Category: Rabbi’s Dvrei Torah

  • Friday, February 2, 2024 / 23 Shevet 5784

    Friday, February 2, 2024 / 23 Shevet 5784

    As you know, I usually write my own thoughts about the weekly Torah portion in each week’s email. Occasionally, I share an article or comments from other folks if I feel they are particularly insightful…as I did last week. And here again this week I feel compelled to share. These comments by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l, are just too essential, too relevant, too good to keep to myself without sharing with you. He succinctly explains the most foundational understanding of Judaism. Its message seems especially relevant as a model for helping our polarized society through what will likely be a contentious election year.

  • Friday, January 26, 2024 / 16 Shevet 5784

    Friday, January 26, 2024 / 16 Shevet 5784

    What a week!…We celebrated Tu B’Shevat yesterday. We are observing International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a ceremony at Abbot Hall in Marblehead today at noon and in a special interfaith Kabbalat Shabbat service tonight at 6:00pm at Temple Sinai, while this Shabbat morning is “Shabbat Shira”, the ‘Sabbath of Song.’ Rabbi Batya Ellinoy will help us lead both services this weekend with her singing, making it a Shabbat of truly beautiful singing! Marblehead Select Board Chair Pro-Tempore Moses Grader will speak tonight about International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Marc Winer will chant the famous ‘Song at the Sea’ during our Torah reading tomorrow morning. And of course, I know world events are on everyone’s mind, from Israel to New Hampshire to the announcement of Jon Stewart’s return to the Daily Show. With so much to discuss, I feel this article from Alon Tal who is one of Israel’s leading thinkers and activists on the environment and public policy, offers some important and helpful perspective. Can our weekly Torah portion, Shemot, guide us through this weekend, or provide any solace? The portion relates that Moses is instructed to take off his shoes beside the burning bush because he is “on holy ground”. So many of us, I know, felt the violation of “holy ground” as our capitol was overrun, violated and disrespected. Recalling Chanuka which we so recently celebrated, we have an acute sense of how it feels to have our holy space desecrated…but even more so, we know how it feels to celebrate its reconsecration with light. The following words of Torah about this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, were shared by Rabbi Hammer and published in the book, To Be Continued. I hope his words (edited for brevity) will resonate with you, as they do with me, as we bid good riddance to the violent year 2023 and look forward to what will hopefully be a year of recovery, health, justice, good, and SHALOM in 2021.

  • Friday, January 5, 2024 / 24 Tevet 5784

    Friday, January 5, 2024 / 24 Tevet 5784

    I assume that, like me, you will have a couple of secular calendar dates echoing through your head this weekend: Tomorrow is January 6, four years from the infamous January 6 in 2020. And then on Sunday during the expected snow it will be January 7, grimly marking three full months since October 7. Can our weekly Torah portion, Shemot, guide us through this weekend, or provide any solace? The portion relates that Moses is instructed to take off his shoes beside the burning bush because he is “on holy ground”. So many of us, I know, felt the violation of “holy ground” as our capitol was overrun, violated and disrespected. Recalling Chanuka which we so recently celebrated, we have an acute sense of how it feels to have our holy space desecrated…but even more so, we know how it feels to celebrate its reconsecration with light. The following words of Torah about this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, were shared by Rabbi Hammer and published in the book, To Be Continued. I hope his words (edited for brevity) will resonate with you, as they do with me, as we bid good riddance to the violent year 2023 and look forward to what will hopefully be a year of recovery, health, justice, good, and SHALOM in 2021.

  • Friday, December 29, 2023 / 17 Tevet 5784

    Friday, December 29, 2023 / 17 Tevet 5784

    One of my great teachers was Reuven Hammer, z”l, from whom I received my rabbinical ordination. He was a prolific writer and a pioneering Jewish leader in both the US and in Israel. The following words of Torah about this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, were shared by Rabbi Hammer and published in the book, To Be Continued. I hope his words (edited for brevity) will resonate with you, as they do with me, as we bid good riddance to the violent year 2023 and look forward to what will hopefully be a year of recovery, health, justice, good, and SHALOM in 2021.

  • Friday, December 15, 2023 / 3 Tevet 5784

    Friday, December 15, 2023 / 3 Tevet 5784

    Last night (Thursday) we lit eight candles for Chanuka, dispelling the darkness with bright and hopeful light. What will we do tonight, then, when the darkness returns? We’ll light Shabbat candles, and their glow will have to be enough. And it will be enough. This situation reminds me of something taught by my friend and colleague, Rabbi Amy Bolton. She notes that in this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, Jacob is nearly at a breaking point. He lost his son Joseph (he thinks) years ago, now his son Simeon is held ‘hostage’ in Egypt, and the price to free him – and the only way to procure food for the family during a severe famine – is to endanger another son, Binyamin, by sending him to Egypt as well. And all this is on top of the other many difficulties Jacob has experienced in life – his disfunctional familial relationships, abuse suffered from his uncle Lavan, the death of his beloved Rachel while bearing that now-endangered child Binyamin, the rape of his daughter Dina, having to move and begin again multiple times… Yet in Kislev, we light Chanuka candles and dispel a bit of the season’s darkness. The whole month glows with the spirit of Chanuka! This year especially when it feels so many ‘dark forces’ surround us in the world, I’ve been trying to focus on the light that can be seen amidst the dark, the positive, the hopeful, the good that continues to prevail and shine despite everything else. The following article, on this theme of dispelling darkness and embracing light, will appear in the Chanuka edition of the Jewish Journal. Let’s bring more light to these days before Chanuka, during Chanuka itself, and keep making more light after the holiday as well….

  • Friday, December 1, 2023 / 18 Kislev 5784

    Friday, December 1, 2023 / 18 Kislev 5784

    This Hebrew month of Kislev is – in the northern hemisphere – the darkest month of the year. To me (a relative newcomer to Massachusetts!) the first really cold days which also take place this month feel colder as they shock the senses and portend the long winter that is settling in. Yet in Kislev, we light Chanuka candles and dispel a bit of the season’s darkness. The whole month glows with the spirit of Chanuka! This year especially when it feels so many ‘dark forces’ surround us in the world, I’ve been trying to focus on the light that can be seen amidst the dark, the positive, the hopeful, the good that continues to prevail and shine despite everything else. The following article, on this theme of dispelling darkness and embracing light, will appear in the Chanuka edition of the Jewish Journal. Let’s bring more light to these days before Chanuka, during Chanuka itself, and keep making more light after the holiday as well….

  • Friday, November 10, 2023 / 26 Cheshvan 5784

    Friday, November 10, 2023 / 26 Cheshvan 5784

    My colleague, Rabbi Ken Chasen, has suggested a very good answer to a question that has been weighing on my mind and on the minds of our entire family: What would my father-in-law, Rabbi David Forman, z”l, tell us about what is happening? In what way would he be speaking out, as he always did in his newspaper columns and in his work with Rabbis for Human Rights? Rabbi Chasen reminds us of something that Rabbi Forman once taught him about the moral dilemma of being a tank commander in the 1982 Lebanon war, in which he was wounded. He had received orders to advance in the tank. There were terrorists and civilians in a field they had to pass. The order was to shoot anything that moved. When they arrived, everything was exactly as the military intelligence had indicated. Indeed, there were the terrorists, and there were the human shields deliberately placed in front of them. And David was left to decide – do I order my men to fire? If I have them fire, we will absolutely kill innocent people. If I have them hold their fire, it is all but certain that one or more of us will be killed. There is no time to decide. What should I do? Rabbi Chasen demands that we ask ourselves this question – what would you do?

  • Friday, November 3, 2023 / 19 Cheshvan 5784

    Friday, November 3, 2023 / 19 Cheshvan 5784

    This Shabbat November 4 will particularly remind me of another Shabbat November 4 which was exactly 28 years ago. Like the week that began that Saturday night, this Shabbat we read Parashat Vayera, which includes the story of Akedat Yitzchak, the sacrifice (nearly) of Isaac. This story is familiar of course from its reading on Rosh HaShana. Yet here we are just six weeks or so later and we read it again within the framework of the weekly Torah portion. On that Saturday night 11.4.1995, another “Yitzchak”, Yitzchak Rabin, who was then Israel’s Prime Minister shared these words in a speech to masses of people who attended a rally for peace in Tel Aviv. He said: “I was a military man for 27 years. I fought so long as there was no chance for peace. I believe that there is now a chance for peace, a great chance. We must take advantage of it for the sake of those standing here, and for those who are not here – and they are many… …This is a course which is fraught with difficulties and pain. For Israel, there is no path that is without pain. But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war. I say this to you as one who was a military man, someone who is today Minister of Defense and sees the pain of the families of the IDF soldiers. For them, for our children, in my case for our grandchildren, I want this Government to exhaust every opening, every possibility, to promote and achieve a comprehensive peace… …This rally must send a message to the Israeli people, to the Jewish people around the world, to the many people in the Arab world, and indeed to the entire world, that the Israeli people want peace, support peace.” A mix of disappointment, disgust, and alarm fills us as various groups on campuses and in cities around the world cheer Hamas’ bloodthirst, justify their murderous inhumanity, and blame Israel (and by extension, too, “the Jews”) for this war’s disastrous cost in lives, suffering, and generally for all the world’s ills and evils. I find the start of this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, a helpful clarification on the all-consuming, complex, and difficult things there are to think about in these darkened days.

  • Friday, October 27, 2023 / 12 Cheshvan 5784

    Friday, October 27, 2023 / 12 Cheshvan 5784

    It’s been three weeks since the horror of terror and war was launched by Hamas against Israel and the Jewish People. The shock and grief and outrage persist. The worry for friends and family and people-in-general in Israel is a heavy weight, as is the worry for Israel itself. A mix of disappointment, disgust, and alarm fills us as various groups on campuses and in cities around the world cheer Hamas’ bloodthirst, justify their murderous inhumanity, and blame Israel (and by extension, too, “the Jews”) for this war’s disastrous cost in lives, suffering, and generally for all the world’s ills and evils. I find the start of this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, a helpful clarification on the all-consuming, complex, and difficult things there are to think about in these darkened days.

  • Friday, October 13, 2023 / 28 Tishrei 5784

    Friday, October 13, 2023 / 28 Tishrei 5784

    There are not enough words… There are no words at all. And yet somewhere in between “not enough” and “none at all” we continue… Searching Crying Wishing it wasn’t true. Grieving Raging Loving one another and all of our siblings in the whole House of Israel. Words have to begin, and maybe they quite rightly begin with the reading of Beresheit this week. Beresheit, literally, “at the start of it all” or “In the Beginning” or “At the Head of Creating”, begins the story of Creation with a word: “And God said…Vayehi Ohr – Let there be Light.” הֲבֵ֥ל הֲבָלִ֭ים הַכֹּ֥ל הָֽבֶל Hevel ha-hevelim, ha-col hevel… Futility of futile, all is futile Encouraging, isn’t he?! You could also translate it more spiritually and “Eastern” as “Emptiness of emptiness, everything is empty”; Or more “Western” and psychological as “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” The tradition is for us Jews to read Kohelet on the Shabbat during Sukkot, which is tomorrow. (We’ll do that here at Temple Sinai at kiddush lunch – please join us!) But what I want to point out is that this is where Kohelet begins his book. He writes 12 more chapters. Do these further chapters take us anywhere else?