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December 29, 2018 |Obedience to Authority Parashat Shemot

Rabbi Tucker

As an undergraduate psychology major, one of the most memorable experiments I ever studied was that of Stanley Milgram, the Yale (and later CUNY) professor best known for his research on obedience to authority.  Some of us will remember the construct – a subject walks into a laboratory believing that he is participating in a study on memory and learning.  After being assigned to the role of instructor, the subject is asked to teach a group of word associations to a fellow participant (who is actually a confederate of the experimenter) using a most unconventional method – he is to administer an increasingly painful series of electric shocks to the learner.  As the experiment continues the purported shock level at some point reaches a sufficiently high threshold that the subject is thrown into conflict – the (supposed) learner seems to be suffering, demands to be released, and even – in some versions of the experiment - appears to lose consciousness.  All the while, the supervisor insists that the test is not as dangerous as it appears to be and that the experiment must continue.  What does the average person do?  In sharp contrast to expectations, some 65% of all studied continued to administer shocks up to the most severe levels displaying a very high degree of obedience to authority, even in a situation of clear moral ambiguity.  Milgram understood this phenomenon by explaining that once “a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another person’s wishes…he therefore no longer sees himself as responsible for his actions.”[1]  All of this may be very interesting in the laboratory, of course, but it is absolutely terrifying when it comes to the real world.  In fact, that is one of the lessons of this morning’s Torah portion, Parashat Shemot.      Continue Reading --->

[1] MIlgram, Stanley (1974).  Obedience to Authority.  New York: Harper & Row.  pp. xii, xiii.

December 22, 2018 |Dangerous Work – Parashat Veyechi 

Rabbi Tucker

My colleague, Rabbi Adam Greenwald, tells the story about an eighth grade student who once came to interview him about being a rabbi.  In preparation for Career Day at her school the young woman had been assigned to meet with someone whose job she found interesting and to ask a pre-set list of questions including such items as: “Do you have to wear a suit to work?  How much do you get paid?  Is there much heavy lifting?”

Rabbi Greenwald describes that his favorite question of the bunch was: “Is being a rabbi dangerous?” a query that was probably designed with police officers or construction workers or deep-sea fisherman in mind rather than white collar employees.  Still, he found himself giving a most unexpected answer.  “Yes, Rabbi Greenwald affirmed, “Being a rabbi definitely can be dangerous.  Any job that comes with a title most certainly is.”    Continue Reading --->

December 15, 2018 |Words from the Heart – Parashat Vayigash 

Rabbi Tucker

Rabbi Baruch Cohen tells a story about the great rabbinic sage and ethicist, the Chofetz Chaim, who once had to go to a Czarist official and plead for relief from a particularly harsh decree against the Jewish people. Since the Chofetz Chaim spoke no Russian and the aristocratic officer spoke no Yiddish, an interpreter stood waiting between them. Once permitted to begin, the Chofetz Chaim delivered his message with all the feeling and sincerity that emanated from a heart as pure as his. When he finished, a pregnant silence filled the room. Finally the interpreter started to speak: “Your honor, this Jew claims…” Immediately the Russian official raised his hand and declared: “No translation will be needed. I understand completely.” As a result of the meeting, the decree was revoked.  Continue Reading --->

December 1, 2018 |The Halo Effect – Parashat Vayeshev 

Rabbi Tucker

If you find yourself broken down on the side of the road, it doesn’t hurt to be beautiful!  It also doesn’t hurt to be beautiful if you’re taking a class in school, applying for a job, or serving in the army.  In fact, a study of soldiers conducted in 1920 by the psychologist Edward Thorndike was initially responsible for demonstrating what has come to be known as “the halo effect,” a cognitive bias by which humans tend to see people who are physically attractive as also being smarter, kinder, more successful, better at parenting, and a whole myriad of other good things.  In his pioneering experiment, Thorndike asked commanding officers to rate their subordinates on such metrics as intelligence, leadership, and character along with physique, noting a correlation between otherwise unrelated traits with service members who were taller and more attractive also seen as being smarter and better soldiers.  Subsequent studies have found that ratings of physical attractiveness are reasonably good predictors of success in US Congressional races, that subjects are more lenient in sentencing attractive individuals than unattractive ones for the very same crimes, and that attractiveness leads to success in being hired even for positions in which physical attributes should be irrelevant.  “What is beautiful is good,” write authors Dion, Berscheid, and Walster in their 1972 paper explaining how individuals tend to conflate aesthetic and moral virtue.  Perhaps the world’s very first example of this strange phenomenon is none other than our forefather Joseph, protagonist of this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayeshev.   Continue Reading --->

