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A New Conception

04/04/2019 09:49:20 AM


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


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 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...

Abortion:  A Biblical View

03/07/2019 10:00:53 PM


Abortion is one of the most contentious issues in American society today. One camp describes itself as pro-life. They assert that even before birth, a fetus in its mother’s womb is a full life, and ending that life is nothing short of murder. Another camp casts itself as pro-choice. They assert that if a woman does not have the right to make decisions about her own body, then that is making her less than human. What does our Jewish...Read more...

Two Tribes

07/20/2017 01:30:40 PM


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


"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


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


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


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


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...

A Tale of Two Pharaohs

01/20/2017 01:47:23 AM


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


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...

Montana Menorahs

12/22/2016 01:47:23 AM


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


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


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


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...

Sun, January 29 2023 7 Shevat 5783