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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...

Taking a Shot

02/18/2021 05:41:20 PM

Feb18

The Talmud (Bava Metzia 62a) proposes a theoretical situation, “Two people were traveling and one of them had a flask of water in his hand. If both of them drink, they would die; and if one of them drinks, he would reach settlement…" Rabbi Akiva came and taught: "The life of your brother is with you" (Vayikra 25:36) "[this means] your life takes precedence over the life of your fellow.” For the next few months, that text has a...Read more...

Ramping Up Together

02/04/2021 05:41:48 PM

Feb4

February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, and our congregation is hosting a range of activities to participate. This Saturday night at 6:15 PM, our study will focus on Jewish text surrounding abilities and inclusion, and at 7:00 PM, Virtual and Drive-In Special Friends Havdalah will bring together different segments of our community. On February 16, we will be...Read more...

A Month When Everything Changed

01/21/2021 04:56:01 PM

Jan21

God’s instructions to Moses regarding Israel’s departure from Egypt start in a most unusual way- not with the packing list, not with the commandments of Passover and the practices of seder, but rather with some instructions on the calendar. We read in the Torah this week, “’This month shall be the first month from now on.” Shouldn’t there be more important things to discuss than calendar reform?  The Israelites had to realize...Read more...

Learning from Pharaoh

01/07/2021 05:19:51 PM

Jan7

This week, we begin a new chapter in the life of our state and our country. Many have commented eloquently on the crisis we have weathered and the challenges still ahead. The Joint statement of the Conservative movement reflects some important thoughts on the state of our country. This Friday night as part of our...Read more...

Don't Get Lost Along the Way

12/23/2020 03:28:27 PM

Dec23

This week’s Torah portion describes the dramatic resolution of the Joseph story. Judah offers an impassioned appeal to save little brother, Benjamin, and Joseph is so moved that he drops his Egyptian disguise and reveals his true identity. By the end of the portion, the entire family has been reunited in Egypt; a happy ending, at least for now.

When Joseph sends his...Read more...

A Message About Hanukkah

12/10/2020 01:08:56 PM

Dec10

Hanukkah, the festival of lights, begins tonight. Each night of the holiday, we are offering outdoor and virtual opportunities to make B’nai Torah part of the celebration. You will see the details below, but as we enter this unusual Hanukkah, I want to offer a thought about the miracle of the Hanukkah oil and our own personal refueling.

One of the first times Rabbi K was a passenger in my minivan, he was traumatized that...Read more...

Thanks in Advance

11/24/2020 04:19:28 PM

Nov24

A word about Thanksgiving: It would seem easy to be grateful when we have everything we could want. Over the course of his life, our ancestor, Jacob, sees the fulfillment of his father’s blessings and is reconciled with the brother he stole them from. He is father to at least 13 children, all of whom continue in his faith. Even his lost son is restored to him, and he is fortunate to bless...Read more...

Chayee Sarah: the Path to Reconciliation

11/12/2020 12:50:37 PM

Nov12

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of maintaining connections under strain. Once a relationship has broken, how is it mended? This week’s portion, Chayee Sarah, is the first of three examples in Genesis of reconciliation of estranged brothers. In some cases, the animosity has a clear backstory in which both sides have agency. In the case of Jacob and Esau, it is the negotiation over...Read more...

Bereshit: The Most Important Verse

10/15/2020 05:13:28 PM

Oct15

This week, we begin reading the Torah anew. Many people have tried to condense the many teachings of the Torah into a single verse. The Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Nedarim page 30b, offers several answers. Rabbi Akiva says the key verse is “You should love your neighbor as yourself” ( Leviticus 19:18).

Another sage, Ben Azzai, however says that the most important verse is to be found in our portion. One might think...Read more...

Sukkot - Outside In

10/01/2020 03:13:46 PM

Oct1

Sometimes you have to go outside to re-enter. Sukkot, and the next few weeks of our synagogue’s activities, are both signs of that. The High Holidays are meant to be an emotionally intense time. The focus is very much on introspection, and our physical selves are subordinated to the spiritual task at hand. How can we think about eating when our very souls are at stake? It...Read more...

