more accidentally beautiful. But they are unpredictable, unexpected, and surprising.

Our challenge is that a person’s need for kindness is always there and not surprising. And the really giving act means that we are challenged to remove randomness from the equation and replace it with consistency.

So why not do something above and beyond and let’s call it an extremely unrandom act of kindness.

Extremely unrandom acts of kindness do not rely on your feeling of gratitude or your need to get rid of some guilt. Extremely unrandom acts of kindness depends on the resolve to reach out to others in our lives without depending on a mood. Our partners, our children, our parents and grandparents, and the strangers we encounter.
A colleague has spoken about where we can practice this. In our own homes: Is the language harsh and angry when they walk in the door or do we meet them with a smile? Is our judgement of their choices sarcastic or do we offer them encouragement and tell them we believe in them? With our friends do we let their loneliness make us uncomfortable or do we reach out. Do we look through people or do we stand up for them when others are bullying them. Do we notice their tears and ask what’s going on?

So what if we removed randomness from the equation and replaced it with being consistent? Was I kind today? Who in my world needs me?

Let kindness explode from our hearts. Become unbearably predictable and terribly boring in our unrandom acts of kindness so that not one person feels isolated. @TheRunningRabbi (Click to Tweet!)
And may we each be overflowing with the goodness of extremely unrandom acts of kindness.


Coronavirus-A Time of Opportunity

A colleague has offered comforting words. We all need some healing of our souls. The fear and uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus has stressed and strained us all. Let us take the opportunity to find the peace we need to restore some sense of balance.

Embrace this day as a respite from tension and worry, an island of calm, and a time of renewal. Take some time to be outdoors away from crowds and commune with nature. Draw closer to the members of your household and connect remotely with family and friends. As the beautiful poem below suggests, let’s make this a time to feel deeply within our hearts and allow love to flow freely from our souls in all directions.

POEM BY RONNIE WEIL
“What if you thought of it as the Jews consider the Sabbath as the most sacred of times?

Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling-

Give up, just for now,

On trying to make the world different than it is.

Sing, Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life.

Center down. And when your body has become still reach out with your heart.

Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.

Know that our lives are in one another’s hands. Surely that had come clear.

Do not reach out your hands. reach out your heart.

Reach out your words.

Reach out all the tendrils

of compassion that move, invisibly,

where we cannot touch.

Promise the world you love for better or for worse,

In sickness and in health,

So long as we all shall live.”


Help Us to See the Light Amidst the Darkness

My colleague and Spiritual Leader, Rabbi Arnold  Gluck, has offered inspiration and courage at a time when we are fearful and anxious and we don’t know what tomorrow may bring.

Now, more than ever, we need each other. We need the calming reassurance that we are not alone, that we have each other, and that we will support and help each other to get through this-and we will get through this!

Now, more than ever, we need God. We need the bedrock of faith that reminds us of what is eternal and unchanging, even has so much has changed. We need to remember that the most powerful force in our lives is love-the love God wove into the fabric of existence, a love that is stronger than any virus or illness of plague that might beset us.

Now, more than ever, we need prayer. Not the kind of prayer that asks God to change the laws of nature. We know such things are impossible; God and prayer do not work that way.

We need the kind of prayer that opens our hearts to give and receive the love that will sustain us, the love that will quell our anxiety and give us strength to bear the burdens of this crisis, the love that will keep us connected to each other, to God, and to hope.

Dear God,

Give us strength to bear the burdens,

the fears and anxieties,

the demand of this trying time.

Sooth our troubled spirits

With the warmth of Your love

and the assurance that you are with us always.

Help us to see the light amidst the darkness.

Open our eyes to the beauty of the world around us

and within each and everyone of us.

Bless us with courage.

Bless us with hope.

Bless us with faith

that a new day will dawn

And the light of Your peace will shine upon us all.”


There Is a God

Over a hundred years ago in the town of Berditchev, there lived the saintly Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. One day he ordered the town crier to come to him.

“What is your wish?” he asked the rabbi.

“Go to every storekeeper and shopkeeper in the market place,” Levi Yitzchak commanded. “Tell them to close their business and assemble in the town square, for I have an announcement to make.”

“But, Master,” exclaimed the town crier, “today is market day and this is the busiest hour. Could you not postpone your announcement?”

“No,’” he replied. “Go and tell them that Levi Yitzchak has an important proclamation. It cannot wait a day or even an hour. They must halt their trading, close their shops, and come to the town square at once.”

The town crier reluctantly left to do the rabbi’s bidding. He stopped at every store and every shop and told the people that the holy rabbi had ordered them to come to the town square for an announcement of great significance. Grumbling at the ill-timed disruption, but with their curiosity piqued, the people obeyed the command, shut their stores and gathered in the town square.

Once all had assembled, the rabbi stepped up onto a box, signaled for silence, and began to speak: “I have asked you to come here on this busy day at this busy hour because I have news of great consequence for all of you, news which cannot be delayed even another moment. And it is this: I declare to you: ‘There is a God in the world!”

There is a God in the world! A colleague of mine has sermonized that “given the fractured world we inhabit and the frenetic lives we lead, we often need reminding. But there is a God in the world, revealed in our yearning to do what is right and good; in gratitude for all that is beautiful in our lives beyond our ability to control or create, and in our courage to persevere through life’s inescapable sorrows.”

God given strength resides in each of us…and in those around us. Fred Rogers, remembered in the wonderful film “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” told a favorite story from the Special Olympics:

“For the 100 yard dash. nine contestants.assembled at the starting line and at the sound of the gun took off. But not long afterward, one boy stumbled and fell…hurt his knee and began to cry. The other eight children heard him…slowed down and kissed the boy, and said.’This’ll make it better.” The boy got up, and he and the rest of the runners linked their hands together, and walked to the finish line.”

The world is full of people ready to say, “I will hold your hand if you let me.” The nineteenth-century holy man understood: “Human beings are God’s language,” he taught.

But what of those moments, a rabbi taught, when our own strength fails, and darkness conceals those hands reaching out to help us? Then, especially, we must remember Levi Yitzchak’s pronouncement: “There is a God in the world.”

THERE IS A GOD IN THE WORLD, AND NO ONE IS ALONE.

myrunningrabbi

myrunningrabbi