Every once in a while I mention in my sermons that I don’t like to discuss politics from the pulpit and many of you just sit there and giggle! Well, today I am going to talk politics from the pulpit, and what I have to say is nothing to laugh about. But in order for me, as a rabbi, to talk politics I first must disguise it by a D’var Torah regarding the Fast of Asara b’Tevet.
This Tuesday is a sad day in the Jewish calendar. It is the 10th day of Tevet and I think it is fair to say that most Jews don’t know – or don’t care – about that day. Really, how many of you who come to shul every Shabbat know what the Fast of Asara b’Tevet commemorates? Yet our tradition considers it a significant day. There were other fast days that our people used to commemorate which over the centuries were removed from the calendar. Indeed, there used to be fasts on the 8th and 9th of Tevet as well. We no longer observe them. After all, if we fasted every day that had a tragic event took place for the Jews, we would never have to go on a diet! But our rabbis kept the fast of the 10th day of Tevet, and in fact considered it so important that whereas other fast days, besides Yom Kippur, which come out on Shabbos are delayed. If Asara b’Tevet could fall on Shabbos, it would not be delayed. READ MORE
Every Shabbat here at Beth Tfiloh is special, but this Shabbat of the Weiner Tournament
is one of the highlights of our year as we welcome student athletes from some of the finest Jewish day high schools in America and Canada, and this year from Israel as well! Receiving the kind of education they are getting makes them the true future of our people. All of our children are special, but these are very special. And that is why it was so painful for all of us to recently lose one of them.
Ezra Schwartz was a graduate of the Maimondes High School in Boston where he had
our own Rabbi Soskil and Nina Cusner as teachers. Upon graduation he did what many students of day schools and Yeshivot do … he decided to spend his “gap year” before college by going to Israel for a program of study and volunteering. It was while serving as a volunteer, bringing food to soldiers in Judea, that a Palestinian gunman opened fire, killing Ezra. Unfortunately, tragically, incidents like this have become part of the day-to-day life in Israel. But this time was different … the killing of Ezra struck home. It could have been any one of the children attending the Weiner Tournament. Many – if not most – have already been to Israel. Our Beth Tfiloh seniors are taken to Israel every year. And then there is that “gap year” when many of the young adults here today have plans of spending the year in Israel like a cousin of our Bar Mitzvah who is not here today. He is in Israel where, after his gap year of study, he is now starting
I hope that all of you who intended to go will still decide to go. But that is not for me to
say. One of my sons was in Israel during the Gulf War when Saddam Hussein was firing scud missiles into Israel. We decided to allow him to stay, but I can only make decisions regarding my children … your parents will have to make a decision regarding you. You may not like their decision and I have reason to believe that it won’t be the first time that you won’t like their decision! But that’s okay. As my mother used to say to me, and I say to you: “Someday you’ll understand … someday you’ll have children and you’ll understand …;” you’ll understand some of the decisions your parents made, decisions not made out of stupidity but out of love. READ MORE
This week I couldn’t help but think about the words uttered by the Godfather, Don Corleone, to the gangster, Virgil Sollozzo, when he says to him: “It don’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living you understand, but your business is a little dangerous.” It is shortly thereafter that Sollozzo gets gunned down by Michael Corleone in the famous restaurant scene. I must tell you that I never considered my business dangerous. Yet recently there was something in the news that, if true, could put me out of business, permanently! Strangely enough, it was a study found in the journal Current Biology.
The authors of the study, led by a scholar at the University of Chicago, involved nearly 1,200 children from Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa and the United States. Their research discovered that children raised in religious homes were significantly less likely to share and demonstrate altruism than those coming from the homes of atheists or non-religious families. The study went against everything that every religious leader has preached; the belief that being religious helped make someone more empathetic and morally sensitive. In the words of the researchers: “Overall, our findings cast light on the cultural input of religion on pro-social behavior and contradicts the common sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others.”
That is an absolutely mind-boggling statement, seemingly going against what every religion, and certainly our religion, preaches. Rav, the codifier of the Talmud tells us: “You think it really matters to God how an animal is slaughtered. Know that the purpose of the mitzvot is l’tsaref et habriyot – to refine man, to make man a better person.” This study seems to say that it doesn’t work! Being religious doesn’t mean being better. And if that’s true, that is not good for my business! READ MORE
Last week I had a sad experience. I was reading an Israeli newspaper online describing the situation in Jerusalem where tourists had disappeared, trips were called off, people were fearful to stand at bus stations, no one was going downtown … and then I saw an article with the headline: “The Choir That Didn’t Cancel.” Before reading the article for some reason I said to myself: I bet you it wasn’t a Jewish choir. And sadly, I was right. The choir was 150 singers from an American group called “The Singing Men from Georgia.” This is a group of Baptists who were giving a concert called “Bringing Hope to the Peoples of the Holy Land.” They didn’t cancel … would you? Honestly, would you book a trip to Israel these days given the situation there? I would! I can’t go now, but this past week I booked a flight to go to Israel in January. Would you? The truth of the matter is, anyone reading the newspapers would certainly agree that given the situation there, this is far from the perfect time to visit. But I wouldn’t hesitate to go. I don’t make light of the situation but I can’t help but feel right now I would be safer in downtown Jerusalem than downtown Baltimore. READ MORE
It is said that one picture is worth a thousand words. If that be the case, the picture that appeared in the New York Post and went viral on the Internet before Yom Kippur speaks volumes about the contemporary Jewish condition and helps explain why I already miss the Pope, and perhaps provides the beginning of an answer to one of the greatest challenges confronting the Jewish people. (Now if you had trouble understanding that sentence, how do you think I feel?)
Let me explain. It took place two days before Yom Kippur at a time when Jews around the world have a custom of participating in the Kapparot ritual. The ritual itself has a long history of controversy and some great rabbis wish ed to completely ban it. The ritual used to involve a chicken … you swing a live chicken over your head, proclaiming in effect that you, yourself, deserve to die for your sins but instead this chicken will be put to death as expiation for your sins. Sort of, instead of a scapegoat … a scape chicken! READ MORE
Today I want to take back something I’ve said to you countless times on this day of Shemini Atzeret. So many sermons I delivered on this day began by pointing out that this festival of Shemini Atzeret is very strange. Unlike most other festivals, it has no special ceremony nor does this day mark any historic occasion. Shemini Atzeret is a holiday unto itself… independent of Sukkot and independent in its manner from any other major observance. Today I want to take that back! This year on Yom Kippur I was reminded that there IS something unique about this day … there is something special we do on this day. And what we do has tremendous contemporary relevance. READ MORE
We can all picture the images before our eyes. They are fleeing, not by the hundreds and not by the thousands, not by the tens of thousands… they are fleeing by the millions. History will never be the same! Of course, I am referring to the two million refugees who fled the land of Egypt, whose travails we remember during this festival of Sukkot, when the Jews having fled the bondage of Egypt, found themselves not in Hungary, not in Germany and not in Turkey… but in a wilderness, living in booths for 40 years.
We Jews are sensitive to the plight of refugees for a good part of our history that is just what we’ve been – refugees – from Egypt, Israel, England, Spain and on and on. And then came the Holocaust when the world would not even allow Jews to become refugees… when all doors were slammed in our faces by the civilized world. So what we now see taking place in the Middle East, across the Mediterranean Sea and entering Europe, cannot help but touch us as Jews and as Americans; a country made up in large part of refugees. READ MORE