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The Land of the Philistines

11/14/2019 04:20:14 PM

Nov14

This week, conflict flared in Israel and Gaza. Israel assassinated an Islamic Jihad terrorist who was planning attacks on Israeli civilians. His peers responded with over 450 rockets against Israel. Millions of Israelis fled for shelters, and it is only thanks to the Iron Dome system that there were only close calls, and not significant civilian casualties on the Israeli side. Unfortunately, in the process of targeting Palestinian terrorist...Read more...

Starting the Book Again

10/24/2019 04:23:35 PM

Oct24

This weekend, as we begin reading the Torah anew, our Jewish community is marking a year since the attack on the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh. We will be marking #ShowUpForShabbat at our 6:30 PM service on Friday night with words of memorial, and we have invited members of the larger community to join us. There are many other observances throughout our community, including a gathering at 2:00 PM at Shearith...Read more...

Lulav and Sukkah- Reaching Up and Reaching Down

10/17/2019 01:51:31 PM

Oct17

Sukkot is distinctive among Jewish holidays in that it has two primary practices that are quite different from each other: the lulav and the sukkah. The differences between them can teach us something important about our own spiritual experience.

The lulav and the sukkah diverge in almost every dimension. The lulav set must be made from four specific species, and there are dozens of imperfections that render it invalid, whereas the...Read more...

Yayakhel: Too Young to Pray?

10/03/2019 03:59:59 PM

Oct3

This Shabbat, the holiest shabbat of the year, we read Parashat Vayelekh, which includes one of the final commandment in the Torah, called Hakhel. God commands the Israelites to have a special gathering every seven years to bring together men, women, children, Jews and non-Jews alike to hear the Torah being read. One thing that is remarkable about the commandment is that it includes not only adults and older children, but even the youngest...Read more...

Catching Up

09/19/2019 01:34:02 AM

Sep19

It is not by accident that Ki Tavo, the portion we read this week, is always read in the two weeks before Rosh Hashanah.  Famously, it speaks of the consequences brought upon the Jewish people, blessings or curses, depending on whether they follow God’s will or not. It makes sense - this is a time when we are contemplating the consequences of our actions, positive and negative, and how they will bear fruit in the year to...Read more...

Guarding the Gates of our Souls

09/05/2019 01:53:09 PM

Sep5

This week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, describes in depth the organizational structure that the Jewish people are to set for themselves in the promised land. King, prophets, priests, generals, elders, judges and officers each have their role in insuring an orderly civil society. 

The portion begins by commanding that Judges and Officers are to be set “in all your gates.” The plain sense of the text could have been...Read more...

Loyalty and Disloyalty

08/22/2019 04:06:11 PM

Aug22

Parashat Ekev is all about loyalty. Moses reminds the Jewish people that there are many situations that will test their loyalty to God. Will they maintain their faith when they are in the desert, living meal-to-meal with manna and carrying only the clothes on their backs? Conversely, will they continue to sustain their faith when they are living in a land full of riches, and it would seem like they don’t “need” God’s help at all? The...Read more...

America's Tisha B'Av

08/08/2019 04:46:54 PM

Aug8

Our American community is still reeling from two mass murders that took place last weekend, in El Paso, Texas and Dayton,  Ohio.  The details and motivations may be different, but in both cases, troubled young men armed with automatic weapons shot into crowds of innocent people.   These are, of course, just the latest in literally hundreds of mass murders in recent years.  Cities and communities will continue to mourn...Read more...

Three Kinds of Leaders

07/25/2019 01:02:56 AM

Jul25

How does one rise to leadership? As God reminds Moses that he will die before entering the holy land, Moses is distraught that the Jewish people will be like “sheep without a shepherd.” Though God appears to offer a favored solution, our Torah portion, Pinhas, suggests three very different models.

The first model of leadership is that of Pinhas himself. When there is a crisis in the community and a breach of...Read more...

Holy and Equal

07/03/2019 04:24:56 PM

Jul3

Over three thousand years ago, in words recorded in our portion this week, a bald, Levite rebel named Korach, surrounded by 250 of his minions, declared: “It is too much for you, for all of the congregation are holy.”

