We are grateful to finally be coming back together as a community by allowing up to 25 congregants to attend Shabbat services each week. Participation in services will still take place on Zoom and services will be available to watch on livestream at otaz.org/livestream for all those not in the Sanctuary. 

Click here to RSVP and here to print the Covid form.

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Honoring Rabbi Micah Caplan z”l

Rabbi Micah Caplan, 44, leaves legacy of compassion, friendship and love

For some people, a good rabbi is defined by a piercing intellect; for others, a good rabbi must have compassion for those who are suffering. Rabbi Micah Caplan, the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Tzion, had both those qualities — as well as a magnetic personality and the ability to talk as fluently about basketball and baseball as he could about the Torah.

Jewishaz.com

Each week in our inboxes, we would receive Miley Harav, from Rabbi Caplan z”l. When you had the chance to open your email, you were likely met with a message of eloquence, thoughtfulness, and hope.

While we are tragically no longer able to learn more from our beloved rabbi, his messages will be here when you need comfort, wisdom, and perhaps a nudge in the right direction.

Bookmark this page and refer to it often.

Sign Rabbi Caplan’s Memorial Guestbook

Make a donation in memory of Rabbi Micah Caplan

View a playlist of Rabbi Caplan’s video messages here.

 


 

Torah from the Heart

July 26, 2019

23 Tammuz 5779

“Bringing Free Love Into The World”

 

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of taking Congregation Or Tzion on a trip to Israel.  We had three Bnai Mitzvah on the trip, nearly 40 people traveling together; the two-week experience was truly awesome.  When we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, our first stop after customs and immigration was the Yitzhak Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.  The public square is now a memorial to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated on November 4, 1995 following a very large peace rally.  The memorial is powerful and unique.  There is artwork preserved on the walls in the area from that day and there are markers showing where Rabin was standing and where the one who assassinated him was standing when the horrific moment took place.  There is also a memorial piece made out of Basalt, Rabin’s favorite stone which is located right in the center of the memorial.

Before our group got off the bus to visit and spend some time at Rabin Square, I noticed a gentleman with a sandwich board on his chest and back.  The sign read two words, “FREE HUGS.”  The sight was truly awesome.  A location memorializing a Prime Minister who so desperately wanted peace, had an individual standing next to his memorial wanting free and unconditional love in the world, charging nothing!  I quickly got off the bus before the group did, and practically tackled the man, appreciating and taking advantage of the free hugs.  It certainly was a moment which transformed a place of sadness and memory into a place of hope and strength!

During the Jewish calendar historically, the next two weeks are not the happiest.  In two weeks, we will commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples which stood in Jerusalem.  That day is known as Tisha B’Av (this year it falls on Saturday night, August 10 and Sunday, August 11).  Tisha B’Av is a day of fasting, reflecting and remembering the past and it is also one of hope and optimism for a brighter future.  Following Tisha B’Av, we have seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah.  Seven weeks of preparation, seven weeks of evaluation, seven weeks of self-examination defining who we have been and who we want to be, before we head into the New Year.

Jewish tradition suggests one of the reasons the Temples were destroyed was because there was a lack of “Ahavat Hinam- Pure Love” amongst the Jewish people and those living around them at the time.  There was a significant amount of “Sinat Hinam- Pure Hatred” which led to a lack of unity and community, enabling the Destruction of the Holy Temples, the Jewish Core, in the center of Jerusalem, where the Jewish world came together.  

Judaism preaches we must transform our Jewish learning into Jewish living.  And so with that being said, let’s challenge ourselves this week to bring more pure love into the world.  Let’s provide the gift of a kiss, an embrace or a hug to someone who needs it this week.  And of course, the most beautiful piece about showing such care and affection is….it’s free!  Let’s enter the weeks ahead on the Jewish calendar being mindful of our past, but also being hopeful for our future, evolving into a life, only full of “pure love.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan

 

Words From The Heart

Rabbi Micah Caplan

August 23, 2019 – 23 Av, 5779

“Making Meaning From The Mundane”

 

This past week, I had the gift of taking my daughter Brianah, back to college, moving into a new apartment to begin her Junior year at San Diego State University. When we go through these moments as parents, the “first year” can be full of many emotions.  And for me, this being Brianah’s third year in college, the pilgrimage back to San Diego still provided wonderful and meaningful memories.  Our drive together listening to music and laughing about life; getting storage bins full of yearly necessities (computer printer, kitchen appliances, etc.) from my brother and sister-in-law’s home accompanied by hugs, kisses and a home-cooked meal; our trips to Target and Vons, for the “first round” of housing needs and groceries for her and her roommates, sponsored by dad; our unloading the car several times with suitcases full of clothes for the year.  All of these experiences could have been defined by many to be mundane tasks, but for us, it was fun, enjoyable and special.

Often times, we go through life with milestones such as this not thinking of the potential value they can have on us. We often treat them as mundane experiences instead of meaningful opportunities.  Brianah and I will remember these trips for the rest of our lives.  And I hope to have the same opportunities with Julia and Avi, as they get older and prepare for their college experiences.  

As we think of our routine moments which have the possibility of being the most memorable, this week, Judaism has its own voice when it comes to transforming the mundane into the sacred.

In our Torah portion this week, Parashat Eikev, Moses reminds the people to continue to have an intimate and committed relationship with God, by  following and connecting with the Torah which has been gifted to the Jewish people.  Moses is clear in saying we should not treat the Torah as a collection of normative ways of behavior. Rather with feelings of appreciation and acts which are holy and meaningful.  Today, since the Torah is our guide, we should strive to do the same.

