Rabbi Weill's blog

God Is Not Calling On Your Cell

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 1:33pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

Some jobs are inherently dangerous. This was certainly the case for the Kohathites, one of the extended families among the Levites. 

The early chapters of the Book of Numbers describe the tasks specified for the Kohathites, and for the other Levitical families, the Gershonites and the Merarites. Each clan must carry parts of the holy Tabernacle as the Israelites make their way through the wilderness. Only one of the clans, though -- the Kohathites -- receive a special warning: “They shall not go in to see the holy things, lest they die” (Numbers 4:20). 

Blessing Of The Animals

Mon, 05/27/2019 - 6:30pm -- Rabbi Weill

Whereas in the Book of Genesis the animals of the land, sea and sky were created prior to the creation of human beings;

And whereas each species of these animals entered Noah’s Ark – two by two – and were thus saved from the great flood. (This no doubt included Labradoodles.)

And whereas in the Book Numbers a wise talking donkey scolded his abusive rider, who happened to be a prophet;

And whereas King Solomon’s wisdom included an ability to speak with animals;

Seder Night in London

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 3:52pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

When we sat down at our seder tables recently, we took a break from the hectic secular world. 

Israel Zangwill (1864-1926), British Jewish writer and Zionist, captured the dichotomy of the world out thereand our ancient Passover rite in his poem “Seder Night in London.”

Zangwill’s poem is a sonnet: 14 lines in iambic pentameter (ten syllables), often with a thematic break after line eight. Sonnets are typically love poems, and “Seder Night in London” does indeed feel like a love poem to the seder – and to Jewish tradition. 

Learning Opportunity -- Talmud and the Afterlife!

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 6:56pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

As we anticipate Passover and our courses of chametz-free meals, we might also happily anticipate meals and courses of a different sort, namely the “dessert” of our Talmud at the Table class. This final series of Talmud at the Table will be “Afterlife in Talmud.” Tasty as an afikomen! 

I have been working with our friend and teacher Rabbi Yehoshua Karsh of the Avner Torah Learning Center to plan these final six sessions. Our topics will include “Heaven and Hell,” “Ghost Stories,” “Olam Ha’ba and the Messiah,” and more. 

Olam Hafuch – An Upside-Down World

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 4:21pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

Purim reminds us that we live in an olam hafuch, an upside-down world. To wit, in the book of Esther Mordecai rises to the position occupied by Haman, while Haman hangs from the gallows built for Mordecai, and the doom decreed for the Persian Jews is visited upon their enemies.  

On Purim we embody this upside-down world. Men dressing as women! Students teasing their teachers! Wild revelry prevailing in usually dignified places.

Where Prayers Are Accepted, Where Love Abides

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 4:42pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

We have been experiencing a wonderful example of textual convergence, as both the weekly Torah portions and our readings in the Land Beyond Torah class describe our people’s most holy building projects.

On recent Shabbat mornings, we have been reading about the building of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary our biblical forebears constructed in the desert. Meanwhile in Land Beyond Torah (Thursdays, 11 am) we have been reading about the construction of the Beit ha’Mikdash, Solomon’s Holy Temple. A harmonic convergence!

Koleinu Together

Fri, 02/22/2019 - 11:08am -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

One of my Koleinu band mates and I were talking this week, excited about our upcoming Koleinu service on March 8th. We both agreed that we would benefit from the spiritual uplift, camaraderie, sense of community, and just plain fun that the Koleinu service delivers each month. 

Aren’t we all in need of some of that by the time Friday evening rolls around? Let’s create Shabbat ruach/spirit and uplift for each other! The Koleinu “early oneg” and kiddush begins at 630 pm; service begins at 7 pm. 

I hope to see you there and Shabbat Shalom!

Communal Joy

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 4:03pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, includes a host of laws written in the singular. “You (singular) must not oppress a stranger,” (Exodus 22, 20), for instance, and “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,” (Exodus 23, 19), and so on. 

YetMishpatimalso describes our essential nature in the plural – “A holy people you will be to Me” (Exodus 22, 30). 

Judaism is a communal religion. Together bnai Yisrael(the children of Israel) crossed the Sea. Together we stood at Sinai.

The Wisdom Of Solomon

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 5:18pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

In our Land Beyond Torah class we are learning about King Solomon's superhuman wisdom. His wisdom was "superhuman" because G-d poured it into him. This great divine gift endowed Solomon with an enormous breadth of knowledge and, according to our commentaries, the ability to apply one area of knowledge to another, to synthesize ideas and, of course, to solve seemingly intractable problems.

Door Bolts and Menorahs

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 11:38pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

The Assyrian Greeks commanded the Jews, “Inscribe on the bolts of your doors, ‘I have neither portion nor heritage in the G-d of Israel!’” So the Jews pulled the bolts from their doors. They then commanded the Jews, “Write on the horns of your oxen, ‘I have neither portion nor heritage in the G-d of Israel!’” So the Jews sold their oxen.

This story – from a collection of ancient midrashim about Chanukah – celebrates how our forebears’ bravery, creativity, and faithfulness. 

Thanksgiving Thought

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 2:07pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

Once again, Jacob has left the past behind. In Va'Yishlach, this week's Torah portion, twenty years after leaving Canaan for Haran, Jacob leaves Haran for Canaan, the land of his birth. On his way back home, before crossing the Jabbok River, Jacob must wrestle with a man. This man's identity is not clear to Jacob. Perhaps he believes the man is a river demon, a common motif in ancient literature. Jacob soon learns, though, that the man is divine. At this realization, Jacob insists, "I will not let you go until you bless me" (Genesis 32:27). 

Goldie At 100

Fri, 08/24/2018 - 4:58pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

The wise Abraham Joshua Heschel did not live to a ripe old age. He passed away in 1972 at 65 years old. Yet, wisdom does not necessarily depend on direct personal experience. It is born as well from a thoughtful, sensitive mind.

Heschel employed that sensitivity in his article To Grow in Wisdom. “The years of old age,” he wrote, “[are] rich in possibilities to unlearn the follies off a lifetime, to see through inbred self-deceptions, to deepen understanding and compassion, to widen the horizon of honesty.”

Haters, Stop Hating!

Tue, 07/24/2018 - 2:35pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

We have begun the month of Av. It is painful month because tradition holds that major calamities occurred on the Ninth of Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. 

The destruction of the Second Temple pains us the most. Why? Because we did it to ourselves. Yes, the Romans did the actual destroying, but our tradition is clear; our sinat chinam, our baseless hatred toward each other, really caused the Temple to fall. The Romans were merely G-d’s agents. 

May Salvation Arise For Our Leaders

Tue, 07/24/2018 - 2:28pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

Aaron has died. Miriam has died. Moses too will die before his people enter the Promised Land. In Pinchas, this week's Torah portion, G-d commands Moses to stand Joshua before the entire community and instill into the younger man some of Moses’s own spiritual authority. Earlier in the portion, Moses stands before the community with Pinchas himself, who eventually would become High Priest. For the Israelite people, new leaders have arisen. 

Al Talmideihon – For Their Students

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 11:23am -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

In our final Land Beyond Torah class of the year, we completed the book of Second Samuel. As is customary upon the completion of a sacred text, our class of about 30 rose to recite Kaddish d’Rabbanan, the “Rabbi’s Kaddish.” 

This Kaddish – in Aramaic, like all Kaddishes– beseeches G-d to bestow blessings upon teachers of Torah and upon their students. “Al rabbanan,” we intone, “v’al talmideihon.” For our rabbis and for their students.

Men's Club Shabbat & The Ruebner Torah

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 6:55pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

We are all excited for our Men's Club to lead our Shabbat morning services this Saturday, once again on Father’s Day weekend, just as our Sisterhood so ably led last month on Mother’s Day weekend.

Removing the Torah from the Ark is, for me, the heart and highlight of our services. The Torah tells the Jewish story, part one. That dramatic story continues with the admonitions of the prophets and the wisdom of the Writings. It then moves on into the great corpus of rabbinic literature and beyond. 

No Defect? No Way!

Sat, 05/05/2018 - 1:08pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

Not all priests of ancient Israel were created equal. If a priest was born with a defect – or if he (yes, always a “he”) developed a defect through accident or illness – he would not be permitted to function as a priest at the Temple. Note this week’s Torah portion, Emor.

