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The Bones Told a Story

12/01/2022 01:56:49 PM

Dec1

A construction project in a small German town, has shed new light on the Jewish legacy that can be carried, quite literally, in our bones and our blood.  In 1453, the Jewish community of Erfurt was exiled, bringing an end to several hundred years of Jewish presence. A storehouse was built over the centuries-old Jewish cemetery. Recently, that storehouse was renovated to serve as a parking deck, and 47 of the original graves were...Read more...

Have You but One Blessing?

11/23/2022 10:56:44 AM

Nov23

It is homiletically convenient that weekend of Thanksgiving almost always coincides with one of the Shabbatot when we read the saga of Jacob and Esau. The portions provide great fodder for sermonizing, with the drama of family conflict and its resolution, the power of shared meals to create relationships, and the travail of journeying. However, the story’s core is about the nature of blessings and thanks. What does it really...Read more...

Unhappy Families

11/16/2022 07:41:58 PM

Nov16

A special guest post from Rabbi Judith Beiner, the Community Chaplain for Jewish Family and Career Services of Atlanta

Tolstoy said:  Happy families are all alike; Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. 

Those ‘unhappy families’ are as old as the bible. As we’ve been reading the cycle of stories in Genesis, we see...Read more...

Walking Together?

11/03/2022 03:23:56 PM

Nov3

While many are focused on US elections currently underway, the Israeli election that took place this week also deserves careful attention. I am proud that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Jews and Arabs are allowed to be citizens and vote in truly free elections. I will always support the country and its people. However, it is worth considering why the results of this election may give cause for concern, and,...Read more...

Anti-Semitism- Drip or Flood?

11/03/2022 03:21:56 PM

Nov3

Nitzavim, Standing Together

09/22/2022 02:01:32 PM

Sep22

There are certain moments, certain experiences, that define a community. There are moments that are frozen in memory, that serve as mile markers for our history. Nitzvaim describes one such moment, as the Israelites were weeks away from entering the Promised land, and Moses gathered them together for remarkable words. Our community is preparing to experience yet another, with Rosh Hashanah starting Sunday night, and has been...Read more...

The Personal Pilgrimage

09/15/2022 04:49:13 PM

Sep15

This weeks’ Torah portion, Ki Tavo, includes descriptions of two important Jewish rituals. One was an imposing, even awe-inspiring spectacle which engaged all of the tribes together, atop two mountains. The other, the offering of the first fruits, was performed in community, but each person came and made their own declaration, an individual expression of personal spirituality. These two rituals...Read more...

Coming Back

08/25/2022 04:47:05 PM

Aug25

Judaism has always sought a balance between worship at home and in a central location- a balance that was disrupted two years ago, and is shifting back again for our community as we enter 5783. This week’s portion, Re’eh, conveys one of the first recalibrations of that balance. Whereas in the desert, any animal that was to be eaten had to be brought as a sacrifice within the camp, when they entered the land, the Israelites...Read more...

Commitment after 40 Years

08/18/2022 02:02:28 PM

Aug18

As Moses prepares the Jewish people for their entry to the Land of Israel, at the end of 40 years in the desert, he tries to balance complementary, even contradictory messages, which he presents in parashat Ekev. On the one hand he reminds them (Deut 10:22)  how they have grown, from 70 souls who descended to Egypt to becoming as numerous as the stars of the heavens). And yet, he warns them (Deut 9:17-18) that they must not...Read more...

Morning and Evening

08/11/2022 04:13:54 PM

Aug11

“Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad”- those six words of the Shema are perhaps the essence of our faith. They were the last prayers upon the lips of generations of martyrs, and are among the very first prayers we recite with our children. For an observant Jew, they form parentheses around the entirety of one’s day, said morning and evening as we fulfill the verse “when you lie down and...Read more...

A 39 Year Delay?