This Shabbat, we offer a blessing to welcome in the last month of the Jewish calendar, Elul.  Five weeks from Sunday, we will welcome in 5780.  We should ask ourselves what is this last month going to look like?  What can we explore over the next month which always seems like routine to become a moment of meaning.  When we feel this happen, our opportunities moving our kids into college will always be special (I cannot wait to do it again for Brianah’s senior year and when Julia and Avi start college in a few years). And yes, whatever it is we transform into meaning will help our lives become richer, our experiences to be remembered, and our routines to become valued and appreciated.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan

 

Torah From the Heart

“Saving The Best For Last”
August 30, 2019 – 29 Av, 5779

 

We all have times in life when we save the best for last.  How often do we have a conversation with someone when we are asked, “well – do you want the good news first or the bad news?”  I would imagine most of us prefer to hear the bad news first and save the good news for the end. Saving the good news can mean “saving the best for last.”  How often do we sit down to a meal and save our favorite thing on our plate because it is the best? And of course, how many of us really save the best for last – dessert.  Unless of course, our whole meal is nothing but dessert!!  

Our Jewish texts from over 2000 years ago teach us, “Aharon, Aharon, Haviv – the very last is the most precious.”  Why would Jewish Pedagogy teach this?  Why is the last of something the most valuable or most meaningful?  

We could argue the last moments we experience are so precious because once they pass by, realistically they never come back.  We want to hold on to those experiences forever.

We could argue that our natural behaviors save the best for last because we don’t want to end something with a negative feeling or attitude.

We could argue the most precious experience at the end keeps us looking forward to the next great thing in life.  

These last moments are sacred, unique and so precious!

This Shabbat, we begin the last month on the Jewish calendar, the month of Elul.  Eleven months have come and gone this year and we are just four weeks away from a Jewish New Year, 5780.  If the Rabbis teach us the last is the most precious, then let’s make the month of Elul the most precious one of the year.  Let’s bring an even greater value and joy to the month of Elul.  Let’s share some good news with people who need to hear positive words.  And with my rabbinic blessing, let’s give ourselves permission to have that extra dessert or eat something we have been craving (in moderation of course)!  

The Rabbis share the month of Elul is an acronym (the first letter of each word spells Elul in Hebrew) for the Biblical Phrase, “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li. – I am my beloveds and my beloved is mine.”  Elul is the month to share some final acts of love with those who are near and dear to us, before a new year begins.  Elul is the month to cherish all that we have experienced over the last eleven months.  And Elul is the month to sanctify and acknowledge that which is so precious and of infinite value.

This Shabbat, our Torah reading, Re’eh, (in the book of Deuteronomy) continues to focus on Moses’ final words and encouragement to the Jewish people before they enter the land of Israel. Just as he saves his best words of wisdom for last, let’s enjoy our best for last this month and eagerly wait what potentially will follow in the coming months and year ahead.

Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov,

A peaceful Shabbat and a good month for all of us,

Rabbi Micah Caplan        

 

Torah From the Heart

September 6, 2019 – 6 Elul 5779

“The Shofar – Turning Our Snooze Button Off”

 

We all have those days in life when the snooze button goes off on our phones or our alarm clocks and we press it again.  And then there are those days when we press the snooze button again, and again, and again!  Sometimes, it is really hard to get up in the morning.  Whether we are physically exhausted or emotionally tired, getting started with our day can be very difficult.  

I remember my days as a camper at Camp Ramah in Ojai, California.  We would get up at 7:30 AM and none of us would want to get out of bed.  Our counselors with their loud voices would tell us it was time to get up, but we still wanted 5 or 10 more minutes.  One year, a counselor of mine had a different technique to wake us up.  After all, this was a Jewish camp so he used something Jewish to get us up.  Yep!  That’s right!  He would blast the “Sound of the Shofar” as our alarm clock.  And I must say, it worked better than any other alarm clock we had during our years at camp.  But of course, the Shofar was used well before Camp Ramah or any other Jewish sleep-away camp existed.

Often times we connect the Shofar to Rosh Hashanah. In the Torah, the holiday speaks of the Shofar being sounded as an announcement marking the birthday of the world.

However, the Shofar was also used as a communication device for other moments.  The Shofar was a ritual instrument sounded in order for communities to gather together or to proclaim something important.  The Shofar was sounded essentially to say, “Wake up, it’s time to pay attention.” And yes, it did wake us up every morning during those days at Camp Ramah!

During this last month on the Hebrew Calendar, the month of Elul, it is a custom to sound the Shofar every morning until Rosh Hashanah arrives.  During the month, hearing the sound of the Shofar is our “spiritual alarm clock”, telling us through its voice that it is time for us to wake up and prepare for the coming year.

The Shofar is a reminder and a symbol for both us and the godliness of the world to appreciate the present and to be hopeful for the future.  The Shofar, with its powerful sound, is a reminder for us as Jews to “wake up” and evaluate who we are and who we want to be.

Therefore, one might suggest the month of Elul is not the time to press the snooze button several times every morning, but rather to wake up early, and do as much as we can to evaluate today and what we want to change.  And of course, as a wise person once shared with me, “you can sleep tomorrow!”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan   

 

Torah From The Heart

September 13, 2019 – 13 Elul 5779

“Being Selfish Is Okay”

 

Judaism teaches doing for others is one of the ideal characteristics one can have. The Jewish values of tzedakah (charity), kehillah (community) and tikkun olam (perfecting the world) are all connected to doing for others. However, this teaching may imply when we do for others, we limit what we do for ourselves.

