What is the Jewish view of Original Sin and the Fall of Man?

September 6, 2016
Do Jews believe that Adam (and Eve's) "sin" in the Garden of Eden constitutes "Original Sin" and their punishment the "Fall of Man?"  In this 45 minute presentation, I cover some vital Jewish concepts.  First, I clarify one of the great confusions that results in "lost in English translation" in all of Bible studies.  This confusion is that the Hebrew word "cheit," translated into English as "sin" in English translations of the Torah, is NOT the same concept as the word "sin" that appears in Paul's writings (particularly the Epistle to the Romans) in the Christian New Testament, where his concept of sin comes from the Hebrew phrase "yetser ha-ra."  To put the matter bluntly, Paul was arguing that our evil inclination defines us as humans, and only an act of God's saving grace (though a rebirth in Christ) could change our fallen state.  For Jews, however, "sin" is something other than a state of our humanity or even human will, and reading Torah texts through Paul's eyes produces massive error, apples and oranges.  On the other hand, Judaism does have a lot to say about "yetser ha-ra," our selfish will, namely that while it drives us in many ways, it can easily be balanced by selfless instincts when channeled into mitzvot, or holiness, where it provides the PASSION in its moderation and channeling in marriage, in business, in education, and in merriment. 

Spiritual Prep during Elul: What are the “Vows” absolved on “Kol Nidrei (All Vows)?”

September 4, 2016

The entire month of Elul is a time of daily preparation for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.  In this brief podcast, we look at how we can begin spiritual preparation for Yom Kippur, which begins with "Kol Nidrei," which means "All Vows" -- vows that are absolved by the Heavenly Court.  What are these vows?  Is it something ancient?  What does this have to do with my spirituality?  Actually, this ancient idea, which was a core of Torah and Temple spirituality, is EXTREMELY relevant to how all human beings operate spiritually, and our awareness of what we do already helps us focus on how to raise ourselves spiritually so we can arrive fully prepared for the Heavenly Court. 


Two Kinds of Love in the Promised Land: The Fallacy of Loving Without Institutions

August 28, 2016

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?


From Fearful to Fearsome: Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone to Pursue Peace

August 14, 2016

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.


“My Rabbi is Rabbi Jesus?” A Sermon on the Danger of So-Called “Messianic Jews”

August 4, 2016

(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? 


Is there a reference to Jesus in the Saturday morning service?

July 29, 2016

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!


Did a Shabbat Prayer Predict the Solution to the Whale Mystery?

July 23, 2016

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.


Prayer and Sacrifice: Coming Close to God through a Proper Consciousness of Nature and our Words

July 21, 2016

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?


Free to Love: A Halakhic Teacing in Honor of LGBTQ Pride Day

July 18, 2016

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."