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....

Read More

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...

Read More

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,...

Read More

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...

Read More

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,...

Read More

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...

Read More

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...

Read More

Rabbi Limmer’s Encounter Sermon

Erev Shabbat Service

Watch Rabbi Limmer's Erev Shabbat Service Sermon below.

Read More

The Massacre Generation

Kol Nidre 5780

I have the honor of speaking on this most sacred of evenings.  Tonight however, I want to share this pulpit with people who don’t share my privilege, but whose wisdom needs, nevertheless, to be heard in our sanctuary. Tonight, I want to share the words of our children.  I begin with the thoughts of a young woman I’ve never met, but whose words cut me to the quick.  Her name is Julia Savoca Gibson: It was last Saturday when it hit me that my entire life has been framed by violence. I don’t remember being born on Jan. 28, 2000, and I don’t remember being a year and a half old when 9/11 happened. I don’t remember the panic of my mother as she stepped outside our house in Washington and smelled the smoke of the burning Pentagon. I don’t remember her knowing I would grow up in a changed world. But I...

Read More

Our Identity, Our Politics

Rosh HaShanah Day 5780

“For from Bari shall go forth the Torah, the word of God from Otranto”. In the Middle Ages, this famous play on the prophet’s vision of Jerusalem was so well-known it made its way into the famed Talmudic commentary of Jacob ben Meir, Rabbeinu Tam. Jews throughout the world knew of the importance of Otranto and Bari—two thriving trading hubs on the heel of Italy’s boot—both as centers of commerce and bastions of Jewish thought. As far as capitals of Jewish life and learning are measured, Bari and Otranto were to the Byzantine Empire what Chicago and New York are in America. It was therefore only appropriate to describe these twin cities as the Jerusalem and Zion of their day. However, until recently, I had never heard of either Bari or Otranto. I knew nothing of the Saletine Peninsula [that Italian “boot heel”], or the modern region called Puglia that...

Read More

A House of Prayer for All People

The place to connect, to learn, and to make a difference.

Become a Member