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Showing posts from January, 2012

Bo Sermon

In this week’s Torah portion we read of the final three plagues: locusts, darkness and the killing of the Egyptian first born.  That darkness must have been really terrible after spending all those days covered with swarming locusts.  That darkness was a torture of memories of prior plagues. Much of the focus of these plagues is obviously about how we respond to our enemies.  The message is clear.  If they don’t do what is right then bring on the plagues.  To reiterate, we have every moral right to battle our enemies, and even if necessary to kill those who threaten us.  Whether it is Pharaoh, Amalek, Haman; bin Laden, Hamas or Iran we have that moral right.  Clearly Israel and America live by this principle in the current clandestine war against Iran, and in particular against its efforts to build nuclear weapons. We are however limited in this fight.  We can only kill those who threaten us.  When the military is used as a means to mete out swift justice this transgresses basi


The tenth and final plague is wrenching.   Who among us could imagine a worse punishment?   The death of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare.   It was Pharaoh’s as well. “In the middle of the night the Lord struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on the throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle.   And Pharaoh arose in the night, with all his courtiers and all the Egyptians—because there was a loud cry in Egypt; for there was no house where there was not someone dead.” (Exodus 12:29-30) Such is the suffering of my enemies. The years in which we now live have given rise to many would be Pharaohs who seek to destroy all that we love.   There are too many who declare themselves our enemies.   Even though much has been accomplished to forestall their designs, we must remain forever vigilant.   Yet I wonder, can we sympathize with the pain of these Pharaohs while stil

Vaera Sermon

This week’s Torah portion is Vaera.  In it Moses goes before Pharaoh to tell him to let the Israelites go free.  It is rarely noted that Moses is 80 years old when he first appears before Pharaoh.  It is interesting that both Abraham and Moses achieved greatness during their older, retirement years.  Perhaps the Torah is suggesting that achievements are not of youth and strength and vigor, but of age and wisdom.  It is only after years of toil and learning that one can really achieve something of historical weight. We also read of the first six plagues—namely blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, cattle plague and boils.  This is preceded by what might be called dueling magic tricks.  Moses and Aaron compete with the Egyptian magicians, each performing magic tricks to impress Pharaoh.  There is the Bible’s age old favorite of turning a staff into a snake.  And this of course raises the question of magic and miracles. The first answer is that it is called a miracle if it is our side.


“Does kissing a stingray bring you good luck? Or breaking a mirror bring you bad?” a seventh grader recently asked. Thus began a conversation about superstitions. We talked about bendles and hamsas. We discussed the common middle school superstition of placing a spoon underneath your pillow and wearing your pajamas inside out to bring on a snow day. I challenged our 7th graders to a friendly bet. Knowing the next day’s forecast, I suggested that our students place a spoon under their pillow to make it snow. If it did indeed snow I would donate one dollar to tzedakah for each student. If it did not snow they would each have to bring in a dollar to place in the tzedakah box. They refused the challenge saying, “There has to be snow in the forecast for it to work.” I wondered aloud, “Then why not just watch the Weather Channel?” I challenged them further. “If you are wearing a red string on your wrist, is it then safe to run out into the street?” One student of course said, “


The moment arrives for all parents.  No longer are they called by their names.  They are known only in relation to their children.  “Oh hi, you must be Shira’s father.  Are you Ari’s dad?” It was the same for Moses’ parents.  “A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.  The woman conceived and bore a son…” (Exodus 2:1-2)  It is not until next week’s portion, after Moses speaks with God at the burning bush, that we learn the names of our greatest hero’s parents.  “Amram took to wife his father’s sister Jochebed, and she bore him Aaron and Moses.” (Exodus 6:20) Interestingly the revealing of this detailed information follows the revelation of God’s name.  Moses of course learns God’s name at the burning bush.  After this moment we then learn the names of Moses’ parents.  There are however even more curious details about names in the opening of the Book of Exodus. Moses is not named by his parents, but instead by Pharaoh’s daughter when she rescue

Vayechi Sermon

This week we read the final Torah portion of Genesis.  In it both Jacob and Joseph die.  Joseph dies at the portion’s conclusion.  Interestingly he is not buried in the land of Israel until the people are freed from Egypt over 400 years later after their slavery.  Jacob however is taken to the land immediately after his death.  The family travels there to bury him in Hebron’s Cave of Machpaleh. Prior to this Jacob gathers his children together for a final blessing.  His words read more like prophecy than blessing.  Let’s look at a few of the words he offers to his children. To his firstborn Reuben he says, Reuben, you are my first born, My might and first fruit of my vigor, Exceeding in rank And exceeding in honor. Unstable as water, you shall excel no longer… And, Simeon and Levi are a pair; Their weapons are tools of lawlessness. Let not my person be included in their council, Let not my being counted in their assembly. For when angry they slay men,


There is a flash of anger that runs through Israel’s priestly class.  It begins with Jacob’s children and courses through the tribe of Levi. In this week’s portion, Jacob gathers his children and grandchildren to his deathbed to offer final blessings.  “Simeon and Levi are a pair; Their weapons are tools of lawlessness.  Let not my person be included in their council, Let not my being be counted in their assembly.  For when angry they slay men, And when pleased they maim oxen. (Genesis 49:5-6) Such are the words Jacob offers to his sons Simeon and Levi.  And it is the descendants of Levi who become the Levites and the priestly custodians of the ritual cult.  Weeks ago we read of Simeon and Levi’s rage when they killed Shechem and his followers.  (Genesis 34) The brothers were enraged that Shechem had raped their sister Dinah.  Jacob however continues to worry that their anger will prove to be their undoing and unravel his legacy. In fact anger can be our undoing. E