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Korah 5783 - Physical Reminders in the Torah and at Agudath Achim

A framed quote from Proverbs hangs on my wall, a gift from someone who drifted in and out of this community during my time here:

פיה פתחה בחכמה ותורת חסד על לשונה

She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue (Proverbs 31:26).

That picture stands as an intention for me to pause...Read more...

B'ha'alot'kha 5783 - And With the Opening of the Ark...

June 9, 2023 - 20 Sivan, 5783

Shavuot, Day 2, 2017. I had just returned to Los Angeles from a year in Israel. I was jet-lagged and not feeling well, but I decided to come to synagogue because I felt like I “should,” and I hadn’t seen people for a while. I dragged myself to shul and was immediately greeted with hugs, smiles, and a wave of comfort that I was home again. An hour later, I heard it: “Vay’hi binsoah ha’aron...Read more...

B'ha'alot'kha 5783 - Complaining for the Sake of Complaining

June 10, 2023 - 21 Sivan, 5783

At Swarthmore College, the students often played what we called “Misery Poker.” It sounded something like this:

“I stayed up all night studying for a test today.”

“I stayed up the past two nights writing a paper.”

“I’ve been working all week on a project, while battling the flu!”

…and so on. Not realizing we were playing the game, we would up the ante...Read more...

Bemidbar 5783 - Assign Each Person to Their Task

May 20, 2023 - 29 Iyar, 5783

In a small synagogue community, everyone has a hand in every process and program. Volunteer email chains go out to half of the congregation, and our building is often bustling with people working on our finances, security, kitchen, or rabbinic search process. While the communal passion for our congregation is exciting, that passion sometimes leads to confusion about who is responsible for what. We have had...Read more...

Naso 5783 - Isaiah's Ideal Spiritual Leader

June 2, 2023 - 14 Sivan, 5783

Right now, our Rabbinic Search Committee is working tirelessly to find a solution for the mess that I have created in leaving on such short notice. The committee is posting job descriptions, reviewing applications, and conducting interviews. Through it all, they are asking the big question - what is our community looking for in a spiritual leader? As I look back over the past four years, and as I look...Read more...

Emor 5783 - Pursuing Kiddush HaShem

May 6, 2023 - 15 Iyar, 5783

When I hear names like Bernie Madoff and Harvey Weinstein, I cringe not just because of their acts (wide-ranging financial crimes and sexual abuse), but also because of what their names do to the public perception of Jews and Judaism. As both men were (and are) openly and proudly Jewish, both men have fed into the stereotype of Jews seizing power through money and media. When Jews so publicly act with...Read more...

Rosh Hodesh Iyyar 5783 - Freedom and Responsibility in Time

April 22, 2023 - 1 Iyyar, 5783

On this journey from Pesah to Shavuot, from freedom to joyful responsibility, we embrace Rosh Hodesh Iyyar as a celebration of our freedom of time and all of the responsibilities that come with it. Before our ancestors leave Egypt, Exodus 12:2 establishes that freedom and responsibility for the people Israel as a whole. As the Israelites prepare for the tenth plague and the Exodus from Egypt, God gives...Read more...

Pesah VII 5783 - More than Four Questions

April 12, 2023 - 21 Nisan, 5783

In the Jewish parenting book, Mamaleh Knows Best, Marjorie Ingalls writes:

We want kids to question existing paradigms, enjoy the process of learning, and understand the value of discussion and debate. That’s how they’ll develop their own independent skills in how to reason and think and build and experiment, and how they’ll cope with the disappointment of...Read more...

Pesah 5783 - Let All Who Are Hungry Come and Eat!

April 7, 2022 - 17 Nisan 5783

“Let all who are hungry, come in and eat; let all who are in need come and join us for Pesah!” 

כָּל דִּכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵכֻל,כָל דִצְרִיךְ יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח

It is a lovely statement but not one we often take seriously. At our synagogue, we conduct our seder inside a building guarded by security and an...Read more...

Tzav 5783 - Zevah Shelamim and Eating Our Leftovers

Rabbi Yehudah said: Whoever brings shelamim (the peace/well-being offering) brings shalom (peace) into the world. ~Sifra 156

Last week, we learned about the olah offering and about giving of ourselves and expecting nothing in return. We also learned about the minhah offering and running to do a mitzvah. Today, we explore zevah shelamim, the offering of peace or well-being. Like the olah offering, zevah shelamim involves sacrificing an...Read more...

