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Showing posts from February, 2011

Ki Tissa Sermon

This sermon was delivered last Friday, February 18th. This week’s portion contains the story of the Golden Calf, according to our tradition the greatest sin in the Torah.  The root of this sin is impatience.  The people, Moses, and even God stand guilty of impatience.  In fact, so many of our own problems are caused by this very same flaw. The Hebrew word for patience is savlanut.  The root of this word is saval, meaning to bear a heavy load or even to suffer.  There is much to learn from the Hebrew’s root.  Patience does involve great work and at times, even suffering.  Waiting is not easy.  This is why the Mussar masters suggested that patience is the most difficult of middot to master.  But mastering patience is what we must do to train our soul. Rabbi Menachem Mendel wrote in Heshbon HaNefesh (An Accounting of the Soul): “When something bad happens to you and you did not have the power to avoid it, do not aggravate the situation even more through wasted grief.”  Often we aggr

Obama And Libya

Why Doesn't Obama Have A Plan To Assist The Country In Its Emergency? | TNR by Leon Wieseltier Again I quote from Leon Wieseltier's most recent essay in The New Republic . ...They [Libyans] are fighting authoritarianism, but he [Obama] is fighting imperialism. Who in their right mind believes that this change does represent the work of the United States or any foreign power? To be sure, there are conspiracy theorists in the region who are not in their right mind, and will hold such an anti-American view; but this anti-Americanism is not an empirical matter. They will hate us whatever we do. I do not see a Middle East rising up in anger at the prospect of American intervention. I see an American president with a paralyzing fear that it will. In those Middle Eastern streets and squares that have endured the pangs of democratization, the complaint has been not that the United States has intervened, but that the United States has not intervened. The awful irony is tha


This week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel, reiterates the command regarding Shabbat observance.  “On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord…”  Around this commandment Judaism constructs the many details of Shabbat observance in particular its demand that we refrain from working on this day.  The Talmud self consciously remarks that these myriad laws of Shabbat restrictions were like mountains suspended by a thread.  In this portion the thread is revealed. The remainder of the portion occupies itself with the details of the tabernacle’s construction.  And so the rabbis reasoned that all the labors detailed in constructing the tabernacle are forbidden on Shabbat.  There are 39 labors in all.  There are sub-categories of work and sub-sub categories.  There are fences around the laws and fences around the fences.  The mountains have become endlessly magnified.  At times the mountains and fences obscure the esse

Psalms 25-27

My apologies for the delay.  Distractions abound.  Let us return to our sacred texts. 25. This psalm is an acrostic.  Each verse begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet.  Its organization is therefore artificial.  Although it might be easier to memorize such a poem it lacks an inner structure.  Each verse stands on its own.  Alef is for, bet stands for, gimmel and so on.  Nonetheless a few verses intrigue me. ( Alef) O Lord, I lift my soul to You my God, in You I trust; may I not be disappointed… There is a certain power in the notion that we must lift our soul.   To be religious, to look toward God requires effort and work. (Gimmel) O let none who look to You be disappointed; let the faithless be disappointed, empty-handed. If you have faith then it is my prayer that you might not be disappointed.  Nonetheless disappointments are everywhere. (Cheyt) Be not mindful of my youthful sins and transgressions; in keeping with Your faithfulness consider what is in my favor, as be

Ki Tissa

“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him.’” (Exodus 32) So begins the story of the Golden Calf. Only a few weeks earlier the people were slaves in Egypt where they had witnessed God’s mighty acts and Moses’ extraordinary leadership. The people had just stood at Mount Sinai where they received the Torah and in particular the Ten Commandments forbidding idolatry. Their leader disappears to the mountain top for but a few short weeks and they quickly lose faith and bow down to idols. If only they had waited. If only they could have waited for their leader’s return. Then this sin could have been avoided. If only they could have waited. So many of our own wrongdoings can be avoided by exercising a little patience. How many times have we fired off an emai

The Voice of Freedom

I can't believe my eyes and ears! Watch this clip. You will think you are watching a NFTY promotional video and listening to a Dan Nichols song, but instead it is musical tribute to the Egyptian protesters. Thank you to today's Tom Friedman column for again pointing me towards MEMRI. And kol hakavod MEMRI for tirelessly translating the Arabic media! Am I actually witnessing Egypt change for the better? Will it really be forever as the song says, "Our dreams were our weapon?"


It is not a Grammy but my blog was named one of the top 50 Jewish blogs.  Always nice to be recognized, even from afar....

Tetzaveh Sermon

This week’s Torah portion begins with the details of lighting the ner tamid, the eternal light.  Interestingly this required the priest’s constant care and attention which is why ner tamid is better translated as “always light.” The remainder of the portion details how the priestly garments are to be made.  There was a blue thread (techelet) that ran through the headdress.  The garments contained finely spun gold thread.  And according to the rabbis, shatnez, the mixture of wool and linen, was even required for the making of the priest’s clothes. With all of these chapters and verses about the priest’s clothes I have been thinking about the clothes we wear.  What do these clothes say about us?  Like you I receive many different invitations with directions of what I am supposed to wear to different occasions: black tie required, black tie optional, business casual, and my favorite, smart casual (with this one, I always worry that I might be labeled not so smart if I wear the wrong ou

My Tears for Mubarak

My Tears for Mubarak - Israel Opinion, Ynetnews by Eitan Haber Another perspective on the events unfolding in Egypt. President Mubarak was indeed a tyrant. He was apparently corrupt as well. Yet this is the same Mubarak who wore suits and ties, spoke English, upheld the peace treaty, hosted Israeli leaders at his palace, arrived at the Rabin funeral, and even – imagine that – provided us with gas at a special price. This will likely be the only article today praising Mubarak. In politically correct terms, it would be proper to laud the masses and join in the celebration of democracy. After all, all the hypocrites in the Western world are coming together for this “civil rights party.” Yet I, such an uncivilized creature, am already starting to long for the president who was forced to quit. How I wish to be proven wrong. Such is the view just to the north of Cairo.

The Lessons of Cairo

Obama, America, And Egypt's Liberal Revolt | The New Republic TNR's most recent editorial about the upheaval in Egypt says it all.  It begins with the words: The spread of democracy around the world is a natural American aspiration, but sometimes the sincerity of that aspiration is tested by the disruptions of democratization. The astonishing events in Egypt are such a test. They are so thrilling in their purpose and so unclear in their outcome. They provoke exhilaration and anxiety. But they demonstrate to a new generation that the democratic longing is itself one of history’s most powerful causes. And, for the United States, they make clear that the spread of democracy is not only a matter of morality, but also a matter of strategy. And its conclusion is very much on target: Now, the hard question. What if, in promoting democracy in the Arab world, we find ourselves acquiescing in the inclusion of Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood in the new arrangements?

Google Exec Interview

Below is the interview with Google Executive Wael Ghonim after his release from prison. The clip is supplied by MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute). Wael says in part: We are not serving anyone's agenda... Some of us are very rich, living in the best homes, driving the best cars. I don't need anything from anyone. I didn't ask for anything. The things we did put our lives in danger, and we didn't know anything about it. We said we would do it, and that's it. We said that we would fight for our rights, because this is our country. We put our lives in harm's way, and none of us did it for personal gain.... The real heroes are the people on the street, each and every one of us. There was no knight on a horse urging people to take action. Be careful that no one tries to con you this way. This is a revolution of the Internet youth, which later became the revolution of the youth of Egypt. He also states that the Muslim Brotherhood was not responsible


