| Clergy Corner

CLERGY CORNER: Is guilt hijacking your life?

Posted on 04 February 2016 by LeslieM

Dear Rabbi, I used to think my entire life was run by my feelings of guilt. Everything I did or thought seemed to be governed by how guilty I felt that day. It also didn’t seem to matter what ‘it’ was. I’d be feeling guilty about everything and anything … either that I hadn’t done enough or that I’d upset people when I hadn’t meant to or even that I ‘should’ have done something differently. I’d feel guilty about so many things and my life really did seem to be just reacting to one feeling of guilt after another”.

Dear friends, we all suffer from guilt, some more than others. The question is what we do with it …

After his wife died, an old religious man received a parrot from his sons to keep him company. After a time, he discovered that the parrot had heard him pray so often that it learned to say the prayers. The old man was so thrilled he decided to take his parrot to the synagogue on the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah.

The rabbi protested when he entered with the bird, but when told the parrot could pray, the rabbi, though still skeptical, showed interest. People started betting on whether the parrot would pray, and the old man happily took bets that eventually totaled $50,000.

The prayers began but the bird was silent. As the prayers continued there was still not a word from the bird.

When the prayers ended, the old man was not only crestfallen, but also $50,000 in debt. On the way home he thundered at his parrot, “Why did you do this to me? I know you can pray, you know you can pray. Why did you keep your mouth shut? Do you know how much money I owe people now?”

To which the parrot replied: “A little business imagination would help you, dear friend. You must look ahead: Can you imagine what the stakes will be like on Yom Kippur?” Double compensation.

Exodus 22:7 “If a man shall give money or vessels to his fellow to safeguard, and it is stolen from the house of the man, if the thief is found, he shall pay double.” Go out, suggests the Torah, and find the thief. Then you will actually receive double of what you possessed originally!

Here we are introduced, in subtle fashion, to the exquisite dynamic known in Judaism as teshuvah – repentance, or psychological and moral recovery. Instead of wallowing in your guilt and despair, and instead of surrendering to apathy and cynicism, you ought to identify and confront your “thief”, those forces within your life that keep derailing you. You need to reclaim ownership over your schedules, behaviors and patterns.

Then, you will receive from the thief double the amount he took in the first place. What this means psychologically is that the experience of falling and rebounding will allow you to deepen your spirituality and dignity in a fashion double of what it might have been without the thievery.

The Talmud puts it thus: “Great is repentance, for as a result of it, willful sins are transformed into virtues.”

When you fail and allow your life to fall into a shambles, but then confront the thief and reclaim your life as your own, those previous failures bestow on you a perspective, an appreciation, a depth and a determination that otherwise would not have been possible. By engaging in the remarkable endeavor of repentance, the sin itself is redefined as a mitzvah – a good deed. Why? Because the very failure and its resulting frustration generate a profound and authentic passion and appreciation for the good and the holy.

The next time your inner thief hijacks your moral life, see it as a reclamation opportunity: Reclaim your life with a double dose of light and purity.

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the Director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches. (Moving to new location… coming soon!) For all upcoming events please visit www.JewishLHP.com.

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CLERGY CORNER: Experiencing renewal

Posted on 28 January 2016 by LeslieM

Broadcast producers have found a goldmine in reality-based programming. From the network stations to cable, and even Internet channels, reality television is the flavor of the moment. From popular shows like Real Housewives of (pick your city) to Survivor, The Bachelorette, Dancing with the Stars, Biggest Loser and the Amazing Race, there has been an abundance of programming that is relatively unscripted, unrehearsed and reality-based.

One of my favorites is HGTV’s Property Brothers, where twins Jonathan and Drew guide couples through the process of purchasing and renovating fixer-upper homes. The premise is simple: most couples have a limited budget but an unrestricted wish list. They usually can’t afford the homes that meet all their demands and must pick from several homes that are in their reach but need a lot of work. The brothers have become masters at seeing past ugly paint colors, weird interior layouts and outdated kitchen appliances to imagining, and then producing, magazine-worthy homes that leave the new owners in awe.

