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Showing posts from February, 2016

Ki Tissa and the Power of Patience

What is the greatest sin ever recorded? According to the tradition it is the building of the Golden Calf, a story recorded in this week’s portion. The root of this sin is impatience. “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him.’” (Exodus 32) If we read even more of the story we discover that it is not only the people, but also Moses, and even God who stand guilty of impatience. If we are honest with ourselves we might also realize that many of our own problems, as well as the vociferousness of our current political debates, are caused by this very same flaw. The Hebrew word for patience is savlanut. The root of this word is saval, meaning to bear a heavy load or even to suffer. There is much to learn from the Hebrew’s root. Patience does involve great

Tetzaveh and Making Light Again and Again

Thousands of years ago we decided the Torah is so important that we would read it in one year’s time and that we would repeat this year after year. Every single year we read about Adam and Eve and Moses’ death. Every fall we look anew at God’s promise to Abraham. Every spring the sacrifices and the laws of keeping kosher. Every summer the mitzvah of the tallis and the story of the spies scouting the land. And every winter we examine the words we uncover again this week, those about the eternal light: “You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly.” (Exodus 27:20) Regardless of the year the very same stories and the very same laws punctuate our seasons. The portions are how we count the year. They are how we mark time. Their words are married to the seasons as warmth is to summer and snow is to winter. Just as spring will soon welcome us with its flowers, we will continue to march through the Torah.

Terumah, Gift Giving and Valentines Day

Judaism places greater emphasis on deeds rather than inner motivations. No one can know what is in other person’s heart. No one can bring proper intention to every single deed. Therefore Judaism emphasizes action over belief, mitzvot over creed. Abraham Joshua Heschel remarked: “There is power in the deed that purifies desires. It is the act, life itself, that educates the will. The good motive comes into being while doing the good.” (God in Search of Man) Motivation and intention are shaped by our deeds. Feeling follows action. Yet this week’s portion suggests otherwise. “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts [termuah]; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” (Exodus 25:2 ) Only gifts from those whose hearts are filled with proper intention are accepted by God. Is the construction of the Tabernacle the exception to the rule? Must our acceptance of gifts be dependent on the giver’s “inspired heart”? Is a gift about the object or th

Rabbi David Hartman z"l

On this, the third yahrtzeit for Rabbi David Hartman, I recall his words and teachings with fondness. I long for his words to resound throughout our synagogues, this nation and the State of Israel. Each generation has to receive the Torah in its time.  One must renew the interpretative boldness that has always existed within the Jewish tradition.     We have never been fundamentalists.  We have never been literalists.    Fundamentalism is grounded in ignorance, in the false need for feeling I've got the final word.  I don't have to think anymore.  I can now go to sleep because the truth is in my pocket.   If you go to sleep because the truth is in your pocket that is the best way to lose it. I continue to relish Rabbi Hartman's teachings and his call for a courageous faith replete with far more questions than answers. In fact, I rest better because of our questioning.  I rest easier because of our reasoned and loving discussions and debates. I thank m

Mishpatim and Its Contradictions

There are two contradictory impulses within our beloved Torah. On the one hand, we are better than them. “Whoever sacrifices to a god other than the Lord alone shall be utterly destroyed.” (Exodus 22:19) And on the other, we can do better for them. “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:20) The two verses stand side by side. Within our tradition (as well as other religious traditions), we see interpretations of chosenness colored by chauvinism and exclusivity. God’s love and concern is only befitting those who worship like us, those who behave like us, those who are like us. With the drawing of such lines, we become like privileged royalty, elevated above all others. We also see chosenness as elevating our duty to others, as requiring of us an even greater responsibility to others. Yes this can at times be a burden, but it also provides a path to meaning. Chosenness then becomes a call to protect the i