Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
October 11, 2019

October 11th, 2019 | 14 Tishrei 5780

Don’t Stop Building
By Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg

Anyone who lifts weights knows that once you’ve hit your max, you have to find a new max. The very act of muscle-building is about setting new limits and then breaking them.

But your body knows that whenever you physically exert yourself past your limits, your body needs time to recover, to recuperate your energy and help your muscles and mind adjust to the new reality. You need to rest, to chill, to take a break, to be still.

But if you stay still for too long, if you don’t put your muscles back to work at a higher standard soon, your body won’t grow accustomed to your achievements. If you lift a really heavy weight once, but then in your recovery never lift that weight again, you won’t maintain that level of success. If you let inertia take its toll, you won’t grow.

Our tradition knows this, and so after the marathon of Yom Kippur, the work doesn’t end. After the herculean effort needed to complete the high holiday season, to make this season of repentance worthwhile, there is always more growth to do. Which is why traditionally we build our sukkah right after Yom Kippur. In some communities the only break between Yom Kippur and building the sukkot is the time noshing on apple juice and honey cake during the Break Fast.

Here at Temple Emanu-El, as the machzors are returned to their shelves, as the white robes are returned to their hangers, and as our sanctuary and social hall are returned to our normal state, we break out the nails, hammers, wood, and s’chach to build our sukkot.

We build precisely at the moment when we are the most tired, the most in need of break, because our tradition understands that if we don’t keep gently pushing our bodies, minds, and souls after the monumental gains of Yom Kippur, then we might lose them. One of the messages of Yom Kippur is that we can always achieve more, be better than we think, grow more than we thought possible. We can’t and we shouldn’t rest for too long on our laurels.

So as we transition from Yom Kippur into Sukkot, I encourage you to challenge yourself to keep building on your successes. Did you make a breakthrough during the yamim noraim? A realization about your behavior or about your future that you want to maintain? Don’t weaken that achievement by letting it fall out of use. Start building on it now. Lay the foundation now to make the most out of it in the days and years to come.

Wishing you a time of rest and recovery that leads right back into a holiday of building and growth.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg

October 10, 2019

October 8th, 2019 | 9 Tishrei 5780

Yom Kippur 5780 Message

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

My favorite task in third-grade was dipping a sponge in water and washing down the chalk board, which we did every Friday before our week concluded. In every stroke, the lessons of yesterday were erased and the board looked shiny and new for the lessons that would be etched on with chalk during the week to come.

Yom Kippur is that day for all of us. We are afforded a beautiful and brilliant gift which allows us to erase our past transgressions like a wet sponge on a chalk board, and to have a shiny, new slate ready to have written on it all of our deeds and opportunities for the year to come. Blessedly, much of the script of our lives are written in chalk – or at least they should be – enabling us to start anew.

However, the date alone of Yom Kippur does not wipe the board clean. We are responsible to seek forgiveness from those we wronged. We need time to talk to God and address our wrong-doings and, lastly, we need to forgive ourselves for the guilt we feel and the trespasses we committed.

As we enter this solemn day, I ask you, my Temple family, for your forgiveness for any offenses I committed as your rabbi this past year, whether intentional or unintentional. I look forward to 5780 where together with a clean board, we will begin to inscribe the countless deeds and actions we will offer to shape our world for the better.

I wish you a meaningful fast, a year inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life, and a New Year of 5780 filled with happiness, balance and peace.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

October 7, 2019

October 3rd, 2019 | 4 Tishrei 5780

The Sabbath Prayer
By Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

I watched a documentary recently where world famous violinist Yitzchak Perlman was explaining his favorite scene in Fiddler on the Roof.

Perlman’s eyes welled up with tears and he recounted with this words his favorite scene. As he did, Perlman’s hands flowed in the air like he was conducting the Shabbat Prayer scene in his mind. Perlman explained that the authors of the story, Bock and Harnick, needed to illustrate the sanctity of Shabbat to underscore the value of Tradition.

When Tevya and Golda and their family assume their places at the table, kindle the Shabbat candles, offer the benedictions over food and wine, then blessing their children all at the holiness of the dining room table, it is as if God is with them at this moment.

