Skip to main content


Showing posts from August, 2014

Elul and Good People

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “The good person is not he who does the right thing, but he who is in the habit of doing the right thing.” It is simple, and perhaps easy, to do a single good deed, to volunteer at a soup kitchen on a Sunday, to write a check to a needy charity, to offer one apology to a person wronged, or to attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services.  These are all worthy endeavors but Judaism is not about the solitary act but instead about a litany of acts, a lifetime of doing right.  Our faith is about creating a discipline of doing, about ritualizing behaviors. This is why Judaism sets aside not two days for the task of repentance, or even ten, but instead forty.  On Tuesday, with the new moon of Elul, this forty day period of introspection and repair began.  It began with Rosh Hodesh Elul, gains momentum with the meditative Selichot service (on Saturday, September 20 th at 7 pm), further intensifies with the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and reaches a cr

Reeh, Friends and Enemies

In the traditional haggadah we read the following prayer when opening the door for Elijah: “Pour out your fury on the nations that do not know you, upon the kingdoms that do not invoke your name, for they have devoured Jacob and desolated his home. Pour out your wrath on them; may your blazing anger overtake them. Pursue them in wrath and destroy them from under the heavens of Adonai!” Added to the haggadah during the murderous Crusades, these words seem out of step with our modern, universal values. Even though we are sympathetic to the origins of this prayer, our liberal haggadahs have deleted it from our Seders. We speak instead about the messianic peace that Elijah will announce rather than the vengeance he might exact. This week’s portion echoes these sentiments and begins with a similar refrain. Here it is not a prayer but a command. “You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshipped their gods, whether on lofty mountains or on hills under

Ekev, Bread and Faith

This week we read the famous line: “…man does not live on bread alone.”   But what exactly does this oft-quoted phrase mean? First let’s examine the context: God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that He might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep His commandments or not.   He subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the Lord decrees. The clothes upon you did not wear out, nor did your feet swell these forty years. Bear in mind that the Lord your God disciplines you just as a man disciplines his son. Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God: walk in His ways and revere Him.   (Deuteronomy 8:2-6) Looking at the larger context we learn that this is a lesson about tough love.   God subjects the Jewish people to hardsh

Vaetchanan and Pleading for Peace

For all his successes and triumphs, our hero Moses is denied setting foot on the Promised Land. Because he grew angry at the Israelites and hit a rock, God states that he will not be allowed to enter the land of Israel. This week Moses begs God to change this decree: “I pleaded with the Lord… Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan…” (Deuteronomy 4:23-25) The commentators are bothered that Moses pleads. Begging appears beneath him. His words seem undignified for a leader. They wonder as well how Moses can question God’s judgment. The medieval writer, Moses ibn Ezra, suggests that even in this instance, Moses, who the tradition calls “Moshe Rabbeinu—Moses, our Teacher,” is offering a lesson. And what is it that he teaches the people? It is a lesson about the supreme value of living in the land of Israel. It is as if to say, “Living in the land is worth pleading.” The modern commentator, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, reads this passage differently.