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Showing posts from June, 2012


Years ago my family and I spent a day hiking in the wilderness of Zin.   We complained about the lack of food and water.  We complained that we were still wearing the same clothes since our arrival.  (The airline had lost our luggage.)  Our guide was determined to bring us to the spring of Ein Avdat.  When we finally arrived we asked, “This is a spring?  The water is so dirty.  It looks more like a puddle.”  I am sure our leader thought to himself, “Those spoiled Americans.  They should spend some time in the Israeli army.” “The Israelites arrived at the wilderness of Zin…  The community was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron.  The people quarreled with Moses, saying, ‘If only we had perished when our brothers perished at the instance of the Lord...  Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates?  There is not even water to drink.’”    (Numbers 20:1-5) The Israelites complain a grea

July-August Newsletter

Below is my message from the July-August 2012 Newsletter. This past week we began packing up our supplies at the church. After 16 years of calling the Brookville Reformed Church home we are moving on to the next stage in our journey together. The cantor and Kim packed up the Hebrew School supplies. I tended to the ritual items and the prayerbooks. As I packed up the prayerbooks I imagined those who sat in these pews and held them in their hands. I thought of all those who turned the prayerbook’s pages marking the happy occasions in their lives. And I thought of those who stained them with their tears when they stood up from shiva and returned to their congregation. How many shouts of mazel tov were heard by these siddurim? How many anguished cries poured on to their words? I still believe what I have said many, many times. It is these prayers that have carried us from place to place. Too often people confuse a congregation with a building. They think the synagogue is

Behaalotcha Sermon

Below is the sermon from Friday, June 8, 2012. At the conclusion of the parsha we find an interesting story about Miriam, Moses’ sister. She criticizes her brother about his Cushite wife. She is apparently dark skinned and clearly not an Israelite. By the way the translation is confusing. The standard English translation suggests that both Miriam and her other brother Aaron criticized Moses about this. But the Hebrew is more specific. Only Miriam spoke against Moses. They both however criticize Moses with these words: “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us as well?” Wow, that is harsh. This does not sound much different than Korah’s later charge. “For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?” As you know Korah and his followers are severely punished for their rebellion. But in our Torah portion, Aaron is not punished at all. Only Miriam is.


This week’s Torah portion contains the story of the most famous of the rebellions against Moses’ authority.  Korah and his followers rebel against Moses.  “They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far!  For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst.  Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?’”  (Numbers 16:3)  Korah and his followers are severely punished for rising up against Moses.  “Scarcely had he finished speaking all these words when the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions.” (16:31-32) On the surface the rebels’ critique does not appear to justify such harsh punishment.  For centuries commentators have offered different interpretations, attempting to explain why their complaint was so problematic.   Some have argued that it was how they questioned Moses’ authority.  Korah

Thank You

This past Shabbat we offered thank yous to our friends at the Brookville Reformed Church for hosting our congregation these past sixteen years.  What follows is my sermon marking this occasion. Let me begin my remarks by first reassuring our friends at the church. We are leaving here for one simple reason. We need larger space. You have only made us feel most welcome. In fact we stayed longer than either of us ever imagined we would. This could only have happened because of the generosity of spirit that you extended to us. I hope and pray that we will remain friends, that our congregations will continue to work together. I pledge to you this evening that we will continue as we have for the past sixteen years, to purchase the Advent candles that you use to count the days toward Christmas. My heartfelt prayer is that although we will no longer be regular guests here at the church we will continue the spirit of brotherhood that we have forged here. I will miss you. I will mi

Shelach Lecha

Some thoughts about the weekly Torah portion and contemporary events...  There is currently a heated debate about the limits of secrecy and the public disclosures about the Obama administration’s clandestine efforts against Iran and Al Qaeda.  In particular the current administration is accused of using its covert successes for political gain.  Let me offer a few contributions to this discussion. It should first be noted that all presidents use the spy agencies for their own political advantage.  President Bush certainly used them to bolster his desire to invade Iraq .  In fact it now appears that the claims of WMD were based on faulty intelligence at best or completely fabricated reports at worst.  When making such judgments about our leaders we tend to be more forgiving of those politicians we support and more critical of those we don’t like.  Such is human nature.  We must therefore cast these feelings aside and debate these matters in an open and honest way. Secrecy always


This week’s Torah portion retells the story of Miriam criticizing Moses.  “Miriam spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married.”  (Numbers 12:1)  We learn elsewhere, in Exodus, that Moses’ wife is Zipporah who is a Midianite.  Here it suggests that she is dark-skinned and therefore perhaps from Ethiopia.  Regardless she is not an Israelite.  Was this the basis of Miriam’s criticism of her brother Moses? Their brother Aaron now joins the critique and he and Miriam offer more harsh words, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?  Has He not spoken through us as well?”  (12:2)  Were they jealous of their brother Moses?  Did they want to lead the Israelites as well?  Did they believe, as Judaism does, that everyone and anyone can have a relationship with God?  This criticism appears well founded. Nonetheless, the medieval commentator, Rashi, suggests an alternative explanation.  He imagines Miriam criticizing her brother for neglecting his wife.  Moses is singula

Naso Sermon

Let me offer some very brief words of Torah. I cannot pass up the opportunity to teach when so many people are here, but I also don’t want to stand in the way of the delicious dinners that await us. The Torah portion contains the vow of the Nazir. As a measure of extra piety a person could pledge to abstain from alcohol, not cut his hair and avoid contact with the dead. It should be self-evident that I am not a Nazir. (That is a bald joke not a drinking joke.) The most famous Nazirites were Samuel and Samson. (I am thankful to those who caught the Springsteen reference in the email blast. “Romeo and Juliet, Samson and Delilah…’Cause when we kiss, Fire.”) But the question for this evening is about vows, oaths and promises. People make promises all the time. There are the familiar New Year’s pledges of promising to work out more. I promise to eat less, drink less. I pledge to give more to tzedakah. I vow to learn more, or attend services more often. Whatever forms these


Years ago I hiked in the Judean desert to Wadi Qelt.  There I discovered small caves dug into the sides of the mountains.  These were caves for Christian monks who had pledged to live a life of solitude and denial.  Their meager rations were placed in a bucket that was then lowered from the cave’s mouth.  There was one small cave for each monk.  My friends and I looked at each other and said, “How un-Jewish!”  Denying yourself food is not the Jewish way.  Yom Kippur, despite its importance, is not emblematic of our tradition. This week’s Torah portion, Naso, describes the ancient Nazirite vow in which a person pledged to abstain from alcohol, refrain from cutting his hair and avoid contact with the dead.  This was a voluntary rite and could be made as a life-long pledge or for as brief a period as one month.  By making this vow an individual sought a deeper connection to God and an increased measure of holiness.  The most famous of Nazirites were Samuel, the prophet who we read abo