Temple Jeremiah

 

Shabbat Eikev

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion, Eikev, describes the Land the Israelites will inherit if they continue to stay strong, stay the course, and obey God’s commandments. Moses tells them that they will rule over all other lands and all other nations. He states that while it will be tempting for them, they are to not worship their gods, as they had fallen into this trap which we read about back in in Ki Tisa. Moses reminds them of their deliverance from Pharaoh in Egypt, against all odds, when they were set free from generations of slavery. We also read more of the Shema, learning about the various commandments to put a mezuzah on our doorposts, teach Torah to our children, and pray after meals.

Two things struck me most about this parsha: First, Moses focuses greatly on the negative. He continued to reiterate to the Israelites that they had really messed up in the past without really encouraging them that they can do better. He reminded them of how they had been unfaithful, built a golden calf, and lost faith in God. Second, Moses tells them that they are truly unworthy of inheriting this land, and that they are only receiving it because of the promise God made to their forefathers.

Our Torah is chock full of stories about our forefathers and mothers, the predicaments they would land themselves in, how they handled them and solved them. Or even in some cases, did not succeed in solving them. For the most part, it’s easy to see Moses as an exemplary leader. He’s brave, smart, good at delegating, and humble enough to know that while he is indeed the leader, that he answers to a Higher Power. But this parsha shows us the times in which Moses does not choose his words in the best way. Previously in Parshat Chukat, Moses loses his temper with the Israelites, who are complaining bitterly about their journey to Israel, and hits a rock. Because of his behavior, God eventually punishes him by forbidding him to enter the Land of Israel. Even after all of these good things that Moses has done and the courageousness he has shown, just one seemingly small mistake costs him his lifetime dream of seeing the Promised Land.

To me, Moses seems to be greatly missing the point. We are all created in God’s image, B’etzelem Elohim. This very fact refutes Moses’ claim that the Israelites, despite their egregious behavior in the beginning, are unworthy of receiving the Land and their freedom. One of our sacred rabbinic teachers, Kedushat Levi, whose teachings came to be in the late 16th Century, points to the additional writings of the book of Genesis which command us to praise God with each and every breath we take. He explains this to be part of the explanation of teshuvah, or repentance, which we are moving towards during this season of Elul. He writes, “In the moment that a person transforms themselves through teshuvah (repentance), they also should believe that they have become a new creation and that thereby God, in great mercy, does not recall earlier transgressions.” Moses, being human, seems to either forget this concept, or possibly is unaware of it. In any case, it can be comforting to see that even the greatest leader known to us has very often made similar mistakes to ours. And we can learn from these mistakes and try to make different choices.

Kedushat Levi’s teaching also helps us to see that we alone are good enough. It is not because of those who came before us that we will receive blessings. We alone have the power to partner with God, to create and re-create with every breath, to turn in another direction when we make a mistake, and to work with God to allow blessings to flow into our lives. Despite our upbringings, our lineage, and those who came before us. In my own life, my family was similar to Moses. I often heard more negative criticisms than positive from them, frequently hearing about my past mistakes and being judged for them, even when I knew in my heart that I was working hard and succeeding at making myself better. And I am not alone in this department. How many successful people do we hear about who had very difficult relationships with their families and parents? It is when we are able to get into our kishkes that we are all divine, that we all have that divine spark, that we all are partnering with God to make peace within our hearts and souls, that we can overcome the negative talk, criticism, and words which have made us feel less than divine.

It is my prayer during Elul, this season leading up to our Day of Repentance, that each of us will begin to allow for teshuvah (repentance/change) of the things we would like to do better. I pray that we will look to Moses and other leaders like him for inspiration about both the good and not so good choices they made, and that each of us will be able to tap into that divine spark, which I believe to be God, inside us, and to know that as Kedushat Levi teaches, we can be transformed through teshuvah (repentance/change). May we begin to allow others to completely forget our transgressions by first forgetting them ourselves. Sending you all so much love and peace.

Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman

About Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman

Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman is thrilled to be the cantor at Temple Jeremiah. She moved to the area from the New York/New Jersey area in 2015 after beginning her tenure at Beth Emet in July of 2015, just after receiving Cantorial Ordination from The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music of the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. Previously, she served as cantor at Beth Emet the Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL where, in addition to the many life cycles and other duties of the cantor, she directed the Adult Choir, created and directed a Teen A Capella Choir, Jr. Choir, and Intergenerational Band. Cantor Friedman strives to help all members of the community find their Jewish voice and she regularly invites anyone who is interested to sing with her during Shabbat and High Holy Days services. Cantor Friedman has a wide range of musical styles, and feels at home in almost every style of Jewish music, such as playing her guitar in a small setting where everyone is participating with her, or singing a piece of Chazzanut or liturgical music for a large congregation. Her belief is that nearly all Jewish music has its place in our synagogue, and when done prayerfully and with great intention, can inspire us to hear God’s voice, and can often help us to find prayer within our souls that words alone cannot arouse. Cantor Friedman holds degrees of Bachelor of Music from Illinois State University, Master of Music from Arizona State University, and Master of Sacred Music from the Hebrew Union College. During her time as a student she served as Cantorial Intern at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ. There, she founded and directed their 40 member Junior Choir, Keshet, and also served as the cantor of the Barrie H. Greene Early Childhood Center. During her tenure at Jeshurun, she created and implemented the synagogue’s first ever Yom Kippur Family Service for which over 600 families were in attendance. It has since been a staple of their High Holy Days services. Cantor Friedman is a regular soloist with the Kol Zimrah Community Choir right here on the North Shore. She is an active member of the American Conference of Cantors and was asked to be on the leadership committee for the 2018 convention as Co-Chair for all of the Tefilot (Prayer Services) for the convention. She is an active member of the Reform Cantors Chicago, and is frequently invited to collaborate in Cantorial Concerts with colleagues throughout both Chicagoland and all over the U.S at places such as Temple Emanu-El Dallas, Temple Judea in Palm Beach Gardens, and Anshe Emet Synagogue with Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi. One of Cantor Friedman’s biggest passions is helping to sustain and foster the Reform Movement in Israel. From 2010-2011 Susie lived in Israel for the first year of school and volunteered at Congregation Ohel Avraham, part of the Leo Baeck Center in Haifa, where she served as volunteer cantor. She formed strong relationships with Rabbi Gabby Dagan, and the congregants who quickly became her Israeli family, and she decided to become a bat mitzvah with them. Six months later, Susie co-officiated a b’not mitzvah for seven Israeli women, all of whom celebrated with Susie at her ceremony and grew up never knowing that a bat mitzvah existed—only bar mitzvah. That year, Susie also conceived, directed, accompanied, and performed in Broadway on the Carmel, a concert to raise money for families who could not afford to have b’nai mitzvah for their children. While in Israel, she was nominated by her piers and received the Rabbi Jason Huebsch Memorial Prize for all of her work with Ohel Avraham. Prior to becoming a cantor, Susie appeared in the Broadway National Tour of CATS playing the roles of Jennyanydots and Grizabella. She also performed in regional opera, theater, concert, and as a pianist/singer/entertainer in clubs throughout NYC, hosting her own weekly open mic show at The Duplex. She has had the great fortune to perform with Betty Buckley, George S. Irving, and Alberto Mizrahi, and is frequently sought out to sing in various cantorial concerts throughout the U.S. She is a proud member of the American Conference of Cantors, the Reform Cantors of Chicago, and Actors Equity Association. Her love of children and strong desire to inspire b’nai mitzvah students to remain engaged in Jewish life inspired her to be a cantor. It is Susie’s goal that every student who walks through the doors of the synagogue will grow up to become vibrant, participating members of congregations. She is married to the love of her life, Ross Friedman. Her absolute greatest achievements are their daughter, Abigail Hannah Friedman, who was born on May 6, 2013, and their son, Zev Noah Friedman, who was born on Nov. 5, 2014. They are both living examples of her answered prayers.

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