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Honorable Mensch-ion

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…

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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…

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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,…

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High Holy Days Are Coming


The sound of the shofar and the ordering of honey are signs that the High Holy Days are approaching. Yet, a little known but significant indication of this season is the daily recitation of Psalm 27, beginning this Shabbat of Rosh Chodesh Elul. We read, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, this I request, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze at the graciousness of God and to visit in his sanctuary.” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains this is impossible! Even the Priests and Levites in the…

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The Summer Camp Experience


This week, Rabbi Nicole Guzik and I are serving as Rabbis-in-Residence at Camp Ramah in Ojai, CA. Please enjoy the words that we sent to the families of Ramah campers. While I cannot count the number of times I have put on tefillin, I do know that I have never been witness to or a participant in the process of creating a pair of tefillin…..Until today. How do you answer the question, “What happens at Jewish summer camp?” The typical responses are celebrate Shabbat, learn about and connect to Israel, and create strong Jewish relationships that will last a lifetime….

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The Best Teachers Are Our Students


RecentIy, I was impressed when a young child told me that the tooth fairy gives him a $10 allowance for each tooth. I asked him, “What do you do with all that money? He said, “The first time I gave it to tzedakah.” A simple act of reward, transformed into an act of chesed, lovingkindness. Our Torah teaches in the Shema that we must teach Torah to our children. Sefer Hachinuch tells us that if a parent and a child both need to study Torah, the child takes precedence. Repeatedly, we learn more from our children than the lessons we…

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I Wonder If…


I recently sat in a meeting where we had the ability to set a vision for a program that would impact the Jewish world. We put no budgetary constraints or limits to what could impact this vision. At the conclusion of the meeting, each participant went around and recited “I wonder if….” Our true vision occurs when we do not confine our minds to what could be. Yet, we know, in reality, we are faced with what is. Tomorrow evening, we begin Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. The prophet Isaiah teaches that our offerings have…

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Summer Journeys


As we finish the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, we read the travel log of the Israelites. For several years, I led high school trips to Israel as we read this parsha. The tour guide would point to a sign on the road, and instantaneously reference the verse in this week’s Torah portion. It was as if we were holding the world’s first AAA guide book. Thankfully, the Torah is more than our tour guide. It is our moreh derekh, our spiritual handbook. The question we must ask is not where our journeys have taken us, but rather what…

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Recalculating


It is difficult to make a wrong turn anymore. Protected by our mobile devices’ innate ability to have us reach our destination in the shortest time possible, even when we think we veer off course, a quick reminder tells us, “recalculating.” Our Torah permits us to recalculate our spiritual life this Shabbat. In the midst of our journey through the wilderness, the Torah tells us the appointed times to set in our calendar. In a world of autopilot, it is valuable to turn off our GPS and attempt to navigate our lives manually. Chris Washburne, jazz professor at Columbia University,…

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Tents


While I have little experience camping, I do know that pitching a tent is a must. A Jewish tent seems to differ from the tents we are used to. Mah tovu ohalecha Yakov, how good are your tents, oh Jacob. The tents of our tradition are not closed, but are rather open on each side. A chupa, for example, a wedding canopy, allows the public to see into the most intimate sacred moment. The Talmud teaches that creating peace between people offers rewards both in this world and in the next. We do this by greeting people properly. Rabbi Yaakov…

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