Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
March 19, 2021

“The Hug” Vayikra 5781 | March 19th, 2021

My colleague and friend, Rabbi Charlie Savenor gave a stirring sermon during his senior year of rabbinical school. It moved me so, that 24 years later, I still often think about it. Earlier that year, Charlie’s father succumbed to cancer. The sermon he shared in his memory was about a time he was distanced from his dad for more than 48 hours because of a wicked snowstorm. When he finally embraced his father along with his brothers and mother, it was a long moment to savor and remember. (read his sermon here) https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/moses-and-the-missing-hug/

For many who I have shared with or who have confided in me during this past year, you have expressed the most challenging part of COVID and the pandemic is not being able to touch, hold and hug your loved ones. Grandparents have had new grandchildren born that they could not see or hold. Children could not see their parents or kiss their cheeks, some of who were even ailing. Too many of our loved ones died without their family by their side or holding their hand. Personally, I have not seen my mother or siblings in a year and I desperately need that hug and personal touch. Don’t we all?

In the Haftorah for this week, from Isaiah, we are reminded of the dangers of idol worship that cannot see, hear or know. In Judaism, we are reminded that there is one God and human relationships are paramount. While Zoom has been a gift during this time, there is no replacement for the face-to-face encounters, a hug, or a touch that happens that proves our presence and love.

As many in our community begin the process of receiving vaccinations, I am seeing long-awaited pictures of reunifications and hugs. I kindly ask that if you have pictures of these sacred encounters,  email them to me at kirshner@templeemanu-el.com so we can enjoy the blessings of these important and sacred moments of human interaction and seeing God in one another.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

March 12, 2021

“Fixing What We Can” Vayakhel-Pekudei 5781 | March 12th, 2021

When something is broken, most of us throw it out. If we didn’t, our basements, closets, and drawers would be even more full odds and ends than they already are!

Yet many of us also have a tendency to throw away things that can be fixed because it’s often much easier to buy new than it is to repair. Sadly we live in a world where single-use is a norm, even when it doesn’t have to be.

The Talmud teaches that the Ark of the Covenant contained not only the two Tablets of the 10 Commandments, but it also held the fragments of the original set of 10 Commandments which Moses broke.

Why clutter this beautiful cabinet with the broken pieces of the original 10 Commandments? Why keep the shards when the whole Tablets were there? Some say it’s so we should always remember the mistakes that led to the shattering of the first set, while others believe it’s a metaphor for our treatment of those who through age or disease have lost their memory and wisdom (we should treat them with respect and honor).

Another option is that the broken tablets enshrined with the whole is a statement about the tenuous relationship between the broken and the whole. How easy it is to break things- even the 10 Commandments, hewed by God, could be shattered.

But similarly- given enough time and dedication- how easy it can be to repair- to fix that which has been broken. Or at least to honor the value of the broken and treat it like it’s whole. Not everything that’s broken should be thrown away, we should repair what we can, and at the very least we should honor the fragments and broken pieces that led us to this day.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg

March 5, 2021

“It Takes a Village” Ki Tisa 5781 | March 5th, 2021

This week will mark the one-year anniversary since COVID-19 became the widespread pandemic that has changed our way of life. Yes, the virus was around way before March of 2020, but the quarantine, massive hospitalizations and deaths,  and the shutdown of what was a normal operating mode for our world occurred one year ago this week.  The balance of last year from that moment had had our kids learning remotely, stores closed down, professional sports canceled, synagogues shuttered, Amazon overloaded and everyone except for essential personnel, working from home.

None of us would have ever believed that this new mode of operations would have lasted 2 months, never mind 12 months. In that time, we have learned much about ourselves and others.

One thought that has captured me during this time is that this is the first moment in every single living person’s life that affects us and our community and the entire world the same. COVID-19 is a shared challenge for our world and is indiscriminate in who it can attack. Painfully, while the virus is common to all humans in all parts of the world, this moment has shone a light on the hurtful reality that we do not all share the same values: not with our families, our neighbors, or others in our world. For me, while I knew that reality politically and perhaps regionally, I had never felt it as acutely as I have during the past year. At moments, it has stung.

In Parshat Ki Tissa, as the Israelites struggle with delf determination and identity while making the Exodus from Egypt to Israel, a taxation and census is taken. The text specifically tells us that every person over the age of 20 is required to give a half shekel to the communal fund and to be counted. We learn that the rich cannot give more, and the poor cannot give less. It is incumbent on all of us to do our part.

Community and responsibility are important themes for the development of the Israelite people. It has equal application today.   Similarly, the notion of communal sacrifice has application today,  too. While the Israelites might have had different social agendas, political leanings, or even personal passions, communal responsibility remains the same.

Hopefully, we are closer to the end of this pandemic than its beginning. The vaccines and learned precautions, along with warmer weather have buoyed many spirits.  Let us be reminded that while we indeed have 70 faces to our Torah and celebrate the divergent opinions of Hillel and Shammai, there are moments when our unity and coalition must be paramount. From Ki Tissa’s census to today, we all have a role and collective responsibility to help bring this pandemic to its end and to look after the welfare of ourselves and others.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

February 26, 2021

“You Have to Ring the Bell” First Tetzaveh 5781 | February 26th, 2021

Do you know why so many adornments and crowns for the Torah jingle and jangle so much? It’s not just because they’re made of metal that touches while moving around, it’s because many of them actually have bells on them.

The bells find their roots in our Parsha, Tetzaveh, which describes the clothes of the High Priest in exacting detail. The robe of the High Priest has a very special hem, with an alternating pattern of knit pomegranates and golden bells.

The Torah explains the bell and pomegranate hem as follows,  that the High Priest should “ wear it while officiating, so that the sound of it is heard when he comes into the sanctuary before the LORD and when he goes out…” (Exodus 28:35).

Why? Who needs to hear the sound of the High Priest’s bells? One teacher explains that the bells are necessary as a form of introduction, kindly and respectfully letting God know that the high priest will be entering the more holy areas of the Temple. The bells are like a walking doorbell, to let God know who’s about to enter.

The Etz Hayim Humash explains “From this, we learn that it is forbidden to enter anyone’s room without first announcing your presence.” If God, who knows everything, still needs us to announce ourselves, how much more so do we need to announce and introduce ourselves to each other!

Whenever we’re entering another’s space, physically or virtually, or meeting someone new, we owe it to them to announce ourselves, to greet them before we meet them.

So don’t forget to introduce and announce yourself to someone- and always be like the High Priest and ring the bell first!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg

February 12, 2021

“Two Crowns” Mishpatim 5781 | February 12th, 2021

“We will do and we will hear”- naaseh v’nishma– This is the rallying cry of the Israelites in response to the Covenant with God at Mount Sinai.

Some think this means that B’nai Yisrael is committing to uphold the mitzvot before they even understand what that entails, like when we click “I agree to the terms and conditions” on a new app or website, without having actually read the fine print. We trust God to guide us, so we sign on the dotted line before reading through all of our contractual obligations. Our actions will guide our understanding.

While I appreciate and identify with sometimes not reading all of the fine print before clicking “I agree,” I think this monumental moment must mean more than that.

A midrash teaches that at precisely the moment the Israelites declared naaseh v’nishma, “we will do and we will hear,” Angels swooped down from heaven and adorned each Israelite with two crowns, one for naaseh/action, the other for nishma/learning. One crown for each crucial pillar of our relationship with God, neither necessarily more important, both foundational to our tradition.

With these two words, our ancestors agreed not only to fulfill the mitzvot but also committed themselves to contemplate the deeper meaning of their deeds. Not blind faith, divorced from inquiry, nor exclusively intellectual pursuits, devoid of righteous actions. Thought and action paired perfectly together.

To fulfill the ancient Terms and Conditions signed by our ancestors, we must make use of both of our crowns: to utilize our minds and our hands, our intellects, and our deeds, our bodies and our souls.

When we dedicate both to the practice of our Judaism and to the bettering of our world, we’re making sure that we’re worthy of these adornments and each of our two crowns is perfectly shining.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg