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Showing posts from October, 2011


This week’s Torah portion contains the familiar story of Noah and the flood.  God was angry about humanity’s evil ways and so destroys the world’s inhabitants save Noah and his family and the animals two by two.  After Noah emerges from the ark he offers a thanksgiving sacrifice and God promises him that never again will the earth be destroyed.  The symbol of this covenant is the rainbow. The portion begins with the statement: “This is the line of Noah.—Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God.—Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”  (Genesis 6:9)  The story of the flood concludes with a seemingly contradictory verse: “Noah, the tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.  He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.  Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.”  (Genesis 9:20-22)   According to many historians viniculture first began near Mount Arar

Simhat Torah Sermon

We have come to the conclusion of the Tishrei marathon. We observed Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and now finally, Simhat Torah. We travel from personal introspection and repentance to fasting and the recounting of our many failings to the wandering and fragility of temporary booths to now the joy of Simhat Torah. We celebrate the conclusion of the Torah reading cycle and its simultaneous beginning. On this day we begin the cycle all over again. We believe that everything we ever wanted to know is in this scroll. It is only perhaps a matter of reading it at a different angle if the wisdom is not immediately apparent. This is because all wisdom is contained in this book. This day is therefore cause for great celebration. Simhat Torah is the quintessential Jewish holiday. It is about dancing and singing. And these more than anything else are more the Jewish postures than the fasting and litany of sins on Yom Kippur. We are supposed to celebrate. We are commanded to rejoic

Simhat Torah

What joy!  We begin the Torah reading again.  This is the sentiment surrounding Simhat Torah, the concluding holiday of the busy month of Tishrei.  On this day we proclaim, “I am privileged to reach this milestone again.  I am blessed to open this book again.  I am overjoyed that I can unroll the Torah scroll yet again.” For Judaism the greatest blessing is not the new, but to return to the old, the familiar.  We return to this same book year after year.  We read the Torah every year in the hope, and with the faith, that we will find something new there.  In these pages we believe we will discover something new and restorative.  It is this same sentiment that accompanies our visits to the land of Israel.  When we journey there we return to the land.  It may very well be a modern state but in our souls we know that we are returning to an ancient land.  This is Israel’s great and lasting power.  (We rejoice as well about Gilad Shalit’s return!) So much of modern day life is about the

Sukkot Sermon

This Shabbat we find ourselves in the midst of the holiday of Sukkot.  This day has its origins both in the agricultural seasons and Jewish history.  In ancient times our ancestors used to build booths at their distant fields in order to make the fall harvesting easier.  Our sukkot are thus reminiscent of this attachment to the land.  Our booths also recall our wanderings through the desert, wandering from our freedom in Egypt to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  We travel between Passover and Shavuot.  Sukkot therefore marks not a destination but a journey. Moreover the entire Torah is a record of this journey.  Like so many camping trips we were not always at our best.  As we traveled we sometimes complained.  This makes this holiday even more curious.  Here is a day that marks a journey rather than the arrival at the intended destination.  Ponder this.  Most holidays are about getting there, or getting out of there rather than traveling to there.  The message in this holida


This evening begins the holiday of Sukkot, the week long celebration that commemorates our people’s wandering in the wilderness as well as the fall harvest. Sukkot is observed in two primary ways.  We build sukkot, temporary booths, and spend as much time as possible in them, eating in them and even sleeping in them.   These sukkot must capture the temporary quality of our ancient dwelling places.  No home was viewed as permanent.  All were way stations on our millennial journey of return to the land of Israel.  We must be able to view the stars and especially the bright, fall harvest moon through the roof’s lattice.  This suggested the impermanence of our lives.  Nothing is forever.  The wind and rain can sometimes sting our faces.  Life sometimes brings tears. Second we take the lulav and etrog in our hands and wave them in six directions: east, south, west, north, up and down.  We do so in remembrance of the Torah’s command: “…You shall take the product of hadar trees (etrog), br

Yom Kippur

As we prepare for this holiest of Jewish holidays I often think of the Yom Kippur fast.  To be honest denying ourselves food seems so un-Jewish.  But this observance traces its origins to the Torah.  “Mark, the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement.  It shall be a sacred occasion for you: you shall practice self-denial…  you shall do no work throughout that day.  For it is a Day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:26-28) The ancient rabbis ask what is the meaning of this commandment of self-denial.  Being rabbis they answered their own question and said that five enjoyments are forbidden on Yom Kippur.  They ruled there is to be no eating or drinking, no wearing of leather shoes, no washing, no anointing with oils, and no sexual relations.  Again one might counter that taking pleasure in life is one of Judaism’s greatest teachings.  We do not belong to an ascetic tradition.  Monks are not our religious id

Rosh Hashanah

These High Holidays are given to us so that we may renew our commitment to our tradition and to each other.  We gather for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as well so that we can rekindle our commitment to improving ourselves and our world.  Let us gain inspiration from Elie Wiesel’s words as these tasks draw nearer.  Wiesel writes: I remember: as a child, on the other side of oceans and mountains, the Jew in me would anticipate Rosh Hashanah with fear and trembling. He still does. On that Day of Awe, I believed then, nations and individuals, Jewish and non-Jewish, are being judged by their common creator. That is still my belief. In spite of all that happened?  Because of all that happened? I still believe that to be Jewish today means what it meant yesterday and a thousand years ago.  It means for the Jew in me to seek fulfillment both as a Jew and as a human being.  For a Jew, Judaism and humanity must go together.  To be Jewish today is to recognize that every person is created in the


A prayer for the High Holidays, as we approach this period of introspection and repentance.   We recite this prayer at tashlich, when we gather and symbolically cast away our sins into the vastness of the sea. Let us cast away the sin of deception, so that we will mislead no one in word or deed, nor pretend to be what we are not. Let us cast away the sin of vain ambition which prompts us to strive for goals which bring neither true fulfillment nor genuine contentment. Let us cast away the sin of stubbornness, so that we will neither persist in foolish habits nor fail to acknowledge our will to change. Let us cast away the sin of envy, so that we will neither be consumed by desire for what we lack nor grow unmindful of the blessings which are already ours. Let us cast away the sin of selfishness, which keeps us from enriching our lives through wider concerns, and greater sharing, and from reaching out in love to other human beings. Let us cast away the sin of indifference, so that we