Let’s talk about clothes. This week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, relates details about the priest’s clothing.   Their outfits were quite elaborate, containing a breastpiece, long coat (ephod), robe, fringed tunic, headdress and sash.   (Sorry, no shoes are mentioned.)   They were made of gold, jewels and finely woven fabrics. Two curious details.   The forbidden mixture of wool and linen was required for the priest’s clothes.   Why was something forbidden to the masses required of the elite?   It is because clothing signifies station.   To wear something that is inaccessible to the majority sets the wearer apart.   God forbids this mixture to everyone but the priest in order that his very clothing might set him apart. Bells and pomegranates adorned the hem of the priest’s robe in order that his clothing would announce his arrival before he actually entered the room.   According to the rabbis this teaches us that we must also announce our presence when entering a room.   The priest co

Egypt's Turmoil Sermon

Our Torah portion begins with the words, “You shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” The Torah’s intention seems clear. The Tabernacle could only be built if the people were moved to participate. Later we will read that the people’s hearts were joined together in this effort—and it was only because of this that they succeeded. This brings me to my question for the evening, the question of the turmoil in Egypt. Are the people indeed joined together? Ok, perhaps the connection to the Torah portion is thin but I promised that I would about what is happening in Egypt so here it goes. Let me make a few observations and then open it up for discussion. Years ago when on a rabbinic mission to Israel I met with Dr. Yuval Steinmetz. He is currently the finance minister and a Knesset member from Likud. He made dire warnings about Egypt. He observed that there was a great deal of saber rattling emanating from Egypt and that Egypt was increasing its grou

Our Cantor in Concert!

Here is a great YouTube video featuring one of my favorite singers as well as pianists. It contains a medley of Israeli favorites. Way to go cantor--and Natalie!

PM Netanyahu Addresses the Knesset

Prime Minister Netanyahu: The situation in Egypt 2-Feb-2011 This is yesterday's remarks by Netanyahu to the Knesset regarding the situation in Egypt. Israel and Israelis are understandably nervous and worried about the turmoil there. Netanyahu said in part: It is clear that an Egypt that rests on these institutions, an Egypt that is anchored in democratic values, would never be a threat to peace. On the contrary, if we have learned anything from modern history, it is that the stronger the foundations of democracy, the stronger the foundations of peace. Peace among democracies is strong, and democracy strengthens the peace. The Iranian regime is not interested in seeing an Egypt that protects the rights of individuals, women, and minorities. They are not interested in an enlightened Egypt that embraces the 21st century. They want an Egypt that returns to the Middle Ages. They want Egypt to become another Gaza, run by radical forces that oppose everything that the democratic wor


Following the revelation at Mount Sinai we first encounter laws of how to order a just society. These are the details of last week’s portion, Mishpatim. In this week’s reading, Terumah, we learn of how to construct a sanctuary and thereby bring God to earth.   We read chapters and verses containing inordinate details of how to construct the tabernacle and its furnishings. The portion begins: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts (terumah); you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him…   And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.’” (Exodus 25:1-8) But how can God dwell on earth?   How can people believe that any building they construct would house God or even befit God?   King Solomon responds in the words offered at the dedication ceremony of the First Temple.   “But will God really dwell on earth?   Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You, how much less this House that I h

Mishpatim Sermon

Following the revelation at Mount Sinai we move to a detailed listing of laws.  Here are a few of the many laws and mitzvot listed in this week’s parsha.  Some make sense and others appear outdates.  There are the logical and the mysterious.  Most of the laws fall into the category of mishpatim, laws whose reasons are obvious as opposed to hukkim, laws whose reasons are mysterious. The portion begins with laws concerning the treatment of slaves.  We begin with the outdated.  Then there are laws about manslaughter and murder.  The Torah establishes asylum for a person who accidentally kills another so as to prevent the seeking of vengeance.  The death penalty is prescribed if you hit or insult your parents.  Perhaps the parent of a teenager wrote this one.  We also find here some of the basis for our own contemporary laws.  For example if you cause injury to a person Jewish law states that you are responsible for five types of restitution: for injury, for pain, for medical expenses,