Ufros Aleinu

Recently our midrasha students, and frankly some of our adults, have asked me why we have a week day minyan. Why bother? they say, It’s boring. It doesn’t speak to me. I don’t understand any of it. I feel like an outsider. What’s the point? I will let you in on a little secret. Sometimes I feel that way too. During rabbinical school we would gather to daven everyday. I didn’t like to go. While I am spiritual, that service didn’t speak to me. It was too traditional, too pro forma. As a commuting student, I had business phone calls to return, some social justice activity to run, cramming for an afternoon class or frankly I needed the opportunity to eat lunch, catch up with friends or close my eyes for even just five minutes. I was too busy. I didn’t need to daven, or so I thought. Continue reading


Just do it.

What do today’s parshiot, have to do with us moderns? Today is an unusual day where we have not one, not two, but three separate Torah readings. What do we have? Why, in a day when we may feel pressed for time because of the upcoming holiday, do we have more to do and not less? The first one is the very beginning of Leviticus where we are told about this complicated, messy, dirty, noisy, smelly system of sacrifices. The specific one we read about today is the “well-being offering”, the one from the root of the word shalam, shalom, wholeness or completeness, peace. Somehow offering this sacrifice was to bring us well-being or we were to offer it in thanksgiving when we felt that sense of shelmut, wholeness. The system of sacrifices doesn’t sound very  appealing and palatable to our modern ears. It probably wasn’t very ecological either. And the animal rights activists. Oy! So what was the point—then or now? I am not advocating a return to a sacrificial system—even though we might pray for it in our traditional musaf service. Continue reading

Sukkot 5772

Sitting in a private bathroom stall on Rosh Hashanah at the synagogue, I notice a sign for a hotline for domestic abuse. At first I am saddened that we need such signs. Then I am relieved that we are beginning to acknowledge that domestic abuse happens even in the Jewish community. Then I am hopeful that another woman sitting there will know she is not alone.

Now it is Sukkotzeman simhatenu, the time of our joy. The harvest is in. It is time to celebrate. On Sukkot the commandment is to sit in our sukkah, a fragile temporary booth open to the elements. Even though it is fragile, I love to sit in my sukkah, watching the evening sky, the moon rise, and the geese fly overhead. It reclaims a sense of peace, wholeness. It wasn’t always so. Continue reading

Yom Kippur 5772

We all know the Robert Frost poem that includes the line, “Good fences make good neighbors,” based on a 17th century proverb. He was actually questioning the wisdom of why his stonewall separating his fields from his neighbors needed to be rebuilt year after year. Apple trees and pine trees are not likely to encroach on his neighbor’s land. Is he walling something in or out? What would give offense? The neighbor disagreed and returned to building those strong New England stone walls. After all, for him, good fences do make good neighbors.

When I was a kid in Evanston, on our block, no one talked to the next door neighbor. Worse, if a ball went over the fence, it was not returned. Still worse, if you were away on vacation you might return to find a tree chopped down. No one knew how these grudges started and we watched as they were passed down from one generation to the next. Our solution was to move to Grand Rapids. Continue reading

Rosh Hashanah 5772

Lador vador, from generation to generation. This morning’s Torah portion and haftarah portion both are about how parents pass down tradition from one generation to the next.

People ask me what business I am in. I say that I am in the best business in the world—I manufacture Jewish souls. And I get to play with kids and teach them while I am doing it. And as the rabbis teach us, while I have learned much from my teachers, I have learned even more from my students—and had fun doing it. Continue reading

Living Deliberately

I went to the woods to live deliberately

I went out to the woods to live deliberately, so said Thoreau in his opening to Walden Pond. What does it mean to live deliberately? I think he was talking about something very Jewish—to live with intention, with kavanah, maybe even with simplicity. As we approach Rosh Hashanah where we review what we have done this past year, I often think about Thoreau in his cabin living with intention. With luck and good planning I even get to visit Walden Pond and do my own reflection, my own walking meditation, or sometimes sitting with a journal. If the weather is warm enough I might even take a dip—my own personal, outdoor mikveh so that I am ready to begin the new year fresh. Continue reading

Parashat Pekudei

“On the first day of the first month you shall set up the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting” (Exodus 40:2). This is taken to mean the first of the month of Nissan.

Here in the Northeast, it has been a long, hard winter. Snow continues to fall lightly, and we are dreaming of spring. I don’t know about you, but in my house the discussion has already turned to Passover cleaning. My daughter even came home from college to jumpstart the process. I usually try to stay out of the angst this process provokes, and I am usually unsuccessful. Our text gives us a different model. Continue reading

Look inside for the gifts you have to offer

On the Jewish liturgical calendar, we are reading our way through the Book of Exodus.

There are many styles of leadership illustrated in Exodus. We see examples of power and might with Pharaoh and God. Pharaoh, whose heart was hardened, thought he knew just what to do and wouldn’t listen to his advisors. He tried to trump one set of magic acts over another and used his power to oppress. Moses, filled with righteous indignation over how the Israelites were treated, was a reluctant leader. First, he ran away, then questioned whether he could be a leader, and took his brother, Aaron, with him. Aaron was a great communicator, putting into words what Moses was trying to say. Moses negotiates with Pharaoh, and then, later, with God, to rescue his people. Continue reading

Honor Veterans: 
Work for a Just, Compassionate Society

They say that you should not discuss religion and politics in polite company. As a rabbi, I spend a lot of time breaking that rule, and I will again today. Today our nation pauses to honor our veterans on this the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. It is important to remember the sacrifices that they have made for us as Americans. We need to be grateful to them for being willing to put their lives on the line, for giving up time with their families, the milestone occasions and the little moments of day-to-day family life. Too many of our soldiers have paid the ultimate price, with their lives. Others have returned from the fronts with life long disabilities—physical and mental and are haunted by what they needed to do. We need to do more to support our returning veterans and their families. Continue reading