In fact, there are Jewish texts which clearly speak to the obligation of taking care of ourselves.  The great sage Hillel teaches, “If I am Not For Myself, Who Will Be For Me?”  Clearly, Hillel, an extremely respected sage in our tradition, suggests we must first take care of ourselves before we take care of anyone else! 

So how do we manage both?  What comes first? Must we take care of ourselves first and others perceive us as being selfish?  Or must we take care of others first before ourselves, leading to a lack of self-care, which creates a variety of challenges.

With these different texts showing us both seem to be correct, our tradition teaches there should be room for each.  The sages teach us, Eylu V’Eylu Divrey Elohim Hayim – both of these positions are aspects of godliness in the world.  There are times when we must make ourselves the priority and there are times when we must make others the priority. Our Jewish calendar suggests no different, and challenges us to advocate for ourselves and then for others.  Hillel is right!  If we do not take care of ourselves first, we cannot take care of others with our full ability.

Over the last few weeks, I have been writing about ways in which we should think and act before the Jewish New Year.  We have talked about “saving the best for last.” We have talked about “not pressing the snooze button and letting the shofar wake us up a little earlier to make the world better.”      

During these last two and a half weeks of 5779, we have to prepare ourselves for bettering our relationship with ourselves first and then with God and others.  The High Holiday season is about mending our mistakes by apologizing to those we have hurt by mistake or with intention.  However, this task takes a lot of courage, energy and humility.  This task comes with a serious mindset and an authentic attitude wanting to become a better human being.  Doing so cannot be done with full intentions and with the maximum capability, unless we first take care of ourselves.  And only then, are we ready to build our connections with others. If we are not for ourselves, THERE WILL BE NOBODY PRESENT FOR US.  If we do advocate for ourselves, we will be healthier and our relationships with others will be healthier too.

During these next 17 days, the last on the Jewish calendar year of 5779, take a bit of a risk and be a bit selfish.  When you feel you don’t have time for you, take time for yourself and don’t be concerned about or bothered by what others think of you.  When you have thought about doing something for you, but you haven’t made the time because you are worried about taking care of someone else, do it and do not deprive yourself!  When others are asking for your time and you are worn out and spent, it is ok to say “not right now.”  

Judaism expects from each of us to be a part of a community.  Our sages teach, “don’t separate yourself from your community.”  Giving to and being present for others is a core of our tradition.  However, we cannot come with our full, healthy, energetic selves if we do not take care of ourselves first!

We must take some time to take care of and protect our individual selves!  Our physical and emotional bodies need it and they are waiting for us to make it happen.  Let’s be a little selfish now!!! It will pay off in the long run, when we are ready and able to take care of others.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan

 

Torah From The Heart

September 20, 2019 – 20 Elul 5779

“Transforming Challenges Into Blessings”

 

In the mid 18th Century, the Hasidic Jewish Movement came into being. Its founder, the Ba’al Shem Tov (known also by his acronym, the Besht) created a Jewish attitude of celebrating, dancing, and singing to everything in life whether it was a blessing or a challenge. When the Jewish European world went through pogroms and other attacks on its communities, life became quite embarrassing for Jews in the region, yet the Hasidic world always looked at life as a positive blessing and not as a curse.

There were troubling times when Jews would be forced to undress and dance in the public streets as a portrait of humiliation.  The Polish government, in particular, would have its Jews wear the furs from the tails of animals on top of their heads, to shame and embarrass the Jewish community.  But, under the leadership of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the Jewish world these dark moments and turned them into blessings.  They took the fur of these animals, made special hats out of them (called Shtreimels), and made the decision to wear “such decrees” on the Jewish holidays including Shabbat, Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot. And thus, the Shtreimel, the special fur hat was created out of a curse and many in the Hasidic world continue to wear them today as a blessing.

The Torah this week also reminds us that life will always have blessings and challenges.  Moses reminds the people this week before they enter the Promised Land, they will experience challenging moments and will have to figure out a way to navigate through them, coming out on the other side, transforming them into events full of blessings and optimism. 

And of course, we go through the same in our own personal lives.  In moments of adversity and challenge, we often want to hide and run away due to being embarrassed or afraid.  How often do we push ourselves to find blessings for ourselves during those daunting, scary moments?  

All too often, we do not.  And so – this is the season on the Jewish calendar to try and change that.  As the New Year is right around the corner, what is a challenge we have which we can stand up to, with courage, transforming it into a blessing?  What is a difficult relationship we are experiencing which we can try and heal to make better?  

Let’s have the strength to turn these challenges into blessings, to the best of our ability.

Whatever our challenges are, we know they will be present.  But let’s try to figure out a way to curtail our difficulties and increase our gratitude!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan

 

Torah From The Heart

September 27, 2019 – 27 Elul 5779

“One Hundred Blessings”

 

A few years ago, I asked several students in our Roz Goodell Religious School the following question: “How many times do you say thank you every day?”  The response from one student was, “I have no idea!”  So I then said, “I would love us to see what that number is. So tomorrow, could each of you please keep a log of how many times you say thank you for something. And in addition, could you please include how many times you experience something positive in your life.  We will call those, blessings!

And so the next day came and went.  I was eager to hear about the log results.  One of the students returned and said, “Rabbi Caplan, I counted a total of 110 blessings!  I counted when I was appreciative,  I counted when I said thank you, I counted when someone did something nice for me, I counted when I saw something nice happen, I counted when I learned something new.”  Another student said, “I counted 150.” Many of the blessings were similar to what the first student had shared.  The plethora of blessings logged were fantastic.  

And then there was the student who said, “Rabbi Caplan, maybe I should do this every day.  It made me realize just how wonderful life is.” And that was when I knew the project was successful. 

