April 19th, 2019 | Passover 5779 by Rabbi Kirshner
It does not seem to make sense that we break the middle Matzah so soon into the Seder. What a strange ritual. Why would we take something that is whole and break it? And, why then? Is there any other time in our religion we are instructed to break something?
I learned a beautiful explanation as to why this customs exists that I hope you will incorporate into your Seder discussion and actions.
Matzah is called “a poor person’s bread.” What some argue is that ingredients do not characterize what makes a bread poor, rather its size does. A rich person has a full loaf of bread. A poor person has half a loaf. That is why we start the Seder with a whole matzah that is broken to become half of a matzah. This represents what a poor person’s loaf looks like, and the fullness AND brokenness we feel at the Seder.
Passover is as good a time as any to remind ourselves of the abundance we have in our lives and the opportunities we overlook to share our resources. Whether financial, time, food or energy, all of us have the band width and possibility to support the needy and help those less fortunate. Breaking the middle Matzah reminds us of those opportunities and that call to action.
I hope this Seder, we see the broken and strive to make it whole. That we harness our energies to make our world better and our lives richer. That we give of ourselves beyond the days of Passover and relish in the freedoms that were bestowed on us leaving Egypt and today too.
Dori, our children and I wish you a sweets happy and broken, yet full Matzah, Seder and Passover.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
April 12, 2019 | 7 Nisan, 5779
By Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
Like you, I was anxiously waiting for the unmanned lunar module Beresheet to touch down on the surface of the moon yesterday afternoon, making Israel the 4th country in history to land on the moon. Sadly, 14 miles from the surface of the moon, engine power gave way and the module crashed on the moon and lost communications. Many would call this a colossal failure. I would call it a huge success.
Firstly, the most important lessons I have learned in my life have been from failure. Broken hearts taught me more about love and commitment than passion ever could. Failing a test motivated me more to achieve than acing a test ever did. Fixing mistakes is what has always driven me.
I remind my kids every day that I do not mind that they make mistakes or have not achieved their stated goals. I mind if they do not learn from those experiences and if they do not incorporate those failures into successes in the future. We have great Jewish role models that all have failed before they succeeded. Abraham misses the mark as a dad with his almost sacrifice of Isaac and his banishment of Ishmael and Hagar. Moses is far from perfect. Rebecca colludes against her husband. Our Bible is so perfect because our ancestors are so imperfect. They are flawed people representing humanity just like you and me.
Once after my son berated himself for a basketball game defeat I forced him to memorize this quote from the legendary Michael Jordan:
“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Last year I challenged all of you at your Passover Seder to break the middle Matzah for Yachatz (of which half becomes the Afikomen) and to do so perfectly down the perforated seams of the matzah. I doubt anyone can do it. I think that is perfect because it reminds us of the unevenness and brokenness in our lives. It is a reminder that we are far from perfect but, darn good.
Maybe Israel did not land on the moon, but it got within 14 miles and it was pretty amazing. Knowing Israel, another module will be back up there soon, looking down on us, learning from its mistakes of the past and its successes too, and making us all reach higher and grow more.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
April 4, 2019 | 28 Adar II, 5779
Parashat Tazria 5779
Getting Ready for Passover
By Rabbi Paul D. Kerbel
The countdown is on. Two weeks until Passover. There’s a lot to do. Clean the house. Remove our chametz. Buy lots of food. Spend lots of money. Spend a lot of time cooking! Oy! Pesach is our most physically exhausting holiday. Sometimes we have a hard time staying up at the Seder because of all of the hard work and effort. For me as a rabbi, there has often been a double preparation; getting the synagogue ready, overseeing the koshering of the synagogue kitchen, preparing a communal Seder, writing sermons and divrei torah, buying food and snacks for Kiddush. The list goes on….
This Shabbat we celebrate the beginning of the month of Nisan. This Shabbat has a special name. Shabbat HaHodesh (the Sabbath of the First Month of our monthly cycle: Nisan). This Shabbat is also Rosh Hodesh – the beginning of the month of Nisan. There are only two possible times of the year where we read from three Torah scrolls. This Shabbat is one of them. The Shabbat of Hanukkah, when it is also Rosh Hodesh Tevet, is the other.
The Torah in Exodus (12:1) teaches: “This month shall mark the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months for you.” Nisan is the first month of our monthly cycle. Adar is last. Rosh HaShanah, which is the beginning of our yearly cycle and the celebration of the creation of the world, falls in the 7th month. Our yearly cycle is separate from our monthly cycle, just as we celebrate the calendar year from January – December, but our synagogue has a July to June fiscal year and the Federal government follows an October 1 – September 30 year.
