Welcome to Our Synagogue!
We are an open and inviting congregation for anyone seeking to connect to Jewish community, tradition, study and worship. Our members come from all parts of Monmouth County. Click here to view this wonderful video to see what we are all about. We are affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism and combine contemporary values with classical teachings of Torah. We are eager to connect with you so please do not hesitate to contact us at 732-747-9365 if you cannot immediately find what you need on this website. Visit our Membership Page. Or take a look at our busy Calendar and our latest Weekly Email Blast. Or peruse our ever-growing Gallery of activities and events! There truly is something for everyone!
Do our ears here what our mouths are saying? This line repeats throughout the Rabbinic tradition. We speak about “non-Israelite Biblical figures” as being the “other” when it comes to God. Yet, God speaks to Jacob’s father-in-law, to Moses’ father-in-law, and this week, to Bilaam. None are MOTs (Members of the Tribe), and yet, each converses with God. How could this happen if they are outside of God? Do your ears hear what your mouth is saying?
What if we did something radical! Let’s actually read our texts and realize that while the stories may be about “our people,” they are never exclusive of everyone else!
God does not pick and choose any more than any loving parent can. We pick and choose, but our choices can never bind God. It just doesn’t work that way. Not one of us can know everything, yet many of us seem to think we know enough to exclude others. Even those who deny God’s existence don’t have the power to make God non-existent. Everyone believes in something. Each of my children have a unique relationship with me. Sometimes, they denied my dignity. That didn’t mean I wasn’t dad.
So, God speaks to Bilaam this week and instructs him to be part of the blessing. Bilaam then goes out and looks over the encampment of Israel and stands in awe, exclaiming, “how wonderful is this nation?”
God speaks, not God speaks to only you or me, but to everyone listening. Scripture teaches us that even the people we call our enemy are also in touch with God. Let’s chew on that for a while.
Torah teaches us that we are supposed to blot out the name of Amalek forever. The Amalekites were marauders who attacked the Biblical Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness. They fought unfairly, as they would raid the camps from the fringes, killing the weakest amongst the people and terrorize the rest. For their treachery, tradition commands us to blot their name from memory.
Our tradition teaches that the crown of a good name must perpetuate. The Talmud tells us that it is forbidden to name one’s child after a wicked person, in keeping with the rule, “The memory of the righteous should be to blessing, and the name of the wicked should rot” (Proverbs 10:7). At the end of our days, the name we leave is the most lasting gift or damnation. We always to choose to name our children after the people we most revere.
Throughout the ages, sages ridicule Korach about whom we read this week. He was a Levite, promised the priesthood as part of the people, and watched as Moses and Aaron took exclusive power of communing with God unto themselves. The ridicule is not uniform in nature, and many sages believe he was right in his concerns.
We can see where the majority of our tradition stands on the matter simply in the name of the portion: “KORACH.” If we blot out evil names and perpetuate good names, then we must understand that the name “Korach” is unique, as we retell the story of his rebellion every year. How is it that we remember, with blessing, the name of someone who caused such destruction?
If we remember that his rebellion rooted in a yearning for the highest ideals: not to be held back from God, tradition teaches us that we can condemn the method, but must celebrate the spirit. He may have gone about his quest in the wrong ways. It may be that tradition can justify the unique relationship between God, Moses, and Aaron. The goal Korach sought may not have been attainable. We teach our children to always reach for the stars. Always strive to be what you imagine can be possible, not just what society currently allows. The greatest heroes in history are those who reached beyond the ceilings that inhibited growth and progress and changed the world. In this respect – Korach is a hero. Now, let’s use his legacy to reach beyond, but remember to do it in the best of ways.
“Ani Ma-amin b’emunah shlaemah – I believe with perfect faith.” Thirteen times Maimonides intones these words to speak about what he called the basic unwavering tenets of faith. Centuries of scholars debate his intentions and nuanced writings and come to philosophic blows over the “pilpul-minutiae” of each statement. What ultimately matters is the statement that one must be of perfect faith.
