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Showing posts from June, 2015

Hukkat, Forgiveness and Righteous Anger

The rabbis imagine King Solomon, considered the wisest figure in the Bible, saying, “I have labored to understand the word of God and have understood it all, except for the ritual of the red heifer.” (Numbers Rabbah 19:3) I struggle to understand a great many things. In particular I labor to understand the events of this past week. These words echo in my thoughts. “I forgive you! You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.” Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, one of the nine victims murdered at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, uttered these words. They were said at the bond hearing of confessed murderer Dylann Roof. I find these sentiments both remarkable and incomprehensible. Whereas forgiveness is central to Christian teachings, although the depths of such forgiveness may very well exceed that of many Christians, just

Korah, Arguments and Disagreements

“Jane, you ignorant…” With these words Dan Aykroyd would begin his counterpoint to Jane Curtin’s point on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. We of course knew this line was coming, but still we laughed. Why? Because we understood that this is not how people are supposed to argue and debate. This week we read about Korah and his rebellion against Moses and his leadership. History deems it a rebellion rather than a revolution. Here is why. Korah’s followers exclaim, “Is it not enough that you brought us from a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, that you would also lord over us?” (Numbers 16:12) They do not argue, they attack. They infer that Egypt, the land of their slavery, is the Promised Land. They lash out at Moses. I am sure there were legitimate criticisms of Moses’ leadership style. He is overly passionate and given to fits of anger. He is hesitant to share the burden of leadership. He, and he alone, is privileged to speak face t

Shelach Lecha, Sailing and Fear

This past Sunday I participated in the annual blessing of the fleet. The clergy from Oyster Bay each took turns blessing the boats that paraded in front of the dock. We blessed kayakers and clammers, yachts and sailboats. We offered spontaneous prayers asking God to provide first and foremost safety and protection, but also sun, wind and enjoyment. In the case of the clammer I prayed for a bountiful harvest as well. (I am sure there is a joke to be found there. Did you hear about the time the rabbi prayed for clams?) It was a beautiful afternoon. There was comradery in our prayers. There was joy on the vessels. John Augustus Shedd, an early 20th century American author, writes: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” Setting sail presents unexpected dangers. And yet how do we forge new paths and discover new truths if we don’t set out? Can a blessing offer protection for the journey? The tradition prescribes the traveler’s prayer: “May it be You

Behaalotecha, Shepherds and Wandering

The greatest of our biblical heroes begin their careers as simple shepherds. Why? It is because shepherding demonstrates the necessary credentials to transform a group of distinct individuals into a community. Abraham, Moses and David gently guide their animals throughout the wilderness, even taking note of a stray sheep or goat. Even God is praised with the words: “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me to still waters…” (Psalm 23:1) And yet the people often refuse to be guided. The Book of Numbers is a record of these refusals, and rebellions. Moses struggles to lead the Jewish people forward; they over and over again wish to go backward. “The riffraff in their midst felt a gluttonous craving; and then the Israelites wept and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There