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Posts by Rabbi David Wolpe

Bring Back the Noise


For years we had a problem at morning minyan. There is a day school in the synagogue, which is a great blessing. The kids arrive around the time of the minyan, which is less of a blessing. People trying to pray would be distracted by a sudden onrush of noise – parents dropping off their children, children shouting to one another, and an occasional frantic student running into the chapel to grab a kippah that was inadvertently left at home. The minyan attendees were a very tolerant bunch, but sometimes it was not easy. Then of course, the pandemic struck….

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A Tradition of Song


In synagogue we do something that people in society rarely do – we sing together. Our greatest heroes composed shirim – the Hebrew word for Psalm and also for song. Moses sang, Miriam sang, and King David was the “sweet singer of Israel (2 Sam 23:1).” When the children of Israel cross the sea, they cry out “The Lord is my strength and my song (ex. 15:2).” The spirit of song runs deep in the Jewish people. There is a small midrash called Perek Shirah, the chapter of song. It depicts the entire world singing to God, beginning with the…

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The Gift of Growth


One of the unfortunate aspects of current culture is that the antagonisms are counterproductive: insulting someone makes them less susceptible to change. Who would wish to join the side that has vilified them? The ratcheting up of rhetoric makes others less likely to have a change of heart and make common cause with a side that was so unkind to them. This is partly a symptom of a tragic view of human beings — that they cannot or will not change. When someone apologizes, the instant response is to distrust its sincerity. When a person does change a position or…

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The True Story of a Record-breaking Feat


In 1943, chess grandmaster Miguel Najdorf played 40 opponents simultaneously – blindfold. As interesting as the feat itself is why he chose to do it. Najdorf grew up in Poland as Mojsze Mendel Najdorf and became one of the leading players in the world. In 1939, he was representing Poland in the chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires when WWII broke out. He stayed in Argentina and could not communicate with his family. Najdorf wanted to let them know how he was, and perhaps establish contact. He decided that if he did something that would make the newspapers all over the…

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A Strange Holiday


It is a commonplace to say that something is what it is. Well, Shemini Atseret is what it isn’t. On the one hand, it is the eighth day of sukkot, hence the name “Shemini” which means eighth. On the other hand, as we say “Shehechiyanu” on Shemini Atseret, it is a separate holiday. On yet another hand, there are different interpretations of what Atseret means, whether ‘stop’ or ‘gather’ or to “store up” as with grain. It is marked by Yizkor, the memorial prayer, and geshem, the prayer for rain, but neither defines the holiday. So what is it? It…

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Both Passing and Permanent


I don’t know if the story is true, but I hope it is. Goldberg built a sukkah. Next door lived a nasty man who didn’t like Jews and decided to get an injunction against unstable structures in the neighborhood. The case came to court and having listened to the arguments, Judge Steinberg said, “You are correct. The structure may not stand. Mr. Goldberg, you have a week to take it down.” Sukkot is a holiday of temporariness. Everything passes, everything changes. Walls are fragile, roofs are porous, life itself is passing. We read Ecclesiastes to remind ourselves that all is…

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Yom Kippur Connections


When I was a child and left a school to move to another city, there was a good chance that I would not see my schoolmates again. There was no social media and every lived in their own city and their own world. Now people can be in touch with almost everyone with whom they crossed paths. We are closer to the population of our own pasts than was imaginable even two decades ago. Yet with all the potential closeness to others, we seem farther from ourselves. Yom Kippur is a time to rediscover and renew one’s own soul. It…

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Listen To This!


The mitzvah is not to blow the shofar, but to listen to it. That may be because only one person can blow and many listen, but I would like to think that it is teaching the Jewish version of why we have one mouth but two ears. Because as much as we need to say things, we need to hear things even more. We live in a culture that prizes self-expression. There are classes in creative writing, journaling, speaking, all the ways in which we can bring forth what is inside of us. But few and far between are those…

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God and Gershwin


On Shabbat morning in synagogue I realized that the Gershwin lyric: “The Rockies may tumble/ Gibraltar may crumble/ they’re only made of clay/ but our love is here to stay” had a biblical root. Because we read in the Haftorah from Isaiah 54:10: “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you.” That got me to thinking anew how many are unaware of the constant theme in Judaism of God’s love. My first book, over thirty years ago, was called “The Healer of Shattered Hearts” and explored this theme, and…

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Wounding and Forgiving


Right before Yom Kippur two women who have had a long standing fight see one another in the synagogue. One says: “You know, it is a new year. It is time to put an end to the bickering and fighting. I want you to know that in the new year I wish for you everything you wish for me.” And the second woman says, “So, you are starting up with me again!” Elul is the month of repentance but also a time of forgiveness. We know we are supposed to approach others and ask for forgiveness but what if we…

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