Vayikra 5783 - The Minhah Offering: Run to Do a Mitzvah!

March 24, 2023 - 3 Nisan, 5783

Today, we explore Vayikra’s second category of offering, the minhah or meal-offering. While the minhah offering is prescribed for various purposes, some voluntary and some required, most forms of the minhah offering are based in unleavened, unprocessed flour. As Baruch J. Schwartz writes in The Jewish Study Bible:

This gift offering of grain, before it has fully...Read more...

Vayikra 5783 - Olah, the Self-Sacrifice

March 25, 2023 - 3 Nisan, 5783

…nowhere outside of Leviticus is there a clearer articulation of the reason for the Jewish people’s existence. God has entered into a relationship with the people of Israel so that they might perpetually sanctify His name. Their role in the world, and in history, is to testify to His existence, to publicize His oneness, and to advertise His greatness. This they are commanded to do by worshiping Him...Read more...

Vayakhel-P'kudei 5783 - Beyond the Letter of the Law

March 18, 2023 - 25 Adar, 5783

Of all of the fascinating aspects of Southern culture, opening the door for others stands out as one of my favorites. No one has to open the door for someone else; most people could easily open a door for themselves. And yet, Southerners show respect for one another by taking one extra moment to stay behind and stand at the door while others enter or exit. We show respect by doing a little bit extra, by...Read more...

Terumah 5783 - Golden on the Inside and Out

February 25, 2023 - 4 Adar, 5783

Throughout the first half of King David’s story, he shapes his public persona as one of holiness, compassion, and mercy. So that no one suspects his involvement in their deaths, King David weeps when King Saul and later, Saul’s general Abner are killed. After fearing the holy ark’s presence by rerouting its path, David twirls around with abandon to celebrate its eventual arrival to Jerusalem. In...Read more...

Mishpatim 5783 - You Might Be Wrong

February 18, 2023 - 27 Sh'vat, 5783

Leading up to Yom Kippur a few years ago, Rabbi Avi Weiss published a positive confessional to be said alongside the traditional Vidui, that prayer that mentions all the terrible things we have done in the past year. Instead, Rabbi Weiss writes, “We have loved. We have blessed. We have grown. We have spoken positively,” and so on. When Rabbi Weiss’ prayer went public, my rabbi and boss Rabbi...Read more...

Beshallah 5783 - Learning from Baby Shalom

Friday, February 3, 2023 - 13 Sh'vat, 5783

The Rabbis taught that Rabbi Yosei HaGelili taught: At the time that the Jewish people ascended from the sea, they resolved to sing a song of gratitude to God. And how did they recite it? If a baby was lying on his mother’s lap or an infant was nursing from his mother’s breasts, once they saw the Divine Presence, the baby straightened his neck and the infant...Read more...

Beshallah 5783 - Worlds Within Words

Saturday, February 4, 2023 - 13 Shevat, 5783

For two years, I have kept track of my short-, medium-, and long term goals and happenings with Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal methodology. While everyone Bullet Journals differently, my journal contains a Someday Log, a Six-Month Log, Monthly Logs, Daily Logs, and Collections for miscellaneous topics. Some examples of my Collections include a list of Books Read in 2023, a visual map of...Read more...

Noah 5783 - The Power of Regret

October 29, 2023 - 4 Heshvan, 5783

Brene Brown writes in her book Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience:

While some people disagree with me, I firmly believe that regret is one of our most powerful emotional reminders that reflection, change, and growth are necessary. In our research, regret emerged as a function of empathy. And, when used...Read more...

Yom Kippur 5783 - Psalm 23 and Unwavering Faith

Wednesday, October 5, 2022 - 10 Tishrei, 5783

Pregnancy is a crazy exercise in faith. Even in a world with the technology and knowledge to avoid pregnancy most of the time, so many of us choose to pursue childbirth. Even when we know the physical and emotional risks of pregnancy - the significant chance that all may not turn out well for mother or child - news of pregnancy is often met with a hearty “Congratulations!” Every...Read more...

Rosh HaShanah 5783: Doubt and Questioning in Psalm 27

Monday, September 26, 2022 - 1 Tishrei, 5783

Psalm 27 - Translation by Dr. Rabbi Rafael Goldstein, BCC

To David

God is my light and my help; whom should I fear?

The Holy One is the strength of my life;

Whom should I dread?

When mean-spirited people draw me near to slander me,

It is these foes and enemies

Who stumble and fall.