November 24, 2018 |Sorrow Into Strength - Parashat Vayishlach

Rabbi Tucker

Any good theater nerd will know the origin story of Elphaba, the so-called “bad witch” in the popular Broadway musical, Wicked.  Her mother, Melena, having been given a green elixir before conceiving, Elphaba is born with emerald-colored skin that makes her an outcast amongst peers.  Her unusual coloring also eventually causes Elphaba to be shunned within her own family for when Melena takes medicine during her subsequent pregnancy in order to prevent such a birth defect from occurring again, the drug ultimately causes Elphaba’s sister, Nessarose, to be born unable to walk and Melena to die during childbirth.  Nessarose’s father blames Elphaba for having brought about such catastrophic events and favors her sister instead.  Elphaba, too, feels tremendous responsibility for the younger girl and tends to both coddle and resent her at various times.   Continue Reading--->

October 27, 2018 |Too Old to Cry, Too Hurt to Laugh- Parashat Vayera

Rabbi Tucker

Rabbi Arnold Goodman tells the story of Adlai Stevenson who, while conceding the presidential election of 1952 to Dwight D. Eisenhower, quoted the reaction of a not-so-little boy who had recently stubbed his toe. “I’m too old to cry but too hurt to laugh,” the child said, succinctly capturing the experience of anyone who has ever faced disappointment past the age at which we’re somehow supposed to know better.  Goodman writes that this quote could easily have been spoken by Hillary Clinton following her defeat in 2016.  I would add that these words probably have resonance for any of us here who have ever encountered a major upset or rejection or failure which caused us significant pain, this despite gracious attempts to put on a brave face.  “I’m too old to cry but too hurt to laugh.”  I imagine that these words might even have been spoken by our ancestors Abraham and Sarah, the protagonists of our Torah portion this morning, Parashat Vayera. Continue Reading--->

October 6, 2018 |Tuesday Weddings- Parashat Bereshit

Rabbi Tucker

There are lots of reasons why a person might want to get married on a Tuesday. For one, florists and caterers and photographers are far cheaper. The most exclusive venues, those that generally book up years in advance and are already taken by the time a couple finally gets engaged, are miraculously available. You’re less likely to conflict with another wedding or a bat mitzvah or some other special event which forces guests to choose between parties (although, admittedly, you’re more likely to conflict with a work obligation or a school commitment or an event of everyday life). And, of course, Tuesday is considered the luckiest day on which to wed according to Jewish tradition! Why, you might ask? It’s all right there in our Torah portion this morning,Parashat Bereshit. Continue Reading --->

Pumpkin Spice Lattes – Parashat HaAzinu (Pre-Sukkot)

Rabbi Tucker

Those who know me well will tell you that I have a mild obsession with the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte!  I know that it’s over-priced and more calories than the average person really needs in a day; I’ve read all the haters who will argue that there’s not even any real pumpkin in this ersatz confection – it’s all some random blend of cinnamon and clove, ginger, vanilla, nutmeg, and allspice with the word “pumpkin” thrown in purely for marketing purposes.  I’ve seen the crazy extremes to which the pumpkin fad has gone with sausages and M&M’s and even dog-food and deodorant all coming up pumpkin these days.  And yet, I can’t quite help myself.  I find anything pumpkin spiced utterly irresistible!  Continue Reading --->

Magical Thinking: Yizkor 5779

Rabbi Tucker

A recording from my late father still greets callers on the answering machine of the home in which I grew up back in Massachusetts.  I know that some people find this fact macabre or unsettling or somehow indicative of an inability to move forward, but my family and I find it strangely comforting to hear the warm, rich tones of my Dad’s voice every time we go to leave a message.  For my brother Scott it wasn’t an answering machine but rather my father’s number in his cell phone that he couldn’t quite bear to erase, keeping it in his digital address book for months after my father had died.  And for me it is the 12-year-old Toyota Corolla that my parents bought me as a graduation gift from rabbinical school, my Dad carefully selecting a safe, reliable vehicle that would last a long time for his driving-challenged daughter, the newly minted rabbi.  The two of us went car shopping together just after my father received his diagnosis of leukemia and I remember wondering if this safe, reliable vehicle would ultimately outlast my father himself.  Now that it has, I kind of want to drive it forever.   Continue Reading --->

Replacement Relatives: Kol Nidre 5779

Rabbi Tucker

Earlier this summer, during a trip out West to visit a good friend, I happened upon the town of Buford, Wyoming. Nestled in unincorporated Albany County between Cheyenne and Laramie, Buford is known for two unusual features of its existence - its elevation, which at 8000 feet above sea level makes it the highest populated settlement along transcontinental Interstate 80, and its population: exactly one. You see, even in our country’s least populated state Buford is an aberration, housing a convenience store, a gas station, a modular home, and what is rumored to be some seriously good coffee but only a single resident, a Vietnamese entrepreneur named Pham Dinh Nguyen who purchased the town at auction for $900,000 after its original owner decided to move away a few years ago. “PhinDeli” brand coffee, imported by Nguyen from Vietnam, is now sold in the convenience store making Buford the ideal location to load up on both java and juice during the long drive towards Yellowstone.     Continue Reading --->

The 5th Postulate; Lines to the Divine

Zachary Bahar

Shabbat Shalom. This past summer I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Argentina with a group of BBYO Members from around the world. As our group of Americans, Argentines, Columbians, and a Frank spend our time exploring the sights of Buenos Aires, boating through waterfalls at Iguazú, and eating ludicrous amounts of steak, we formed a tight bond held together, even after the trip’s conclusion, by shared experiences, culture, and religion; by Judaism. Continue Reading --->

Fate: Rosh Hashanah Day 2 5779

Rabbi Tucker

On a hot, sticky summer day in 1969 four siblings, ranging in age from seven to thirteen, set out for an afternoon adventure that will ultimate change the course of their lives.  The Gold children have heard about a neighbor a few blocks over on Hester Street, a woman who is rumored to predict the future and even, eerily enough, to accurately foretell the exact date upon which a person will die.  This seer got it just right with the ailing grand-mother of a family down the road, her perfect forecast allowing relatives from abroad to organize their travel plans just right; since then, her reputation has been unimpeachable.  Propelled by a mix of curiosity and boredom, the Gold siblings decide to make a visit. Each one, privately, is told the date of his or her death. Continue Reading --->

Oy! - Rosh Hashanah Day 1 5779 

Rabbi Tucker

Two older Jewish men were sitting together on a park bench, friends for many years. One looked at the other and said, “Oy.” The other looked back at his buddy and replied, “Oy.” The first gentleman repeated again, “Oy,” to which his friend acknowledged in return, “Oy.” Back and forth they went, running through this exchange several more times, until Max finally turned to Irving. “Hey,” he said, “I thought we had agreed not to talk about Israel.” Continue Reading--->

Happy New Year? – Erev Rosh Hashanah 5779

Rabbi Tucker

One of my family’s favorite childhood haunts was an ice-cream parlor named Chadwick’s.  Located right on the Lexington/Waltham line, not too far from the winding road leading up to our synagogue, Chadwick’s was one of those  old-timey restaurants with waiters in bow ties and jaunty music piped in from a player piano and its own signature sundae, the Belly Buster, a confection so large it had to be carried out of the kitchen on an actual stretcher!  Chadwick’s also had an enormous gong that hung from the ceiling, and every time a customer had a birthday the wait-staff would bang this gong and ring a cow-bell, blow a kazoo, and then stand on a chair and loudly announce that there was a birthday in the house at which point the entire restaurant would join together and sing.  In such a relatively small space, the cacophonous sounds of all this noise made quite a racket and, as a little girl, I both hoped and feared that there would be such a celebration each time we went out for dessert.  There was nothing more exciting for a young child than the deep, ringing sound of that enormous gong.  It was also more than a little bit terrifying! Continue Reading -->

September 1, 2018 | My Favorite Things – Parashat Ki Tavo

Rabbi Tucker

Hang onto your hats, because this morning I’m going to do something that I rarely do while giving sermons, something I generally try to avoid doing publically at all if I can help it – I’m going to sing.  The tune, if I can stay on pitch well enough to make it recognizable, will - I hope - be familiar to you but the lyrics, you’ll notice, have been changed.  You see, in honor of her 79th birthday, the actress Julie Andrews made a special appearance at Radio City Music Hall for the benefit of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) where she wrote these new words to her iconic show-stopper from the Sound of Music, “My Favorite Things”  And they are so good, and also so relevant to this particular moment on the Jewish calendar, that I just can’t help but share them this morning (although I’ve eliminated a verse or two for the sake of brevity). Continue Reading --->

