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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Mitzvah Weekend: A Weekend On

Winter 2020 Bulletin Article

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?” In 1994, President Clinton linked Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to a National Day of Service. He signed into law the King Holiday and Service Act. When he did so, he quoted Dr. King, that amongst the greatest guidance and focus of Dr. King’s life was the idea of service. “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve,” he said. Many of our national holidays including Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July (all three day weekends) are marked by sales, fireworks, and time with family. At times these observances can be meaningful. Unfortunately, other times these observances lose the original purpose of why those days...

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Ner Tamid – Keeping the Flame Lit

Winter 2020 Bulletin Article

I still remember the day when I was in 10th grade confirmation learning my Temple’s best kept secret. For as long as I could remember, a light hung above the ark in the sanctuary. The ner tamid, or eternal light, as I learned it was called in religious school. The truth is, I never bothered to ask how the light stayed lit, and never went out. It sort of felt like magic. But as I grew older, I assumed there was some secret to the light staying lit, and on that first night of Confirmation class, our rabbi took us into the sanctuary, and we learned the secret, we discovered that which made the light eternal. It wasn’t magic after all. As we walked into the sanctuary, we saw a ladder on the bima right beneath the eternal light. Our rabbi turned to the class and said, “As the oldest...

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Seeing the Light

Winter 2020 Bulletin Article

In English, when a new book enters existence, we simply say, “It’s published”. Sometimes we use an idiom, along the lines of “The new Margaret Atwood is finally in print,” or, in more librarian terms, “the updated Dictionary is now in circulation”. Hebrew itself has no single word for “publish”; in fact, the only way to talk about a book’s publication in Hebrew is by idiom. The Hebrew phrase for printing a book is hotzaah la-or, literally meaning a new book “has been brought into the light”. This is a long way of explaining that, by the time you read this bulletin, our newly updated and revised prayerbooks [siddurim] will be published. On Friday night, December 6th, we will worship from our new Chicago Sinai Congregation Union Prayer Book III for the very first time. Especially for those of us involved in its preparations and editing, it seems fitting to...

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Rabbi Limmer’s Encounter Sermon

Erev Shabbat Service

Watch Rabbi Limmer's Erev Shabbat Service Sermon below.

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What Are We Going to Do About It?

Yom Kippur Day 5780

It was a Saturday morning around 8am. I picked up a few dozen donuts and drove to Sinai to deliver breakfast to our 5th and 6th students who spent the night sleeping at the temple. When I arrived, half of the students were barely awake, struggling to pack up their sleeping bags,  and the other half  had a ton of energy, “we’ve been awake since 5, rabbi!”. And by 9, all students had been picked up. I got in my car feeling like the Shabbat sleepover was a success. The 5th and 6th graders had a great time, and everyone made it home safely. Well, not everyone. It was October 27th, 2018. As our students made their way home safely that Shabbat morning,  a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire. 11 worshipers were murdered. 7 others wounded. All at the hands of a terrorist...

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