Teachings

D’varim: Finding Your Voice

B’ever ha’Yarden b’eretz Moav ho’il Moshe be’er et hatorah hazot On the far side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to explain this Torah (Deuteronomy 1:5) The English name of the fifth and final book of the Five Books of Moses is “Deu …

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Matot-Mas’ei: The Inner Journey

Eileh mas’ei V’nei Yisrael asher yatz’u me’eretz Mitzrayim These are the journeys of the Children of Israel after leaving the Land of Egypt (B’Midbar 33:1) As we reach the end of the book of B’Midbar, the Children of Israel have arrived at the banks of …

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Balak: Mah Tovu – How Good It Is

Mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishkenotecha Yisrael How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel (Numbers 24:5) The Israelites are journeying toward the Jordan River, and pass through the territory of King Balak of Moab. Balak is terrifi …

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Chukat: Confronting Mortality

Va’yavo’u B’nei Yisrael kol ha’edah Midbar Tzin bachodesh harishon vayeshev ha’am b’Kadesh. Vatamot sham Miriam vatikaver sham. V’lo haya mayim la’edah. And all the Children of Israel arrived at the Wilderness of Tzin on the first new moon, and stayed …

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Korach: Demagogue

Vayikhalu al Moshe v’Aharon vayomru aleihem: “Rav lachem, ki chol ha’edah kulam kedoshim u’v’tocham YHVH – u’madua titnas’u al k’hal YHVH?” And [Korach and his followers] gathered against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! Is not …

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Shlach Lecha: Healing the Crushed Spirit

Va’nehi b’eineinu kachagavim, v’chen hayinu b’eineihem We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, so we certainly must have looked that way to them. (B’midbar 13:33) The Children of Israel are preparing to enter the Promised Land. Moses sends twelve sco …

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Beha’alotcha: Are We There Yet?

Va’yehi ha’am k’mit’onenim ra b’oznei YHVH. The people took to complaining bitterly before YHVH (B’midbar 11:1) After more than a year encamped at Mount Sinai, the time has come for the Children of Israel to march to the Promised Land. Transformed from …

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B’Midbar: Everyone Counts

Se’u et rosh kol adat B’nei Yisrael… Take a head-count of the entire community of the Children of Israel… (B’midbar 1:2) Sefer B’Midbar, the fourth book of the Torah, begins and ends with a census count. This is why the book is known in English as the …

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B’chukotai: Fear Itself

V’radaf otam kol aleh nidaf…V’chashlu ish b’achiv mipnei cherev v’rodef ayin The mere sound of a wind-driven leaf will put them to flight…even though no one is pursuing them, they will stumble over one another as if fleeing the sword. (Leviticus 26:36- …

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Behar: We Do Not Own the Earth

V’ha’aretz lo timacher l’tzmitut, ki li ha’aretz, ki gerim v’toshavim atem imadi The land cannot be sold in perpetuity, for the land belongs to Me, and you are but temporary residents on My earth. (Leviticus 25:23) Last week I argued for the importance …

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Emor: An Eye for an Eye?

V’ish ki yiten mum ba’amito, ka’asher asah ken ya’aseh lo: shever tachat shever, ayin tachat ayin, shen tachat shen. Ka’asher yiten mum ba’adam, ken yinaten bo.  A person who inflicts injury on his fellow, as he did so shall be done to him: a fracture …

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LISTEN: The Spring Jewish Holidays – Yom Hashoah

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The Mitzvah of Tochecha: Tough Love

Lo tisna et achicha bilvavecha; hochei’ach tochi’ach et amitecha v’lo tisa alav chet. Do not hate your brother or sister in your heart; you must admonish, yes, admonish them or you will bear some of their sin. (Leviticus 19:17) This week’s Torah portio …

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Acharei Mot: The First Yom Kippur

V’hayta la’chem l’chukat olam: ba’chodesh ha’shvi’I be’asor lachodesh t’anu et nafshoteichem, v’chol m’lacha lo ta’asu, ha’ezrach v’hager hagar b’tochechem. Ki va’yom hazeh y’chaper aleichem l’taher etchem mikol chatoteichem… And this shall be for you …

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Passover: Our Season of Love and Liberation

This weekend my dear friend, colleague, author, composer and pioneer in Jewish spirituality Rabbi Shefa Gold will be leading a workshop under the auspices of the Lev Shalem Institute of the WJC entitled “Exploring the Landscape of Love Through the Song …

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In Praise of “The New Haggadah”

V’chol ha’marbeh l’saper b’yetziat Mitzrayim harei zeh meshubach. And whoever expands upon the story of the Exodus from Egypt is worthy of praise (from the Passover Haggadah) As is my custom, as Passover approaches, I took down some various editions of …

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Shmini: What Happened to Nadav and Avihu?

Va’yikchu v’nei Aharon, Nadav v’Avihu, ish machtato va’yitnu va’hen esh va’yasimu aleha ketoret va’yakrivu lifnei YHVH esh zarah asher lo tziva otam. Va’tetzei esh milifnei YHVH va’tochal otam va’yamutu lifnei YHVH. Now Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, e …

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Tzav: The Haftarah as Commentary and Critique

Va’yedaber YHVH el Moshe leimor: Tzav et Aharon v’et banav leimor: Zot torat ha’olah… And YHVH spoke to Moses, saying: Command Aaron and his sons thus: These are the instructions for the burnt offering… (Parashat Tzav, Leviticus 6:1-2) This is what YHV …

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Shabbat Zachor: The Origins of Amalek

Zachor et asher asah lecha Amalek ba’derech b’tzeitchem miMitzrayim, asher korcha ba’derech va’yezanev b’cha kol ha’necheshalim acharecha, v’atah ayef v’yageia v’lo yarei Elohim. Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt: ho …

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Pekudei: A Happy Ending

Va’y’chal Moshe et ham’lach, va’y’chas he’anan et ohel mo’ed uch’vod YHVH malei et hamishkan… ki anan YHVH al hamishkan yomam v’esh tih’yeh laila bo l’einei chol beit Yisrael b’chol mas’eihem. When Moses had finished the work, the Cloud covered the Ten …

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Vayakhel: When Enough Is Enough

V’ham’lacha hai’ta day’am l’chol ham’lacha la’asot otah v’hoter And their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done. (Exodus 36:7) Moses has descended once again from the mountain, face aglow, carrying the tablets with the restored …

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Ki Tisa: Encountering God

V’atah, im na matzati chen b’einecha, hodi’eni na et d’rachecha, v’eida’acha [Moses said,] “And now, please, if I have found favor in your eyes, please let me know your ways, that I may know you…” (Exodus 33:13) Vayomer “Hareini na et k’vodecha!” And [ …

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Tetzaveh: Brothers’ Keepers

V’asita vigday kodesh l’Aharon achicha l’chavod u’l’tifaret. You shall make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, to give him honor and splendor. (Exodus 28:2) Curiously, this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, never mentions Moses by name. This is the …

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Mishpatim: YHVH, Protector of the Powerless

Kol almanah v’yatom lo t’anun. Im aneh ta’aneh oto ki im tza’ok yitz’ak eilai shamo’a esh’ma tza’akato. You are not to mistreat any widow or orphan. Oh, if you mistreat, mistreat them, and they cry, cry out to Me, I will hearken, yes, hearken to their …

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Yitro: Learning How To Lead

Vayishma Yitro, cohen Midian, choten Moshe, et kol asher asah Elohim l’Moshe ul’Yisrael amo, ki hotzi YHVH et Yisrael miMitzrayim. Jethro, priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and Israel, how YHVH had brought Is …

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B’Shallach: Wade in the Water

Vayomer YHVH el Moshe: “Ma titz’ak ei’lai? Da’ber el B’nai Yisrael v’yisa’u!” Then YHVH said to Moses: “Why are you crying out to me? Speak to the Children of Israel, and tell them to get moving!” (Exodus 13:15) The Children of Israel stand at the edge …

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Bo: Martin Luther King Is My Rabbi

Va’yavo Moshe v’Aharon el Par’oh va’yomru eilav, “Ko amar YHVH, Elohei ha’Ivrim: ad matai may’anta lay’anot mipanai? shalach ami vaya’avduni!”  So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the Source of Life, the God of the Hebrews: H …

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Pathways into Jewish Prayer

Dear Friends, The Lev Shalem Institute just completed a six-week series called Pathways into Jewish Prayer, coordinated by Pauline Tamari with sensitivity and skill. A wonderful group gathered who were interested and able to speak personally and intima …

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A river flows forth from Eden

I am currently enjoying teaching a series of classes at Temple Israel in Albany, NY titled “Demystifying Jewish Mysticism”. Here are some thoughts from this week’s class. A river flows forth from Eden to water the garden… (Genesis 2:10) Adam and Eve ar …

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Rabbi Jesus?

Dear Friends, Reverend Matthew Wright of Woodstock’s St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church and I are currently teaching a class for the Lev Shalem Institute called “Judaism and Christianity: Shared Origins, Different Paths.” The class meets every Thursday fro …

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Come with Me to Israel!

It is 20 years since the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin. It was the 12th of Heshvan, November 4, 1995. The Oslo accords had led to a heady, fraught and also promising peace process with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Rabin spoke to an enormous crowd …

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Just a Brief Word…

Sometimes a single phrase can impact us as deeply as a long essay. Barbara Sarah sent me a statement by psychotherapist Francis Weller that I have been rolling around on my tongue and in my mind all week. The words rings true, and have been a great hel …

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A Eulogy for Maya Gold

On October 4, 2015 I had the sorrowful task of officiating at the funeral of WJC member Maya Gold, age 15. After the service, many attendees asked if I could share the words of my eulogy with them. I think others might find value in my message, and so …

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V’zot Ha’bracha: Moses Teaches Us How To Die

(This piece is adapted from a talk I delivered on Yom Kippur, 1997) V’zot ha’bracha asher berach Moshe, ish ha’elohim, et B’nai Yisrael lifnei moto. This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, bade the Children of Israel farewell before he d …

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When Torah and Life Intersect: A Yizkor Remembrance

(I posted an earlier version of this piece on January 1, 2015, my father’s yahrzeit. I shared it again prior to the Yizkor service during Yom Kippur earlier this week, and I share it again with you now.) Vayik’revu y’mei Yisrael lamut… When Israel’s ti …

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A Teshuvah Lexicon

The central mitzvah and activity of the High Holy Days is תשובה teshuvah, the task of realigning ourselves with our highest values and taking the steps we need to manifest those values. “Sin” and “repentance” are the English terms usually associated wi …

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Gematria for the New Year 5776

There are no numerals in ancient Hebrew. Hebrew predates the invention of the decimal system that we know of as Arabic numerals. Therefore, numerical values were represented by Hebrew letters. (This is similar to Roman numerals, which use letters inste …

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Thoughts on the Iran Deal

As of this moment, it appears that the United States will participate in the JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran to limit its nuclear program. The United States will be joining China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and …

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I Pledge Allegiance to Planet Earth

When Neil Armstrong passed away in August, 2012, I felt moved to honor his memory with these words as we sounded the shofar a few weeks later. I find this message ever more relevant and even urgent, and I share it with you again as the New Year approac …

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Justice, Justice

This week’s Parsha, Shoftim, begins with this famous declaration: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof — Justice, justice thou shalt pursue. Deuteronomy 16:20 This is one of the central declarations of the Torah, echoed in many other instructions. For example: You sh …

