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Honorable Mensch-ion

The Minyan


When I was 8 years old I had a unique birthday party. It was celebrated in the daily minyan. I can still recite the names of the attendees by heart, mostly octogenarians who made prayer a daily part of their life. Yet, the minyan was as much about the words in the prayerbook as it was about the relationships built in the pews. We visited each other when we were sick, we celebrated with each other during simcha, and we became a family. Today, as I sit in our Sinai Temple chapel, almost three decades after that memorable birthday party,…

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New Normal


I spent most of my week carrying a Torah scroll from class to class in our synagogue’s pre-school. When I asked the children what we should do when we finish the Torah, most of them inherently understood that our Torah study is never complete. They yelled with joy, “We will start all over!” Rabbi Joseph Hertz, the first Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, writes that the original name of Genesis was Sefer Massaeh Berehit, “The Book of Creation.” The Torah does not start in Exodus, with the earliest commandments to the Jewish people. Rather, we learn the origins of…

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Happy and Sad


Sukkot is called z’man simchateinu, a time of happiness. The Torah commands us, v’samachta b’chagecha, you should rejoice in your festival. Yet, this week has been one of sadness. A short litany of events; personal loss in our family and community, natural disasters around the world, and the worst mass shooting on American soil. How can we sit in our sukkah this evening and fulfill this commandment to rejoice? The real question is, “What is happiness?” The Vilna Gaon teaches that simcha, joy, is an inner state of happiness, rather than an outward expression. Sukkot is a time set aside…

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The Loss of My Brother


Last week, I led our community in the Unetaneh Tokef prayer. We sang, Mi yichye u mi yamoot, who shall live and who shall die. This week, this prayer is more than words; it is my reality. Last Sunday, my brother, my best friend, and my hero, Eyal David Sherman, of blessed memory, passed away, at the age of 36. Eyal has been a quadriplegic for the last 32 years, after suffering a brain tumor and stroke. Eyal could not move a limb of his body and he could not make a sound with his voice. Yet, Eyal graduated college…

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Shofar Blast


Once it happened that a young boy from a small village came to a big town for the first time. He stopped at an inn, on the outskirts of the town. Suddenly he heard the sound of a bugle. He asked the innkeeper what it meant. “Whenever we have a fire,” the innkeeper explained to the lad, “we sound the bugle, and the fire is quickly put out.” “How wonderful!” thought the village lad. “What a surprise and sensation I will bring to my village!” Thereupon, the young boy went and bought himself a bugle. When he returned to his…

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Bless the Broken Road


The Talmud teaches that atop of King David’s bed, hung a harp. As soon as midnight would arrive, a northerly wind would blow upon the strings of the harp and cause it to play itself. The music would awaken King David from his slumber and he would arise to study Torah until the break of dawn. This Saturday evening, we follow the study habits of King David. We will gather at Sinai Temple for our Selichot service, the prayers recited the week before Rosh Hashana. We pray that our sacred music will awaken our souls to do the hard work…

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A Simple T-Shirt


While scrolling my Twitter feed after Hurricane Harvey’s landfall, I saw a post by University of Houston basketball coach, Kelvin Sampson. He made a simple ask. Send 20 t-shirts to Houston. On my bookshelf, I spotted 20 leftover T-shirts from our Sinai Temple Basketball Camp and I felt the urge to help. By the end of the day, these t-shirts were Houston bound. I will never know who will wear these shirts, and the recipients will not have heard of Sinai Temple. In our Torah we learn the mitzvah of a hashavat aveida, returning lost property. Yet, watching the news…

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If Only…


I was in line for frozen yogurt last night minding my own business as the customer in front of me started to gossip and use inappropriate language. She noticed the kippah on my head, and said out loud, “I shouldn’t be speaking like this!!!” After I told her I was a Rabbi, the conversation switched to theology. She had the urge to tell me that four years ago, her father passed away suddenly. She looked at me as I was about to order and said, “Rabbi, you really believe in God when you hear things like this?” This week we started…

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See For Yourself


In a Philadelphia shopping mall this week, a large sign hanging from the ceiling read, “Seeing is believing.” Today, driving through Lancaster, Pennsylvania I noticed church after church with membership advertisements One read, “God knows you…but do you know God?” I could not help but think of the first word of our parsha, Reeh, meaning “See!” See the difference between the blessings and curses that God puts before us. The Talmud teaches that hearing is not comparable to seeing. We cognitively comprehend the difference between hearing and seeing. When we watch the news from afar and see a tragedy afflict…

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God as Coach


The modern theologian Rabbi Neil Gilman once assigned our Rabbinical school class this task: Create your own God metaphor. We were required to ask the same question that we ask our own toddlers, “What does God look like to you?” The artists in the class drew a picture, and the poets composed poems. I came up with something different. With a passion for sports, I described God as a coach. When a team is winning, it is the coach who is in the shadows. The players often receive the credit for what happens on the court. Yet, when the chips…

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