Bringing Your Best At Home Together

09/03/2020 04:25:41 PM

Sep3

This week, parashat Ki Tavo describes the first two communal prayer experiences that the Israelites will experience as they enter the holy land. This week, I’d like to explore them briefly, and translate them to some important lessons and technical tips for us to make meaning on these High Holidays that will be like no others. Read on for some ideas about how to prepare your home environment, computer and, most...Read more...

The Judges of Today

08/20/2020 02:45:09 PM

Aug20

Today we begin Rosh Hodesh Elul. It’s a time of introspection and confession. I have a confession to make: I’m kind of over COVID-19. I’d really like to be done worrying about epidemiology and IT infrastructure. I want to get back to singing together in the sanctuary and eating bagels in the social hall, as...Read more...

Zionism in a Pickle?

08/06/2020 05:07:59 PM

Aug6

It’s not the first time that Seth Rogen has gotten in trouble for “The Interview.” Whereas his film by that name created an international incident with North Korea, this time, the actor/writer/director famous for movies like “Superbad,” “Knocked Up” and the upcoming “American Pickle” has created a different sort of pickle among his own people. An interviewer asked Seth Rogen if Israel should exist, and Seth gave an...Read more...

Hazon - A Shabbat of Vision

07/23/2020 04:36:42 PM

Jul23

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Hazon - the Sabbath of visions of doom. Over 2600 years ago, and then again 1950 years ago, the threat of exile and destruction hung over the Jewish people. That threat came to pass on the 9th of Av (Tisha B’av)  which is observed next Wednesday night and Thursday. Indeed, the cycles of despair often returned to their low point at this season of the year, with inquisitions, crusades and...Read more...

17 Tammuz: Around Your World in 80 Days

07/09/2020 04:37:26 PM

Jul9

These days bring a sense of foreboding. Today is the 17th of Tammuz, one of the minor fast days on the Jewish calendar that commemorate stages in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple that stood in its midst. It begins three weeks of mournful practices, culminating in the fast of Tisha B’av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, which we will observe the night of July 29 and into the 30th. This day has lessons for us as we look to...Read more...

The Lessons of a Flowery Branch

06/25/2020 04:49:55 PM

Jun25

This weeks’ Torah portion is full of rebellion and revolt, and offers some lessons for us on the power of great and bad leadership. Korach and his followers challenged Moses’s political leadership and the religious leadership of his brother Aaron. There were three stages of God’s response, and each phase had an immediate effect and left a permanent sign. The first two stages established that the rebels were...Read more...

Second Chances

06/11/2020 06:12:42 PM

Jun11

Beha’alotecha tells a story of second chances. God commanded the Israelites to observe Passover, the first anniversary of the Exodus. Life, then as now, was imperfect - there were those Israelites who were not able to participate because they were ritually impure or on a journey. Moses asked God what is to be done, and God replies that there is a solution for those individuals. They may observe Passover a month...Read more...

Shavuot, Lost in Time

05/27/2020 02:58:05 PM

May27

What day is it? Blursday? About fleven o' clock? A lot of people tell me that they have had trouble keeping track of time in the past few months. The hours, the days, the months run together. Shavuot is unique among Jewish holidays that it, too, is slightly lost in time.

The Torah tells us that the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai on the first day of the month of Sivan and went through three days of...Read more...

Finding Our Place in the Desert

05/21/2020 02:00:05 PM

May21

Recently, people have started asking me “When is B’nai Torah going to re-open?” My answer is “we can’t re-open…. because we never closed!” Our synagogue is not a building, it’s a community that sometimes uses one. In the past two months, we’ve had at least two services each day, multiple classes a week, support groups and social gatherings and more. We join to support the grieving, and to celebrate...Read more...

Omer Lag, and Lag B'omer

05/07/2020 03:39:07 PM

May7

We are a more than halfway from Passover to Shavuot! Four weeks ago, we were dining on Matzah, and three weeks from now, we’ll be up late studying (probably via Zoom) and eating cheesecake (hopefully not via zoom) 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...Read more...

Open or Closed

04/23/2020 01:51:35 PM

Apr23

Some of us were surprised to hear of plans to re-open certain Georgia businesses as early as today.  This week’s Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora, is oddly appropriate for our current situation. One of its primary themes is a disease called “Tzaraat.” One who has suspicious symptoms is inspected by the priest and isolated for a period of time (up to two weeks) to see if the disease progresses....Read more...

