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Honorable Mensch-ion

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The Spark


Our youngest child is fascinated by the Shabbat candles. He loves to watch them glow in the dark. It is a different type of light that comes from the normal ceiling light he sees everyday of the week. He was even more enamored to see the candle lit last night on the first night of Hanukkah. This candle is often the most difficult to light. When there is already a spark, the fire can spread easily. Yet, to go from complete darkness to that tiny flame takes courage. This symbolism is as true in our own lives. It is easier…

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The Voice


There are individuals that when they cross our paths we know we have been touched by an angel. When I arrived in Los Angeles in 2009, I served the community of Shomrei Torah Synagogue, where my partner in crime was Cantor Ron Snow. Ron, born in Detroit, was the true definition of a shaliach tzibbur, a messenger of prayer, who used his simple deep angelic voice to lead us in Shabbat and holiday tefilot. He brought the melodies he learned as a child to the synagogue in West Hills. As Rav Kook taught: hayashan yitchadesh vhechadash yitkadesh, we should renew…

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Thanksgiving Is Jewish


Jewish law dictates the moments when we may interrupt our recitation of the shema. Besides times of danger or greeting a king, we must respond amen to prayers of kedusha, holiness. Yet, there is one prayer outside the holiness canon that we also must break from the shema, and that is the Modim prayer, a prayer of Thanksgiving. The idea of giving thanks is so ingrained in our tradition that we must recognize this fact even if it takes us away for a second from the declaration of our faith, the shema. A religious person is not defined by fluency…

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Communal Famine


We learn this week “There was a famine in the land.” The Torah asks us why this needs to be mentioned? There were famines before. Nachmanides explains, “Aside from the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham: Perhaps there had not been a famine in the whole world until the days of Abraham (Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 26) and therefore the Torah counts from then. For what is the need to mention this? And the correct answer in my eyes is that they remembered that first famine and they told each other about it.” There have been…

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Forward


As we honored Veterans Day, our son taught us the custom of how veterans wear the American Flag. In order to create the image of the flag flying through the breeze, the flag is worn on the right shoulder, backwards, giving the same effect as the wearer moves forward. In times of a pandemic, a divided country, and so many other challenges we face as individuals and as a global community, this image is powerful, reminding us that we must find the sparks to do exactly that: move forward. This week, we also lost a giant in the Jewish world,…

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Just Challah


Choosing a challah is not an easy choice these days: Belgian chocolate chunk, cinnamon sugar, kalamata olive, and pretzel are only a sampling of the challot you can have on your Shabbat table. When I grew up in, it was simply challah….or challah. Last night, Sinai Akiba Academy participated in the worldwide challah bake. Over 100 families participated, with the same ingredients in their homes as we learned the history and halachot around challah. We know that the Shabbat table mirrors the mizbeach, the Temple’s altar in Jerusalem. Our Torah teaches that when Abraham invites the angels into his tent,…

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Go


When I was in 3rd grade, I learned the parsha Lech Lecha. The Rabbi looked at my classmate and shouted, “Go, Avraham, get out of here!” My friend, named Avraham, got out of his seat, and quickly exited the classroom, not realizing the Rabbi was quoting the parsha verbatim. During these interesting times, we have very few places to go. Travel is limited, we work from home, we connect over a screen. And yet, there are so many places that we can go. As Abraham journeys towards the promised land, the Torah tells us: haloch vnaso hanegbah, He travelled toward…

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The Ark


John Huibers, from the Netherlands, took 4 years and 2 months to build a replica of Noah’s Ark, which he dreams of one day floating to the land of Israel. While each year we read the story of Noah, from the flood to the ark to the rainbow as a metaphor of how to improve our moral lives, it does not go unnoticed that we have all built our own arks in the last 8 months. However, we have also left our own sacred arks: synagogues, schools, places of gatherings. We have brought our families, our animals, our most prized…

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Something From Nothing


Over the past six months, we have learned to find joy during challenging times. For each Bar and Bat Mitzvah, we have created a ritual called kabbalat ha-Torah, where we deliver a Torah scroll to the family’s home. For the first time, the child puts on the tallit, and has an aliyah to the Torah, the official marking of Jewish adulthood. A recent Bar Mitzvah family decided to do something unique. In Kohn Chapel and the Ziegler Sanctuary, we have already established pulpits with custom-made tables to hold the Torah while it is read. A few weeks ago, a mother…

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We Finished…And We Begin


The sigh of relief when we finish a giant project is often the best feeling of the experience. Yet, when we finish the annual reading of the Torah, the most exciting part is what is yet to be. The last word of the Torah is Yisrael. We evolved from individuals placed on this earth into a sacred people, tilling God’s garden and fixing the world. The first word of the Torah is Bereshit. Each year as a people we begin again. Our Rabbis teach kol hatchalot kashot, all beginnings are difficult. Once we have started, it is much easier to…

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