The truth is that at one time those fixer-uppers were brand new and appealing. Time, use and wear inevitably took a toll on them, however, leaving them in need of refreshing, renewing and updating. Our lives and experiences, over time, can be such that they leave us weary, worn and dilapidated. Once bursting with energy, passion and zeal, we can look around one day to find ourselves weak, overwhelmed and dispirited. But, like those homes that can be re-imagined and repurposed, there is a potential and possibility that can yet be unleashed in us.

The start of a new year often presents an opportunity to review and renew our lives. Most of us make resolutions in an attempt to make improvements and change for the better. Losing weight, saving more money, giving up bad habits and learning something new are some of the more popular goals that people set for themselves at the beginning of each year. The truth is that we can begin new things or make adjustments at any time, but the first month of a new year provides the added benefit of an emotional boost. Everything seems fresh and most people seem to be filled with optimism about themselves and their prospects for the months ahead.

Opportunities are always around us, but sometimes we focus so much on our obstacles that we fail to notice them. Life doesn’t have to be so adverse that we feel trapped and unfulfilled. Like a dilapidated home that is re-imagined and given new life, we, too, can experience renewal and be refreshed.

Believers know that God is constantly calling us to renewal: spiritual, emotional and sometimes physical. His plans for us are far superior to what we can imagine, and, if we look to Him, we can experience His guidance. As Solomon observed in Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”

As this year begins to unfold, be encouraged to embrace the opportunities you have to experience renewal, and to make changes for the better. Include God in your planning and discover the good things He has purposed for you. Begin each day by looking to Him for direction and heeding His instruction. The confident assertion of King David, in Psalm 16:11, is “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” That sounds like a good plan to me. Try it, and may your year be filled with renewed joy, pleasure and fulfillment.

Bishop Patrick L. Kelly is the pastor of Cathedral Church of God, 365 S. Dixie Hwy., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. 954-427-0302.

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CLERGY CORNER: The miracle of matchmaking

Posted on 21 January 2016 by LeslieM

This week’s Torah portion Beshalach (Exodus 14:26 – 15:26) relates that dramatic moment when at the brink of being captured by the mighty Egyptian forces, the Red Sea parted before the Hebrews. The newly-born nation of Israel crossed to the other side and embarked on its journey to freedom.

Do we have anything in our lives today that could even remotely reflect that unparalleled and stupendous miracle? Yes, says the Talmud, and it is the miracle of a marriage that works. “To match couples together is as difficult as the splitting of the sea,” states this ancient Jewish text written around 1700 years ago. What is the meaning behind these words? Everybody knows that the process of finding a life’s partner and maintaining the relationship may at times be excruciatingly difficult. But why, from all extraordinary miracles described in the Bible, does the Talmud choose specifically the miracle of the splitting of the sea to depict marriage?

Do you remember your groom?

Before each of us was born, say the Kabbalists, we were shown, in heaven, the souls of our respective grooms and brides. Now, when you saw the soul of your future husband in the spiritual realms, you were ecstatic. You were witness to an extraordinary spirit, a towering beacon of light, a great personality. You thought to yourself: “For such a husband, I will do anything. I will be there for him in the deepest possible way. I am ready to ‘split’ for him any day.”

Similarly, when you encountered your future bride there in the sublime plane, you were just blown away. What a profound heart! Will I truly have the privilege of building a home with this human being? How will I ever be able to show enough gratitude for the joy of having a relationship with this woman?

Then, you were born. Twenty, 25, 30, 35, 45 years later, you feel an attraction to your spouse, to that soul that once so overwhelmed you. You take a look … But you do not recognize him or her.

Him? You want me to respect him?” many a woman says. “He is an obnoxious, egotistical, self-centered man.”

Her?” many a man exclaims. “You expect me to appreciate and honor her? A world-renowned needy and insecure kvetch?”

Many of us fail to recognize in the face and personality of our spouses what we once-upon-a-time saw in their souls. Marriage is the ability to recognize your true spouse, beneath the layers of “rubble” that may eclipse his or her true dignity and beauty. A good relationship stems from the understanding that life is a battlefield in which we often stumble and fail and that the beauty and profundity of human life consists not of a continuous stream of light and perfection, but rather of the light that emerges from amidst darkness, of the serenity that emerges from turmoil, and of the harmony that sprouts forth from strife.

