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
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
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
How much would you pay me to pray for you? Those of you who have observed me over the years would not pay much! You know prayer is not my strong suit and your return on the investment might not be worth it. But you should know that there are thousands of Jews today –perhaps tens of thousands or more – who are spending their money for rabbis to pray for them. READ MORE
Benny was right all along … I should have known it!
Rabbi Benjamin Blech is one of the most widely regarded teachers and preachers within the Orthodox Jewish world. He is a professor at Yeshiva University, the author of books on topics ranging from the Sistine Chapel to the mystical meaning of the Jewish alphabet! His book, The Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism, is the clearest and easiest explanation of the fundamentals of Judaism that I know of. Even I understand the book!
The truth is, I understand most anything and everything Rabbi Blech has taught me. In a very real sense, he has been my most important teacher. Our connection goes back all the way to when I was in the 6th grade at Yeshiva Toras Emes and his father, of blessed memory, was my rebbe. Just about the same time, at summer camp, I fell in love with my beautiful waitress who turned out to be his girlfriend and now his wife! For many summers, he was a teacher at Camp Morasha while I was a teacher at nearby Camp B’nai B’rith. I would spend hours with my tape recorder just listening to him expound on Jewish topics. What did he have to say? You already know it! You’ve heard it in my sermons over the years. Strangely enough, in recent weeks, I kept thinking about something he wrote more than 40 years ago in New York’s Newsday newspaper, words that I could not identify with at the time, and thought were off base. I called and asked Benny to send me a copy of the article and after reading it, I realize how right he was. READ MORE
President Donald Trump advocates revoking the Johnson Amendment. And that could
make all the difference in the world for me!
The Johnson Amendment, named for then Senator Lyndon Johnson, is a provision in the U.S. Tax Code that prohibits non-profit organizations, most especially religious institutions, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. If the amendment is revoked, finally, finally, I’ll be able to discuss politics in my sermons! The fact of the matter is, a good case can be made for revoking the amendment. Does it really make sense that under the present law, Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian can express their moral and ethical views on political issues, but rabbis, priests and ministers cannot? The truth is, contrary to popular opinion, rabbis have always discussed politics. When Napoleon’s army invaded Russia, a bitter battle broke out amongst major rabbis. The Lubavitcher Rebbe felt the freedom that Napoleon would be offering the Jews would cause Jews to assimilate. So he supported the Czar. The Chernobler Rebbe saw the French Enlightenment as a hope for Russian Jews to no longer have to be attacked, tortured and murdered by the Czar’s henchmen. So he supported Napoleon. READ MORE
This is the time of year when pundits make predictions for the future. I am definitely not going to do that! Who would have predicted at this time last year that the so-called “civilized world” would stand by when hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians were being gassed and bombed? Who ever imagined that Britain would vote to pull out of the European Union? And then, of course, there’s Donald Trump. Many still can’t believe it! We are living in a world in turmoil, and there is really no way of predicting what the future may bring. I, for one, can do little – if anything – to set the world straight. But I can do something regarding the Jewish people! I can have an effect on the future. Not by predicting it – even I don’t claim to be a prophet – but by correcting some of the mistakes that our people have made in the past year in the hope that it won’t happen again in the year ahead. READ MORE