Rabbi Leff's teshuvah on
eating dairy meals in non-supervised restaurants is here. For Rabbi
Leff's most recent Torah commentaries,
Sukkot 5767 -- Be Happy! Tonight begins the Festival of Sukkot, one of
Judaism's three harvest festivals. Sukkot includes one of my favorite
commandments: "you shall rejoice seven days before the Lord your God."
Yom Kippur 5767 -- A House of God. What is it that makes a synagogue a
House of God? It’s not an impressive ark, it’s not the Ner Tamid, it’s not
the stained glass or the art on the walls. As Rabbi Goldberg pointed out at the
dedication of this building nearly fifty years ago, God does not dwell in time
or space, but in spiritual qualities and ideals.
Kol Nidre 5767 -- Why We're Making Aliyah. God willing, this time next
year, Lauri and I, and our three youngest children will be living in Israel. We
won’t just be tourists or there on sabbatical, we’ll be citizens of the world’s
only Jewish state. The fact that we can do that – that we can go live in a
Jewish country – is truly miraculous.
Shabbat Shuvah 5767. We are two days away from Yom Kippur. In two
days, after a very intense 24 hours of fasting and praying, we will all go home
from the synagogue feeling spiritually refreshed, forgiven for our sins of the
past, able to go out and start the new year fresh. But being forgiven is
only half the battle. If we don’t find it in our hearts to forgive we will be
starting the year still carrying a bunch of baggage from the year before.
Perhaps from many years before.
Rosh Hashanah 5767 -- Will There Ever be Peace in the Middle East? A
few weeks ago I met with this year’s confirmation class for the first time. The
Jewish tradition encourages asking questions, so I like to start the year having
the 10th graders come up with a list of questions they’d like answered. And they
come up with great questions—like “How do we know there’s a God?” or “Does God
answer more if you pray more?” But when one of the students asked that
opening question – “will there ever be peace in the Middle East?” – I have to
admit that for a moment I felt, “oy, you couldn’t ask an easier question?”
Rosh Hashanah 5767 --God Needs You.So why have we had
generations of rabbis acting like parents saying “Eat your Judaism, it’s good
for you!” and generations of congregants acting like kids facing a plate of limp
Nitzavim 5766. ...The
Slonimer has just tossed the idea of
sentencing guidelines for Rosh Hashana right
out the window! God will NOT judge you the
same way he judges every one else. If you
are a greater person, He’s going to have a
whole different set of guidelines he uses
for you than if you are a person of modest
capabilities. Why? Is that fair?
Shouldn’t we all be held to the same
standard? What about that idea of “one
manner of law?”
Ki Tavo 5766 -- Curses.Getting
cursed is no fun. This week’s Torah
reading, Ki Tavo, contains a section called
the tochecha, the rebuke. The rebuke starts
out saying if you don’t follow God’s laws –
“Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed
shall you be in the field."... I
was thinking of that rebuke in this week’s
Torah reading a few days ago when I found
myself being cursed in a very public forum –
on the web site of the Jerusalem Post! And
what I find particularly astounding is I
wasn’t being cursed for criticizing Israel –
quite to the contrary, a bunch of very right
wing people were cursing me for praising
Israel and the IDF. Go figure.It all started with an op-ed piece I
wrote that appeared in the Jerusalem Post on
Click Here to read the article.
Ki Tetze 5766 Rights and Responsibilities.When I was a
teenager I had hair down to my shoulders and
I played organ in a rock band. I did not
like rules. I thought rules were a real
drag. I just wanted to have a good time, and
I didn’t want anyone giving me rules and
telling me what to do. I was really into my
“rights.” I have a right to do what I want
and have a good time, I figured, so everyone
should just leave me alone so I could do my
own thing. Fortunately, it didn’t take me
very long to figure out that my point of
view was defective.
Shoftim 5766 Exemptions from Fighting.And the
officers shall speak further to the people,
and they shall say, What man is there who is
fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and
return to his house, lest his brothers heart
faint as well as his heart. And it shall be,
when the officers have finished speaking to
the people, that they shall appoint captains
of the armies to lead the people.”
Does this make sense? Is this just? When you
are going out to war, there is a long list
of people exempt from going? Including
anyone who is “fainthearted?”
Re'eh 5766 Kosher and Eco-Kosher.Does
God care what you eat?For a Jew, the answer is yes. This
week’s Torah reading, Re’eh, contains five
verses that are basis for our entire system
kashrut, the dietary laws. Volumes of Talmud
and chapters of law codes have been written
working out the details given in these few
Ekev 5766 and War in Lebanon.
news out of Lebanon is depressing.More than 3,300 Hizbollah rockets
have hit northern Israel since July 12.
After over a month of intense fighting we do
not seem to have dealt Hizbollah any kind of
fatal blow. They still have thousands of
rockets left. Dozens are still falling
every day. Israeli troops are still engaged
in intense fighting only a kilometer north
of Israel’s border – an area we certainly
would have expected the powerful Israeli
army to have secured weeks ago. The press
reports that Israel’s cabinet is in disarray
with intense bickering, the top generals in
Israel’s ground based forces are unhappy
with the way Israel Defense Forces chief of
staff, Dan Halutz, an air force man, is
conducting things, and everyone is blaming
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for something.
