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Showing posts from September, 2014

Spotify and Synagogues: A Meditation on the Synagogue

What follows is the written text of my Rosh Hashanah morning sermon exploring why we need the synagogue. I would like to speak this morning about ancient history. On this Rosh Hashanah I wish to meditate on history and wonder aloud about our future. For this occasion I have unearthed a number of artifacts. Here is the first show and tell item. It is of course a record album, an exhibit of classic vinyl. I uncovered this in my basement buried in the boxes from our move eleven years ago to our current home. There remain my albums stacked neatly in the moving boxes, never again to be unpacked until this very moment. Some of my younger students might be marveling at this object. Yes, this is what I once used to play music. To put this in contemporary terms, this double album contains 26 songs, a mere fraction of the 1,000 songs presently on my iPhone. This of course is no ordinary album. It is Pink Floyd’s The Wall . I recall the discussions when this album came out. It wa

Rosh Hashanah and Rekindling Our Story

A story. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, was legendary in his ability to beseech God and thereby gain protection for his people. On one occasion, when the people of his town faced a grave danger the Baal Shem Tov left his modest home and walked deep into the forest. He found there a particular spot and kindled a fire. As he sat by the warmth of the fire, he recited a prayer asking for God’s protection and care. The great rebbe arrived back to town and discovered the threat had passed. Everyone believed that it was the Baal Shem Tov’s actions that had saved the community. Some time later the Jews of the town again found themselves facing danger. Their rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov’s disciple, remembered what his teacher had done a generation earlier. He resolved to do the same. He walked deep into the forest, found the exact same spot, and likewise kindled a fire. Then he realized that he did not remember the words of the Baal Shem Tov’s prayer. And so he sat by the fir

Nitzavim-Vayelech and Hidden Good

There is a legend about thirty-six righteous individuals who are so good and so noble that the world is sustained by their deeds. They are called the Lamed Vavniks (the Hebrew letters lamed and vav add up to thirty six). Crucial to this legend is the fact that their identities must always remain obscured. If but one of their names is revealed, another must take his place. Otherwise the world might teeter and even collapse. It is interesting to note that according to this tradition, our well-being is not only placed in the hands of a few righteous individuals, but in their identities remaining concealed. Why is it so important that they remain hidden? It is because the world really does require hidden sparks of goodness. Doing good should not be predicated on recognition or reward but instead on the needs of others, on the requirements of the world at large. That is the message of the Lamed Vavniks. They do good only because the world needs it. Their reward remains in God’s han

Ki Tavo and Treasures

What is a treasure? I can treasure something.  Some people treasure cars, others shoes.  More often people treasure not that which is the most costly but that which was given to them.  They then hold in their hands a keepsake.  The possession acquires value because of the giver rather than because of its monetary value.  My most valued kiddush cup is not that which is even the most beautiful but that which was given to Susie and me by her grandparents and which served the family for several generations. I can treasure a book, the Torah.  I wonder.  Does it matter which scroll I read or is it the words that I spend my years examining and pondering that are the more important and therefore the most treasured? I can treasure someone.  Most treasure family, a spouse, children, parents and grandparents.  I wonder.  Do their actions make me treasure them less?  If I become disappointed with them do I love them any less?  On the contrary, if they do something which makes me proud

Ki Tetze, Birds and the Breath of Goodness

According to Moses Maimonides this week’s portion contains 72 mitzvot, far more than any other Torah portion.   Within this plethora of commandments we discover: “If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young.   Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life.”   (Deuteronomy 22:6-7) This is an interesting command.   It is important to note that the Torah does not just deal with ritual life but with ethical obligations.   Moreover the Torah’s concern extends not just to human beings but to all of God’s creatures.   Still, one wonders how this act is a measure of compassion.   The tradition reasons that the mother must be sent away so that she does not see her young taken.   Human beings are allowed to make use of God’s creation, and even creatures, but with this permissi