Rage is Not All the Rage

Yom Kippur, 5728/2021

  Remember 18 months ago, at the beginning of the Shelter-in-Place mandate? Remember when working from home in sweatpants, without shoes on was all the rage? Remember when we sat at home binge watching TV and when Tiger King was all the rage? Remember when 1000 piece puzzles were...all the rage? --- Now it’s different.  Now it’s:  Did you hear he didn’t wear a mask at Lollapalooza?  Can you believe it?  Now it’s: She doesn’t care about anyone but herself. She goes out every weekend, travels on airplanes...and she’s not even vaccinated! Then she sends her kids to school?! Now it’s: The government is just awful -- whatever happened to freedom of choice! I’m vaccinated and don’t have children -- why do I have to wear a mask all the time?  Somehow, we’ve now arrived at a moment, where the only thing that seems to be all the rage, is...

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Reclaiming The Sacred

Kol Nidrei 5782/2021

“Rabbi, do you perform exorcisms?” One of the strangest questions I have ever been asked: do you perform exorcisms?  The caller was someone I knew well.  They learned that their new house, into which they just moved, had many years ago been host to a tragedy.  They didn’t think they had ghosts, but were searching for a Jewish way to clean their new home of old, sad, memories.  I listened, paused, and asked, “Does the house have a mezuzah?”  “We just moved in, Rabbi,” was the embarrassed reply.  A week later, I went to the new home, hammer in hand.  When I walked in, I did smell the aroma of the sage they burned as part of their private cleansing ritual.  They brought me their mezuzah, we affixed it to the doorpost of their house, said the blessings and celebrated proper ceremony. Do I perform exorcisms? No: I do consecrations....

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Finding Proper Perspective

Rosh Hashanah Morning 5782 Sermon

 Eve ate the apple. What seemed such a good idea at the time carried unforeseen consequences.  “The day you eat it, your eyes will be open and you will know good and evil,”[1] suggests the snake.  He was right: no sooner did Eve and Adam eat the apple then their eyes were opened, their capacities of discernment awakened.  They saw they were naked; using their new abilities, they realized they could solve the world’s first problem by sewing Creation’s first clothing.  Eve and Adam gained insight; the immediate effects of eating the apple were exactly as promised.  But the enduring effects we more complicated. If the apple afforded the capacity of moral judgement, the fruit hardly guaranteed moral clarity.  For all they gained in knowledge, far more did Eve and Adam—and all their descendants—lose in labor, toil, and suffering. Low-hanging fruit, literally and figuratively, are the promise of easily attained...

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Telling Our Stories

Rosh Hashanah Evening 5782 Sermon

Our first Passover was a rushed and hurried affair.  We had plans, but they were all for naught. Standing on the edge of the wilderness, everything was chaotic.  We made it up as we went along and tried out new practices for the first time.  We observed it as best we could.  Some had the proper food, some were together with other people, some owned the right objects; and yet, many  had to improvise. To share food, to borrow objects, to observe that first Passover alone.  And we did, we observed it, each in our household. As we reached our second Passover, we thought we would be on the other side of this wilderness.  We had hoped we would have reached the promised land by then.  But it was not to be. So we did it again, in the wilderness, a second Passover.  This go-around we had more time to...

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Advice from Bob on his Miscellaneous Birthday

Parshat Naso

I saw Bob Dylan in concert, my first time, in 1990.[1]  My dad drove me and my best friend Rich Wallach to the Tilles Center of C.W. Post college on Long Island.  I loved every minute of the show, even though, most of the time, it took me half the song to figure out what I was hearing.  I remember thinking, a few minutes into what I imagined was some brilliant new song, realizing Bob was singing the words, “How does it feel?” and arriving at the epiphany I was enjoying a re-written version of “Like a Rolling Stone”.  I left that concert more devoted to Dylan than when I walked in; Rich thought it was the worst show he’d ever seen, and my dad—a Dylan fan long before me—tried to be nice by saying something nice along the lines of, “Even if I couldn’t understand a word he said,...