Our tradition teaches us, we should strive to recite 100 blessings every single day.  This includes from the moment we get up in the morning, expressing gratitude we are alive to the time we go to sleep, expressing thanks for the wonderful day we have been given from start to finish.  

Often times, when we are not feeling so great, it is hard to think of so many blessings every day.  And when we are feeling fantastic, it is sometimes hard to keep track of the blessings we have, because there are so many. But if we take a step back, we can really find many blessings we are not always aware of!

On Rosh Hashanah, we sound the Shofar, the ancient, musical instrument which calls attention to special, specific moments in time.  On Rosh Hashanah, the Shofar is sounded to proclaim the birthday of the world is here and for God to have compassion on each of us.  Compassion to forgive us for anything we may have done wrong over the last year and give us the gift of living for another year with health and with BLESSINGS!

The custom is to blow the shofar 100 times over the course of the two days of Rosh Hashanah (if you are with us both days, feel free to count!  I promise you, we will arrive at 100 at the end of the second day of Rosh Hashanah).

The Rabbis instituted this number to remind us we should acknowledge and appreciate 100 blessings a day, starting at the beginning of the year.

So, as we welcome in the new year of 5780 on Sunday night, and as we hear the shofar sounded 100 times on Monday and Tuesday, let’s count our blessings, appreciate them and proclaim with our voices just how grateful we are.

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah!

Rabbi Micah Caplan

 

Torah From The Heart

October 6, 2019 – 5 Tishrei 5780

“The Best of Intentions – And Making Them Happen”

 

Shanah Tovah.  I am hopeful everyone who celebrates, had a meaningful beginning to 5780.  Our community, Congregation Or Tzion, at the Jewish Community Center this past week was full of smiling, singing, learning, and sharing sacred time together.  As I shared during Rosh Hashanah, this is the time of year when we must proclaim we are happy with who we are and what we have.  This is the time of year when we should be celebrating what life offers to us each and every day.  How many of us counted those 100 sounds of the Shofar on Monday and Tuesday?  How many of us are counting our blessings every day?  It is not too late to start!

Now that we acknowledge life is really wonderful, we also must recognize that our lives ahead, in the coming year, have so much positive potential.    This is the time of year when we focus on how good we have it and spend some time planning on how we can be even better at what we do and who we are. This attitude creates even more excitement for the coming year. 

Over the past year, we have come to the table of life bringing our best of intentions for ourselves and for others. But is having the best of intentions a good thing?  When we say or hear others say, “so and so had the best of intentions,” often times the phrase is not seen so positively.  Simply because those intentions don’t always happen.  For whatever reason, sometimes our words and hopes towards ourselves and others fall short.  And while many times our lack of following through is not intentional, we should strive to be just a bit more mindful of when those instances take place.

As we approach Yom Kippur, perhaps we can start to prepare ourselves for those moments that arise when we have the best of intentions for others.  Let’s think of someone this year who we said we would do something for and did not follow through?  I am sure there are several people on our list we have disappointed because we were not present when we said we would be.

Our tradition has good news for us!!!! It is never to late to repair those moments!  And especially during this time of year, before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  During the next week, we have the opportunity to take the time to reach out, acknowledge and renew our relationships with those we have the best of intentions, and next time, follow through and act on our words.

As we enter the First Shabbat of the Year, in our Torah Portion this week, Vayeleh, Moses reminds the people when they enter the Land of Israel, to follow through and do what they say they will do.  Having the best of intentions and making sure they happen. So too, as we enter a new year, we should do the best we can, to do what we say we will do.  And yes, having the best of intentions…..and making them happen.

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah,

Rabbi Micah Caplan      

 

Torah From The Heart

November 1, 2019 – 3 Heshvan 5780

“Turning Nothing Into Everything”

 

Oscar Wilde, the great 19th-century English author and playwright once shared, “I love to talk about nothing.  It is the only thing I know anything about.”  Wilde’s statement might be tongue in cheek, but is something many of us do not think about.  

Sometimes the spirituality of doing nothing is just as important as doing everything.  I shared a sermon about this several years ago during the holiday season. There are times when we need to take a break from our everyday happenings. There are times when we need to let our bodies and minds relax and not focus on anything.  There are times when the art of doing nothing is crucial to our success.

Often times when people take a vacation I will ask them how was it?  Did they see anything interesting or exciting?  What was their favorite excursion?  And a number of answers are always fun, accompanied by pictures and stories.  But also, many times people will share, “Rabbi, the best part was being able to relax and not worry about anything.  The greatest moments were when I did nothing, and didn’t have to do anything!”

The Jewish calendar talks about the holiness of doing nothing.  This period of time started this past Wednesday, when we began a new Jewish month called Heshvan.  And the Rabbis from years past actually called it “Mar Heshvan.”  The word “mar,” meaning bitter in Hebrew (this is where the word “Maror” comes from, the bitter herbs on Passover) is added onto the month, because it is a holiday free month.  We just finished the month of Tishrei, which was full of them (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simhat Torah).

But I think the Jewish calendar is very smart.  Last month we celebrated and connected with important dates full of everything (prayer, food, family, friends, self-reflection, repairing relationships, etc.).  And now, over the next few weeks, we take a break from these moments to catch our breath.

The idea of turning nothing into everything is important for all of us.  Sometimes, taking a break, is so crucial to our health, both physically and emotionally.  As Wilde says, sometimes doing nothing is the best thing to do.