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the Director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches located at

4081 N. Federal Hwy., #100A, Pompano Beach, FL 33064. For all upcoming events please visit www.JewishLHP.com.

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CLERGY CORNER: Braking OCD Christianity

Posted on 14 January 2016 by LeslieM

Ray Romano once said, “As a comedian, you don’t want to upset someone with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). They’ll write you a letter … and another one … and another one … and another one.”

We may laugh, but the reality is that OCD is crippling. People suffering from this condition develop compulsive behaviors in which they become obsessed with performing certain rituals repeatedly to only temporarily find relief from the plaguing anxiety. Simply put: Someone obsessing over their safety may lock and re-lock a door again and again. For many, this is a neurotic condition; they know the repetition is for naught. They understand that they are no safer whether they lock the same lock once or four times over.

If you’ve read this far, you’re either my mom or you’re curious to see what this has to do with Christianity. Allow me to explain.

While not true OCD, I believe many of us have what I like to call OCD Christianity. We’ve latched on to certain obsessions within our faith and have created rituals that help us feel more Christian. And, as with OCD, we recognize these behaviors and still perform them even though we know they do not draw us closer to God. If anything, they weigh us down and distract us from strengthening our personal relationship with Him.

To grasp my abstract thought, track with me through three things we obsess about. One, we obsess about condemnation. We see the world living in sin and think, “Turn or burn.” We use guilt and shame to bring people into the faith. Unfortunately, this approach makes God’s plan small and boring — uninviting and unexciting.

And, naturally, if we begin to obsess over condemnation for others, it’s not long before, two, we obsess about self-preservation — Are we saved? Are we good, God? Check out Luke 3:7, when John the Baptist addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees: “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath?” He pointed out that, just as snakes flee a brush fire to save themselves, these guys were only concerned about self-preservation, believing their rituals would save them. As much as it may pain us to admit, in this case, we probably relate more to the Pharisees and Sadducees than to the recent converts.

Three, we obsess over comfort — doing everything in our power to avoid being uncomfortable. Yet, nowhere in Scripture do we find a call to safe and comfortable living. Quite the opposite, right? This obsession blinds us from the realization that Heavenly comfort is facilitated by earthly discomfort.

So, there they are. I had to put them out there to say this: From these obsessions, we’ve created rituals that ransack our understanding of Matthew 7:22-23: “On judgment day many will say to me ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’” To put it in modern context: “Without leaving our comfort zone, we started a small group in your name and read our Bibles, and attended Sunday school, in your name, and even had a really cool event that grew our attendance … in your name, of course.” Yet comprehend carefully Christ’s response in Matthew 7:23: “But I will reply, ‘I never KNEW you. Get away from me…’” [emphasis added].

Wait, what? So there are people who do Christian-ey things and they won’t enter Heaven?

Yes.

God isn’t asking us to do things because they make us feel like Christians. He’s inviting us into an authentic relationship with Him. But, if we obsess about condemnation, self-preservation and discomfort, we’ll read our Bibles, pray, give of our time and resources, etc., because doing so will make us feel like “we’re good” instead of an effort to actually deepen our relationship with Him. We’ll miss the point completely — be His disciple; go and make disciples. It’ll all be, as with OCD, for naught.

But, be filled with hope! John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ, who would, once and for all, atone for our sins. Find joy in that we are free from having to lock and re-lock the door, metaphorically speaking. We can brake — put a stop to our obsessions — by fully surrendering to His will, by trusting Him at His Word, by accepting that He is our assurance of salvation. And then, out of our overflow, we will freely live the two most important commands: Love God and love your neighbor — without the crippling fruitless rituals which bring us no closer to being known by Him.

C.J. Wetzler is the NextGen pastor at First Baptist Church of Deerfield Beach. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. For questions or comments, he can be reached at cj@deerfieldfirst.com.

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CLERGY CORNER: Freedom

Posted on 07 January 2016 by LeslieM

The Biblical account of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt has been one of the most inspiring stories for the oppressed, enslaved and downtrodden throughout history. From the American Revolution to the slaves of the American South, to Martin Luther King’s Let Freedom Ring, the narrative of the Exodus provided countless peoples with the courage to hope for a better future, and to act on the dream.

