Category Archives: Rabbinical School Divrei Torah

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Environmental Reflections Relating to the Destruction of the Temple

What has our religious life lost with the destruction of the Temple? Most of the people that I speak to in our liberal communities seem to feel that we have not lost much. Overall we seem to have accepted the position of the 19th century reformers that saw the temple as an expression of primitive religiosity that we had no reason to long for having gone through the enlightenment. There is… Read Article →

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Getting to Fifty: Some texts evoking thoughts about Shavu’ot as the day following the 49th day

Introduction Shavo’ut is unique among the biblical pilgrimage holidays in that it is not identified by date. It is celebrated on the day following the completion of counting seven weeks, or forty-nine days beginning on the day after the celebration of Pesah. In the Zohar, these forty-nine days are connected to the rabbinic notion of “gates of understanding”. When the Israelites were in Egypt they defiled themselves with all kinds… Read Article →

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Sefirot HaOmer

Over the past few years, the somewhat esoteric practice of connecting the counting of the Omer to the seven lower sefirot has been gaining popularity in liberal Jewish circles. The usual structure for this practice is to devote each of the seven weeks to one sefirah and within each week to devote one day to each sefirah. Every day is thus dedicated to a primary (of the week) and secondary… Read Article →

Rabbinical School Divrei Torah Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld

Humility and Hope in an Uncertain World: A Purim Teaching

This morning’s Torah reading begins with a divine call. Vayikra el Moshe vayedaber Adonai elav. Something, someone calls out to Moses, and God speaks to him. Vayikra. There are two things about the opening word of this verse and this sefer (book) that are noteworthy and that have given rise to much commentary. First, we are not initially told the subject of the verb “called”. Vayikra el Moshe. Not God… Read Article →

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The Many Faces of Purim

This sermon was originally delivered at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, CA on March 18, 2016. As we move into Shabbat Zachor this evening, I wanted to say a little about Purim, and some of how I have come to understand the rather strange and raucous way we celebrate this narrowly averted experience of attempted genocide.  It’s not an immediately intuitive occasion on which to throw a party. The story… Read Article →

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Skin and Nails, Hands and Heels

Parshat Toledot Esav (Esau) and Yaakov (Jacob), the twins of Rivka (Rebekah) and Yitzhak (Isaac), differ in almost every way at the beginning of their lives.  Yaakov is smooth-skinned (27:11), slippery in his interactions and emotions, and his motives are concealed in the tent of his mother (25:26-28).  Esav, the ruddy one (25:25), smells like the field (27:27), hunts game beloved by his father (25:28), and bears hair like the… Read Article →

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How Isaac Lost His Ḥet

The name יִצְחַק is rendered in English as “Isaac,” with no consonant corresponding to the ḥet (ח) in the Hebrew. By contrast, the renditions of other Hebrew names containing a ḥet do include a reflection of this letter — for example, Rachel, from רַחֵל. The explanation appears to relate to the fact that the Hebrew letter ḥet corresponds to two different consonants in “Proto-Semitic,” the hypothetical, reconstructed ancestor of the Semitic… Read Article →

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A Centenarian New Father?! Hah!

In Gen. 17:16, which is in this week’s parashah, לֵךְ־לְךָ, God announces to Abraham that Sarah will bear him a son. This pronouncement strains the credulity of even such a paragon of faith as Abraham. In response, Abram falls on his face and with a laugh says to himself, “Does a 100-year-old father a son? And as for Sarah, does a 90-year-old give birth?” There is a grammatical oddity in… Read Article →

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Hayom Harat Olam

This sermon was originally delivered on Rosh Hashanah 5776 at the Newton Centre Minyan.    In a little while, as we stand and hear the call of the shofar, We will recite these words. Hayom harat olam.  Translated in our machzor: “Today the world stands as at birth.” The liturgy beckons us back to the beginning of time. We are invited to imagine the world as utterly new. A pristine universe… Read Article →