In Parashat Eikev in Deuteronomy, we find some new tones and nuances in Moses' explications of the covenantal love that will be necessary to build a nation and a society in the Promised Land. (In fact, the very word "love" --ahavah-- appears a lot here in Deuteronomy, e.g. that we must not only not oppress the stranger --as stated previously in Torah-- but that we must love them actively.) Two of these explications are rehearsed twice daily in our prayers that go with the Shema. One focuses on the covenantal love of an individual qua individual and one of an individual qua part of a collective. We live in a society today that cannot relate to the latter. Every institution from government to education to religion are all as corrupt --we believe-- as the corporations that have been instrumental in our decline. And we have reason for our skepticism and despair. Millennials think they can build economies by writing an app in their living room, be religious by liking certain authors and hitting the yoga mat, and wisely be skeptical of all institutions. But the second kind of covenantal love teaches us avoid the fallacy of thinking that the first kind of love is enough. Which one really produces the results of changing the world? Which one is the foundation of Yom Kippur?
Two massive surprises are revealed by Moses to begin Deuteronomy. The backstory to the great sin and punishment of the Israelites in Numbers is revealed, totally shifting our understanding of it. Then, to top things off, Moses nonchalantly disobeys God's direct order! What is going on? With the help of Nehama Leibowitz, Rashi, and Midrash Tanchuma, the solution seems to be a major Torah teaching about how we handle power, resentment, and confrontation, and God's demand that we consciously leave the comfort zone of being right.
(Forgive the audio: I was not wearing my microphone during this sermon.) Is it alright to claim to be African-American, Native-American, or a Jew just because you identify with it? Is identity a matter of personal choice, or is it wrong to claim a history and inheritance --especially one that involves severe persecution-- that isn't yours? Today a new form of identity theft is spreading by Christians claiming to be "Jews" and our "friends." They are "Jews" just like us,they say, except they believe that Jesus was the Messiah and our salvation is only through acceptance of Jesus as our savior. What should we think?
Another short teaching on the fascinating Aramaic prayer "Bei Ana Racheitz" that we sing after opening the ark. Its reference to Christianity will surprise you!
The Shabbat Service contains a series of mostly silent prayers --leading up to the Shema -- in which we are asked to listen to the songs in Nature as a reality, not as a metaphor. One of these beautiful paragraphs states, "If only our mouths were filled with song like the sea..." preparing us to fill our mouths with the Shema. Have you heard the latest news of scientists' attempting to solve the past decade's string of enigmatic whale suicides? At the end of this short teaching, you'll hear Becky Henning singing this normally silent prayer in the background.
Listen as I teach a student about the real meaning of the famous cliche that "Prayer Replaces Sacrifice." What are the thematic and social connections between the two? How do we actually learn the silences needed to make the words real? What is the connection between Being in the Present Moment and Constructing our World with words?
What does an obscure Talmudic debate about freeing slaves have to do with the gay pride parade? Find out in this short teaching, concluding with Cantor Sara singing Steven Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns."
Along with an impromptu Ofra Haza song from Shir ha-Shirim by Sharna, I explain why we read the erotic love poetry of the Song of Songs to conclude Pesach in this introduction to Yizkor. (In my remarks, I connect the Kabbalistic sefirah of "hod" (splendor) with the Hebrew words "hoda'ah" (acknowledgement) and "todah" (thanks) and therefore relate it to gratitude, but please note that this is a Hasidic connection, not a philological one. The words are not from the same root, they just sound similar.)
The origin of taking out ten or sixteen drops of wine from our cups at the Seder while reciting the 10 Plagues has a fascinating origin. Is it worth recovering? I think so, and I connect it to the support for both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders across the electorate today, as well as connect it to the custom of chanting Aleinu at the end of every service.