Once, on a mission to Israel, we needed a minyan for a prayer service during the airplane flight. We were a total of six men in our group, so we began to scan the plane for the remaining four for the requisite 10 men.
A man visiting from Manhattan introduced himself after finishing a Shabbat afternoon class in Jewish ethics and told me the following story: In the early years of Lincoln Square Synagogue, when Rabbi Shlomo Riskin was the rabbi, he always wanted a certain leading member to serve as cantor for Neilah on Yom Kippur.
My daughter, Dina, accepted a summer job here in Los Angeles last year. Before being hired, she explained that she was an observant Jew who would have to take off two days in early June to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. The manager, respecting Dina’s religious commitment, said it would be no problem.
Every Passover, as I sit with my family at our seder, I inevitably think of my paternal grandfather, after whom I was named. I never met him. He died five years before I was born, and I was born on the anniversary of his burial. But from earliest childhood, I felt that my grandfather was present, teaching me the values that helped shape my life.
Anyone familiar with religious practices can testify to the fact that candles play a crucial role in normative observance for many religions. It is not surprising to find an identical phenomenon in Judaism, the mother of so many contemporary beliefs.
With a new school year upon us, I found the following story, “What Teachers Make,” revealing.
Spirituality, kabbalah and meditation are buzzwords in today’s religious lexicon. But do they really describe religion?
In 2008, the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed written by Marisol Leon, a young woman who graduated from Yale in 2007 and returned to teach in the same public middle school she had attended:
Author Hillel Halkin, reviewing the Koren Sacks Siddur in the spring 2010 Jewish Review of Books, recounts a charming story that he heard from his father:
Anyone who has chaperoned high school students knows it can add a few gray hairs. I experienced this very phenomenon a number of years ago while serving as the
rabbinic leader on March of the Living, the annual gathering that takes youth to Poland to commemorate Holocaust Memorial week.
An acquaintance recently asked me about the difference between holiness and spirituality. In America, this person noted, everyone talks about spirituality but no one
discusses holiness. What is Judaism’s view, my friend wanted to know, about these two ideas?
The renowned Oxford professor Benjamin Jowett, the great 19th century translator of Plato, was the ultimate paradigm of the ivory-tower scholar. Once, as he was walking across the commons at Oxford, he stopped a student and asked, “Please can you tell me, am I walking toward or away from the cafeteria?”
I led a summer Jewish history trip through Central Europe several years ago, which took us to Bratislava and its famous Jewish cemetery, where the great 19th century rabbinic leader, the Hatam Sofer, is buried. Our first stop in Bratislava was at the Danube Hotel, where we were to meet our local guide.
A number of years ago, when my two daughters were 8 and 6, we had the pleasure of spending a family summer vacation in Israel. We stayed at my mother-in-law’s home right near Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. One day while eating breakfast we heard a truck pass outside with a loudspeaker making announcements. At first the words from the loudspeaker didn’t make any sense to us.
Parshat Matot (Numbers 30:2-32:42). But the question remains: What justification did Moses have that allowed him to denounce them so fiercely? How could he compare them to the scouts?
Condolence visits are part of a rabbi's life, but no one ever taught us how to make nine visits in a 48-hour period. We arrived in Israel on the morning of Tuesday, March 11, and left Israel the following night. Our mission, representing the Rabbinical Council of America, was to express solidarity with the families of the victims of the terror attack at yeshivat Mercaz Harav, comfort the injured in the hospitals and visit the yeshiva.
With Chanukah recent history, I came across a fascinating review of a new book, "The Business of Holidays." The book's editor, Maud Lavin, notes that 81 percent of U.S. households celebrate Christmas with a tree in their homes, and not everybody is Christian. The line between Christmas and Chanukah has become very blurry in recent years, according to Lavin.
Every human being is on a special journey; the secret, however, is to realize it. This, perhaps, is the Torah's message when it recounts the details of how the first Jewish house of worship, the Tabernacle, was constructed and dedicated.
Why are children deaf to the advice parents offer, and why does it take so many years before we understand the true value of our parent's wisdom?
Often we give excuses of not being involved in Jewish life because we have strong and even valid criticisms against organized religion. We only see the negative in our Jewish institutions, forgetting that such an attitude produces Peloni Almonis, nothings and nobodies. We have no choice but to accept the challenge to become a generation of Boazs, whose creative thinking will guarantee the future of our people.