Moses’ first visit to Pharaoh demanding liberty for his people only brought more misery to the Hebrew slaves; the Egyptian monarch increased their torture. The Hebrews now would not listen any longer to the promise of redemption. Now let us pay heed to this strange verse in Exodus:

So G-d spoke to Moses and to Aaron, and He gave them a command (charge) for the children of Israel, and a command to Pharaoh the king of Egypt, to let the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.

G-d is charging Moses with two directives: Command the people of Israel and then command Pharaoh the king. However, the verse is ambiguous: What did G-d command Moses to instruct the people? The message for Pharaoh is clear: Let the children of Israel out of Egypt. But what is it that Moses is supposed to command the people themselves?

The Jerusalem Talmud says something profoundly enigmatic: G-d instructed Moses to command to the Jewish people the laws of freeing slaves.

The Talmud is referring to a law recorded later in Exodus: If a Jew sells himself as a slave, the owner must let him go after six years. He is forbidden to hold on to the slave for longer. This was the law Moses was to share with the Israelites while they were in Egyptian bondage.

Yet, this seems like a cruel joke. The Children of Israel at this point were crushed and tormented slaves themselves, subjugated by a genocidal despot and a tyrannical regime, enduring horrific torture. Yet,at this point in time, G-d wants Moses to command them about the laws relevant to the aristocrat, the feudal lord, the slave-owner?

The answer to this question is profoundly simple and moving, and is vital to the understanding of liberty in the Biblical imagination.

Before Pharaoh can liberate the Jewish slaves, they must be ready to become free. You can take a man out of slavery, but it may prove more challenging to take slavery out of a man. Externally, you may be free; internally, you may still be enslaved.

What is the first and foremost symptom of being free? That you learn to confer freedom on others.

The dictator, the control freak, or the abusive spouse or parent, does not know how give others freedom. He (or she) feels compelled to force others into the mold that he has created for them. Uncomfortable in his own skin, he is afraid that someone will overshadow him, expose his weaknesses, usurp his position or make him feel extra in this world. Outwardly he attempts to appear powerful, but, inwardly, his power is a symptom of inner misery and confinement.

Only when one learns to embrace others, not for whom he would like them to be, but for whom they are, then can he begin to embrace himself, not for whom he wishes he was, but for whom he is. When we free those around us, we are freeing ourselves. By accepting them, we learn to accept ourselves.

Who is powerful? He who empowers. Who is free? He who can free others. Who is a leader? He who creates other leaders.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power,” President Abraham Lincoln said. Ask yourself, do you know how to celebrate the soaring success of your loved ones and constituents? Do you encourage them to spread their wings and maximize their potentials? Can you allow others to shine?

Pharaoh may set you free physically. But former slaves can become present tyrants. People who were abused often become abusers themselves. It is what they know about life; it is the paradigm they were raised with. They grew up in abuse and slavery, so they continue the cycle with others.

The first commandment the Jews had to hear from Moses, before even he could go the Pharaoh to demand he let them go free, was, “One day you will be free. Remember that freedom is a gift; use it to free others.”

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the Director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches located at 4081 N. Federal Hwy., #100A, Pompano Beach, FL 33064. For all upcoming events please visit www.JewishLHP.com.

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CLERGY CORNER: “Behold, I make all things new”

Posted on 30 December 2015 by LeslieM

The words God spoke near the end of the book of The Revelation of Saint John the Divine are among the greatest words of hope in the Bible. He spoke these words as he sat upon a throne: “Behold, I make all things new.” [Rev. 21:5] His words get our attention because, most of us, at least some time in our lives, have wished we could have the opportunity to start all over again, and perhaps do it differently, do it better the second time around. These thoughts can enter our minds at any time; but, somehow, they seem to make an annual appearance around New Year’s Day, when we’re thinking about resolutions and the things we could, and should, do to make our lives better next year than last year.

During the next few weeks, there will be no shortage of suggestions about what we can do to redress our lot in life during the coming year. None of us need to be reminded of the importance of taking better care of our bodies, enhancing our finances, strengthening our relationships and finding new ways to explore, and enjoy, our wonderful world.