August 18, 2018 | No Judgment – Parashat Shoftim

Rabbi Tucker

I’m one of those odd souls who sort of love jury duty!  Over the twenty-some years that I’ve been eligible to serve, I’ve actually been called up a surprising number of times – as an undergraduate in Philadelphia where I was dismissed because the very school that I attended was the one being sued, as a rabbinical student in New York where the introductory video about performing one’s civic duty nearly brought me to tears, while working in Princeton where the system was so automated  by that time that you didn’t even have to show up at the court house but rather phone in each day to see if you had potentially been impaneled (much to my chagrin, I had not).  Perhaps it’s my “path not taken” career as a lawyer or all the procedurals I watch on TV, the strong sense of “fairness” that has dogged me since childhood or, trite as it sounds, that old sense of civic duty so poignantly captured in the promotional film.   Whatever it is, when that official-looking summons card arrives in the mail I always get a little bit excited.  And I’d really like to think it’s about more than just the fact that there’s something strangely alluring about standing in judgment of another human being. Continue Reading --->

D’var Torah

Sharon Kanter

Kashrut, Tzedakah, the festivals of Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavout, slaves, and free will are all part of one remarkable parsha, Parsha Re’eh.  Interestingly though, with so much material to choose from, three words impacted me the most.

The three words are “harden your heart.”  In chapter 15:7, the Torah states, “Do not harden your heart and do not close your hand from your impoverished brother. Continue Reading --->

June 23, 2018 | The End of An Era – Parashat Hukkat 

Rabbi Tucker

Over the past year, many high profile organizations have undergone dramatic changes in leadership.  Harvey Weinstein, amidst allegations (now confirmed) of sexual abuse, was dismissed from the film-studio he co-founded, inaugurating an exodus of other similarly disgraced tycoons including Steve Wynn, Mario Batali, and John Lasseter of Pixar.  Under less fraught circumstances, Facebook recently announced the largest executive shuffle in company history, reorganizing top talent into three main divisions designed to improve communication and user privacy.  And many of us will remember last summer when Phil Jackson of the New York Knicks was forced to step down as President of the team when, after a stellar record of championships as head coach for both the Bulls and the Lakers, he failed to deliver in his three years at the Knicks’ helm.  Leaders can be tremendously successful and effective and respected until all of a sudden they’re not.  Indeed, that is one of the lessons of this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Hukkat. Continue Reading --->

June 9, 2018 | Small but Mighty – Parashat Sh’lach L’cha

Rabbi Tucker

A beautiful midrash (rabbinic legend) tells of a mother and son who, after many years spent traveling in the desert, finally reached the Promised Land.  Having seen only sand, rock, and parched grass all their lives, they were amazed by the luscious fruit trees and vineyards of Eretz Yisrael, the swollen fields of wheat and lush vegetation.  Remembering the stories her own mother once told about the produce of Egypt so many years ago, the mother began to identify various items for her child: “You see these brown wooden pillars?  They are called trees.  And those bright purple spheres over there?  Those are grapes, and they have the sweetest taste you could ever imagine.”  The little boy was astonished.  “I guess that God must have put these trees and grapes right into the ground for us to enjoy, right Mom?” he asked.  The mother took her son’s hand and pointed to his pinky finger.  “I want to tell you something incredible,” she began.  Continue Reading --->

June 2, 2018 | Scot Free – Parashat B’haalotcha

A man and a woman plot together about how to take down a more powerful colleague, someone they have worked with for a long time.  They claim he’s undeserving of the position he’s acquired.  They criticize decisions he’s made in his personal life, throwing in a racial slur for good measure.  In the end, the two individuals are put in their place by an even more powerful third party – their boss’ boss, as it were.  The woman is punished severely, first physically disciplined and then suspended from work for a period of seven days.  The man gets off scot free.

