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Showing posts from March, 2011


The Book of Leviticus is a struggle. I am often at odds with its words. It speaks of priests and sacrifices, tabernacles and holy precincts, impurities and defilements. The literal meaning of its words often eludes me. This week we read of leprosy. “When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration, and it develops into a scaly affection on the skin of his body, it shall be reported to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons, the priests.” (Leviticus 13:2) In ancient times the priest was both the religious and medical authority. In this instance he determined whether or not a person was infected with leprosy. If a positive diagnosis was made then the person was placed in isolation for seven days. If the priest still determined that he had chronic leprosy then he was labeled impure. “He shall be impure, he shall dwell apart; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:46) Our approach to sickness and disease is in many ways differen

The Thin Line

Below is a clip from last week's "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart. I can't decide if I should laugh or hide my head in shame. The Daily Show - The Thin Jew Line Tags: Daily Show Full Episodes , Political Humor & Satire Blog , The Daily Show on Facebook


I cannot stop thinking about Hadas Fogel.  Three month old Hadas was murdered along with two of her siblings, Yoav and Elad, and her parents, Udi and Ruth, in a brutal terrorist attack.  They were stabbed on Shabbat evening, March 11, while sleeping and relaxing in their home.  The other three children were not at home.  I don’t understand how someone can think that the murder of an infant is justified.  I cannot fathom how one can justify the murder of another human being.  Recently our confirmation class visited the Holocaust Museum in Glen Cove.  One of the pictures there haunts my memories.  It is of a soldier from one of the Einsatzgruppen units shooting his rifle at a mother holding an infant child.  The Einsatzgruppen were roving killing units who traveled through German occupied territory murdering over one million Jews, during the early years of the Holocaust prior to the Nazi’s construction of death camps.  This picture haunts me for two reasons.  These soldiers were told th

The Worry Begins

Egypt Vote Results Shows Islamists' Rising Sway - The protest leaders opposed these recently approved amendments to Egypt's constitution, arguing instead that the entire constitution needed to be rewritten and that in particular presidential powers must be curtailed.  Instead religious leaders, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, pushed for these small changes that established presidential term limits but also expanded the power of independent parties.  In the Journal's own words: Electoral officials said 77% of Egyptians voted to accept a set of proposed amendments to Egypt's constitution that will, among other changes, limit the presidency to two four-year terms and ease restrictions on independent political participation, according to results announced Sunday.  The proposed changes were opposed by protest leaders and by presidential front-runners Mohammed El Baradei and Amr Moussa. Both men urged Egyptians to reject the amendments, written by lawyer

Tzav Sermon

Finally, back on schedule.  Here is this week's sermon. In this week’s portion we learn that the altar fire had to be constantly maintained.  I imagine that this was an enormously difficult task for the priests.  The olah sacrifice in particular had to be burned up entirely on the altar.  That is why its root meaning comes from the word to go up.  That is a very powerful fire indeed. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook saw in this altar fire an analogy to the Jewish heart.  Just like this ancient fire had to be kept burning, so too must we keep the Jewish flame burning in our hearts.  But today there are no priests to tend to this fire.  With the destruction of the Temple and the resulting democratization of Judaism this task fell to each of us.  It is each of our responsibilities.  Each of us must nurture our own spiritual fire.  I can’t do this for you.  But just because I can’t do this for you, does not mean that you have to do this by yourself. An analogy to sports.  My two fa

Vayikra Sermon

This sermon was delivered on Friday, March 11th. This week a man named Dennis visited our Religious School and spoke with our 7 th graders and their parents.  He was from the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing .  Dennis’ story was very powerful.  He was homeless for 14 years.  I wanted our students to hear his story and thereby put a face on homelessness.  I did not want our congregants to speak of “the homeless” but of instead of people also created in God’s image, of human beings who live on the streets.  Now they can think of this remarkable man named Dennis who overcame his demons, in particular drug addiction and numerous arrests to rebuild his life. One of his refrains was the following. He said over and over again “God is good.”   He spoke of his prayers to God.  Often he tried to make a deal with God.  “If you will get me out of jail then I will fix things.”  None of these prayers worked.  He would soon return to the streets and drugs. In this week’s Torah por

Pekudei Sermon

I always try to post my sermons soon after delivering them.  Here is the sermon from Parshat Pekudei, given on March 4th.  Better late than never.  I hope you agree. The Torah portion concludes the Tabernacle construction project with the following words:  “When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle….  When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out, on their various journeys; but if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out until such time as it did lift.  For over the Tabernacle a cloud of the Lord rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys.”  (Exodus 40:33-38) The Tabernacle was the vehicle by which God led the people on their journeys.  In fact the Hebrew word for Tabernacle, mishkan, is related to the Hebrew “to dwell” which is connected to the name for God, Shechinah.  This name is the name that


Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of pre-State Palestine, wrote: “One is forbidden to extinguish the thirst for God which burns in every heart.  We are told that a person who extinguishes an ember on the altar has violated the prohibition of ‘it will never be put out.’ (Babylonian Talmud, Zevahim 91)  This is all the more true for one who extinguishes an ember of the spiritual fire in the spiritual altar—the Jewish heart.” In this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, we read that the fire that must be kept burning on the sacrificial altar. “The fire will burn forever upon the altar; it will never be put out.” (Leviticus 6:6) Have you ever tended to a campfire or even a fire in your fireplace?  They require continuous care.  Wood must often be added to fuel the fire.  Logs must frequently be rearranged in order to keep the coals glowing.  Fall asleep beside the fire for an hour and you might wake up next to smoldering embers.  Fall asleep for several hours and you will awaken t