We all know how important these things are to our well-being. These are things that we have the power, if not to change, at least to address. But what we may need to be reminded of is how important it is to have a mindset that allows us to turn over to our Lord the things we can’t control, so that, in the New Year, He can “make all things new.”

Let’s think of several things that can help us develop a positive mindset. First, a successful day is often defined by how we are able to deal with interruptions. Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, dealt with this challenge in The Christian Priest Today. He reminds us that we often meticulously plan our days only to have our plans turned upside down by interruptions so that “what we planned as order is turned to chaos.” Now here is where a positive mindset takes over. If we think of interruptions as God’s will, then our days have an entirely different purpose. Interruptions may be seen as God giving us an opportunity to redraft our plans to better serve Him, and to come closer to Him. This mindset allows us to see a day we might have seen as disordered as a day expressing God’s will, and “where that will is obeyed there is pattern, peace and harmony” – and a positive mindset.

Second, having a positive mindset is much easier when we remember not only whose will is behind the unfolding of our days, but also, who is the designer of our days. The Bible is packed with passages that tell us who is in charge and who has our backs when the going gets tough. The passage I turn to most often is Psalm 36, especially verses 7 and 10: “How precious is your loving kindness, O God! Therefore, the children of men put their trust under the shadow of your wings … Oh, continue your loving kindness to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright in heart.” This is a psalm meant to be prayed by a true believer, someone who knows God and believes He can “make all things new.”

And finally, T. S. Eliot adds another facet to our ability to cope with bumps in the road, such as interruptions in our daily life and our forgetfulness about who is really in charge. He reminds us, in Four Quartets, that God’s ability to “make all things new” is not one of man’s futile hopes. Why? Because not only does God love us, but He will relentlessly pursue us until we give our lives over to Him, and then He will lead us where He wants us to go.

So, my dear readers, thoughtfully make your resolutions for the New Year, and honestly try to stick to them, but don’t be surprised if God reaches down and gently nudges you in a different direction. And, always keep in mind, what someone a lot smarter than me once said: “The Will of God will never takes you, where the Grace of God will not protect you.”

Rev. M. Tracy Smith, SSA, is Rector of the Saint Peter’s Anglican Church, 1416 SE 2 Terr., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. For more information, call 954-695-0336. Wednesday: Morning Prayer at 10 a.m., Sunday: Holy Communion at 10 a.m.

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CLERGY CORNER: The original blockbuster story

Posted on 24 December 2015 by LeslieM

Liquid Church in Morristown, NJ has come up with an innovative way to generate interest this Christmas season by pairing celebrations with the latest Star Wars movie release. Seeking to be culturally relevant, the church anticipates 7,000 to attend their Christmas Eve services that will feature a live Star Wars nativity scene, with Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca and R2D2. Children will get to share their wishes with Darth Santa and take photos with his Stormtrooper “elves.”

Pastor Tim Lucas defends the unorthodox approach as a way to “draw on the excitement surrounding Star Wars in order to reach new people and teach them about the birth of Jesus Christ in a way they’ve never heard before.” He further adds, “It’s okay to laugh and celebrate together while talking about Christmas. If that means having Star Wars characters in costume and dancing Stormtroopers, I’m all for it.” Apparently his church’s methods are successful at attracting people and attention. Liquid Church is reputed to be one of New Jersey’s fastest-growing churches.

I’m all for unique and innovative methods to spread the Gospel, but I wonder if we don’t sometimes run the risk of communicating the wrong message?

Star Wars is a great story of good vs. evil and the struggle between light and darkness. I’m a fan of the movie franchise and even have a boxed set of the original trilogy. I am also convinced that the pure narrative of the Christmas story, as told in Matthew and Luke, is enough to satisfy any modern moviegoer or book reader. It does not need to be interpreted through any element of modern pop culture, in my opinion.

You want romance? Consider the love story of Mary and Joseph, a young couple about to be wed. You want plot twists? Think how Joseph must have felt when Mary told him that she was pregnant, and the baby wasn’t his. Can you say scandal? How is Joseph going to handle this situation? You want intrigue? How about the numerous visions, dreams and angelic visitations that surround Jesus’s birth? You need adventure? Magi from the East make a long and treacherous journey looking for the Christ child while bearing precious and costly gifts, and guided only by a star.

Evil shows up in King Herod’s scheme to kill the newborn baby. He had a history of eliminating rivals to the throne. When the Magi foil his plans to discover the babe’s whereabouts, Herod orders the slaughter of innocent children, forcing Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt for safety. Kings are supposed to be born in palaces, not stables; but that’s where Jesus was born. It sounds like the making of a great movie to me (and it has been put on film numerous times), full of all the things that make for blockbusters.

The story of Christ’s birth is no mere movie script or screenplay, however. Unlike Star Wars, it is no work of fiction and man’s imagination. It is the Biblical and historical record of Jesus’s birth, and the unfolding of God’s plan of redemption for mankind. Many millions of believers for over two millennia have treasured, celebrated and commemorated God’s great gift of redemption.

Christmas is our time to worship and to proclaim the message of His love for mankind. I’ll get around to seeing the latest Star Wars installment; but, for now, I’ll celebrate the purity and significance of the Savior’s birth just the way the gospel writers presented it. It’s beautiful and attractive just the way it is.

Bishop Patrick L. Kelly is the pastor of Cathedral Church of God, 365 S. Dixie Hwy., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. 954-427-0302.

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CLERGY CORNER: Plenty and famine

Posted on 17 December 2015 by LeslieM

Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, has two dreams. In the first, Pharaoh sees himself standing over the Nile River, “And, behold, there came up out of the River seven cows, handsome and fat of flesh and they fed in the reed grass. And, behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the River, ugly and lean of flesh and stood by the other cows upon the bank of the River. And the ugly and lean cows ate up the seven handsome and fat cows.” [Genesis 41: 18-20]

In the second dream, Pharaoh sees seven thin, shriveled ears of grain swallow seven fat ears of grain.

None of the wise men of Egypt can offer Pharaoh a satisfactory interpretation of his dreams. Then, the “young Hebrew slave,” Joseph, is summoned from his dungeon to the palace. Joseph interprets the dreams to mean that seven years of plenty, symbolized by the fat cows and fat grain, will be followed by seven years of hunger, reflected by the lean cows and the shriveled ears. The seven years of famine will be so powerful that they will “swallow up” and obliterate any trace of the years of plenty.

Joseph then advises Pharaoh on how to deal with the forthcoming crisis: “Now Pharaoh must seek out a man with insight and wisdom and place him in charge of Egypt. A rationing system will have to be set up over Egypt during the seven years of surplus,” Joseph explains, “in which grain will be stored for the upcoming years of famine.” [Genesis 41: 33-36]

Pharaoh is blown away by Joseph’s vision.

In Pharaoh’s first dream, he saw how the seven ugly and lean cows that came up after the seven handsome cows “stood near the other [fat] cows upon the bank of the River.” In other words, there was a moment during which both sets of cows coexisted simultaneously, and only afterward did the lean cows proceed to swallow the fat cows.

It was this detail of the dream that caused the wise men of Egypt to reject the interpretation that Joseph would later offer to Pharaoh and compelled them to present all types of farfetched explanations.

For how is it possible that plenty and famine should coexist? Either you have fat cows alone or you have lean cows alone, but you can’t have them both together! The seven years of famine cannot be present during the seven years of surplus. Either you have lots of food, or you have no food. But you can’t be both satiated and hungry at the same time.

All of us experience cycles of plenty and cycles of famine in our lives. There are times when things are going very well: We are healthy, successful and comfortable. Often, during such times, we fail to invest time and energy to cultivate genuine emotional intimacy with our spouse, to develop real relationships with friends and to create a sincere bond with G-d. We feel self-sufficient and don’t need anybody in our lives.

Yet, when a time of famine arrives, when a serious crisis erupts in our lives, we suddenly feel the need to reach out beyond ourselves and connect with our loved ones and with G-d.But we don’t know how.

Because when we do not nurture our relationships and our spirituality during our years of plenty, when the years of famine confront us, we lack the tools we so desperately need to survive the crisis.

