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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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?
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!"
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.
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.