Matthew's Dollar Bill -- A Lesson In Tzedakah
There is a misconception among many Jewish families that the most authentic Passover Seders are those which follow the ancient text of the Haggadah line by line, word by word.
And that somehow, when we omit the "boring parts" or try to make the Passover Seders more fun, we are somehow cutting corners or "cheating."
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Earlier this week, I was in Manhattan to attend a series of meetings, and on the way home, my train was forced to stop as it waited for the train ahead to clear the tracks.
This is usual for those who live on Long Island. Trains halt for many reasons.
What was interesting this time was the exact location of our train. We were stopped directly in front of a large high rise building near Albertson, about a hundred feet back from the living room windows of about forty apartments.
The Talmud, our collection of ancient laws and legends, tells the story of a man who walked the streets mourning the collapse of his marriage.
"When our love was strong," he opined, "we could have lain together on the width of a sword. But now that we are not strong, a bed of one hundred feet does not suffice for us."
It's a sad but often true story of what happens when people lose track of what brought them together.
Where would we be without our children?
It's a question which Moses answers with lightening speed at the start of this week's Torah portion.
Thanks to the Passover Seder, each of us knows the plagues inflicted upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
Some of us dip our fingers into the wine. Others use a knife or spoon. In our family, we dab a fork into a wine glass and tap in on a saucer, creating little droplets, or tears.
My grandfather Nissan (z'l') taught that this represented the tears of the Egyptians, thus encouraging us to have empathy for all those who suffer, whether they be friend or foe.
In Memory of Timna, the Outsider
I'd like to introduce you to a Biblical figure who you've likely never heard of.
Her name is Timna.
She is not Jewish.
Yet her life story as depicted in the Torah, serves to teach us some important lessons about what Judaism should not be.
In this week's Torah portion, Timna is mentioned only briefly. She is described as the concubine -- the unmarried sexual partner -- of Isaac's grandson, Eliphaz. (Genesis 36:12)
I have a question for you..
In which room of your home -- or which public place -- are you at your worst?
The great comedian Louis CK asked himself this question once. His answer was: "I am the worst person I can be when I am behind the wheel." Me too, Louis. Me too.
Something happens when I'm driving. My patience level is lowest when I'm hurrying from place to place, and the car in front of me doesn't go when the light turns green -- or, worst of all, edges into my lane.
It is a sad fact that often some of the most heinous crimes committed around the world are perpetrated by those with references to God on their lips.
Often, the last words uttered by an Islamic terrorist before claiming the lives of innocents are "God is great."
It is not unheard of for Christian radicals to take the lives of medical professionals based on the justification that these acts are committed "in the name of God."
Since early Wednesday morning, after reality set in that Donald Trump will become the next president of the United States, I have been besieged by requests for prayers of comfort.
For many Americans, particularly Democrats, this outcome has been upsetting, perhaps something deeper than that.
Addiction is a topic people seldom want to talk about. In the Jewish world we often assume it's "someone else's problem."
Yet more and more, addiction is moving into the mainstream, affecting Jewish families more often than we might think.
Torah and the Environment
About eight years ago, while on a congregational tour of Israel, our bus driver veered off the main road, squeezed onto a narrow dirt trail, and eventually parked our bus under a cluster of trees.
"Everyone out," commanded our tour guide.
And so, at about 11:30 that Tuesday morning, thirty-four participants on our first group tour of Israel poured off our bus and found themselves on hot ground in an open field.
I would like to introduce you to perhaps one of the simplest yet controversial passages in the entire Torah. We will recite it this Monday night, as we complete our reading of the Torah on the holiday of Simchat Torah.
It inspires us to ask the question, "Who wrote the Torah?"
I began pondering this question about fifteen years ago, as I considered a career in the rabbinate.
There was a practice introduced by the great Rabbi Simcha Bunem (1765-1827) of Pershyscha, Poland. He would walk around with two slips of paper, one in each pocket.
The first read, "For my sake the world was created." The other read, "I am but dust and ashes."
The first slip of paper reminded him that life is an adventure. It challenged him to experience new things, to enter new domains, to open new doors, and to take chances.
Shannah tovah, everyone...
If there is one obsession that the clergy and lay leaders have as we continue to grow as a congregation, its understanding trends....
For if there is one thing that is certain...it's that times change and will continue to do so...
You are not your parents...and your children are not you....
We have developed a group which meets every Wednesday morning to discuss where Judaism is going ....and where we want to be in three years...