Vaetchanan 5766.If there are 613
commandments, one might ask what makes the Ten
Commandments that are the heart of this week’s Torah
reading so special that they get singled out for special
treatment, being written on stone tablets by the finger of
Matot Masei 5766. With a war in Lebanon going on...This
week’s Torah portion talks about an earlier war the Jewish
people fought. A war fought thousands of years ago –
against the Midianites. The story told in the Torah about
the war against the Midianites presents a battle plan that
no moral nation today would undertake. Let no one accuse
me of ignoring the troublesome passages in the Torah. Here
are some of the more challenging verses in Numbers chapter
31:3. And Moses spoke to the people, saying, Arm some of
yourselves for the war, and let them go against the
Midianites, and do the Lord’s vengeance in Midian.
Pinchas 5766.WorldPride is planning to have their
annual massive march and demonstration in support of
tolerance and gay rights in Jerusalem in August of this
year. This is a huge event for the gay and lesbian
community. It is held in a different city each year. The
charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community is of course up in
arms. Typical headlines proclaim they are coming to defile
the holy city. The gays have accomplished what years of
struggle and battle couldn't--they have gotten the chief
rabbis and chief imams to agree on something, and to
jointly condemn the parade. They've even asked the Pope to
5766.Today I got a good whiff of tear gas for the
first time in 33 years. That was not actually my plan for
Korach 5766. Earlier this week Warren Buffet, the
world’s second richest man, announced that he is giving
$25 billion to the world’s richest man...For most of us
the issue is not are we giving away too much money. The
issue is, are we giving away enough? So how much is
enough? How much money are we obligated to give to
Shelach 5766. How many Palestinian children’s
lives are worth one Jewish Israeli soldier’s life? How
many Iraqi children’s lives are worth one American
soldier’s life? These are difficult questions. But they
are very real questions. They are part of a broader
question of what are the rules of engagement in war. When
we go to war, how are we to conduct ourselves?
Bahaalotcha 5766. Our ancestors were a bunch of
whiners. God did all these amazing things for them
– bringing them out slavery in Egypt, feeding them with
manna that fell from the sky. God gave them His most
precious gift, the Torah. God was with them all the way.And what do they do?
Naso 5766. The rabbis of two thousand years were a real
bunch of radicals.When they were confronted with
something in the Torah that conflicted with the sense of values and ethics
they learned from the Torah itself, they resolved the issue by deciding in
favor of the values over the explicit law found in the Torah.
Shavuot 5766.Which comes first--faith or obedience? Do we obey
the commandments because we have faith? Or do we come to faith because we
obey the commandments?
Bamidbar 5766. The Da Vinci Code is a heretical movie...at least
for Catholics. This week's Torah reading provides fodder for what some Jews
consider heresy: were there really 603,550 men wandering around the Sinai
desert for 40 years? Or is that a bit of an exaggeration? What are the
heresies we really need to worry about? To read Lauri Donahue Leff's review
of the movie, click here.
Behar 5766. Is it a mitzvah, a commandment, to make aliyah and go
live in Israel? It's pretty rare that I'm more machmir (strict) than the
famed Orthodox rabbi of the 20th century, Moshe Feinstein, but in this case
I am. Unlike Rav Feinstein, I consider it an obligatory positive
commandment for Jews to make aliyah.
Emor 5766 -- Intermarriage. ...in a world where two out of
three marriages involving a Jew is an intermarriage, one of our missions
needs to be to figure out how to be welcoming to non-Jews. And, as one of my
colleagues said, “maybe if we figure out how to be welcoming to non-Jews,
we’ll figure out how to be welcoming to Jews!!!”
Acharei Mot - Kedoshim 5766.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…God
shows His love for us by giving us rules to live by. In this week’s double
parsha of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim we have 79 of the 613 commandments. That’s a
lot of rules!
Tazria 5766 -- Darfur. As important as it is for
us to remember the people—Jews and others—who were killed by the Nazis, I
believe there is an even more important purpose to Yom Hashoah...The more
important purpose to Yom Hashoah is to remind us every year, to reaffirm a
new covenant that Jewish people have made in the wake of the
Holocaust...The new covenant is not a covenant with God. It is, rather, a
covenant with future generations...“Never again!”
Shmini 5766 -- Holocaust Remembrance Day.The Holocaust forces us to
reexamine our theology. Richard Rubenstein – a Conservative rabbi, scholar,
and former university President wrote “The thread uniting God and man,
heaven and earth, has been broken. We stand in a cold, silent, unfeeling
cosmos, unaided by any purposeful power beyond our own resources. After
Auschwitz, what else can a Jew say about God?” As you’ll see, I disagree
with my distinguished colleague and I still believe in a God Who cares,
despite Auschwitz. But Rabbi Rubinstein’s book “After Auschwitz,” published
in 1966, was one of the earliest scholarly works to point out that the Shoah
forces us to examine what we believe.
Shabbat Pesach 5766. When our ancestors lived
in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago, they were the underclass in Egypt. They
did the jobs no Egyptians wanted to do. They spent their days in the
relentless sun making bricks and helping build cities....Fast forward a few
thousand years and move over a few thousand miles. Today in America, thank
God, slavery has been all but abolished (there are a few pockets of sex
workers and domestic help that are basically working in conditions akin to
slavery, but they are relatively few). But we do still have an underclass.