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The Month of Elul: Calling Us Back to Love

Dear Friends, Tonight is the New Moon of Elul, the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah. Elul calls us to prepare our hearts for the New Year. This weekend I am leading an LSI workshop on teshuvah, repentance and return, here at the WJC. I wanted to share …

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Now I Have a Story to Tell

[Last weekend my daughter was off enjoying the annual Ulster County Fair. It reminded me of this story from several years ago. Enjoy, and Shabbat Shalom! -JK] In July, I visited the Ulster County Fair with my family. Nomi had her good friend Ana along, …

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The Shma — Attention, Please

(This week’s Torah portion contains the Shma Yisrael and the paragraph that immediately follows, V’ahavta (“You shall love…). Following is a teaching about these passages that I originally offered during Yom Kippur, 5769/2008. Shabbat Shalom, JK) Shma …

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Hillel and Shammai: How to Disagree

Dear Friends, The Ninth of Av arrives tomorrow evening, and with it the remembrance of Jerusalem’s destruction almost 2,000 years ago. Our Sages, searching for the causes of this catastrophe, taught that one of the reasons was that Jews at the time tre …

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The Month of Av: Exile and Return

Dear Friends, Today is Rosh Hodesh Av, the new moon of the month of Av. In “Jewish time”, we are in the midst of the period known as the Three Weeks. According to the Talmud, it was during these three weeks in the year 70 C.E. that the Romans breached …

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Pinchas: The Daughters of Tzelofechad

Vatikravnah B’not Tzelofechad… The daughters of Tzelofechad came forward… (Numbers 27:1 We encounter a remarkable passage as Sefer B’Midbar, the Book of Numbers, draws near its conclusion. The forty years of wandering have passed, and the Children of I …

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“On Care for Our Common Home”: The Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis

Dear Friends, This seems to be my season for interfaith exploration, and my horizons are expanding. I just spent an hour perusing Pope Francis’ remarkable and inspiring letter addressing the phenomenon of global climate change. The full text is 180 pag …

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Travel Diary: Three Days at an Ashram

Dear Friends, A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the Sivananada Yoga Ashram on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. I had been invited to be one of the presenters at an interfaith symposium, “Prayer as a Path to Bliss.” What a lovely oppor …

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Beha’alotcha: The Anti-Militarism of the Rabbis

The following essay is gently adapted from A Yom Kippur sermon entitled “Living To Tell the Tale: The Anti-Militarism of the Rabbis” that I offered in 2007. You can find the original in my collection of essays “Hineni: Essays and Torah Commentaries fro …

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Naso: Be a Channel of Blessing

Yevarechecha Adonai v’yishmerecha May the Source of Life bless you and protect you. (Numbers 6:24) The most ancient Jewish prayer that we still know and recite today appears in this week’s Torah portion. It is known as Birkat Cohanim – the Priestly Ble …

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B’midbar: In the Wilderness

Va’yedaber YHVH el Moshe b’midbar Sinai b’ohel mo’ed b’echad la’chodesh ha’sheni bashanah ha’shenit l’tzeitam me’eretz Mitzrayim.  YHVH spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai in the Tent of Meeting on the first day of the second month of the second …

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An Unexpected Trip to Israel, Part 2: Music Everywhere

Dear Friends, Last Friday I shared with you in detail about the Catholic-Jewish Conference that brought me to Israel last week. In this installment I would like to share another aspect of my trip that I found very moving. Israel is a small country esse …

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An Unexpected Trip To Israel: Catholic-Jewish Dialogue

About three weeks ago I received a call from a dear colleague, asking me if I would like an all-expense-paid trip to an interfaith conference in Israel? A few phone calls later I knew only a little bit more. A Catholic organization known as the Neocate …

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Acharei Mot–Kedoshim: Love Your Fellow Jew as Yourself

