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Showing posts from November, 2011


I wonder what family meals were like in Isaac and Rebekah’s house.   Isaac favored one son, Esau.  Rebekah favored the other, Jacob.  There was, I would imagine, palpable tension between their children.  On one occasion Esau returned home after hunting for game.  He was terribly hungry.  Jacob refused to give him some of the lentil stew he was preparing until Esau agreed to sell him his birthright.  Esau was so hungry that he spurned his birthright?  Jacob was so devious that he took advantage of his brother’s weakness?  Where was Rebekah while her children fought?  Where was Isaac? On Thanksgiving we gather with family and friends.  In every gathering there are similar tensions.  There might be the aunt who always asks too many personal questions.  There could be the distant cousin who appears to sit in judgment of everyone else.  Take comfort from the Torah.  Tensions were part and parcel of every family, even our first Jewish family. In this week’s Torah portion we see how

Ryan Braun Wins MVP

Ryan Braun Wins MVP - by Marc Tracy - Tablet Magazine Which is better?  Ryan Braun winning MVP or the Cardinals winning the World Series?   The Cards!  Nonetheless this should be noted especially as we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday that marks the confluence of our American and Jewish values. Marc Tracy writes: Jewish slugger Ryan Braun was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player today, becoming the first Milwaukee Brewer to win the honor since Robin Yount in 1989 (when the Brew Crew were in the American League) and the first Jew since Sandy Koufax in 1963 (the Dodger great won three Cy Young Awards but only one MVP—the short list of pitchers who have accomplished both gained a new member this year, as Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander took home both in the AL). The other Jewish MVPs include Al Rosen (1953), Lou Boudreau (1948), Hank Greenberg (1935, 1940), and … that’s it. So, yeah, historic. On to football season!

November-December Newsletter

What follows is my November-December Newsletter message in which I answer our students’ “Ask the Rabbi” questions. What is my favorite color? Blue.  I like the blue of the Israeli flag.  I like the blue of the sky.  Blue has always been a favorite Jewish color which is why it is often found in a hamsa, a Sephardic amulet.  There is in fact a synagogue in Safed, Israel, the heart of Jewish mysticism, whose interior is painted blue.  Everywhere you turn in Safed you find this blue.  Oops, sorry you just asked about my favorite color.  It is blue like the sky.  When is my birthday? July 1, 1964.  21 Tammuz 5724.  The Torah portion Pinhas was read in synagogue on Shabbat a few days later.  Look at what you can learn from the internet! What is my favorite food? I love hummus.  It is healthy and delicious and can be added to anything.  Zohan was wrong, however.  It should not be used in your hair.  You really should try some hummus. How did God get the idea for Hebrew?


A disturbing video shared by my colleague, Rabbi Andy Bachman. His post is a poignant, and unsettling, reminder of the dangers of power. Like him I love Israel but continue to stubbornly believe, even though some will also say, naively believe, that what we most love must sometimes be subjected to critique  Only through honest heshbon hanefesh, examining oneself, can we grow better.   I share this more for what Andy writes than what the video portrays. Like so many Jewish communities who find themselves gathered inside a synagogue each week to celebrate Shabbat, ours was filled to overflowing this past weekend--young and old of all ages, from sundown Friday til sundown Saturday. We honored ten of our members who served in the American Armed Forces at a special Veterans Day Shabbat Friday evening, commemorating the service of men who were in the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Saturday in the morning there was learning, Shir l'Shabbat, Yachad, Altshul,

Chayei Sarah Sermon

This evening we learn of three cities and three lessons.  Each of these cities offers us a value and a cautionary note.  We relearn these values and we recall their accompanying cautionary notes. The first city is from the Torah portion.  It is Hebron.  In this week’s Torah portion Sarah dies at the age of 127 years.  Abraham mourns her and seeks to buy a burial plot.  He purchases the Cave of Machpeleh from Ephron, the Hittite.  We learn that Abraham pays more than the asking price and thus Hebron becomes the first Jewish city.  From this city we are reminded that the land, the land of Israel, is holy.  It is made holy by Sarah’s death and by Abraham’s purchase. Here is where it all started.  Our faith began in Hebron, located in the modern day West Bank.  Thus it is not just any land that the Palestinians claim. It is our people’s as well.  When it comes time to make peace (may that day be very soon) it will not be as simple as withdrawing from Gush Katif in Gaza.  And if yo

Israel IQ by Stand with Us

A congregant shared this video with me.  It is a powerful, if unfortunate, reminder about how little people really know about Israel and the issues and conflicts in the Middle East.  I could do without some of Mark Schiff's sarcasm, but it is understandable.  There is so much more teaching to be done!

