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Oh Brother! Why Bother?

11/07/2019 11:58:22 AM

Nov7

When it comes to families in the Bible, and brothers in particular, one can expect tension and drama. Just consider Cain and Able, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, or Joseph and his eleven brothers. Cain kills his brother Abel, Ishmael is banished, Jacob steals his brothers blessing, and Joseph is thrown into a pit. It seems that the Torah knows a thing or two about sibling rivalry, and while it makes for good drama in the biblical...Read more...

Guilty by Dissociation

10/30/2019 12:39:50 PM

Oct30

“A man is known by the company he keeps.” Which is to say, we tend to associate with people who are like us, and we reinforce each other’s positive and negatives behaviors. And perhaps it is this axiom that has always led me to believe that the Noah of the Bible was a recluse. Afterall, if the whole society is corrupt, then it must be that Noah is righteous because he has disassociated himself from the rest of society. He can transcend...Read more...

When You're not in a Foxhole

10/10/2019 12:48:46 PM

Oct10

They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and having never been in one, I can only presume it is true. But I have been chased by an angry swarm of bees, and I can confirm that some prayers for divine protection did escape my lips. I can also confirm that those prayers gave me and those around me some real courage to circumnavigate the venomous swarm. The idea that a prayer couldn’t hurt when you are in danger and afraid seems well...Read more...

Owning Your Judaism

09/25/2019 03:53:35 PM

Sep25

I’ve come to be called Rabbi K out of necessity. If it was up to me, I’d just be called Hillel; but I must acknowledge the situations and religious functions where the title is appropriate. So naturally I’d concede to Rabbi Hillel. But at B’nai Torah, a rabbi’s first name (Hillel) is easily misread and misheard as a rabbi’s last name (Heller), thus I became Rabbi LastName. And since my last name is only spelled correctly 75% of...Read more...

Don't Stop Believing

09/12/2019 09:40:42 AM

Sep12

I was in between classes when it became clear that there was an attack on the World Trade Center buildings in New York. I remember passing by the Senior Lounge, a room in our school that had a television with cable that was packed with students and teachers taking in the news. Later in the day we heard news of a crash in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. I remember my friends being picked up from school early. I remember the shock, the fear,...Read more...

Because It Makes Us Better

08/29/2019 01:50:06 PM

Aug29

As I have grown older, my love for a good board game has not changed. However, what has changed is the complexity level of the games I’m now playing. Perhaps the games themselves have become more complicated, perhaps I myself am a little more sophisticated, or perhaps both. But it is clear that learning these games, and playing these games, requires a lot more of my attention. Occasionally, I am learning a new game that has too many rules...Read more...

Paying More Attention to God

08/15/2019 01:40:12 PM

Aug15

Sleep & Wellbeing: 32%. Work Meetings: 15%. Email: 10%. Eating: 8%. Miscellaneous Work: 8%. Downtime and Housework: 8%. Prayer: 5%. Learning: 5%. Writing Shabbat Shalom Article: 2%. Relaxing with Family: 2%. Gardening: 2%. Commuting: 2%. Math for this Article: 1%.

This is approximately how my time was allocated this past Wednesday. From the moment I woke up, my mind began to populate thoughts of things I needed to start doing;...Read more...

My Meaning and Theirs

07/31/2019 04:05:34 PM

Jul31

Shabbat Mattot-Masei

Over the last few decades, the way we take pictures has changed. I often find myself tricking the people who are the subjects of my photos by taking multiple pictures AS I count to three, and not just one single click at the culmination of...Read more...

Balak Shasha

07/18/2019 03:46:26 PM

Jul18

Many of us have been taught the proverb to “not judge others until you have walked in their shoes.” The message associated with it is that you should reserve judgement of others because you might not have fully considered their unique life circumstances. If you did understand where they were coming from, then perhaps you would judge them with more compassion. However, it turns out that humans work in the opposite way. In 2015,...Read more...

A Particular Take on Things

07/11/2019 09:40:58 AM

Jul11

I am a Rabbinic Jew. Not because I went to seminary to acquire rabbinic ordination, but because the Judaism I practice is based on the interpretations of scripture through the lens of centuries of rabbinic discourse. This is to say that the religious laws that we encounter in our Bible are not always taken literally, but rather are understood via a particular legal system that guided early Jewish sages. Traditionally, this legal system is...Read more...

Why do Jews pray?

06/20/2019 04:32:53 PM

Jun20

Often, I ask my students, "why do Jews pray?" and often, they answer, "because God told us to." Admittedly, this is an accurate answer, but when I inquire further about the reasoning behind this particular commandment, I am often met with silence. Which means that for many of them, when they come to services, they aren't really sure why they are there other than the sense of duty and obligation that requires it of them. But for those who make...Read more...

Wild(erness) and Free

06/06/2019 04:34:26 PM

Jun6

Being alone in the wilderness is a profound experience. Over the course of my life, I have been blessed with moments of solitude in nature, surrounded by the majesty of our universe. Whether on an endless beach alone in the early morning, a deserted trail on a forested mountainside, or on an outcrop beneath the blanket of stars in the Southern Negev of Israel, there have been a handful of moments where I have successfully encountered a...Read more...

I've Got the Whole World in my Hands

05/23/2019 04:35:01 PM

May23

I once turned a rock into a bookend. It initially was a hulk of soapstone with a blueish-green hue that was in the form of what a typical person would define as rock-shaped. But after hours with a metal file, and sheets of sandpaper, I carved and polished the stone into a heart-shaped piece of art designed to hold up books in the middle of a shelf. Creating something from scratch is a rewarding experience. It is quite amazing that I can turn...Read more...

Thou Shalt Share

05/09/2019 09:41:54 AM

May9

I used to have an expensive watch that I kept in a box under my bed. It was a gift from a family friend for my Bar Mitzvah and was something I thought was pretty special. It was made with real gold, and had a nice leather band. It definitely added sophistication to any of my fancy outfits. I didn’t wear it often, as I was worried I would scratch it inadvertently or maybe even lose it. So I only wore it for special occasions. Yet in the long...Read more...

What Was I Just Doing?

04/25/2019 09:42:37 AM

Apr25

I remember reading a few years ago about a study from the University of Notre Dame on the phenomenon of forgetting something when you walk into a room. Has that ever happened to you? You get off the couch to do something, and as you stand in the middle of the room scratching your head, you wonder, “what was it I was going to do?” Professor Gabriel Radvansky explained that when you pass through a doorway, it acts as an “event boundary”...Read more...

Maybe You Shouldn't

04/11/2019 09:43:15 AM

Apr11

More than thirteen years ago, I used to make the argument about why eating meat made a lot of sense. Not only are our teeth sharp enough to chew meat and that our stomachs have enzymes to break down that meat, but meat smells and tastes really good. I can recall the aromatic smells of barbequing meat at state fairs, and how pleasing I found that smell. The meat wasn’t kosher, mind you, but the smell was quite satisfying. Since our bodies...Read more...

Serving Wholeheartedly

03/28/2019 09:43:51 AM

Mar28

In Parshat Shmini, Aaron and his family receive the commandment that the priests are not to serve God while intoxicated. Rabbi Simcha Bonem explains that one should serve God out of one’s own joy and not from the joy which stems from being under the influence of alcohol. As such, the commandment ensures that the priests are owners of their emotional and psychological state, and are wholehearted in their service to God without external...Read more...

Bahalotecha

06/02/2017 09:53:08 PM

Jun2

As I was aimlessly driving the streets of Sandy Springs trying to get my son to fall asleep in the back seat, it dawned on me that it’s quite strange to drive around aimlessly without a destination in mind. Usually, from the second I get into the car I have the route planned out; either in my head or on the GPS. Turn left in 500 ft, then turn right. Done and done. But when you are driving just for the sake of driving, where do you go? I...Read more...

Bamidbar

05/24/2017 09:53:08 PM

May24

When someone in my family does something spectacular, I feel a sense of pride that I am eager to share with others. There is a sense of connectedness that I feel between me and my family and I feel a part of their success and greatness, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with me. And I’d bet you’ve felt the same way too. The converse is true as well. When someone in my family messes up, I feel like they can drag me down with...Read more...

Emor

05/10/2017 09:53:08 PM

May10

When engaging in discourse on Israeli current events, one often hears people talk about a double standard. The idea stipulates that the world holds other countries to a particular standard, and a different one when it comes to Israel; usually a higher moral standard that requires Israel to justify actions that other countries don’t seem to have to justify. Instead, some people would argue that Israel should be held to the same standard as...Read more...

Tazria-Metzorah

04/26/2017 09:53:08 PM

Apr26

I was once on a tiyul (a hike) with a family friend in Israel, and along the trail was some sort of small concrete block with a few bolts sticking out of the top. I might not have even noticed it if my family friend didn’t stop, puzzled, trying to figure out what this construction remnant might have been. It just so happens that this hiking companion is an engineer and this was the type of thing he enjoyed thinking about.
 
We...Read more...

Shabbat Pesach

04/10/2017 09:53:08 PM

Apr10

What is it about Passover that inspires those who don’t observe the dietary laws of Kashrut year-round to eat matzah for a week? And what is it about Passover that makes it more visible and celebrated than Shavuot, another one of the Shalosh Reglaim, the three pilgrimage festivals?
 
Part of the answer was explained by Marshall Sklare and Joseph Greenblum in the 1960s. Based on their research they concluded that in order for...Read more...

Vayikra

03/30/2017 09:53:08 PM

Mar30

In America ignorance of the law is no excuse. That is to say that even if you had no idea that such a law existed, if you break the law then you are accountable. According to such logic, the onus is on each citizen to review all of the local and federal laws to ensure that one doesn’t inadvertently break the law. Laws in Judaism work the same way. In Parshat Vayikra, Moses relates specific commands for an Israelite who violates the law without...Read more...

Ki Tissa

03/15/2017 09:53:08 PM

Mar15

On the heels of the great sin of the Golden Calf, before the new set of commandments is carved, Moses exclaims to God: “Let me behold your presence!” Coming up from the spiritual low of the nation’s disloyalty to God and approaching the holy zenith of receiving the new tablets, Moses yearns to know God. But doesn’t Moses already know God!? Hasn’t he been in conversation with the Divine from his shepherd days at the burning bush? Why...Read more...

Mishpatim

02/22/2017 09:53:08 PM

Feb22

 
“Did you hear the news about him? Well, actually, I probably shouldn’t tell”
“What a tease! Now you have to tell me!”
 
Speaking comes so naturally to many of us, that we often forget to think before we speak. If we are lucky, we think as we speak, and occasionally we speak without even thinking at all. Our speech plays such a central role in our social interactions that it quickly becomes second nature....Read more...

B'Shalach

02/08/2017 09:53:08 PM

Feb8

As Parshat B'shalach begins, we are told that God chooses not to take the Israelites on the shorter path to the Promised Land, through the land of the Philistines, but rather the round-about way in the wilderness and the Sea of Reeds. The Torah explains that if the Israelites were to take the shorter path than they would see war and they would want to return to Egypt. So instead they are led on a longer journey. And… it doesn’t seem to...Read more...

VaEira

01/26/2017 09:53:08 PM

Jan26

The Torah paints a picture that there is a tradeoff between humility and social power.  The humbler a person is, the greater that person is in the eyes of the community. Moses is the epitome of humility. When given the option of being God’s prophet, a spokesperson of the Divine, he says “no thanks,” and only agrees because God commands him to take on the role. And as readers of the text, we understand this as the perfect person for...Read more...

Vayechi

01/11/2017 09:53:08 PM

Jan11

Oaths are a fascinating thing. In its simplest form, an oath is an agreement to fulfill certain actions and behave in a certain way. At the time the oath is made, the action has yet to be realized. Yet the power of the oath assures us that the action will in fact be carried out. We trust oaths.  And that is why we shun the practice of breaking oaths. If we can’t trust people to live up to their promises, then how can we trust people to...Read more...

Thu, November 21 2019 23 Cheshvan 5780