Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
June 12, 2019

June 13, 2019 | 10 Sivan, 5779

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

By the time you read this post, the fate of the NBA finals may have been determined. After watching a drama filled game five, I am prepared to name the MVP, regardless of who wins the series. Ready for this one? Kyle Lowry is my MVP.

Here is why.

Kevin Durant is the X factor for the Warriors that was missing for most of the NBA playoffs. Risking his health and further injury, he played in the pivotal game 5. Shortly into the second quarter, Durant went down with a serious and series ending Achilles heel injury. Knowing his impact in the game, many Toronto fans were happy to see him incapacitated, thinking it paved the way for a Raptors victory. Thus, after falling down, many Toronto fans cheered loudly at his wound and pain.

Demonstrating leadership, Kyle Lowry, a Toronto player,  walked over to Kevin Durant to help him walk off the court and admonished the home fans for cheering at his pain. Knowing the Raptors had a chance to win their first ever NBA finals in this game, Lowry was able to compartmentalize his desire for winning and his compassion for a hurt player. Further, he used his leadership to tell the fans in Toronto how best to calibrate their emotions. We do not cheer for injuries!

Frankly, the world needs more leaders like Kyle Lowry these days. People that can decipher right from wrong. People with passion and drive yet, compassion and empathy. People that give 200% on the court and also know that their leadership transcends the moments when the shot clock is running.

Kyle Lowry is my MVP of the NBA series, regardless of outcome. It is too bad that his actions need to be recognized as our collective goal instead of our universal standard.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

June 11, 2019

June 6, 2019 | 3 Sivan, 5779

Our Jewish Journeys
Rabbi Paul D. Kerbel

This Shabbat we begin reading the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar. Bamidbar means ‘wilderness.’ The Israelites are still at Mt. Sinai but in two-weeks time, the Israelites will continue their journey (of 38 + years!) as they make their way to the land of Israel, promised first to Abraham and then throughout the Torah to the people of Israel as their inheritance.

On Saturday night (through Monday night) we observe the holiday of Shavuot, where we celebrate the ‘giving’ of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk asked his disciples, “Why is Shavuot called ‘the time of the giving of the Torah’ rather than the ‘time of the receiving of the Torah?” He answered for his students, “the torah was given once, but each time we read it, we are ‘receiving the Torah and gaining new insights.”

Together, our Torah reading on Shabbat and our holiday of Shavuot help us realize that as Jews we are always on a journey. For the Israelites at Sinai, they are about to embark on a physical journey.  Our celebration of Shavuot is about our spiritual journey. Each day of our lives we have the opportunity to create meaningful Jewish experiences and add a new page in our spiritual search for meaning, for holiness and for wholeness.

Melissa and I returned on Monday from a meaningful Jewish journey as we explored the rich history of Jewish life in Germany in smaller communities such as Bamberg, Rothenburg, Regensburg and Sulzbach.  Over the years, numerous congregants have mentioned to me that they would never step foot in Germany or Poland. Many others have travelled to both countries to learn of the rich Jewish history that took place there and the Holocaust which wiped out Jewish life.  There may not be a right answer. It is a very personal decision.

But, I can say for Melissa and me, that spending last Shabbat in Regensburg and reciting the Anim Zemirot hymn before the Torah was taken out of the ark, in the city in which it was composed, to visit the town of Sulzbach which last had a synagogue service in 1910, but in the 1700’s was a center of Jewish publishing and printing, and to visit the towns of the great rabbis of the Middle Ages and the creators of a branch of Judaism known as Hasidei Ashkenaz, a sect of very pious and spiritual Jews living in communities that were centers of Jewish life enriched our knowledge of Jewish life, thought and practice.

In Amos Elon’s history of the Jews of Germany, The Pity of It All, Elon writes: “We must understand the triumphs to understand the tragedy.” Melissa and I had the opportunity to learn about German Jews in the context of their time and the vibrant Jewish life created there at a time of emancipation, integration and nation-state building. Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp and the Nazi Documentation Center also reminds us of the vigilance necessary to make sure that what happened in Europe cannot happen again.

As we celebrate Shabbat and the giving of the Torah on Shabbat, may we each cherish both our spiritual and physical journeys to enrich our Jewish lives and be proud transmitters of Jewish life, practice and learning.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Paul D. Kerbel

May 31, 2019

May 30, 2019 | 25 Iyyar, 5779

Let it Grow….Let it Grow
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner


A disproportionate number of the 613 commandments found in the Torah relate to laws of agriculture: mainly reaping, planting and harvesting. How we nourish ourselves, the rules of sabbatical years for vegetation, leaving the corners of our fields for the hungry and letting the fruits fall for the impoverished are core to our care for the other and having a mindset of the community in all of our actions.