Continue Reading -->

May 26, 2018 | Who Counts? – Parashat Naso

Rabbi Tucker

My three and a half year old niece, Kendall, is very into collecting things these days.  She loves to take all the pretend food from her mini-kitchen and line it up neatly across the living room rug, to take all the different pairs of shoes from her closet and set them out on her bedroom floor, to take all the stuffed animals from their various locations and put them on her bed where she can see them together in one place. When Kendall’s father – my brother, Scott – was younger, he loved to collect baseball cards which he would meticulously catalog and count and trade with friends; I was more into stickers, particularly the colorful Lisa Franks and pungent scratch-and-sniffs which I would carefully place into photo albums and page through for hours.  There is something enormously satisfying for a collector about looking at and handling her wares.  We like to keep a close eye on those things most precious to us. Continue Reading -->

May 5, 2018 | The Royal Countdown - Parashat Emor

Rabbi Tucker

Over the past few months, count-down fever to the royal wedding has exploded!  Many of us now know that Prince Harry and his bride, the American actress Meghan Markle, have decided to break with tradition and marry on a weekend, choosing the date of Saturday, May 19, at noon for their nuptials which will take place at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle two weeks from today.  Over 2,640 members of the public have been invited to watch the couple arrive including 1,200 young people chosen for having demonstrated strong leadership in their communities.  Of these guests, about 600 will actually attend the wedding ceremony itself. Continue Reading -->

April 7, 2018 | Like Bread on the Seder Plate – Yizkor Passover 5778

Rabbi Tucker


Right before Pesach 1944 the Jews of Rotterdam, Netherlands, were deported to Bergen-Belsen along with Rabbi Aharon Davids.  Though they wanted to refrain from eating Hametz, there was no alternative source of nourishment at the concentration camp.  When their rabbi conducted the Seder and they arrived at the blessing for eating Matza, he reached over, picked up a slice of bread, and prayed:

Our father in Heaven, You know that it is our desire to do your will and we wish to celebrate Pesach, to eat Matza and to observe the prohibition on Hametz.  Yet that is what causes our hearts to ache, for the enslavement prevents us and our lives are in danger.

So we prepare ourselves to perform the mitzvah of “‘You shall live by them’ (Leviticus 18:5). – ‘To live’ – by the laws, not to die by them” (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 85a)….So we pray to you to keep us alive and redeem us swiftly – so we may observe your laws and do your will and serve you with a complete integrity of the heart.

“Amen” answered the congregation, as they fulfilled the mitzvah of eating Matzah.  [They fulfilled this mitzvah by eating] bread.

                                                          -From A Night to Remember by Mishael Zion and Noam Zion Continue reading →

March 17, 2018 I To Do Lists and To Be Lists: Parashat Vayikra/Shabbat HaChodesh

As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I am fanatical about making to-do lists!  I have work lists and personal lists; long-term lists and weekly lists; lists of big, time-consuming projects and lists of small, discrete tasks easily accomplished.  I have lists of ideas I haven’t quite gotten to yet and lists of initiatives already in process; lists of people to call, books to read, new restaurants to try, sermons I hope one day to write.  When it comes to managing all these lists I’m surprisingly old-school, especially considering the huge variety of digital tools available online, writing them out – for the most part - by hand largely because of the enormous satisfaction I feel when crossing something off, physically scribbling it into oblivion.  I’ve even been known to write down a task already completed on one of my lists, just for the sheer pleasure of subsequently being able to mark it off as done!  Continue reading →


March 10, 2018 I All Work and No Play - Vayakhel-Pekude

There is a well-known story about Christopher Wren, the celebrated English architect responsible for rebuilding London after the Great Fire of 1666, who was walking incognito one day in the city when he came upon a group of men raising St. Paul’s Cathedral, a structure which he himself had designed.  “What are you doing?” he asked one of the crew members.  “I’m working,” he replied, “Earning five shillings, two pence a day!”  Continuing on his way, Wren posed the same question to a second laborer: “What are you doing?” he queried.  “I’m cutting a piece of stone,” the man answered, “Measuring it carefully and shaping it just right.”  Coming upon a third member of the team Wren inquired again, “May I ask, sir, what are you doing?”  “Me?” the worker replied.  “I’m helping Christopher Wren.  Together, we’re building a magnificent cathedral to the Almighty.”  Continue reading →


March 3, 2018 I The Sydney Opera House - Ki Tissa

The Sydney Opera House, with its modern expressionist design and iconic white shells, is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world.  And yet the man who designed it, Danish architect Jorn Utzon, never once laid eyes on his masterpiece once completed, this despite the fact that he died only in 2008 – 35 years after the opera house was finished!  You see, almost from the beginning Utzon’s project was beset by controversy and conflict: the engineers butted heads with the architects; the residents of nearby suburb Kiribilli opposed the new construction out of fear that it would mar views and lower property values; escalating costs and power struggles pitted Utzon against the government minister of New South Wales.  Continue reading →


