Skip to main content

Posts

It's All About the Kippah and Concession Speech

My Rosh Hashanah Morning sermon about how custom, rather than law, are integral to our families, community and country.   An Upper West Side synagogue recently announced that it will no longer serve lox. Can you imagine? A shanda! Its leaders argue that they wish to help reduce pollution and the environmental impact of overfishing. And while salmon farming is indeed environmentally damaging and provides eighty percent of the salmon we eat on a far too regular basis, can you envision break-fast without bagels, cream cheese and lox? The rabbis added this note to their announcement about the elimination of lox from the synagogue menu: “We know that for some this is a heretical move! We are here to support you as you process this change.” Such changes make us feel as if we are mourning the loss of something precious. Messing with we have come to know as traditional foods can be tantamount to heresy. Our holidays seem to turn on food. And lox is right up there with the other High H
Recent posts

Apples, Honey and the Bees

I am thinking about apples and honey.   On Rosh Hashanah we dip apples in honey. This custom originated when Jews first made their way to Europe where apples could be found in the fall. During biblical times we were more familiar with those fruits found in the Middle East such as figs and dates, and most especially pomegranates. In fact, the pomegranate is the quintessential Jewish fruit. There is nothing quite like the sight of a pomegranate tree with its picturesque fruits hanging from its branches or its floral blooms which attract bees for pollination. According to tradition there are exactly the same number of seeds in the pomegranate as there are commandments: 613. And while I have never counted its sees, the pomegranate figures more prominently in our tradition than the apple. Some therefore add the pomegranate to their holiday meal. In addition, even though the Bible calls the land of Israel a land flowing with milk and honey it was not bee honey to which it referred but i

Dreaming of Better Borders

In the West Bank, near Nablus, one finds Mount Ebal, one of the tallest peaks in the area. From its 3000-foot peak one can almost see the entire land of Israel: Mount Hermon in the North, the hills surrounding Jerusalem in the South, the Jordan to the East and the Mediterranean Sea to the West. The city of Shechem sits below and serves as a reminder of Abraham and Sarah’s first journey to the promised land. After Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land, the people constructed an altar on Mount Ebal. In the 1980’s archaeologists uncovered what some believe to be the altar’s remains and evidence of the Torah’s command and the Book of Joshua’s report: “At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal...  an altar of unhewn stone upon which no iron had been wielded.” (Joshua 8) Sadly, the Palestinian Authority apparently used some of these ancient stones for the construction of new roads. This past Spring, archaeologists announced they had dated a

Sharing Is Commanded

Years ago when hiking through Israel’s Galil region, my guide would sometimes take a detour through a farmer’s field. There she would reach up and take an orange from a tree, immediately peel off its skin and then eat it. I protested. “This is not your field. These oranges are not yours to take.” She would then correct my understanding. “Our Bible permits it.” The Torah proclaims: “When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat as many grapes as you want, until you are full, but you must not put any in your vessel.” (Deuteronomy 25) Our Bible has a different understanding of ownership. We do not own the land. The earth belongs to God. We are but tenants. So when I look to my yard, the flowers, vines and trees (the Kousa Dogwood’s branches are now weighed down by fruit) I might think they are mine, but the food they produce is certainly not mine alone. The Torah makes clear. If you are hungry, you can take the fruit from any tree, whether it be yours or your neighbor’s. Even thoug

Pursuing Justice, Making Peace

We live in a world where people scream about injustices. Sometimes, justified. And sometimes, unjustified. Those we most often speak about are the wrongs, or slights, that involve people closest to us. We complain about this friend or that. We criticize this family member or another. Rarely do we seek to make amends and make peace. Rarely do we shout about societal ills needing repair. This week we read about seeking justice. In addition to legislating how judges should be appointed, the Torah proclaims: “Justice, justice you shall pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16) We must hear this call for justice. Too often we misapply its message to friends and family. Instead, we need to spend more time pursuing justice for our society. Our country faces many challenges. One example. There is a growing inequity between rich and poor. On our very own Long Island there are far too many homeless and hungry. The Interfaith Nutrition

A Song Is All We Need

The High Holidays begin in one month. During the preceding Hebrew month of Elul which starts this weekend, we focus on the task of repentance. We seek to better our lives. We turn inward. We make promises about our Jewish commitments. A Hasidic story. A student came to see the Karliner Rebbe because he was depressed. “I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I’m not a good Jew. I don’t study enough, I don’t know enough; all I do is work, work, work. But I want to study more. Rabbi, I have a question. What do our great and holy rabbis study on Friday night?” “Well,” said the Karliner, “some study Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism.” “Oh,” said the student, “that is not for me.” “No,” said the Karliner, “that is not for everybody. But I am sure you study Talmud regularly. How is that going?” “Rebbe, I am ashamed to admit it, but I do not study Talmud regularly. You see, I grew up poor. I had to work from an early age to help my family out. I did not get much of an education. I find the Talmu

Taste the Wonderment

This past year, Susie and I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). The requirement is that we pay the farm for the upcoming season’s vegetables in April. And then beginning in June and lasting through November, we pick up an assortment of vegetables every Tuesday at our Huntington drop off location. We don’t know for sure what will be in our bag until Monday evening when the farm emails us what to expect. This week it was corn, tomatoes (large and grape), baby bok choy, potatoes, and cantaloupe (there is the occasional melon). A few weeks ago, we picked up onions, romaine lettuce, beets, new potatoes, kohlrabi, corn and ong choy (Chinese water spinach). In addition to the extraordinary freshness of the vegetables (the lettuce lasts two weeks!), we have to adjust our cooking based on what the farm provides. While I can eat corn on the cob every week, after several weeks corn salad felt like a necessary and welcome change. And again, after weeks of potatoes it was time to mak