Category: Rabbi’s Dvrei Torah

  • Friday, May 17, 2024 / 9 Iyar 5784

    Friday, May 17, 2024 / 9 Iyar 5784

    This week’s Torah portion, Emor, reviews the details of all the major Jewish holidays: Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh HaShana, and Yom Kippur. While each has its importance and relevance for our lives, and each adds meaning and depth to our existence in its own way, on only one of these holidays are we specifically commanded to be happy. Presumably, our axiomatic pursuit of happiness in life is an ongoing and constant goal. Buddhists say that our wanting happiness is one of the “Four Noble Truths”, that is, a fundamental condition of our lives. Yet, of all these major Jewish holidays, the Torah mentions happiness only in connection with the holiday of Sukkot.

  • Friday, May 10, 2024 / 2 Iyar 5784

    Friday, May 10, 2024 / 2 Iyar 5784

    Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel used to say: on three things does the world stand: On justice, on truth and on peace, as it is said: “execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates.” (Zechariah 8:16) Explanation by Dr. Joshua Kulp: Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel in this mishnah is not the same Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel quoted in Avot 1:17, but rather his grandson, the son of Rabban Gamaliel of Yavneh. He was the patriarch after the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 C.E.). He lived in the Gallilee, which became the center of Judaism after the revolt. Many of his statements appear in the Mishnah, and was the father of Rabbi Judah Hanasi, who edited the Mishnah.

  • Friday, April 19, 2024 / 11 Nisan 5784

    Friday, April 19, 2024 / 11 Nisan 5784

    A few thoughts as we get ready for Passover starting Monday night: There is a tradition of trying to cleanse all the ‘chametz’ out of our lives, to do a ‘spring cleaning’ of our souls as well as of our houses. Nevertheless, if you are like me, the perfection of your soul might still be a work-in-progress. So…you might have some chametz still in your house – expensive scotch, extra boxes of mac n’ cheese you can’t bear to part with, etc. Don’t fret [well, at least don’t overly fret]: You can put all your chametz that can’t be disposed of into a drawer or cabinet, tape it shut, and “sell it” for the duration of the holiday. There is a special form that you must fill out in order to sell your chametz [the form was sent in the Temple Sinai newsletter, or find it here]. It MUST be at Temple Sinai or scanned/photo sent to my email by SUNDAY EVENING AT 7:00pm. Quite simple to do and no cost [though it is customary to give some tzedakah either to Temple Sinai or out there in the wider world].

  • Friday, April 5, 2024 / 26 Adar II 5784

    Friday, April 5, 2024 / 26 Adar II 5784

    Let’s face it: Most of us want easy answers to our tough questions about life, quick fixes to our problems, aphorisms rather than treatises. This week’s Torah portion, Shemini, is for us! It tells us “what it’s all about” in a single word; uses three words to say how to achieve that; and one verse alone to explain our tradition’s entire theology. Other religions can sum up their message in single words like “Love”, “Emptiness”, or “Submission”. The essence of Judaism is kiddusha, “Holiness”.

  • Friday, March 29, 2024 / 19 Adar II 5784

    Friday, March 29, 2024 / 19 Adar II 5784

    This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, includes a description of the zevach todah, the “thanks offering” that was part of the ancient sacrifice rituals. You might wonder: What were the circumstances for which one needed to bring a todah, a “thanks offering”? The Torah does not list any specific circumstances for the “thanks offering”…though the rabbis later come up with four categories of personal salvation for which one should give thanks: being released from captivity, surviving a trip overseas, a trip through the desert, and recovery/escape from illness or accident. It would be a fun riddle to solve, if it was not so serious. This shabbat is known as Shabbat Zachor, “The Sabbath of Remembrance”, which is always on the shabbat prior to Purim. We read three verses from Deuteronomy, above, which instruct us to remember the evil cruelty that Amalek inflicted upon us…in order to blot out the memory of Amalek…and not to forget to do so… Apply the insights about leadership that Rabbi Sacks gleans from these comments on the Torah portion to our leaders who have to make some incredibly difficult choices during the extreme times we are living through. How might any of our leaders in the US or in Israel benefit from taking to heart a lesson or two from this Torah commentary? From the personae of Moses and of Aaron in this story? Aside from some sympathy – perhaps – for our leaders navigating treacherous political and principled territory, what values and principles would you demand our leaders uphold? What are the ‘red lines’ no leader should be willing to cross? How do you prioritize issues of principle in relation to expediency, short-term losses versus long-term gains, sacrificing much for the hour’s critical need when that heavy price will ultimately have to be painfully repaid?

  • Friday, March 22, 2024 / 12 Adar II 5784

    Friday, March 22, 2024 / 12 Adar II 5784

    Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt— how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when Adonai your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that Adonai your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget. — Deuteronomy 25:17-19 It would be a fun riddle to solve, if it was not so serious. This shabbat is known as Shabbat Zachor, “The Sabbath of Remembrance”, which is always on the shabbat prior to Purim. We read three verses from Deuteronomy, above, which instruct us to remember the evil cruelty that Amalek inflicted upon us…in order to blot out the memory of Amalek…and not to forget to do so… Apply the insights about leadership that Rabbi Sacks gleans from these comments on the Torah portion to our leaders who have to make some incredibly difficult choices during the extreme times we are living through. How might any of our leaders in the US or in Israel benefit from taking to heart a lesson or two from this Torah commentary? From the personae of Moses and of Aaron in this story? Aside from some sympathy – perhaps – for our leaders navigating treacherous political and principled territory, what values and principles would you demand our leaders uphold? What are the ‘red lines’ no leader should be willing to cross? How do you prioritize issues of principle in relation to expediency, short-term losses versus long-term gains, sacrificing much for the hour’s critical need when that heavy price will ultimately have to be painfully repaid?

  • Friday, March 1, 2024 / 21 Adar 1 5784

    Friday, March 1, 2024 / 21 Adar 1 5784

    The following commentary on Parashat Ki Tissa from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l, raises some profound questions about leadership. Although the discussion is about Aaron and his role in the people’s making a Golden Calf and committing the sin of idolatry, Rabbi Sacks is really suggesting we examine the behavior of our own leaders and our own selves as leaders. Apply the insights about leadership that Rabbi Sacks gleans from these comments on the Torah portion to our leaders who have to make some incredibly difficult choices during the extreme times we are living through. How might any of our leaders in the US or in Israel benefit from taking to heart a lesson or two from this Torah commentary? From the personae of Moses and of Aaron in this story? Aside from some sympathy – perhaps – for our leaders navigating treacherous political and principled territory, what values and principles would you demand our leaders uphold? What are the ‘red lines’ no leader should be willing to cross? How do you prioritize issues of principle in relation to expediency, short-term losses versus long-term gains, sacrificing much for the hour’s critical need when that heavy price will ultimately have to be painfully repaid?

  • Friday, February 23, 2024 / 14 Adar 1 5784

    Friday, February 23, 2024 / 14 Adar 1 5784

    Today is the 14th day of the month of First Adar, an almost semi-holiday known as Purim Katan, the ‘Little Purim’ and tomorrow will be a similar almost semi-holiday known as ‘Sushan Purim Katan’, the ‘Little Shushan Purim.’ Today is the day that would be Purim…except that it is NOT Purim due to the fact that the Hebrew calendar has a leap year 7 years out of every nineteen, and during a leap year we add an entire extra month to the calendar. That extra month is always a second month of Adar. We are in the first month of Adar now, and then after the next new moon we will have the leap-year month (in Hebrew it is actually known as a shanah meuberet, a ‘pregnant year’!). That leap-year month will be Second Adar.

  • 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.