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Archive for September, 2013

SERMON: Be Not Overly Righteous …

September 30, 2013 Leave a comment

It’s the oldest mystery story in all of history … the questions it raises are 5734 years old. It’s possible – just possible – that only now do we have some hint to solving a question that has puzzled humanity in general, and Biblical commentators in particular, since the dawn of creation.

Today we began at the very beginning. “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.” Shortly thereafter came Adam and Eve and certainly their lives raise many questions. But it’s the story of their children, Cain and Abel that still affects us to this day … the first murder in human history. How could one man kill another, in the Garden of Eden, no less? As if to complicate the question, how could it be a brother killing a brother? How is that possible? The rabbis, through their midrashic comments, add another layer of mystery to this first murder. How did it all come about? You remember? There were two brothers, Cain and Abel, both of whom offered sacrifices to the Almighty. What were the sacrifices? One brought the mipri ha-adamah from the fruits of the field. The other brought M’bchorot tzono from the finest of his sheep. Who brought which? Cain brought the fruits of the field, while Abel brought the animals … something Cain refused to do. Do you know why he refused? Our sages offer a fascinating explanation. Cain refused to sacrifice an animal because he couldn’t get himself to kill an animal, not even for the sake of God. Cain could not stand the thought of hurting even a small animal. And then what happened? Cain became the first murderer in history when he killed his brother Abel. READ MORE

SERMON: Gas Masks Are for Purim…Not Sukkot?!?

September 23, 2013 Leave a comment

I am going to ask you a simple question, but I tell you right now that the answer is not so simple! Question: Who would seem to have a clearer perspective … a 13 year old teenager or an 85 year old sage? Under normal circumstances, the answer would be obvious. But not today!

On this Shabbat of Chol Hamoed Sukkot, our Bar Mitzvah boy, David Renbaum, reminded us of an ancient debate about this festival of Sukkot that still has contemporary relevance. What is it that we commemorate and celebrate during this festival of Sukkot? Again, a seemingly simple question but the answer is not so simple! Most everyone would tell you that during this festival of Sukkot we commemorate how the Jews traveled in the wilderness for 40 years and were able to survive while living in sukkot … living in little booths. And so this week we do the same.

But you should know that is only one opinion; the opinion of Rabbi Akiva. In the Talmud we are offered a different perspective, the perspective of Rabbi Eleazer who says that what we commemorate on Sukkot are the “ananei hakavod” – the clouds of glory that followed the camp of Israel as it traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land of Israel. According to our tradition, God protected the Jews during their travels by providing them with seven clouds of glory which enveloped them. One was placed under their feet like a carpet, one was above their heads like a shadow, four were on all their four sides and the seventh cloud went before them to show the way. All Israel dwelt in one protective booth made of these clouds. According to Rabbi Eleazer, our Sukkah today is there to remind us of this Divine protection that God gave us. READ MORE

Categories: Sermons Tags: ,

Sukkot Reading

September 17, 2013 Leave a comment

Something interesting to read over Sukkot … how many books have you read? Isn’t it time for you to read a Jewish book?

Here’s Tablet Magazine’s round up of the 101 Great Jewish Books

Categories: Books Tags: ,

SERMON: Yom Kippur – Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

September 16, 2013 Leave a comment

We had a wonderful member of our congregation named Robert Winegrad who passed away last year. One of the wonderful things he did was maintain a family tradition that was started in 1952 when they began distributing Passover food baskets to needy Jewish families. To help raise funds for this worthy project, the family had printed contribution cards as many organizations do. This year, in
preparing words to speak at Bob’s unveiling, I came across one of these cards that he had sent to me which said, “A contribution has been made to the Passover Basket Fund.” And then he wrote, “O great and exalted spiritual leader, we thank you for your leadership and inspiration and given the length of your High Holiday sermons, for preparing us for eternity.” Signed, Dotsie and Bob Winegrad.

Well, if you think my sermons are long … you can’t imagine how long it takes to prepare them!

This one spread out over months when I found a reoccurring theme that struck me by virtue of a book I read, a movie I saw, a news clip I watched and an article that broke my heart. And together they all teach us an important lesson in life; a lesson that can best be expressed by a wonderful song that Bruce Springsteen chants: “Keep your eyes on the prize!” READ MORE

SERMON: Yom Kippur – Never? Again!

September 16, 2013 Leave a comment

A week before Rosh Hashana I received a phone call from one of Maryland’s U.S. Senators. I am not going to tell you which one, but HE said he was calling to wish me a happy New Year. I told him that I thought that was so nice that in return I promised that he and his wife, Myrna, could come to services and not worry that I was going to give a political sermon. That was THEN. But a lot has happened since then involving Syria. It is something that, as a rabbi, I feel I have to talk about. But I’m not going to make it political … I’m going to try and make it religious. What position should we, as Jews, take in regard to a response to the Assad regime’s having gassed its own people? It just so happens that the answer to that goes to the very essence of why tonight and tomorrow are Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – the holiest day for the Jewish people.

The Torah tells us that on the tenth day of Tishrei, “you shall afflict your souls.” But why on the tenth day of Tishrei? Rosh Hashana is on the first of Tishrei because that’s the day of creation. Pesach is on the fifteenth of Nissan because that was the day of the exodus from Egypt. But why of all days was the tenth day of Tishrei chosen to be the Day of atonement? Answer our sages: a great moment in time took place on that day. It was on that day that the Torah tells us: “Vayomer Hashem salachti kidverecha –“And God said: I have forgiven as you asked.” It was on this day that God forgave the Jews for the sin of
the Golden Calf. READ MORE

Learning Judaism as a “Native Language”

September 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Something to think about before Yom Kippur:

Learning Judaism as a Native Language Requires More Than Synagogue Once a Year, by Mark Oppenheimer, Tablet Magazine
Becoming fluent in your own religious tradition is like playing an instrument or a sport: It takes time, dedication, and practice.

How Jews Observe Judaism

September 12, 2013 Leave a comment

These articles show two contrasting ways on how Jews observe their Judaism. Which one speaks to you before Yom Kippur?

Police Bust Shabbat Observant Drug Ring, Tablet Magazine
Unorthodox dealers sold heroin, Xanax, Oxycontin until Friday at sundown

Chief Rabbi: No to Bothersome Airplane Prayers, Israel National News
Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef warns against causing a nuisance with Jewish prayers on airplanes.