Simchat Torah – Introducing the Shmooze: The Family Shabbat Dinner Conversation-Starter – Rabbi Alex Freedman
This Shabbat we turn back to the Torah’s beginning – Genesis – again.
Over the next year, we’ll read all 54 Parshiyot in the Book – again.
And over the year, we’ll enjoy Shabbat dinners with family and friends – again.
Again, again, again. You see why it’s easy to fall into a rut.
I want to make this all new. This year should be different because we are different now. Because our families are different from one year ago. This year shouldn’t be exactly like last year. To paraphrase Rav Kook, “Let’s make the old, new and the new, holy.”
To this end, I proudly introduce The Shmooze, which is a single-page PDF to print out before Shabbat and share with your Shabbat table. Visually appealing, this is a parent’s guide to leading a conversation about the Parsha at Shabbat dinner. Each week will include:
A very brief Parsha summary
A few verses that yield multiple interpretations
Discussion questions for all ages
References to more interpretations in the Etz Hayim Humash
An ethical dilemma for young people
A few pearls of wisdom from the Talmud
Geared for families, this conversation-starter will encourage participation from both the Parsha veteran and the novice. I plan to create one for each week in the year ahead, in the hopes that this becomes part of your family’s Shabbat routine. (While I will provide the content, I want to thank William Samuel for the beautiful graphics). I hope you make this your own – using what interests you, ignoring what doesn’t, and adding as you like. My goal is simply to help you start a conversation with your family about the Parsha. No matter your background knowledge, you can do this! The Shmooze will make it accessible to the facilitator as well. While Shabbat dinners are always fun, having a conversation about the Parsha takes it to a new level: meaningful and holy.
It is this very Parsha, Breisheet, that introduces us to Shabbat in the first place when G-d “rests” on the seventh day. Of course G-d doesn’t “rest” because of fatigue; it must be something else. Rashi says that Shabbat brought to the world something that was lacking: Menuchah, rest. Just as G-d’s “rest” must have been more spiritual than physical, our Shabbat dinners should satisfy the soul as well as the body. I hope the Shmooze can do that.
A final word of advice: wait until people have eaten before starting a conversation. Dessert time works well as that draws the kids back to the table.
I welcome your feedback as we explore the Torah again…and anew.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,
Seeking Shelter After Las Vegas – Sukkot 5778
I have exhausted words and prayers to offer in response to the senseless shootings that are happening to innocent people around our country. Enough! From school yards to places of worship to disco clubs and concerts, our safe spaces have turned into soft targets for the deranged and evil people with total access to guns and no regard for human life.
It is ironic that this tragedy happened on the precipice of Sukkot, a holiday that is about impermanence and seeking shelter and safety. The Sukkah is designed to represent our nomadic nature of people being on the move while simultaneously characterizing the nature of a safe place where people commune, break bread and pray together. Whether in a Sukkah or an outdoor concert, Jewish or Gentile, no place seems safe anymore. What a place of shelter could have done for the dead and injured?! What a cloud of glory could have done to save more souls?! What shall we do now?
One beautiful tradition of the Sukkah is to invite guests inside and make a sacred space within our temporary home for the other. While I can offer no explanation for this vicious act in Nevada, it is up to us to share the Face of God in our response. Being kind, welcoming, supportive of our brothers and sisters are all important ingredients for healing and the core to this holiday of Sukkot. Perhaps the timing can offer us the power to heal and offer hope in the place of pain; light in the place of darkness.
Wishing the Las Vegas community condolences and recovery and wishing you a Sukkot with open doors and healing hearts and praying for safe shelter for all the citizens of this great country and world.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
Yom Kippur 5778 – Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
Three of my favorite songs are all about apologizing. To be fair, I like the music as much as the lyrics, but I am sure the potency of the songs are the words AND the music blended together.
First is Eric Clapton’s “I Get Lost”
Next, is the ballad written by Bernie Taupin and performed by Elton John, “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.”
Finally, I really love hearing “Hard for me to Say I’m Sorry” by Chicago
Singers earn their chops writing “sorry” songs because their job is to put into lyric and rhythm the feelings many of us experience, but cannot always articulate. Let’s face it, we have all been sorry for things we have said and done and things not said and not done. But, not everyone can easily articulate what needs to be uttered. So, we turn to Peter Cetera, Eric Clapton and Elton John to say it for us.
‘Sorry’ is a hard word to say. Maybe because we are angry or just saying the word makes us feel vulnerable, embarrassed for our wrong doing or saying sorry to incriminates us and gives the upper-hand to the person we struggle with. That is not how apologies are supposed to be crafted. It is supposed to be hard to say. It is supposed to make us vulnerable and meant to make our relationships more meaningful and elevated when completed.