We have people who do the jobs no one else wants to do....Those people are
variously called “undocumented workers” or “illegal aliens.” Estimates
vary, but it is estimated that 11 million people are in this country
Vayikra 5766. ...So Ramban says the sinner should tell himself, I
messed up, I really deserve to die, but God in His mercy is accepting this
sacrifice as my temurah, as my substitute—as an exchange for the one who
really deserves the punishment. As I was reflecting on Ramban’s words this
week, I was wondering whether Ehud Olmert, who will almost certainly be
Israel’s next prime minister, feels like this kind of exchange for Ariel
Sharon. Ariel Sharon, who remains in a coma, is the one who was the driving
force behind starting a new political party in Israel. Yet when anything
goes wrong in the next several years until the next election, it is Ehud
Olmert who will be offered up as a sacrifice on the altar of public opinion
Ki Tisa 5766. Moses wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of
stone—if God gave me the Ten Commandments today I’d probably write them in
Shabbat Zachor 5766. “I remember what Amalek did to Israel, how he
laid in wait for him on the way, when he came up from Egypt. Go and strike
Amalek, completely destroy all they have, and do not spare them, but slay
both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” Why
does God command us to wipe out Amalek so thoroughly? Is it vengeance? Or
is it a punishment to Amalek, to bring justice and to act as a deterrent to
other nations who might have ideas about attacking Israel in a similar
My colleague Rabbi Jacob Chinitz raises the question: which is sadder? When
we build a sanctuary and God refuses to dwell in it, or when God is there
and we do not respond to the holiness of the place?
Mishpatim 5766. This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, commands us
“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, you shall surely bring
it back to him again. If you see the ass of one who hates you lying under
its burden, you shall refrain from leaving it with him, you shall help him
to lift it up.” Does this mean that if you see some Muslim looking guy on
the side of the road with a flat tire you have to stop and change it for
him? It can sometimes take a bit of work to figure out how we apply a
commandment contextualized for one time, and understand what it is telling
us in another time. But there are principles in these two verses that have
important lessons for us today, even if there is a rather slim chance we’ll
encounter Osama bin Laden and his donkey walking around Toledo.
Yitro 5766. The seeming Muslim sensitivity to prohibition on graven
images is hard for us Westerners to understand. We look at what is happening
in a few Muslim countries, and we find ourselves asking, “Have these people
gone entirely crazy?”...They aren’t even such really outrageously offensive
cartoons. At least not to Western eyes. Yes, it’s in poor taste to show
Mohammed with a turban that’s a bomb. But is it worth dying for?...To
understand the situation, we need to understand what Islam has to say about
the Second Commandment.
Beshalach 5766."God did not take them by way of the Philistines
because it was near." Sometimes it's better to take the long way around.
everything, right? God does not need to consult GPS or Mapquest for
directions, right? So why, in this week’s Torah portion, does God seem to
need road signs to find the Jewish houses?In this week’s parsha, Bo, we read
the exciting climax of the encounter between God, Moses, Pharaoh, and the
Jewish people. The people of Egypt are struck with the dreaded tenth
plague, the death of the first born. God tells the Jewish people that He
will pass through the land of Egypt and will strike all the first borns,
both man and beast. God tells the Jewish people that every house should
sacrifice a lamb, and put some of the blood on the doorposts and on the
lintel. Then the Torah tells us “And the blood shall be to you for a sign
upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over
you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I strike the
land of Egypt.”
Vaera 5766. If I were a Palestinian, I
would have voted for Hamas in Wednesday’s election.....Hamas is about to
find itself in a position they are not accustomed to. I think Hamas is
somewhat dismayed to have won—it’s much easier to be an opposition party,
where you can criticize all you want, than to be the governing party that
has to deliver. They are going to have to start delivering more than
rhetoric. They are going to have start acting like a government.
In many ways, believing
that there is some kind of intelligent design in the universe lies at the
heart of not only Judaism, but every monotheistic religion. And believing
there is an intelligent designer is NOT incompatible with science.
Einstein said “God does not play dice with the Universe.”
Do you believe in karma?
The idea that “what goes around, comes around,” you get what you deserve?
There is a passage in this week’s Torah reading, Vayigash, which at first
reading suggests the very troubling idea that perhaps when the Jews were
enslaved in Egypt, they were getting what they deserved.
Miketz 5766. Does violence beget violence? Is it wrong to attack
those who attack you? Steven Spielberg’s new movie “
Munich” says, over and over again, that violence
begets violence. Several times we are told that killing the terrorist
leadership is a pointless exercise, because they simply raise up a new
leader who is worse than the one who was killed.
Vayishlach 5766. So if you struggle with God-if you have doubts
about God, or if you can't understand how God could allow certain things to
happen-take comfort that you are being authentically "Yisrael," a
God-wrestler. As Elie Wiesel said, "The Jew may love God, or he may fight
with God, but he cannot ignore God."
In this week's parsha that power to bestow blessings is extended not just to
Abraham, but to all of us. The verse reads through you and your descendants
- through all of us - all the families of the earth will be blessed. We have
the power to bestow blessings on others.
--The current state of Jewish-Catholic relations. Anyone who has a brother
or a sister-or anyone who has more than one child-has been exposed to the
effects of sibling rivalry. If you have had problems because of sibling
rivalry, you will be glad to know that scientists have recently discovered
what causes sibling rivalry.
137. In Chaye Sarah, Abraham gives his servant
Eliezer explicit instructions. He tells Eliezer to put his hand under his thigh
(apparently an ancient way of swearing), and says “swear by the Lord, the God of
heaven, and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from
the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live.” Abraham further
instructs Eliezer “go to my country, and to my family, and take a wife for my
son Isaac.” Eliezer retorts, “maybe the woman won’t want to come with me; should
I bring your son back to the land you came from?” Abraham, aghast, says “Take
care that you do NOT bring my son there again.”