Faith is not an absolute. Instead, it is the evolving and flowing understanding of one’s place in the world that grabs on and holds tight to the soul of each believer. Who is a believer? One who loves. Love is intangible and indescribable. People of faith understand that the world is not about us, and know in the depths of one’s heart that we cannot exist without some interconnectedness with the world. A person of faith has to believe that even while the world can exist without us, each of us has unique gifts to share that make the world better for everyone because we are here to engage – with love.
I believe with perfect faith, that there is a force beyond me that has a whole lot more to say about how the universe operates than I can fathom. I am not a wholly ignorant person, but I may be a holy ignorant person. I have more letters after my name (degrees) than in my name, and yet, the mystery of “God” is beyond explanation. My tradition teaches that saying what God is – is blasphemy. Saying what God is not – borders on blasphemy. How can I, however intelligent and spiritual I may be, begin to understand the dimensions of some entity or force that brought the world into its current order and who continues to evolve it around us. It would be an exercise in utter folly to quantify the forces of nature and super-nature that provide the resources that give and sustains life.
This week, Korach rebels against Moses, Aaron, and God. Korah is a Levite. He argues that God promised that all the Levites had a place in service of God. Of course, according to the literal text (Numbers 16:3 and Leviticus 19:2), he is correct. According to the Torah, God calls all of the tribe of Levy to serves as Priests in one place, and then in another, God singles out only the descendants of Aaron.
My loving Rabbinical thesis, the late Ellis Rivkin zt”l, argued that the purpose of this text is to demonstrate that while the Levites controlled the First Temple ritual, when the Second Temple opened for business, only the “Aaronides (Kohanim)” controlled the altar. It is a story written into the text for the purpose of justifying a later history of change in power.
Perhaps Ellis was correct in his assertion of the text’s origin, but many see it as a call for a debate as to the motivation behind one’s behaviors. Did Korach want to serve God or to enjoy the power of one who gets to serve God? The text remains silent as to his motivation. The rabble that jumped on the rebellion bandwagon experiences punishment for their actions.
What separates Korach from those who followed him? Perhaps nothing; perhaps he just sought status and power. On the other hand, what if his heart was turned absolutely to serving God? Maybe his act was righteous. Perhaps his integrity explains why when God opened up the earth to swallow the rabble; the text says that Korach’s followers fell into the abyss, but it does not say that he did. He may have been right – he may have been wrong. If his complaint was from the heart, it had to be dignified – Moses and Aaron –and God needed to dignify him. Our tradition stands firm in teaching that even the fiercest disagreements that are “L’shaem shamayim – for the sake of heaven” uphold human dignity.
When we turn a disagreement into the justification to destroy another’s dignity, we separate ourselves from God. It really is just that simple. If we cannot hold love in our hearts, we cannot be people of faith. If we cannot be secure enough in our own skin without demeaning someone else in theirs, then we cannot be people of faith. We can certainly call out ill behavior. We must call out bigotry and bias. We cannot remain silent in the face of anyone’s oppression. We must, Torah teaches us, pursue justice. If we want to celebrate a Shabbat shalom, we must make sure that others can, as well.
Shabbat Shalom l’koolam (for the world).
Moses married Tzipporah. Tzipporah was a Midianite, a distant cousin. The Biblical Midian is modern-day Saudi Arabia. He married her after fleeing Egypt. Having been raised as the grandson of Pharaoh, he rebelled, killed an Egyptian slave-master, and ran away. As per tradition, 40 years pass, and God calls Moses to go back to Egypt to lead Israel into freedom. For the first time, we meet his brother Aaron. Also, even while we meet “a sister” in the early story, we do not get the name “Miriam” until he returns to Egypt. Presumably, neither Aaron nor Miriam knows where Moses went for forty years or anything about who he married.
The very first comments we get from his siblings about Moses’ spouse question his having married that “Cushite” woman. Cush is the son of Ham (Noah’s son) and is, as per the Bible, Black. Not once do Moses and Aaron express appreciation for Moses’ bride. Their only comment refers negatively to her as a person for being “Cushite.”
