Skip to main content


Showing posts from December, 2021

Don't Walk Away from the Heart

Joan Didion writes: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” The Talmud reports: “Rav and Shmuel disagree about the interpretation of the verse, ‘And there arose a new king over Egypt who knew not Joseph.’ One says this means he was actually a new king, and one says this means that his decrees were transformed as if he were a new king.” (Sotah 11a) It is a fascinating disagreement. One rabbi believes, as I had always thought, that it was in fact a new king who did not know about all the good Joseph did for Egypt. Perhaps he was not told. Or perhaps so many generations passed since Joseph’s death that the stories about his ingenuity were lost to Egyptian storytellers. The other rabbi suggests that it was not so much about the forgetting of history, or more precisely the failure to teach history, but instead about the king’s character. The king, as rulers so often do, became enamored with his p

Merry Christmas!

What follows is my brief message from December 24th Shabbat evening services. Merry Christmas. I recognize that this is a surprising statement to hear at Shabbat services, but it is my wish for our Christian neighbors and friends. This evening of course marks Erev Christmas, Christmas Eve. And I very much like wishing my Christian friends a heartfelt Merry Christmas. I don’t very much like the bland and nondescript Happy Holidays. I prefer that we know the greeting that evokes meaning to our friends and is most authentic to their faith. Knowing what is important to our neighbors is a significant quest. This week we read the opening chapters in the Book of Exodus. Our stay in Egypt, which began with Joseph and his brothers, turns ugly and turns into the slavery that we retell at our Passover seders. There is one reason why a new Pharaoh enslaves us. It is because he forgets. His failure to remember all the good Joseph and his descendants did for prior generations of Egyptians

Curse the Alphabet, Bless the Air

The Book of Exodus begins, “These are the names…” And yet my thoughts gravitate not towards the children of Israel listed in that opening chapter but the Greek letters that have become part and parcel of our everyday conversations. Delta and Omicron, Zeta and Iota. I was not in a fraternity, so I never learned the Greek alphabet. I sometimes struggle to pronounce our most recent dreaded name. And here is my latest realization. I don’t very much like these letters. Their names instill fear. Between the named hurricanes that enter our vocabulary when the weather whips past the letter Z to this most recent Covid-19 variant that upends our lives, and our plans, in a matter of days, I am starting to recoil before this Greek heritage. All I can think about is Sisyphus and that cursed boulder. When will this cycle ever end? I understand why the Greeks held on to that myth. It feels like the push-ups will never let up. Then again there is much in Greek philosophy that captures my heart a

Bless Your Kids

When our children were young, and now when they return home for Shabbat and holidays, we place our hands on their heads and offer the tradition’s blessing: May God make you like Ephraim and Manashe. (Genesis 48) May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. May God bless you and guard you. May God’s face shine on you and be gracious to you. May God’s face smile at you and grant you peace. And here is my confession. The first time, and even the second and third times, we offered this blessing, it felt unnatural and awkward. We did not grow up in homes in which our parents recited these words. Of course, our parents hugged us. Of course, they wrapped their arms around us and said, “We love you.” This ritual formulation, however, was foreign. And so, when I began saying it, I felt like an interloper. “Who am I to say these words?” I thought. It all felt so strange. Our children also sometimes protested. They shouted that I was hugging them too tightly. Or that I was messing u

Change Is Who We Are

I often hear people say that the Orthodox way of life guarantees Judaism’s survival. I hear this argument from all manners of Jews, from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews. The notion is that only strict observance and inviolability guarantees the Jewish future. This is false. I understand when I hear this argument from Orthodox Jews because it makes sense that they would believe their commitments are the true path. It saddens me when I hear this from fellow Reform Jews because it suggests a lack of faith in our own chosen path. This week we conclude the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph has framed his brothers by hiding a goblet in his brother Benjamin’s bag. Joseph accuses the brothers of thievery and threatens to jail Benjamin. Rather than allowing Benjamin to be carted away and made a slave, as they did to Joseph so many years ago, Judah draws near to Joseph and begs that his younger brother be spared. Judah pleads, “Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slav

Our Sanctuary Dedication

What follows is my sermon and message on the occasion of dedicating our congregation's newly renovated sanctuary.  This is indeed a blessed evening. We are thankful to those who volunteer to serve our congregation and help it make it even better. We are thankful for this holiday of Hanukkah that sheds light on our lives during the darkest time of the year. And we are thankful that not only can we gather together, but that we do so in this beautiful, newly renovated sanctuary... Ten years ago, this is not what anyone at the Jewish Congregation of Brookville ever imagined. Ten years ago, this is not what anyone at Oyster Bay Jewish Center ever imagined. And yet here we are and now we are Congregation L’Dor V’Dor and we must no longer look back to what we imagined long ago, but instead only forward to what I believe will be a strong future filled with much song, many celebrations, lots of lots of Jewish teaching, and plenty of spiritual uplift. In this sanctuary, we will celebra

Seeing the Good in Wrong

Joseph is a stunning character. Despite adversity he achieves great renown. His brothers first try to kill him and then sell him into slavery in Egypt. He quickly becomes Potiphar’s most trusted servant. Then when he refuses the advances of Potiphar’s wife, she becomes enraged and accuses him of trying to molest her. Joseph is thrown into jail. There he interprets dreams, in particular those of the chief cup bearer (can someone please provide me with the job description for this position?) and chief baker. His interpretations are proven true. The chief cup bearer is restored to his position and the chief baker is executed. Lo and behold, Pharaoh is plagued (get it?) by repeated, disturbing dreams. No one can interpret them. The chief cup bearer reports that he met this guy in jail who has a unique ability to interpret dreams. Joseph is summoned to Pharaoh’s palace. He is cleaned up and given fancy clothes. He interprets the dreams to mean that there will be seven years of plenty fol