Rabbi Harry writes…


Erev Shabbat Yitro

Dear Ones,

Greetings from Rehovot, Israel. After some grueling hiking and climbing in the desert, we are now on a short break with Daveed and our extended Israeli family. India was a place of massive craziness and wonder. Amidst all the filth and noise, we met and connected with remarkable people and found oases of calm and spiritual connection. Life in the ashram was very intense and a bit too regimented for me. RaeAnn loved the morning yoga despite the fact that it began at 4:30 am. The daily learning was meaningful and I really loved the guru and the ashram administrator—two men who radiated compassion and friendship. We spent a Shabbat in Kolkata and gave some support to a young rabbinical couple who are caring for the dwindling Jewish community. They are working for Star-K Kosher certification and are lovely people committed to serving a struggling Jewish community. We also did some touring with a street urchin who showed us Kolkata through his eyes. Varanasi is a powerful place where life and death intermingle at the Ghats, the banks of the Ganges.  We met some sadhus, holy men who have renounced material possessions and wander about the country in prayer. One sadhu who befriended us spoke fluent English and, on our last night saying goodbye, he taught us a beautiful chant that I now sing to myself on the trail.

Two personal goals for our journey have been to make pilgrimage visits. One is to the former home of a nineteenth-century swami, Lahiri Mahasya, who for reasons unbeknownst to me has come to me in dreams and visions. A core teaching of his for me to remember: “It is all God, Ain Od Levado.” We live in the world of impermanence, in the world of illusions, and it takes awareness to remember that it is the Eternal—both inside us and around us—that is true and real. The other pilgrimage place for me will be Kever Rachel, the place where our biblical mother, Rachel, is buried. For me, Rachel teaches that, for us to know that it is all God, we need to reach into our aspirational selves and then interact with each other from a place of compassion and love.

There is a powerful teaching from Talmud that I was learning while in India that for me speaks to all the lessons I experienced in India. It comes from tractate Bava Metzia, and is a well-known passage that sets out a hypothetical question about two men wandering in the wilderness who have between them only one canteen.  The canteen holds enough water for only one of the men to reach civilization and survive. Ben Petura, a relatively obscure Talmudic sage and probably a colleague of Rabbi Akiva, taught that both men should drink from the canteen and die so that one man does not need to see the death of his friend. Rabbi Akiva taught that your life should come before your friend’s, using the verse from Leviticus as a proof text, “And your brother shall live with you.”  Both men should not die, the one who owns the canteen should live.

There is an understanding that the torah of Ben Petura is the one we should accept in the world to come, whereas the torah of Rabbi Akiva is the torah that we hold now. The torah we hold now sees the individual as separate from other. This is the torah that works in the realm of impermanence and illusion. It allows for an ethical system and a framework for life. On a practical level, one death is preferable to two deaths. However, when we take a stark look at our current world, we can see that the systems we hold onto no longer contain us. The level of fear that manifests in xenophobia, racism, and classism, where cultures and peoples choose tyrannical leadership, is expanding all over our planet. Environmental degradation, which is so powerfully evident throughout India, cannot be solved using the same consciousness that allowed us to generate the destruction in the first place. Ben Petura represents the paradigm shift, a deep change in consciousness that understands that the life of another is intrinsically connected to my life and that we are all a part of Divine Unity. We cannot wait for the torah of unity to be the torah of the world to come. We need to live and learn the torah of the world to come now, in this world, because this is the eternal torah of permanence. Gurujis teach that the Ātman, self, is Brahma, God. Our work is to realize this. Ain Od Levado–there is nothing but God. When we realize this, we can emulate Rachel our mother and be our aspirational selves, interacting with one another and with self in love.

B’virkat Shalom

Rabbi Harry


A message from Rabbi Harry

Rabbi HarryDear Ones,
The current wave of violence and hatred towards our people is scary and anxiety producing. From Pittsburgh to Poway, from Jersey City to Monsey, we are witnessing rampant antisemitism with lots of small acts of desecration and hate filled symbolism popping up seemingly everywhere including our beloved Camp Miriam on Gabriola Island. Hatred towards Jews and Judaism transcends politics; it is too easy to fall into an ideological trap and blame one worldview over another for the current abhorrent resurgence of antisemitism. Highly erroneous and sometimes pernicious formulations about us emerge from both ends of the political spectrum. Hatred of Jews does not distinguish between different flavours or expressions of Judaism. Among ourselves, singling out one expression of Judaism over another as a more likely target is an exercise in blaming the victim and is highly counterproductive.

