Three years ago, Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Congregation was observing Refugee Shabbat. It was their commitment to refugees that attracted the hatred of a violent criminal, who broke into the congregation and murdered eleven of its members. We continue to reel in the aftershock of this terrible crime, and we also continue to stand for the values that came under attack that day. Our congregation was also observing Refugee Shabbat at that time, and our resolve has only strengthened in the years since. Even when our community is under attack for what we believe--especially when our community is under attack for what we believe--we stand up for our values and push for them in the public square. So on this anniversary of Refugee Shabbat, our congregation announces our ongoing and burgeoning efforts to support and mentor a refugee family that will be resettled in Chicago in the new year.
The mysteries of Creation are just that: mysteries. For centuries, seekers of truth have turned to Genesis in search of answers. But I believe a more genuinely Jewish approach to these texts is to approach them with questions. The questions inspired by the Creation story open our minds to new possibilities and enrich our individual and communal quests for truth.
Do you believe in aliens? Do you believe in God? And how do you decide? More importantly: Do you decide about God the same way you decide about aliens?
In this year's Kol Nidre sermon, I suggest that the wonders of the natural world can inspire us to awe. The fantastic search for extraterrestrial life misses the point of "unidentified aerial phenomena," which are reminders of the marvelous mysteries our world offers to us as waystations to faith.
Abortion--for now--is all but illegal in Texas, and the Supreme Court has said--for now--that it's okay. This is not a sermon about abortion. It is a sermon about the Court's dereliction of its duty to protect the Constitution and to abide by the proper procedures for legal change. Our texts and tradition help us frame our own response to the Court's increasing favorability toward political action over against judicial prudence.
When do we need to hide? And when is it our responsibility to come out of hiding? These aren't easy questions to answer, and they're often quite personal. The Torah offers a robust defense of stepping forward at all costs and takes a dim view on hiding; the Rabbis, however, approach the concept with a considerable degree of empathy. Each of us looks for our own path in balancing these competing impulses in our tradition and within us.
What do we keep as our most precious reminders? And why does the Torah suggest that we might keep a relic of our greatest sin in our most sacred space? By holding on to the brokenness of the past, we can help remind ourselves to strive for tikkun (repair) in the future.
We might be tempted to think of the Torah as old-fashioned and "traditional." But when we look closely, what's "traditional" about it is that the Torah inaugurates the tradition of Jewish creativity and innovation that has never ceased from our earliest days. This week's Torah portion offers just a small glimpse of the spirit of innovation inherent to the Torah.
Ruining someone's reputation is pretty much the worst thing you can do. And sometimes, our principles force us to give public rebuke. How do we balance these values and, ultimately, uphold the sanctity of a good name?
The first Yom Kippur was, perhaps, an emergency response to the death of Nadab and Abihu. But the Torah records early developments in the holiday, and aspects of the ritual became a permanent feature of our tradition. How will the emergency procedures responding to COVID endure in the months and years to come?
On this festival of Pesach, we turn to formerly enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley. Her commitment to freedom and her faith in America offer us an inspiring view of the potential--as yet unreached--that our country offers for all who live here.
“To be effective, the preacher's message must be alive; it must alarm, arouse, challenge; it must be God's present voice to a particular people.”