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How to Use Summer for Spiritual Growth

There is spiritual growth that can only be accomplished in the summertime

From the moment that Passover started, the Omer clock started, the countdown started to Shavuot. That period of self-reflection and character improvement has now passed. The full moon of Sivan is already here. Are we supposed to be doing anything “special” in spiritual matters now, or do we just chill out?

There is nothing to chill about.

Like a farmer ensuring that their crops are nourished, weeded, and protected, summer is the perfect time to nourish and protect our spiritual lives.

  • Take a trip into nature to deepen your Yirat Shamayim, our awe/fe
    ar of God, by studying the wonders of God’s incredible creation.
  • Grow your own food to develop gratitude and patience.
  • Exercise to fulfill the obligation of guarding our health and create joyful endorphins.
  • Longer days means we can dedicate more time for Torah study.
  • And longer days means no conflict between your work obligations and Shabbat starting.

And I am sure you can come up with some more ways — I would love to hear them!

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Saying Psalms in a Mosque: A Jewish, Muslim, Christian Collaboration

In an era of increasingly incendiary divisions  —  creating bridges becomes even more important.

Marking the twenty-fourth anniversary of the Khojaly massacre, a group of Jews, Muslims and Christians gathered at a local mosque to offers prayers and words of consolation over a tragedy that occurred half-way around the world. We did so to show solidarity with the victims, survivors and the people of Azerbaijan and to demonstrate that religion can be a powerful force for compassion and healing.

The event, jointly sponsored by the King Fahad Mosque, Pico Shul Synagogue and Azerbaijan’s Consulate in Los Angeles, marks the second annual event in Los Angeles commemorating Khojaly. The first event was held last year at Pico Shul Synagogue. We were honored to have the participation of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leadership including Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez of the Centro Cristiano Bet-El, Father Eamon Kelly, L.C., Vice Chargé at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, Hypin Im, President and CEO of Korean Churches For Community Development; Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, President Emeritus of the Academy Of Jewish Religion; Steve Gilliland, Director of Interfaith Outreach for the Church Of Later Day Saints; Reverend Oliver E. Blue of Holman United Methodist Church; Rabbi Dov Cohen, Veterans and Prison Chaplain; and Imam Abdul Hafiz, Federal Muslim Chaplain of the Society to offer Prosperity & Peace. This remarkable collection of leaders and personalities is thanks to the dedication, friendship, and devotion to tolerance of Azerbaijan’s Consul General in Los Angeles Nasimi Aghayev and Mahomed Khan of the King Fahad Mosque.

Seated left to right: Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez of the Centro Cristiano Bet-El and Mahomed Khan.

Seated left to right: Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez of the Centro Cristiano Bet-El and Mahomed Khan.

Standing in the mosque and reciting Tehillim, Psalms, I looked out at a large crowd assembled in the sanctuary. The diverse group included dignitaries from elected officials, Consul Generals, Honorary Consuls, FBI and LAPD representatives, as well as members of various ethnic communities.  There were Jewish and Muslim children whose parents want them to see that they should not fear diversity, but respect other’s religions.

The facts of the Khojaly massacre are tragic. On February 26, 1992, Armenian armed forces attacked the town of Khojaly in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region. Witnesses and survivors have described in details the massacre, during which six-hundred unarmed civilians, including women and children were murdered. It was the largest massacre in the conflict. To this date, none of the perpetrators of this massacre of civilians have been tried, and even some hold positions of leadership in Armenia.

After hearing from a survivor of the event Ansar Usubov and watching a filmed interview with Durdane Aghayeva, another survivor, we stood together in silence and then prayer. I recited a Hebrew prayer in memory of the victims standing together with a Bishop, Imam, and a Catholic Priest.

After the event, we sat down together for a meal in the mosque’s social hall. One table with a Halal dinner and another table with Kosher catering. We dined and discussed the event and strengthened our resolve to speak out against intolerance and hate, and work towards forging ties of peace and harmony.

While we can never bring back those who were gone, hopefully this event will help prevent future tragedies and bring healing to Azerbaijanis and the world.

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Mishkan and Microchips

Moshe assembled the entire congregation of Israel to give the second set of tablets. He proceeded to recount in detail what G!d wanted of them which includes keeping the Sabbath holy and a detailed review of the construction of the Mishkan. Why does God spend so much time on the details of the Mishkan, and why does the Torah repeat them? And what does this have to do with bringing everyone together?

Our sages teach us that the intricacies of the Mishkan were such that without everything in place, it would not work. Think of the Mishkan like an advanced computer chip. If everything isn’t lined up and in place, the chip will not function. It can be 99.9 percent perfectly aligned – but if just a fraction of the chip isn’t properly fashioned, it doesn’t process anything. Without every details in place the Mishkan too would not function.

The Jewish people are like the Mishkan. Each person has a unique purpose and all of our efforts are required to fulfill the spiritual mission of the Jewish people. Everyone is integral part. We can’t assign the work to only the righteous, the rich or the rabbis, because each one of us in endowed with special talents and an intrinsic value that others do not have.

The Jewish people’s true light to the world cannot shine brightly without all of us.

Shabbat Shalom

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God’s Business Advice to Moshe

This shall they give…a half Shekel. (Parsha Ki Tisa: Ex. 30:13)

God showed Moshe a coin made from fire, teaches the Midrash, showing him the amount that everyone must give towards the mishkan, tabernacle. Based on this Midrash, the great Polish hassidic Master, Rabbi Elimelech of Leżajsk, also known as the Noam Elimelch, explains that money is very much like fire. If fire is misused it can destroy, but it can also be used to prepare food and warmth. Money too can be used for a good purpose. If used for charity or kindness, it can be a conduit for great blessing. But if a person uses his money foolishly or wrongly, it can cause great destruction.

My friend Rabbi Yaakov Menken directed me to a wonderful question by the late sage, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l, whose thirtieth Yahrtzeit is 13th of Adar II. Rabbi Feinstein asked, ‘Why did G-d have to show Moshe a coin at all? Why was it so difficult for Moshe to understand the size of a half-shekel? The verse states that a shekel was 20 geirah, a known amount, so it should have been easy to determine a half-shekel.’

We can answer, said Rabbi Feinstein, that Hashem showed Moshe the coin in order to help him understand a critical life lesson. Moshe was anticipating that people living in a materialistic world would have a hard time involving themselves with spiritual pursuits. The reason that God showed him a half-shekel was to teach him how to do “business” in the world.

A person must divide their time between the material and the spiritual. Too much emphasis on material pursuit and acquisition of wealth and his spiritual life will decay. Too much time spent in purely spiritual pursuits, and his materials needs will become ignored. Therefor a person needs a life balanced between their spiritual and material pursuits. We cannot ignore one for the other.

How much more so today, must we be cognizant to not ignore the our spiritual pursuit and growth, and to ensure that the money we do make is used for good and holy purposes.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Rabbi Yonah is Co-founder and Rabbi of Pico Shul, a new community in Los Angeles dedicated to spiritual growth, living mindfully, and helping others.