Menu   

Honorable Mensch-ion

Freedom Journey


As I landed in Philadelphia this past week, on vacation with my children, the pilot joyfully announced, “Welcome to the city of the birthplace of freedom.” Yesterday morning, my parents drove us past Independence Hall, the place where the United States Constitution was debated and adopted. My father asked, “Does anyone know what happened here?” My daughter, almost 7, answered, “Yes, grandpa, it is the place where the Jews got their freedom!” While this was not the precise answer, it did ring true of the teaching of our Torah this week. The Jews received physical freedom in the Exodus and…

Read this post

The Coach’s Rabbi


Sinai Temple was fortunate to host the Maccabi Haifa basketball team this week, as they prepared to take on the Los Angeles Clippers. After a clinic with Sinai Temple students, I had the opportunity to interview the head coach, Barak Peleg. When I asked if he could beat the Clippers, he responded, “With a rabbi’s blessing!” The 300 guests in attendance stood and recited the shehcheyanu blessing. Peleg responded, “I know that one, because I grew up religious!” Barak Peleg grew up on Kibbutz Lavi, a religious community. When I explained to him that I also had family on a…

Read this post

Beginnings


A school principal stood in front of the parents at the start of the year and said, “Much have I learned from my masters, even more from my colleagues, umiltalmidai yoter mikulam, and from my students more than from all.” Rabbi Bernard Berzon, who preached from the same pulpit for 39 years, explained that the Torah is not an aspirin tablet or a sleeping pill, rather it must be a living document that guides our everyday living, and that disturbs the peace when necessary. Yet, do we make time to open the book, to read it again and again? Our…

Read this post

The Full Cup


A pious man had the custom of putting coins in a few different tzedakah boxes before Shabbat each week. He would then pray. For the orphanage, “May God grant that my children and grandchildren never have to be placed there.” Putting in a few coins for the hospital, he would say, “May God help that I should never go to a hospital.” The last box was for the synagogue. He would exclaim, “May the Almighty be compassionate with me and spare me from having to go there.” While it may seem that a synagogue is a place where only giving…

Read this post

The Sukkah


Rabbi Guzik and I asked our son this week, “What do you do on Yom Kippur?” He answered, “You build a sukkah.” While he may have been a few days ahead of the rest of the Jewish world, I also think his answer was fairly accurate. As Yom Kippur concluded with the Neilah service, I watched as thousands of our Sinai Temple family draped their tallitot over their children’s heads, and recited the birkat kohanim, the priestly blessing. The only image I could think of was a sukkah, a sheltering presence above our heads. The Rabbis ask, “If God could…

Read this post

Are We Ready?


There was a man who was a habitual sinner. There was no sin in the world he had not committed. One day, his conscience tormented him and he decided to repent for his sins. He went to the local Rabbi and confessed all of his transgressions. He told his Rabbi, he knows he deserves a harsh punishment. He was prepared to accept whatever the Rabbi told him. The Rabbi answered him, “After listening to your many confessions and to the description of your sins, here is your punishment…” “I will take a pot of hot lead, and pour it down…

Read this post

It’s Time


Jack once asked his friend Sam, “Why don’t you wear a watch?” Jack asnwered that he does not need one, because he can always ask someone else the time. “But what do you do if you get up during the night and you want to know what time it is?” Jack responded, “I have a shofar! I simply open the window and start blowing the shofar. Soon the neighbors start yelling. Are you crazy??? Why are you blowing the shofar at 3 in the morning? Then, I know what it is exactly.” Rabbi Simon Dolgin wrote, “We blast more than…

Read this post

Walk in God’s Ways


Ten years ago, I delivered my senior sermon at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America on parshat Ki Tavo. At the end of a series of blessings and curses, the Torah teaches us that we should “walk in God’s ways.” Maimonides explains that we must attempt to resemble God as much as possible. As God is gracious, so we should be gracious; as God is compassionate, so we should be compassionate; as God is pious, so we should be pious. The command seems so straightforward, but we all know how challenging it is. The month of Elul is about to…

Read this post

To Believe in Something


Rabbi Harold Kushner was once asked if the Psalms make a spiritual impact on people. His answer, “Only if they listen.” The cynic takes nothing seriously, finds nothing meaningful or sacred. The tribe of Amalek had a single motivation when they aimlessly attacked the Jewish people; to weaken our faith. The Rabbis point out that the numerical value of Amalek is the same as safek, meaning doubt. Rabbi Tazdok HaCohen of Lublin wrote that Amalek was not only a tribe, but it is a quality that may manifest itself in all human beings; mainly, the cynic. A quick perusal of headlines…

Read this post

To Sit Again


Today, I learn how to sit again. For the last eleven months, I have recited the mourner’s kaddish to honor the memory of my brother, Eyal, of blessed memory. I stood at attention each morning, uttering these sacred words in the Sinai Temple minyan, magnifying and sanctifying God’s Holy name, still in mourning and grief. I learned three lessons as a mourner who stands publicly to acknowledge a loss. You are noticed. You are held. You are comforted. My daughter reminded me several weeks ago, “Abba, you are good at praying the kaddish.” Yet, as the days of kaddish dwindled,…

Read this post