Hard Hearts: Getting Ready for Pesach on Shabbat Hagadol 5774

Posted by on Apr 12, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

Today was my first time leading Torah study at Congregation Shomrei Torah in close to three years. It was a joy to be back with such a large, wonderful, engaged group of learners. Because today is Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Shabbat, the shabbat before Pesach, I strayed from this week’s torah portion to talk about spiritual aspects of our upcoming holiday. About five years ago at my family seder, I had included a line about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart during the last plagues, and we launched into a long discussion about God taking free will from the despot, and whether, therefore, Pharaoh was off the hook and God on it for what followed. I took the sentence out the...

Read More

Teach Our Children Well

Posted by on Mar 22, 2014 in Blog | 4 comments

What do we teach our children?   Passover is coming fast upon us. It is my favorite holiday in the year, because I love symbolism and ritual and I love the enactment of coming face-to-face with redemption for my people and my family and myself. It is also a holiday based around the concept of teaching our children. Indeed a seder isn’t a seder without our children’s questions, that lead to the explanations.   So what we teach our children is of vital interest to me.   Recently, I have been participating in an amazing project started by a friend who also is mightily concerned with what we teach them. She invited mothers she knows to write a letter to...

Read More

Lech Lecha–Go Forth Into Yourself

Posted by on Mar 16, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

Last week, at our welcoming shabbat meeting, 20 of us crammed into the old Billiards room. More people than usual, and not all of us knew each other. so we went around and introduced ourselves and I asked everyone to tell us their name and where they were born. This room full of people came from New York City, Upstate New York, Philadelphia, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Maryland, Chicago, London, Washington state, and California, and I am sure I’m missing a couple more. We all found ourselves in Sonoma County, making the decision to leave where we’d lived before to come here. So many people from so many places, making the...

Read More

Remembering a Ger Tzedek, a Righteous Gentile

Posted by on Feb 7, 2014 in Blog | 9 comments

Earlier this week, I was asked to share a few words at a funeral, as a local rabbi. The funeral was for a Christian, and, to be honest, I’ve never gotten such a request, and yet I felt, after listening to the son’s story, that I could not help but honor the request to honor Ernie James for what he did for the Jewish people. Ernie was what we Jews call a Righteous Gentile, a term that has a long, illustrious past, and which came to mean those non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Ernie didn’t do that, but he witnessed some of the great horror of the Final Solution, Hitler’s plan to rid Europe (and eventually the world) of my...

Read More

Make Someone Whole… Mishpatim 5774

Posted by on Jan 25, 2014 in Blog | 2 comments

How do we bring someone back to wholeness? What makes it our responsibility?   In this week’s torah portion—well, really by now, last week’s, Mishpatim, we come across this verse: When two parties quarrel and one strikes the other with stone or fist, and the victim does not die but has to take to bed, if that victim then gets up and walks outdoors upon a staff, the assailant shall go unpunished—except for paying for the idleness and the cure. (Ex. 21:18-19).   Trying to come up with regulations to enact this mitzvah, our sages wrote extensively on the topic, most famously in the 12th century by Maimonides in his Sefer HaMitzvot (Book of Commandments),...

Read More

Aseret Dibrot or what the translator misheard: Yitro 5774

Posted by on Jan 17, 2014 in Blog | 1 comment

I know a brilliant woman whose hearing started to disappear in her early years. She turned from sound to mostly visual input: her library is so vast she has a card catalog of several thousand books and knows where each one is. But because sound was so suppressed, she had a much larger visual vocabulary than an aural one: she knew words in her head but had never heard them spoken. Sometimes when she tries to use one of those words in discussion, it is a challenge to understand it (but always worth it when we succeed). It’s not unlike my sister, who was a precocious young reader and sometimes didn’t know how to pronounce words she read. One day, she described...

Read More