Being a Role Model – MoTAS Shabbat D’Var Torah

motas-shabbat-2015[The following was presented as the D’Var Torah and the Introduction to Man of the Year Introduction at the recent MoTAS Shabbat]

Being a Role Model – MoTAS Shabbat 1/23
Parasha Bo – D’var Torah

In the musical The Rothschilds, Meyer Rothschild sings of the value of sons. Sons are a way to continue the line; sons provide the opportunity to teach a lesson. During Passover, we read of four sons: the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one unable to speak. This week’s Torah portion introduces us to the two of those sons: the wicked and the one unable to speak. The portion tells the story of the last Passover plague, the start of the Passover, and provides us with the commandments for us to observe Pesach and to abstain from eating leavened bread. It reminds us through the Pidyom Ha-Ben ceremony of how our sons were saved for a reason. Lastly, it contains the first occurrence of the commandments regarding teffilin, which in traditional Judaism are reminders we put in front of us to lead us on the proper path.

Leadership is a key notion in this portion; one that is relevant to this Men of TAS Shabbat. Specifically, the portion addresses the role of a leader – in the context of the Torah a father figure – to pass on the tradition and guide the family down the path that Judaism provides.

This theme is present from the beginning to the end: The second sentence of the parasha states “and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and your sons’ sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know that I am God.” This is echoed at the end of the parasha, when in relationship to the Passover service, the Torah says: “And you shall explain to your son on that day, ‘It is because of what God did for me when I went free from Egypt.”

Just as Moses was the leadership model to the people of Israel, parents are the leadership model for their children. It is a parent’s responsibility to pass on the story, to pass on the morals, to serve as the example – Moses wasn’t perfect – as later parashot relate – and parents have their flaws. But as parents… and as this is the MoTAS Shabbat, as fathers… we have the responsibility to be leaders of our people.

Further, we have the responsibility to be the right type of role model. Rabbi Hertz in his commentary has an interesting note on a phrase in this portion: “Pharaoh said to him, ‘Be gone from me! Take care not to see me again, for the moment you look upon my face you shall die’. Hertz notes that, in his negotiations with Pharaoh, Moses was ever ready to intercede; he never ‘reviles the ruler’, nor transgresses the limits of courtesy towards the king; yet he never falters nor compromises. Throughout, the dignified bearing is with Moses, the meanness and shame with Pharaoh, who begins by insulting him, goes on to impose on him, and ends by an ignominious surrender. Moses was our role model of how to act: with dignified bearing, with courtesy, and with strength.

The laws of what we eat on Passover echo the importance of always being the role model. In the Mishnah and Gemara we learn that extra care is taken to prepare utensils and vessels for Passover cooking, as even the slightest amount of leaven will render the food unfit for Pesach. This goes to the type of role model we establish ourselves as. Consider ethical behavior. You can’t teach ethics to your children, and yet conduct yourself in an unethical matter in your business affairs. You can’t say you believe in something, but follow through in some cases but not others. To be an effective role model, you need to be a consistent role model in all your affairs. As they sang in “In The Woods”, children will listen. Our inconsistency as role models is the leaven in the Passover dough – it makes our example unfit for consumption.

The example we set as the Men of TAS is not for our congregation alone. By being role models, we provide leadership for the larger community. We demonstrate not only to our families, but to the TAS community, to others in the Progressive Jewish communities, and to the larger secular community what it means to be a man. We demonstrate how we are all Moses, leading our families out of the bondage of technology, materialism, and similar conceptual Egypts where we are enslaved and to the path of freedom.

By now, you shouldn’t be surprised that I believe a fundamental principle of MoTAS is to be role models in the congregation.

  • It is our responsibility, as individuals and as a group, to be the model for welcoming people to and into the congregation, the type of person others aspire to be.
  • It is our responsibility, as individuals and as a group, to be providing support to the congregation. We do this in proportion to our means and availability, but we have the responsibility to be in front, and showing that one “does”.
  • It is our responsibility, as individuals and as a group, to give more than money. We want to pass on to our children, and demonstrate to others, the value of participation in activities as a way of building relationships with others in the congregation, and strengthening the bonds of friendship and fellowship that turn a congregation into a family.
  • It is our responsibility, as individuals and as a group, to demonstrate the value of being a leader. Through men being leaders in the congregation, we demonstrate the value of being involved and active to make an institution be what you want it to be. Surveys have shown that male leadership in congregational life is shrinking, and we would like to reverse that trend.
  • It is our responsibility, as individuals and as group, to do as Moses did: to be that model of dignified bearing, courteous and leading, yet never faltering on our convictions of what the congregation should and can be.