This is the essence of Joseph’s wisdom: You must never detach the years of plenty from the years of famine. When you experience plenty, do not let it blind your vision and desensitize you from what is truly important in life.

The priorities you cultivate during your “good times” should be of the kind that will sustain you during your challenging times as well. If you are investing your time and energy in things that will prove futile when the climate of your life changes and will not hold you up when challenges come, you might want to re-examine your present choices. Why wait for the day you will have to say, “If I would have only realized…”

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the Director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches located at 4081 N. Federal Hwy., #100A, Pompano Beach, FL 33064. For all upcoming events please visit www.JewishLHP.com.

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CLERGY CORNER: What is your Stonybrook?

Posted on 10 December 2015 by LeslieM

In 2013, Life Church launched Restore, a digital learning experience with the vision of “doing better at doing good” by addressing poverty alleviation. A close friend of mine, Jonathan Meisner, served as one of the lead documentary filmmakers and speakers for the project. He graciously scheduled time to visit my classroom, sharing with my students a new paradigm regarding helping others, lest we do more harm than good.

Jonathan clarified that “poverty has less to do with money and more to do with relationships,” when you more aptly define poverty as being about broken relationships. We’ve been conditioned to recognize poverty solely as lacking material wealth. However, Restore identifies four major areas which also constitute poverty: a broken relationship between “us and God, us and creation, us and others, and us and ourselves.” By this new definition, people might find whilst driving their latest luxury vehicles that they, too, are impoverished.

The Restore experience reveals that while giving of resources is at an all-time high, the gap between wealthier countries and poorer ones has never been greater. This is largely due to our lack of understanding how to alleviate poverty, how to truly help. For far too long, we’ve told others what they need instead of asking them what they need. We’re great at relief, providing a temporary solution like bottles of water or charitable giving, but restoration, long-term investment — restoring broken relationships — here we’ve waned. As Simon Sinek states, we’ve turned helping into a business transaction, exchanging money and resources for the momentary pleasant feeling of goodwill.

If you recall, a rich man once approached Jesus and asked what one must do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17). He spoke of his strict adherence to the commandments, the things seen outwardly, yet Jesus wasn’t satisfied. In verse 21 Jesus says, “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” Scripture tells us that the man “went away sad, for he had many possessions.” Rich, but in poverty; he had a broken relationship with God, being unwilling to wholly commit to his Creator. We’re quick to judge this man; yet, as we approach this Christmas season, aren’t we tempted to give “relief” only to feel better about ourselves? Are we ready to wholly commit to our coming King, accurately alleviating poverty by looking for relationships in need of mending and investing what is needed to restore them? That’s exactly what’s happening at Stonybrook.

I had a chance to speak with Chelsea Shoff, 25, a dedicated staff member for Urban Youth Impact, located in West Palm Beach. Shoff, along with various non-profit and government agencies, has been diligently restoring relationships in the Stonybrook housing project through after-school programs, adult workshops, Bible studies, and quarterly events in which volunteers and staff gather to show their love and support for the community.

Stonybrook has 220 housing units designated for single-parent homes; 450 kids call Stonybrook home. It’s been a “community plagued with violence, neglect, abuse, drugs [and] hopelessness,” says Shoff.

Yet, something incredible is happening. According to a recent article by Jason Hackett of WPTV, in the past six months, “calls for police service to the complex have dropped … 80 percent.”

Shoff credits much of the visible success to “parents stepping up and doing their part to want better for their families; kids grasping Jesus and wanting to change the way they act and think; [and] the community coming together more.” Relationships are being restored between God, creation, others and themselves thanks to the investment of dedicated volunteers and staff like Chelsea Shoff in the long-term success of the community.

What is your Stonybrook? Where do you need to invest your restoration efforts (not just relief)? Maybe you’ll get involved with Urban Youth Impact (www.urbanyouthimpact.com), serve students as a mentor,or possibly sign-up to tutor at a local school. Where and how will you pick up your cross daily? Pray about it. Ask God to use you this Christmas season to begin a journey of alleviating poverty through the restoration of relationships — between you and God, His creation, others and yourself.