But perhaps, doing nothing leads us to figure out what we want to do or explore that we have yet to experience.  So over the next month, take some time to do nothing.  Take some time to relax.  Take some time to not pressure yourself to do something 24/7.  Yet, when we have had important time to do nothing, it will be time to get started again with what we wish to set out to do.  The month after Heshvan is Kislev, the month of dedication, when we celebrate Hanukkah.  Heshvan is when we appreciate the spirituality of doing nothing.  Kislev is the month when we dedicate ourselves to doing for ourselves and others as much as we can.

Wishing us all a few weeks of holiday respite and the godliness of taking a deep breath, transforming sacred nothingness into holy everything!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan

 

Torah From The Heart

December 6, 2019 – 8 Kislev 5780

“Advertising Who We Are”

 

During this season of the year, from Thanksgiving to New Years Day, our country is full of the holiday spirit.  Many of our Christian brothers and sisters decorate the outside and inside of their homes with Christmas Decorations. Stores and restaurants of all kinds are full of holiday sales and have a festive spirit. And many other aspects of our country enter into a month on our calendar where the brightness of the season takes hold of these shorter days, when it becomes dark much earlier.  

Judaism is no different!  Our winter light festival, Hanukkah has a similar intent.  So given Hanukkah is our Jewish holiday of lights, I had a congregant who once asked if it was ok for his family to put up Hanukkah Decorations and lights around his roof and outside his house.  He asked me if he could put an inflatable dreidel and hanukkiah all lit up on the front lawn of his home.  What a great teaching opportunity.

I shared with him the idea in Judaism of “Pirsuma D’Nisa.”  The translation of the Hebrew Phrase is, “advertising the miracle.”  There is an idea in Judaism we should be proud of who we are and advertise our miracle of light with the rest of the world.  This is why it is our custom to light the Hanukkiah and put it in our windows for all to see.  Actually, the tradition is to place the Hanukkiah outside our front door on the opposite side of the Mezuzah, because our doorways should be “full of Judaism!”

However, at this time of year, we should also do our best to hold onto our Jewish identity, given our Americanized assimilation we are exposed to at this time of year.  And yes, we have to maintain our Hanukkah traditions and customs maintaining their purpose and reason for making them a part of our lives.  Hanukkah is an opportunity for us to advertise the miracles we are fortunate to have experienced, and continue to appreciate today.

Let’s take great pride in sharing Hanukkah with others.  Let’s do our best to advertise the holiday and its miracles we are blessed with.  And in whichever way we decorate, be it in our homes, through our windows, or on our front lawns, let’s share the blessings of Hanukkah and bring a greater light to the rest of the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan 

 

  

Torah From The Heart

December 13, 2019 – 15 Kislev 5780

“Everyday Miracles”

 

This past week, on Monday afternoon, the skies opened and there was a significant rainstorm.  Shortly after, the skies became bright again, and the sun was shining with beauty as it often does in the Valley of the Sun.  We don’t always pay attention to the importance of sun and rain.  But in fact, Judaism appreciates both as miracles in life.

We are currently in the Hebrew month of Kislev. Kislev is the winter month when our tradition reminds us this is the season when we spend time evaluating the miracles we are grateful for.  Some of them might be miracles which happen often and some are ones which might occur every once in a while.  Let’s take a moment and ask ourselves, what are the miracles we experience or have experienced which come to mind?  What are the miracles which enrich our lives bringing us feelings of comfort,  feelings of joy, feelings of being content.

In ten days, we will begin celebrating the holiday of Hanukkah.  The festival of lights represents the historical miracle which happened to the Jewish people in the time of the Maccabees.  The miracle of the Jewish people overcoming the Assyrian Greeks in battle when the odds were against us.  And following our victory, the cleaning, beautifying and rededicating the Temple to be used once again for Jewish worship restored calm and peace to the Jewish world.

To celebrate the miracle of victory, we light candles for eight nights. The second blessing we say every night when we light the Hanukkiah is, “Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheynu Melekh HaOlam, She’asah Nisim La’avoteynu, Bayamim Haheym U’Vazman Hazeh.” “Blessed are you, the godliness of the world, granting and providing the opportunity for us to appreciate the miracles of the past and for us to appreciate the miracles of today!”

Hanukkah is about holding onto the past, enjoying the present and looking forward to the future.

Over the next ten days, as we do our Hanukkah shopping and prepare for the holiday by cleaning our Hanukkiot, let’s spend some time thinking about the miracles we are grateful for.  And perhaps, when we light the candles each night, we can think of one miracle for every night we can share with those we are with.  Whether it is the miracle of the warmth of the sun, the miracle of the sound and smell of the rain, or other miracles which we don’t focus on too often, let’s take the time to light the Hanukkiah and illuminate the miracles which are most important to us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan

 

 

Torah From The Heart

December 20, 2019 – 22 Kislev 5770

“Positive Attitude Leads To Positive Action”

 

This past week I was sitting in the Drive Thru at Dutch Bros. Coffee on 62nd Street and Bell.  For those of you who don’t know my coffee preference in life, my personal opinion is Dutch Bros. is the best!  But the question is why?  And there are several reasons.  The coffee is amazing. The attitude the employees have is welcoming. The love they have for people is tremendous.  And the overall atmosphere is positive and infectious. 

Take for example earlier in the week.  The gentleman who took my order asked how I was doing.  I shared it was a good day and I asked him how he was.  We bantered back and forth and he asked what I did for a living.  Oh boy! I shared with him I am a Rabbi and he paused for a moment.  He said he was Jewish by birth but never met a Rabbi in his life. I responded by saying, “well, today is your lucky day!”  By now, several cars were behind me in line, but people know conversations between customers and employees at Dutch Bros. while waiting in line is part of the culture.

