Vayishlach – Facing Fear

November 30, 2017
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Vayishlach – Facing Fear

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Courage has many faces. It can mean saying no to compromise, or it can mean making a difficult compromise. It can entail dying a heroic death or living through terrible pain. It can mean fighting a good fight, or knowing when it is best for all to concede. But always courage involves facing our fears. Our patriarch Jacob of course is a splendid example of these multiple faces of courage.

On the surface it may appear that Jacob’s fear of his brother Esau’s retribution betrayed a lack of faith in God’s promise of protection, a promise that God reiterated when He commanded Jacob to return to Eretz Yisrael (Genesis 31:3). Rashi comments though, that a righteous man is never so sure of himself, and must be guarded against sin that might forfeit that protection. This is not a lack of faith, rather a sober approach toward balancing trust in the faithfulness of God, and an honest assessment of our own weaknesses. This is not so different than the Shaliach’s encouragement/admonition to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) Read more »

Toledot – The Power of Blessing

November 16, 2017
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Toledot – The Power of Blessing

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We tend to think of people; who lived long before us as primitive and less intelligent. Yet, contemporary Americans have made the alternative medicine industry a multi-billion-dollar throwback to the ancient craft of herb treatment. Studies have shown that the age-old practice of therapeutic massage has amazing healing results. And despite the obvious benefits of e-mail, blogs and social media, there truly is no substitute for the human voice and especially face-to-face contact. It would appear then that sometimes the “old-fashioned” way is the best way. It behooves us then to try to understand why both Jacob and Esau seemed to place such a high price on their father’s blessing. Read more »

Everybody Needs A Hero

September 25, 2017
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Everybody Needs A Hero

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Everybody needs a hero, but often we do not get the one we expect. The parasha for Yom Kippur, Leviticus chapter 16, describes the heroic actions of Aaron the Cohen Gadol. Like most true heroes he had to rise to an occasion greater than anything on his resume. I am sure as he prepared to go into the Holiest Place on Yom Kippur, to bring the sacrificial blood for the atonement of the Nation of Israel, he could not have failed to recall how the dead bodies of his sons Nadab and Abihu were dragged from the very same location, after they had failed to perform the priestly tasks with the proper reverence and prescribed protocols. It would not be surprising if his own failings as a priest and a parent did not indict him and threaten to freeze him in his tracks. Yet he knew Israel needed a hero, and for this occasion he was God’s choice. Read more »

The Shofar; A Clarion Call To Remember

September 20, 2017
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The Shofar; A Clarion Call To Remember

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If you look in Torah you will not see a Holy Day called Rosh Hashanah. It is referenced as Yom Teruah, or the day of the blasting of the shofar. This is altogether appropriate since the blowing of the shofar is the liturgical highlight of the holiday. In fact at Shuvah Yisrael we will hear sixty blasts of the shofar over this day. In some synagogues in the Diaspora where two days are commemorated for Rosh Hashanah the shofar blasts might be heard over one hundred times.

But tradition has given this day several other names that express other aspects of its important meaning. One of those names is Yom HaZichoron, or the Day of Remembrance. As the shofar blows, we are asked to recall several things of which the blasts are evocative, for the three major sounds of the shofar recall three big ideas that we are well served to remember. Read more »

Vayelech – Re-Righting Our Stories

September 13, 2017
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Vayelech – Re-Righting Our Stories

  “I am now one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer be active.” (Devarim 31:1) With that surprising realization, Moses begins his final address to the children of Israel. When Moses completes this address, he will have accomplished what few others take the opportunity to do. With the completion of Devarim Moses gave Israel its code of law, ethics and ritual practice, but also, he successfully managed to record for posterity his own story. But not only did he write his story, Moses managed to right his story.

 

It has been observed that the life of Moses played out like a three act play in which each act had a forty year duration. In the first act Moses thought he was somebody, having found himself through providence a prince in Egypt, removed from the lowly plight of his brethren. In the second act Moses found out he was nobody having been sent into exile in the wilderness of Midian and encountering the inscrutable God in a fire-retardant bush. Finally in the last act Moses learns what God can do with somebody who thinks they are nobody. Though Moses could not control the events of his life, he nonetheless took the opportunity through obedience to write and re- right the conclusion of his own story. Read more »

Ki Tavo – Lessons From The Storm

September 7, 2017
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Ki Tavo – Lessons From The Storm

The events of the past years have caused me to think a lot about the fragility of our world. It has only become more intensified over the past several months with the threat of nuclear war. The events of the past several weeks have caused me to feel even more distressed about the fragility of life itself. With friends and family taking shelter from the many natural disasters it is difficult to stay calm, in the midst of both literal and figurative storms.

The recent hurricanes have caused me to recall my only first had experience of a hurricane. In the fall of 1985 Hurricane Gloria worked its way up the eastern coast of the United States, eventually crossing the Long Island Sound and passing over Milford, Connecticut where I resided with my family. To the best of my knowledge I had never before seen a category 4 hurricane or anything close to it.  So as the storm was developing over the small beach community, I drove to a public beach and parked in the empty municipal lot. As I trudged toward the beach I fought through my way through the torrid winds and driving rain. I was able to get within about 100 yards of where low tide should have been before being hit with the spray of the crashing waves. This was the end of my misplaced bravado, and I ran back to my car and drove toward home and high ground. Read more »