Beyond Tragedy and Despair: Emerging from Tisha b’Av

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Isaiah 40:1-26
August 6, 2014

Death. Destruction. Suffering. Pain. Hate speech. Loss of moral footing. These words just as easily describe the events of the past few weeks, as they do the Book of Eicha (Lamentations), read on Tisha b’Av. Both the tragic war in Israel and Gaza, and the liturgy of Tisha B’av invite us to wallow in despair. […]

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Don’t Weaponize Your Words

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Devarim, Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22
July 30, 2014

Far from the fighting in Israel and Gaza, Syria and Ukraine, the peanut gallery reigns supreme. Many of us have anointed ourselves armchair pundits, battling each other in wars of words disturbingly disconnected from the suffering of those in the conflict regions themselves. Rhetoric tears away at rhetoric — or more deafeningly still, is amplified […]

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Hope and Despair

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Masei, Numbers 33:1-36:13
Director of Admissions and Student Life, Rabbinical School
July 23, 2014

The West Wing feels like a long time ago. The critically-acclaimed TV show of the late 1990s and early 2000s portrayed a president and his staff who were both passionate idealists and realistic politicians. Though the show was on the air through much of the turmoil of the previous decade, its spirit was informed by […]

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Promises on a Bumpy Road

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Mattot, Numbers 30:2-32:42
July 16, 2014

Soon we will enter the land. There will be bumps in the road. Things we swore we would do may go undone. Things we promised we would refrain from may become commonplace. Here in parashat Mattot, the Israelites are already encamped on the Plains of Moab, having finished their forty years of wandering in the […]

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Religious Zealotry, Then and Now

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Pinhas, Numbers 25:10-30:1
July 9, 2014

Hot-blooded anger. Self-righteousness. Unflinching certainty. Extreme measures. These are some of the hallmarks of violent religious zealotry. We see its vicious resurgence all over the world today: the headlines from Iraq, Syria, and much of the Middle East are filled with Islamist jihad, as Sunnis slaughter Shiites and vice versa; Boko Haram, a radical Islamic […]

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Models of Prophecy

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Balak, Numbers 22:2-25:9
July 2, 2014

When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?’ Balaam answered the donkey, ‘You […]

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We Do Not Live by Reason Alone

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(Chukat, Numbers 19:1-22:1)
June 25, 2014

The law of the red heifer in this week’s reading from the Book of Numbers, to put it plainly, makes no sense. The Torah mandates an elaborate ritual of purification by which a red cow is slaughtered and burned and its ashes used to purify those rendered ritually impure by contact with a corpse. Such […]

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From the Trenches of the War of Ideas

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Korach, Numbers 16:1-18:32
June 18, 2014

We find ourselves at a time of growing dispute and polarization. The political discourse is increasingly toxic, and instead of engaging in a deeper exchange, disagreeable ideas are labeled as “outside the camp” which “cannot be tolerated.” With our back against the wall, it feels almost impossible to extend the other side the “benefit of […]

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The Divine Presence in Time and Space

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Shlach, Numbers 13:1-15:41
June 11, 2014

Lord, where shall I find You? Your place is lofty and secret. And where shall I not find You? The whole earth is full of Your glory! — Judah Ha-Levi (1075-1141) In ancient times, animal sacrifice at temples and shrines was the primary form of worship and it was believed necessary in order to bring […]

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Shavuot: Divine Light and Earthly Vessels

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Director, Center for Global Judaism
June 3, 2014

In preparing for the celebration of the holiday of Shavuot — “The Time of the Giving of Torah,” as it is referred to in countless rabbinic sources — I have been reflecting on a striking teaching from the great Hasidic sage Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berditchev (1740-1809) on the relationship between spiritual inspiration and religious […]

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