136. Lech Lecha 5766 - Abraham had no interest
in going to war. He wasn’t interested in trying to find glory on the
battlefield, or in plundering and looting. But when his family was attacked, he
felt he had no choice. He had to do something to save them from slavery. When
someone who escaped during the battle came and told Abraham his relatives were
captured, Abraham put together a strike force of 318 soldiers—his trained
servants, who Abraham armed—and went after the bad guys.
135. Yom Kippur 5766 - This past summer I sat in
a living room in Neveh Dekalim, a Jewish settlement in Gaza which no longer
exists, and watched a clash between two competing visions of Zionism. One of the
Gaza residents told us that her husband grew up in a house that used to belong
to an Arab in Ashkelon, a city south of Tel Aviv which has always been part of
Israel. She said “what’s the difference? Why should we have to give up Neveh
Dekalim, but we get to keep Ashkelon?” To her, all of Israel from the Jordan
River to the Mediterranean Sea belongs to Israel, there is no difference between
Tel Aviv and Gaza, and if we’re entitled to any of it we’re entitled to all of
134. Noah 5766 - I think most of us would
reserve the term tzadik, righteous person, for someone who raises the bar a
little bit higher than that. To be a tzadik you need to be an exemplar, someone
whose behavior provides a model that other people will aspire to.
133. Bereishit 5766 - Yehuda ben Temah tells us
in Pirkei Avot that different ages are suitable for different things. Keep in
mind that the following teaching was written at least 1800 years ago: HE USED TO
SAY: FIVE YEARS [IS THE AGE] FOR [THE STUDY OF] SCRIPTURE, TEN-FOR [THE STUDY
OF] MISHNAH, THIRTEEN-FOR [BECOMING SUBJECT TO] COMMANDMENTS, FIFTEEN-FOR [THE
STUDY OF] TALMUD, EIGHTEEN- FOR THE [BRIDAL] CANOPY, TWENTY for serving in the
132. Shabbat Sukkot 5766 - Last Shabbat was not
the city of Toledo’s finest hour. We found ourselves on the national news, for
all the wrong reasons. A hate group—about two dozen neo-Nazis from out of
town—came to Toledo to demonstrate in1 opposition to what they claimed were
black gangs harassing a white homeowner.
131. Kol Nidre 5766 - A story is
told of a Beverly Hills tycoon who was dismayed by his son’s decision to study
in a yeshiva instead of joining the family business. After several years
the son returned home to his father’s sardonic question: So what have you got to
show for your years of study? “I know that there is a God” replied the young
man. Angrily the father leapt to his feet and pointed out the window at the
elderly gardener patiently mowing the vast lawns. “He also knows there is a God”
shouted the older man. “No father” the boy quietly responded. “He believes there
is a God, I know.”
First Day Rosh Hashanah 5766 - Today
is the great Day of Judgment. Our prayers today reflect a teaching from the
Talmud that tells us that God has two books open today, the Book of Life and the
Book of Death. The totally righteous—those who have all assets and no debts, all
mitzvot and no sins—go straight into the Book of Life. Those who are totally
wicked—all debts and no assets, all sins and no mitzvot—go straight into the
Book of Death. Everyone else has their judgment suspended for ten days until Yom
Kippur. It’s not that God needs more time to do the accounting—rather God is
giving us more time to get our affairs in order.
129. Ki Tetze 5765
One of the newer internet phenomena is the “blog,” a contraction for “web
log.” Many people of an older generation tend to think of their journal or diary
as one of their most intensely personal possessions—they don’t share it with
anyone, often not even their spouse. Well, welcome to the internet age—younger
people nowadays often post their journals on line for everyone to read. If you
go to the internet and search on “New Orleans blog” you can find some
fascinating first hand stories of what it was like.
128. Shoftim 5765 - A few weeks ago, Ohio
governor Bob Taft was convicted on four counts of violating state ethics law,
becoming the first sitting Ohio governor to be convicted of a crime. The
governor failed to report 52 golf outings, valued at $6,000, which were paid for
by other people, as required by state law. Governor Taft claims it was an
oversight; he apologized to us citizens of Ohio and he paid a fine. There are
some people, like Brian Hicks, Taft’s former chief of staff, who wonder why such
a big deal is being made over a few games of golf. Hicks said the outings were a
break from the pressure of work; he also said “I don't believe for one minute
that anybody got a contract, got an investment, got a policy decision made
because they played golf with the governor.” Of course, he might not be the best
judge of character, as Hicks himself was convicted of an ethics violation in
July and fined $1,000.
127. Re’eh 5765 - Every
week we read of large numbers of people killed in Iraq by suicide bombers. One
week the death count is 38; another week it’s 47. It happens so frequently that
it almost gets hard to take notice. Oh, another few dozen killed in Iraq, what
else is new? But the news out of Baghdad on Wednesday (August 31, 2005) was
enough to get me to sit up and take notice. The fatality count from an episode
caused by terrorism reached a new high: 965 people were killed. But what’s
truly astounding is that these 965 people died without the detonation of a
single gram of high explosives. They were killed by a rumor.
126. Ekev 5765 - We have all heard the saying
“Man does not live by bread alone.” Where do we know those famous words from?
