Two strand weave through Jewish traditions about holiness. In one strand, holiness is primarily about space: the Mishkan, the Temple, and the synagogue are sacred spaces where people could and can touch the divine, and we go to them to have these experiences, which can happen at any time. In the other strand, holiness is primarily about time: Shabbat, holidays, and life events from birth to death provide sacred moments in which we can experien
This is Shabbat Zachor, the "Shabbat of Memory," on which we remember Amalek, the ancestor of the wicked Haman, villain of the Purim story - which we will read on Wednesday night at our joint Purim celebration. The Torah commands that we "wipe out" the name of Amalek, a commandment that we fulfill on Purim by making lots of noise whenever Haman's name is mentioned. But why is it so important that we retain such bad memories, the times in which th
What if the opposite happened, not just in the Purim story, but also in our lives? What if the state of the world brought us not to despair but to resolve? What if horrific gun violence did not dissolve us in a sea of tears and "thoughts and prayers" but strengthened our courage to stand up and end it? What if awareness of our vulnerability prompted us not to withdraw from the world but to engage more deeply? What if
On Wednesday night we will enter the month of Adar, the month of the holiday of Purim. On Purim we will read the crazy, upside-down story of Queen Esther, where despite evil counselors and foolish kings, all turns out well, and we are commanded to shout and sing and drink and eat in celebration. But what if we don't feel like celebrating? What if we're not feeling the joy? In the world around us, injustice and threats to liberty and well-being abound;
On Monday we will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his fight for racial and economic justice in the U.S., and it is amazing and wonderful that we have such a day built into the calendar of this country. However, it would be a mistake to surround Dr. King's story with a golden glow, seeing a universally-acclaimed hero who succeeded in ridding the U.S. of its racist heritage. In remembering Dr.
In this week's Torah reading, when Abraham despairs, God directs him to look to two places to find comfort: to the dust of the earth and to the stars in the heavens. Why? When Abraham looks to the dust of the earth, he is reminded of the human community that surrounds him and provides his life on earth with meaning and connection. When he looks up to the stars, Abraham is reminded that he is also connected to something far beyond t
The horrible gun violence in Virginia directed at Republican members of Congress this week shocks us, and of course we condemn it and pray for the recovery of its victims.
The words "truth" and "true" pervade Jewish prayer, and we even explicitly identify God with truth at the end of the Sh'ma. This speaks to the high place that Jewish tradition assigns to truth as a divine value, a bright light that shines into our sometimes murky human world.
When the Holy Blessed One created the first human beings, God took them and showed them all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to them, "See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are! And everything that I created, I created it for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world, for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it." (Midrash Kohelet Raba 7:19)
This Tuesday night, we will begin the festival of Shavuot, a holiday that celebrates the giving and receiving of Torah. Jewish tradition teaches that, in each generation, we
In the mystical Kabbalistic way of counting the Omer (the days between Pesach & Shavuot), we are in week 6, the week marked by the quality of y'sod. The word y'sod literally means "foundation," but to the mystics, it also suggests the idea of "connection" and is associated with the Biblical figure of Joseph.
This week's Torah portion, Emor, begins by addressing the Israelite priests, the sons of Aaron, and giving them a long list of restrictions they must follow in their service of God and the people. This emphasizes a theme in the Torah: leadership is about service, sacrifice, and humility, not power, privilege, or pride.
In 1954, Congress drew a careful line for religious institutions, legislating that religious leaders and organizations could speak out on social and political issues but could not endorse or oppose candidates for office. Although a small number of religious leaders have recently been advocating against this rule, as has the White House, the rule is overwhelmingly supported by both liberal and conservative clergy. Why?
We read in the Torah this week about tzara'at, an affliction that can affect not only people but also objects that come from the natural world. The idea that both humans and nature are tied together, susceptible to the same afflictions and benefiting together from the same blessings that God showers on the world, is a constant theme in the Torah.
The obligation to remember the Holocaust calls on us to grapple with the horror and tragedy of the destruction of European Jewry and the individual stories of the six million Jews who lost their lives to a murderous ideology of hate directed at Jews for being Jews. In Israel, this day is known as Yom HaShoah v'ha-G'vurah - a day of destruction and strength or heroism.
Tonight, our Friday night service will be abbreviated in honor of the Pesah holiday, as we omit the Kabbalat Shabbat portion of the service and begin with Ma'ariv. As it is told in the Midrash, when the the Israelites were fleeing Egypt, Nachshon was the first to dip his toes into the Sea of Reeds, and only then did the waters part.
The Talmud (Gittin 41a) takes up the strange case of a person who is half slave and half free. What can such a person do, and what can they be? How can they interact with others?
People often ask for advice on which Hagadah they should use for their Pesach seder, and there are indeed a wide variety of hagadot coming from every conceivable angle and expanding the story of the Exodus in a myriad of directions. But even more important than choosing a hagadah is deciding how it will be used.
On Tuesday we will celebrate Rosh Hodesh Nisan, entering the month of Pesach, which tells us that our seders and celebrations are only a few weeks away. One of the key teachings of the holiday is that the move from slavery to freedom is not just an historical story, and it is not just a story that's relevant to Jews.
Jewish teachings deal directly with a central fact of human existence: human life is short. The reality that our time on this earth is limited prompts two key imperatives. First, we must use our precious time wisely, doing our best to use our talents to help others, to act with kindness, and to move the world just a little bit forward toward a more perfect future.
In this month of Adar, and especially on the holiday of Purim, we are taught that we should be at least twice as happy as we normally are. How can this be? As I have often noted, it is not because we expect that on Purim the world and our lives in it will suddenly be transformed and perfected.
One of the things that the patriarch Jacob learns on his journeys that we begin reading about this week is that he cannot sit on the sidelines waiting for change to happen by itself.
On this Veteran's Day we remember the hard work and sacrifice of those who have taken up arms in the service of this country.
As we reach the end of this long and tumultuous election season, I wanted to share with you this prayer from the Rabbinical Assembly that reminds us of the awesome power of voting and asks God for guidance and insight as we make the weighty decisions before us.
This week's Torah portion, Ki Tetse, contains a large number of diverse mitzvot, but many of them circle around a common theme: treating those we encounter equally. From the laws of returning lost objects to the requirement to use honest weights and measures, these mitzvot ask us to hold ourselves to a fixed standard of behavior whether we are interacting with a relative, a neighbor, a stranger, or even an enemy.
This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, gives instructions to judges about how to "pursue justice." In particular, the Torah advises judges to avoid partiality to any side. They are not to favor the poor out of sympathy or the rich out of fear, and they are not to take bribes that might affect their judgment.
As August draws to a close, and September approaches on the horizon, I want to offer as a kavannah (intention) a poem by Zelda, translated from the Hebrew by Marcia Falk.
If we look at the stories of the matriarchs and patriarchs of the Torah, we see again and again that they face enormous challenges as they seek to follow a path toward God. The ancient rabbis taught that this is no accident. Facing difficult challenges is an important part of the journey of the Jewish people, shaping our character and destiny. Without them, we would never be able to reach the highest parts of ourselves.
In the coming week, on August 9th, we will mark the second anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, an event that unleashed a firestorm of protest over the unequal treatment of black people by police in particular and racial inequality in the U.S. in general. We are still hearing the echoes of Ferguson in the continuing discourse about racial justice taking place in our country today.