“Expecting the Most from Our Leaders” | May 13th, 2022
This week marks the 22nd anniversary since my rabbinic ordination from JTS. I worked hard for six years of graduate study, and I earned the title rabbi. Once I gained that title, it could never be taken away.
I have struggled with how much of my persona is made up of the“rabbi” role and how much is made up of David Kirshner the father, husband, son, friend, and person. Twenty-two years later I have landed that indeed, the titles I hold are part of me, yet the title of rabbi demands of me to reach higher, behave as a moral exemplar, and to lead by example. Even when that is hard. Even if no one else is watching.
In Parshat Emor, we learn about the roles and responsibilities of the Kohein/Priests. The bible does not have rabbis, presidents, or chairmen. The leadership paradigm starts with Priests and works towards Levites and common folk. The priests were the doctors, judges, ring leaders, and sacrificial supervisors. These responsibilities demanded the very best from those who wore that title.
This reminded me that even in the Bible, we expect the most from people who whether by birth or choice, are part of leadership or who have tasks leading others. From CEOs to camp counselors, we all have opportunities to spark inspiration and demonstrate morality. From all roles, we expect honesty, kindness, generosity, wisdom, humility, imperfection and goodness. So many of our headlines these days are about when commoners rise to occasions and when leaders fail to meet our expectations.
We do not have a system of expectations related to Priests today, short of religious observance and roles. Still, we are reminded through Emor that regardless of our titles, all of us can rise to occasions and be the leaders, inspirations, and exemplars God needs us to be.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
“Noticing the New” | May 6th, 2022
This week we celebrated Rosh Chodesh, the start of the new Jewish month of Iyyar. The Hebrew word for month, chodesh, evokes the Hebrew word for new, chadash. It’s no accident that these two words are fundamentally connected because each Hebrew month is the recognition of something special and new.
Unlike the civil months, the Jewish months are tied directly to the waxing and waning of the moon. The full moon is always visible on the 15th of the month, and when you look out at the night sky on Rosh Chodesh, you will always see (or notice) the dark sky of a new moon.
This is part of what makes Rosh Chodesh so special, you can literally see it in the sky! So many parts of our calendars and time systems feel arbitrary, but Rosh Chodesh is visible to anyone. You just have to know to look and pay attention enough to see the differences night after night.
That is why Rosh Chodesh is a celebration of newness. We notice the new moon, and when we do so we celebrate that we noticed the newness. It doesn’t take a ton of effort, but a careful eye helps us celebrate the change and the cycle. It’s a blessing to notice that things have changed.
In Judaism and especially in Israel there is a custom of saying Titchadesh/i when you notice someone with a new haircut or new clothes. The word means something like “wear it in good health,” but also has connotations of “renew yourself,” because it shares that root of chadash. Titchadesh/i, is a blessing for the other person, but I think it’s also a blessing for us.
We bless ourselves that just like we paid enough attention to our friend or spouse or colleague to notice their new clothes or haircut, that we continue to keep a keen eye on other changes in their lives. When we do that, when we stay attuned to other people, we’ll be ready to support them when new things come their way, whether welcome or not.
Wishing you a week of noticing and celebrating the new.
Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg
“After Death” | April 29th, 2022
What do we do after loss? How do we move forward after a death, whether tragic or expected, immediate or far from us in time or space?
This Thursday we commemorated Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day whose solemn purpose is acknowledging the greatest loss of our people, the senseless death of 6 million during the Shoah, and this Shabbat we will read from Parshat Acharei Mot- which literally means “After Death,” acknowledging the communal loss over the confounding premature death of Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aaron. Loss and acknowledgment feel supercharged in our calendar and liturgy this week.
Though the parsha begins with loss, the focus of the parsha is not on Nadav and Avihu, whether their lives or deaths, but rather the rituals the High Priest on Yom Kippur, a role that Nadav and Avihu might have held if not for their untimely demise. What are we to learn about life and loss from the juxtaposition of the passing of these brothers and Yom Kippur? The midrash teaches that “Just as Yom Kippur causes atonement, so too does the death of the righteous cause atonement” (Leviticus Rabbah, 20:12). Why does the death of the righteous cause atonement? The midrash takes it as a given, without an explicit explanation.
That’s because the death of the righteous, the loss of those dear to us whom we looked to for guidance and support forces us to look at their legacy. When we examine the way they lived their lives we find ourselves with examples and models for better behavior, and opportunities to make ourselves better by following in their footsteps. The death of the righteous causes atonement because we are forced to confront their righteousness and explore ways to bring that goodness into our own lives.
Yom HaShoah memorializes the loss of 6 million tzaddikim (righteous individuals), each with their own unique way of being good and decent Jews, secular and religious, mothers and fathers, children and friends, lovers and partners, citizens and neighbors. Though they died long ago, let us take these days as Acharei Motam, after their deaths, and learn about the examples of their righteous lives.
Let us commit time to read and learn and memorialize their lives, so that we may grow from their lives’ examples, and enshrine the truth that their memories are always and forever a blessing.
Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg
“Passover – Dayeinu” | April 15th, 2022
I am entering this Passover of 5782 with an abundance of blessings. Our eldest daughter is transitioning from High School to gap years and college. Our son is winding up his freshman year of High School. We will be celebrating the holiday with my mom and Dori’s parents, and we are all healthy, safe, and happy.
The words of Dayeinu are ringing in my ears not only for Passover but daily. The last years have presented challenges and obstacles for all. But we overcame so many of them and now have the opportunity to orient ourselves towards the sun rising on the horizon and the hope each new day brings. Those are the words of Dayeinu – an orientation of appreciation and an attitude of gratitude.
Below, I will share a few of my personal Dayenus with you. Make sure around your Seder this year we do not focus on lamenting our enslavement of years past but the freedom we have been granted and relish daily. Let us rejoice with tears of laughter and excitement that also recall the trials of yesteryear but our resilience to work through them. Simply shared – Let us all count our blessings so we can all appreciate the Dayeinu in our lives!
My beautiful bride and best friend just had a milestone birthday, and we were able to celebrate with our relatives and nearest and dearest.
Two years ago, we entered Passover just the four of us with an iPad to connect to family. It was cold, distant, and hard. But at least we were able to connect through technology.
Last year, those who were vaccinated cautiously gathered, many outside, and we embraced those we were away from for a year. Our Seder was not large but it happened.
I am blessed not only to have gainful and rewarding employment but to love the work I do, the people I work with, and the community I both serve and am a part of.
A few months ago, a close relative was diagnosed with a terrible disease that caused fear and fright for all of us. Now, with medicine and treatments, he was given a clean bill of health.
This year, war has ripped through the Ukraine and millions of people have been displaced. We do not need to think long or hard about what it means to be exiled this Passover. Our Temple community has set the standard on how to respond to this crisis with supplies, a mission, and the adoption of a Ukrainian Family that is part of the refugee crisis.
Our community has offered food, medical support, personal care, housing, travel excursions, and more to those in need. These acts make us appreciate how supportive we all can be.
We all have so much to say Dayeinu for. Let that not only set the coordinates of this holiday but the balance of the season and year that lies ahead!
Hag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
“Mr. Rogers was so Right…” | April 8th, 2022
Mr. Rogers famously said – whenever something bad happens in the world, look for the people running to help.
He was so right.
Our world is riddled with strife and challenge. There are bad things all over – some made by humans and others made by God. But in each of these tragic moments whether COVID, war in the Ukraine, terrorism in Israel, Tornadoes in Kentucky, or cancer in Cresskill, indeed there are always people running to do good and be supportive.
I have witnessed that in a kaleidoscope of examples this week alone. Through a long and winding story that is too detailed to retell right now, a beautiful and large family of 9 Ukrainians that are part of the refugee crisis created by the invasion of Russia, landed in Bergen County. In 3 short days, our entire community has been running towards the challenge ready to help in every conceivable way. Doctors, nurses, hairdressers, translators, clerks, real estate agents, teachers, philanthropists, and travel agents have all stepped forward to help however they could. We all live in a holy and blessed community.
It is not lost on me that this week we read Metzorah, the Torah portion about the challenge of one who is afflicted with leprosy. While they are sick from the disease, we too often gloss over all of the essential and valuable workers that help those with leprosy heal and regain access to the community. From priests who serve as doctors to nurses to caregivers, even in the ancient Bible, many ran towards the problem and not away from it, just like Mr. Rogers taught.
Life will continue to give us challenges, hurdles, and disasters that are natural and created by humans. Let us be the ones that always run toward and offer help. That is a legacy worth living for and leaving to our children.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner