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A Bisl Torah

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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You Don’t Look Jewish


Growing up in Orange County, it was a refrain I would hear often. “You don’t look Jewish.” Light hair, fair-skinned, blue eyes, I struggled with the people that would try to convince me with might and frustration that I couldn’t possibly be born a Jew. My mother would remind me to look the agitator in the eye and respond, “Well, tell me. What then, does a Jew look like?” Just take a look at our congregation on a Shabbat morning. Dark, light, blue-eyed or green, Persian, Israeli, Russian, native Californian…we all look Jewish to me. But not because of our…

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An Extra Soul


On Erev Shabbat, the Talmud teaches us that we receive an extra soul. I never thought to ask, “Where does this soul come from?” Rashi explains that with an extra soul comes an expanded heart. That perhaps, within ourselves is always the possibility of this hidden soul. With reflection, prayer and introspection, Shabbat is the time in which our heart breaks open and the extra soul is revealed. But there is another way to think about this Shabbas gift. Perhaps, just perhaps, the extra soul is a visit from a loved one that has traveled from beyond this world. On…

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Gardening


I recently spoke with a congregant who shared the following life advice: “Treat every relationship like a flower in a garden. Pay attention to it. Water it. Get rid of the weeds. Just a few minutes a day allows the flower to bloom.” I couldn’t help but think about what happens when you oversaturate a flower. Put the flower in too much sunlight, the petals dry out. An overabundance of water, the plant drowns, unable to breathe. Just like gardening, paying attention in a relationship is actually a very tricky thing. In our closest of connections, it takes time to learn…

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Why an Olive Branch?


This week’s Bisl Torah is featured in the Jewish Journal: Many of my conversations with people in abusive or volatile relationships begin with the following mental negotiation: “Rabbi, I understand that my current situation is unhealthy and unstable, but it is all I know. To leave this life is entering a new world I can’t begin to understand.” The negotiation is often the nurturing of an inner dialogue, a back and forth between an existence that while detrimental, is predictable and another that while, pulsating with the unknown, is filled with endless possibility. Some choose light; but so many return…

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Let It Go


Is it possible to let go? In the story of Creation, God ceases work at the beginning of the seventh day and blesses the seventh day by instituting rest. In essence, Shabbat begins. Sforno, the Italian commentator on the Torah wonders how one would be able to determine this exact moment: the end of sixth and beginning of the seventh day. He cites Bereshit Rabbah which says that the instance Shabbat begins is as thin as a hair’s breadth. Meaning, the span between work and respite is very small, almost impossible to feel or see. It also means that it…

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What happens when it is over?


These past few days in the sukkah have been nothing short of magical. The food, company, sweet smells of the outdoors, and special time allotted to reconnect with familiar faces and engage with friends anew. The challenge is transposing life within the sukkah post the seven days of Sukkot. How does the joy experienced during this finite time make its way past the makeshift booths and into the monotonous details of everyday life? Such is the sentiment expressed by British novelist and Jewish communal leader, Israel Zangwill in his poem, “A Tabernacle Thought”: Lovely grapes and apples, And such pretty…

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