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Showing posts from September, 2011

Nitzavim-Vayelekh Sermon

We are nearing the completion of the Torah.  We read the words also read on Yom Kippur morning in Reform shuls.  “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day.” (Deuteronomy 29) This passage is a remarkable statement that Torah is given in every generation.  Torah must be forever renewed.  It was not given only back then.  It is given in each and every day, in each and every generation.  That is what we also celebrate when we mark Simhat Torah.  We renew our commitment to Torah as we begin the reading schedule again. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev was asked: Why does every tractate of Talmud begin on the second page?  (The first page is not alef, but instead bet.”  He answered: “However much we learn, we should always remember that we have not even reached the first page.”  The greatest lesson of Torah is that it is never complet

Ki Tavo Sermon

I have some questions about memorials as vehicles of remembrance.  The root of the word for memorial of course derives from memory.  How effective are these memorials in facilitating our remembering? We live in a culture cluttered with memorials.  There are roadside memorials.  There are cemeteries.  There are the Gettysburg and Vietnam War memorials.  There is now the 9-11 memorial. A student shared these feelings about her recent visit to this new memorial.  “The waterfalls are awe-inspiring.  This is kind of odd, especially juxtaposed against the tragedy that occurred there and also when you remember that you're in the middle of such a bustling part of the city.  I found there a sense of peace that is soul-quenching.”   In Jewish life there are countless memorials to the Holocaust.  In Israel there are memorials to the many battles.  These are scattered throughout the city of Jerusalem.  And there are now a number of memorials to terrorist victims.  I hurry by a numb

Ki Tavo

I have been thinking about memorials. On Sunday we watched as the new 9-11 memorial was dedicated. I of course have not yet visited but I imagine it is a powerful testament to that terrible day. The structure appears appropriate and meaningful. New buildings were not constructed in place of the towers but instead these memorial fountains, etched with the names of those murdered. To build anything else in place of these ruins would be to suggest that we wish to erase memory. Memorials offer us places to mourn and remember. As the people who experienced the tragedy grow older memorials become instead places to educate future generations. I have visited many memorials. It occurs to me that not one of them commemorates a natural disaster. All are built to memorialize the evils that human beings do to one another. I think in particular of the vast expanse of Gettysburg, the site of the largest battle in the Civil War, where nearly 8,000 were killed in that battle’s three days. The Vietnam

September 11 Sermon

I have many feelings and thoughts as we mark this tenth anniversary of 9-11.  They are mostly feelings of pain and loss.  I continue to believe that things will never be the same.  I also carry with me the searing memory of driving my children home from school after having to pick them up early.  As I drove on the LIE I kept looking in the rear view mirror at their faces.  I continue to hear their questions, “Abba, what happened?  I don’t understand.  Someone drove a plane into a building?”  I hear as well my inadequate answers.  Ten years later here are my still, partial answers. I wish to address three points.  1. About our enemies.  2. The proper response to our enemies.  And 3. Our lingering, incomplete feelings. 1. Let’s say this clearly.  We indeed have enemies.  This truth seems to evade us.  We still appear unwilling to speak these words.  There are people who are bent on our destruction.  And they are Islamic fundamentalists. We are so afraid of offending or being labeled

More on September 11

On Thursday, Leon Wieseltier, Literary Editor of The New Republic, said the following at a 9-11 commemoration at Washington DC's Kennedy Center. Though we encounter it as suffering, grief is in fact an affirmation. The indifferent do not grieve, the uncommitted do not grieve, the loveless do not grieve. We mourn only the loss of what we have loved and what we have valued, and in this way mourning darkly refreshes our knowledge of the causes of our loves and the reasons for our values. Our sorrow restores us to the splendors of our connectedness to people and to principles. It is the yes of a broken heart. In our bereavement we discover how much was ruptured by death, and also how much was not ruptured. These tears lead directly to introspection. Here is what we affirmed by our mourning on September 11, 2001, and by the introspection of its aftermath: that we wish to be known, to ourselves and to the world, by the liberty that we offer, axiomatically, as a matter of right, to

Shoftim Sermon

This week’s Torah portion is about appointing judges and establishing courts.  It contains the famous verse: “Justice, justice you shall pursue…”  I have been thinking about how we approach the pursuit of justice. We are commanded by our tradition to pursue justice and to pursue peace.  We often confuse these two values.  We apply justice when we should apply peace. Societies of course are to be built on justice.  Families by contrast are built on peace.  Yet we speak about injustice when it comes to family members.  You wouldn’t believe what uncle so and so did.  How many families sever ties over such perceived injustices? When it comes to families however we should be talking about peace and not justice.  Both notions have to be pursued.  It is an interesting word choice.  To pursue is to run after.  You can’t wait for justice or peace to come to you.  There is a related value to justice.  In order to pursue justice you must run after truth.  Societies must be built on truth.  F

September 11

It was a beautiful August morning.  The temperature was a comfortable 70 degrees.  I was riding along Asharoken Avenue towards Eatons Neck.  My legs felt strong and I was setting a fast pace, despite the gusting head wind.  The dune grass blew in the breeze.  The waves on the Sound lapped at the expanse of sand.  I was riding on my favorite flat, a road that extends for miles along the shoreline.  I looked up and saw a blue sky, absent of clouds.  It was a perfect morning.  I could focus on my riding.  I could contemplate the beauty of this moment. It was almost as if it was an early fall morning.  The blue sky was nearly as deep and blue as that of a September day.  And then it happened.  The perfect blue sky reminded me not of the grandeur of God’s creation but instead of a morning nearly ten years earlier, the morning of September 11.  The perfect moment was stolen.  Memories of that terror stricken day filled my thoughts.  I was taken back to another day, one that began


We live in a world where people often scream about injustice, but rarely take action to correct such failings.  The injustices we most often speak about are those 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. This week’s Torah portion focuses on justice.  In addition to legislating how judges should be appointed, it contains the famous verse: “Justice, justice you shall pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20) We hear this call for justice, but we misapply its message to friends and family.  Instead we need to spend more time pursuing justice for our society.  Our country faces many problems.  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 Network, for example, serves over 300,000 meals per year


Today (August 30th) begins the Hebrew month of Elul.  According to Jewish tradition this day begins a forty day period of introspection and repentance that concludes with the beautiful Yom Kippur Neilah service. We belong to a remarkable tradition. We believe that human beings are capable of change.  We believe that we have the capacity to mend our ways.  No one is perfect.  All have erred.  Let us take these precious days to mend our failures.  This is the grand purpose of the upcoming High Holidays.  Rosh Hashanah begins the evening of September 28 th . A Hasidic story.  Reb Chaim Halberstam of Zanz once helped his disciples prepare for Elul and its goals of teshuvah (repentance) and tikkun (repair) by sharing the following story. Once a woman became lost in a dense forest.  She wandered this way and that in the hope of stumbling on a way out, but she only got more lost as the hours went by.  Then she chanced upon another person walking in the woods.  Hoping that he might know th