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Showing posts from October, 2012

Lech Lecha

Rabbi ben Zoma taught: Who is rich?  Those who are happy with their portion; as it is written (Psalm 128:2): “You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors; you shall be happy and you shall prosper.” (Pirke Avot 4:1)  For the ancient rabbis wealth and riches are about perspective.  Happiness is not a matter of winning the lottery.  It is instead about being content with one’s lot.  It is about not pining after what others have. This week we see that Abraham is described as wealthy.  “Now Abram was very rich in cattle, silver and gold.” (Genesis 13:2)  The Hebrew uses a curious phrase.  “Avram kaved maod…” A literal rendition might thus read: Abram was very heavy with cattle, silver and gold.  The Hebrew suggests that he was weighed down by his riches. The plain meaning is clear.  The journey on which God sends Abraham is difficult not only because he must leave his ancestral home but also because of all the riches he must carry with him.  It is not easy to travel across the desert w

Newsletter Article

My most recent article from our congregation's November-December 2012 newsletter. Years ago I participated in an Outward Bound survival course in coastal Maine.  Part of the program was a three-day solo.  Each participant was dropped off on an island.  My island was called “Little Thoroughfare.”  Little was an accurate description.  I could walk the circumference of the island in a mere 10 minutes.  I was expected to build my own shelter using only a plastic tarp and whatever other supplies I could find.  I was also expected to forage for food.  Fresh water would be resupplied every day when the instructors checked on me.  A tiny granola bar was provided as a treat.   I spent my days eating dandelions and wild peas. My grandfather, who survived the depression and eked out a successful living despite the fact that did not graduate from high school, thought my adventure was among the craziest of my ideas.  (My daughter who is named for him agrees with this assessmen

Mekor Chaim Lech Lecha

The following commentary was distributed by the Jewish Federations of North America.  I continue to participate in its Rabbinic Cabinet. Seemingly out of nowhere God calls Abraham, “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you…’” We are left to wonder why Abraham?  What was it about his character that made God choose him? The rabbis of course spin many midrashim to explain this.  The most famous of which is the story about the time young Abraham was working in his father idol shop.  Abraham smashes all the idols except one and then when his father confronts him, he blames the single idol.  His father screams, “That is ridiculous!  An idol can’t destroy other idols.”  And Abraham says, “Exactly!”  A statue of wood and stone cannot be responsible for our lives.  In that moment Abraham begins to realize that there is only one God who moves heaven and earth. Moses Maimonides as well offers a similar insig

Lance, Minus Seven

We just finished reading Noah and its story of the flood.  The portion begins: "Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age..."  The central, and unanswerable, question about Noah is: was he righteous just in comparison to his terrible generation or would he have been called righteous in any generation? Yesterday we learned that Lance Armstrong will be stripped of his seven Tour de France victories.  No one will be awarded the victories in his place.  Too many others were implicated in the doping scandals.  All potential victors are tainted. My children know that it is never justification that everyone is doing it.  If it is wrong, it is wrong. If it is right, it is right.  Right and wrong must stand on their own, not on the shoulders of others.  Our actions must stand for all generations.  The fact that so many other cyclists were doping is no justification for Lance's actions.  Doping provides an unfair advantage.  Worse might be Lance's self righte

My Food Stamp Challenge

For the week of November 11-17 I will be participating in the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge.  I  am going to spend only $31.50 on food for the week.  That is $4.50 per day.  This is amount those who live on food stamps are provided with.  I am unsure that I will be able to succeed given all of my dietary restrictions (kosher and gluten free) as well as some of my more expensive tastes (blackberries and yellow peppers) , but I do plan on learning a great deal about the challenges far too many Americans face.  45 million Americans receive food stamp benefits!  I will post my thoughts and experiences during the week.  If you would like to support the organization sponsoring the challenge follow this  link . It was not so long ago that we read the words of Isaiah: No, this is the fast I desire: To unlock fetters of wickedness, And until the cords of the yoke To let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, And to take the w

