Clergy’s Corner

Read Rabbi Barras’ Monthly Reflections — “Rav Bar Oz

In this space each month, we feature the writings of one of the members of our Beth Am Clergy. This month we invite Cantor Peter Halpern to share some thoughts with you. You may contact him at with any comments.



December has come and in much of the country that means cold, sleet and snow. For most of my life that has meant brisk air and the absence of color on the plants and trees. I would eventually be shoveling the driveway and it would only be getting colder for many months. Here in Florida it is quite different. I didn’t mind the summer months when I first arrived, but it is even more comfortable and beautiful now.

I’d like to share with you a story of faith. A Jewish boy was raised in New York where his family belonged to a conservative synagogue. He had a good connection with Mrs. Wolff, his fifth grade Hebrew teacher from Israel. Still it was not enough to motivate him to continue after the Bar Mitzvah year as his older sister did. His parents were not very involved in the synagogue so they did not feel they should insist on his continuing.

While he had an inquisitive and searching soul it was not touched Jewishly until he was 19. Reading The Way of Man by Martin Buber opened his eyes to a divine presence which changed his life. He had always been a loving boy with good motives. Now with a personal relationship with the Creator, the floodgates had been opened wide to joy, caring, gratitude and love. As the years went by, disappointments, losses, betrayals and challenges came as they do for us all. This young man, who for years had embraced the text “It is good to give thanks to God” as his favorite, grew more sober in his relationship with God. He still had flashes of a beneficent, eternal Guide but his faith gradually shifted from one of the heart to one of the mind. When times were really hard he held onto the belief that somehow, at some point, the sun really would come out again. You’ve probably guessed by now that I was that boy.

What role does or should faith play in our lives as Jews? We are awed by those who marched to their deaths just decades ago with the words of the Sh’ma and “I believe with perfect faith” on their lips. On Rosh HaShanah we read the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son on blind faith. All forms of the Kaddish prayer which we recite at every service states “Magnified and sanctified be the Great Name...”

When we can count ourselves among those who are strengthened, comforted and inspired by the feeling of an eternal presence, we are lucky indeed. We often acknowledge in a more analytical way that the majesty of nature, the miracle of evolving children and simple daily pleasures must be the footprints of God. At times we also can take a somber view of life. The death of a loved one changes our lives forever. We are confused and angry at the apparent unfairness of this world or even frightened by our own darker sides.

Last summer I heard the call of the “still small voice” that it was time for a change. I tiptoed into the desert and waited for a sign. That eventually came and led me, I believe, to Pinecrest and Temple Beth Am.
God asks us to curse or to bless, but not to be indifferent. Judaism affirms and encourages our humanity which encompasses all these states at different times. May we embrace dialogue with one another about matters of the spirit. I pray that the very act of questioning our faith will be considered sacred, and that it will play a part in our mission to become a holy nation.

Peter Halpern

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