07/28/2022 01:19:11 PM

Jul28

This has been the summer of travel woes. After two years of no-one going anywhere, everyone tried to go everywhere all at once. It did not go well. Some contended with flight delays and cancellations. Others are still looking for their luggage, or gas at less than $4 a gallon. Summer camps that had managed with almost no COVID cases last summer were suddenly sending kids home left and right. How do we look back on the journeys (and detours)...Read more...

Ask, But You Shall Not Receive

07/14/2022 02:52:57 PM

Jul14

What happens when one demands something from another that they cannot provide? At different times in our lives, we might be on the giving, or the receiving end of that disappointment. We might be disappointed by another person not playing the role that we expected them to play, despite expressing our expectations, or we might let someone else down by not living up to what they asked from us. Our portion this week, Balak, gives us...Read more...

Revolutionary Ideas

06/30/2022 01:16:42 AM

Jun30

Over three thousand years ago, in words recorded in our portion this week, a bald rebel Levite named Korach, surrounded by 250 of his minions, began a revolution against Moses. Though it was framed in the language of faith, it was also a rebellion against the Torah itself.

Two hundred and forty-six years ago, on July 4th, a group of bewigged rebel colonists created their...Read more...

Can I Vouch for That?

06/23/2022 05:43:58 PM

Jun23

I’ll always remember the first d’var Torah I ever wrote that stirred controversy. Though there have been many since, this one was in 2002.  It was the early days of Torah on the Internet, and I was the summer substitute for the JTS Chancellor’s Torah commentary.    At the time, many in the Jewish community were opposed to school vouchers, and in particular, those that could be used at religiously oriented...Read more...

Trial by Ordeal

06/09/2022 05:37:03 PM

Jun9

On principle, I did not watch any coverage of the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard Trial that ended last week. Though I enjoy a media circus, perhaps even more than the next rabbi, I could not bear this one. Two movie stars had a brief marriage that ended with accusations of abuse and a restraining order, and the strife continued with public comments that led to mutual accusations of defamation. After a six-week trial, a...Read more...

Devouring the Flesh of our Children

05/26/2022 05:46:45 PM

May26

Many of us were horrified to hear of the slaughter of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde Texas. How does our Jewish tradition help us understand this atrocity? What does it call upon us to do? This week we are reading Parashat Behukotai, Leviticus 26 and 27, which includes some of the most horrific curses and punishments, including the threat that the Israelites will eat...Read more...

Are We There Yet?

05/12/2022 05:14:21 PM

May12

When (if ever) does life go back to normal? What does normal even mean? For the last two years, waves of COVID-19 have swept over us, and we have now arrived at a place where different institutions, regions, and individuals make their own choices as to what is safe or worthwhile.  Jewish ethics demands that we consider the protection of life to be a highest priority, but also expects society to function in certain...Read more...

The Spring Busy Season

04/28/2022 04:21:35 PM

Apr28

Since Biblical days, Judaism has had a “busy season”- the month of Tishrei is known to incorporate a major observance each of four weeks in a row: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. In contrast, all of the other months had at most one holiday or observance. Passover, six months later, certainly holds its own as a holiday, but it sits alone in its own month, like  all of the other...Read more...

Plagues and their Reward

04/07/2022 05:49:38 PM

Apr7

This shabbat we read parashat Metzorah, which deals with various plagues and afflictions, upon the bodies, and even the homes of the Israelites.  Sermonizers everywhere are relieved that it is also Shabbat Hagadol,  the “Great Sabbath” which precedes Passover, and which reminds us how the Israelites prepared to weather the Death of the Firstborn. As we prepare to for seder, it is worth contemplating the role and value of...Read more...

Ukraine, Bewailing the Loss

03/24/2022 04:15:06 PM

Mar24

 

We continue to watch with horror the destruction unfolding in Ukraine. While the murder or suffering of any human being deserves our attention, we have particular care and concern for the Jewish communities that have been affected. Many have asked what we can do.  Our Torah portion this week, Shemini, provides some insight by reflecting how the Israelites reacted to destruction that they experienced, the death of...Read more...