Who said them? Even many Jews are under the impression that this is a somehow a
Christian teaching. These words ARE found in the Christian Bible in the Gospel
according to Matthew. When he says those words, however, Jesus is quoting from a
verse from the Hebrew Bible: from the book of Deuteronomy, in this week’s Torah
portion, Ekev where we read lo al halechem lavado, not by bread alone.
125. Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts - The
scale of the damage from Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding of New
Orleans is still unknown. In all likelihood the death toll will be in the
thousands. One estimate I heard said that Katrina will have a $100 Billion
impact on the US economy. There may be over a million refugees. It’s hard
to imagine such a thing here in America.
124. Vaetchanan 5765 - How do you recover from
the worst trauma imaginable, from the loss of loved ones and the destruction of
what stood at the center of your faith in God? Last Sunday we observed the
holiday of Tisha b’Av, the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av. Tisha b’Av
commemorates many disasters that have befallen the Jewish people; the
destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE; the destruction of the
Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the city of Beitar was captured, and Jerusalem
was ploughed under, left totally desolate. I want to focus on the period of the
rabbis of the Mishnaic era in the 1st – 3rd centuries—the rabbis who laid out
many of the religious practices that define Judaism today.
123. A painful but necessary move from Gaza:
EVERYWHERE you go in Israel today you see orange and blue ribbons streaming from
car antennas and clothing, purse straps and backpacks. Orange is for the
large minority opposed to "the disengagement," the withdrawal of 8,000 Jewish
settlers from Gaza Strip and West Bank. Blue is for the slight majority who
122. Masei 5765 begins with a bit of a
travelogue. Eleh masei v’nai Yisrael, “These are the journeys of the people of
Israel.” And the Torah goes on to record the 42 stages the Hebrew nation went
through on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Why should we
care about having a copy of the itinerary?
121. Emor 5764 - Two thousand years ago holidays
were centered on the Temple in Jerusalem. Our Torah portion this week,
Emor, tells us details of what sacrifices were offered on the various holidays.
Instructions are given to the Kohanim, the priestly class, on how to conduct
themselves. But all of those instructions are somewhat academic now—the Temple
is destroyed, those procedures are no longer followed.
120. Mattot 5765 - Qui tacet consentit.
Latin for “silence implies consent.” I don’t know where the old Romans came up
with it, but it’s a principle we can derive from this week’s Torah portion,
119. Bamidbar 5765 - Thirty two years ago, journalists
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had clandestine meetings in a Washington DC
parking garage with a highly placed source known as “Deep Throat.” Real cloak
and dagger stuff—they arranged meetings with signals like leaving a flowerpot in
a particular window, or circling the page number of a particular page of a
newspaper. Following tips from Deep Throat, Woodward and Bernstein uncovered
what has come to be known as the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation
of President Richard Nixon.
118. A visit to Gush - Katif Kfar Darom,
population 380, is a truly lovely gated community. As you pass the gates, you
are greeted by an oasis of green in the midst of a sandy desert-like area. There
are trees and flowers and one of the first things you encounter is a large
well-kept community center/yeshiva/museum. The homes are spacious,
well-kept, with lovely green lawns and gardens. There are, however, a few
hints that this is not your standard gated community.
117. Korach 5765 - Monday afternoon (June 26) we
arrived in Israel and on the drive to Jerusalem we were greeted by very slow
traffic and lines of cars on the road festooned with orange ribbons and with
banners that read otzrim: chayav lachshov mechadash, Stop: you need to
think again! It was a campaign of the settlers to get people to pull over and
reconsider their thoughts about the disengagement from Gaza for 15 minutes.
116. Korach 5765 - At its heart, the argument
between those who support the withdrawal from Gaza and those who protest the
withdrawal from Gaza is an argument that would be characterized as an argument
l’shem shamayim, an argument for the sake of heaven. I believe that neither side
is motivated by selfish considerations: both sides believe that God is on their
side, both sides believe what they want is the best thing for Israel and the
115. Baseball and Judaism - There are actually a
lot of similarities between Judaism and baseball. Rabbi Avraham Yakov taught 100
years ago that we can learn from everything—we can learn lessons from the train,
from the telegraph, from the telephone. What lessons can we learn from baseball?
To start with there are two sides. We have a yetzer hatov, our good inclination,
and a yetzer hara, a bad inclination. Children play in Little League, but once
you get to be past bar/bat mitzvah age, you’re in the game that counts. It
is symbolic that baseball season usually starts around Passover time—Jews
celebrate starting out on the journey to the Promised Land, while baseball fans
start the journey to the Promised Land of the World Series.
114. Bechukotai 5765 - God commands us to be
just. Pursuing justice is one of the fundamental commandments and one of the
fundamental principles in the Torah. The Torah commands us tzedek, tzedek,
tirdof, justice, justice you shall pursue. The prophet Micah tells us what it is
that God wants of us – to do justice and to love mercy.
113. Behar 5765 - The Muslims call us Jews
“people of the Book.” It’s not a bad description. Look at the elaborate ritual
we went through this morning with our book—quoting verses and saying prayers
before taking the book out of the cabinet, carrying the beautifully dressed book
reverently around the synagogue, people kissing it as it passes by.
