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A Bisl Torah

How would you describe your heart?


Carefully ponder the question. When you think about the beating, pulsating muscle within your body, would you describe your heart as giving? Open? Guarded? Closed? Is your heart filled with mercy and compassion or anger and spite? Pause for a moment and ask yourself: what is the word that best characterizes your heart? The Torah first describes Pharaoh has hardening his own heart and this week, God continues the action in making Pharaoh’s heart heavy. Suzanne Singer writes, “Only afterward (after the fifth plague) does God take over, starting with the sixth plague suggesting that Pharaoh has foregone the chance…

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Are You Getting On?


My children went on their first roller coaster. With each turn, I nearly squeezed the life out of my three-year-old, all five of us screaming with terror. By the end of the ride, I anticipated faces filled with tears and runny noses. Turns out, I was wrong. My little guy said, “That was scary and that was fun.” And now, when recalling the favorite memories of winter break, the roller coaster experience wins time and time again. It is a fascinating phenomenon: to feel a sense of thrill while actively being afraid. To experience joy while experiencing fear. Is that…

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A Life of Present & Future


When someone learns about my profession as a rabbi, I am often asked: As a woman, how is your experience in comparison with your male colleagues? I graduated from rabbinical school in 2009. By then, already more than 30 years had transpired since the ordination of the first female rabbi in the Reform movement, almost 25 years in the Conservative movement. My answer about my experience as a female rabbi must not be answered with, “It was mostly smooth sailing.” My answer must include both the positive sentiments of my six years at the Jewish Theological Seminary and willfully acknowledge…

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Living with Pain


Can we really get over the pain? When we feel betrayed, hurt, disappointed by someone else’s actions, how often are we able to forgive? And in which ways does the hurt dissipate? Joseph learns that Jacob has died, and his brothers fear that Joseph’s resentment is bound to return. That reconciliation only occurs out of respect of their father; not because of Joseph’s forgiveness over his brothers’ attempted murder. The Midrash explains that their fear returns when after the burial of Jacob, the brothers watch Joseph return to the pit in which his brothers had thrown him. And when he…

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Drama


I love drama. Who doesn’t love a story of lies, deception, romance and ambition? And no, I am not writing about “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” I will save that for another time. The narrative of Joseph is both surprising and familiar. Confusing and predictable. Wondrous and disappointing. Joseph’s brothers were set on his demise, throwing him into a pit, uncertain of whether he would live or die. As the story turns, he is saved, rises in power through Egyptian royalty, and faces his brothers, now groveling before this emotionally wounded man. The brothers return to Jacob, their father and reveal…

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True Colors


Our incredibly soulful Sinai Temple Director of Musical Engagement, Jacob Gown led our preschoolers in a Channukah celebration. Among traditional songs, he sang “True Colors”, most notably performed by Cyndi Lauper. Jacob explained that during Channukah, we should use the light of the Channukiah to remind us to see our light, allowing our true colors to shine brightly through the world. How often have we heard the phrase, “Be yourself.” But do we mean it? Be yourself…but don’t wear that. Be yourself…but don’t cause a raucous. Be yourself…but only to the extent that it is good for the crowd. Be…

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The Good Place


I am a latecomer to the watching of the Netflix show, “The Good Place.” Please don’t spoil the end of Season 1 or Season 2. I am really only at the beginning. With that being said, the show questions and interprets the existence of the afterlife. What does it look like in the world to come? How do you get there? Do your actions in life matter in relationship to what’s next? Without getting into Jewish accounts of the afterlife, I am most interested in the idea of being a just “ok” person. The main character, Eleanor, is troubled that…

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The Great Greeting Debate


It is a tradition for my family to go out for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving. We stumbled out of bed, brushed the hair out of out eyes and laughed as every other person in the restaurant appeared the same: a tired-after-turkey- consumption kind of look. We ate, giggled, shared jokes and stories about the night before, and felt grateful for each other’s company. As we left the restaurant, the owner told one of his employees to change their goodbye greeting from “Happy Thanksgiving” to “Happy Holidays.” And immediately, the employee looked at us, opened the door and said, “Happy…

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A Message for Thanksgiving


I need Thanksgiving more than ever. I love turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie. But moreover, I love that for a week, we are meant to focus on gratitude, blessings and how we can gift ourselves to others. This is the first time that I am taking my child to volunteer with others that are impoverished and in need of a smile or two. It is my attempt to impart the message that our purpose as human beings is to open our hearts, extend our hands, and ask, “How can I brighten this world?” Paraphrasing the Baal HaTurim, Rabbi Lori…

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Who are you fooling anyway?


In Toldot, Jacob deceives his father Isaac by pretending to be his brother and attains the birthright blessing. Jacob covers his arms with fur, tricking Isaac due to Isaac’s old age, poor health, and weak eyes. Isaac says, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” Commentators posit that if Jacob was able to disguise his arms, couldn’t he disguise his voice? Whether it was lowering or raising his voice, whispering or pretending he was hoarse from the hunt, certainly Jacob could take a few more steps to completely convince his father. But…

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