As we finished our short conversation, he took my order, a simple decaffeinated coffee (with two splendas and almond milk) and said, “You must bring so much positivity into the world with what you do.”  I retorted by saying, “You, my friend, have just given so much positive light into the world by asking how I am.”  He shared since he met a Rabbi, he was going to try and do something for Hanukkah this year (he mentioned he will have a latke or two), but more importantly, he was going to try and bring more positive actions to the world during the holiday.  I gave him a solid handshake, he gave me a pat on the shoulder, and I headed to the window to grab my drink.  

In Judaism, we have many important life lessons and values we should strive and embrace as often as possible.  One of them is called, “Hakarat HaTov, which means recognizing the good in life.”

Often times we don’t look around us and recognize what is good.  Often times, we look for the negative and that is not the best Jewish way of living.

This coming Sunday night, we start to celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah and prepare to welcome in the year of 2020.  We sing with family and friends the blessings of Hanukkah and celebrate the positive attributes the holiday possesses.  Attributes of light, dedication, food, fun, family and friends.  The holiday of Hanukkah brings with it a Hakarat HaTov, a positive attitude and recognizing the good in life.  Hanukkah reminds us during a dark and cold season of the year, it is also a time to think and act positively enabling those thoughts to evolve into positive actions. 

As we light our candles, eat our Hanukkah foods, sing our blessings, open our gifts, play dreidel and enjoy many other blessings of the holiday, let’s remind ourselves to take the positive feelings of the holiday, and turn them into positive actions, well into the New Year of 2020.  That is what Hanukkah is all about and that is who we are all about too!

Shabbat Shalom and a Happy Hanukkah to all,

Hag Urim Sameyah,

Rabbi Micah Caplan 

 

Torah From The Heart

January 10, 2020 – 13 Tevet 5770

“Standing With Conviction and Strength”

 

Sporting events are a large part of our American Identity and Culture.  Whether we play, attend, or watch, sports certainly have their place in the lives of many Americans.  Personally, I am a huge sports fan and love attending all types of sporting events.  And with different sporting events come rituals and entertaining moments.  The seventh-inning stretch in a baseball game, halftime shows during football and basketball games, and others.

But of all the rituals we have, the one I appreciate the most is just before the beginning of any game.  And that is when we stand and recite the Star Spangled Banner.  It is amazing to participate in and see for a few moments, an entire crowd of people standing in unity, sharing the blessings we have in this wonderful country we are blessed to live in and then shout with excitement as the game is about to begin.

Often times, when we stand intentionally, we do so for a reason!  Standing means being strong, standing means being proud of what one believes in, and standing means affirming values which we have learned and hold true to.

There is an interesting choreographed move in the Torah this week.  Jacob, the third patriarch of the Jewish people is about to die.  He gathers his sons around him for a final conversation when he blesses each of them.  The Torah is very specific in its narrative.  The text says when Joseph approaches Jacob, Jacob asks Joseph to please bury him back in the land of his fathers.  When Joseph swears he will do so, the Torah then says, “and Jacob BOWED at the head of the bed.”  Commentators over the centuries try and understand what the text suggests.  Many argue this was a physical maneuver of strength.  It was a moment in physical weakness, when Jacob gathers all of his strength and conviction and SAT UP STRONG.  A move of conviction, a move of appreciation, a move of passion for life.  Even at the end, Jacob, who was strong his entire life, expresses who he is one final time!

Often times in life, we have opportunities to “stand strong” for what we believe in.  Often times, we have opportunities to take action for what we believe in.  But do we do enough!?  Do we simply stand tall and just speak about what we believe in or do we actually act on it?   Do we talk the talk and walk the walk?

When we remove our caps, listen or sing along with the words of our American National Anthem, is it just the singing and festivities we are focused on?  Or is it also the appreciation we have for our country and standing with conviction that is important too?  

As we enter this Shabbat, we learn Jacob sits and stands up with strength for what he believes in.  Let’s do the same.  As we are just into a new year, let’s think of something we take great pride in and believe.  And, let’s demonstrate to ourselves and to others it is a value we stand up for with conviction!!

And yes, if you ever want to take the Rabbi to a sporting event, I look forward to standing together during our national anthem 🙂

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan  

 

TORAH FROM THE HEART

January 17, 2020 – 20 Tevet 5780

“Praying With Our Feet”

 

Sunday, March 21, 1965 was a significant day for our country.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched with over 3200 individuals from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in one of America’s most monumental moments in our nation’s fight for civil rights.  Many civil rights and religious leaders participated in the march, joining Dr. King and so many others, standing tall and proclaiming the importance of liberty and freedom for all in the United States.

One of those religious leaders who marched in the front line with Dr. King was a man by the name of Dr. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.  Heschel is considered to be one of the great rabbis in America during the 20th century.  Heschel was a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York (The Conservative Movement’s Hub in America) and was also a social justice advocate and a good friend of Dr. King.

When marching that day, there is a famous story of man, who was watching the march from the sideline, yelling at Rabbi Heschel, “Rabbi Heschel, you should be in the synagogue praying instead of out here marching.”  Rabbi Heschel with his passionate and eloquent voice, retorted with his intellectual response, “Today, I am praying with my feet!”

Heschel’s response was spot on.  In Judaism, prayer comes from our hearts, but prayer should also move us to bring goodness into the world.  Prayer comes within, but prayer should also transform who we are to others.

This coming Monday, we celebrate and remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  We hold onto what he stood for and what we continue to stand for.  The values of freedom, justice, and equality for all are Jewish values that both King and Heschel stood for and ones we should stand for as well.

The rabbis from nearly 2,000 years ago share in their ethical code, “The world STANDS on three things:  The study of Jewish text (Torah), acts of godliness in the world (Avodah), and performing deeds of kindness (Gemilut Hasadim).”  