Two hundred and forty-three years ago, on July 4th, a group of rebels wearing wigs signed a declaration. "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their...Read more...

Counting to Ten

06/24/2019 04:26:04 PM

Jun24

The idea of minyan, of requiring a quorum to constitute a community for prayer, is one of the most basic ones in our Jewish tradition. Why are ten Jews required for this purpose? Our tradition presents several explanations, but the Talmud’s classic answer (Megillah 23b) weaves together three disparate sections of the Torah including with a passage from this week’s parashah. Moses sends twelve spies to investigate the land of Israel. Two...Read more...

Naso and a Higher Power

06/13/2019 04:31:01 PM

Jun13

Every Tuesday night, our congregation hosts an AA meeting, for those recovering from addiction, and every Wednesday night, we host an Al-Anon meeting, for those who have been impacted by loved ones facing addiction. I’m sometimes asked why we make space available for these programs at some of our busiest times, even on holidays when we normally do not allow outside groups to use our space. The answer, on a basic level, is that these...Read more...

The Value of a Life

05/30/2019 04:31:43 PM

May30

This week’s portion, Behukotai, describes the process whereby, a person may dedicate to God the “value” of another person as a donation. It challenges modern sensibilities because the amount of the valuation changes based on the age and gender of that person. Can one human life be valued more than another? How can a financial value be placed on life at all? A careful reader will also notice that there is no value given for the life of a...Read more...

Anne Frank's Mouth

05/16/2019 09:45:14 AM

May16

Our congregational mission to Eastern Europe experienced so many different aspects of our history and heritage, and we could not avoid visiting many sites remembering the Holocaust and its victims. These sites have very diverse flavors and intentions.  Some identify culprits and collaborators while others deflect blame.  Some try to create perspective on the enormity of the horror, others focus on  the impact once...Read more...

Yom HaShoah

05/02/2019 09:47:08 AM

May2

Today, Jews and many others around the world are commemorating Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day, remembering the murder of six million of our brothers and sisters.  At B’nai Torah have marked it in special observances with our religious school and dailyminyan.  We also encourage everyone to take part thecommunity-wide observance this coming Sunday.   This year, our observance of these days is further...Read more...

Seeing Ourselves

04/18/2019 09:48:31 AM

Apr18

We read, at the seder, “In every generation, each person is supposed to see themselves as if they had emerged from Egypt.”   That’s why we tell the story of the seder in the first person.  Each of us is supposed to see it as our own story, to make it personal.   Our B’nai Torah Passover video (https://www.facebook.com/BnaiTorahAtlanta/videos/647588305680309/) reflects that theme in one way, but the...Read more...

A New Conception

04/04/2019 09:49:20 AM

Apr4

Our Torah portion this week begins with an assumption “Ishah Ki Tazria”- “A woman shall conceive.” It takes as its starting point, even an expectation, that a woman will become pregnant and, at the appropriate time, birth a boy or a girl.  However, the rest of the Torah reflects a more complicated reality, one that makes it astonishing that there is a Jewish people at all.  So many of our essential stories are about...Read more...

Purim to Passover

03/21/2019 12:40:40 PM

Mar21

A joyous Purim to all my friends who celebrate! As the holiday draws to a close, I'm reminded that our sages teach (TB Pesachim 6a) that we must begin teaching the laws of Passover 30 days before the holiday (to get your start, see our Passover guide at https://www.bnaitorah.org/passover). It makes sense to start early. Passover requires a lot of preparation. Kroger is even more pious than our sages and has been preparing for Passover for...Read more...

Two Tribes

07/20/2017 01:30:40 PM

Jul20

After almost 40 years in the desert, the Israelites were just months from entering the Promised Land.  They had been victorious in the first skirmishes against the nations on the “other side” of the Jordan (the “East Bank”, today's northern Jordan and Syria).  Parashat Mattot (the first half of this week’s double portion) records an uncomfortable exchange between Moses and the tribes of Reuven and...Read more...

Seeing is Knowing

07/06/2017 01:32:33 PM

Jul6

Last week, I felt a strange sympathy with the Biblical prophet Bilaam.  He traveled on a recalcitrant donkey that crushed his legs.  I flew coach on an AirFrance codeshare with no legroom, and then on an Aeroflot regional subsidiary.   While our stories diverge in some important ways, I learned a valuable lesson from Bilaam’s experience, a lesson that led me to spend a week travelling to parts of the Land of...Read more...

For Heaven's Sake

06/22/2017 01:33:50 PM

Jun22

Korah is one of the most remarkable villains in the Bible.   He is a Levite, who gathers a diverse coalition of rebels against the existing leaders, his cousins Moses and Aaron.   It is a rag-tag bunch, including representatives of the tribe of Reuven, assorted princes and levites.  Indeed, the group is so diverse that modern scholars propose that this could not have been a single rebellion, but rather...Read more...

Ten Angry Men?

06/15/2017 01:34:23 PM

Jun15

Why are there so many key Jewish rituals that require a minyan?  The reason for the minyan requirement is that some rituals and experiences are only truly meaningful if they are public.  One can always study Torah as an individual, but it is embarassing if one is reading from the scroll and there are more people crowded around the bimah than in the seats!  Kaddish is at its essence a call and response.  It...Read more...

A Fifty Year Trial

06/02/2017 01:47:23 AM

Jun2

June, 1967 was one of the most momentous months in Jewish history, but the full meaning and implications of its victories still escape us. It is often the case that in our history we teeter between the anxiety of existential destruction and the exhilaration of salvation, but it is rare that Jews remain divided as to which was achieved! On the Jewish calendar, we celebrated this victory 10 days ago, but on the secular calendar, this coming week...Read more...

Stumbling Over One's Own Feet

05/18/2017 01:47:23 AM

May18

How do we know we are worrying about the right things? In a world where have so many concerns, and the news is full of leaks and laptop bans, spies and special counsels,  this week’s Torah portion, Behar-Behuktai offers some insight. 

Behukotai offers a promise- if the Jews follow God’s law, they will be blessed in many ways.  If they do not, they will be subject to the curses of a passage known as the...Read more...

Standing Idly By the Blood of your Neighbor

05/04/2017 01:47:23 AM

May4


The debate currently going on surrounding America's health care system is extremely heated. The legislation that just passed the House of Representatives has not yet been fully studied, and both it and the legislation that it would replace, are extremely complex. Our Jewish tradition as well, has wrestled for centuries with the life or death questions of how people are cared for, but we can condense the discussion to a basic question....Read more...

Supporting Survivors

04/20/2017 01:47:23 AM

Apr20

Parashat Shemini deals with the terrible aftermath of tragedy.   The Israelites celebrate the dedication of the Tabernacle, the culmination of months of national effort to create a place where God’s very presence is felt on earth.     On that very day, two of Aaron’s promising sons , Nadav and Avihu, are burnt by divine fire, consumed for inscrutable reasons.  God commands the Israelites to mourn the deaths, but...Read more...

Elijah Always Rings Twice

04/07/2017 01:47:23 AM

Apr7


The Shabbat before Passover is traditionally known as "Shabbat Hagadol," which could be translated as "the Sabbath of greatness." There are many explanations given for this name. One is that in the Haftorah, or prophetic portion, the prophet Malachi speaks of "the great and awesome day of God."   The day's greatness is signified by the return of the prophet Elijah, who will "restore the hearts of parents to children, and children to...Read more...

The Call is Coming From Inside the House

03/24/2017 01:47:23 AM

Mar24


"The call is coming from inside the house. " That line, made famous in horror movies,  was literally and metaphorically true this week. We’ve known for some time that many of the threats against JCCs  and other Jewish institutions over the last two months were spoofed electronically to seem as if they were being made from inside the institutions under attack.   More distressingly, it turns out that many of the calls were...Read more...

When the Ark Must Flee

03/16/2017 01:47:23 AM

Mar16

Over the last two months we have seen the same horrifying scene repeated almost 100 times.  Children, infants in cribs, and seniors have been forced to evacuate from JCCs, as well as schools and other Jewish institutions around the country. Though a few of the bomb threats have been solved, law enforcement has not been able to identify the perpetrators of most incidents. There have been dozens more incidents that have not made our...Read more...