Being a role model – that is MoTAS to me. I thank those of you who are active, and I encourage those of you who are not to become active. Note that I didn’t invite you to be members – every male member of TAS is a member of MoTAS. This again is following the role model of the Exodus: when the Jews left Egypt, the Torah notes that a mixed multitude came with them. Commentators indicate these were commentators indicate that these were Egyptians who took the opportunity to join with the Jews. I view this as including everyone, regardless of whether you pay dues or not. What we want as MoTAS is what the escaping Jews wanted: for the multitude to become part of our people. We want to move the stranger from being a passive participant to an active member through action. We want all the men of TAS to similarly move from being passive to active; we want all the (lower-case) men of TAS to be active (upper case) Men of TAS. Demonstrate to your children, your family, and your fellow congregants the value of being involved and active. During this service, you’ve heard some active participants share the value that being active has brought them. Come and be a part of our band of brothers.

 State of MoTAS/Intro to Man of the Year

We have many role models at Temple Ahavat Shalom: our clergy, who we thank for leading this service; our congregational leaders, who lead us forward with wisdom and ethics; and the women of the congregation, who through our Sisterhood lead by being there when we need them. That leaves us men.

As I said before, all men in Temple Ahavat Shalom are part of the Men of Temple Ahavat Shalom. MoTAS is a role model in the community. MoTAS was the first Men of Reform Judaism (MRJ) brotherhood to institute an inclusive no-dues model: all male members of the congregation are members, no dues required. Subsequently, our model has been adopted by our parent organization, MRJ. Watch your mail for letter on how you can support us in our new approach.

Tonight our focus is on being a role model through active participation. There are many ways to be active in MoTAS. You can participate in our activities. Here are a few:

  • Participate in our sports squares activities. Bob Levine brought this activity to TAS after it was successful at Temple Emanuel in Cleveland. You can still sign up for Superbowl Squares (a suggestion of Howard Miller); just see Bob at the Oneg. The Squares support specific activities to benefit the congregation; last week I announced that the Fall Football squares were supporting L’Taken Confirmation scholarships, TASTY activities, and Avodah-ships for the upcoming Songleaders Bootcamp. They are also supporting the professional musician combo at an upcoming Shabbat and providing shirts to the Junior Choir.
  • Our golf tournament that raises funds to support the operation of MoTAS, our social action partners, and larger temple activities. Barry Mann chaired the 2014 tournament, and is always looking for people to help with the 2015 tournament. Please make sure you pick up an ad book/calendar in the front lobby – this was a product of the tournament and contains not only a MoTAS calendar, but information on all temple activities throughout the year.
  • Our monthly meetings, where we join together for a breakfast of brotherhood, review upcoming activities, and bring in a speaker of interest to the community. We just had a speaker from LA Metro; our speaker in February is Hal Daum, the man who was the first rabbi of one of the forerunner congregations of TAS: North Valley Reform. North Valley Reform, started in 1962, merged with Temple Beth Torah in 1965 to create Temple Ahavat Shalom.
  • Our Yellow Candle program in remembrance of Yom Ha-Shoah. We thank Steve Zidell for coordinating this year’s program.
  • Our MoTAS Seder, coordinated by Mike Thornhill, which explores Passover through the light of brotherhood, men’s concerns, and men’s needs.
  • Our bi-monthly Men’s Hang Outs. These hang-outs, coordinated by Dave Friedman, provide a men-only space to discuss issues. Our next hangout is February 22 ; it will be a special hangout with Rabbi Lutz.

Those are just some activities. You can learn about all our activities in the MoTAS Weekly mailing that goes to all male members of the congregation – if you do not get it, please let Aaron Solomon know so he can fix the mailing list. You can also learn about MoTAS activities on our webpage: (simply take the congregation’s webpage,, and insert “dash” motas to give You can also friend us on Facebook.

Lastly, you can participate by being a leader. Volunteer to run an activity; volunteer for office; volunteer to take on a responsibility for the organization. In this 50th anniversary year of TAS, volunteer to research the history of the TAS Brotherhood (slash) Mens Club (slash) MoTAS.

Our volunteers are very important to us. Since 1999 the regional Men of Reform Judaism has recognized men of the year from every congregation in the region, and in support of this, every year the Men’s organization at TAS has recognized one of our own as Man of the Year. Here is a list of our past Men of the Year – if you are present, please stand: Robert Levin, Brian Morgen, Howard Miller, Ben Tenn, Gordon Lester, Chuck Mondrus, Mel Janis, Robert Ingrum, Jerry Hilecher, Joe Blachman, Brian Hatkoff, Michael Doner, Joel Lowell, Al Lapides, Mike Thornhill, and last year’s honorees, Scott Yolis and Steve Zonis. At this point, I invite up Scott and Steve to introduce our 2015 recipient. Our winner will recognized at the regional Man of the Year dinner to be held on Saturday, March 7th, at Temple Beth David in the city of Westminister, down in Orange County. We will shortly have a signup sheet available and on our website for those who want to attend.

Now I pass the talking stick to Scott and Steve.

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