And so, as we move into Shabbat and the following week, let’s hold onto the Torah of Dr. King and Dr. Heschel!  Let’s find ways to pray with our feet, moving the world to a brighter one.  

I look forward to marching together in doing so!!!!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan 

 

TORAH FROM THE HEART

January 31, 2020 – 5 Shevat 5780

“Including Everyone”

 

Back in 2002, I had the gift serving as Rabbi in my first congregation, Congregation Shaarei Torah in Arcadia, California.  It was a wonderful experience, serving as the spiritual leader for a sweet and committed community.

Upon arriving to the congregation, I met a man named Paul, a Holocasust Survivor.  Paul was in his early eighties yet had the strength of someone in his twenties.  Paul helped around the synagogue, assisting the rabbi before me by leading services, reading from the Torah, etc. One of the things Paul also did, was lead services with the Rabbi during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  

During my first year, Paul gave me that same gift, and as the service was moving forward on Yom Kippur, there was a text Paul recited called Shema Koleynu, a text asking for the godliness of life to hear our voices. As Paul was reciting the text, he started to break down and cry.  After we managed to get through the text together, I quietly asked if he was ok.  He said the text was hard for him to recite because there was a line in the prayer asking for the godliness of life to “not cast us off when we get old.”  Paul told me after services he felt like he along with those his age are dismissed and ostracized by society today. I embraced him and said as long as I am the rabbi here, that would never happen.

Many times, there are those in our social and communal groups who feel they are excluded, ignored and discounted.  There are those in our lives who feel they are not good enough to be part of “the group.”  The Jewish way is to include everyone.  The Jewish way is not to separate individuals from the community because she or he is too old, too young, not popular, has special needs, has a specific sexual orientation, etc. The Jewish way is to be accepting, to celebrate each other’s right to be different, to be inclusive!  

In our Torah portion this week, Moses does exactly that.  The Pharaoh has had enough following the Ten Plagues that befall the land of Egypt.  He tells Moses to take the Jewish people and to leave.  But this time, he really means it!!  Moses declares with conviction, “With our young and our old, we will go.”  Moses is inclusive and does not leave anyone out.  Moses does not take just the strong and young with him, but he takes everyone out of slavery because it is the godly and Jewish value of treating everyone in the image of God.  The value of including everyone.

So on this Shabbat, who in our social circle feels excluded?  Who do we know in our lives who feels she or he is not good enough to be part of a greater group of people?  Can we include those individuals and make them feel valued?  

Eighteen years ago, Congregation Shaarei Torah reminded Paul he would not be forgotten as he got older, and we should do the Jewish thing…to be inclusive of everyone as often as we can!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan

 

Torah From The Heart

February 7, 2020 – 12 Shevat 5780

“Taking A Risk – A Great Opportunity”

 

I have the gift of working with many young adults who become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  And while officiating nearly 500 B’nai Mitzvah services over the last eighteen years as a rabbi, every kid is different and every experience is unique.

However there is one characteristic which many of them possess, and that is being nervous (in addition to the pre-pubescent voice many of the boys have).  As the week before the Bat or Bar Mitzvah begins, we spend one final time practicing his or her Dvar Torah (the talk each kid gives expressing who they are and pieces about Judaism which are important to them).  And many times, there is a look of doubt in their eyes.  A doubt they cannot do this.  And I remind them they can!  I remind them “the risk” they take speaking in front of others will be memorable and fun.  And every time, each kid shines.

Taking risks can be daunting and nerve-wracking.  Taking risks can be scary because there is an unknown outcome.  But taking risks are important moments for us to explore because they help us grow into stronger, better and healthier individuals.

This week, our Torah portion speaks of Moses leading the Jewish people across the Red Sea.  But there is a rabbinic legend which teaches Moses was not THE ONE to take a risk and go into the water first.  The legend says a boy whose name was Nahshon, started walking into the sea before it had parted.  As he walked further and further, the people, including Moses, who were waiting for the waters to part, watched the boy walk further and further. Once Nachshon’s head was fully submerged in the water, then the waters of the sea split, and Moses along with the Jewish people marched to freedom.

Whether it is a Bar or Bat Mitzvah kid preparing to deliver a talk on a Shabbat morning, or Nachshon who walked into the sea, each involves the important action of taking a risk.  And so on this Shabbat of Song (This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shira in Hebrew as we read the song the Jewish people sang when they crossed the Red Sea in the Torah), we should ask ourselves what risks are we holding back from fulfilling?  What risks have the ability to help us grow yet we are still afraid of pursuing?

Let’s try to be more like Nachshon or more like one of our Bnai Mitzvah candidates, and take a risk.  A risk that will help us grow, a risk that will help others grow, and a risk that will enable the trait of godliness to be a greater part of our lives. 

So let’s put our feet in the water like Nachshon, and not take too long to start!!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan 

 

Torah From The Heart

March 27, 2020 – 2 Nisan 5780

“The Beauty of Shabbat”

 

During these challenging times in our lives, we are all feeling different emotions.  Whether we are feeling stress, anxiety, frustration or boredom hunkering down in our homes, our ways of expression are perfectly acceptable.

But once a week, Judaism provides us spiritual medicine. Our tradition reminds us to take a break from how we are feeling during the other six days.  Shabbat is that holy and sanctified day when we suspend time and find ways to bring additional joy and celebration into our human experience.  

