SERMON: Divide Jerusalem? Divide Berlin?

There is a word that all of you know. In fact, most all of you will even recognize it in Hebrew. It is one of the words found in three verses of today’s Torah portion that make up 15 words that are amongst the best known in all the Bible. It is the third word in the Priestly Blessing, which reads: “Yevorecacha Hashem – may the Lord bless you,” get ready because here comes the word, “v’yishmerecha – “and keep you.” I told you that most of you would know the word. But let me tell you something else. I suspect most all of you don’t know what it means. What does it mean that God should “keep” you? Keep you where? Keep you what? The first word we understand … may God “bless” you. What does “bless” mean? We all know – it means bless! That’s easy! The biblical commentator, Rashi, specifies its meaning to be: “Your possessions should be blessed.” But what’s with the “keep?” Let me tell you a man who understands what the V’yishmeracha – to “keep” means. And he doesn’t even know a word of Hebrew!

His name is David Dao. Do you remember him? How quickly we forget! Less than two months ago there was hardly anyone in America who didn’t know his name. He is a 69 year-old doctor who was forcibly removed from a flight from Chicago to Louisville, KY. He had a ticket and all his documents were in order. But that didn’t stop United Airlines, which used to have as its tag line, “Fly the Friendly Skies of United,” forcibly wrench him from his seat and physically drag him down the aisle because the flight had been overbooked. To put this in biblical terms, you see what happened? He had a seat but wasn’t allowed to “keep” it! That’s how Rashi explains the V’yishmeracha – to “keep” to mean. In Rashi’s words, “That bandits should not come against you and take your property.” Rashi goes on to say, “For one who gives a gift to his servant is unable to guard it against all people.” What is the good of getting a gift if you are not going to be able to keep it? What is the good of buying a ticket for an airline seat if you are not going to be able to keep it? What is the good of reuniting Jerusalem if the world is going to try and take it away from you? READ MORE

YIZKOR SERMON: Who Are Our Friends?

It was exactly 50 years ago this week that Israel learned what all of us must learn: who are our real friends?

To get a perspective on how to answer this question I first want to draw your attention to two people who play an important role during this festival of Shavuot. Interestingly enough, they are both non-Jews who later on became Jews. But their stories, in regard to the Jewish people, are very different.

First is a woman named Ruth. It is hard to describe how high a pedestal our tradition places her on. She became the forerunner of King David and the Messiah. Her story was chosen to be read on Shavuot when we recall the giving of the Torah because she took on the Torah on her own. She is the paradigm of the quintessential convert. Her conversion takes place through her uttering those immortal words: “Ameich ami v’Elokayich Elokai – Your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God.” READ MORE

SERMON: Sleeping or Rejoicing; the Choice is Ours

You know that I’m no big fan of Donald Trump. But after what he did in Israel this week, I’ve really had it with him! It’s not anything he said, it was just his being there! Because he came, I was forced to move from my hotel in Jerusalem for security reasons. The Secret Service said it needed the whole hotel. I tried to explain that back here at Beth Tfiloh, I am part of the Secret Service … my attendance at services is a big secret! But they just did not get it! The truth is, it made no difference. My stay in Israel was one of the most glorious I’ve ever had. As part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, I got to hear and meet everyone from the prime minister and president of Israel to Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi and more chief rabbis than there are countries in this world! It was all fabulous! But through it all I kept thinking of one person who wasn’t there, who is not alive, but the picture of him is well known in Israeli culture, and it puts into context all that has unfolded before our eyes. Indeed, it sheds light on why we stay up all night on the eve of Shavuot. READ MORE

SERMON: O’Reilly or Pence: Who Got it Right?

I don’t know how I lived before Wikipedia! There is hardly a class or sermon that I prepare without looking up something on Wikipedia. For those who have been living in a cave, Wikipedia exists on the Internet, and refers to itself as “the free encyclopedia.” It is a collection of over 5 million articles on almost every subject imaginable, and it is incredible to imagine how many of its sites are visited every day – approximately 269,708,074! The only question is: does Wikipedia get it right? Because the site can be edited by anyone –people like me and you – can it be relied on? Most everyone agrees that, for the most part, Wikipedia gets it right. But in preparing for this sermon I discovered that Wikipedia got it wrong … not once, but twice! READ MORE

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SERMON: Were Jews Murdered in the Holocaust?