Learning from Leviticus

03/26/2020 12:36:30 PM

Mar26

Last week, we finished reading the book of Exodus, which began with the familiar stories of liberation and revelation, highlighted the laws of a functional society, and concluded with a focus on construction of a physical structure, the tabernacle. This week, we begin reading the book of Leviticus, Vayikra, the most opaque of the books of the Torah. Normally, when Leviticus rolls around, rabbis scramble to find something else to...Read more...

Seeing Another's Face at an Uncertain Time

03/12/2020 11:54:35 PM

Mar12

News about COVID-19 continues to change even as I write, and will probably evolve even further by the time you read this. This indeed is a time of great uncertainty and concern.  We might well be worried about our own health or that of loved ones, the potential impact on daily life or special plans and events, as well as the effect on our livelihoods. Our congregation touches hundreds of lives each week, through dozens of activities, all...Read more...

Looking Towards or Away From Each Other

02/27/2020 04:07:33 PM

Feb27

This coming Sunday-Tuesday, over 18,000 pro-Israel activists, including over 30 from Congregation B’nai Torah, will be gathering in Washington, D.C. for the AIPAC Policy Conference. This year, there has been a lot of commotion about which politicians will be attending. Israel’s election is taking place on Monday, March 2, and absentee balloting is strictly limited, so many Israelis who would ordinarily attend will be...Read more...

Hey Jealousy

02/13/2020 02:01:29 PM

Feb13

This week’s Torah portion is famous for including the Ten Commandments. I believe that the last is the most difficult to follow: “you shall not covet.” The others may not be easy either, but they are all matters under our conscious control. We choose how to speak to our parents, and what to do or not do on the seventh day. We are ultimately in control of whether to act on our passions with violence or...Read more...

A Time to Choose

01/30/2020 01:01:16 PM

Jan30

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of preparing to offer the Paschal sacrifice and then leave Egypt, the Israelites are called upon to engage in an odd ritual of “teaming up.” Bringing a lamb an as offering would not have been unusual for the ancient Israelites. That is what Moses had been asking Pharaoh for permission to do all along. Sprinkling the blood on the doorpost as a sign would have been daring, but not inexplicable. By doing...Read more...

Who is God?

01/15/2020 10:26:16 AM

Jan15

"Who is the Lord that I should listen to His voice?" (Exodus 5:2) So begins a fantastic battle of wills between Pharaoh, sitting on the throne of Egypt, and God, enthroned on high. Pharaoh is not a good person, but he is asking a great question: “How do we know there is a God?”

 

Throughout most of human history, the assumption was that there was not a...Read more...

Approaching Our Enemies, Approaching Ourselves

01/02/2020 04:35:33 PM

Jan2

Hanukkah is supposed to be a time of rising light, but this year, it was marked by rising violence against Jews in the New York area, with over 10 incidents culminating in a knife attack at a Hanukkah candle lighting in Monsey, NY. Our Atlanta Jewish community is coming together Monday night, January 6 to show support an an event of solidarity. To participate, please visit https://jewishatlanta.org/communityevent/.

The...Read more...

Wounded and Blessed

12/12/2019 04:16:48 PM

Dec12

The Biblical story starts with confusion, fear and fighting, and ends with wounds and blessings. We can only hope that the week ends as well for American Jewry. This week in Vayishlah, we read that Jacob, already afraid of his brother, Esau, falls victim to a sneak attack from an unexpected, unidentified assailant. The two spend the night locked in battle. The attacker flees at dawn, and Jacob ends up...Read more...

A Side Order of Meaning

11/27/2019 12:55:13 AM

Nov27

This weekend, we mark the confluence of Parashat Toldot and Thanksgiving. There is actually a thread of connection between the Torah portion and the festival on the secular calendar. For many of us, Thanksgiving is about gathering with family or friends for a festive meal. In the portion this week, we see two times where shared food is entangled with complex family dynamics. First, Esau trades his birthright for a...Read more...

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...
Fri, April 23 2021 11 Iyyar 5781