This year, inspired by colleagues around the country and with the resources of our amazing Sisterhood, Temple Emanu-El has planted a garden. We are growing peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, corn, lettuce, brussel-sprouts, herbs and some honeydew too. The garden can be found on the side of the Temple building, just north of the basketball hoop at the end of the driveway.

We hope to make the fruits and vegetables available to any congregant that would enjoy them. We also are giving ALL of the excess fruits to the Closter Food Pantry and the CFA so the recipients can have fresh fruits and vegetables. We also are encouraging any green thumbed congregants to assist in the pruning and plucking of fruits and vegetables.

This garden will also be a fertile place for teaching some of the biblical agricultural laws for adults and kids, alike.

We are excited for this new space and opportunity for our community. Like all the seeds we plant, may they grow healthy and sweet fruits for us to all enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

May 23, 2019

May 23, 2019 | 18 Iyyar, 5779

Unity and Responsibility

 Rabbi Paul D. Kerbel


This week’s Torah portion, Behar Sinai, is usually read with next week’s portion, Behukotai. The people of Israel are still at Mt. Sinai. Only when we reach the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, in Numbers Chapter Ten, do the Israelites begin their 38 year journey toward the land of Israel from the Sinai Desert.

Behar focuses on two concepts for which the people of Israel do not have the opportunity to actualize: first, the sabbatical year, commanding a year of rest for the land after every six years of cultivation, and a related yovel, a jubilee year, every fiftieth year and second, the idea of taking care of the poor. The Israelites do not yet live in the land of Israel and have not yet set up an economic and civic infrastructure on which to adhere and follow these two mitzvoth, but God teaches them anyway. Why?

Throughout the Torah, before the people ever enter the land they have been promised, the Torah speaks about the importance of unity and responsibility. Each individual and tribe must help each other in times of military battle, each person must welcome the stranger, and, each person must help the poor.

The Holy Land, like the holy people who will soon inhabit it, needs a Shabbat to rest and replenish the soul, the land, like human beings, needs a year to rest and replenish its soil. Together these mitzvot teach us that it is God who owns the land, not us and it is God who created us and to whom we show gratitude for all of the blessings we receive.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Israel’s most spiritual and mystic rabbi and Israel’s first Chief Rabbi taught that the purpose of the Jubilee year was primarily spiritual, not economic. He viewed it as a chance to restore a sense of unity to the people who became separated by priestly classes and economic success or failure. The Sabbatical and Jubilee years was intended he thought to restore a sense of hope and self-respect to those who had sunk into poverty and a sense of failure.

That same sensitivity in Biblical times should concern us today.  In the United States and in Israel, the numbers are pretty similar. Approximately twenty percent of the population lives below the poverty line. There is homelessness and food insecurity. A story this week on the news talks about college students who do not eat well, even if they are working while they are studying, as they do not earn enough to pay for college, rent, food and supplies. One university recently opened a food pantry for its students.

Parshat Behar urges us to care about those in need and to help eliminate food insecurity and the depths of poverty. It is a religious and moral imperative.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul D. Kerbel

May 17, 2019

May 16, 2019 | 11 Iyyar, 5779

Sacred Time

 Rabbi Paul D. Kerbel

“The Lord spoke to Moses saying: “Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: These are my fixed times, the fixed times of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.” With these words this week’s Torah portion describes the special days of holiness that the Jewish people are to gather to celebrate their relationship with God and refrain from daily work. The three festivals (hagim) of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, the High Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur and Shabbat are discussed here.  All of these festivals reflect the idea that these days are different than our regular work days, they are ‘sacred occasions’ and that just as worshipping in sacred spaces is at the core of Jewish practice, so too is sacred time.

As our Etz Hayim Torah commentary asks: “The Jewish festivals challenge us:  Do we define ourselves primarily by our work? Or do we define ourselves primarily by our total humanity, our ability to celebrate, to sanctify time, to share special moments with our family and friends?”

Our Festivals sometimes challenge us; there are so many laws and so many requirements. Some of us may grumble but know that all of the hard work and effort is worth it when we create meaningful Jewish experiences for our family and friends. Some of us find taking off of work to celebrate the holidays particularly difficult; many are required to take ‘vacation days’ to celebrate these holy days. But I do think that God is sharing a message with us.  Holiness only exists if there are people who believe in God and are willing to receive the ‘trickle-down effect’ of God sharing holiness with us. God needs us to complement the holiness that is inherent in each holy day with our own human holiness.  Holiness doesn’t just happen. We experience moments of holiness when we merge the holiness of God with our own human holiness. When we celebrate with others as a community, we are bringing holiness into our midst.

Being a Jew isn’t always easy.  But once you reflect on the meaning of your Seder, once you marvel at the Torah you learn on Sukkot and once we experience the arrival of Fall as we celebrate Sukkot, we can see, hear, feel, taste and touch, the presence and the holiness of God. Sacred time is as important as sacred space.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul D. Kerbel