Tell the truth: isn’t Sean Spicer a piece of work? You really never know what’s going to come out of his mouth! Last week, what he said – or didn’t say – in regard to the Holocaust, even he could not find a more eloquent explanation than to say: “I made a mistake. I mean, there’s no other way to say it. I got into a topic that I shouldn’t have and I screwed up.” Unfortunately, when it comes to the Holocaust he’s not the only one of whom that could be said. It happened in Canada last year and now it has happened in our country: the Jews were left out of the Holocaust! READ MORE

SERMON: Everybody is Somebody!

Thirty-three million people were watching it here in America, and countless millions around the world. It was a never-to-be-forgotten moment as the Academy Award for Best Picture was announced – the winner was La La Land. Then, amidst the victory speeches and accolades a commotion erupted on stage. By now we all know what happened! A mistake had been made. The envelope was switched and the real winner was Moonlight. But no one knew what to do – until one man stepped forward. Jordan Hurwitz, the producer of La La Land, took control while everyone else seemed paralyzed and confused. Hurwitz called Moonlight’s team up to the stage, handed over the statue and hugged the real winners.

We Jews have a name for people like Jordan Hurwitz. They are called “nachshonim” and we are reminded of where this name comes from during these last days of Pesach. Do you remember what happened when the Jews stood at the banks of the Red Sea? It happened on the 7th day of Pesach. If you don’t remember the Torah reading, you certainly remember the movie! The Jews have been liberated from Egypt and are on their way to the Promised Land when suddenly they are confronted with the swirling waters of the Red Sea in front of them and the Egyptian army behind them. So they cry out to God and what does God say? “Daber el b’nai Yisroel v’yisau – tell the Jewish people to go forward.” But no one moves! Everyone was fearful of drowning. When the Israelites stood at the edge of the Red Sea, none of the princes, the leaders, had faith in God; none wanted to go into the water. All the princes suddenly became very polite. Each one said to the other, “After you …” Suddenly, out of nowhere, comes along a man named Nachshon ben Aminadav, who, in an act of great faith and courage, plunged into the swirling waters. According to our tradition, because of Nachshon – and Nachshon alone – because of his courage, heroism and faith in God, the Almighty split the Red Sea, thus saving the entire Jewish people. The Jewish people have remembered Nachshon’s name ever since. This is why in modern Israel, the ones who go first, the ones who take the lead in a difficult or dangerous situations are called Nachshonim. READ MORE

SERMON: Immigrants, Refugees, Liberals and the Pesach Experience

PASSOVER – 1ST DAY • APRIL 11, 2017

Last night Jews did what Jews have done at the Pesach Seder since the time of the Temple – they asked four questions. But this year I did one better. I asked a fifth question. The question, “Why do I care about Syrian refugees and Mexican immigrants?”

I do care – I really do care! This is one of the issues that very much divides our country; going in some ways to the heart of the Republican/Democrat, Liberal/Conservative divide. I find it hard to understand why, on this issue, I stand strongly and firmly on the liberal side. It’s just not like me! Generally speaking, my humanitarian side makes itself manifest in my support for the people of Israel. Social action has never been my “thing.” I don’t recycle. Global warming only affects my suntan.

And yet, I am deeply disturbed by the plight of the Syrian refugees and the Mexican immigrants to the U.S. And I do this fully knowing the arguments against them … the effect on our economy, the challenge to our culture and the more immediate fear of terrorism. I am the one who has never hesitated to refer to it as “radical Islam” and “Islamic terrorism.” So what is with me suddenly becoming a “bleeding heart liberal,” wanting our doors to remain open to refugees and immigrants?

There is only one answer I’ve been able to come up with for this fifth question. The answer is found in one word – Pesach. READ MORE