Should an army surround me, my heart would have no...Read more...

Nitzavim 5782 - Hannah and the Amidah

Friday, September 23, 2022 - 28 Elul, 5782

We are about to experience a full month of holidays with beautiful, meaningful, very lengthy services. One of the prime reasons our services will be so lengthy is their plethora of Amidot, our standing silent prayers and their repetitions. While Rabbi Natasha and I will try to enhance the experience with kavannot (intentions and explanations), our favorite melodies, and participation from our...Read more...

Ki Tavo 5782 - Hadran Alakh: Celebrating what I've learned and what I have yet to learn

September 17, 2022 - 21 Elul, 5782

In the world of Talmud study, every time one of the 63 tractates is complete, learners celebrate with a l’hayim and the Aramaic words, “hadran alakh.” “I will return to you!” Even after spending a whole lot of time squinting at the tiny letters of Talmud, deciphering obscure Jewish law, grammatical arguments, and ancient bickering, learners acknowledge that they’re not done learning yet....Read more...

Shoftim 5782 - God Beyond Gender

Saturday, September 3, 2022

In a Midrash from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, God appears at Mount Sinai as exactly what and whom each person in the crowd needs to see. That way, when God says, “I am Adonai your God (Exodus 20:2)” - אנכי ה׳ אלהיך, each person knows that God is speaking directly to them.

As Cadence Dodson taught us at her bat mitzvah last year, each of us has the opportunity to hold the image or sound of...Read more...

Eikev 5782 - What Does Your God Ask From You?

Saturday, August 20, 2022

ועתה ישראל מה ה׳ אלהיך שאל מעמך?

And now, Israel, what does Adonai your God ask from you? (Deuteronomy 10:12).

Before I offer a Biblical answer, I’m curious about your ideas. What do you think God asks from you?

The Torah offers the answer to that question, “What does God ask from you?”:...Read more...

Eikev 5782 - You Are What You Eat: Birkat HaMazon

Friday, August 19, 2022

After Shabbat lunch on Saturday mornings, we recite Birkat HaMazon. As slowly as we sing it, it is often too fast to get in all of the words. At the same time, even with the abbreviated version we use at Agudath Achim, I have heard quite a few people groan about how long it takes to get through our prayer after eating. Even with all the length of Birkat HaMazon, the commandment to bless after eating comes...Read more...

Va'ethanan 5782 - Acknowledging Our Privilege

August 12, 2022 - 16 Av, 5782

In the book, Raising A+ Human Beings, Dr. Bruce Powell explains the idea of “privilege” using the wise words of Rabbi Edward Feinstein: 

During a Shabbat exposition of the week’s Torah portion, Rabbi Edward Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California, made the following comment: “Some people who were born on third base believe that they had hit a...Read more...

Va'ethanan 5782 - Transparency in Knowledge is Power

August 13, 2022 - 16 Av, 5782

Did you know - in a kosher kitchen, you may use glass dishes for either meat or dairy and simply wash them in between uses? Also, if you happen to eat cold dairy on a meat dish or cold meat on a dairy dish, the dish and food are still considered kosher. If a piece of cold meat accidentally touches a piece of cold cheese in your fridge, you can just cut a bit off of the meat and cheese for both to be...Read more...

Devarim 5782 - The Span of Our Life is Seventy Years

August 6, 2022 - 9 Av, 5782

In the year 5783 - both in the time that has passed and the time we have left - six members of our congregation have celebrated their 70th birthdays. As two of these celebrations were in the past week, and one is soon to come, now is a fitting time for us to explore the significance of the age and number of 70 in Jewish tradition. 

Right off the bat, we address one jarring Biblical reference to...Read more...

Mattot-Masei 5782 - Moshe's Double Standard

July 30, 2022 - 2 Av, 5782

A previous rabbinic mentor of mine had a habit of starting meetings late or needing to reschedule at the last minute. Every time this rabbi lagged behind or changed plans, I would become so angry; how dare he disrespect my time?! After a while, I questioned why a few minutes here or there frustrated me so much and realized that a whole lot of that frustration was directed at myself. I could not imagine how...Read more...

Pinhas 5782 - 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

Saturday, July 23, 2022 - 23 Tamuz, 5782

Beginning this past Sunday, July 17, the quick-dial phone number 988 has been designated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as our national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. While the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has existed since 2005, the new number of 988 allows for easier recall than the previous number, and expanded funding from Congress allows for updated...Read more...

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784