Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
June 17, 2022

“Changing our Tunes” | June 17th, 2022

How many hours does it take once you’ve realized you made a mistake to fix that mistake? How long from the moment you’ve said or done something wrong or hurtful to making amends?


Sometimes I think I can fix things in a minute, but more often it’s usually weeks, months, or even years before we actually repair our mistakes and trespasses. That’s one of the reasons Yom Kippur happens every year, a tacit acknowledgment that for most of us, it takes a long time to realize we’ve done wrong, figure out a way to fix things, and then go about seeking repentance and forgiveness. Making changes usually takes seasons, not days.


I wish I could say that after thousands of years of Yom Kippurs humankind had gotten a lot better at making amends. I’m not sure that’s true, but a story from pop culture gives me a little bit of hope that the time horizon on substantive apologies might be shrinking.


The Grammy award-winning singer and rapper, Lizzo, recently made headlines because of a particularly effective apology. Last Friday, Lizzo released a song that included a lyric that many understood as a slur against people with disabilities. After a relatively swift backlash from disability advocates and fans, Lizzo publicly apologized for using the slur and re-released the song with the offensive lyric changed. How long did this effective and intensive apology process take? Not seasons, not weeks. It took her 4 days. By Monday, all of the major streaming services already had the updated version of the song. 4 days for one of the most popular artists in the world to not only admit her mistake but to quite literally change her tune.


Rambam, in his Laws of Repentance (2:4), explains that one of the possible paths of teshuva is to distance yourself from the version of you that sinned, in essence, to say, “I am not that person, I am no longer the person who committed those misdeeds.” After public apologies and seeking restitution and forgiveness, the transformation of the self into a new version, without the mistakes and knowing better now, is a powerful method of transformation and making amends.


The old and offensive version of Lizzo’s song functionally no longer exists. Not only has it been effectively scrubbed from the internet, but it is no longer the “official” version of the song. 4 days, and already the repaired song is the correct version.


No apology is perfect, and no timeline for forgiveness works in all situations. But I hope we can all appreciate and feel even just a little bit inspired when amends come quick. May we all find ourselves with the integrity and openness not only to apologize quickly but with the opportunity to change our tunes quickly as well.


Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg

June 10, 2022

“Passages” | June 10th, 2022

Sunrise Sunset, swiftly flow the years.


Eve, our little girl, graduated High School this Wednesday. It was a surreal moment for me and Dori. When we moved to Closter, fifteen years ago this week, she was in diapers and not yet 3 years old. I vividly remember the first day when she came home from the Klatskin Day Camp at the JCC. She was exhausted and tan and full of expression, hope, and curiosity. Her little brother, Elias, was 3 weeks old when we moved into our home. Today, he is a rising sophomore in High School.


It is such a cliché, but wow, time moves so damn quickly.


In my eyes, she started kindergarten last month, went off to camp last week, and had her Bat Mitzvah only a few hours ago. How can she be done with High School and off on new and “adult-like” journeys? Are we ready for the empty bedroom? For the quiet, her absence will undoubtedly create? For her independence?


Something about this time of year and the longer days, the sun shining brightly, eating meals outside, listening to the music on the radio while watching fireflies and swatting mosquitoes makes me nostalgic. I think of the ever-increasing pace of the cycle of seasons, the speedier stride of life, the transitions of school that increase quickness like a train gaining momentum. Obviously, this makes me wax sentimental about how our Temple community has grown, changed, and evolved while keeping its core mission and Jewish values. I think of those we have said goodbye to and those we have welcomed into our midst over time.


This is the final weekly message of this season from me. You will hear from me again, Please God, as camp winds down, schools ramp up and we at the Temple prepare for a meaningful High Holiday Season. Our family will be spending some personal time in Israel (August) and are very excited to be leading our largest Temple trip to Israel this August 2022. We have family trips and family weddings to dance at and many memories to make. Of course, I am always around and available for any need or matter.


But before I close this note, please indulge me to take a moment to draw a connection between Parshat Nasso which we read this week, and this time in my life.

In Nasso we have the Priestly blessing that Dori and I offer our kids each week at the Shabbat table, and the Cantor and I offer under the tallit near the ark each Shabbat on our Temple youth. I have always wondered why a blessing from God must be given by humans. Why can’t God give the blessing directly? Why and how can WE give a Divine blessing?


The answer is that God is reminding us of the paradigm to live by: sacred partnerships. We join WITH God, not independent of God or solely relying on God, to bring blessings, realize their beauty and savor their existence.


So too, Dori and I are grateful to God in this exciting transition moment, and to the sacred community of Emanu-El that we are honored to raise our children within. This Village of good souls, caring people and curious thinkers have been our partners in bringing our kids from diapers to college. I plan to spend this season being and expressing my profound gratitude and to be physically and emotionally prepared for the exciting passages that lay ahead and will pass before we blink.


Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

June 3, 2022

“Shavuot” | June 3rd, 2022

What is the holiday of Shavuot all about? Sociologists and rabbis would agree, Shavuot is the least celebrated and acknowledged holiday. I have a few suggestions as to why this might be the case:


1)  Shavuot has no props. Sukkot has the hut we eat and dwell in not to mention the four species, (Lulav and Etrog, Hadas and Aravah) that we wave in 6 directions.

