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Showing posts from February, 2022

How to Respond to War for Ukraine

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the incomparable nineteenth century Hasidic rabbi who lived and taught in what is now Ukraine, once said, “The whole world is a narrow bridge, but the essence is not to be afraid.” These days the world appears even more narrow. We are afraid. We watch in horror as ordinary Ukrainians fight battle hardened Russian soldiers. We worry about Vladimir Putin’s designs. We fear about the emerging humanitarian crisis. If you would like to support efforts to alleviate this crisis, I recommend the following: UJA-Federation of New York “In light of the escalation of violence, UJA-Federation of New York has approved up to $3 million in emergency funding to support the Jewish community of Ukraine. To date, $1.375 million has been allocated to our primary overseas partners — the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) — who have the capacity, experience, and reach to provide for the safety and well-being of the Jewish comm

Fire and Light; Fear and Awe

The Torah declares: “You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the sabbath day.” (Exodus 35) And the tradition constructs a myriad of laws so that one does not even inadvertently light a fire. Electric lights cannot be turned on or off. The stove is kept at a simmer. Driving cars is not allowed. The lighting of Shabbat candles is performed eighteen minutes before sunset and the kindling of the havdalah candle well after it becomes dark on Saturday evening. And while I am not observant of these prohibitions and drive and cook and turn the lights on and off (if one counts telling Google to do this for me) and even light Friday evening’s candles when our family is together rather than at the exact appointed minute, I understand the Torah’s intention of prohibiting kindling fires. Fire can be dangerous; it can burn. This is the essence of why it was prohibited. It can consume; it can destroy. Such powers are contrary to Shabbat; they are forbidden on this holiest of da

The Artist's Eye

The artisan, Bezalel, is chosen to fashion the tabernacle and its furnishings. He is from the tribe of Judah, the largest of the tribes. His assistant, Oholiab, is from Dan, the smallest tribe. According to the Talmud this shows that everyone is represented in the building of these holy items. The rabbis also suggest Moses was displeased that God did not choose him. He assumed God would have picked him because God chooses him to do everything else. Again, the rabbis offer a message. Don’t think that only someone as holy as Moses can draw near to God or in this case, help us build something that adds holiness to our lives. Anyone, and everyone, can help us fashion the sacred and draw the earthly closer to the heavenly. Moreover, Bezalel is endowed with a “divine spirit of wisdom, understanding and knowledge of every kind of craft.” (Exodus 31) He is a first rate artist. I wonder. What makes an artist top notch? Each of us has our favorite. I may be partial to Ansel Adams and others to

Lighting Jewish Flames

“What happened to the old eternal light? If it is eternal, how can it be replaced?” the seventh graders asked when our first class met in our newly renovated sanctuary. My answer that the new light is more beautiful and uses an energy saving LED bulb was met with disapproval. “It’s eternal!” they shouted back. I realized that as far as they are concerned our synagogue has always existed. The founding date of 1963 is just as distant as 1948, or for that matter, 70 C.E. This synagogue is the only place most of them have ever known. I imagine they also think this Jewish space will exist forever. Their synagogue is as eternal as the eternal light. Their questions made me realize that eternity is more about memory than fact. This can be a jarring realization. Every synagogue has an eternal light. In some they are modern. In others more traditional. I cannot think of a synagogue without this familiar symbol. The term, however, suggests a misunderstanding of the Torah’s intention. The Torah c

Holy Places

Our homes are called a mikdash ma’at, a small sanctuary, because this is where Judaism, and Jewish values are most lived. We can pray there. We can eat there. We can offer words of healing there. We can most importantly rejoice there. This is why as maddening as this pandemic continues to be, meeting on Zoom or livestream for what is now nearly two years, makes perfect Jewish sense. Abraham Joshua Heschel said, we sanctify time rather than place, moments rather than even mountains. We do not urge people to pilgrimage to far off destinations but instead compel them to allow a day, the day of Shabbat, to transport them to another place. And yet, this week we read God’s instruction, “Build for me a sanctuary that I dwell among them.” (Exodus 25) This is followed by a list of all the items the Israelites will need to build a portable tabernacle for God. It is quite an exhaustive list. Gold, silver and copper. Blue, purple and crimson yarns. Tanned ram skins and even dolphin skins. Despi