Every Purim afternoon, my family finds itself driving around dressed in costume, plugging in addresses and delivering bags of mishloach manot to surprise and delight our friends. I can distinctly recall the joy and excitement we have felt – and have helped others feel -over the years.
The sense of joy we feel is not just connected to this ritual but to many more as we welcome Purim and its colorful festivities. We dress up in fun costumes, read the megillah – a story of redemption from a dangerous predicament for the Jewish people, feel the glow of supporting those in need of our care, and join together with others for a festive meal. The abundance of these rituals and activities literally brings us into community and relationship with the memory of our people, which reminds us that there is reason to rejoice not only because of the circumstances of our current lives but because of an emotional relationship with the historical memory of our forebears.
There is a cyclical relationship between performing these mitzvot (the commandments of Purim described above) and the joy we feel. The mitzvot bring us to a place of joy and feeling joyous during the holiday provides the impetus to express generosity to our community and read the stories of our ancestors’ gratitude.… Read more
As I filled out my ballot this morning I felt a tremendous sense of pride. I am the first of my family on both sides to be born in this country at a time when others like me whose families have come to this country from around the world are running for office. Maital and I stood next to our children as we voted, 100 years after women were given the right to vote, with an acknowledgement that we are both very fortunate to be voting in America today. And at the same time it is a painful time for America. There is real fear and distrust, rhetoric and actions from our leaders which defy our country’s core values.
This moment is painful. As Americans go out to the polls and we wait to see the results of the election I am reminded of Rebecca, who in this week’s parashah is pregnant with twins, and experiencing tremendous pain. God’s explanation to her is that there are warring factions, separate nations in her womb. And ultimately one will dominate the other. The Torah describes that responding to the pain, Rebecca cries out- “Im ken, lama ze anochi?” “If so why do I exist?” She cannot understand why life must be so painful. Is it really worth it?
Each election feels like that painful experience of birthing Jacob and Esau. Our nation feels pain and asks the question- is it really supposed to be like this?
Do we see this as the new normal? Of a country at odds with itself that feels like two separate nations? Like Rebecca, can our system sustain the birth pains of the present?
Despite these questions it felt good to put the ballot through the machine I prayed that this pregnant moment leads to more peace, to a return to our core values, and to a confidence in our country’s ability to bare the pain of the current with hope for the future.
There is a Jewish value called hakarat hatov, which I believe to be an important discipline for my life. Hakarat hatov means recognizing the good. There are some moments when I find it more challenging to recall good things happening around me and there are other moments when it is easy to do so. No matter what I am feeling or what kid of day I am experiencing, I believe that recognizing goodness is an important everyday activity. When things are going well we are encouraged to remind ourselves of that goodness and to specify the person that helped to make that goodness a reality. It helps us remember the source of our blessings and helps us appreciate the gifts we receive and never take goodness for granted. When things are not going according to our expectations or when we feel that life is not treating us well, hakarat hatov reminds us that despite all of the reasons for upset there is usually still something to be grateful for.
I imagine that this is what Noach, the protagonist of this week’s Torah portion, feels as he emerges from the ark after God destroys all of creation except for the humans and animals inside of the ark by sending a flood. Looking around, the images of destruction that Noach sees must be unimaginable. What Noach sees must shock him.… Read more
There were many many beautiful moments over this holiday period. However, there were two moments when I felt that my breath was taken away. The first was at Neilah, the final service on Yom Kippur, when I witnessed families and individuals coming before the ark and standing in front of the Torah scrolls. For some it was a chance to reflect on the past year and offer a prayer for the year ahead. For others it was a chance to meditate on the themes or ideas in the service, and for others a chance to offer blessings to family members. And of course there were tears. I was lucky to witness the way that so many of you connected with this ritual and our sacred objects and spaces. It simply was a beautiful outpouring of emotion and it gave us all hope for the year to come.
The second moment was last week when I saw the final result of our food drive for the Interfaith Food Bank. We collected 140 bags of food! I got chills as I saw Shaarei Tikvah’s generous heart take shape in the hallways and closets of our building and was very proud as I helped our volunteers schlep heavy bags out to the car for delivery.
With the holidays behind us I want to call our attention to some amazing events happening at ST.
The topic for our first Midtown Midrash will be “Communal Responsibility Against Sexual Assault.”… Read more
I want to take a moment to highlight next Shabbat, Saturday September 1st. At services that morning, we will celebrate Eugene and Diane Linett’s 50th anniversary together with their family. In the evening, we will hold a very special service called Selichot that helps to spiritually prepare us for the Yamim Noraim, the days of Awe, which are a time for introspection and commitment to change in the coming year.
We will begin our evening at 8:30pm with a fascinating conversation about one of the relationships in our lives in need of healing this year- the relationship between North American Jews and Israel.
One of my teachers and colleagues, Rabbi Menachem Creditor, recently featured in the Jewish Week will have a conversation with Maital Friedman about the rough edges of this relationship.… Read more
Rabbi Israel of Rizhin once asked a student how many sections there were in the Shulchan Arukh (16th century code of Jewish Law). The student replied, “Four.” “What,” asked the Rizhiner, “do you know about the fifth section?” “But there is no fifth section,” said the student. “There is,” said the Rizhiner. “It says: always treat a person like a mensch.”
In this week’s parashah, Vaetchanan, there is an interesting passage which relates to this story. “You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and God’s testimonies and statutes, which God has commanded you. And you shall do what is right and good (hayashar vehatov) in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.” (Deut. 6: 17-18)… Read more
I hope you have been enjoying your summers thus far. I am grateful to be in Jerusalem these few weeks where I have been enjoying my time learning with incredible teachers and over 150 rabbinic colleagues at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, including a number of rabbis and educators from Westchester! Most days go from 8:30am to 9:30pm and are filled with fascinating courses and lectures that have been filling my mind and my notebook with precious Torah, which I am excited to share with Shaarei Tikvah.
I want to offer you a few nuggets of Torah from the learning… Read more
One of the things I love about being a rabbi is the opportunity to explore the unanswerable questions of life with congregants. I find that some of the most challenging questions tend to arise when we feel the strongest need to connect with the Divine. We may find ourselves in crisis because of the uncertainty that comes along with these questions and we wonder about the possibility of God’s presence in our lives when we or our loved ones are suffering. As many have done before us and as many will inevitably do in the future, we ask ourselves, “Where is God?”
Rabbi Harold S. Kushner z”l responds to this question in a piece he wrote… Read more