February 24, 2018 I #MeToo - Tetzaveh

It is so good to be back with our congregation again after my ten wonderful weeks of sabbatical!  One of the things that this time away allowed for me to do was to spend Shabbat visiting different synagogues in the Boston area and beyond, and although I experienced some lovely davening and met some terrific people and picked up a number of interesting insights and ideas to bring back to our shul here in Wilmette, I always felt just a little bit homesick on those Shabbat mornings this winter - so far away from this place which is our community and my spiritual home. Continue reading →


February 3, 2018 I Inclusion Shabbat by Cantor Roytman

Shabbat Shalom! Here at BHBE when we use the word inclusion we mean a certain level of openness, welcoming and acceptance by the members of our community of those who are in some way different in their appearance, sexual orientation, gender and level of physical and mental ability. We believe that every Jew, child or adult should have an opportunity to participate in the life of our congregation; notwithstanding their individual strengths, preferences, and beliefs.  Continue reading →

December 2, 2017 I Seeing the Face of God - Vayishlach

There once was a rabbi who was asked by his students, “Master, how should one determine the hour in which night ends and day begins?”  One student suggested, “Is it when a person can distinguish a sheep from a dog in the distance?”  “No,” said the rabbi, “It is not.”  A second student ventured, “Is it when one can distinguish a date tree and a fig tree from afar?”  “It is not that either,” replied the teacher.  “Please tell us the answer,” the students begged, “How should one determine when night has ended and day begun?”  “It is when you look into the face of a stranger and see your sister or brother,” said the rabbi.  “Until then, night is still with us.” Continue reading →

November 25, 2017 Thanksgiving – Vayetzei

In his wonderful book, Born to Kvetch, author Michael Wex tells the following story with which just a few of us here this morning might possibly identify.  He writes of a passenger on a train from Grand Central Station who sits down next to an older gentleman reading a Yiddish newspaper.  Just thirty minutes into their journey, the man puts down his journal and starts to whine like a frightened child:  “Oy, am I thirsty…Oy, am I thirsty… Oy, am I thirsty….”  The seat-mate is at the end of his rope within just a few minutes.  He makes his way to the water cooler at the far end of the car, quickly fills two cups, and starts gingerly walking back to his seat, taking great pains to keep the drinks from spilling.   Continue reading →

November 9, 2017 The World as We Are – Vayera   

My colleague, Rabbi Michael Gold, tells the story of two monks who were arguing about a flag blowing in the breeze.  One monk said, “It is the flag that causes the waving.”  The other monk said, “No, it is the wind that causes the waving.”  “If there was wind with no flag there would be nothing to move,” insisted the first monk.  “But if there was flag with no wind, the cloth would remain still,” retorted the second.  Back and forth they went, arguing and challenging one another, until they finally brought the matter before the great Zen master Hui Neng.  “My dear friends,” began the sage.  “Ultimately, you are both wrong.  It is neither the flag that causes the waving nor is it the wind that causes the waving.  In the end, it is your very own mind that causes the waving.”  And with that, the matter was settled. Continue reading →

October 30, 2017 One Day More – Shemini Atzeret Yizkor 5778    

Just two days before his death, John Shields woke up in his hospice room in Victoria, British Columbia, with an unconventional idea. He wanted to organize an Irish wake for himself at the Swiss Chalet restaurant down the road, complete with music and alcohol and one of his most favorite meals – rotisserie chicken legs with gravy topped off with gluten free, organic cake. He wanted his friends and family to be present, and he wanted to celebrate the incredible life he had lived for the past 78 years. Continue reading →

October 30, 2017 Wallowers and Rebounders – Noah

This morning I’d like to describe two different individuals to you. See if you can recognize them and think of their names, because I’m pretty sure you know them both. Our first is a man who does his best to live a good, decent life in a world that seems to be spiraling out of control. He constantly witnesses greed, oppression and violence. People around him are breaking laws, acting out sexually, stealing from each other, and even committing murder.  Continue reading →

October 3, 2017 Of Fate and Furies: Kol Nidre 5778

During the year 2005-2006, the year that Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast region of our country, I was working as the student rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Biloxi, Mississippi, flying down from rabbinical school in New York once a month to spend Shabbat with the small community. On my very first visit after the storm, a congregant of mine– a gentleman who worked in state government and consequently had special access to enter restricted areas – drove me down Highway  Continue reading →