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, a rabbi, philosopher, and teacher in the 20th century at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, explains the powerful place Shabbat has in our lives every week.  Heschel, in his book called, “The Sabbath”, shares that the Sabbath is to serve as an “Island In Time.”  That is to say that once a week, we should let go of the time on our clocks, the challenging feelings we have gathered during the week and appreciate the life we have and the blessings which come along with it.

Shabbat is so important now more than ever.  Perhaps this coming Shabbat and the Shabbatot that follow, we can create for ourselves creative islands in time.  Maybe we can put our watches down, not pay attention to our clocks on the wall, and focus on family, food and blessings in life from Friday evening at sundown until Saturday night.  Maybe make a favorite dish or dessert and enjoy it, because as it says somewhere, “there are no calories on Shabbat.” Perhaps, we can take some time to livestream our Shabbat Services and not look at the clock or our watch to see when we are almost done. Perhaps, we can call a friend or family member on Shabbat who we physically cannot connect with, and not time the conversation from the time we say hello to the time we hang up the phone.

When we experience moments such as these, we fulfill our spiritual connections we year for. This is what the beauty of Shabbat is and enables us to have such perfect opportunities.

Shabbat is the most precious and sweet time of the week.  Let’s make this Shabbat even more special.  Create that “Island In Time”.  Do something special, do something loving for yourself, do something meaningful for others, and then we can truly say, SHABBAT SHALOM, that this Shabbat will be a Shabbat of joy and peace.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan 

 

Torah From The Heart

May 8, 2020 – 14 Iyar 5780

“Every Day Has Value”

 

In the book of Genesis, we find one of the most well-known stories of all time, the story of creation.  The Torah shares how each of the seven days is created and within each day, the text says, “And God said, it was good.” At the end of creation, God says all of the days of creation were “very good.” The text seems to imply that every day had value and that every day was needed in order for the creation of the world to be completed.  

Moving forward in time, after the Jewish people are formed and leave Egypt, there is a list of days on the Jewish calendar which are to be proclaimed as holy and important days.  Just like the days of creation, these appointed times are to have value and hold sacred meaning on our calendar.  We read this selection in the Torah this week and it is a reminder of the importance of our holidays throughout the year.  Which are they?  They include Shabbat, Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.  Each one of them has its own value and meaning for the Jewish people in defining who we are and how we make sense of the world.

In addition to these days, more modern holidays have been created and are now part of the Jewish year.  One of those holidays takes place this coming Monday night and throughout the day on Tuesday.  It is called Lag BaOmer.  The day marks the 33rd day between Passover and Shavuot, a total of seven weeks or 49 days.  Lag BaOmer celebrates the life of a famous Rabbi, Shimon Bar Yochai, who opened the doors of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah as we know it today), and the day also marks a time of healing from sickness in the days of Rabbi Akiva, one of the great sages of all time.  The day is for pure celebration during this seven-week period of time.  Many celebrate with BonFires, family and friend gatherings and appreciating the health we have in our lives.  Lag BaOmer is another day on our calendar, reminding us that each and every day has value.

Today, with everything we are experiencing and going through, perhaps we are feeling our days don’t have as much value as they used to have.  We can’t go to the places we enjoy going to, we can’t socialize with the friends we enjoy spending time with, and we can’t be with extended family who we love so very much, all due to the health precautions we must take to make the world a healthier one.

But that does not mean we can’t ensure every day has value. During the next week, try to find value in every day.  Perhaps, make a special call to someone to reconnect, surprise someone by driving by their home, rolling down your window and say hello.  Perhaps read a book that makes you feel connected to the world, or have a quality meal by sitting down with those in your home and share just how precious life is.

Just as we prayed and healing happened on Lag Baomer long ago, let’s hope the value of the day has great meaning for us and leads to healing as soon as possible.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan

 

Torah From The Heart

May 22, 2020 – 28 Iyar 5780

“Counting Everyone”

 

Judaism places a great value on numbers in our tradition.  Numbers represent different pieces to who we are and how we make sense of the world. We even have different songs that have within them the value of numbers.  This includes the fun words and melody of Ehad Mi Yodeah (“who knows one” in the Haggadah on Passover – do you remember what each number represents all the way up to thirteen in the song?). 

The Torah this week places a numeric value on each person that left Egypt.  There was a census taken to ensure everyone was accounted for.  

The rabbinic tradition teaches us that the Torah uses the word “Rosh, meaning head” to mean the word “number.” That is to say that each person is important, each person has value.  But in addition, each person must feel he or she has the responsibility for his or her actions.  And every action we take in a positive light, can improve the condition of the world.  But at the same time, every action we take in a negative light can also deteriorate the condition of the world.

Although the Torah feels identifying every individual through numbers was crucial to them arriving to the land of Israel, we have to be careful of giving a numerical value to people. I remember some time ago learning something very meaningful about numbers from my relative and teacher, Rabbi Jack Riemer.  Rabbi Riemer was talking about counting people in a minyan, the quorum of ten adult Jews required for public worship.  And given that the Holocaust tattooed Jews with numbers on their forearms, he felt we should come up with a different way of counting Jews in synagogue.  He would choose a biblical verse that had exactly ten words in it, and that each Jew should be counted with one of those words.  What an emotional and brilliant idea.  How much more so does such an action bring a greater value to every individual as opposed to just being counted with a number, let alone dark moments in Jewish history when the Nazis identified us simply by a number.

This week as we read about the importance of every single person who left Egypt in the time of the Exodus, we should also take some time to remind ourselves of the importance that others have in our lives.  Take the time to call someone, drive by and see someone with responsible social distancing, Zoom or Facetime with someone.  Why?  Just because!  Just because that person is not just a number in life, but rather has tremendous value to you in making life more sweet and full of abundant blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Caplan