I think one of the reasons Perlman cried when recollecting on this beautiful scene was not only its potency but, perhaps because he is frightened that this scene, and its inherent Tradition,  are waning from the stages of our lives.

There are too few in the Jewish world that do not carve out 10-12 minutes a week to gather with your partner, your kids, pour a glass of wine with simple blessings you already know, break bread, light some candles and bless your children if they are in front of you, or if they are not near – to face time them and offer them your blessing. It only takes 10-12 minutes, and there are 10,080 minutes in a week. I think we can all afford to carve out 10-12 for tradition, blessings and family time.

Perhaps during that time you can share your past achievements and  challenges in the week and your anxiety and ambition and excitement for the week to come. 10-12 minutes out of 10, 080 minutes in a week.

To make this endeavor more achievable, I have enclosed a prayer sheet you should feel free to print and leave by your Shabbat candles or stick on your refrigerator. The prayers are written in Hebrew, English and transliterated Hebrew. Pick any version that works for you. We have hard copies of these sheets at the Temple.

Take the time to find balance in your week and offer the prayer in any language you feel comfortable. Make this a steady fixture of  your week.

Perhaps when you do the first time or the 201st time, like Itzhak Perlman your eyes will well with tears and you will remember our history and our tradition and your role in shaping tomorrow.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
Click Here to Download the Prayer Sheet

October 2, 2019

September 29th, 2019

Rosh Hashanah 5780


Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

Towards the onset of Fiddler on the Roof, Tevya breaks out into song in one of the more famous numbers in the Broadway hit, If I were a Rich Man.  It is such a compelling song, Gwen Stefani remade it recently.

Tevya dances and hums and dreams of all the amazing things he would have, were his financial wealth different:

I’d build a big tall house with rooms by the dozen
Right in the middle of the town,
A fine tin roof with real wooden floors below.

There would be one long staircase just going up
And one even longer coming down,
And one more leading nowhere, just for show.

I’d fill my yard with chicks and turkeys and geese
And ducks for the town to see and hear,
Squawking just as noisily as they can,

And each loud “pa-pa-geeee! pa-pa-gaack! pa-pa-geeee! pa-pa-gaack!”
Would land like a trumpet on the ear,
As if to say, “Here lives a wealthy man.”

Tevya – the impoverished dairy man who squeaks a living by only wants his daughter, Tzeitel to marry Layzar Wolf, the wealthy butcher. He dreams of how is life would be very different were he to have wealth and not have to push a wobbly dairy cart to make his living.

There is a fantastic irony in this song and its placement in the story. At the end of the performance, everything Tevya wants is something money cannot buy.

He wants to stay in Anatevka, but the Czar will not allow it.
He wants to live without persecution, but his Jewish identity denies it.
He wants his children to be connected and to remain close, but their independent choices reject that.

We are reminded that Tevya was indeed, very wealthy before he dreamt of chickens and ducks and spiral staircases.

We all are like Tevya, too often dreaming of material things to add to our chests of collections, our armory of wares to prove who we are and where we belong. On Rosh Hashanah, we are inherently given the gift we beseeched from God last year, to be inscribed in the Book of Life. Before we fully realize that verdict has been granted in our favor, we go forward asking and wanting and dreaming again for another year in the Book, and we spend little to no time thanking God for hearing our prayer and answering positively.

This Rosh Hashanah, as you gather with loved ones around your table or during your ride to synagogue, I encourage you to pause, realize your richness and manifold blessings. Do not stop there. Thank the people in your life that make those blessings come to fruition and pause, to thank God for your richness.

May this year of 5780 be one filled with spiritual wealth and emotional richness. May our souls be satisfied and gracious. May we all recognize the dividends in life that matter most. May those blessings  rain down sweetness on us each day of the year to come, like the honey we will drizzle on our apples.

Dori and our children join me in wishing you a blessed, healthy and peaceful 5780!

Shana Tova,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner


September 26, 2019

September 26th, 2019 | “New Year Blessings”