כָּל־אִ֞ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֣וֹ מ֗וּם מִזֶּ֙רַע֙ אַהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֔ן לֹ֣א יִגַּ֔שׁ לְהַקְרִ֖יב אֶת־אִשֵּׁ֣י יְהוָ֑ה מ֣וּם בּ֔וֹ אֵ֚ת לֶ֣חֶם אֱלֹהָ֔יו לֹ֥א יִגַּ֖שׁ לְהַקְרִֽיב׃

Filipino Koleinu

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 1:27pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

Many Jews speak of being “cultural” Jews. What does that mean? Often it has much to do with food.  Bagels, lox, and cream cheese? Jewish. Chicken soup? Jewish.  Pastrami with mustard? Jewish. With mayo perhaps? Not so Jewish.

See You On Sunday

Thu, 03/08/2018 - 4:07pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,


We are a rich congregation. For the sake of clarity, I mean that we are rich in spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally.  We are rich because of you and are particularly blessed with several rabbi congregants, enough to produce an Adult Education series called “Our Five Fab Rabbis.” These Sunday morning programs, occurring immediately after minyan, feature our rabbis as the fine teachers they are, teaching topics they love. 

Schools Are Sanctuaries

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 5:36pm -- Rabbi Weill

V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham
Build for Me a Holy Place and I will dwell among them (Exodus 25: 8).

 

Thus says G-d to Moses in Terumah, this week’s Torah portion. In this context, “mikdash” refers to the sanctuary the Israelites carried through the desert. But in common parlance, “Mikdash” refers to the Holy Temple King Solomon built centuries later.

You're God, I'm Not

Sun, 02/04/2018 - 5:24pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

We read the Ten Commandments this Shabbat. We usually call them the Ten Commandments, but in Hebrew they are referred to as “aseret ha’dibrot,” the Ten Utterances.

While most of those “utterances” begin with a grammatical imperative (or command), the very first begins with a statement: “I am the Lord your God who took you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Exodus 20,2).

Making Sense of Pharaoh's Heart

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 10:28pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

We encounter the great conundrum of Pharaoh’s hardened heart. In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, Pharaoh hardened his own heart during the first few plagues. But in the last few plagues, it is G-d who hardened the despot’s heart.

How could Pharaoh have let the people go if G-d pre-programmed his heart to “no”? Why would G-d do such a thing?

On the Fifth Anniversary of Sandy Hook

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 12:00am -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the shooting massacre of 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. 

Do you recall that devastating day? Do you remembering the photos of parents engulfed in the searing torment of unutterable tragedy? 

You would have thought that would have been the day – that would have been the moment – for a national reckoning on gun violence in our country.

Don't Blame Dina

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 12:00am -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

Dina, Jacob’s only daughter, “goes out” in this week’s Torah portion, Va’Yishlach. She socializes with other young women and is then raped by a Hivvite prince.

Dina is clearly a victim. After all, the text notes that the prince “va’yi’aneihah,” translated variously as “forcing her,” “humbling her,” and as “he abused her” (Genesis 34, 2).

Jacob and Esau — How To Raise Such Different Children!

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 1:31pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

Jacob good, Esau bad. This is the dichotomy we place upon these twins, about whom we read in Toledot, this week’s Torah portion.

While Esau is the wild man of the fields, the hunter who consorts with Hittite women, Jacob is tam, wholehearted, and yosheiv ohalim, the one who dwells in tents and, according to our sages, anachronistically studies Torah.

Jacob becomes our patriarch, a leader of our people, a hero. He earns a new name, “Israel,” the father of the 12 tribes.

Fighting The Yetzer Day By Day

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 1:17pm -- Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

In 1845 Rabbi Mendel of Satanov (Ukraine) published a little book titled “Cheshbon ha’Nefesh,” which means an accounting of the soul. Rabbi Mendel included a parable about a strongman who bears a calf upon his shoulders for a few hours daily, beginning on the day the calf is born. As the months and years pass, the calf grows and grows until it becomes a very heavy heifer.

But the strongman can bear the burden, for he has conditioned himself, day by day, to carrying the ever bigger bovine.

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