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Showing posts from May, 2012


During the days of early spring we were awakened at sunrise by a knocking on our window. It was a bird that was banging his beak on the glass. At first I thought it must be because there were some bugs on the windowsill. I investigated to see if I could remove this food. I discovered no such enticement. Then I learned that he was fighting with the bird he saw in the window. That other bird was in fact his reflection in our newly cleaned windows. I shouted, “Stupid bird! You are fighting with yourself. You gain nothing in these efforts. You impress no one by your incessant pecking.” The bird failed to heed my advice. I began to regret cleaning the windows. The holiday of Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It begins on Saturday evening. The Torah is likened to a mirror. In it we can perceive a vision of our better selves. The Torah is not a reflection of what we are but instead an intimation of what we can become. Too often we look in mirrors and see only our i


This week’s portion begins the fourth book of the Torah, Numbers. The English name comes from the Greek and Latin translations and has to do with what occurs in the opening chapters. The first chapter begins with a census, with a counting of the Israelites. The Hebrew name in contrast comes from one of the first words, Bamidbar and means “in the wilderness.” According to the accompanying Haftarah, Hosea, wilderness has both a positive and negative meaning. It can be the place where we hunger for food, and seek to quench our thirst. It can mean the desert. It is also the place where two lovers can be alone, where God and Israel can be joined. The prophet Hosea uses both of these images. Hosea first chastises the Israelites, accusing them of disavowing their relationship with God. “Else will I strip her naked/And leave her as on the day she was born:/And I will make her like a wilderness,/Render her like desert land,/And let her die of thirst.” (Hosea 2:5) Later, the prophet of

The Meaning of Our Bible

On Shabbat Behar-Behukotai we presented our sixth graders with their own Tanakh.  What follows is my sermon marking this occasion. This evening we will present our sixth graders with a Tanakh.  Each will receive a beautiful Hebrew Bible, containing the Torah, Prophets and Writings.  This will become the foundation for their future studies.  I am not of course only talking about bar/bat mitzvah studies.  I am speaking about their future Jewish lives. Our lives as Jews revolve around two books.  Most people of course think that our Jewish lives revolve around one place, the synagogue, or maybe around one person, the rabbi or the cantor.  But this is not the case.  Although we are overjoyed to be sharing this sanctuary with our Jericho Jewish Center friends, this is not what makes us Jewish. This is the place where we might feel most comfortable asserting our Jewish identity.  This is the place where we learn more about being Jewish, and where we of course pray, together, to ou


The Book of Leviticus that we now conclude is filled with details about the sacrificial cult, the establishment of the priesthood and the maintenance of the sanctuary.  Even in ancient times maintaining the temple was an expensive undertaking.  Thus scholars suggest that the final chapter (Leviticus 27) was an addendum to the book, saying in effect this is how we are going to pay for the preceding.   Everyone was asked to make votive offerings of silver or animals to help support the temple.  In this spirit I want to thank all who participated in last night’s dinner and fundraiser.  As in ancient days we as well depend on such offerings.  Thank you!  Most of all I continue to remain grateful for our spirit of friendship and community. Within our portion we also find details about land ownership.  “When you sell property to your neighbor, or buy any from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another.” (Leviticus 25:14)  The Talmud expands this rule to apply to more than real estate

Emor Sermon

This week’s Torah portion contains details about the priests.  There were extra requirements to serve as a priest.  It was not just a matter of birth.  An example: “The Lord spoke further to Moses: Speak to Aaron and say: No man of your offspring throughout the ages who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the food of his God.  No one at all who has a defect shall be qualified: no man who is blind, or lame, or has a limb too short or too long; no man who has a broken leg or a broken arm; or who is a hunchback, or a dwarf, or who has a growth in his eye…” (Leviticus 21:16-20) This appears objectionable.  Of course we welcome the disabled to the bima.  I believe all, for example, should have a bar mitzvah.  Jewish law of course suggests that only someone who has the requisite understanding can recite the prayers or read from the Torah.  Therefore someone who is mentally incapacitated is prevented from these rituals.  But in our congregation we make sure that every child has this


Sunday’s Times featured an interesting article entitled “ The Outsourced Life .”  Noted sociologist Dr. Hochschild argues that we seek professionals for more and more of our personal decisions.  “As we outsource more of our private lives, we find it increasingly possible to outsource emotional attachment….  Focusing attention on the destination, we detach ourselves from the small — potentially meaningful — aspects of experience. Confining our sense of achievement to results, to the moment of purchase, so to speak, we unwittingly lose the pleasure of accomplishment, the joy of connecting to others and possibly, in the process, our faith in ourselves.” Years ago when I went to my first bar mitzvah there was no such thing as party enhancers.  My friends and I made the party.  It did not matter if we danced expertly or not, as long as we danced.  (There were no give aways as well, only sweaty hugs of joy when the evening ended.)  As the article makes clear, years ago there were no life

Yom HaShoah Sermon

My sermon delivered on Friday, April 20, when we observed Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Commemoration  Day. “Good is something you do, not something you talk about. Some medals are pinned to your soul, not to your jacket.” I am, for many reasons, quite inspired by Gino Bartali’s story. In truth I remain inspired by so many of these stories of bravery and heroics. These stories comprise those of the Righteous among the Nations, Hasidei Umot Ha-olam. There are many stories of course that help us remember the Shoah. Far too many of them are stories of death and murder. There are as well many stories of survival. Each year our students are privileged to hear Annie’s story. I wonder, how many stories cannot be told by the six million Jews murdered. There are fewer stories still of those who saved Jews, of those who risked their own lives for neighbors and even strangers. On this evening I choose to recount another story of the righteous among the nations. I urge you to visit Ya

Yom Haatzmaut Sermon

My sermon delivered on Friday, April 27th when we celebrated Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day. I have often wondered why sympathy is more compelling than joy. Why does Yom HaShoah appear to be more observed than Yom Haatzmaut? Why does our people’s suffering draw us in more than our celebrations? We appear to respond more to the call of Jewish suffering and victimhood than to our joys and celebrations. A friend could be a case in point. He will respond to my posts about the Holocaust with comments such as, “That was an amazing video.” Yet about my love of Israel he will say, “You are going there again!?” I worry about American Jews’ ongoing commitment to Israel. About remembering the Holocaust I have less doubt given the extraordinary number of Holocaust museums that dot the American landscape. We live in an age where high school students across this land read Anne Frank’s diary and Elie Wiesel’s Night. Even in school districts where there are no Jews, students

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

The holiness code detailed in Leviticus 19 opens with the command: “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.” The chapter then goes on to describe in exquisite detail the means to achieving holiness.  Surprisingly these laws are not by and large about rituals but instead about ethical precepts.  Do not steal.  Do not place a stumbling block before the blind.  Love your neighbor. Throughout, the words of neighbor and fellow, stranger and poor are repeated.  We are commanded to love the neighbor. Do not hate your fellow in your heart.  Leave the gleanings of the field for the poor and stranger. In ancient times it was not only a mandate to give tzedakah to the poor but to allow them to gather their own food.  Farmers were commanded not to pick their vineyards bare or gather the fallen crops.  These were left for the poor and stranger.  This not only allowed them to gather necessary food but preserved their dignity as well.  It is this command that is one of the open