Jewish Journal

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater

  • Torah portion: Importance of choice

    August 12, 2015 | 11:36 am

    There are many things in our world that we humans feel are not in our control. I often hear about the “market” deciding what to do, even though the stock market is an entity we created and that we control. Major issues such as poverty, hunger, climate change, war and certain world...

  • Constitution and torah

    July 6, 2015 | 12:31 pm

    In his speech that became known as “The Spirit of Liberty,” delivered in New York City’s Central Library, in the midst of World War II, the preeminent judge and judicial philosopher, Learned Hand, asked, “What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty?  I often...

  • Seeing the future

    April 29, 2015 | 11:15 am

    On the whole, I don’t believe in direct prophecy or in seeing the future.  But, this past Sunday evening, at the Dr. Hassan Hathout Foundation annual gathering, where I was humbled and privileged to be a speaker, I met and learned from a man who made me feel like I was seeing the...

  • Facing a culture of violence

    October 3, 2014 | 12:31 pm

    If you know me, you know I love watching and playing sports. I played soccer and tennis in high school, and blew out both of my knees playing daily basketball in my 20s and 30s.  Last week, I brought my Derek Jeter shirt to the second day of Rosh Hashanah, and I have many times...

  • “While God Weeps”

    July 30, 2014 | 11:47 am

    While God Weeps,

    The children of Abraham continue to slaughter one another,

    As it was before, so it is now, hatred and mistrust fogging our ability to see the humanity in one another.  Palestinians unable to see the humanity in Isaac, Israelis unable to see the humanity in...

  • Binary vision isn’t healthy: Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

    July 2, 2014 | 3:52 pm

    Do you remember the classic 1980s film “The Breakfast Club”? It was a favorite of mine as a teen and made a lasting impression on me. The short summary is that a bunch of high-schoolers get weekend detention together in the school library with very little supervision and go from...

  • Healing bodies and souls: Parashat Metzora (Leviticus 14:1-15:33)

    April 2, 2014 | 1:57 pm

    On the margins is where some of the most profound holy acts are performed. Standing with those who are in the shadows, on the margins of society, those who have been abandoned, those in our communities who frighten us, who push us to see our own vulnerability, human beings we...

  • Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

    January 31, 2014 | 12:01 pm

    A few weeks ago, I spent four beautiful days on a meditation retreat with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS) at the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus. Spending time in silence, mindful yoga, walking and eating, as well as deep Torah learning with leading...

  • JFK and the Gettysburg Address

    November 27, 2013 | 6:24 pm

    Thousands of years ago, humanity came into existence, a partner conceived in the image of God, dedicated to the pursuit of morality, truth, peace and love.

    What lies before us now is a great debate of whether this human race can stand the test of time, can make the necessary...

  • The wells of peace: Parashat Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

    October 30, 2013 | 12:59 pm

    Wells, water, history and peace. Seems like as much as the world changes, advances and develops, some things remain intact, remain essential to our future. In the midst of this week’s parasha, Toldot, within the stories of familial strife among Isaac, Rebecca and their twin sons,...

  • Power of words

    December 5, 2012 | 3:53 pm

    In our age of Facebook and Twitter, we know all too well how fast words can spread. When I was a kid, we played the game telephone, passing a word or phrase around the circle by whispering it into each other’s ear, knowing that by the time it went all the way around, it would...

  • Finding balance

    July 11, 2012 | 11:25 am

    Popularized by Harry Belafonte in one generation and by the Grateful Dead in another, the song “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)” comes to mind for me as we read Parashat Pinchas, which contains the transformative and important story of the daughters of Zelophechad. Starting in biblical...

  • Ultimate Truths

    March 8, 2012 | 11:22 am

    Do you consider yourself an idolater? I ask the question in a serious manner, for one of the main aversions, according to the Torah, is the path of idolatry, a path we witness in our parasha this week, Ki Tisa, with the Golden Calf. Yet, in today’s modern world, what does it mean...

  • War with Iran, I vote no

    February 16, 2012 | 5:25 pm

    Remember the movie “The Truman Show” with Jim Carrey?  It’s a story about a guy who, unbeknownst to him, has been living his entire life, since birth, as the star of a major reality TV show.  The producers have created an entire fake world for him to live in, hidden cameras...

  • Gateway to awakening

    November 29, 2011 | 5:29 pm

    I love to be out in nature: hiking, camping, exploring the woods, sitting by a rushing river, listening to the sounds of the birds and other wildlife. I am blessed, like many of us in Southern California, to live within walking distance of amazing natural surroundings — in my case,...

  • Unique Capabilities: Parashat Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

    October 26, 2011 | 5:39 pm

    There are places in the Torah where many of us moderns have a hard time relating to our ancestors and the societies in which they lived. Oppression of women, slavery, animal sacrifice, a God that intervenes and directs our lives in a forceful and immediate way, to name a few. This...

  • CON: Glenn Beck Rally in Jerusalem: Bad for the Jews!

    August 16, 2011 | 3:37 pm

    Find the pro column here: Glenn Beck’s unwavering support for Israel

    Glenn Beck is a fundamentalist-extremist. His upcoming rally, on Aug. 24, “Restoring Courage” in Jerusalem is nothing more than a media-driven, money-making, self-serving, end-of-times messianic-lunacy circus...

  • Listening More Than We Speak

    August 10, 2011 | 10:32 am

    Having just come off Tisha B’Av, not only do we focus on the parasha, Va’etchanan, but this is also Shabbat Nachamu, the healing Shabbat of Comfort, so named because we read the words of Isaiah, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1).

    Having spent the...

  • Refining Our Souls

    March 22, 2011 | 6:18 pm

    The aphorism “you are what you eat” first appeared in French and then in German in the 1800s, and was then brought into English in the 1920s by nutritionist Victor Lindlahr, the inventor of the “catabolic diet.” Hippie foodies later adopted the phrase in the 1960s.

    But the...

  • Heschel, King and a Prayer for Peace

    January 11, 2011 | 7:07 pm

    Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said, “In a free society, some are guilty but all are responsible.” I have been mulling that quote over in my mind since I learned of the horrible assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and the cold-blooded murder...

  • Gateway to Awakening

    November 10, 2010 | 12:28 am

    I love to be out in nature: hiking, camping, exploring the woods, sitting by a rushing river, listening to the sounds of the birds and other wildlife. I am blessed, like many of us in Southern California, to live within walking distance of amazing natural surroundings — in my case,...

  • Importance of Choice

    August 4, 2010 | 9:13 am

    There are many things in our world that we humans feel are not in our control. I often hear about the “market” deciding what to do, even though the stock market is an entity we created and we control. Major issues like poverty, hunger, climate change, war and peace as well as...

  • Let Korach be a reminder

    June 11, 2010 | 7:45 pm

    Korach is a reminder of what happens when division, animosity and fear grab hold of a people.  Korach is a reminder of how even the greatest of leaders, Moshe, can be pushed to the limit and almost overthrown, taken down by his own relative, with the very people he saved from slavery...

  • A response to Dennis Prager

    June 4, 2010 | 4:27 pm

    Thanks to Dennis Prager for selecting my recent article to illustrate what’s wrong with the Left. It’s great being used as a straw Jew, so Mr. Prager can knock me down.

    I was asked by the editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency to write a short rebuttal to a column by Binyamin...

  • Forgiving and Blessing: Parashat Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

    May 18, 2010 | 5:51 pm

    Raising twins is one of the biggest challenges of my life. As my kids grow (they are now 8 1/2), I have watched them develop different character traits and—being a boy and a girl—different personalities. From an early age, I have tried to instill in them two important qualities, both...

  • State of Prayer

    March 24, 2010 | 2:21 am

    As someone who loves to pray, I care deeply about the state of prayer in the American Jewish community. How many of us pray on a regular basis? How many of us are comfortable with Hebrew and are able to participate fully in tefillah (prayer)?

    I deliberately call prayer...

  • Warrior Spirit

    January 26, 2010 | 11:45 pm

    As someone who is uncomfortable with war as a way of solving problems, I always search deep inside myself during the week of Parashat Beshalach, in which we are finally freed from Egypt and leave in a whirlwind of death, destruction and God’s awesome power. According to the...

  • Look and Listen for those Seeking Peace

    November 18, 2009 | 1:59 pm

    This is a response to David Suissa’s column “We need ‘A street,’ not J street

    We live in challenging times, to be sure, as conflicts brew all over the globe.  Some of these conflicts are old and well-known, like the Arab-Israeli conflict, and some are newer and less well...

  • Truth and Consequences

    November 4, 2009 | 8:46 pm

    “Just tell the truth. If you tell the truth, nothing bad will happen to you.” I heard that a lot as a kid. That was code for “you won’t get in trouble.” Now, as a parent, teaching my second-graders about telling the truth is a constant struggle. Children are prone to seeing...

  • It is Time, Again, to Pray with Our Feet

    September 15, 2009 | 3:07 pm

    There’s growing buzz in Washington that President Obama will publicly offer a plan for resuming Middle East peace talks at the opening of the UN General Assembly. Coincidentally, the General Assembly falls right in the middle of the High Holy Days, a time when taking steps toward...

  • Love Conquers Fear

    September 2, 2009 | 4:02 pm

    No catchy intro, no fancy hook this week. We are almost at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We are deep in the month of Elul, the time when we prepare our minds, bodies and souls for the upcoming days of prayer, teshuvah (repentance) and renewal. Now is the moment to ask hard questions,...

  • Turn Enemies Into Friends

    June 24, 2009 | 7:22 pm

    We are once again at Korach, the story of the great rebellion, one of the most dramatic moments in the life of Moses and the people of Israel in the desert.  From the Golden Calf, to countless cries of complaints and desires to return to Egypt, to the spies losing faith last week,...

  • Obama’s Hard Truths Can Help Bridge Gap

    June 10, 2009 | 3:58 pm

    If there is one thing that can be said for President Obama, it is that he doesn’t shy away from speaking hard truths. As I listened to the speech in Cairo, as I reread the transcript and as I studied the numerous commentaries and analyses of the speech, I was reminded of the...

  • Be who you are

    January 8, 2009 | 4:29 pm

    One of my favorite times of each week is when we bless our children during Shabbat dinner.

    Each week, in the liminal moment between kiddush and motzi, between sanctifying the day and thanking God for the food we are about to enjoy, we stop, as many Jewish families do, and offer our...

  • A ‘Clue’ about creation

    October 22, 2008 | 11:04 pm

    My kids got Clue for their birthday a few years ago.

    I loved this game as a kid. When we started to play, I realized Clue was a great metaphor for creation -- the story of how we came into being, the greatest mystery of life. And like Clue, the one thing that is not a part of the...

  • Moving beyond charity

    September 3, 2008 | 10:11 pm

    One of the biggest misnomers in the Jewish vocabulary is the translation of tzedakah as "charity." This mistranslation has gone on for so long in the American< Jewish community that it's a hard habit to break. Most Hebrew school kids will give this answer when asked, much as they will say that mitzvah means "good deed" (another misnomer, for another column).

    Tzedakah is much more than charity since it comes from the word tzedek, which means "justice." When looked at in this light,...

  • Meditating spies

    June 19, 2008 | 2:31 pm

    Ah, so much chaos, so little time.

    In this parsha we deal with the message of the spies; insecurity leading to depression and fear; rebellion and anger by the people, Moses and God; and several severe punishments, including the major one of wandering in the desert for an...

  • Big Thinking

    May 15, 2008 | 6:00 pm

    In the few courses that I have taken and books that I have read on management, one of the main components of success is the ability to engage in "big visioning" or "blue sky" thinking. By not letting barriers, restrictions or even reality get in the way, we must find ways -- and...
  • Cry of the Leper

    April 3, 2008 | 6:00 pm

    What do we do with the things that frighten us most? Sometimes we have the will to overcome that which we wish we could run from, choosing not to hide away in the safety of our own bubble. We have the courage to face the demons, either personal or communal; we stare down the fear and...
  • Setting out to look within

    October 18, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    A 40-year-old British man named Jason Lewis recently completed a circumnavigation of the globe using only human power. He journeyed more than 46,000 miles around the world using a bicycle, pedal boat, kayak, rollerblades and his own two feet. He kayaked or pedaled across oceans and...
  • The Power of Love

    September 8, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    "Why not just give up hope? I mean, really, do you think that we human beings can ever get it together enough to make the world as we dream? What makes you think that we have any chance of making a difference, let alone succeeding in the task of tikkun olam, of creating a fair and...
  • Seeking Holiness

    April 26, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    Oh, deep in my heart
    I do believe
    That we shall overcome, someday!

    Those lyrics, known for inspiring so many movements for justice and righteousness, are at the core of what I am thinking about these days. Is it truly possible to overcome?

    From what great wellspring did this...
  • Divine Presence

    January 25, 2007 | 7:00 pm

    As I tucked my kids into bed recently, one of them asked me, "How do we know where God is? How do we find God?"

    It was both an amazing moment (that day school and synagogue are paying off) and a terrifying moment. I needed to provide an answer that was honest, but one they could...

  • Rabbi Heschel at 100—still the voice of God

    January 11, 2007 | 7:00 pm

    I had a life-changing experience on Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's 25th yahrzeit in 1997. After just meeting and befriending Heschel's daughter and only child, Susannah, she took me with her to all of the various memorial services happening around New York City in her father's...
  • Partners in Creation

    October 19, 2006 | 8:00 pm

    Roger Gottlieb makes the case in his book, "A Greener Faith," that we are in need of an ecotheology -- to view the Earth in a more divine and holy way. He writes that we have so separated ourselves from nature we don't actually feel our interconnectedness with it; rather, we value...
  • Power of Vows

    July 19, 2006 | 8:00 pm

    I have twins who are almost 5 years old. One of the things that my wife and I are trying to teach them is the power of words, both for the positive and the negative.

    They are learning that words can inspire, motivate and excite a situation, as they discover new and innovative ways...

  • Death by Fire

    April 20, 2006 | 8:00 pm

    The Torah sometimes gives us verses that shock us. You know, the kind that wake us up, make sure we are paying attention. This week, in Parshat Sh'mini, we find such a verse. The story of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron who die a tragic death at the hand of God for supposedly...

  • Moses and King

    January 19, 2006 | 7:00 pm

    This past week, we observed the birthday of a great leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was able to move his people from seeing and believing his great vision to acting, responding and persevering in the face of violent opposition. In this way, King was like Moses in this week's...

  • A Case for Pasadena

    September 8, 2005 | 8:00 pm

    Most people are surprised, even flabbergasted, to learn that there is a sizeable Jewish community in Pasadena, one that has been here for well over a century.

    I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and I had never been to Pasadena. I knew little about it -- mostly that the Rose Parade...

  • The Downer in Me

    August 25, 2005 | 8:00 pm

    People always tell me that I am a downer, constantly talking about the world's problems here, genocide there; conflict here, poverty there.

    Nobody ever wants to talk to me at a party!

    However, I also have a deep spiritual side, one that is open to the beauty and wonder of a...

  • Task at Hand

    June 2, 2005 | 8:00 pm

    In the essay "The World as I See It," Albert Einstein wrote: "A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other people, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give the same measure as I have received and am...

  • Learning to Breathe

    January 6, 2005 | 7:00 pm


    For the last several years I have had a relationship with a man in prison, and I have seen how his soul has become anguished and diminished by sitting in that cell.

    I met William after he was released from prison the first time, and I helped him get back on his feet. Now I write...