I actually don't think we have to fear fear itself. Fear is normal, and the most important thing is not to be overwhelmed by fear. Fear can motivate us to act--sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse--and one way or another, we best face the truth when we become intimate with our fear.
The Simchat Torah attacks on Israeli civilians continue to haunt us two weeks out, and Jews around the world anxiously watch Israel's response unfold. There's no "right answer" to what should come next, but the timeless values of the Torah should be guideposts to moral decision-making.
Self-knowledge is an vital Jewish value, and it's especially important to Yom Kippur. Cheshbon nefesh, the "accounting of the soul" requires an honest exploration of what we've done and who, deep down, we are. I explore two sides of cheshbon nefesh, using my own journey of learning I have autism as a case study in self-understanding.
There are two different accounts in the Torah about the wilderness generation. In one, they are doomed to die in the desert for their lack of faith in God. In the other, they use the forty years of wandering to prepare themselves to enter the land. The Torah ultimately sides with the former story. Why? How might Judaism look different if we told of a generation of slaves who themselves, after a period of waiting, entered the promised land?
This week, we saw the beginning of the trial of Robert Bowers, accused of killing 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. He has tried to plead guilty in order to receive a life sentence in prison, but the prosecution is seeking the death penalty. What do our sources, and our moral aspirations, say about this very difficult case of life and death?
Parashat K'doshim instructs us to be holy. But aren't we already holy? Yes, but. We activate the holiness within by engaging in acts among people and with God that demonstrate our commitment to living a sacred life. Shabbat is a powerful symbol of the same dynamic, revealing to us how our own decisions not only reveal but make real holiness within us and around us.
When Moses needs God most, God responds by announcing God's own name. This is a mirror of God's calling Moses by his name when they first met - and both encounters occur on Mount Sinai. A short d'rash about the closeness of God when we need God most.
There has been a lot of violence in Israel this past week. As we mark Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim, it is essential not to get carried away in what look like our tradition's calls for retributive violence. Rather, we must remember what it means to be holy, to learn from our experience as victims and to promote peace whenever we can.
I believe so many contradictory things, the game of tug-of-war can be exhausting. In Parashat B'reishit, we encounter a world of rights and wrongs, and we are empowered through the concept of "creation in the image of God" to see our lives as if they have purpose and significance. But the scientific worldviews that class with B'reishit promise us comfort and political progress while stripping our lives of higher purpose. What are we to do with these competing truths? Of course, I don't have an answer, but I do have foundational beliefs that help provide some contours and contexts for the discussion of faith and doubt.
The Shabbat between Yom Kippur and Sukkot is a perfect time to prepare ourselves for the Festival of Ingathering, a holiday on which we work hard to welcome everyone to our table.
“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.”