Purim's Words and Swords

03/10/2022 03:15:59 PM

Mar10

The Purim story that we will read next week is a swirling tale of palace intrigue and plotting, and God working in mysterious ways.  A recurring theme is conversations shared and not shared, and the harm that comes from hurtful speech. In the Megillah, Haman almost murders the entire Jewish people with gossip and derogatory speech.  His appeal to the king begins “There is a people scattered among your kingdom, and their laws are...Read more...

The Ukraine, my 1/2 Shekel

02/24/2022 03:31:42 PM

Feb24

Many of us are concerned about events in the Ukraine, as we watch footage of Russian troops pouring in and hear responses (or non-responses) from around the world.  Each has our own perspective.  Some are afraid for the wellbeing of those under attack. Others are fearful of global destabilization and an escalation of conflict around the world.   Still others are concerned about the effect on our own country’s world...Read more...

Head and Hand, Ear and Foot

02/10/2022 04:12:50 PM

Feb10

Parashat Tetzaveh speaks of the process of appointing and anointing the first permanent ritual leaders of the Jewish people. Aaron and his sons will serve as the Cohanim, the priests. They will receive special training to be able to perform the rituals, even distinctive clothing to wear! 

Read more...

God is in the Details

01/27/2022 02:30:23 PM

Jan27

I’m excited for Rabbi Zaslow’s visit to our congregation. Our lay-led Search Committee has done its homework in interviewing and checking references, and we now have the opportunity to meet a candidate whom they recommend very highly. As a community, we will make our decision after meeting her firsthand. There...Read more...

Texas Goosebumps

01/20/2022 07:10:00 PM

Jan20

Our local community, the larger Jewish community, and the larger world, are still reacting to the attack on Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, as a British Muslim Extremist, took the rabbi and three congregants hostage at gunpoint, demanding the release of a terrorist held in a nearby prison. While we are relieved that the hostages were able to escape unharmed, the events still weigh heavily on us. I suspect that each of us...Read more...

Miriam and Deborah

01/13/2022 12:11:17 AM

Jan13

Both our Torah portion and Haftorah this week have a special focus on female religious and spiritual leadership. In Beshallah, after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, Miriam the prophetess, leads the women in celebratory dance and song. In the Haftorah (taken from the Book of Judges) Deborah the...Read more...

Partway Through the Plagues

12/30/2021 04:55:38 PM

Dec30

How do we handle setbacks on our journey to freedom and success?

The Israelites suffered generations of slavery.  In last week’s portion, Moses told them that their centuries of bondage would soon be at an end.  And yet, Moses’s pronouncement was followed by even more intense enslavement, as Pharaoh commanded that the Israelites must provide their own straw for the bricks.  Of course, God had already warned Moses...Read more...

Looking Backward, Looking Forward

12/16/2021 06:35:08 PM

Dec16

My remarks from this past shabbat, about how the things we say might be heard, about how our congregation welcomes LGBTQ+ Jews, and my own family’s journey, have provoked significant comment and discussion.  If you haven’t heard them you can watch them on https://vimeo.com/656188886.  You may also be interested in my comments from earlier this fall at https://www.bnaitorah.org/rabbi-heller-blog?post_id=1254055.  This week...Read more...

Which Comes First?

12/02/2021 04:17:57 PM

Dec2

One of the more advanced cognitive tasks that human beings must perform, starting when we are young children, is called “sequencing”- determining which steps in a process or a story must come first, second, third, last. In order to engage in sequencing, one must be able to understand the consequences and relative importance of different actions. Sequencing isn’t so easy for adults...Read more...

Wrestling and Blessing

11/18/2021 06:32:45 PM

Nov18

Why does God send an angel to wrestle with Jacob the night before he meets Esau? Of all days to not get a good night's sleep, and indeed, to start the morning limping, the date of the reunion with his hostile brother is certainly less than ideal!  Our sages suggest many reasons, including that idea the angel is meant to warn Esau- "If an angel can't defeat Jacob, you certainly...Read more...

Switched Before Birth?