V’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha. Ani YHVH. Love your fellow Jew as yourself. I am YHVH. (Leviticus 19:18) These verses are the climax of what is commonly known as the Holiness Code, which is the centerpiece of the Book of Leviticus. If we are able to follow …

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Tazria-Metzora: Body as Temple

Va’yedaber YHVH el Moshe leimor: zot tih’yeh torat ha’metzora b’yom tohorato. YHVH said to Moses: “This is the Torah (instruction) for a person with the skin affliction Metzora so that they may be restored to wholeness. (Leviticus 14:1) This week (and …

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Why Pray? The Purposes of Prayer in a Skeptical Age

We do not refuse to pray; we abstain from it. We ring the hollow bell of selfishness rather than absorb the stillness that surrounds the world, hovering over all the restlessness and fear of life – the secret stillness that precedes our birth and succe …

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On the Purpose of Prayer

Growing up in a religious Jewish home, I went to synagogue every Saturday for Sabbath services. I learned the traditional liturgy by rote. This wasn’t a bad thing – it had a musical feel to it, familiar and comforting. But I never thought about what th …

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Shabbat Hagadol: Preparing for Passover

The Shabbat that precedes the beginning of Passover is known in our tradition as Shabbat Hagadol – The Great Sabbath. The first night of Passover this year falls next Friday night, so this Shabbat is Shabbat Hagadol. The exact origin of this title is n …

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Purim Down Under

Dear Friends, I am approaching the last few days of my journey in New Zealand, and it has been an absolutely marvelous trip both as a teacher and as a tourist. I just completed a very rich week of teaching with a wonderful group of folks at Temple Sina …

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Vayikra: Leviticus as Literature

Vayikra el Moshe va’yedaber YHVH eilav me’ohel moed YHVH called to Moses, and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting (Leviticus 1:1) For the modern reader, the Book of Leviticus appears to be an odd and even unwelcome intrusion into the grand saga of ou …

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Vayakhel-Pekudei: Realizing Our True Nature

Va’yomer Moshe el B’nei Yisrael: “Re’u, kara YHVH b’shem Betzalel, ben Uri, ben Hur, l’mateh Yehudah, va’yemaleh oto ru’ach Elohim b’chochmah bi’t’vunah u’v’da’at u’v’chol melacha.” And Moses said to the Children of Israel: “See, the Creator has single …

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Ki Tisa: The Golden Calf

Vayikahel ha’am al Aharon vayomru eilav: “Kum aseh lanu elohim asher yelchu lefaneinu, ki zeh Moshe, ha’ish asher he’elunun me’eretz Mitzrayim, lo yadanu meh hayah lo!” The people gathered against Aaron and said to him, “Do something! Make us a god who …

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Trumah: Creating Holy Moments

Daber el B’nai Yisrael v’yikchu li trumah me’et kol ish asher yidvenu libo tikchu et trumati…V’asu li Mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham. Tell the Children of Israel to bring Me gifts – you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves the …

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Yitro: Listening for the Aleph

Anochi YHVH Elohecha asher hotzeiticha me’eretz Mitzrayim mi’beit avadim. I am Life Unfolding who brought you out of constriction and enslavement. (Exodus 20:2) I have the incredible good fortune this month to be writing to you from New Zealand. I have …

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Beshallach: Spiritual Boot Camp

Va’yilonu kol adat B’nei Yisrael al Moshe v’al Aharon bamidbar In the wilderness, the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. (Exodus 16:2) Beshallach is a momentous Torah portion. Pharaoh, his kingdom in ruins, has finally let the …

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Bo: Teach Your Children

V’hayah ki yishalcha vincha machar laymor “Mah zot?” And when, in times to come, a child of yours asks you, “What is this?” (Exodus 13:14) As we enter Parshat Bo the Exodus narrative is reaching its climax: the plague of locusts descends, then darkness …