Over the course of the past year, undoubtedly, I have wronged you, hurt you and caused you pain. Perhaps I did not know I wronged you. Perhaps I did. Maybe it was something I said, did not say, or did or did not do. For those transgressions, I am sincerely sorry. I do not use this mass e-mail to exonerate me from the difficult conversations that need to take place, face to face seeking your forgiveness. I have had those this week and will continue to for the balance of the year.
Many people tell me that they guard their behavior closely during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. While I applaud that, I care more about the people that take heed to their behavior from Yom Kippur to the next Rosh Hashanah. That begins with an orientation of being able to offer and accept forgiveness and to strive to make right that which is wrong. I start that journey today and promise to enter this New Year in that positive and forgiving direction. I hope you will too. If you get stuck, perhaps the words and melodies of these songs will inspire you to say the difficult words that hold great impact.
My family wishes you and your loved ones a meaningful fast and a blessed New Year.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
Rosh Hashana 5778 – Past – Present – Future – Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
When we last celebrated Rosh Hashanah together, the election loomed in the balance, North Korea was on very few radars, Russia was known for borscht not, meddling in elections, there were no hurricanes on the horizon and the Denver Broncos were the reigning Super Bowl champions.
How the world has changed in 12 Hebrew months!
Yet, while much feels different, much feels the same. In Judaism, we return to rhythms and customs because they give us comfort and enable us to better recalibrate for the path ahead. The melodies the Cantor sings, the foods that offer distinct memories of earlier years in every bite and the family gathering tableside all provide a sense of stability in what might feel like an unstable time.
Uncertainty can paralyze us. The common denominator about uncertainty is that is has little to do with yesterday and a lot to do with tomorrow. We fear the unknown and find solace in the past, even when the past was not to our liking.
I remember when I first arrived in Manhattan to start Rabbinical School, almost 25 years ago. I was so frightened of the big city that I pined to return to Toronto, where I attended college yet, did not have family, friends or many fond memories. Toronto was comfortable and known. New York and Rabbinical School was new and scary. Eventually, I became familiar with New York and grew to love the city that never sleeps. It just took time.
Rosh Hashanah is all about the blending of that which is new and that which is familiar and the process of marking time. It is a marker for us to realize how far we have come in so many areas, and it is a moment for us to jettison bad behaviors, habits and embrace the new you.
As we begin 5778 and start this exciting and sometimes frightening journey, I encourage all of you to take stock of the progress you have made, appreciate the milestones that have been achieved and set your coordinates high for the year to come. Together, we will face more uncertainty but, we will rise to the challenge as better, more focused and more united people.
On behalf of Dori and our children, I wish you a blessed, healthy and meaningful 5778.
Rabbi David Seth Kirshner
Rosh HaShanah Meals: Serve Food-For-Thought With the Food Rabbi Alex Freedman – Parashat Nitzavim-Vayeilech
Are you ready to host Rosh HaShanah meals yet? Me neither. There’s lots left to do before next week and not enough time: guests, menus, groceries, and – of course – cooking.
But what about the food for the soul? The table conversation is an amazing opportunity that should not be missed. It’s fun to catch up with family and friends. Go ahead and indulge. But it’s also essential to talk about the High Holidays, Teshuvah, and the year ahead.
At Temple services you pray, listen, sing, reflect. But you don’t have a chance to have a real conversation (rabbi-approved!) about these important things.
However, you do get a chance to talk at your meals. For Rosh HaShanah to be an active experience, you should talk about it. For your family to feel the opportunities of a new year aren’t limited to the Temple but extend into your home, you should talk about it. If you don’t talk about the new year, you won’t fully internalize it.
Perhaps as dessert is being served, ask the table one of the following questions:
What’s one thing you want to do better next year?
What’s one thing you feel great about that you want to continue next year?
Where can your family improve next year?
Do you agree or disagree with the rabbi’s sermon? Why?
Where is G-d in your life?
(If you’re adventurous, sign up to answer 10 questions and see your responses a year later at https://www.doyou10q.com/.)
Or ask a question of your own, tailored to your specific guests. It’s important enough to think of the question in advance so you make sure it happens.
This week’s Parsha, Nitzavim-Vayelech, speaks of a new generation of Israelites standing on the edge of the Jordan River about to cross into the Promised Land. The opening verses read:
“You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem your G-d – the heads of your tribes, your elders, your officers, all the men of Israel, your children, your women, and the stranger in your camp, from the woodchopper to the water drawer – to enter into the covenant of Hashem your G-d…that He seals with you today” (Dt. 29:9-11).
It’s fitting that we read this Parsha precisely when we stand on the edge of the new year about to cross over together as a community. We need everybody on board, from young to old, for this to work today. Recall that “today – Hayom” is one of the final prayers at the morning service’s end. But how do we make this happen today? Let’s talk about it.
Next week it may feel awkward to stop the meal for a moment, but I assure you the conversation will be rich and meaningful. As satisfying as the dessert itself.
Rabbi Alex Freedman