Shabbat Messages

Rabbi Steve Leder

Rabbi Steve Leder

Each week, Rabbi Leder prepares a Shabbat message to the congregation. Here on this page you can read his latest message and find an archive of all of his Shabbat Messages since March 13, 2020.

This Week's Message

Feather

In past sermons and classes I have been tough on Noah. Yes, this week the Torah defines him as “a righteous man in his generation,” but like many rabbis of the Talmud and since, I have always understood those words to mean that Noah was righteous only by the diminished moral standards of his own era and that during any other time he would have been considered ordinary at best.  Did he argue with God to reconsider, the way Abraham did when God wanted to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? No. Did he warn his neighbors that there was a storm coming? No. Did he share his blueprints for the ark so others could build their own? Again, no. Sure, he follows God’s orders to build an ark, round up some animals, save his family, and ride out the storm.  But that’s all he did and l have always blamed him for not doing more.   

We all see so much that is wrong in our city, state, nation, and world; we would have to be physically and morally blind not to. I drive by homeless encampments in West LA and feel much the same way I felt when I volunteered years ago in the slums of Mumbai; wondering how we will ever solve the impossible addiction, poverty, and mental health issues contributing to nearly 70,000 people living on our streets. I walk out my front door in October and it’s 90 degrees, leaving me to ponder if we can ever heal the planet. I watch the debates, the commercials, and the lies and lose a measure of hope about our leaders. I pay my taxes (federal, state, county, city, sales, gas, utility, and more) and wonder how much more can be asked of me, especially in the face of bureaucratic inefficiency and inability to solve any of the problems we face; not even the potholes on my street.

Yes, we all want to make the world better. But we are also so damn tired, mystified and overwhelmed by uncertainty; partially paralyzed by the enormity of a tiny virus for which we currently have no real answer and that leaves us shaking our heads at foolish, bickering leaders. It seems we can do little more right now than worry about our own children and grandchildren, elderly parents and grandparents.

Never before have I felt more empathy for Noah and what it must feel like to be overwhelmed by an inevitable, upward creeping flow of disease-ridden water, fleeing your home, and witnessing everything you have worked for go floating by. I used to think Noah was a selfish coward. Now, I think poor Noah just did the best he could. He saved his family, he saved the animals, and he found a way to start again when the rain stopped falling. Lately, that feels pretty righteous to me. There’s no shame in doing the best you can even if others, in easier times, might have done more.  

The Rambam said, “Each person should feel as if all the deeds of all the people in the world are being weighed on the scales of the heavenly tribunal. And he or she should feel as if all the deeds of all humanity are in a perfect balance, and that the next deed that he or she does will tilt the scales for the entire world one way or the other.”  That means that a single deed the weight of a single feather can make all the difference. It is the same sort of thinking that led the rabbis of the Talmud to remind us that saving a single life is like saving the entire world. Or as my father would have put it in Yiddish, “A bissle iz a plotz—A little, is a lot.”    

In years past I was tough on Noah. This year, he is my teacher and my inspiration. Not because he was great, but because he was good and right now, good is good enough. None of us can rescue everyone, but we can all rescue someone. We can find one person whose life we can make better. Choose one charity for our tzedaka. Reach out to one isolated soul riding this Covid storm out alone. Pat one beleaguered parent on the back. Make one child laugh. Offer even a single sandwich to an outstretched homeless hand; a single job lead for a millennial who needs a break. One kind word, one decent act, one glimmer of light, one feather of a deed, soft and beautiful, won’t change the world, but it will make us and some tiny corner of it soft and beautiful too.   
 

Archive

Feather

In past sermons and classes I have been tough on Noah. Yes, this week the Torah defines him as “a righteous man in his generation,” but like many rabbis of the Talmud and since, I have always understood those words to mean that Noah was righteous only by the diminished moral standards of his own era and that during any other time he would have been considered ordinary at best.  Did he argue with God to reconsider, the way Abraham did when God wanted to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? No. Did he warn his neighbors that there was a storm coming? No. Did he share his blueprints for the ark so others could build their own? Again, no. Sure, he follows God’s orders to build an ark, round up some animals, save his family, and ride out the storm.  But that’s all he did and l have always blamed him for not doing more.   

Read More about Rabbi Leder Shabbat Message - October 23, 2020
Beautiful sunrise above fog

My friend is in the thick of it now.  Her husband died a few weeks ago, the flower arrangements have withered, the leftovers are gone, the kids have returned to their lives, and her bed is half empty. I level with her, “This is your life right now and it is going to last longer than you think you can bear it, yet somehow you will bear it because that old Yiddish expression is true, ‘When you must, you can.’ It is going to get better, but you are on a very long road.”

Read More about Rabbi Leder Shabbat Message - October 16, 2020
Rabbi Leder Shabbat Message - October 2, 2020

  One thing's for sure, Judaism is a practical religion. When the Torah wanted to remind us of our wandering in the desert, humble beginnings and precarious place among the nations, instead of opting for myth, metaphor, or prayer, it demanded the real thing--a week like the one that begins tonight--spent sleeping and eating in a rickety booth. For anyone who has ever taken Sukkot seriously, the Torah's wisdom is abundantly clear. For anyone who hasn't, take my word for it, a week in the sukkah adds up to a pretty good lesson in humility.

Read More about Rabbi Leder Shabbat Message - October 2, 2020
Rabbi Leder Shabbat Message - September 25, 2020

Biased cops murdering innocent people of color.  Innocent cops targeted by assassins. A President who claims he either wins or the election is invalid. A simple statement of truth like black lives matter, obscuring the truth of an organization by the same name whose 47,000-word manifesto accuses Israel of genocide and some of whose leaders credit their inspiration to Louis Farrakhan who said not long ago: “Pedophilia and sexual perversion institutionalized in Hollywood and the entertainment industries can be traced to Talmudic principles and Jewish influence…Satanic influence under the name of Jew.” (Saviours’ Day speech, Chicago, Feb. 17, 2019)  Let all of that that sink in. 

Read More about Rabbi Leder Shabbat Message - September 25, 2020
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