Upset Victory

03/16/2017 01:47:23 AM

Mar16

And the winners are: The Atlanta Falcons and La La Land. We are all captivated by the story of a last minute plot twist, whether in sports, entertainment, or more serious realms. Of course, the experience can be glorious or excruciating depending on who you are rooting for. As a lifelong fan of the New York Mets, I have a deep appreciation for miracle wins, and also for those who can “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” The Purim...Read more...

Yitro's Timely Advice

02/16/2017 01:47:23 AM

Feb16


Good leaders matter.  The Israelites were about to receive the Torah, but not were ready for it.  Moses was overwhelmed as a leader and could not possibly have handled all of the questions involved in living up to God’s word.    Fortunately, his father in law, Yitro who had significant experience as the high priest of Midian and suggested a strategy for creating a cadre of leaders and officers who could help him...Read more...

Hungrier Than Locusts

02/02/2017 01:47:23 AM

Feb2

There are many plagues in the world, and disagreement as to how to respond to them.  I will continue to address those in other venues, but this week as I enter Shabbat, I want to focus on one thing that we can all agree  will bring a bit of light: fighting hunger.   Hunger is in fact among the three worst of the 10 plagues, as locusts consume the crops of the Egyptians.  

Locusts were a common scourge in the...Read more...

A Tale of Two Pharaohs

01/20/2017 01:47:23 AM

Jan20

I suspect that this Shabbat many a rabbi's sermon will hinge on the phrase from this week's Torah portion: "There arose a new King who did not know Joseph."  Some of my colleagues and friends will be marching in protests against President Trump's administration, fearful of changes in specific policies like healthcare or women's rights, or even the tone of our civil society or the very fabric of our government. Others might speak with...Read more...

From Child to Caregiver: Joseph, Jacob, and You

01/05/2017 01:47:23 AM

Jan5

Role reversal is one of the most challenging things that can happen in any relationship, but in particular in the relationship between parent and child.  How we handle that change makes all the difference.  This week’s portion offers an example of such a transition, and in the upcoming weeks, I’ll be co-teaching a class that provides practical guidance as to how to handle these transitions in our own family lives.
Parashat...Read more...

Montana Menorahs

12/22/2016 01:47:23 AM

Dec22

When we think of the M’s of the Hanukkah story, we are more likely to think of Maccabees, Menorahs and Mattathias than, say, Montana.   But this year, beginning this Saturday night,  as we light our Hanukkah lights, Montana should be on our minds.  The Hanukkah blessings, recall the heroism of the few who stood with pride and overcame the many some 2000 years ago.  As we sing the blessings, we take for granted our...Read more...

In the Genes

12/08/2016 01:47:23 AM

Dec8

In this week's Torah portion, Vayetze, Jacob is offered the opportunity to create his own herd by taking the least valuable of the flocks of his father-in-law Laban and breeding them to create a healthy herd.    At face value, the telling of the story seems to conflict with modern genetic science- showing colored rods to the sheep during the mating season will not change the color of their offspring.  In fact, a more careful...Read more...

Thanks for Everything

11/22/2016 01:47:23 AM

Nov22

Hayee Sarah explores the crossroads between loss and thanksgiving. It  begins with sadness as Sarah dies and Abraham negotiates for a burial place.  The next section of the parashah is introduced with the phrase “Abraham was old, full in years, and God blessed him with all (bakol).”
 The latter part of this phrase rings false at first reading. After all,  Abraham may be blessed, and rich in possessions and hearty...Read more...

Welcoming Like Abraham

11/17/2016 01:47:23 AM

Nov17

Hospitality, Hachnassat Orchim, is an essential Jewish value, and it starts in this week’s Torah portion,  Genesis Chapter 18.   God appears to Abraham, as Abraham is sitting in his tent.  Just as Abraham is engaged in that experience, the focus of the story shifts, as three anonymous visitors arrive and Abraham runs to greet them and feed them.  Surely nothing could be more important than talking to God?  Isn’t...Read more...

Thu, November 14 2019 16 Cheshvan 5780