One of the first steps in the process of liberation from Egypt was for God to create for us our own calendar. We were free and no longer had to do what Pharaoh told us to do and when to do it. But every people needs to have their own way of keeping track of time and recalling the most important days of our history and our past.
The Etz Hayim Humash (our Torah commentary) comments: “Why does Israel count by the moon with the months starting when a new moon emerges? Because the moon, unlike the sun, waxes and wanes, nearly disappears and then grows bright again. So the Jewish people goes through cycles of prosperity and suffering, knowing that even in darkness, there are brighter days ahead. Just as God showed Noah the rainbow, as a sign of God’s covenant, God shows Moses a sliver of the new moon as a symbol of Israel’s capacity for constant renewal.”
Our celebration of Passover can’t just be about cleaning and chametz. We must also focus on the spirituality of Passover: studying the Haggadah, reflecting on the meaning of freedom and what God wanted to teach us about oppression, freedom and justice, and how to turn these days of observance into days of deep meaning, holiness and joy. With all of the work ahead, let’s leave a few minutes to study, a few minutes to prepare meaningful discussions and commentary at our Seder and a few minutes to think about how to make our world a better place.
Rabbi Paul D. Kerbel
March 29, 2019 | 22 Adar II, 5779
Holding Two Truths
By Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
Marcia Linehan, the founder of DBT therapy explains that people can hold two truths, simultaneously. A great example of this is a person who claims, “I am doing the best I can” and “I want to be doing better.”
Seemingly, these statements appear to offset one another but, they do not have to. It is possible to feel both feelings.
Many people who attended or chose to “sit out” of AIPAC this year had a similar feeling. If I go, I will condone leadership and behaviors I abhor. If I sit out, I will seem apathetic. Truth is, one can attend AIPAC and applaud for some speakers and sit silently for others. We can appreciate the words of many and dislike the sentiments of some. Since when are we supposed to be in places where agreement on all is the standard? Vigorous debate rings through the halls of history and Congress. It is one of many common values.
Division and different opinions is the hallmark of our history and our future. Today, too many feel that for one to be right, the other MUST be wrong. That is a dangerous paradigm. Support for Israel manifests itself in many forms and with many voices that harmonize together. Silence has no melody.
This coming year of 2020, we are seeking to bring over 100 people from Temple Emanu-El to Policy Conference in Washington, DC. The dates are March 1-3, 2020. If you act now, and through the Temple, you can get a discounted rate of $399 that will increase to $699 in the coming days. We will aim to secure a block of rooms at a hotel, as well.
Click this link to register or call the Temple office.
Come and join us with both hands, add to the harmony and make a difference for today and tomorrow!
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
March 21, 2019 | 14 Adar II, 5779
Boy the way Glen Miller played
Songs that made the hit parade
Guys like us we had it made
Those were the days….
If you were born in a certain era, you probably sang these words, which were the lyrics made famous from the opening credits of the hit show, All in the Family.
The premise of the show was the tension between an old, curmudgeonly cab driver named Archie, that bucked the social trends and imperatives of the 70s. Meanwhile, his daughter, Gloria, married a progressive liberal – not so affectionately known as Meat Head – that challenged Archie’s desires for yesteryear and instead, aimed to change the world toward the progressive and changing new place, it should be. One looked forward, one looked backwards and both yearned for a time that would be better.
Nostalgia is a powerful phenomenon that plays strongly in our Jewish lives. Smells, tastes, memories, melodies and customs of our parents and grandparents replay in the movie of our lives. Many of these movies have a strong Jewish current running through them.
This week, our religious school shared what has become one of my favorite events of the year, Heritage Fair. Each 6th grader is asked to bring a family heirloom or piece of personal memorabilia from a family member that has shaped their life. I saw Austrian passports with a giant “J” stamped on it, for Jew, recipes and lace table cloths, war medals and earrings all adorned our Promenade which was swimming with history and stories. Each student did a fantastic job learning about the item and its owner and sharing the significance in their family.
While perusing the items of each student I could not help but consider which items these students’ great grandchildren would be sharing one day, about them? Would they be Jewish, secular? Would they be values that ameliorated items to display?
Ultimately, life is a balancing act. We need to look backwards and forward; to crave nostalgia and to make new memories and traditions that will fuel our progress and offer a sense of robustness to our Jewish identity and community. That is the circle of our religion and our lives.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner