God Bless America

Abraham’s relationship with God was rooted in a covenant, an agreement between two parties, each having obligations toward the other.  Abraham and his descendants were obligated to practice circumcision, kindness and justice and to have faith in God.  God in turn promised that Abraham’s descendants would maintain a special relationship with Him.  They would be given the Land of Israel and would be a “blessing to all nations of the ...

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Shabbat of Peace

I did a lot of traveling over summer – I was in Canada, South Africa, South Korea and Japan.  It was incredibly helpful and convenient to my phone with me.  I was able to be in contact with the other people in the group with whom I was traveling; I was able to be in contact with my family, and the office.  I was able to book hotels and confirm ...

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Jews In Booths

Five days after the intensity of Yom Kippur, Sukkos, the festival of joy and happiness, begins.  This festival lasts eight days in Israel and nine days everywhere else.  The Torah describes the festival as follows: …On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot, a seven-day period for God: On the first day shall be a sacred holyday when you shall not do any laborious work: On ...

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Is Fasting an Act of Suffering?

One of the best-known features of Yom Kippur -- sometimes the only thing people know about this day -- is the fact that we are forbidden to eat and drink. What is the meaning and purpose of these prohibitions on Yom Kippur? An anthropologist visiting a synagogue on Yom Kippur might think that since no one is eating or drinking for an entire 24-hour period, the congregants are all suffering terribly. ...

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To Be or Not to Be? The Question of Rosh Hashana

According to Jewish tradition, before God created the first human being, a debate took place in the heavenly court. When the Holy One blessed Be He came to create man, the ministering angels formed into groups, some saying that man should be created, some saying that he should not be created…[the angel of] Kindness voted to create man, because people would perform acts of kindness,[the angel of] Peace voted not to ...

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On Happiness

What is the meaning of happiness? How do we achieve it? It appears from this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavoh, that happiness is a major value and indeed is looked at as a duty as well. The Torah tells us that one of the reasons for G-d punishing the Jewish people was that they did not serve Him with the appropriate amount of joy, Simcha. How do we understand Simcha? There ...

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Are You Listening?

As we approach Rosh Hashana and anticipate the blowing of the shofar during prayers, I would like to present five different shofar soundings from our history. The sixth will be, G-d willing, the shofar that heralds the redemption and the Mashiach. Shofar During the Inquisition - Sefer HaTodaah, Rosh Hashanah, Eliyahu KiTov Ferdinand and Isabella, King and Queen of Spain, expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492. It was the ...

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For The Shofar Blows for Thee…

The month of Ellul just began this week, heralding in the period of prayer and repentance culminating in Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.  It is the custom of Ashkenazim to sound the shofar every weekday morning during this month, and the custom of Sephardim to say special Selichot prayers early every morning.  The central commandment of Rosh Hashanah, and the defining feature of this festival in the Torah is the ...

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Rosh Chodesh Ellul – The New Month

This week we will be celebrating the beginning of a new month in the Jewish calendar, Ellull.  The concepts and lessons contained in the Jewish calendar are so central to our belief that it is necessary to teach and emphasize them regularly.  One of the ways in which Jewish tradition makes us aware of the cycle of the calendar and brings home its messages is by celebrating every new moon, ...

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The Ninth of Av

The fast of the Ninth of Av, Tisha B’Av, is the most famous and the most stringent of all the fasts relating to the destruction of the Temple and the Exile.  The very first tragedy to occur on this day took place soon after the Exodus from Egypt.  The Jewish people sent spies to the Land of Israel, in preparation for its conquest.  When the spies returned with a discouraging ...

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