Do One Thing Different: Why We Immediately Build a Sukkah following High Holidays

October 25, 2016

It's hard as a Jew not to be surprised, yet again, that we are building a sukkah mere hours following the intense period of introspection, prayer, self-examination, repair of relationships, internal inventories, repentance, forgiveness, and new year's resolutions that run from the beginning of the month of Elul all the way through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Yes, we do it every year, but it still comes a shock.  With Yom Kippur barely over, we are engaged in the building of a sukkah.  Why?  Does it serve some deep spiritual purpose?  In this 8 minute teaching, I use Bill O'Hanlon's famous book, "Do One Thing Different: Ten Simple Ways to Change Your Life" to elucidate this deep spiritual purpose, the purpose of making it possible to actually fulfill the vows and resolutions made during the High Holidays, even when that path seems hard to get on directly.  Often the indirect change approach is the most effective.


The Same Old Story of a Demagogue’s Insecurity in Exodus Chapter One

October 18, 2016

Don't blink or you'll miss it:  two simple verses that help begin the Book of Exodus tell a story as ancient as our people and as recent as the nightly news tonight.  What do Trump and Putin have in common with the "new king" who "arose over Egypt"?  The wheels of history turn but the song remains the same.  From Torah Study on October 16th.


How Many Friends Can You Carry? The Torah of Letting Go and the Torah of Reconnecting

October 13, 2016

Is it a Jewish value to keep your friendships going?  What if a friend has done you wrong?  Or what if a loved one demands an apology from you for something you haven't done?   Are there moral consequences to your using Facebook?

Many of us are influenced by a superficial, romanticized image of friendship combined with the Facebook compulsion that "the more friends the better."  The truth is, often the more friends we have the fewer deep, real relationships we are having, especially in the present moment.  We are changing all the time, and if we try to keep all our friends, or many, the weight of all those relationships can weigh us down, as we drag a connection that worked in the past into the present where it no longer applies.  In the end, we live in the past, minimizing our openness to new friendships.  In this presentation, I discuss two very different experiences I approached Jewishly as I did my reckoning of whom I wanted to carry into my future.  In both cases, I had to decide whether to repair a broken friendship with someone dear to me.  In one case, I let them go, Jewishly, and in the other, I made a difficulty sacrifice in reconnecting to them.

This sermon was delivered Erev Rosh HaShanah.   

Knowing the Heart of the Ger (the Other): The Compassionate Torah of Justice

October 10, 2016

How do we Jews respond to police shootings of African Americans, the deaf and the mentally ill?  In this presentation, I argue that the special gift of being Jewish and following Torah incorporates a response that is based in rebalancing the system.  "Justice" is NOT after-the-fact calls to demand the imprisonment of police offers or join a rally of BLM.  That is not Torah justice, that is a vengeance that reinforces the present system and the myth that "a few bad eggs" who are "racist" are the problem.  "Justice," the entire Hebrew Bible expounds, is a quality of a correctly balanced SYSTEM of laws and their professional, impartial application, not a description of an individual situation.  The Jewish response is to not immediately "react" with a reaction, but to fill that space before reaction with proposals that analyze and correct the systemic problems that created the moment of injustice in the first place.  Revelation is about proaction, not reaction.  With a brief look at the way our American system violates Torah by imprisoning an unprecedented number of people for non-violent offenses, mostly drug offenses, whose 3-strikes and Mandatory-Minimum and other laws have systematically been biased against minorities, and where the prevalence of guns have created real and rational fear in the daily lives of law enforcement, there is no justice possible, especially for the ger, the Other, the minority, or the refugee/migrant.  And the very Revelation that we hold dear is actually the creation of a just system because "we know the heart of the ger," the different ones, the ones who had no legal protections in the lands in which we lived, including at times, the United States.  (The profound quotation I bring from the New York police commissioner is from Rabbi Michael Rothbaum from his exceptional sermon on the topic.)  This sermon was delivered Rosh HaShanah morning.


3-Minute Teaching on How to Focus for High Holidays

September 28, 2016

I tease out a teaching that Harold Kushner does using Erikson to focus us on how to use Tefilliah (introspective prayer) to guide us forward onto a path with God (teshuvah) rather than get hung up on the wrong thoughts.  Then Sharna sings a gorgeous "Adon Selichot."


Feeling it All as The Sheep and the Flock: Entering the High Holidays moment of individual judgment within a religion of collective judgment

September 25, 2016

The ten days of awe, of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, characterize a special annual spirituality of healing relationships in one's life [making amends "between human beings"] culminating in a 25 hour introspective period  [making amends "between the individual and God"] of intense prayer on Yom Kippur whereby we face God collectively as a flock and individually as a soul.  What's the difference between this and all prayer?  If we are a religion of collective judgment --whether as a People or as a Species-- as our Prophets stress, how do we relate to L'Eil Orech Din, the great prayer that says this is our annual moment of being singled out, each sheep from among the flock, for individual inspection by God?  How does the ego trick us into avoiding the point of that individual moment of confession so that we cling to "I did the best I could, the rest is others' issues"? Through Teshuvah (getting back to the path ahead on which I walk with God), Tsedakah (acts of righteousness), and Tefillah (intense prayer/introspection) we re-energize ourselves, alter our consciousness, and "avert the severity of the divine decree that we are always unpredictably mortal." (L'eil  Orech Din)


What is Biblical Prophecy Really? Could Moses have been hanging with aliens or hallucinating? What does Carl Sagan have to do with it?

September 19, 2016

In this extended class, I discuss the origins of Biblical prophesy, historically and contextually, and we ask ourselves about the very nature of Revelation.  Was it dictation from the sky?  Was it ancient aliens?  Was it hallucination?  Why were light beams shooting out of Moses' head?  And I also mention the relevance of the Carl Sagan book (and best movie about religion of all time) "Contact."  To quote Matthew Mcconaughey in that movie, "Hey hey hey... it was God!"


Prophecy Replaced by Legalism? Halakhah and the Tao

September 12, 2016

While Judaism may not have much doctrine, one statement that operates doctrinally is the Rabbinic statement that prophecy ended after the Biblical prophets.  Since then, we have the Jewish legal system producing "halakhah" (laws) to guide us instead of revelation producing halakhah.  Legalism replacing inspired revelation?  How is that supposed to work?  I discuss the notion of halakhah and the important principle of halakhic pluralism. 


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.