Chayei Sarah

Most of the stories in Genesis focus on the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We learn little about Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. This week however we read of the death of the first matriarch, Sarah.  “Sarah’s lifetime—the span of Sarah’s life—came to one hundred and twenty-seven years. Sarah died in Kiryat-Arba—now Hebron—in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.”  (Genesis 23:1-2) Sarah’s life appears to be defined only by the few episodes in which she accompanies her husband Abraham.   She joins Abraham on his God ordained journey to the land of Israel.  She laughs at the thought of giving birth to a child at the age of 90 (Genesis 18).  Miraculously she does give birth to this child and he is named, “Laughter—Isaac.”  Abraham and Sarah celebrate the birth of this hoped for, prayed for, and longed for child.  Sarah proclaims: “God has brought me laughter; everyone who hears will laugh with me.  Who would have said to Abraham t

Vayera Sermon

As I always teach, we do not choose our bar/bat mitzvah portion, it chooses us. The challenge is to wrest meaning from the Torah’s words. Week in week out, year after year, we have to read all of the Torah’s words. We have to find meaning in its laws, in its intricacies, in its stories. That is what it means to be a Jew. We must apply the words of the Torah to our daily lives. And so here is this week’s story and lesson. First a reminder about the story and the somewhat sordid details of how Abraham and his wife Sarah deal with their first son Ishmael and his mother Hagar. After Sarah gives birth to Isaac she sees Hagar’s son Ishmael as competition and so instructs Abraham to kick them out. Abraham is at first distraught and consults with God who tells Abraham to listen to his wife Sarah. Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael into the desert with meager rations. They nearly die in the heat, but are rescued by God and the appearance of a miraculous well. It is a wrenching story. It


This week we hear Hagar and her son, Ishmael, cry out in pain.  They have journeyed into the desert and have exhausted their meager supply of food and water.  After the birth of Isaac to Sarah, Abraham sends his older son, Ishmael, and his mother, Hagar, out to the desert.  “When the water was gone from the skin, she left the child under one of the bushes, and went and sat at a distance…thinking, ‘Let me not look on as the child dies.’  And sitting afar, she burst into tears.” It is a wrenching story.  Abraham and Sarah, now the parents of Isaac, banish Hagar and Ishmael to the desert.  How remarkable that this is the Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah.  On this most sacred of days we read a story that concludes with a promise to the other.  How extraordinary that our sacred book preserves the cry of those outside our Jewish circle.  Moreover, how remarkable that our Torah affirms God hears this cry, most especially when those emerge from pain. The message is clear. 

Global Hunger Shabbat

Here is how I started my day.  I dropped off leftover food at a local soup kitchen.  In fact my car’s trunk was overflowing with bagels and cookies.  Only a few hours later I went to Whole Foods to get lunch.  I spent $15 for my quick lunch.  A person living on food stamps gets $5.50 per day.  Later tonight I will go home and will make dinner.  I have not yet decided what I will prepare but I will open the refrigerator and search for inspiration.  My day’s total will far exceed the allotment given to a person living on food stamps. I am fortunate that I can buy anything I want.  I am blessed.  I may not choose to eat everything, but I am richly blessed that I have so many choices.  This afternoon I could choose between the salmon with lemon butter, Mediterranean steak, brussel sprouts or quinoa salad.  What variety will Whole Foods offer me today?  This is how we eat. Contrast this with the pictures from East Africa.  There is a famine raging there that has claimed 10,000’s of live

Lech Lecha

This week’s Torah portion is Lech Lecha.  It is the story about the first Jews, Abraham and Sarah.  In the opening of the portion Abraham is called and commanded to venture forth to a new land, the land of Israel.  In the conclusion of the portion the covenant is sealed with Abraham and Sarah.  For Abraham the sign of the covenant is circumcision.  According to the rabbis Sarah goes to the mikvah to seal the covenant.  Both Abraham and Sarah take on new names as symbols of their new identities.  In the interim our heroes struggle—unsuccessfully—to have a child together.  Ishmael is however born to Abraham through Hagar.  It is not until next week’s portion that Sarah gives birth to Isaac.   The promise of that birth is issued this week. “When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am El Shaddai.  Walk in My ways and be blameless.  I will establish My covenant between Me and you….  And you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraha