thoughts, writings, and photographs by your rabbi
Thursday, January 20, 2022 * Parashat Yitro
We’ve got the Ten Commandments in this week’s Torah portion! For a long time Jews recited them during morning prayers every day but when Christianity began to forward them we took a step back. We still hold by them, to be sure, we just wanted to create a distinction between us and them. If the Ten Commandments were THEIR thing then we would recite something else on a daily basis. I don’t think it was a one-for-one switch-a-roo but we now recite the Akedah/Binding of Isaac in our daily morning prayers! Many Jews have the custom of reciting the entirety of Shir HaShirim/ The Song of Songs every Friday evening as Shabbat begins. Of the three, this is my favorite. Love poetry! Happy Torah Thursday and see you next week.
Thursday, January 13, 2022
Eleven years ago on Parashat Beshalach we lost Debbie Friedman, one of the greatest Jewish musicians of the 20th century. It is fitting that she died on this date as one of her best songs is about Miriam and the women dancing after we finished crossing the sea. To Debbie! To Miriam! To Freedom!
Thursday, January 6, 2022
This week we have one of my favorite passages in Exodus 12:38
וְגַם־עֵ֥רֶב רַ֖ב עָלָ֣ה אִתָּ֑ם
“Moreover, a mixed multitude went up with them.” The pasuk (Biblical quotation) is discussing the group of people who walked out of slavery in Egypt towards The Land of Promise. For most of Jewish History this has been interpreted as “the hangers on” who took advantage of the Exodus and joined the Israelites even though they were not ethnically Hebrew. They eventually assimilated into the people but not before causing most of the problems during our 40 years of wandering.
In recent decades we have begun to understand in this verse the Bible’s reflection of the diversity of the Jewish people that we see before us today. The group of people who “were down with the cause” and excited to leave Egypt were a diverse bunch, in the most positive sense that word evokes.
They were a “mixed multitude,” just like our communities today. We are a community made up of Jews and people of other faiths (or none), parents of other faiths (or none) raising Jewish children, spouses of different faiths actively involved in Jewish life, to say nothing of our racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity!
Happy Torah Thursday!
Amen to the mixed multitude!
Amen to the erev rav!
Thursday, December 23, 2021
This week we begin to read the book of Exodus. The first chapter contains one of my favorite examples of ‘it’s all how you translate it’ or ‘the Hebrew language has a lot of double meanings.’
M’yaldot HaIvriot can mean either ‘the Hebrew Midwives’ or ‘the (non-Hebrew) midwives who attend to the Hebrew women.’ What we are discussing in the 15th verse of the first chapter is the episode where Pharaoh orders the midwives to kill all the Hebrew baby boys right after they are born. Pharaoh is oppressing the people and wants to make sure that there aren’t any boys in the next generation who will fight back. The first issue with this scenario is the assumption that girls or women won’t fight back. The next issue is whether these noble midwives, named women in the Bible – Shifra and Puah, are members of the community who courageously if, understandably, defy Pharaoh’s orders, or are non-Hebrew women who act in solidarity with the Hebrew people? The words, in the Hebrew, could mean either one. A lot of ink has been spilled by different commentators over the centuries puzzling this one out and I’m happy to raise up both interpretations. Thank God for courageous women who defy the powerful in the name of what is just and what is right.
Wednesday, December 22, 2021 * 18 Tevet
Thinking of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel on his Yahrzeit
Friday, December 17, 2021
Shabbat Shalom, y’all!
Thursday, December 16, 2021
Happy Tunes Thursday! I’ve brought this tune in to Shabbat Morning Services the past few weeks. I’ve been singing it a cappella in shul for almost a decade and love the way it sounds in a round. Here is a version, by the composer Rabbi Miriam Margles, with instruments. Come sing with us this Shabbat AM!
December 9, 2021 * VaYiggash
Happy Torah Thursday! We are deep in the middle of the Joseph story, and we ended last week on a cliffhanger. Joseph, who his brothers don’t know is Joseph, has just declared that he will take his younger brother Benjamin as his slave for the “crime” of stealing Joseph’s goblet. But it was a set up as Joseph had had his goblet placed in Benjamin’s bag so that this confrontation could unfold. Judah steps forward and says that if the brothers return home to their father, Jacob, without his youngest son it will kill him. He says:
נַפְשׁ֖וֹ קְשׁוּרָ֥ה בְנַפְשֽׁוֹ
Which translates as “since his own life is so bound up with his” or “his soul is connected with his soul.” This is such a beautiful way of describing a relationship between two people that an acquaintance’s wife, an artist, had it inscribed on their wedding rings, with the appropriate modifications in the Hebrew to account for a Husband/Wife pair of rings. As luck and fate would have it, I met this person 8 months before my wedding so Kieran and I, too, have this inscription inside our rings. Mine is in Hebrew and Kieran’s is in English. Shabbat Shalom.
Thursday, December 2, 2021
Happy Hanukkah! Happy Torah Thursday!
This week’s Torah is a very cool article about an ancient Jewish holiday in the time that Hanukkah happened (well… a little later) and celebrated before Purim. Curious? Read on!
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
Happy Torah Tuesday! This week we have one of the coolest and most rare trope symbols in our Torah portion. The Shalshelet occurs only 4 times in Torah and connotes a person’s indecision or the gravity of the situation. The name of the trope mark, or musical notation, “shalshelet” means “chain” and is a long and elaborate string of notes on one word. In our story Potifar’s wife has just propositioned Joseph and he refuses, eventually. The shalshelet is meant to show his indecision, for she was a very beautiful woman. Yes, this story is racy and fun!
Tuesday, November 16, 2021
Happy Torah Tuesday!
This week’s portion includes a very special feature: a word with 6 diamonds above the letters! “And he kissed him” describing what happened when Jacob’s brother Esau saw him for the first time in 20 years. The Rabbis of 2000 years ago wanted Jacob to always be the hero and Esau the villain so they reinterpreted this pasuk: “Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him; and they wept” Gen 33:4.
Esau didn’t kiss Jacob, he grew ivory fangs for teeth and bit Jacob’s neck! Thus Jacob cried.
Tuesday, November 9, 2021
Thinking of our members, Rabbi Sue Greenberg and Joe Kahn, who lived through Kristallnacht in Germany 83 years ago today. Both of their fathers were arrested and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Never Forget what was done to our people. Do Tikkun Olam/ Repair The World so that the horrors visited upon us are not visited upon anyone else, anywhere. Neither upon Jews nor our cousins of other peoples.
Tuesday, October 26, 2021
Here’s… Torah Tuesday!
Do you have relatives or friends with whom you don’t speak? Do you wish you could mend some bridges? Well, this is a story as old as time. Take inspiration from this week’s Torah Portion, Chaeyi Sarah, which shows how even after all they’d been through, all the ruptures in their family, Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury their father, Abraham.
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
The Sisterhood brunch was great! I agree with much of what our speaker said. In the interest of point/counterpoint this book might be of interest. It was written by a congregant at my previous congregation and while I haven’t read it, I very much respect his work and other public statements he has made in the past.
10/15/21 This week I was honored to perform a funeral for one of our member’s mothers.
I got a lot of compliments on the eulogy I wrote from her family and friends so I thought I would share it with you all.