By the time they left the synagogue, Abraham Foxman had made up his mind. When he returned to the nursemaid's home he announced that he wanted to be Jewish because he liked the "Jewish Church." There he said, they "celebrate life."
Propelled by curiosity, I asked, "By the way are you Jewish?"
"Not at all," he answered. "I was born Presbyterian, and now I am a Baptist. Maybe one day I will become Jewish. What do you think of that?"
Deciding it would be best not to answer, I acted Jewish and responded with a totally different question: "How do you know so much about Judaism and Chanukah?"
With total seriousness he said, "You can't claim to be a religious Christian without knowing Judaism. All religious wisdom starts with Judaism."
We love to play Jewish Geography. Whenever we meet a fellow Jew for the first time, we try to find mutual people or places we might have in common.
Prayer can be a risky endeavor when it's not done right. In our Torah reading for this week we encounter the ultimate Jewish blessing in the words of the Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing.
Some things never change. We all know the storyline. Moses was expected back after 40 days in heaven where he was receiving the Torah. But he was late coming back on the 40th day: "And the people saw that Moses tarried [boshesh], in coming down from the mountain" (Exodus 32:1).
I once heard a colleague recount how, after lecturing about God, a man came up and told him that he was impressed with his lecture. He explained that although he wasn't personally observant and didn't attend synagogue, he had a close relationship with the Almighty.
Summer photos are most revealing. Our family's photos almost always reveal my absence for the simple reason that I am usually the designated family photographer.
While on a summer vacation on the East Coast, my family and I visited some spectacular sights in northwestern North Carolina, especially near Ashville, N.C. On our way to Ashville, we stopped and asked directions from a fine gentleman who turned out to be a Methodist minister.
Natan Sharansky's attitude is as old as the Bible. This week's Torah portion began with a description of the olah, the obligatory burnt offering that was brought twice a day -- morning and afternoon -- to the Holy Temple.
When the woman at the ice rink said to me, "Remember, listen well for when you do you really can achieve anything," she was, in effect, summarizing the message of Parshat Mishpatim: Listen to the words of Torah and you can achieve a just society.
A saleswoman, driving home in northern Arizona, sees a Navajo woman hitchhiking, stops the car and invites the Navajo woman to join her.
On the eve of Simchat Torah, many synagogues auction the three major honors of the day, with proceeds benefiting the synagogue or other Jewish institutions.
On the eve of Simchat Torah, many synagogues auction the three major honors of the day, with proceeds benefiting the synagogue or other Jewish institutions.
While on a summer vacation on the East Coast, my family and I visited some spectacular sights in northwestern North Carolina, especially near Ashville.
The midrash in the Yalkut Shimoni uses this insight to provide a beautiful homily. The midrash points out that the one who flees from positions of honor and authority, achieves honor and authority.
The great violinist, Itzhak Perlman, suffered from polio as a child and ever since has been in a wheelchair. On one occasion, while performing a violin concerto, one of the strings broke. It occurred in the very first movement with an audible ping. Everyone waited to see what he would do. With astonishing virtuosity, he continued as if nothing had happened, playing through to the finale using only the remaining three strings.
While studying for rabbinic ordination at Yeshiva University in the late '70s, I was at the main study hall dedication where the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik spoke, honoring the great philanthropist, Joseph Gruss, who underwrote the project.
Chauvinism, of one kind or another, probably has always been with us. This week's Torah reading, Parshat Vayera, for example, appears to lend itself to the charge of male chauvinism. The Torah tells us that the three angels who came to visit Abraham brought news that Sarah would give birth to Abraham's son. Sarah laughed when she heard this, whereupon God chastised her, saying to Abraham, "Why is it that Sarah laughed ... is anything too hard for the Eternal?" (Genesis 18:13-14).
Recently, I came across a story about a man who made the "unforgivable" mistake of missing his wife's birthday. When the wife expressed her anger, the quick-witted husband responded, "Sweetheart, how do you expect me to remember your birthday when you never look any older?"
If only that were true, and we could find the secret elixir for everlasting youth, we would all be happier. Although some French winemakers would like us to believe that imbibing one glass of French wine each day will do the trick, most of us realize that, considering the alternative, aging is a blessing.
On our trip we took the students to the city of Lublin, and we visited the once-famous and beautiful yeshiva, Hachmei Lublin, founded by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the renowned pre-Holocaust spiritual leader.
I always thought standing ovations were reserved for rare
and infrequent occasions. That view drastically changed last week when I
found myself in Washington, D.C., leading a group of 35
members from my synagogue,
Did you ever notice how we tend to make up our minds so quickly that we become closed to ideas that might change our opinion?
Recently, I came across the following sign prominently displayed on an executive's desk that succinctly summarized it: "Don't confuse me with facts -- my mind is already made up."
If that is true about life in general, it is even truer about the way we judge people. We rarely give people much time before we decide what we think of them. It is this very point that Judaism teaches in a fascinating fashion in this week's Torah portion.
What makes a good parent? Once, while waiting on line at Passport Control in Israel, I overheard two American couples talking.
Each was describing how much luggage they had brought. Finally, one said to the other, "We brought nothing for ourselves. The truth is we could have done just fine with a carry-on case. All our oversized bags are filled with items for our children and grandchildren. We took orders for whatever they wanted and shlepped it here." Then she added the ultimate Jewish thing. "Isn't that what parents are supposed to do?"
The other couple, nodding in agreement, replied, "Yes, and may you do so for 120 years."
Suddenly from all over the hall came, "Amen!"
Recently, a friend told me that his brother and sister-in-law flew from Newark, N.J., to Israel. The plane was filled with Christian church groups traveling on a Holy Land pilgrimage. When his sister-in-law got up to walk in the aisles, a fellow passenger stopped and inquired, "And what church are you from?"
When she said that she was Jewish, the lady remarked, "I think you are the only Jew on this flight."
Where have all the Jews gone? Not to Israel.
A number of years ago, during the O.J. Simpson trial, I had a conversation with a non-Jewish merchant who told me that right after Simpson was arrested, he met a good friend of Simpson's at church. At the conclusion of the service, the merchant happened to stand right behind this man as he thanked the minister for his homily and then asked him, "Reverend, would you please pray for O.J."
Last Rosh Hashana began with the most terrible noise. Terror, trauma, tragedy and evil triumphant filled the air. In addition, Israel and Jews worldwide were subjected to the vilest outburst of anti-Semitism since the 1940s.
A woman in Alcoholics Anonymous once told Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky, a leading psychologist, the following story: An old friend of hers, who was still an alcoholic, asked her how long she had been sober. She responded that it was already two years. The friend couldn't believe it and asked, "How did you do it? In less than a week I would be back to drinking." She answered, "Every day when I awake, I start my day by asking God, 'God please help me and keep me sober.' At the end of the day before going to sleep I say, 'Thank you God for helping me.'" The friend was dumbfounded by this explanation and asked the woman, "How do you know it is God who helped you?" She responded, "I didn't ask anyone else, did I?"
When the intifada began in September 2000, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel, received a call at 3:30 a.m. The lady on the other end, with a deep European accent, asked, "Rabbi Riskin, do you know who this is?"
A number of years ago, a philanthropist who visited the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's rabbinical seminary on the Lower East Side of New York prepared to give a large gift to the yeshiva.
We all will become wise when we learn that Jewish education is more than just good schools and shuls. It is more than just a good academic experience. It is the combination of family and community building living examples for children to emulate.
John Kirkpatrick and his farm worker, Jesús Serrano, have become very attached to their etrogim; so much so that one year Jesús nurtured a perfect unblemished etrog that he took great pride in.
With the demise of the former Soviet Union and the fall of communism in the early '90s, the story of Soviet Jewry's battle for survival appears to be ancient history. Yet one of the truly remarkable books of our time is the autobiography of one of the famous refuseniks, Yosef Mendelevitch, who struggled valiantly for his right to be Jewish in Communist Russia. Mendelevitch titled his autobiography "Mevzah Hatunah," which translates from Hebrew as "Operation Wedding."
Not long ago, on a trip to Israel, I heard the following story about an Israeli doctor and patient.
In most big cities in the United States, horse-and-buggy rides are offered as tourist attractions. It is therefore not shocking to find them lined up in Philadelphia, right near Constitution Hall and the Liberty Bell.
Morris Leven-ger was a wealthy, pious Jew who lived in Atlan-ta, Georgia, and attended synagogue daily before going to work. One day the rabbi asked for his help with scholarships for youngsters whose families could not afford tuition for Jewish day schools.
A rabbi in a small community in pre-Holocaust Europe experienced rabbinic burn-out. No matter what he did, no one seemed to appreciate it.
The personals sections in an Israeli newspaper contained the following ad:
"Jewish man seeks partner who will attend shul with him, light Shabbat candles, celebrate holidays, build sukkah together, and go with him to brit milah and bar mitzvah celebrations. Religion not important."
The absurdity, of course, makes us laugh, but the humorous story actually emphasizes an important message contained in this week's portion. The Torah underscores that not only is religion itself important, but our attitudes about it are crucial.
Children often are pestered by well-meaning adults. I remember as a child having my cheeks pinched, or, even worse, my ear lobe pulled by some sweet elderly lady. Recounting this experience at one of my evening classes, one student seriously asked me, "Rabbi, did she pull down or pull up?"
Onkelos, with just one insightful translation, let all subsequent generations know that deeds, not miracles, must be our guide.
During the past few months, I have had contact with a friendly pastor, who is sincerely concerned about the future of the Jewish people both here and in Israel.
We currently seem more perplexed than ever by the challenge of child rearing, by the dynamics involved in the "generation gap" that has led to the current gory headlines.
It is a familiar sight. On each flight to Israel, in the back of the plane, a minyan gathers for services.
Recently, on a visit to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, I shared an elevator ride with a well-dressed man who was carrying a bulging portfolio under his arm. Wondering what he was doing in the hospital, I inquired about the nature of his visit. He replied that he was a lawyer visiting a client. I was impressed with such compassion and asked, "Do you visit every client that is in the hospital?" He immediately explained that this was a rare visit. "My client called me in great rage. She insisted that I come right over. She wants to change her will before it is too late. The reason for her sudden decision is that yesterday she had a fight with one of her relatives, and her daughter encouraged her to remove that relative's name from the will. So here I am."
This past summer, while leading a Jewish Heritage tour through Central and Eastern Europe, we spent Shabbat in the beautiful city of Prague.
A senior colleague once told me that when he was a student in college, he took a creative writing course. One of his classmates could express himself beautifully but could not conceive any creative ideas on his own. He would always turn to my colleague for ideas and then proceed to write an excellent paper. Thanks to his writing skills, he earned a doctorate and eventually became chairman of a English department at a Midwest university.
Who are these men perpetually hovering outside the doors of the yeshiva? Who are these children, this gaggle of goslings, and these women, seemingly dutiful and unfazed as they stroll toward their place of prayer? Who are they?
Schwartz, a wealthy Jew, took ill in Boston. The medics rushed him to the best hospital, Mass General, where he received VIP treatment.
Recently, an analysis appeared in the press about the Jewish elements in American popular music.
A story is recorded in the inspiring biography about the late Jerusalem rabbi Aryeh Levin, "A Tzaddik in Our Times." One of the rabbi's students was about to be married when he came to Reb Aryeh and asked: "How should I behave toward my wife? How should I treat her?" Reb Aryeh looked at him in wonder and said: "How can you ask a question like that? A wife is like your own self. You treat her as you treat yourself."
On the eve of Simchat Torah, many synagogues auction the three major honors of the day, with proceeds benefiting the synagogue or other Jewish institutions. Two honors, Hatan Torah (for the one called to the final reading in Deuteronomy) and Hatan Bereshit (for the one called to the first reading in Genesis), usually receive the highest bids. The third, Kol Hanearim -- supervising the blessing of all minor children as a tallit is held over their heads, while the honoree receives the next-to-last aliyah in Vezot Haberakha -- can be a close second.
A few years ago, two of my colleagues took their families on vacation to Mammoth Lake. While there, the families spent Shabbat with one another, eating their meals together, singing zmirot (Shabbat songs) and enjoying each other's company.
People often complain that if we only had leaders like those in past generations, we would not have the problems we face today. It seems to be a chronic malady that we never are satisfied with the leaders of our own time. Yet, an old Jewish adage states, "each generation receives the leader it deserves." In truth, nowhere is this fact so apparent as in this week's Torah reading.
Students of drama are well acquainted withAristotle's view about the "fatal flaw." Protagonists of tragedy, nomatter how exalted, are brought down by a tragic flaw from within:bad judgment or bad character.
In April 1994, following numerous suicidebombings, 400 American Jewish leaders took a two-day trip to Israelto show American Jewish support for the besieged State.
An unusual Buddhist-Jewish dialogue took place inSeptember 1989, when the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, metwith a group of six Jewish leaders. The Dalai Lama requested themeeting, not because of an academic interest but, rather, because ofa practical need. He wanted to learn the Jewish "secret technique"for survival. "We always talk of Jewish people scattered in so manycountries, speaking so many languages, yet the Jews keep theirtraditions. It's something remarkable," he said.