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A Bisl Torah

Who Sees You?


Who sees you?   When a caterpillar sheds its cocoon in becoming a butterfly, there is a feeling of release, an exultation of being free. No longer shielded by the cocoon, we admire the raw beauty of the butterfly and its ability to emerge as something new.    Interestingly enough, many of us crave the opposite. A cocoon, an inner sanctuary where we are protected from judgment, criticism, vulnerability, and unpredictability sounds magnificent. A place where we can hide; where we only see ourselves.    But, this kind of place doesn’t exist. And so, we create living, moving cocoons and…

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Who is Wise?


What is true wisdom?   Last week, our Torah explained that those selected to build the Tabernacle should be chachmei-lev, wise of heart. Not artistic. Not crafty. Not even mathematical or punctilious with detail. Wise of heart.    Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin (1749-1821) asks the question, how does one acquire wisdom in the first place? He replies with a verse from Mishlei: “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God.”    My personal take: wisdom is attained when we wake up each morning with wonder, awe, marvel and curiosity. How is it possible that I am awake, breathing and…

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We find ourselves holding our breath


Our flight home from Florida to Los Angeles was filled with bumps and the kind of drops that caused my stomach to flip more than once. I asked the flight attendance how she felt and she said this flight was in her top three bumpiest rides. My husband thought I was overreacting when I started the chorus of applause when the plane landed…but it was truly a relief when those wheels touched ground.   As I gripped my seat, knuckles turning white, I felt a warm, little hand weave its way into mine. Looking down, my daughter’s arm was fully…

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We can’t be everything for everyone.


I had the pleasure of attending the Women’s Guild Symposium with Women’s Guild Cedars-Sinai. Dr. Wendy Walsh, a psychologist and analyst of human behavior most notably regarding aspects of love, explained that we need to diversify our emotional portfolio. Meaning, a person with emotional well-being leans on many people for a variety of needs. We might turn to a friend to walk us through a social misunderstanding. A partner may offer a hug during periods of grief. A sibling or cousin may understand a personal issue better than anyone else. However, we implode and cause others to implode when we…

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Forgiveness isn’t synonymous with weakness.


Perhaps the greatest mystery of all is the capacity of the human heart. My father in law, Rabbi Charles Sherman invited Officer Steven McDonald, zichrono livracha to his congregation for Selichot services. Officer McDonald would share his life-altering story: He was 29 years old when he and his partner stopped to speak to three teenage boys loitering in Central Park. One of them, age 15 years old, pulled out a gun and shot McDonald three times. The incident left McDonald paralyzed from the neck down. And yet, regarding his attacker Shavod Jones, McDonald said, “I forgive him and hope that…

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When does a miracle take place?


When does a miracle take place? Identifying a miracle is tricky business. How does one define a miracle? Definitions include a surprising occurrence that has divine agency or an improbable, unexplainable event that is both welcoming and wondrous. But I am realizing that a miracle isn’t a miracle until someone takes the time to open their eyes and label the event. A sunset to one may just be a daily, routine event and to another, it is a miracle that the world continues to function according to a particular order. Waking up each day and taking a breath may be…

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How will you reach your Promised Land?


Imagine the scene: Moses is standing on the precipice, the cliff overlooking the Sea of Reeds. He is frightened and can’t imagine what the future holds. But he sees the armies of Pharaoh behind him and the water below. Seemingly stuck, he begins to pray. But God teaches Moses a life-changing lesson. God hears Moses’ cries and seems to understand the difference between prayer and paralysis. Between thoughtfully weighing out a decision and procrastinating enough so the moment passes us by. But God doesn’t let Moses stay still. Quite the opposite. God says, “Why are you praying to me? Tell…

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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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