2)  Passover has the Matzah and other dietary restrictions.

3)  Both holidays are 8 days long (seven in Israel) and both occur on full moons in the middle of lunar months.


Other important and recognized holidays, while not Pilgrimage ones, have props too. Rosh Hashanah has the Shofar and apples, and honey and Yom Kippur has the kittel and the fast that centralizes the holiday. So, what does Shavuot have?


We know it is customary to eat dairy, but why? We read the book of Ruth, but why? We stay up all night and study but, why? What is this holiday all about?


Perhaps the reason Shavuot is forgotten is because we are in search of ritual and prop, tangible connections that link us to the holiday. The irony of course is that receiving the Torah gives us the structure, purpose and meaning to lead our daily lives and incorporate the rituals for the holidays and the other days in between.


I heard a powerful teaching from my colleague and friend, Rabbi Yaakov Kermaier this morning. He was quoting a poem that resonated with his appreciation of Torah. It had to do with the string of a guitar that is pulled tight to make its sound. When the string breaks, it is most free. It can move and sway but it no longer can serve its purpose. Only when pulled taut can the full possibility of the string be realized, and its music be appreciated.


Perhaps the real prop for Shavuot is us, the Jewish people. The strings, if you will, is the gift of the Torah is the very device pulling us tight and giving us purpose. While it might inhibit some freedoms it allows us to fulfill our purpose and offer music to our world and meaning to the Universe.


May this Shavuot holiday be remembered and not forgotten, observed, and appreciated and may we realize that our appreciation of the Torah can add meaning to our lives and strengthen the Jewish people.


Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

May 27, 2022

“A New Honorific” | May 27th, 2022

We need a new honorific.


In Judaism when someone has died we append the phrase zichrono livracha, may their memory be a blessing, to the end of their name. This honorific is traditionally written out as z”l in English or sometimes OBM for “Of Blessed Memory.”


There are other honorifics for the deceased, some indicating particular righteousness, like ztz”l – may the memory of the righteous be a blessing, or a”h – may peace be upon them.


None of these appellations are enough for the souls of the at least 19 children and 2 teachers who were horrifically murdered on Tuesday at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Or the 10 individuals murdered while grocery shopping in Buffalo, New York.


We need a new honorific, a special one for the victims of American gun violence. One that says thoughts and prayers are in vain without action and change. One that says we won’t tolerate the bloodstain on our souls for letting so many precious, righteous, and blessed children and adults be murdered because of the sick obsession over guns and power that has perverted our society and mutilated mundane and formerly safe places into sites of mass death.


We need a new honorific.


The only one that even comes close is HY”D- Hashem Yikom Damam – May God avenge their blood, traditionally reserved for Jews martyred or murdered by anti-Semites. Yet that too is insufficient. It’s too parochial, too tied with our history of powerlessness to violence and martyrdom. Too reliant on God to do the avenging. And too suggestive of violence, God forbid there be more blood spilled on these grounds.


We need a new honorific, one that forever binds the memory and the essential human goodness of those lost to the command to make the world safer. One that acknowledges that their mourners will never be satiated with memory, but all will be spurred to action. One that slaps us in the face, that hurts so much to see it that our broken society can’t help but act on it. One that expresses the outrage of people of conscience, and inspires us to act on that conscience, and that outrage. One that pushes us to atone for the sin of allowing their blood to be shed. We need new words that demand action.


May the Merciful One gather up the souls of those holy ones and bind them in the bonds of life. May the True Judge grant us the wisdom and the courage to atone for the sin of their death with action, change, and a true dedication to life.


שֶׁנְּכַפֵּר עַל דָּמָם שֶׁנִּשְׁפַּךְ- שעד׳׳ש

May We Atone for their Spilled Blood – Shada”sh


Wishing us all a Shabbat of safety, consolation, and peace.


If you’re looking for resources on how to talk to kids about mass shootings, please see this resource from Kveller, a Jewish parenting site: https://www.kveller.com/4-steps-for-talking-to-kids-about-the-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting/


Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg

May 20, 2022

“The Power of the Doorway” | May 20th, 2022

Judaism cherishes the doorway. We are taught in the book of Exodus of the goat’s blood painted on the doorpost of Jewish homes in Egypt before the Exodus to warn the angel of death.


We are commanded twice in the Torah to erect mezuzoth on the door frames of our home with the words of the Shema inside to bless us when going and when coming.


And this week, in Parshat Behar we learn of the strange ritual that if a slave or servant is offered freedom and she or he refuses that freedom, we are to take them to the doorpost and pierce their ear against the threshold for all to see.


We fulfill this strange ritual upon the soul who refused freedom to remind them of what laid ahead in the world, outside the door, that they chose not to take.


Our lives are often separated between that which happens at home and that which happens in the outside world. But the holiness lives in the threshold when we walk in and when we walk out. When we come and go.


Behar reminds us that whether we embrace freedom or embrace the situation we have without wishing for more, holiness lives on both sides of the threshold. May you see it. Touch it. Feel it and always appreciate it.


Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner