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Honorable Mensch-ion

Ultimate Concern


Waking up to the smell of ash and a sky painted with an orange glow of fire was fearful and nerve wracking. The theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned.” Over these past 48 hours, I have witnessed true acts of faith. Community members opening up their homes to others as they evacuated, children baking cookies and making sandwiches for the Los Angeles Fire Department on the front lines, and synagogues and schools welcoming in those in need. We often discuss faith in grandiose terms; this week, faith, ultimate concern, is real. In times of…

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What God Do You Believe In?


A typical complaint a Rabbi receives: “I don’t believe in God.” Here is my answer. “Tell me about the God that you don’t believe in.” Rabbi Neil Gillman, my first theology professor, helped me create this response. I recall the questions he asked us as college freshmen, immature in our theologies. “Where was God on 9/11? Where is God on a pediatric cancer ward? Where was God during the Holocaust?” Rabbi Gillman never provided an answer, but always provided a space to ask these difficult yet important questions. Here was the final assignment: Write your personal theology. The artists drew a…

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Honest Thanksgiving


Our tradition tells us  kol ha’omer davar b’shem omro, mevi geula l’olam – whoever says something in the name of the one who said it first, brings redemption to the world. The words below are the words of my father, Rabbi Charles Sherman, a Thanksgiving message for all. “The holidays are wonderful. But for many of us, the holidays are difficult. This is the first Thanksgiving since our son’s passing. So my family and I are confronted with an existential, universal, and ancient question: How does one express gratitude with a broken heart? For many, the heartbreak may not be about grief, but instead, illness, family tensions,…

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Where Did You Come From?


This morning I met David Bluthenthal, one of the most well known basketball players in Israeli history, for Maccabi Tel Aviv. What is most fascinating about David is where he came from. David grew up in Marina del Rey. His mother was white and his father was black. His great-grandfather was the son of a white sharecropper in the deep south, and he took on his father’s name, Bluthenthal. Growing up, David was in between many worlds. In Jewish circles, he felt black, and in black circles, he felt Jewish. When the Torah mentions Rebecca, she is called, “The daughter…

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A Place to Smile


A house of worship is supposed to be a safe, sacred place. Last Sunday in Sutherland Springs, TX, a holy ground turned into a place of death and destruction. We know from our tradition, that in these most difficult times, an ordinary act of kindness can be exalted. The Torah tells us that Rebecca quickly emptied her jar, and she ran back to the well to draw, and drew for all of Abraham’s camels. Rabbi Chaim Luzatto teaches “The man whose soul yearns to perform the will of his Creator will not be lazy in the performance of God’s mitzvot….

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100 Years of Hospitality


Today, we celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour sent a letter to Lord Rothschild, a prominent Zionist and a friend of Chaim Weizmann, stating that: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” In essence, we met a modern Abraham, who opened a tent for all those to enter. The Rabbis ask, “Why was Lot adjudged a wicked man. Had he not, like Abraham extended unusual hospitality when the same strangers visited him?” The Torah teaches that…

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Monday Night Football


I attended the first NFL game of my life this week. My wife surprised me with a birthday present; tickets to the Philadelphia Eagles Monday Night Football game with my father. The Eagles have always been my favorite team, but I had never seen them play in person. The experience shocked me. I found myself embracing strangers after touchdowns, commiserating in sorrow after penalties, and singing Fly Eagles Fly in unison with 70,000 of my closest friends. As we exited the stadium and waited in an hour of traffic, my father looked at me and asked, “Would you do that again?”…

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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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