C.J. Wetzler is the NextGen pastor at First Baptist Church of Deerfield Beach. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. For questions or comments he can be reached at cj@deerfieldfirst.com.

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CLERGY CORNER: The Hanukah story vs. the Hanukah observance

Posted on 03 December 2015 by LeslieM

This story takes us back 2,100 years ago, to the year 164 BCE, some 150 years before the birth of Christianity and two centuries before the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans. Israel was then under the rule of the empire of Alexander the Great. A Syrian ruler, Antiochus the 5th, ascended the throne and he was determined to impose his values on the Jewish people. He forbade the practice of Judaism, set up a statue of Zeus in the Temple and systematically desecrated Jerusalem’s holy sites. Jews who were caught practicing Judaism were tortured to death.

To put it into historical perspective, had Antiochus succeeded, Judaism would have died. Its daughter religions – Christianity and Islam – would never, of course, have come to be.

A small group of Jews, led by the elderly priest Matityahu and his sons, rose in revolt. They fought a brilliant campaign and, within three years, they had recaptured Jerusalem, removed sacrilegious objects from the Temple, and restored Jewish autonomy. It was, as we say in the Hanukah prayers, a victory for “the weak against the strong, and the few against the many.” Religious liberty was established and the Temple was rededicated. Hanukah means “rededication.”

This was a remarkable event and an extraordinary triumph. We, the Jewish people, are here today only because of the courage and vision of this small group of determined Jews who would not allow their G-d and their Torah to be reduced to the dustbins of history by the Syrian-Greek tyrant.

Yet astonishingly, the Talmud, the classical text of Jewish law and literature, gives us a very different perspective on the Hanukah festival.

What is Hanukah?” asks the Talmud (Talmud, Shabbat 21b.) The answer given is this:

When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they contaminated all its oil. Then, when the royal Hasmonean family overpowered and was victorious over them, they searched and found only a single cruse of pure oil that was sealed with the seal of the High Priest — enough to light the menorah (candelabra) for a single day. A miracle occurred, and they lit the menorah with this oil for eight days. The following year, they established these [eight days] as days of festivity and praise and thanksgiving for G-d.”

So, according to the Talmud, the festival of Hanukah is less about the military victory of a small band of Jews against one of the mightiest armies on earth, and more about the miracle of the oil. The Talmud makes only a passing reference to the military victory (“when the royal Hasmonean family overpowered and was victorious”) and focuses exclusively on the story with the oil, as if this were the only significant event commemorated by the festival of Hanukah.

This is strange. The miracle of the oil, it would seem, was of minor significance relative to the military victory. Besides the fact that this was a miracle that occurred behind the closed doors of the Temple with only a few priests to behold, it was an event concerning a religious symbol without any consequences for life, death and liberty. If the Jews had been defeated by the Greeks, there would be no Jews today; if the oil would have not burnt for eight days, so what? The menorah would have not been kindled. Would the latkes taste any worse?

Unfortunately, the political and military victory of Hanukah did not last. What lasted was the spiritual miracle – the faith which, like the oil, was inextinguishable.

Strength founded on military power alone is temporary. It may endure for long periods of time, but ultimately, its might will wane and it will be defeated by another power. Strength that is founded on moral and spiritual light can never be destroyed.

Imperial Greece and Rome have long since disappeared. Civilizations built on power never last. Those built on care for the powerless never die. What matters in the long run is not simply political, military or economic strength, but how we light the flame of the human spirit.

So please, this holiday season, listen to the message of the candles – strengthen your faith and ignite the world with acts of goodness and kindness.

Join us at our Menorah Lighting ceremonies this Hanukah:

Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. at Pompano Citi Centre in the courtyard near the carousel. Lighting with Mayor Lamar Fisher, music, latkes, doughnuts and crafts for kids. Free.

Sunday, Dec. 13 at 5 p.m. at Deerfield Beach, across from the main lot and Fire Station. Grand Menorah lighting, Chanukah refreshments, music, crafts and entertainment. Free. Everyone welcome!

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the Director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches located at 4081 N. Federal Hwy., #100A, Pompano Beach, FL 33064. For all upcoming events please visit www.JewishLHP.com.

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