If you attend synagogue services regularly you’ve no doubt had the experience of accidentally dropping a prayer book. It was drummed into me at an early age that my immediate reaction should be to scoop up the book and give it a kiss. This is the way Jewish people express their respect for God’s Name and Word. I wouldn’t think of ignoring this custom.
That’s why it’s so shocking that in this week’s Torah reading Moses, upon discovering the people worshiping the Golden Calf and in a fit of anger, throws down the holy tablets of the Ten Commandments.
Shabbat Shira commemorates both the song sung by Moses and the Israelites, and the singing and dancing of Miriam and the Israelite women after crossing the sea to freedom. This was a moment of pure joy and celebration unlike any other in the Torah.
Although the words of this remarkable song can be found in our Torah, we can only guess what the melody must have been like. Just imagine its soaring phrases and exuberant chorus spreading among the hundreds of thousands of people on that far shore!
It’s nearly December 24 -- just one day away from that magical meal of mu-shu vegetables and egg foo-yung you’ve been waiting for. So while you’re waiting, munch some popcorn and indulge your craving for great entertainment with a new holiday tradition: the “Fiddler on the Roof” Sing-Along -- with friends! This is the 10th year that the Laemmle Theaters have hosted this fun event, proceeds going to support The Jewish Historical Society. Not only is this a screening of a brilliant film of perhaps the greatest musical of all time, but there will also be songs, games and prizes, all led by your host – me!
A number of people at VBS have asked me about a project I’m currently involved with, so I’m taking this opportunity to include some background and information in this week’s Clergy Corner. Please excuse the shameless plug (!), but I truly believe you will appreciate learning about this unique program.
Imagine thirty Jewish people in a room, all of them rabbis or cantors. Now imagine that they are completely silent – for hours at a time. They eat, pray, and study in total silence. This must be the beginning of a Twilight Zone episode, or the set-up for a Jewish joke, right?
This week’s parasha asks a challenging question: Is repentance alone enough to wipe away our wrongdoing, or is something more required of us? And what is the nature of true repentance?
If you have ever demanded an apology from a young child, you know that reluctant repentance is far from adequate. I remember reminding my daughter that a coerced “sorry” under her breath was not enough to earn my forgiveness -- unless it was accompanied by one other important word.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is probably the most eloquent writer ever on one of my favorite subjects: Shabbat. This week’s Torah reading wastes no time in reminding our people, not for the last time, of the importance of this holy day. It goes so far as to threaten death to anyone who violates the prohibition to work on the seventh day.
Our rabbis tell us that Moses was the humblest of men. After all, he tried to refuse God when asked to lead the Children of Israel. He was “slow of speech” by his own admission. He did not seem to have a very high opinion of himself. Those who knew him well may have disagreed, as this week’s parasha Yitro points out. There is a kind of ego-centrism that often creeps in when we’re not looking.
Last night I fought my way through terrible traffic to get my daughter to the airport. I was late for another event. Five minutes after dropping her off, she called to tell me her flight had been cancelled. The futility of my long drive was my first thought. Then, I took a deep breath and thought about the extra time I’d now have with my daughter. I picked her up and learned that the cancellation was due to mechanical failure. I breathed an even bigger sigh of relief and headed back home with a smile on my face. My daughter was safe. We were together. Halleluya.
There is a new buzz word in our culture right now. The word is “mindfulness,” which is a term that I never heard until a couple years ago, although the concept is quite ancient. In fact, as this week’s Torah portion demonstrates, it may have been invented by our ancestor Jacob.