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Showing posts from August, 2013


Children often leave their homes accompanied by warnings from their parents. “Don’t drink and drive. Text me if your plans change. Beware of strangers. Don’t do drugs. Watch out for those other kids.” This is God’s tone as well. The people are nearing the moment when they will cross into the land of Israel. God accompanies them to this door with warnings. “Well you know that we dwelt in the land of Egypt and that we passed through the midst of various other nations; and you have seen the detestable things and the fetishes of wood and stone, silver and gold that they keep. Perchance there is among you some man or woman, or some clan or tribe, whose heart is even now turning away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations—perchance there is among you a stock sprouting poison weed and wormwood. When such a person hears the words of these sanctions, he may fancy himself immune, thinking, ‘I shall be safe, though I follow my own willful heart…’” (Deuteronomy

Lobsters and Synagogues

James Surowiecki: The Surprising Complexity of Lobster Prices : The New Yorker James Surowiecki writes in The New Yorker about the complex pricing of lobsters. Apparently because of climate change there are too many lobsters and so lobstermen are forced to sell their catch for lower and lower prices. Some are barely able to stay in business. They have of course fixed costs like their boats, cages, crew and gas. Sound familiar yet? We have heating, air conditioning, roofs and staff. Despite their lower costs, restaurants have not lowered the price of lobster dishes. People value a good lobster dish, apparently. The price of delicacies are directly related to people's appreciation for them. Most people believe that a cheap lobster, like an inexpensive wine, tastes inferior even though you can obviously have an excellent $20 bottle of wine and a terrible $100 bottle. Much of taste is related to perception. And so it is with synagogues. Let us be forthright. There are more synagogu

Ki Tavo

The Jewish people are standing at the edge of the Promised Land.   Moses will not accompany them across the Jordan River.   He offers a farewell speech filled with warnings and admonitions. Cursed be anyone who makes a sculptured or molten image… Cursed be he who insults his father or mother… Cursed be he who moves his fellow countryman’s landmark… Cursed be he who misdirects a blind person on his way… Cursed be he who subverts the rights of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow… …Cursed be he who will not uphold the terms of this Teaching and observe them.—And all the people shall say, Amen. (Deuteronomy 27) Too often we read these curses as divine punishments.   Instead Deuteronomy’s curses are not threats but the recognition that our failures and mistakes, and even terrible wrongs, lead to their own negative consequences and therefore their own curses.   Blessings and curses are in fact in our own hands. Oftentimes when reading this list I find myself wo

Ki Tetze

The Torah remarks: “If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow.”  (Deuteronomy 22:1)  While I doubt that any of your neighbors has a pet ox or sheep, the intention is clear.  If we see a dog or cat wandering across our streets we have a responsibility to find its owner and return it to them.  Our tradition stands against the motto of “to each his own” or “it is not my problem.”  We are responsible for our neighbors.  We have an obligation to our community. This summer we were forced to replace our roof.  In many ways this was the most unsatisfying of home repairs.  It is of course far from inexpensive.  It does not change the appearance of the house in any appreciable manner, the way, for instance, a new and less expensive coat of paint would.  Still, we recognized that this would be our responsibility when we purchased the home ten years ago.  Our home is now 25 years old and it would be unreasonable to expect that the


The biblical basis for baal tashchit (do not destroy) is found within the laws regarding making war, found in this week’s portion: “ When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them.  You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down.  Are the trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?”  (Deuteronomy 20:19) Too often we focus on the legislation about war.  Yet discover here profound teachings about the environment.  “Are the trees of the field human?”  Nature of course commands respect and admiration.  Here, we are reminded that it demands care and concern as well or perhaps even more so.  The Talmud comments and expands the verse’s meaning: “Whoever breaks vessels, or tears garments, or destroys a building, or clogs a well, or does away with food in a destructive manner violates the negative mitzvah of   bal tashchit, do not destroy or waste.”


Although I have never traveled to the national parks of the Western United States I have always found the yellow leaves and white bark of the aspen to be the most beautiful of trees.  Recently I discovered that each stand of trees is not a collection of individual trees but instead limbs of the same organism.  In fact the world’s largest living organism is a stand of quaking aspens in Utah’s Fishlake National Forest.  The stand covers over 100 acres and consists of some 47,000 trees.  Scientists have determined that these trees are in fact one organism, identical to each other genetically and connected by a single root system.  The lesson is clear.  They appear to be individuals but are in fact a unified community. In one month we will gather to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and then ten days later Yom Kippur.  This period is called the Ten Days of Repentance.  Its intent is to focus our efforts on changing, on correcting our failings and mending our relationships.  According to the tr


The Book of Deuteronomy emphasizes that worship in general, and the sacrifices in particular, can no longer be performed in sanctuaries throughout the land, but must instead be centralized and moved to one location.  That location will later become Jerusalem and its Temple .  “When you cross the Jordan and settle in the land that the Lord your God is allotting to you, and He grants you safety from all your enemies around you and you live in security, then you must bring everything that I command you to the site where the Lord your God will choose to establish His name: your burnt offerings and other sacrifices…” (Deuteronomy 12: 10-11) Why would the one God need to be confined to this one place?  Moreover, how can God be confined to one location?  Historians and scholars have puzzled over this law, frequently repeated throughout Deuteronomy.  Biblical scholars suggest that the reasons for this law are political.  In their view it was written during a time when Israel ’s leaders w