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 probably be transformed into something completely different — that was funny!
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.
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 to be an idol worshiper? Where are we to find the idols of today that we are commanded to avoid?
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 follow his every move, his whole planned development where he lives is a movie set, his job, his wife, his friends are all actors.
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.
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 parasha, however, is not really one of these moments. In fact, as I read through Noach again and again this year, I couldn’t help but think how much hasn’t changed since those fateful days, in primordial time, when the first humans brought about the destruction of the Earth.
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 show, and that is the very last thing Jerusalem and Israel need at this moment.
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).
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.
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 of the other innocent Arizonans in Tucson. Certainly, the main person guilty is the man who pulled the trigger, and he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But, in Heschel’s formulation, all of us are somewhat responsible for what happened, for allowing our society to sink to such a level that our media spews violent rhetoric from prominent politicians and pundits without consequence; all of us are responsible for allowing the debate about guns and gun control, something that should be so sensible, to devolve into angry, violent reactions and prevent us from making laws that can protect people from the monstrous nature of daily firearm deaths in our country; all of us are responsible for supporting violent films and video games, glorifying violence on the screen that only serves to affect our children and our psyches. If we think it doesn’t have an effect, we are sorely deluding ourselves.
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, the San Gabriel Mountains.
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 events — like the BP oil spill — seem to be so huge that they are out of our sphere of control.
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 now coming to attack him.
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.
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 of which appear in this week's parashah, Naso.
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)?
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 Slonimer Rebbe, a wonderful 20th century commentator known for the Netivot Shalom, God needed the plagues and the strong show of force to rouse the people from their slave mentality. Why should the Israelites choose to leave the relative comfort of the status quo — although it is slavery, what’s known is often seen as safer — to follow an unknown, unproven God? God needed a show of force to free our ancestors.
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 understood, like the American military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“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 the world as black and white, right and wrong.
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 peace in the Middle East will have real resonance for the American Jewish community – a majority of which believes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be the best way to secure Israel’s future.
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, big questions, intense questions and, at times, uncomfortable questions. And we do this work in the shelter of God’s wings, dwelling in God’s holy home; as Psalm 27 reminds us, “Let me dwell in the house of God all the days of my life.” And so, as we read parashat Ki Tavo this week, with its magnanimous breadth of learning, I think that we can see the entirety of the parasha boiling down into a fairly simple, yet profound theme: love conquers fear.
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, Moses has not had an easy time as leader.
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 timeless adage: Sometimes the truth hurts.
Parshat Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26) God is constantly evolving, constantly becoming, and so should we.
Parshat Bereshit (Genesis 1:1-6:8) Why did God create the world? Why are we here in this life?
Parshat Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9) 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.
Parshat Shelach Lecha (Numbers 13:1-15:41)
Why is there so much disillusionment, fear and unsettling behavior in this parsha? And what can we learn from the chaos?
Parshat Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2)
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.
Parshat Tazria (Leviticus 12:1-13:59)
There comes a time, for each of us, when we stand face to face with our demons; it is in our response to this challenge that we often see some of the more beautiful moments in human life. In this week's parsha, Tazria, we find one of those opportunities.
We have the chance, each and every week, to take the journey of Abraham, listen for the call of God and then find ways to answer that call.
How much easier would it be to build a world of love, compassion, justice and peace than the continued path of war and violence?
Kedoshim is a lofty and powerful parsha, known as the holiness code, which the Talmud and Midrash understood to be rav gufei Torah, or encompassing the majority of the Torah, namely that this chapter is a summation of the entire Torah itself.
As we journey through Exodus we see the God of great power and might, the God who sends plagues, attacks Egypt and toys with Pharaoh's heart, all while trying to impress both the Israelites and Egyptians.
This past week was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's yahrzeit, which falls during Parshat Shemot, the beginning of slavery and our fight against Pharaoh, which is also when we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. How appropriate!
Many rabbinic texts detail our long tradition of ecotheology, explicitly supporting the idea that caring for the Earth is a distinctly religious imperative.
Our ancestors understood that when we make a vow, promising to give something to God, or take an oath regarding our own actions, this was the highest and most serious endeavor, as the power of speech is what separates us most critically from the animal world. "Baruch She'amar V'hayah Ha'olam, God spoke and the world came into being."
Today, Judaism is undergoing a transformation, as we seek to embody the words of Rav Kook, who said we must make the old new and the new holy. Prayer must be made spiritually meaningful, whereby it becomes what Heschel described as the language of the soul, not just the language of the past.
This week we meet Moses, our new leader and adviser. Moses is commanded to go to Egypt, gather the people and demand their freedom from Pharaoh.
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 and Rose Bowl were there; I had no idea how close it was to Woodland Hills, where I lived. And I certainly didn't think about if there were Jews there.
Pasadena is located in the San Gabriel Valley -- or what locals call the "Other Valley" -- and it's surrounded by the San Gabriel Mountains. It sits at the foot of Mount Wilson, home to the observatory where Albert Einstein worked during his stay at Cal Tech. It's also home to Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the leading U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system, which offers us a connection to space, science and some of the best minds in the world.
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!
I understand tikkun olam, the repairing and healing of our world, as the central calling of our people. All of the prayer, teaching, outreach, pastoral work and congregational activities that I help facilitate lead me back to the notion that they are somehow helping to add the necessary energy into our global cosmos, which can facilitate the advent of a new and better time for all people. And I know that each of us is working, in our own way, to help better the world.
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 him words of comfort from the Psalms, from the Torah and from meditations that I have found to enhance an ailing spirit.