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Va’era: I Will Be With You

Vayedaber Moshe lifnay YHVH leimor: “Hen B’nai Yisrael lo sham’u eilai v’eich yishm’eini Phar’o, va’ani arel sfatayim!” And Moses spoke to YHVH, saying: “Look, the Children of Israel would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh listen to me – me, a …

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Shemot: The Long Walk to Freedom

Vayomer melech Mitzrayim lameyaldot ha’ivriyot asher shem ha’achat Shifrah v’shem ha’shenit Pu’ah vayomer b’yaldechen et ha’ivriyot ur’item al ha’ovnayim im ben hu v’hamiten oto v’im bat hi v’chaya. The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one o …

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Vayechi: When Torah and Life Intersect

Vayik’revu y’mei Yisrael lamut… When Israel’s time to die drew near… (Parshat Vayechi, Gen. 47:29) Vayik’revu y’mei David lamut… When David’s time to die drew near… (Haftarah of Vayechi, I Kings 2:1) This parashah marks the yahrzeit (anniversary of the …

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Vayigash: Judah and Joseph

Vayigash eilav Yehudah vayomer “Bi Adoni…” And Judah approached him and said, “By your leave, my lord…” (Gen 44:18) This may be the most dramatic moment in the entire Book of Genesis. During the long famine, Joseph’s 11 brothers had come down to Egypt …

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Chanukah: Let Your Little Light Shine

I pause from the weekly cycle of Torah readings and take note of the procession of the seasons and of the holidays: we have reached Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Part of the genius of the Jewish Holidays is that they resonate on many levels of expe …

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Vayeshev: What goes down must come up!

Vayeshev Ya’akov b’eretz m’gurei aviv b’eretz kna’an. Eleh toldot Ya’akov: Yosef ben sh’va esrei shana hayah ro’eh et achiv batzon. Jacob now settled in the land of his father’s sojourning, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob: Jos …

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Vayishlach: What’s in a Name?

Vayomer, “Lo Ya’akov ye’amer od shimcha, ki im Yisrael, ki sarita im Elohim v’im anashim vatuchal.” And he said, “No more shall you be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men, and you have overcome. (Gen. 32:29) I love th …

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Listen: Audio Recordings of “Let It Go – The Personal, Environmental and Spiritual Practice of Shmita”

You can now listen to Rabbi Jonathan’s fall 2014 classes online! If you weren’t able to attend his classes – or if you were there and want to listen again at your leisure, follow this link to recordings of Rabbi Jonathan’s 6-week course “Let It Go – Th …

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Listen: Audio Recordings of Rabbi Jonathan’s Weekly Torah Study Class

You can now listen to Rabbi Jonathan’s fall 2014 classes online! If you weren’t able to attend his classes – or if you were there and want to listen again at your leisure, follow this link to recordings of Rabbi Jonathan’s weekly Torah study class and …

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Vayetze: This Is The Place

Vayetze Ya’akov miBe’er Shava vayelech Harana. Vayifga bamakom vayalen sham… And Jacob left Be’er Sheva and set out for Haran. He encountered The Place, and he spent the night there… (Gen. 28:10-11) This is the beginning of Jacob’s journey of spiritual …

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Toldot: Isaac Digs His Father’s Wells Anew

V’eleh toldot Yitzchak ben Avraham: Avraham holid et Yitzchak These are the generations of Isaac son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac. (Gen. 25:19) In our marvelous Torah study class yesterday (if you are in the area and are able, join us at the Woodsto …

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Chayei Sarah: Equanimity in the Face of Uncertainty

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. (Gen 22:1) Our portion this week is named Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah, drawn as always from the very first words of the portion …

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Vayera: A Visionary Journey

At the conclusion of last week’s portion Lech Lecha, “Go To Yourself”, Abram has expanded into Abraham, and has circumcised himself – meaning, as I described last week, that Abraham has opened himself and committed himself to remain open to YHVH, Life …

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Lech Lecha, Go To Yourself: Abraham and the Spiritual Journey

And YHVH said to Abram, “Lech Lecha (go forth, but literally go to yourself) from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1) For me, the Torah reveals its deepest lessons when I rea …

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Was Noah a Righteous Man? Rabbi Jonathan’s Weekly Torah Commentary

Just as I focused on the very first verse of last week’s portion Breishit, I would like to do the same with this week’s portion Noach (Noah), Genesis 6:9-11:32. But let’s look at a more fundamental question first: Why would the portion of Noah start in …

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On the Weekly Torah Portion: Breishit

In the late 11th century C.E., in the town of Troyes in Northern France, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki – universally known by the acronym RASHI – composed the most widely read and important commentary to the Torah ever written. To this day Rashi’s commentary …

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In The Holy of Holies: A Yom Kippur Teaching, 5775

Following is the talk I offered on Kol Nidre Eve, October 3, 2014 at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation: I wrestled this year with all of the subjects I have wanted to discuss with you. Over the past months my attention has been relentlessly drawn outwa …

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If You Only Say One Blessing…

If You Only Say One Blessing… There is a Jewish blessing – a bracha – for just about every occasion and experience: blessings of gratitude before and after eating, before washing your hands, for putting on your shoes, for waking up in the morning, for …

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In Praise of Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger was one of my heroes. I remember attending a solo concert of Pete’s at Carnegie Hall when I was a young man. He stood on a small oriental rug on a bare stage, just him, his banjo, his guitar and a full house of people ready to sing with him …

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Israel Journal, Part 2: Good People Everywhere

Dear Friends, I managed one dispatch during our tour, but then no more until now – flying back across the ocean to home in Woodstock. But I would still like to share some of the highlights of our trip with you. Palmach Museum Tel Aviv is such a vibrant …

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Israel Journal, December 2013: Jewish Spiritual Renewal in Tel Aviv

Dear Friends, I have the privilege of sending you dispatches from our latest WJC tour of Israel. Our itinerary is substantially different from past trips, a conscious effort to provide our return travelers with new experiences and insights into Israeli …

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For the Sin of Racism (Yom Kippur 5774)

The Vidui, the communal confession of sins that we chanted just a few moments ago, is actually an elaborate acrostic. The ancient litany makes its creative way through the entire Hebrew alphabet, enumerating all of the ways that we have missed the mark …

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The Small Aleph (Rosh Hashanah 5774)

Over the years I have waxed rhapsodically about the countless layers of meaning and connection encoded into the Torah. Well, as I continue to study, it only keeps getting richer, and I am going to take you today on a little journey through our scribal …

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Hillel and Shammai (Rosh Hashanah 5774)

You may have heard stories about the ancient sages Hillel and Shammai. During the 1st Century B.C.E. Hillel and Shammai shared leadership of the Sanhedrin, the deliberative body and high court that determined all matters of Jewish practice and behavior …

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Pirkei d’Rabbi Jonathan

On Sunday, May 5 the Woodstock Jewish Congregation held a celebration in honor of my 25 years with the congregation. I wanted to offer a teaching, but I had too much to say! So I decided to boil down my teachings into aphorism, a la Pirkei Avot. Here t …

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Passover Reflections 2013

Dear Friends, At the Seder, after telling the story of Passover and singing “Dayenu”, we are instructed to lift our cup of liberation and recite what to me is the most important line in the Haggadah: “B’chol dor vador – In every generation we must view …

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The Ten Utterances from Life Unfolding

After Moses and the Children of Israel escape from bondage, they are faced with a momentous challenge that forever shapes the worldview of Judaism. They must now create a society in which no Pharaoh might ever rise, a society in which every single huma …

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Addressing the Family of a Suicide Victim

Dear Friends of the WJC, Our community experienced a tragic and untimely death this past week when Lee Wind, whose family have been members of our congregation for many years, took his own life. Rather than dance around the tragedy of suicide, I chose …

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Pete Seeger at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation

Dear Friends, Yes that’s right, that’s Pete Seeger on our bimah! On Sunday, May 20 we hosted a benefit concert for Kim and Reggie Harris and their dear friends and neighbors Terry Leonino and Greg Artzner, a.k.a. the musical duo Magpie. They are all st …

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An Extraordinary Bar Mitzvah in Germany, and Impressions of Prague

Dear Friends, I am in the midst of a brief but deeply moving and fascinating trip to Germany and the Czech Republic, and I want to share some of my experiences and observations with you all. This post is fairly long, so please take your time, and I hop …

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On the Egyptian Uprising

(This piece appeared in the Woodstock Jewish Congregation newsletter last month. It is therefore dated, but still relevant. -JK) Dear Friends, As I write these words in early February there is one story dominating the airwaves around the world. The peo …

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A Final Miracle in Tel Aviv

Dear Friends, Tel Aviv was the final stop on our tour. During the morning we visited the Jaffa Institute, an impressive non-profit organization that does its best to support at-risk youth, and poor and underserved populations in the greater Tel Aviv ar …

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Around the Galilee: It’s Complicated…

Dudu On our Israel tours a bus driver is assigned to us for the entire trip. Our driver this time was Dudu.Dudu was a tall, handsome and well-groomed man from a family of Kurdish Jews. Dudu possessed breathtaking skill at maneuvering a full-sized bus t …

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Masada

  Dear Friends, Wow. I am traveling with such a beautiful group of people, and we are having an extraordinary time together, even life changing for some of the participants. I hope some of you (all of you!) reading this missive will be able to joi …

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Heading South

Dear Friends, I write this evening from my hotel room in the desert town of Arad. We will be rising at 4:15 in the morning tomorrow in order to ride the bus down to Masada, and plan to climb to the top in time to witness the sunrise. This has been a ma …

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Shabbat in Jerusalem

(The following series of posts are a partial account of the Woodstock Jewish Congregation’s most recent trip to Israel, December 21-31, 2010) Having spent 3 intense days immersed in a crash course of Jerusalem’s past and present, I knew that Shabbat wo …

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Bicycling from Jerusalem to Eilat, Part 3

I made it! I sit this Monday evening on the veranda of a coffee house in Eilat, enjoying the evening breeze and looking across the Red Sea at the lights of Aqaba, Jordan. I surprised myself and bicycled 330 miles to get here, and though I’m tired I act …

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Bicycling from Jerusalem to Eilat, Part 2

I am pleased to report that my body is giving me the power I need to meet all of my cycling goals thus far. I rode 94 miles on Thursday, by far the longest I have ridden since an ill-considered 100-mile ride from Providence, Rhode Island to Martha’s Vi …

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Bicycling from Jerusalem to Eilat, Part 1

Greetings to all from Israel! Well, my trip got off to an unexpected and fascinating start. As I emerged on Monday afternoon into the arrivals hall at Ben Gurion airport, I powered up my cell phone and called my friend Melila, with whom I would be stay …

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You Gotta Have Heart: Yom Kippur 5771

Some of you will remember this story: the Children of Israel have escaped slavery in Egypt. They have received the Torah at Mount Sinai, and now it is time to enter the Promised Land. Moses asks for 12 scouts, each a leader from one of the twelve tribe …

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The Virtues of Ambivalence

The following is my sermon from the first day of Rosh Hashanah, 5771 (September 9, 2010) at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation. Just a few weeks ago, in the same hospital in Haifa, Israel where she was born, my niece Talia gave birth to her first child, …

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Yom Hashoah 5770/2010: German Scholar Thorsten Wagner Visits the Woodstock Jewish Congregation

In April 2009 I traveled to Germany for the first time. I was privileged to lead a group of 30 travelers from the Woodstock Jewish Congregation and the wider community on an intensive – and intensely emotional – tour of Berlin and of the historical sit …

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