11/11/2021 01:53:15 AM

Nov11

One of my favorite “extracurriculars” is participating in the deliberations of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement. This week, the CJLS met to re-assess the status of children born through gestational surrogacy. With advances in technology, a child could easily be born with as many as five people who might be considered to have a share of parenthood. One provides the sperm, another...Read more...

A Grave Matter

10/27/2021 06:11:29 PM

Oct27

This week’s portion is the first in the Torah to focus on death and mourning, and, in particular, on the concerns and priorities around choosing a grave site, where we might be buried, and whom we might be buried with  Those stories still have relevance for us today, in plans that our congregation has made over the past few years, and in particular in plans that we are considering, to create a new cemetery section to serve the needs of...Read more...

Now I Know!

10/14/2021 04:39:38 PM

Oct14

Abram and Sarai (as Abraham and Sarah were known, before they were famous), had to leave Canaan and flee to Egypt because of famine. Abram was concerned that the Egyptian Pharaoh and his followers would see Sarai and kill him so that she would be taken into Pharoah’s harem. Abram expressed his fear in a remarkable way: “Now I know that you are a beautiful woman.”  Sarai was already over 65 years old...Read more...

Male and Female God Created Them

09/30/2021 04:04:46 PM

Sep30

When I work with conversion students, we often spend an entire hour studying just one verse, Genesis 1:27: “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Even translating properly it is a challenge. Was the first human single or dual, male or female? What pronouns to use for God is a whole other story. This passage is particularly illuminating as we wrestle...Read more...

Yom Kippur Sermons

09/17/2021 04:43:42 PM

Sep17

Yom Kippur sermons are now available for your viewing and reading pleasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWxOvOK07zE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYeD-hK-bss https://images.shulcloud.com/.../High.../GivingitaRest.pdf https://images.shulcloud.com/.../PrayingWiththeSinners.pdf Read more...

Do It Yourself

09/09/2021 05:26:57 PM

Sep9

 

Delivered At Congregation B'nai Torah, 2nd Day Rosh Hashanah 5782 September 8, 2021 Watch Video

When my oldest son was around 2 years old, we had a tough time getting him to put on his shoes and his coat. He wasn’t complaining about being shod. In fact, he was really leaning into the task....Read more...

Retaking Life's Tests

09/09/2021 04:02:56 PM

Sep9

 

Delivered at Congregation B’nai Torah, First Day Rosh Hashanah 5782  Watch Video

It’s one of the most common images posted on social media. A 16-year old, smiling in front of the DMV, holding their license. Earlier this summer, with my daughter, we posted a different picture, of a young woman standing in...Read more...

Standing Together, Apart

09/02/2021 05:23:43 PM

Sep2

Parashat Nitzavim provides a unique vision of a unified Jewish life. Moses describes a moment of unprecedented common experience, which brings together every segment of society, from leaders, elders and officials to the menial laborers, citizens and foreigners, men and women, young and old, to enter into a shared covenant. Today, those experiences where an entire community joins for common focus are increasingly rare. In our own...Read more...

Destined to Fall?

08/19/2021 04:10:48 PM

Aug19

This week's parasha includes the commandment (Deuteronomy 22:8) to place a parapet around one's roof, lest someone fall off. In ancient dwelling, the roof functioned as an important useable space, much like a deck or a backyard today. Hence, when King David spied Bathsheva in the bath, he was on the roof of his palace, and she may have been on her own roof as well!

Nowadays, we take it for granted that there will be railings...Read more...

The Choices We Make

08/05/2021 02:13:00 PM

Aug5

  I’m delighted to have returned from a busy and refreshing mini-Sabbatical.  I feel a bit like Moses coming down the mountain after his 40 days.  He was ready to present tablets of inspiration, but was greeted with a Golden Calf.  No idols were installed in the sanctuary in my absence,...Read more...

Foreboding and Forward Motion

06/24/2021 06:21:50 PM

Jun24

On Sunday we observe the 17th of Tammuz, which marks the beginning of a particularly mournful time in our Jewish calendar, a time of foreboding.  One of the mournful events which it marks is the collapse of the city walls of Jerusalem.  

