Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
January 10, 2020

“Asking for and Acting as a Blessing” | January 9th, 2020

Tomorrow night, as Jewish families all over the world sit down at their Shabbat dinner tables, parents will offer a traditional blessing to their children. So too in our own community, before we conclude our Friday night service, we share a sweet moment of standing arm-in-arm and blessing each other.

When we share that blessing, we recall two important moments of blessing in the Torah. The central blessing is known as the priestly blessing, which asks God to bless and keep, to show kindness, and to grant peace to the individual or people we are blessing. In this formula, we beseech God to be active and kind in the life of the object of our blessing. God is the active participant in this prayer. Hard as we might try, no individual can truly bestow these divine gifts upon another human.

The second blessing we recall is rooted in our parsha, Vayechi. When we say  יְשִֽׂמְךָ֣ אֱלֹקים כְּאֶפְרַ֖יִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁ֑ה- May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe (to males) or יְשִׂימֵךְ אֱלֹקים כְּשָׂרָה, רִבְקָה, רָחֵל וְלֵאָה.- May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah (to females), we are actually referring to a different blessing, a completely different style of blessing.

In our parsha, Jacob blesses his grandchildren “ הַמַּלְאָךְ֩ הַגֹּאֵ֨ל אֹתִ֜י מִכָּל־רָ֗ע יְבָרֵךְ֮ אֶת־הַנְּעָרִים֒ וְיִקָּרֵ֤א בָהֶם֙ שְׁמִ֔י וְשֵׁ֥ם אֲבֹתַ֖י אַבְרָהָ֣ם וְיִצְחָ֑ק- “May the Angel who has saved me from all harm, bless these children. In them may my name be recalled, and the names of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac.” At first, he sees a similar formula to the priestly blessing, asking God to be the active force, protecting and saving his grandchildren. But the second line introduces a new type of blessing: “In them may my name be recalled, and the names of my fathers,” Jacob is articulating a hope that the children themselves will be the blessing, that their actions will cause others to remember the deeds of our patriarchs. In doing so, Jacob encourages Ephraim and Menashe to not just be the passive recipients of God’s kindness and blessing but to be active participants in bringing that kindness into the world. By sharing in the names and deeds of their ancestors, they connect the generations and bring God into the world.

These two types of blessings reflect a fundamental truth about Judaism: we pray for miracles constantly, and yet we know that we can never rely upon them. We pray that God will shower us with goodness, yet we also know that we must act to bring about that goodness. We must ask for blessing and also act as a blessing.

At this week’s Solidarity March, these two ideas were out in full force: precisely when the Jewish community feels that danger is near and divine protection is far, that is when we must pray to God and demand God’s active participation in our protection and safety. Similarly, many Jews feel that now is the moment to downplay our Judaism, to take off our Jewish Star necklaces or our kippot, to become passive in our Judaism. Instead, this is the moment to remind ourselves of Jacob’s blessing and to become active participants in bringing the goodness of Judaism and the righteousness of our faith into a world that so desperately needs the blessing of our action.

Wishing you a Shabbat of receiving and being a blessing.

Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg

Please consider joining us on Monday, January 20th, hundreds of Jewish high school singers from HaZamir, the International Jewish Teen Choir, will be providing a free “open rehearsal” concert at Temple Emanu-El, at 12:30 pm. They will be putting on the final touches for their Gala Concert Performance at Lincoln Center on March 22. This concert will be the end of two day-long retreat hosted at TE in memory of Ruth and Bernie Weinflash z”l. Please see the flyer below for more details and hope to see you all there!

January 2, 2020

“Knowing Your Worth” | January 2nd, 2020

Entering a new decade, year and quarter at the same time might cause someone to inquire about worth.

Unfortunately, there are few balance sheets to offer proper summation to a person’s worth. Making it more complicated is realizing the dividend on investments made today and tomorrow might not mature for many years. But, when they do, their value will be priceless.

In the course of three weeks, two of my middle school teachers died, as well as a classmate from rabbinical school. All in separate incidents. My two teachers left this world at a ripe age. My classmate and friend died far too soon.

When news about their respective deaths reached us, students and colleagues, we immediately began to share stories and teachings that have stuck with us for decades.

My math teacher for 7-9 grades, Mrs. Jaffe, always offered a re-test and a chance to make your grade better. She gave endless hours to teach after and before school to learn the material. She invested in EACH student.

Mrs. Levy infused a love of civics and current events. We were required in middle school to wake up every Sunday morning (before DVRs) and watch one of the morning news shows and report on it on Monday morning. The Gettysburg Address, the preamble to the Constitution and much more were on the tips of our tongues and the fronts of our minds.

