When You Have Forgotten Our Story, Your Only Ethic is Survival: The Rise of White Supremacy and the Importance of History

September 22, 2017

My thesis is:  When you forget our collective history, and its true part of God's unfolding in this world, you're only left with an ethic of survival.  The ineluctable connection of history and purpose is so well known to those on the far right and the far left, that their common tactic is that they must lie about history and create an alternative history that is false.  Whether you're a gullible skinhead, a fervent Jew whose only ethic is Jewish or Israel survival, or a leftist who insists that every historical story is a constructed narrative that does nothing more than mask the only reality which is a power play of winners and losers, you only achieve the aim by lying, by lying about the facts, and thereby lying about God's role in history, which forms the very basis for the purposes that America and Judaism stand for.

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Kabbalah, the Amidah prayer, and the Spiritual Progression of Shabbat

August 23, 2017

If you can, download the KABBALAH & AMIDAH PDF and refer to it.  It's a three part folio I created that uses color to track Kabbalistically significant parts of the Shabbat Amidah prayers, and shows the progression of God sefirot/attributes/emanations on Shabbat.

In this presentation, I look at the Amidah, called "The Prayer" (ha-tefillah) in the Talmud, in its evolving Shabbat version.  This Amidah is an enigma inside of an enigma, a silent meditation inside of a public pronouncement, a fixed prayer which suddenly changes (in a revealed yet concealed way) on Shabbat.  Full of Kabbalistically significant references, I trace a mystical, cosmic progression that accompanies each and every Shabbat, from free-flowing Chesed Shabbat evening with a focus on Nature, intoxication, forgiveness,love, blessing, and the home, through Revelation/Power/Law/Direction/Distinction/Path on Shabbat morning, to Redemption/Balance/Wholeness/Oneness/Renewal Shabbat afternoon.

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The Pre-Talmudic Temple Spirituality of Conditional and Unconditional Vows

August 15, 2017

Aren't New Year's Resolutions some kind of recent thing?  Well, actually, resolution vows are a central part of the Temple offerings, and are expected to play a major role in your High Holiday prayers and spiritual work leading up to the shofar blast ending Yom Kippur.  We know why the Talmud played them down, but maybe we play them down today for another reason altogether: namely, they don't fit with modern conceptions of "spiritual."  But that's where we are completely mistaken:  the core Shema spirituality of loving God with our "me'od," our excess, as the proper reciprocal response to Blessing, relies on being open and clear about the role money, good fortune, and our own wishes and desires play in our lives.

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Owning Your Voice (Part 1) - Moses to God

August 2, 2017

Chapter 6 of Exodus concludes a long process of distraction by Moses from the revelation and mission given him by God in chapter 3.  It concludes with his infamous "speech impediment."  Is this really a speech impediment as taught in Sunday schools by fundamentalists?  Or do we need to say such things because it reflects a deep aspect of ourselves that it is too uncomfortable to confront?  Why do we neglect opportunities to speak in this world and turn down leadership --let alone even find excuses not to ask a question or write a thank you note-- because we "are not good at speaking"?  Why do we tell others, "Well, if you read some website or book... or if you just listened to what 'they' (experts) say... then you'd know..." instead of taking ownership of our positions and our own voice?  How do we follow Moses' path from "I'm bad at speaking" to "Words [the fifth book of the Torah]" where Moses owns his voice in an entire book of lectures?

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Owning Your Voice (Part 2) - Moses to Pharaoh

August 2, 2017

With the long process of avoiding his speaking role by Moses now concluded, God tells Moses that when he speaks, he will be "God" to Pharaoh.  Drawing on a teaching I learned from the great Conserative rabbi Rabbi Brad Artson. this single line may contain the most concise expression of religious ethics ever.  We can go from avoiding our voice to finding out how to live your voice.

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Is Leviticus’s Skin Fascination about Judgmental Exclusion or Universal Healthcare?

May 3, 2017

Like other Torah topics including sacrifice, slavery, and creation, Leviticus's preoccupation with skin disorders offends many, prompting outrage and elaborate comparisons to historical examples of horror and immorality.  And like those earlier topics, it's as if people aren't reading the Torah, but are projecting their own sensitivities -- an inevitable part of the hermeneutical circle of reading, but one which tells us more, sometimes, about the reader's sensitivities than about the Torah message.  I discuss prominent, recent views of Tsarat skin disorders that sees in the Torah the judgmentalism of the insensitive medical establishment, the insensitive observer of a transgender individual, even the Nazi, and I counter with the fact that these readings fail to see the main point of the "out of the camp treatment" being the reintegration of these individuals back into the camp through the declaration of full purity by the head priests/kohanim.  This changes everything.  If anything, the Torah is providing a fairly obvious example of universal health care --paid for by public tithing-- right before our eyes.  Why can't we see it (in a section all about seeing)?

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Passover Part 2: Your Story Leads You To Your Purpose (David Brooks on Exodus)

April 11, 2017

Using David Brooks' essay on the importance of the Exodus story to the moral clarity of America's purpose, I address what the seder is really about.  Once the satire of the opening is out of the way, it's all "Maggid" from there:  the "oral telling of OUR story" in order to make us Jews, in order to tell us what our purpose is.  Freedom without purpose is idolatry.

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Passover Part 1: It’s Not About Freedom, but What You Do With Your Freedom

April 11, 2017

In this sermon, I analyze the opening of the seder (and conclude with a short tribute to a close friend, Holocaust survivor and Woman of Valor Rae Harvey.)

Reclining at dinner, drinking wine, and getting to eat karpas , a Greco-Roman appetizer, is freedom? Seriously?  The first part of the seder is a wicked satire that mocks the fool's answer to the central question of the Seder, "What is freedom?"

The Jewish answer to "What is freedom?" is that Freedom is about What You Do With Your Freedom. How you answer that question depends on Your Story, your Maggid, from mitzrayim to a chance to use your freedom.  Only the person who identifies with oppression knows that the real answer to the seder's central question is: "Real freedom is the freedom to serve God."

 

 
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The Nexus of Being and Nothingness as the “Solid” Ground of God’s Presence

March 4, 2017

The first, basic step of Kabbalistic enlightenment --the one Moshe took approaching the Burning Bush-- is that the meaning of God's name reveals God's true essence:  "Becoming."  But how can the "nexus of being and nothingness" be the true reality we live in, have faith in, perceive, and live by?  How can the solid ("amen") be found in the changing, and how can the soul live with a mind that depends on illusion, limits perception, and fosters an ego that identifies itself with the mind's false greatness?  If you can forgive the sound quality of the faulty microphone on my new expensive smartphone, this lesson addresses the fundamental message of an adult understanding of Judaism, of God's name and our initial enlightenment to it.

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“Daddy, Who Are Our Ancestors?” - Connecting to Them through the Seven Species on Tu B’Shvat

February 12, 2017

At bedtime recently, my six year old daughter asked me, "Daddy, who are our ancestors?"  It was not one of those profound-sounding questions that really isn't:  rather, it was a thoughtful and sincere query after watching a show about a Latina girl learning about her ancestors.  "Who are ours?" she needed to know.  In this Tu B'Shvat presentation, I show how i connect to our ancestors by going back through the Seven Species of the Land of Israel, presented in the Temple, which go back further to the lives of our shepherd ancestor Hebrews (patriarchs and matriarchs), and then even farther back to the ancestral memories of the first few chapters of Genesis, of the gatherer humans of 3000 BCE to 9000 BCE in the Tigris-Euphrates region with their figs, grapes, and olives.  Our ancestors evolved, living in harmony with Creation, by living off of the bounty of trees.  And we should, too.

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