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Showing posts from September, 2016

Rosh Hashanah's Hopes and Prayers

A Hasidic story. There was once was a villager who, on the High Holidays, would pray in the Baal Shem Tov’s synagogue. His son was not the most intelligent of children and had not yet mastered reading, much less the words in the prayer book. So his father never took him to synagogue. But then the boy reached the age of bar mitzvah and so his father decided to take him to synagogue on Yom Kippur. He was nervous about what the boy might do so he kept a watchful eye on the boy lest he, for example, eat on the fast day. The boy had a little flute, which he would often play. He would bring the instrument everywhere. The father did not realize that the boy had brought the flute to synagogue—on Yom Kippur. At services boy sat in silence while people prayed around him. During the Musaf service, the boy whispered to his father: “Father, I want to play my flute.” The father then became terrified and reprimanded his son saying, “Not here! Not now!” This happened again and again. As th

Ki Tavo and No More Either/Or

This week’s Torah portion begins with the rituals we are to perform when entering the land that God promises. After harvesting the first fruits of the season the farmer performs a special ceremony. He brings a basket of fruit to the priest who then places it on the altar. The farmer then recites the following ritual formula: “My father was a wandering Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there… The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O Lord, have given me.” (Deuteronomy 26:5-10) In this brief formulaic encapsulation of Jewish history, the Torah emphasizes our journey from wandering to landedness. God brought us from slavery to freedom and from the wilderness to the land of Israel. It is interesting, and perhaps curious, to note th

Fifteen Years Later: A Prayer

Lord our God, I offer this prayer fifteen years after the 9-11 attack. On the morning of September 11, 2016, I felt once again the comfortable cool air of a late summer day and turned to look up at the deep blue sky. And all I could think about was that terrible, dark day of fifteen years ago. I thought of the fear and terror of that morning. I remembered those taken from our midst and how they were robbed of their futures. And I was robbed of their companionship. All I could think about were those smiling photographs looking up at me from our newspapers. They were torn from our families; they were stolen from our homes. My heart remains wounded. Now even so many years after that day, I strain to hear their voices. I long to feel their embrace.... This post continues The Wisdom Daily.

9-11 and Making Holy War

The Bible’s Book of Deuteronomy, which Jews are in the midst of reading, details the laws about making war. It is worth noting that although we might prefer to cling to the words of the prophets and their lofty visions of peace: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation” or “The wolf shall lie down with the lamb,” the Jewish tradition is not a pacifist tradition. It allows for war. The Book of Deuteronomy in fact recognizes that this will be the Jewish people’s lot when they cross the Jordan and conquer the land of the Canaanites. It most especially recognizes that sometimes we must fight wars of self-defense. Of course, before attacking an enemy terms of peace must be offered. The Bible continues. The priest speaks to the troops and says: “Sh’ma Yisrael—Hear O Israel! You are about to join battle with your enemy. Let not your courage falter. Do not be in fear, or in panic, or in dread of them. For it is the Lord your God who marches with you to do battle…” (Deuteronomy

Shoftim and a Lynching Tree

What is so terrible about a tree? In keeping with Deuteronomy’s near obsession with idolatry and its desire to eradicate all objects of foreign worship from the land of Israel, we read: “You shall not set up a sacred post (asherah)—any tree-like object beside the altar of the Lord your God that you make—or erect a stone pillar; for such the Lord your God detests.” (Deuteronomy 16:21-22) Last week’s theme continues through this week. An asherah, sacred post, was apparently a standing wooden object erected at a place of worship. In other words it was a totem pole. It could have also been a particular type of tree that was deemed sacred by the ancient Canaanites. Or, perhaps it was a tree that was planted near their temples. Interestingly the name for a Canaanite goddess was Asherah. Trees, or wooden objects, were thus associated with this goddess and explicitly forbidden. The sentiment is clear. Anything that even approaches Canaanite religion or worship is forbidden. The message is emph

Turning Home

A story by Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, the unparalleled 18th century Hasidic rabbi. There once was a Jew who lived in the great and tumultuous metropolis of New York. (Ok, I changed the city from Prague). One night he dreamed that he should journey to San Francisco (I think it works better than Vienna). There, at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, leading to the overpriced homes of that vibrant and bustling city, he would find a buried treasure. Night after night he dreamed the same dream. The image of that glistening red bridge, shrouded in fog and connecting San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean, occupied his thoughts. He resolved, he must travel there. He left his family behind and traveled west to California. There he was certain he would find the treasure about which he dreamed. Given the current age of terrorism in which we now find ourselves, the bridge is under constant surveillance. Finding the buried treasure might prove more difficult than he had planned and