God’s response says it all. Miriam is afflicted, and Aaron demeaned – by God – for having said such things. Moses pleads with God to be lenient, but God said that she and Aaron needed to learn a lesson about evil-speech.
The sages have debated the nature of the “evil” speech. Some argue that it was because she was Black. Racism goes against God. Others have argued that Aaron and Miriam were angry that Moses married outside of Israel (interfaith). God is loving and respects – loves love, and God punished Miriam and Aaron for complaining over the “interfaith marriage.” Still, other sages argue that Miriam and Aaron thought Moses’ wife was ugly. God condemned them for these words.
Some will argue that the siblings got upset because they believed that this “Cushite” woman was not Tzipporah and that either Moses left his wife for this woman or cheated on his wife with this woman. Either way – God will not tolerate tale-bearing.
At the same time, God argues that Moses is the most humble of people – a servant who has always been willing to take abuse to serve his people. Even after being abused by his siblings, Moses did nothing to retaliate. God steps in to defend Moses. Speaking badly about another who has done no wrong is a crime in God’s eyes.
The siblings also, in the same breath, argue that they are as special as Moses. They are jealous of their brother. Whether Aaron and Miriam acted out of disdain, bigotry, or jealousy, God will not tolerate oppression.
The timing of this text is most exceptional as we face the explosive response to unfettered racism in our streets. The Bible pretty clearly states that to the extent that God picks sides; it is with the oppressed and never the oppressor. It is untenable for the Miriams and Aarons of the world to justify their behaviors that disproportionately create obstacles for non-White communities to share equally in the economic, educational, healthcare, and legal opportunities promised in a nation built on Due Process and the rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” When our insecurities drive our behaviors – when our jealousies dictate how we treat others –especially those with whom we are supposed to share a sacred trust (siblings), we have chosen to be out of line with Godliness.
However many days one goes to utter the words of prayer; however many rituals one performs to perfection; however many witnesses one may have to other good acts, “Rabbi Elazar of Modiin said: one who embarrasses his neighbor and is contemptuous towards the Torah (the teaching of ethics), even though he has to his credit [knowledge of the] Torah and good deeds, he has not a share in the world to come. (Pirke Avot 3). Drop the microphone – bottom line.
Socialize with Us!
Our Men’s Club and Sisterhood provide many opportunities to meet with other congregants. Sisterhood-sponsored events provide something for everyone. There are monthly book clubs and speakers, Supper in the Sukkah, the Purim Party, as well as the wonderful Apple Cake & Honey and Sh’lach Manot fundraisers. The Men’s Club meets monthly followed by a friendly game of poker. They excel in the kitchen serving up a great “Tail-gate Party” at the Monday night Minyan and Football or serving a gourmet Home-cooked Breakfast on Mother’s Day.
Worship With Us!
Every Friday night is special at Monmouth Reform Temple. Our services, led by Rabbi Marc Kline and Cantor Gabrielle Clissold, are spiritually uplifting and filled with joyful music. And for worshiping at home, we have prepared a wonderful Holiday Handbook! And now, you can enjoy Live Streaming of our services!
Learn With Us!
We offer innovative classroom experiences for Kindergarten through 7th grade, Mitzvah Academy for 8th and 9th grade, and Confirmation classes with the Rabbi for 10th grade and beyond. Meeting days and times can be found in the Youth Learning section of our website (K – 6th, 7 – 9th, and Confirmation).
Our enriching Adult Jewish Learning program provides various forums for learning. The annual Shabbat Kallah/Scholar-in-Residence weekend always features a timely topic by a celebrated lecturer. More informal yet very popular Tuesday morning Study Group with the Rabbi is currently in session.
There are members of our Congregation who are very sensitive to scents. MRT strives to provide a “Scent Free” environment in our building. The MRT community asks that you avoid wearing scents of any kind when coming to our facility and we ask you to tell your guests who visit with us. Thank you for being our partner in creating a “Scent-Free” environment.