Off the Pulpit


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Redeeming One Another?

When I was a teenager, two strangers came to our home. They were Russian, and I learned that they visited to thank my parents, who had helped them escape from the Soviet Union. I have since learned many stories of Jews who helped other Jews, risked their own safety, smuggled goods in and people out, in an attempt to help.   Such benevolence is not new. In the 15th century, some 250 Portugese Jews captured at African seaports were sold as slaves throughout the kingdom of Alfonso V. The Jews of Lisbon formed a committee and through the beneficence of…

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Dinner Table Topic?

For years I have been asking students of various ages if they ever had a discussion about God around the dinner table. Once the smiles abate, I ask why not. The reasons are usually the same: everyone has different opinions; nobody really knows; what is there to say – you believe or you don’t.   Of course people have different opinions about almost everything. Of the three topics one is not supposed to discuss in polite company – sex, politics, and religion – the first two comprise most of our conversation and only the last is rarely mentioned. Yet what…

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When the brothers meet, Esau tells Jacob “I have much.” Jacob responds by saying “I have enough” (lit. I have everything.)            The scholar and ethicist Meir Tamari calls this “the economics of enough.” We always want more; as Koheleth teaches, “the eye never has enough of seeing nor the ear of hearing” — we might add, nor the hand of grasping. Yet beyond a certain point money and possessions are not what you need or even what you can use, but about salving the ego with more and more and more.        …

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A New Year Of Prayer

Those who are new to traditional Jewish prayer often hear it as a parade of gibberish. There are moments when the congregation sings together but then it is like boxers retreating to their corners, each becoming newly occupied with his or her own stream of chants or mumbles.   Rabbi Simon Greenberg used to say that Jews pray alone together. Individual hearts, each with its own sorrows and dreams, also join in a collective aspiration that takes flight at certain moments in the service. Mumbling, although it is the recitation of words, is closer in sound to the babbling of…

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