Light Over Might

December 5, 2018
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Light Over Might

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One of the primary messages of Chanukah is to avoid assimilation at all costs. But how often do we hear that the Chanukah story is about religious freedom? As if any religion would have been OK, so long as everyone got to choose for him or herself. Is that really true? Can we possibly imagine old Mattathias, leader of the Maccabees, accepting a compromise whereby the east wing of the temple would have offered kosher sacrifice, while, in the spirit of pluralism, the Hellenistic Syrians were featuring pork barbeque on the west side?

Let’s make no mistake; the Maccabees did not fight for religious freedom, but to cleanse the land for the worship of the one true God of Israel. While they fought to end the Greek cultic practices imposed through the military tyranny of Antiochus, the Syrian Greek ruler, they also fought to end the long-felt effects of assimilation. The hard-to-swallow truth is that many Jews then, as today, envied the freedom and fanfare of the nations, and were all too happy to put off the yoke of Torah. The war opposed the attractive popular spectacle of uncircumcised athletes in public sport as much as it did the forced sacrifices to Zeus in the Great Temple. It should not surprise us then that the greatest miracle of Chanukah is not the immediacy of military triumph, but the sustenance of the Divine light. Read more »

Vayeshev – Servants of The Holy Blessing One

November 28, 2018
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Vayeshev – Servants of The Holy Blessing One

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So often it would seem that the focus within American Judaism is on impressive edifices, building funds, synagogue attendance and business protocols – and why not? These values merely mirror those of our everyday lives. Sadly Judaism appears to have forgotten the purpose of Jewish identity. We were not called to be Jews in order to spread borscht belt humor, or believe it or not to give the world the perfect bagel. We were called, and are still enjoined, to be a people of priests, a holy nation. Our mission in the world is to embody a communal life that will concretize God’s highest values, holiness, learning, sensitivity and justice. We are called to be a living testimony of the faithfulness of the Creator, who maintains His creation in love. As we pray every Shabbat, we are summoned to be “servants of the Holy Blessing One.” Read more »

Vayetse – Finding Our Rosebud

November 12, 2018
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Vayetse – Finding Our Rosebud

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The movie Citizen Kane has been voted by many film academies and publications to be the greatest American movie of all time. Though the film’s cinematography was cutting edge in 1941, these are certainly not up to the technical capabilities of today’s films, so it is rather the penetrating story that has kept this classic on the top of the experts lists for over half a century. It is loosely based on the life of William Randolph Hearse, but it is really a searing look into human desire for love, acceptance, success and peace. Read more »

Toledot – The Power of Blessing

November 6, 2018
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Toledot – The Power of Blessing

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We tend to think of people; who lived long before us as primitive and less intelligent. Yet, contemporary Americans have made the alternative medicine industry a multi-billion-dollar throwback to the ancient craft of herb treatment. Studies have shown that the age-old practice of therapeutic massage has amazing healing results. And despite the obvious benefits of e-mail, blogs and social media, there truly is no substitute for the human voice and especially face-to-face contact. It would appear then that sometimes the “old-fashioned” way is the best way. It behooves us then to try to understand why both Jacob and Esau seemed to place such a high price on their father’s blessing. Read more »

Chaye Sarah – The Ongoing Miracle of a Life Well Lived

October 30, 2018
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Chaye Sarah – The Ongoing Miracle of a Life Well Lived

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It is noteworthy that this week’s portion, which is entitled, Chaye Sarah, the life of Sarah, actually chronicles the matriarch’s death and burial, and her husband’s contemplative mourning. It begins though with a one sentence retrospective of her life. “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years: the years of Sarah’s life.” (Breshit 23:1)

Rashi explains that the repetition of years divides Sarah’s life into three periods, each with its own uniqueness. At one hundred she was as sinless as a twenty-year-old, for until the age of twenty, a person does not suffer Heavenly punishment, and at twenty she still had the wholesome beauty of a seven year old, who does not use cosmetics and whose beauty is natural. Rashi’s creative exegesis points out that each latter stage of Sarah’s life was indelibly tied to each preceding period.

It should also be noted though that the conclusion of Sarah’s life would be equally tied to the life of Rebekah, who would succeed her as the matriarch of Abraham’s household and the wife of her only son Isaac. It has been said that which a caterpillar considers the end of life, the Master calls a butterfly. So it is with a righteous person and their progeny. Not one of us can view the full value of our lives, but time will measure our lives as they continue in the lives of those we touch.

One of my favorite movies to watch is Frank Capra’s delightful fantasy “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The protagonist of the movie George Bailey, weighed down by the trials of life wishes that he was never born. His wish is mysteriously granted by a challenged junior angel named Clarence who allows George to see how many lives would have been severely impoverished had he never existed. What he truly sees is the tremendous value of his life, a life well lived, and how it continues in perpetuity in the lives he loves. George mostly is allowed to see the small miracles that happen when souls touch in the passage of life. So did the souls of Rebecca and Isaac touch each other, and by no coincidence continue the life of Sarah. Read more »

Lech Lecha – The Syntax of Silence

October 17, 2018
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Lech Lecha – The Syntax of Silence

These are anxious times. Many people are facing significant changes in their lives and the long-standing institutions that help inform their lives and lend them a sense of security. People often feel insecure regarding their safety, their finances and the social structures they have come to depend on.  Divisive politics have divided neighborhoods, communities and even families. Wars, rumors of wars and natural disasters proliferate, and social media casts blame and aspersions on everyone.  At times like this it is easy to ask, “where is God?” and “why is He so silent?”

A terse reading of Torah might unintentionally suggest that our biblical role models heard from God unceasingly and as a result proceeded on their journeys without question or doubt. In fact, our modern sensibilities understand faith as the absent of doubt. But the Torah instead demonstrates that our ancestors were filled with doubt. Abraham was filled with doubt. They worried about their lack of heirs, their relationship with neighbors, and the health, safety and welfare of their families. But over the long haul they continued despite long periods of apparent silence from Hashem. According to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel there is “syntax” to that silence, and when we learn it we can hear the voice of the soul and the voice of our God.

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