Purim is celebrated this week.  Here is its story. Once upon a time in a land called Shushan there lived a king called Ahasuerus and his queen Vashti.  On one of the nights of one of his seven day long parties, the king and his friends were drinking and partying way too much (the Book of Esther actually states: “Royal wine was served in abundance…and the rule for drinking was, ‘No restrictions.’”).  The king, encouraged by his buddies, thought it would be great if Vashti was paraded before his friends wearing only her crown.   Even though Vashti was also drinking, she wisely said, “No way.  That is not only beneath a queen, it is beneath any woman.”  So our drunken king asked his advisors what to do.  They said, “Get rid of her.”  And so the king kicked his queen out of the palace. Some time later, after waking up from his drunken stupor the king cried, “Now I have no queen.”  So again he asked his advisors what to do.  They urged him to hold a beauty pageant (upon hearing this, J


Despite the fact that our Purim holiday, a day marked by wild celebration and joy, is nearly upon us I am dwelling on Japan and its current desperate plight. Every evening I watch the news to see a desperate situation become worse.  And so first I pray. May God heal all those who are injured. May God grant consolation to those who are mourning. May God grant strength to the rescuers. I pledge to donate to the rescue and rebuilding efforts.  I am prefer to give through Jewish charities. I prefer the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee . Here is the Joint's statement on Japan's earthquake and tsunami: In partnership with the Japanese Jewish Community, JDC is distributing emergency supplies, including food and hygiene products, to victims of the disaster through JEN, a local Japanese NGO currently operating in the hardest-hit Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. JDC, which acquired substantial relevant expertise following the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, contact


Every week, for the past year, I have emailed my congregation some thoughts (and questions) about the Torah portion.   Today we begin that journey again.     This week’s portion, Vayikra, is the first portion in the Book of Leviticus.   To be honest this book and its focus on the Temple’s ritual cult is not my favorite.   I prefer the multi-faceted stories of Genesis or the laws of Deuteronomy.   In ancient times the way we drew close to God was not through prayer but through Leviticus’ sacrifices.   Year after year I struggle to discover meaning in these words.   Every year I wrestle with these words along with my Spring b’nai mitzvah students.   “Why did they kill animals to pray to God?” they often ask.   It is very difficult to get past all of the blood. Yet this week’s chattat (sin) offering is intriguing.   This was performed when a person made an unintended mistake.   “If any person from among the populace unwittingly incurs guilt by doing any of the things by which by the Lor

Is there anyone home?

Roger Waters, the leader of the great rock and roll band, Pink Floyd , has joined the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign against Israel.  He now joins the ranks of others, including Pete Seeger and Elvis Costello. Here is yet another example of someone who only appears to see the issue from one side.  His one sided view is most apparent.  To read his statement is to read a treatise that only gives voice to Palestinian grievances and not Israeli fears.  He appears woefully uninformed about the facts. Here is part of what Waters said: "In my view, the abhorrent and draconian control that Israel wields over the besieged Palestinians in Gaza, and the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem), coupled with its denial of the rights of refugees to return to their homes in Israel, demands that fair minded people around the world support the Palestinians in their civil, nonviolent resistance."  Read his entire statement on the Alternative Inform

Democratic State

Democratic State - by Lee Smith; Tablet Magazine Someone else thinks like I do. Here is an article arguing that Israel could serve as a democratic example for the now emerging (we hope and pray!) democracies in the Arab world. Even Tom Friedman noted in his most recent New York Times column: The Arab TV network Al Jazeera has a big team covering Israel today. Here are some of the stories they have been beaming into the Arab world: Israel’s previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, had to resign because he was accused of illicitly taking envelopes stuffed with money from a Jewish-American backer. An Israeli court recently convicted Israel’s former president Moshe Katsav on two counts of rape, based on accusations by former employees. And just a few weeks ago, Israel, at the last second, rescinded the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as the army’s new chief of staff after Israeli environmentalists spurred a government investigation that concluded General Galant had seized p


It is said of the great second century sage, Rabbi Akiva, that he could derive lessons from the untranslatable Hebrew et that precedes a sentence’s direct object or that he could even spin stories upon the calligraphy crowns affixed atop other letters.   It is said as well that he could derive sermons from an unexpected Hebrew letter.   This week’s portion concludes: “ Vay’khal Moshe —When Moses finished the work [of the tabernacle]…” (Exodus 40:33)   The creation story concludes similarly: “ Vay’khulu hashamayim —The heaven and the earth were finished…” (Genesis 2:1)   In both instances the same Hebrew verb is used.   Yet in the creation account the plural form is used, while in this week’s portion the singular is written.   In Genesis again it is the passive voice and in Exodus the active.   The differences are but found in the Hebrew letter vav .   This letter is present in Genesis but not in this week’s chapter. Is there meaning to be discerned from even this smallest of diffe