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One Bit Better

Yom Kippur Morning 5781 Service

It happens every summer. In the middle of a long meeting about something completely unrelated, Rabbi Limmer pauses, looks at me and says, “So, what are you thinking of speaking about on Yom Kippur?” Some years, I have a quick answer; other years it’s more of a process. This year, I blurted out a rant: I don't need Yom Kippur this year to tell me to be a better person or to tell me to do better. This year has been challenging enough! I have been hard on myself already, and I know many of our congregants have been hard on themselves, too.  This year, what I need is for Yom Kippur to tell me that it's going to be okay, that we’re going to be okay. And that all we need to do is just take each day one at a time. These past six months have been nothing...

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Making Reparations

Kol Nidrei 5781

A Kol Nidre Story: It wasn't that many years ago an American Jew was traveling abroad in the old country. It was Saturday morning: a week of business had been conducted, the Traveler knew no one in town and so—either out of some nostalgic feeling or due to a lack of better options—the Traveler made their way to the small synagogue standing in the town center.  Entering the shteibel, the Traveler was taken by the simplistic beauty of the white-stuccoed walls, the broad natural beam that suspended a sagging roof.  Looking forward towards the Ark, the Traveler’s gaze caught the eye of the Rabbi, who rushed over in warm welcome.  “Bruchim haBaim,” the Rabbi exclaimed in the Hebrew language that connected them.  “English?” asked the Traveler.  “A bit,” began the rabbi in broken tones, adding, “Enough English to ask: will you do the final Aliyah this morning?”  The Traveler, never...

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Being Rooted

Rosh Hashanah Morning 5781 Sermon

A Rosh HaShanah Story: Upon a time, there was a king. Or a baron, or a lord, or some kind of chief in charge. Maybe it was another kind of chief in charge, a lady, a baroness, or even a queen for that matter. One day, this big chief in charge threw a big party at the palace. Invitations were sent to everyone in the realm: the painter, the potter, the blacksmith, the launderer. The invitation read the same for all: please prepare yourself for a big party at the palace. The whole town, or city, or country, was aflutter with excitement about the party. Everyone was talking about this most important occasion. But then everybody noticed something odd about the invitation: it said to dress formally; it indicated to be at the palace; it was missing the date and the time. What did people do? One painter went home,...

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Our Yavneh

Rosh Hashanah Evening 5781 Sermon

There's a very old joke.  It starts with a sudden news report: the greatest scientists in the world have determined that, in two weeks, the earth is going to be destroyed by catastrophic flooding. Not one inch, the scientists say, of dry land will remain. The earth will be totally and completely submerged under water. There is nothing that can be done to prevent this catastrophe.  In this sudden moment of chaos and fear, with this unexpected and disastrous news, people struggle to respond. An international panel of scientists, politicians, religious leaders, thought leaders, and creative thinkers was convened to weigh and debate options. “Send people up into space,” some suggested. Others proposed building massive ships, like a fleet of modern day Noah’s Arks, huge floating cities.  Others objected, “These ideas will only save a tiny fraction of the population of the earth!” The room filled with a cacophony of...

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Intro to Elul

High Holy Days 2020/5781

As we enter into the unique season anticipating our High Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, this famed Hasidic story comes to my mind: Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the 18th Century rabbi of Belarus  was denounced to the government on account of his beliefs and life conduct. He was jailed in Saint Petersburg and awaiting his interrogation when the chief of police came into his cell. Deep in contemplation, Rabbi Zalman was not aware of his visitor. The chief, a thoughtful man, noted the rabbi’s powerful but serene facial expression and intuited the sort of person his prisoner was. He began to converse with the rabbi and soon raised several questions that had occurred to him when reading the scripture. Finally, he asked: “How am I to understand that God, who is omniscient, asks Adam, ‘Where are you?’” Rabbi Zalman replied: “Do you believe that scripture is eternal and...

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