Noah Sermon

This week’s Torah portion describes Noah and the flood.  Everyone is familiar with the story.  Noah is described as a righteous man in his generation.  One of the questions is: was he righteous just in comparison to his own lawless generation or would history judge him as righteous for all time?  I wonder why he did not argue with God.  The rabbis suggest that he took his time building the ark so that others might ask questions about his project.  His grand building project was meant to prod others.  It was meant as prompt for their repentance.  It of course failed in this endeavor.   And we are left wondering about his righteousness.  All the inhabitants of the world were destroyed save Noah and those he rescued on the ark.  After the floodwaters recede a rainbow appears and a covenant is sealed.  God looks at the rainbow and promises never again to destroy the world. A rainbow is the gift following a storm.  But almost immediately the people stray.  They try to build


The concluding chapter of this week’s portion describes the first real estate development project, the construction of the Tower of Babel . Here is that episode.  Humanity bands together to build a tower that reaches to heaven.  They say, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.” (Genesis 11:4)  God is not pleased with their efforts and says, “If, as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach.   Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there, so that they shall not understand one another’s speech.” (11:6-7) Thus the first building project does not go so well.  The people want to build the tallest building possible. God apparently sees this as an offense or perhaps even a threat.  Only God dwells in the heavens.  And so the tower remains unfinished.  We remain human.  We

High Holiday Sermons

You can listen to my High Holiday sermons below.  You can read and download the written texts  here . Rosh Hashanah Morning Yom Kippur Evening Yom Kippur Morning As well as this year's discussions. Rosh Hashanah Evening Rosh Hashanah Second Day

Bereshit Sermon

This week’s portion begins the Torah. It is filled with many different stories. There is the creation of the world and of Adam and Eve, and then of course their eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and finally the first murder, that of Cain killing Abel. There are many interesting questions about this portion. Here is just one.  Why does the Torah begin with the Hebrew letter bet? This may not be your question or even mine, but it is one of the rabbis. One would think that our most important book would begin with an alef. Why would the Torah begin with the second letter of alphabet? The rabbis ask and answer: “Why was the world created with the letter bet? Just as the bet is closed on three sides and open only in front, so you are not permitted to investigate what is above the heavens, and what is below the deep, what is before the six days of creation and what is to happen after the world’s existence. You are permitted to explore only from the time the worl


The Torah is excessive in its prohibition of idolatry.  In fact there is no prohibition repeated more frequently in the Torah.  In the Ten Commandments, for example, we read, “You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4)  Why is idolatry so terrible?  If God is infinite why would fashioning a sculptured image be so harmful?  God cannot be contained by a statue or figurine.  How could the creation of such an image be damaging to God? Abraham Joshua Heschel answers this question.  It is forbidden because the only acceptable image of God is a human being.  Idolatry is not damaging to God.  It is that there is only one possible image of the divine.  And that is the one we fashion by living our lives.  Our lives are a reflection of the divine.  We cannot construct a figurine.  Instead we must live our lives, each and every day, each and every moment, as if we a

Simhat Torah

Yehuda Amichai, the great Israeli poet, writes: The precision of pain and the blurriness of joy. I’m thinking how precise people are when they describe their pain in a doctor’s office. Even those who haven’t learned to read or write are precise: “This one’s a throbbing pain, that one’s a wrenching pain, this one gnaws, that one burns, this is a sharp pain and that—a dull one. Right here. Precisely here, yes, yes.” Joy blurs everything. I’ve heard people say after nights of love and feasting, “It was great, I was in seventh heaven.” Even the spaceman who floated in outer space, tethered to a spaceship, could say only, “Great, wonderful, I have no words.” The blurriness of joy and the precision of pain— I want to describe, with a sharp pain’s precision, happiness and blurry joy. I learned to speak among the pains. It occurs to me that the Jewish tradition attempts exactly this, it strives to be exacting about joy. It provides us with precise days for our rejoicing. This week we