I watch the news for a few minutes, and then I turn it off. It’s just too painful. It’s too painful to witness the tears and sobs for loved ones murdered so brutally. It’s too frustrating to listen to the story retold over and again – the unstable young man radicalized to hate, the easy access of military-grade weaponry, the feckless politicians rehearsing their talking points. The evil of it all is just too hard to absorb.
Rabbi Ed Feinstein's blog
Commencement Address, American Jewish University, May 15, 2016.
According to the Torah, the ancient wizard Balaam was commissioned by the King of Moab to curse the Israelites to keep them from overrunning his kingdom.
Spice up your PASSOVER HOLIDAY with Rabbi Feinstein's Official Tips for a Better Seder
"In every generation, we must see ourselves as if we personally had come out of Egypt." (Mishna)
I love America. I know Jewish history too well to take American democracy for granted. My ancestors were among the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We were, quite literally, the wretched refuse of the old world’s teeming shores.
Rabbi Ed Feinstein from
On Shabbat, January 29-30, we will welcome Rabbi Arthur Green as our guest scholar. Rabbi Green, one of the leading thinkers and teachers in the Jewish world today, opens a door to the great mystical traditions of traditional Judaism. His latest book, Judaism’s Ten Best Ideas, offers an outline of his remarkable vision. Here’s an excerpt: What does it mean to believe in God?
A recent talk at UCLA'c cancer center
About the Lecture: Our ancestors had none of our diagnostic tools or treatment strategies. But they understood the dynamics of illness and health, and discovered sources of courage to fight for life. We can share their wisdom and draw from those same sources as patients and loved ones of individuals touched by cancer. This presentation explores the meaning of healing – locating the personal resources to find life after diagnosis and to find purpose in the midst of disease. These discussions benefit not just the individual who receives the diagnosis, but their larger community of caregivers, families and extended networks. Anyone who has experienced a cancer diagnosis whether themselves or someone they know are encouraged to participate in this presentation.
There is a story that haunts me this time of year. It haunts every rabbi I know.
It is the story of a young Jew who lived in Germany at the beginning of the century -- a brilliant student of philosophy at the university in Berlin. All of his cousins, and all his colleagues and acquaintances had converted to Christianity, as was so common among young Jews at the time. His professors urged him to convert as well to assure himself a position in German academic life. Inasmuch as Judaism meant so very little to him, he agreed to become a Christian. But the young man had a sense of history, and decided that were he to become a Christian, it had to be as the first Christians -- he had to do so as a Jew. So for one last time, he stepped into a synagogue on Kol Nidre night -- planning to receive baptism the very next morning...
A rabbi I know once brought a nursery school class into the synagogue sanctuary for a tour. He showed them the bima, the ner tamid, the cantor"s and rabbi's lecterns. Finally, the tiny kids stood before the huge doors of the Holy Ark.
"What do you suppose is in there?" he asked them.
"Nothing!" one child answered, "It's empty. There’s nothing in there."
"It’s a new car!" another shouted.
"An old, old Torah!" responded another.
"I know! I know" one child insisted, "It's a mirror!"
Each of the kids was right.
This week, Israel hosts “Eurovision,” the international song competition. Performers from across the globe are gathering in Tel Aviv to present the best of contemporary music. For Israel, Eurovision eclipses everything. Domestic political struggles, the conflict with hostile neighbors, international affairs, all recede in the presence of the music. In fact, Israel has always had a special relationship with music. The history of Zionism, Israel’s birth, its flourishing, its anguish and its victories, are represented by its songs. Here is a brief glimpse at the history of Israel through its songs...
This is dangerous religion. Taken seriously it changes everything -- the way we work, the way we play, the way we spend money, the way we vote, the way we dream. Having known the life of the slave -- brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized -- and having tasted the sweetness of liberation, how can we return to business as usual? How can we complain about freeway traffic or neglect to cuddle our children or forget to check in with our elders? How can we walk obliviously by a beggar on the street or listen placidly as some politician offers simplistic solutions to complex societal problems? Slavery and liberation radically re-shaped us.
The speaker stood at the podium and announced:
“Ladies and gentlemen, a great miracle has just occurred!”
Members of the startled audience would immediately cease talking, lean forward wondering, what miracle could have happened? What miracle did they miss? He would then continue,
“Ladies and gentlemen, a great miracle has just taken place...the sun has gone down.”
Now they would look at him strangely, some taken aback, incredulous, other might snicker at the strange man with the long beard and prophetic manner. Then he began to speak, and as he spoke, you began to feel deeply embarrassed that the sun had gone down, and you didn’t stop to notice. What part of us has been surrendered when the sunset no longer inspires?
When the angels of heaven learned of God’s plan to create the human being with the divine image, they were aghast.
“How can God plant something as pure and holy as the divine image, in a create as deceitful, base and corrupt as the human being?” So they conspired to steal it and hide it from the human. But where, where to hide the holy image? The angels met in urgent council to decide.
Thanksgiving is America at its best. Whether we arrived on the Mayflower, or immigrated generations later, Thanksgiving reminds us that we share a common history of redemption: We came from far away drawn by a dream of freedom. We met adversity with faith and persistence. We discovered opportunity and possibilities here. And now we share gratitude for the blessings of this land. That, together with turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, makes this the quintessential American festival.
This is a story I tell to children. But it really isn’t for them. It’s for all of us who are tired of the phone ringing, the people who ask for just a little time, the family whose demands never end. Did you ever wish they would all go away and leave you alone? And if they did, how long before you’d miss them? How long before you would discover that the greatest joy in life is knowing that you’re needed and you’re loved?
He sat before me, a typical petulant 13-year old. It was a week or so before his Bar Mitzvah and he had announced to his family at dinner last night that he didn’t believe in God and didn’t want to have a Bar Mitzvah. They didn’t know what to do. Cancel the simcha? The invitations already went out, the caterer had already been paid, the yarmulkas were on order… Send him to the rabbi. So here he sat.
“You don’t believe in God?” I asked him.
“No,” he confessed, with eyes cast downward, like he’d just told the Vice Principal that it was his spitball that hit the head cheerleader.
“Ok, let’s talk.” He looked up at me relieved I wasn’t going to take out a magic wand and place a curse on him.
“You don’t believe in God. Ok. When you say that, what do you mean by God?”
This was a question he did not expect.
“You’re a rabbi, you know... God.”
“Yes, but that’s a slippery word. What do you mean by God?”