Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
May 19, 2017

Parashat B’har-Bechukotai – May 18, 2017 | 22 Iyar 5777

There are two types of people that refuse to take vacations: those that think the office cannot function without them and those that worry the office can function without them.

Vacations and time away to unwind and disconnect are valuable. Interestingly, most Americans do not take all the time afforded them for vacation. More than 40% of people will forfeit time offered to them as paid vacation.  Research shows that vacation – or even ‘staycation’ – time can reduce stress, make your heart healthier and improves ones’ mental health and personal relationships.

A variation of the concept of vacation is introduced in the Torah portion of B’har, when we are told to leave the land unworked on the 7th year, which is known as a Shmita, or sabbatical. When seven cycles of seven is completed, that is a jubilee. When counting the Omer, the holiday of Shavuoth happens after 7 cycles of 7 (49) is completed when we count from Passover. After every six days of work, we are to rest. Every six years of working, we are to leave the field for a year.

Even the Torah knew the value of allowing our fields, animals and each of us the opportunity for a break. Time to unwind, disconnect and reconnect with those around us, nature and God was and still is seen as sacrosanct. That is the beauty of Shabbat and the purposeful disruption in the flow of the rough and tumble world we live in.

As we enter the season of warm weather and time away, let us remind ourselves of the value in relaxing, enjoying and appreciating all that is around us. Know that it is acceptable and encouraged to turn the engines to idle for a while and to center our bodies, our minds, our souls and relationships in the direction they need.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a restful vacation!

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

May 16, 2017

What to get for Mother’s Day? – Parashat Emor – May 11, 2017 | 15 Iyar 5777

I have an idea for all of us, young and old. It’s free. And somehow priceless.

It’s a promise to spend more time with her this upcoming year. If you live with her, it’s more quality time. If you live long-distance, there’s Face Time. But if you live close enough to drive, enjoy face time.

The Torah teaches us last week in Kedoshim to “revere your mother and father” (Lv. 19:3). In the Ten Commandments we are taught to “honor your father and mother” (Ex. 20:12). Rashi notices the order of parents changes. He observes that most people are more likely to revere (fear) their father and honor (love) their mother. The Torah inverts the natural order so that we regard each of our parents equally with love and reverence.

The Jewish holidays, which we review in this week’s Parshat Emor, serve as opportunities for renewal. For example, the High Holidays afford us the chance to start over by doing Teshuvah, repentance.

In a similar vein, Mother’s Day offers a chance to examine our relationship with our own mother and make it stronger.

Mother’s Day is like Thanksgiving: for some, it’s a commercialized holiday in which the fun lasts for a few hours. While for other people, it’s a door to a year lived more richly with others.

This one’s not up to Hallmark; it’s up to you.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Alex Freedman

May 16, 2017

Parashat Acharei Mot-Kdeoshim: A Moral Code May 4, 2017 | 8 Iyar 5777


Nary a day passes when I am not asked by someone, “Rabbi, what does the Torah say about ……” you can fill in the blank as to what the end of the question is. Sometimes it is about money, usury, slander, inclusivity or what have you, but always a clear cut topic of how one is supposed to or not supposed to celebrate or commemorate a particular moment. The irony is that people are often looking towards Torah for clear cut, unambiguous answers: black and white, yes or no decisions on concrete themes. But, it is not so clear cut on what Shabbat should look like for observance, but it is defined on how we should behave on Shabbat.

One thing, however, that the Torah makes perfectly clear is a moral code and it is elucidated in this week’s portion. It is here that the well-known phrase of loving our neighbor as ourselves is found. We are reminded never to put stumbling blocks before the blind or to curse the deaf, not to oppress someone or lie or seek vengeance in the verses of Kedoshim. This code reminds us not what the Torah says, but what the Torah wants from us: to do good. To be good. It is not clear how Shabbat should be celebrated to make it pleasing to God. Perhaps it is at shule or for others at a soup kitchen. But what is clear is how the “other” is to be treated. On that, the Torah could not be fuller throated.

Let that be a reminder to us as we shape our week and year ahead. Be Holy and be moral – that is ultimately what the Torah wants from us. I know we are up for the task.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

May 16, 2017

YOM: HaZikaron and Ha’Atzmaut – Parashat Tazaria-Metzora – April 28, 2017 | 2 Iyar 5777

April 28, 2017 | 2 Iyar 5777
Parashat Tazaria-Metzora –
YOM: HaZikaron and Ha’Atzmaut


Sunday through Tuesday in Israel marks the High Holiday season of our Peoplehood: The day of remembrance for fallen Israeli soldiers immediately followed by Israel’s Independence Day. The events bleed one into the next to prove the concept that were it not for sacrifice, we would have nothing to celebrate.

69 years ago, Israel was declared a state in a clandestine meeting in Tel Aviv at what was the converted home of Meyer Dizengoff, that he donated to the first art museum of the country. In that space – now consecrated as a hall to the momentous day – Ben Gurion declared the State, its name and its leaders and vision, just hours before Shabbat started.

Then, the chief rabbi of Israel choking back tears, recited the Shehichiaynu prayer. Undoubtedly, he thought of the 2,000 year old dream that was being realized and the millions of souls that suffered persecution, as recently as WWII, that would have been saved form such a state.

Then, the group joined in the new, national anthem, HaTikvah.

Here is an excerpt of the moment that Ben Gurion arrived and declared a state.

May this birthday bring Israel peace and security. Next year in Jerusalem. Make that more than a dream. You can make that a reality!!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

April 20, 2017

Parashat Shmini 5777 – Why Keep Kosher? – April 20, 2017 | 24 Nisan 5777

I’m thinking about food these days after Passover, when a bagel never tasted so good.

Of course food frames the Seder, but it really defines the full eight days of Passover. I’ll go even further: for the Jewish people, food really defines what it means to be Jewish all year long. Perhaps that’s the takeaway from reading Parashat Shmini – which delves into the details of Kashrut – immediately upon the heels of finishing Passover.

The Torah first tells us the what’s and how’s of Kosher, then it tells us the why: “For I the L-rd am He who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your G-d; you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Lv. 11:45). Keeping Kosher sanctifies us; it makes us holy. In the Torah, the word “holy” has a specific meaning: “separate” (cf. Lv. 20:26). When Jews follow a unique diet, we create our uniqueness. When Jews maintain a distinctive diet, we actualize our distinctiveness.

Here’s my own answer to our opening question: For me, eating Kosher food is the daily reminder that we’re Jewish. Nobody will forget that she is Jewish, of course. But there’s a big difference between not forgetting something and having it be top of mind. And being Jewish should be something we’re always conscious of, always on our minds. Because we’re only human, we need reminders. Even if we celebrate the holidays and Shabbat, how do we remind ourselves the other 300 days of the year? We all have to eat every day. Keeping Kosher is a daily reminder that we’re Jewish, and that comes with responsibilities and expectations. It’s not enough to simply not forget. We must actively remember.

Physical health is a daily activity (diet and exercise). Financial health is a daily activity (saving and careful spending). Spiritual health – Jewish living – must also be a daily activity. We are what we eat.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Alex Freedman