112. Emor 5765 - In the fourteenth day of the
first month at evening is the Lord's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the
same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat
unleavened bread. ...Leviticus 23:4-6
Behar 5765 -
We even have novel forms of slavery not described in the Torah--women enslaved
to work in the sex trade. And this happens not just in places like Africa or
Southeast Asia. There are women who have been enslaved overseas and imported to
places like Tel Aviv and Los Angeles. It is estimated there are 20,000 people
living as slaves in the United States—where slavery was legally abolished nearly
150 years ago. Nowadays, we find the very idea of one person owning
another so offensive that reading rules for owning slaves in the Torah is very
troubling indeed. Reading about owning slaves in the Torah, could, God forbid,
have the effect of reducing the respect and love we feel for the Torah. When God
gave us the Torah, God gave us a new set of rules. Why didn’t the Torah ban
- Lev. 23:4ff - For
many people, the commandment to count seven Sabbaths might seem to be one of the
Torah's more obscure commandments. To start with, what exactly is it we are
being commanded to do? To count fifty days, but starting when? It sounds like
this says we should be counting from the first Shabbat after Passover for forty
nine days, and on the fiftieth day we celebrate a holiday--so the holiday would
always be on Sunday, but the calendar date would move around because the day of
the week that Passover, the 15th of Nisan, falls on varies.
Tzav 5765 - Fifteen years ago, Terri Shindler Schiavo was a
vibrant and lively 26 year old woman. She loved music—she even wrote to John
Denver to ask if he would play at her wedding—and was fond of animals. She had
been happily married to Michael Schiavo for five years. And then in an
instant, life as she knew it came to an end.
- One of the headlines this week was about the trial of Private First Class
Lynndie England. Pfc. England was one of the people charged with abusing
prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. She is infamous especially for a picture
of her grinning while holding a naked Iraqi prisoner on a leash.
- Lev. 9:1-2 If you’re normal, you’d feel ashamed that you could have done such
a thing, and using a purple magic marker, especially in front of Mom, would
remind both you and her of what you did. Maybe you’d even be afraid that Mom
would get mad at you all over again just when she saw the purple magic marker.
So here Aaron did this great sin with a calf, and he’s now being told to bring a
calf to atone. I can imagine his discussion with Moses: “Oh man, Moe, come on,
do I have to bring a calf? Couldn’t I bring a nice sheep? I REALLY don’t
want to remind God about that calf. I want to put the whole calf business behind
Vakira 5765 - Lev. 1:1 -
Christians often talk about someone having a “calling.” Christians will ask me
“when was I called to be a rabbi.” Jews don’t use that language—Jews ask me
“when did you decide to become a rabbi.” There is a huge difference in world
view expressed in those two different ways of phrasing the same question.
Vayakhel 5765- On Tuesday night, I was there. Having studied 5,422 pages of dense
Aramaic, I was enjoying my reward of being a part of that crowd celebrating the
completion of the study of the Talmud. What I would like to do this morning is
share with you some of the things I learned and some of the things I felt at
this amazing gathering of Jews.
Ki Tisa 5765 -
Bar Acha comments on this: "It's impossible to understand the character of this
nation: they were asked to give for the Golden Calf and they gave; they were
asked to give for the Tabernacle, and they gave!" Is this a bad thing?
Jews are among the most philanthropic of people--we're big givers! Is it so bad
if we're sometimes a little indiscriminate?
Yitro 5765 Kabbalat HaSiddur In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we
read the story of God giving the Torah to the Jewish people. Moses climbs the
mountain, God descends tot he mountain, and there, in one of the most important
moments in the spiritual history of the world, God gives Moses the Ten
Commandments, engraved on two stone tablets, symbolizing their eternal
Bo 5765 "I was just following orders." This is the heart of the
defense that Specialist Charles Graner, Jr., is mounting against charges of
conspiracy, assault, and committing indecent acts relating to the prisoner abuse
scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.
Vaera 5765 There is something that seems patently unfair about the
plagues. None were spared. How could that be? God is just, isn’t She? Where’s
the justice in smiting all those innocent people along with all those wicked
people? Why couldn’t God just smite the ones who deserved smiting?
Vayigash 5765 And Joseph was not able to bear it any longer. He called
out to all those standing around, "everyone get out!" And no one was with
him when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. ... Genesis 45:1.
Miketz 5765And Joseph called the name of the firstborn
Manashe; For God, said he, has made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s
house. And the name of the second he called Ephraim; For God has caused me to be
fruitful in the land of my affliction. ... Genesis 41:51-52. In this
week’s parsha, we see a Joseph who has totally assimilated: he has an Egyptian
name, Zaphnath-Paaneah; he is married to the daughter of an Egyptian priest. He
has risen to a position of high authority in the government.
Yuval Zaliouk wrote in in the November Toledo Jewish News that another
Arab country (Palestine) would be a bad idea. To paraphrase what Churchill
said about democracy, "Another Arab country (Palestine) is the worst possible
solution, except for all other solutions." In other words, there really is not
any other choice.
Chayye Sarah 5765 - This week much of the attention of the world is
focused on the death or imminent death of someone who has been one of the most
powerful players in the field of global politics: Yasser Arafat.
Vayera 5765 - We don’t really know what
were the sins of the Sodomites. Many people assume that since the word “sodomy”
has the meaning which it has, the sin of the Sodomites was homosexuality. That
is actually NOT what the Jewish tradition teaches
Lech Lecha 5765 - We, the Jews, children
of Isaac, are fighting with the Palestinian Muslims, who are children of Isaac’s
brother Ishmael. The logical first step is for us to separate: to each have our
own “room,” a Jewish state, and a Palestinian state. Leave us together, at least
for now, and like Abraham and Lot’s shepherds, or little kids, we will fight.
Noah 5765 - Rashi explains that the
meaning of “God walked with Noah” is that Noah needed God’s help and support:
God walked alongside him, helping along. There is a teaching in the Talmud
(Kiddushin 30b) which says that man cannot conquer the evil inclination without
God’s help. The Gaon Vilna explains that a person can reach a level where he is
doing everything that he possibly can—everything that is in his power to do—but
to really have an internalized love and awe of God is something that depends on
God. This is a very curious teaching ...
Bereishit 5765 - Note I did not say “in
THE beginning.” That would not be an accurate translation of the Hebrew. It says
“b’reishit,” not “bareishit.” There is no definite article, at least not
according to the Masoretic tradition which added the vowels to the Torah. The
significance of this little grammatical detail is that this is one way of
telling the story of the
beginning of the universe. There are other ways as well. One of those
other ways is told in a lecture called “The Beginning of Time,” given by one of
the world’s most eminent physicists, Dr. Stephen Hawking.
Yom Kippur 5764 - The Danger of Fundamentalists -
“The border security fence is comprised of many sections totaling scores of
miles. Some sections are concrete, others sheet metal. The barrier is three
layers deep in parts, fifteen feet high and surrounded by razor wire. The area
around it is lit by spotlights, monitored by cameras,
motion detectors and magnetic sensors, and patrolled by armed guards with attack
dogs. But enough about our border with Mexico, let's talk about Israel.”
Rosh Hashanah II 5764
George Bush and John Kerry represent two very different visions for America. You
have a responsibility as a citizen and a responsibility as a Jew to let your
voice be heard. Your vote matters.
90. Rosh Hashanah 1 5764 Is the
richest person you know the happiest person you know? Is the poorest person the
unhappiest? If your circle of acquaintances is anything like mine, the
connection between wealth and happiness is tenuous at best. The Dalai Lama
writes “There are two ways to create happiness..."
Ki Tetze 5764
The Hebrew reads “even shleimah v’tzedek,” a weight that is full and just.
Isn’t this redundant? If your weight is a full measure—if your one pound weight
weighs a full pound—isn’t that just? And what do full and just weights have to
do with enduring long?
88. Shoftim 5764
US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has words from this week’s Torah
portion, Shoftim, on the walls of her chambers: “Justice, justice, shalt thou
pursue (Deuteronomy 16:18)."
87.Re'eh 5764 “See, I set before
you today, a blessing and a curse (Deut. 11:26).” Let me think about
that…blessing…curse…which do I want?
86. Ekev 5764V’haya im shamoa
– and it will be if you give heed… Thus begins the second paragraph of the
Shema, which we recite twice a day.
85. Report from Israel July, 2004 -
Israelis are famous for being very opinionated. They typically have opinions on
EVERYTHING, and are not shy about telling you YOUR business – what you should
do, how you should conduct yourself. Sometimes in a sweet and protective way;
one time when we were living in Israel, my wife was walking down the street with
our then infant daughter Devorah in a front pack, and a crew of garbagemen
yelled at her, because the baby’s arm was sticking out and they were concerned
the baby would get a sunburn!
5764 In every form of struggle, whether it’s war, business, or sports, we look
to have some kind of special advantage over our opponents. Some athletes take
steroids, despite the risks, because they hope it will give them a little edge
over their opponents. When I worked in high-tech, the question the venture
capitalists always wanted you to be able to answer is “what is your sustainable,
unfair, competitive advantage”—something that really stacks the deck in your
favor. Israel’s ultimate edge that helps hold radical Islamic countries at bay
is, of course, the atom bomb. 83.
At the heart of this week’s parsha is the story of the rebellion of Korach. Our
modern sensibilities are troubled by this story. What was the grave offense for
which Korach and his followers were killed?
5764 How many miracles do you have to see to believe?
81. Bahaalotcha 5764 What
does the ark traveling have to do with enemies being scattered?
5764 What’s the cure for an overwhelming case of marital jealousy? This week’s
Torah portion, Naso, recommends psychological torture andsexual humiliation. 79.
Bamidbar 5764 Do you remember learning
the Second Law of Thermodynamics in high school? I remember when I learned
it—I thought it explained a lot of things, like the way my room looked when I
was a teenager.
78. Yom Hashoah -
Six yearsafter the shattered remnant was liberated from the death camps, the
government of Israel passed a law establishing Yom HaShoah as a day of
5764 "Do not even consider what the stupid gentiles and most of the brainless
clods of Israel say..."
5764 The first parsha in the book of Vayikra or Leviticus, is largely concerned
75. Ki Tisa 5764 Can you imagine what an
amazing experience it would have been to stand at Mt. Sinai when God’s presence
was right there?
Tetzaveh 5764 The Temple was not a place that had “casual Friday’s.”
72. Beshalach 5764
- I have a confession to make. I’m a shortcut junky. I love finding
and taking shortcuts.
71. Evacuation Day
- There is a Jewish custom that a person can celebrate a "personal Purim" to
commemorate a day on which he or his family was saved from a disaster. I
celebrate such a day today, the 16th of February. Today is the 25th
anniversary of my evacuation from Iran.
70. 20 Shevat 5764
- Praised is God’s glory from His place—report from the Rabbinical Assembly
Conference in Jerusalem.