As I write, many of us are distressed to hear of the collapse of a large residential building in the Surfside neighborhood of Miami.  The death toll may near over 100 people, and since...Read more...

Successful Succession

06/17/2021 04:44:28 PM

Jun17

Transitions in life, and transitions in leadership can be challenges or blessings, depending on how we prepare. Do we leave clear instructions, designate successors and ensure a legacy.  Our Torah portion describes two losses suffered by the Israelites in the desert, one of which leads to appropriate grief, followed by healing and continuity, the other to disaster.  As I prepare for a (temporary) transition in congregational...Read more...

Counting to 10, the hard way

06/10/2021 01:19:04 AM

Jun10

This coming week, our daily minyan will be meeting in person every evening, and Sunday, Monday and Thursday mornings, enabling us to test and finalize our procedures. The following week, we will be “open for business” with live services twice a day every day, with zoom still as an option.  Based on the guidance of our task force, our daily services will be mask-optional, but in-person attendance will be open only to those who are...Read more...

When the Cloud Lifted

05/27/2021 04:02:20 PM

May27

This weekend, we are delighted to be sharing a simcha with extended family, friends and community, as we celebrate Ezra’s Bar Mitzvah.  Family have already started to arrive from out of town.   We are full of gratitude, not just for the simcha, but for the uniqueness of the timing. We had originally requested a date in April, closer to his birthday, but when dates were assigned several years ago we did not get our first...Read more...

Bamidbar, The New Desert

05/13/2021 07:47:12 PM

May13

The book of Numbers begins with parashat Bamidbar, (literally, "in the desert") where everything in perfect order.  There is a camp in which every tribe and every levite family has its established place and marching order.  The Levites are enumerated and each one is fully accounted for. As we read further into the book in the coming weeks, that perfect order breaks down into conflict and dissent, even as the Israelites are...Read more...

Lag B'omer

04/29/2021 04:47:19 PM

Apr29

We are a more than halfway to Shavuot!  Four weeks ago, we were dining on Matzah, and three weeks from now we’ll be up late studying to celebrate receiving the Torah. Our Torah portion, Emor, describes these seven weeks as a time of watchful counting, building excitement and bringing offerings of gratitude as the harvest got underway. However, in later times, the Omer became known as a mournful period- people avoided shaving, musical...Read more...

Modern Miracles

04/12/2021 10:52:45 PM

Apr12

Yesterday we observed Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day, and today we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day.  In addition to watching various commemorations and celebrations online, I had the privilege of serving as the master of ceremonies for the consulate-sponsored Yom Hazikaron observance, and today, I had the chance to lead our preschoolers in their own “Israel Day Parade.”  We are also partnering...Read more...

The Song of Songs

04/01/2021 05:10:06 PM

Apr1

We expect the Bible to give us “thou shalts,”  “begats,” and the occasional “Hallelujah.”  And then there is the Song of Songs: 

“Give me of the kisses of your mouth, For your love is more delightful than wine.”

“His mouth is delicious, all of him is delightful, such is my beloved” 

“Ah, you are beautiful, my darling, Ah, you are fair. Your eyes are like doves behind your...Read more...

Entering the Tabernacle with a Small Aleph

03/18/2021 05:30:15 PM

Mar18

If you look for this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, in a scroll, you will see that it is easy to find . There is a big break between the end of Exodus and the beginning of the new book of Leviticus, even though chronologically one follows the other almost immediately. There is also an unusual letter- the very first word “Vayikra” has its last letter, an aleph, written very small.  Our sages ascribe a very...Read more...

Shekalim and the Poll Tax

03/04/2021 04:49:39 PM

Mar4

This week’s Torah portion begins with the commandment of the half shekel.  Each Israelite is to donate precisely that amount of silver to the construction of the Tabernacle, no more, no less.  The commandment serves two purposes.  The first is to provide the funding for this holy project, the second is to ensure an accurate count of the people.  This mitzvah offers important insights for some...Read more...

Fri, December 2 2022 8 Kislev 5783