My first composed sermon during shelter-in-place addresses the question of whether, in fact, we should continue with this difficult but essential practice. I believe Parashat B'har speaks directly to this question, urging us to refrain, as much as we can, from the activities of ordinary life.
The Torah contains two opposing messages: we should strive to honor the dignity of every human being, and yet some human beings deserve more respect than others. What are we to do with this discrepancy? And how does Jewish tradition guide us in our embracing and distancing ourselves from the examples of the past?
It is so easy, and so common, to be filled with bitterness. But we yearn so desperately for sweetness. When Moses turns the bitter waters sweet, he gives us a clue to how we can escape the bitterness of our own daily lives.
Joseph's relationship with his family is complex and, in many ways, very difficult. A close reading and an eye for resonant text can help us understand our own family relationships more deeply even if this understanding brings more unease than tranquility.
Rabbi said: "There was no city more wicked than Sodom, so when any person was evil he was called a Sodomite" (Genesis Rabbah 41:7).
Sodom was destroyed not for the "crime" of homosexuality but rather for abusing the poor and the stranger. In what ways is our world today in danger of following in Sodom's footsteps? And how do we ensure that we sustain a critical mass of righteous people in our midst?
We often turn to the natural world for reminders of what lies beyond. This is as true today as it was 200 years ago, when the Yom Kippur Yizkor service was first celebrated at the world's first Reform synagogue. Poetry drawing on this theme helps us remember our loved ones and to dwell on the meanings of life and death.
Sometimes, the deck seems stacked before we even begin the game. The events of the world appear larger than life, out of our control. And yet, Rosh Hashanah teaches us, we CAN have an impact on the world around us. We can change the course of destiny with the powerful tools of tefilah, tzedakah, and teshuvah. This works as we look inward at our own lives as well as outward at society writ large.
Each year, around July 4, I offer a teaching about a figure from America's founding. This year, made famous by Hamilton, is Hercules Mulligan, spy extraordinaire.
We each face moments of being an insider or an outsider, though what's at stake in those moments differs depending on our gender and our race. A story from this week's Torah portion highlights these dynamics of power and privilege, which remind us that the issues of today have roots that are long and deep.
Next week, the birthday of gay rights activist Harvey Milk falls on the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer. They share some common themes, symbolized by the shared icon the rainbow, which urge us to come together in our diversity work for ever-expanding inclusion.
“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.”