69. Bo 5764 Bitachon
- The opening of this week’s parsha is telling us that God did all this stuff in
Egypt—all the plagues, including killing the first born sons—just so that the
Hebrews would know that God’s God. This is a hugely challenging and troubling
68. The Rosh Chodesh
(New Month) Bar-B-Que menu: Shevat 5764. Why do we look back on animal
5764 Heschel - Heschel wrote: “A necessary condition affecting human beliefs in
philosophy and religion is the paradox. The source of their paradoxical
character has its origin in the essential polarity of human being. To
ignore the paradox is to miss the truth."
5764 - What are the characteristics one looks for in a leader?
65. Aid to Iran
- Some of you may have seen that the Iranian government has announced that help
in recovering from the recent terrible earthquake in Bam
5764 -- Can a skeptic be a good Jew? Or do
you have to have a clear and strong faith and knowledge of God to be a good Jew?
62. Noah 5764
The olive branch is a very strange symbol of peace. The olive is bitter; yet
isn’t peace sweet?
61. Bereishit 5764
The tree is officially called 'eitz hada’at tov v’ra,' the tree of
the knowledge of good and bad.
60. Sukkot 5764
“You shall dwell in booths seven days."
59. Yom Kippur
5764 "Do we have to choose whether to ignore the Torah or to
deny what we see around us?"
58. Kol Nidrei 5764 "In
1948, a true miracle happened. A miracle which is every bit as great as
the parting of the Red Sea..." Find here Aliyah resources.
57. 2 Tishrei
5764 “Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it…”
56. Rosh Hashana 1
One thousand, nine hundred and thirty four years ago today, on the first of
Tishrei, on this holiday, Rosh Hashana, our ancestors—physical and
spiritual—gathered on the top of a small hill with a grand name in the middle of
5763 Deut. 27:28. The hidden things belong to the Lord our God; but those
things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may
do all the words of this Torah.
54. Ki Tetze 5763 This
week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetze, contains a lot of laws. So many laws, in
fact, you might be tempted to ask, “what do we need all these laws for.”
5763 In this week’s Torah portion Moses tells the people that in the
future prophets will arise, and the people should listen to them.
52. Ekev 5763 – divine
rewards – Ekev is a great name for this week’s parsha.It means “will follow.”More
emphatically, “will surely follow.”
5763 Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is One
50. Pinchas 5763
Number 25:11. Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has
turned my anger away from the people of
49. Alexandra of Judea
I am pleased to announce that my wife Lauri Donahue's play "Alexandra of Judea"
won the 2003 Dorothy Silver Playwriting Award for works that provide "fresh and
significant perspective on the range of Jewish experience."
48. Shelach Lecha 5763 This week’s parsha tells us the story of WHY it took
40 years to get to Israel
.Contrary to a popular story,
it’s NOT because the men in charge refused to ask for directions.
When you go from the airport to
you literally “make aliyah.”
Aliyah means to go up, and
is up in the Judean hills, well above the plains where the airport is.
Pre-digest days Re'ehDeuteronomy 14:3: You
shall not eat any abomination. This week I will talk about something
else the Torah calls an abomination: homosexuality.
Parsha BamidbarThis week's Torah portion provides an example of a way in which the critical
scholarly approach can be valuable in enhancing our understanding of the Torah.
Parsha Noach“United We Stand.”How many times during the last few weeks have we either heard that
phrase, or seen it on TV, on bumper stickers, or on the sides of buildings?
Lech LechaGod tells
Abraham lech lecha—go, leave, depart from your homeland, go on a journey
to a place that I will show you.
VayeraAbraham tells his visitors to “take a little water, and wash your
feet, and rest under the tree, and I will feed you with a morsel of bread.”
Abraham then goes and prepares a lavish feast with milk, cakes, a calf, etc.
Chaye SarahI would
like to share with you a D’var Torah from the Piasatzner Rebbe, Kalman
Kalanimous Shapira, also known as the Warsaw Ghetto Rebbe because that’s where
he was during the Shoah (Holocaust), in which he perished.
ToldotThis week’s Torah
portion is the beginning of the story of Jacob. The story begins with
Jacob and Esau struggling in the womb, and these two characters continue to
struggle throughout the parsha.
Vayetze"And he dreamt, and
behold a ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward, and angels of
God were going up and going down on it." …Genesis 28:12.
Vayesheiv Judaism as Spiritual
Path: The story of my return to Judaism is a story that explores what the
educational philosopher Ian Ramsey calls the relationship between discernment
and commitment, and the story will bring us to my understanding of how Judaism
Vayigash When Joseph reveals his identity, he tells his brothers
not to be grieved or angry with themselves that they sold him into slavery.
Within a few short verses Joseph repeats not once, not twice, but three times
that it was not his brothers that sent him to Egypt but God.
When Joseph decides to support his brothers he is going “above and beyond the
letter of the law.” He is not required by halacha to support them, yet he
does it anyway. In Hebrew this is called “lifnim meshurat hadin,”
to go beyond the requirements of the law.
Buddha's doctrine: man suffers because of his craving to possess and keep
forever things which are essentially impermanent. Chief among these things is
his own person, for this is his means of isolating himself from the rest of
life, his castle into which he can retreat and from which he can assert himself
against external forces.
Deuteronomy 4: 2. You shall not add to the word which I command you,
neither shall you diminish nothing from it, that you may keep the commandments
of the Lord your God which I command you.