This week, we begin reading the book of Leviticus, or “Vayikra” in Hebrew. Leviticus is a very detailed training manual for priests at the ancient Jerusalem temple, and includes some of the most beautiful, and some of the most offensive laws in the Torah. We also get a blow-by-blow of each kind of animal sacrifice – sort of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre but with no chainsaws. It is no wonder that many synagogues in the early Reform Movement simply opted to skip Leviticus in the yearly readings. It can be difficult to find much connection and meaning in much of the book, and it is so counter to modern sensibilities that it mostly makes us feel the distance between our beliefs and the Torah.
BUILDING A SANCTUARY FROM THE INSIDE OUT
PART I – Sacred Partnership
We are here tonight to celebrate Shabbat, but also to install our new Board of Directors, to pray for their success, and to offer our support to them.
It seems particularly fitting that our Torah Portion is Terumah, which describes the building of the Mishkan, or Tabernacle- or in other words, the original Temple. It tells us in great detail how to make every object, from the menorah to ark of the covenant, to the rings that hold up the curtains.
While every synagogue needs leaders and board to do the work of keeping things running and healthy, our Torah portion begins not with the leadership, but with the people,
Safe On The Other Side?
Before I really get into my remarks this morning, I want us all to pause for a moment, and try to imagine the joy, the jubilation you would have felt if you had been slaves, then escaped with all your people, and then with an army hunting you down, a sea opened and you got across only to see those chasing you be covered by the waters. Just try and imagine that feeling of relief and release.
Now, try to remember the time in your life that is closest to getting out of a bad situation, escaping danger and attack, finally getting to the other side of a terrible situation?
So, it was a Jewish year ago when I came to Sinai to do my weekend interview. It was the Torah Portion, Va’eira, and tonight, we have rolled the scroll until we are back where we started together.
I confess I never much liked Hanukkah. It seemed like a crappy substitute for Christmas trees and presents and Santa. I know my Hindu American friends felt the same way about Divali.
It wasn’t until I spent Hanukkah in Jerusalem, with the smell of fresh sofganiyot everywhere, hanukkiot in every window, and the enormous flames of the barrel-torch hanukkiah down at the Wall, and the dancing with yeshiva buchers and soldiers
REKINDLING COMMUNITY –
Remarks on the Occasion of my Installation at Temple Sinai
Judaism only works if it makes our busy lives better, and I believe Judaism and
Jewish tradition, if lived intelligently, is a technology for making our lives richer
and more joyous, more connected – Our tradition is an epic life hack, if we engage
When people think of Judaism and Jews, I don’t think that ‘a culture of gratitude’ is the first thing that pops into our heads.
- We remember that our people k’vetched constantly after leaving Egypt.
- We know that Jonah wanted to die when God forgave Nineveh.
- Moses himself said, “these people are just too much for me to handle.”
- The prophets railed about, well, everything.
- And Yom Kippur feels more about beating ourselves up than giving thanks.
And I’ll admit, that I have always been a bit suspicious of people are overly grateful. It’s a bit too Candide for me, a bit “it’s the best of all possible worlds and it couldn’t possibly be any better.”
As I understand it, in Latin American folk culture, there is a belief in “el mundo Bueno” and “el mundo malo” – the good world and the bad world. The two worlds exist side by side, and sometimes, if we are not careful, we can unknowingly step from the good world where things make sense and people are basically good, into the bad world, where nothing makes sense and people turn into monsters.
Sometimes lately, it seems as if we have stepped through from one world into a another, where what we thought we knew, what we thought was settled is turned upside down. We see nationalist anti-Semitic marches with the government in Poland. We see shootings in synagogues. We see openly anti-Semitic white-nationalists running for and sitting in Congress. We see the press attacked as the enemy of the people. We see “alternative facts.”
I think for many of us, the last two years and especially the last few weeks have triggered those fears, and for us as Jews, this universal fear of “the bad world” carries particular weight. It is in our living memory. We carry it in our collective epigenetics.
That is why I found the Torah portion this week to be such a gift.
This week’s Torah portion, Toledot, tells us about the conception and early lives of Jacob and Esau. It also tells us a great deal about Isaac and Rebecca’s relationship with each other and with their sons. It begins like this:
וְאֵ֛לֶּה תּוֹלְ ֥דֹת יִצְחָ֖ק בֶּן־אַבְרָ הָ֑ם אַבְרָ הָ֖ם הוֹלִ֥יד אֶ ת־יִצְחָֽק׃
וַיְהִ֤י יִצְ חָק֙ בֶּן־אַ רְ בָּﬠִ ֣ ים שָׁ נָ֔ה בְּ קַחְ תּ֣וֹ אֶת־רִ בְקָ֗ה בַּת־בְּ תוּאֵ ל ֙ הָֽאֲרַמִּ֔י מִפַּדַּ֖ן אֲרָ֑ם אֲח֛ וֹת לָבָ֥ן הָאֲרַמִּ֖י ל֥ וֹ לְאִשָּֽׁה׃
This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac. Isaac was forty years old when he took to wife Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean.
Tonight, I would love to do a beautifully crafted sermon, in which all the threads and ideas weave into a single message that inspires. Sadly, this has been a broken week, when we are feeling broken, and my sermon is also broken. So I want to offer some thoughts on Pittsburgh, on anti-Semitism, on resistance, and on resilience.
This week’s Torah Portion is Chayei Sara, the life of Sarah, but the portion actually begins not with Sarah’s life, but with her death…