When the Divine Source calls our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, to “Go forth, Lekh Lekha, to a new land that I will show thee” God gives them an assurance and incredible blessing that is passed down through the generations to us; “I will bless those who bless you and curse the one that curses you, and all the families of earth shall bless themselves by you.” (Genesis 12:3) We are the recipients of a powerful mystery linked intrinsically to our covenant. How are we still here on the planet as a people intact when virtually all other ancient peoples have faded into history? How is it that we have the power to constantly bounce back and to not only survive but to thrive? Nations that hate us and persecute us eventually bring on their own destruction and degradation. It is clear that we are to be a blessing. We are to live our lives infused with the values of Torah, lives infused with goodness, compassion and peace. We are tasked to be a mamlekhet kohanim, a kingdom of priests (read “healers”). We are to be a light unto the nations—an agent that reflects Divine consciousness, enlightenment, Divine Source. When we do this, we are blessed and provide a socket for others to plug into Divine flow and receive abundance through blessing.

When we speak of covenant and chosenness, we must be very careful to not fall into the trap of exceptionalism. Feeling chosen can be understood in a way that is misguided and can lead to ethnocentrism and xenophobia. Believing that we are inherently superior to others is a flagrant and dangerous misreading of Torah which teaches us that all humanity is created in God’s image and likeness. The idea that some of us are more human and more like God than others simply smacks of racism.

I know from Torah that our covenant with Divine Source holds blessings for all humanity. I sense that deep in our Jewish kishkes we know that Jews are the human “canary in a coal mine.” When there is lack of hope, when struggles seem too great to solve collectively, Jew-hatred emerges. When world leaders peddle a steady diet of fear, separation and scarcity, Jew-hatred is reinforced. Antisemitism is an early indicator that something very grave is wrong in our world.

How do we stay sane, safe and generative in spite of this increasingly scary phenomenon? First we call on our courage and faith. We call on our strength as a people to overcome this wave of hatred. We call on our history of surviving and thriving. We call on our sacred and moral tradition to guide us. We keep current events in perspective and do not experience every act or gesture as an actual threat. We ensure that Jewish hatred does not divide us, we work towards achdut, unity. We call on our allies and friends for solidarity and power. We speak truth to power and we remember that we are only as strong as our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. We dedicate ourselves to living meaningful Jewish lives that are infused with pride and joy. We take the well-worn and well-known words of Rabbi Nachman and hold them like a mantra or talisman: the whole world is a very narrow bridge and the essential thing to know deep in the fiber of our being is to not be afraid. In courage, we feel fear but we act with bravery. Ḥazak v’ematz—be strong and courageous and make our lives a blessing. This is a time to show up for one another and to nourish pride and strength.

Rabbi Harry

Solid Tools for Spiritual Seekers


(Published in the Times Colonist, “Spiritually Speaking” column, Canada Day, July 1, 2017)

I have five “spiritual guides” who I invoke on a regular basis. They keep me grounded, honest and hopefully, a bit balanced.  These guides reflect aspects of my personal theology and are deeply influenced by Jewish wisdom and teachings.  I want to share them with you because I sense that they are universal and are solid tools for spiritual seekers.

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Purim—the inspiring story of a woman’s courage in the face of hatred


The Jewish holiday of Purim is quickly approaching. It begins on the evening of March 11 and continues through the next day, Sunday the 12th.

The holiday of Purim has its roots in the Biblical Book of Esther. The story is a fairytale full of palace intrigue, romance, greed, lust for power, and outrageous fate. The story of Purim makes no mention of Divine Source. In fact the name of the super courageous heroine, Esther, holds the meaning of “hidden.” Purim is celebrated as Jewish Carnival; it ushers in the end of winter when life is hidden, and it reminds us through outrageous twists of fate that life holds much more than the what we can see. Purim reminds us to be open to wonder and that wonder is connected to hope. Purim’s biggest lesson is that through hope people can effect real good in our world.

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From Rabbi Harry’s piece in the Times Colonist this week.