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Taste the Wonder

When I was young and we would go out for a nice dinner with my grandparents, towards the end of the meal when everyone was sharing their delight about the restaurant and raving about this dish or that, my Nana would quietly sit there. I would then invariably ask her, “Nana what did you think about dinner?” And she would respond, “It was tasty.” Her response never wavered. It could be the best meal or the worst, the most expensive restaurant, or the least. Food was tasty, never delicious. Meals were not deserving of accolades unless of course she was related to the cook and then superlatives could be showered on my mom or dad or even me when I cooked the one thing I could make as a child, an omelet. On Monday we entered the Hebrew month of Shevat. In two weeks, we will celebrate Tu B’Shevat (the fifteenth of the month), the day on which we mark the new year of the trees. This month is associated with the faint beginnings of spring. In the land of Israel trees begin to blossom, most pa
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Take a Breath

Before God brings down the plagues on Egypt, Moses tells the people they will soon be freed from slavery and delivered to the promised land. The Torah relates: “But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.” (Exodus 6) A story. One winter evening, during the darkest days of the Holocaust when Hugo Gryn and his father were imprisoned by the Nazis, Gryn’s father instructed him to come to a quiet corner of the barrack. His father said, “My son, tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. Hugo then watched in astonishment as his father plucked a few threads from his tattered prison uniform in order to create makeshift wicks for the Hanukkah lights. He then gently placed these in several days’ miniscule margarine ration. Hugo became incensed with his father. “You did not eat your margarine. You need those calories to survive. We could have even spread it on that measly crust of bread they gave us. Instead, you saved it to k

Rise Up and Take Note

My sermon in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day. Discrimination is real. Racism in America is a pervasive force. What are we to do? We must rise up and take note!   This weekend we mark Martin Luther King Jr Day and so I wish to reflect on the lessons we can, and should, draw from Reverend King’s example. He fought, and died, so that African Americans might achieve equal rights in this nation that promises equal rights for all. That struggle continues. The promise remains unfulfilled. A few years ago, I travelled with a number of rabbis to Montgomery, Alabama to visit the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice . This remarkable, and stirring, museum was inspired by Bryan Stevenson who founded the Equal Justice Initiative that fights for those who are wrongly incarcerated. Among its more startling exhibits are soil remains from sites where Blacks were lynched and terrorized. There were photographs on the museum walls showing how snacks were distributed to

Eternal Struggles

Leon Wieseltier writes: There are problems and there are struggles. Problems have solutions; struggles have outcomes. Problems are technical; struggles are historical. Problems recur; struggles persist. Problems teach impatience; struggles teach patience. Problems are fixed; struggles are fought. Problems require skill; struggles require character. Problems demand knowledge; struggles demand wisdom. Problems may end; struggles may not end. A problem that does not end is a defeat or a failure; a struggle that does not end is a responsibility and a legacy. We turn to the Book of Exodus. It details our enslavement in Egypt and then our miraculous rescue from slavery. And yet our freedom does not end the institution of slavery. In fact, the Bible’s record is mixed. Even though the injustice and cruelty of the Israelites’ slavery are remedied, slavery continues. The Bible details laws about how one must treat slaves. Hebrew slaves are accorded more rights than others. We read, “When you ac

Our True Jewish Identity

The English term Jew originates in the Hebrew Yehudi, meaning from the tribe of Judah. This week we read, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet; so that tribute shall come to him, and the homage of peoples be his.” (Genesis 49) Judah was one of Jacob’s eldest sons. Each of these sons gave birth to one of the twelve tribes. Some 3,000 year ago, after the death of King Solomon, the northern kingdom of Israel, comprising the territory of ten of these tribes, was conquered by the Assyrians, which led to their absorption into the Assyrian empire or their integration into the southern kingdom. This southern kingdom of Judah was formed by the combination of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Eventually the tribe of Benjamin was likewise absorbed and thus Judah’s descendants came to dominant the ancient landscape and the future Jewish story. To be a Jew is to trace one’s lineage or connection to this tribe of Judah. To be Jewish is perhaps a dif

Foreshadowing Our Concern

Joseph’s story mirrors what will soon happen to the Israelites. Joseph is imprisoned in Egypt. The Israelites are later enslaved by Pharaoh. The Torah offers hints of what it is to come. The Book of Genesis foretells the travails of Exodus. When Joseph realizes that his brothers have changed and this time stand up to protect their younger brother Benjamin rather than selling him into slavery as they did to Joseph earlier, Joseph breaks down and cries. He reveals himself to his brothers, saying, “I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me here; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45) The Torah relates: “His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear, and so the news reached Pharaoh’s palace.” Hints appear. They point toward later events. In Exodus we read, “The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out; and their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God

Hanukkah’s Unwanted Miracles

In Israel the dreidel’s phrase shifts. One word changes from there to here. It reads “a great miracle happened here.” There creates distance. Here denotes an intimacy with the events of the past. I am wondering if this is a good thing. When it comes to miracles does being “here” become intoxicating? I am back where it all happened. And I have returned to where it is again happening. No matter how many times I visit Israel, it is a privilege to be here. It is an unparalleled blessing to live in this age alongside the sovereign Jewish state of Israel. And yet, I find myself worrying. Can the past overwhelm the present and begin to suffocate the future? There is a strain of Jewish thought that was once minor that I fear is becoming major. You can hear it in the medieval thinker Yehuda Halevi who argued that there is something special in the Jewish soul and that when combined with the land of Israel results in prophecy. It flows through Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook the first chie