35 years later, I along with scores of their students still think about their impact. To see the tributes was to see maturation on their investments.

My friend Adam and I began rabbinical school together. Though he was 10 years my senior, we were still good friends, drawn closer by a shared love of sports and laughter. We would play golf a few times a year and each time we would laugh like school children, releasing the tight valve surrounding the nature of our work.

But, when I was going through a challenging time, and in particular when tragedy struck our community with the death of a young man, my pal Adam called me only to check on ME. How I, the rabbi shepherding the community through this moment, was doing. That ethic stays with me still and makes me miss him more.

Chances are, we do not know the impact we make in our lifetimes. It takes the sad news to learn of someone leaving this world for us to recount goodness, acts of kindness, moments where they made the difference.

Perhaps for this new quarter, year and decade we should consider two new resolutions:

1) Do not wait until death to share our appreciation for another person and the positive impact they have made in shaping our character and lives.
2) That we aim to lead a life that is about making meaningful deposits in the lives of others which will allow the dividend of making our world a more fulfilled and sacred place for us to share.

That is my posture for the days and years to come. May their memories be a blessing. May they inspire us.

Shabbat Shalom and happy 2020!

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

December 30, 2019

“Staying in Touch with Those We Love” | December 27th, 2019

           This past Sunday night on the first night of Chanukah, I gave my parents an Amazon Echo Show. For those who are wondering what that is, it is a video version of Amazon’s Echo, also known as Alexa.  Although it can do all sorts of amazing things like share the weather forecast or turn the lights on in the house, it can also make a video call to someone who also has the same type of device. Since I have one as well in my home, I can call and SEE my parents anytime.  (Honestly, my parents love me, but are mostly thrilled that they can see their baby granddaughter with ease).  Technology has made it easier than ever to stay in touch with my parents, so now I wonder, what is my excuse when I don’t call them?  What could possibly prevent me from just walking into my kitchen and saying “Alexa, video call Miriam Ruberg” and speaking with my mother? The answer and its subsequent lessons can be found in this week’s Torah portion.

We continue reading this week the story of Joseph and learn how he became one of the most powerful people in the world, as it says in in Genesis 41:39-41:
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר פַּרְעֹה֙ אֶל־יוֹסֵ֔ף… אַתָּה֙ תִּהְיֶ֣ה עַל־בֵּיתִ֔י וְעַל־פִּ֖יךָ יִשַּׁ֣ק כָּל־עַמִּ֑י רַ֥ק הַכִּסֵּ֖א אֶגְדַּ֥ל מִמֶּֽךָּ: וַיֹּ֥אמֶר פַּרְעֹ֖ה אֶל־יוֹסֵ֑ף רְאֵה֙ נָתַ֣תִּי אֹֽתְךָ֔ עַ֖ל כָּל־אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “…You shall be in charge of my court, and by your command shall all my people be directed; only with respect to the throne shall I be superior to you.” Pharaoh further said to Joseph, “See, I put you in charge of all the land of Egypt.”

From these verses it is clear that as the second in command to Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world, Joseph has access to all the resources of Egypt. He has at his disposal the ability to fulfill any and all desires he could possibly fathom.  And yet, despite this fact, Joseph it seems never sends a message to his father Jacob to let him know that he is still alive.  (A quick story refresher: Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, however they lie to their father Jacob and tell him that Joseph was killed). So why doesn’t Joseph call home?

Many medieval and modern Biblical commentators are troubled by Joseph’s inaction. Perhaps the most famous critique is made by Nachmanides (Ramban) who says:
איך לא שלח כתב אחד לאביו להודיעו ולנחמו?! כי מצרים קרוב לחברון כששה ימים ואילו היה מהלך שנה היה ראוי להודיעו לכבוד אביו…

How could he not send one letter to his father to inform him (that he was alive) and to comfort him?! Egypt is only about a six day trip to Hebron. Respect for his father would have justified a year’s journey…” (Ramban on Gen. 42:9).

In my humble opinions Joseph, does not have a good excuse for not calling even once.  Frankly, he should have called his father and informed him that he was alive. The Torah is not meant to be simply a history book, but a guide for living and here the Torah seems to come to teach us how we can learn from Joseph’s error. Staying in touch with people is hard. We all live busy lives and often don’t feel like talking at the end of a long day. However, I believe that we can learn from Joseph that if given the chance to call our family, we should do so.  No, I don’t think you have to call every day, but maybe once a week before Shabbat?  I am pretty sure that if Joseph had a video Alexa, he would have called home.  So, this Friday before Shabbat call the ones you love or better yet, video chat, see their faces and make it a personal experience, even from miles away.  I know I will be calling my mother.  Who will you be calling?

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah,

Rabbi Jeremy Ruberg

December 30, 2019

“How to Light the Chanukiyah” | December 20th, 2019

Every year, I like many of us forget the correct way to light the Chanukah candles.  In lieu of a “typical” article, I created this infographic that I hope will assist us all in our celebration of the holiday.  Feel free to click here to download the picture or just print and cut this page out to refer to when lighting your Chanukah candles** this year beginning on Sunday night, December 22, 2019 after dark. Happy Chanukah!

The Torah commands us וָחַי בָּהֶם  – to live by the commandments – (Leviticus 18:5) and take all necessary safety precautions in fulfillment of the mitzvot.  Therefore, when lighting Chanukah candles, whether it be in a professionally made chanukiyah or an art project made at Temple Emanu-el, please exercise caution!  Lit candles can create an unsafe environment when placed near elements that are not intended to be near a flame (ex. certain decorations on a chanukiyah might not be totally fire safe, placing a chanukiyah too close to window shades, etc.) Please do not leave your lit chanukiyah unattended or assume that your menorah is “safe.” Remember to follow common fire safety practices and may we all have a joyous and safe holiday.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeremy Ruberg


December 13, 2019

“Shared Tears” | December 12th, 2019

Our worst fears were confirmed Wednesday morning when we learned that the incident in nearby Jersey City that happened Tuesday afternoon was not random, rather a targeted act of hate and terror. Whenever a Jewish Institution and/or Kosher location is involved, its randomness is always suspect. Surveillance and smart police work proved the location and victims were indeed calculated.

On Wednesday night, I attended a communal vigil held at Temple Beth El in Jersey City. Shortly after, I traveled less than a mile from the Temple to the scene of the horrific crime at the JC Kosher Market and stood with the family of Leah Mindel Ferencz, the 34 year old mother of five who was inside the market and killed by the assailants.

The eulogizers included her heartbroken husband, the rabbi of her son’s school and the community rabbi in Jersey City. Her husband praised his doting and loving wife in a eulogy entirely in Yiddish and repeatedly referred to her as his Eyshes Chayil – his woman of valor –a romantic ballad usually sung by husbands to wives on Friday evening at the Shabbat table. Through tears, he cried out to his wife that their small daughter keeps asking “Where is Mommy? She doesn’t understand!” None of us can understand.

The head of the school, who was located a few feet away from the store (literally in the building next door) was in charge of keeping the children still and quiet so the terrorists would not hear their cry and target them. Young children learning were petrified. The headmaster’s job was to keep them silent and still. All of the kids and teachers are dealing with unimaginable Post Traumatic Stress. The rabbis are reeling in pain and in sadness as is the entire Jersey City community.

This coming Monday, I will be attending the wake for Detective Joseph Seals, making a shiva visit to the Ferencz home and visiting with Jersey City Police Officers who are grappling with the many emotions in the wake of Tuesday’s incidents. I will be sharing the condolences, love, and support of our entire congregation.

At the funeral, which was held at night in the street of what became a bitterly cold evening, I was one of the few who was not Hassidic/Satmar. I was not wearing a black hat nor a black long coat and I do not have Payos – sidelocks. Our outfits and kippot and even mother language was different (theirs Yiddish – mine English and Hebrew). Yet, we share DNA. We are brothers and sisters. Their tears and my tears tasted the same. We both were pained. In the eyes of the hater, we are both the Jew. In the eyes of the consoler at the vigil, we are both pained survivors of victims. As Leah Mindel’s son tore his clothes and said the requisite prayer – the same prayer I have shepherded countless members through when their relative had died – I was reminded of our shared heritage, language, liturgy, and peoplehood. We often mention our differences and highlight our challenges. Throughout history, however, Jews of a different stripe, faith, and dedication have been equally persecuted. Tuesday is another sad example.

When we read in Vayishlach the heartwarming story of Esau and Jacob hugging instead of hitting, holding in place of hating, we are buoyed by hope, love, and reconciliation in the place of bigotry, hatred, and intolerance.

May this moment from our Torah and from Jersey City awaken our commonalities and strengthen our stand against these vicious acts against our people – which are attacks on all humanity. May we realize our strength, our resolve, and our hope. May the memories of the dead all be for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner