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Showing posts from November, 2022

The Question Is the Sermon

The Hebrew word for sermon is drasha. It is derived from “l’drosh” meaning “to inquire” or “to expound.” The Torah relates: “The children struggled in Rebekah’s womb, and she said, “If so, why do I exist? She went to inquire (l’drosh) of the Lord.” (Genesis 25) Like Sarah before her and Rachel after her, Rebekah faces difficulty conceiving a child. God likewise intervenes and she miraculously becomes pregnant. Rebekah carries twin boys: Jacob and Esau. Their struggles, and battles, with each other begin before they are even born. And this causes their mother pain. Is her distress physical or emotional? I wonder. Why is pain the motivation for Rebekah’s question? Why does her struggle turn her towards God? Why does pain send us searching for answers from an unknowable being? Why do our struggles make us question our existence? God responds to her inquiry: “Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; one people shall be mightier than the other, and

Don't Ask Google, Ask Grandma

Rabbi Ben Zoma asks, “Who is wise?” He answers his own question and responds. “The person who learns from every human being.” (Avot 4) I am thinking about Ben Zoma and his teaching these days. Every day we read about the arrogance of tech wizards. Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, to name but two, seem to believe that the unparalleled successes of Tesla and Facebook make them experts in every manner of things. Will they learn? There is something to be said for leaning into the expertise of others. No one is expert in everything. Even starting a phenomenal company does not mean you can take over and improve another. Even creating a platform for over a billion users does not mean it will be used for good or that people will prefer the metaverse over the real world. Experience matters. Years and years of living, and working, offer wisdom. There is something to be said for leaning into the experience of those older than us. That is our tradition’s posture. Consult first what was said, a

Bringing Justice and Healing

There are no parallels in ancient near eastern literature to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible’s tale stands apart. Moreover, this episode in which these sinful cities are completely destroyed is referenced not only in this week’s portion but in several other instances in the Torah. Rabbi Gunther Plaut (1912-2012), a Reform rabbi and author of an exhaustive commentary, argues that “only a historic cataclysm of startling proportions could have impressed itself so deeply on popular memory.” These cities were situated at the southern end of the Dead Sea. There, even the air is thick with the smell of salt and sulfur from its mineral deposits and formations. Listen to the tale. “The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulfurous fire.” In addition, a fault line runs through this area, extending from Armenia to Central Africa. Scholars suggest, the rift valley is the result of a catastrophic earthquake. If its magnitude was significant, the earthquake could have raised the Dead Se

Who Is (Really) Rich

My brother called me and excitedly screamed. “Steve, I bought a lottery ticket. It’s up to 1.2 billion dollars!” “That’s great,” I said. “I am sure if you win, you will share it with your brother.” He retorted, “No can do. I already promised to buy the cashier a new car with my winnings.” Rabbi ben Zoma taught: “Who is rich? Those who are happy with their portion.” (Pirke Avot) For the ancient rabbis wealth is about perspective. Happiness is not a matter of winning the lottery. It is instead about being content with one’s lot. It is about not pining after what others have. To be fair. My brother has not lost perspective. His heart is truly filled with gratitude. I have great admiration for how hope rules his thoughts (and guides many of his sermons). Even 300 million to one odds will not deter him! The Torah calls to Abraham, “Lech lecha. Go forth from your native land.” (Genesis 12). It goes on to describes our forefather as wealthy. “Now Abram was very rich in cattle, silver and g