October 3, 2017 Use My Years Also: Yizkor 5778

Rabbi Sidney Greenberg tells the story of a high-school senior who, upon receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer, began drawing up his will. He listed each of his possessions in turn and bequeathed them to someone especially dear to him – a DVD collection to his younger brother, a portfolio of artwork to his grief-stricken parents, an old football jersey to the coach who had transformed him from anxious rookie to self-assured starting line-man.  Continue reading →


September 26, 2017 Changing Direction – Shabbat Shuvah 5778

In the days of Communism’s fierce grip on the Soviet Union, there lived a Chassidic Jew named Reb Mendel Futerfas. Reb Mendel repeatedly put his life at risk with his efforts to promote Jewish education behind the Iron Curtain and for some 14 years was incarcerated in prisons and labor camps for the “crime” of teaching Torah. While in the Siberian Gulag, he spent most of his time studying and praying, but he also interacted with other prisoners – one of whom was a tightrope walker who had previously performed with the circus.  Continue reading →


September 26, 2017 Optimizing Disappointment – Rosh Hashanah Day II 5778

Many of you will know that I’m not the world’s biggest sports fan but it’s hard not to be just a little bit enamored with the success of the incredible Theo Epstein! Even the non-die-hards amongst us are aware of how Epstein was able to turn around two hard luck teams, our own Chicago Cubs and my hometown’s beloved Boston Red Sox, breaking both the 86-year Curse of the Bambino and the 71-year Curse of the Billy Goat while giving the Cubbies their first World Series title in 108 years. Many of us still can’t quite believe we lived to see the day!  Continue reading →


September 26, 2017 The Cries of a Child – Rosh Hashanah Day I 5778

Once a Hasidic master was walking along a cobbled street in Eastern Europe some 200 years ago when he heard the sound of a baby coming from his student’s home – a wrenching cry that pierced the night. The rabbi rushed into the house and saw his pupil enraptured in prayer, swaying rhythmically back and forth in pious devotion. He walked over to the infant, took her in his arms, and gently rocked her to sleep.  Continue reading →


September 26, 2017 A Shofar in Jerusalem – Erev Rosh Hashanah 5778

Once, during the tenure of Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandate Palestine, a group of workers under pressure to complete a building in one of the neighborhoods of Jerusalem continued their labor even on the holy day of Rosh Hashanah. People living in the area sent word to the rabbi, expecting him to order the builders to cease their efforts immediately. Instead, he sent an emissary down to the construction site to blow shofar for the crew.  Continue reading →


September 19, 2017 Do Not Cast Us Off – Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech

Chinese tradition tells the parable of an old man who becomes too weak to work in the garden or help out with household chores, who sits idly on the porch all day while his family tills the soil and pulls up weeds. One day, the man’s son looks up and thinks, "What good is my father now that he’s so old? All he does is eat up my food! I have a wife and children to think about; it’s time for him to be done with life!" The son makes a large wooden box and places it on a wheelbarrow, rolls it up to the porch, and asks the man to get in.   Continue reading →


September 5, 2017 Sorkin, Schlesinger, and Rabbinic Judaism – Parashat Ki Tetzei

In season two of Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant political drama, The West Wing, President Jed Bartlett finds himself in the company of Dr. Jenna Jacobs, a socially conservative talk-show host and commentator not so-loosely based on the real-life Dr. Laura Schlesinger.  Dr. Jacobs has been publicly decrying homosexuality, pointing to the fact that the Bible classifies it as “an abomination,” and the President has a few questions to ask the ersatz religious expert.  “I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7,” he begins.   Continue reading →


July 5, 2017 Parashat Hukat by Menash Zadik

tells the story of Moses and the rock. The short version goes like this: Moses tells God the people are thirsty. God tells him to extract water from a rock by talking to it. Moses strikes the rock hard. Twice. And water starts gushing. The Israelites can finally quench their thirst. God immediately turns to Moses and informs him that he will not get to see the land of Israel because he didn’t precisely follow his orders. Perhaps like many of you, the first time I read that I, “Are you kidding me?” After ParashaThis week’s all he’s done? Continue reading →

Jun 27, 2017    Saving Our Best for the Everyday – Shabbat Rosh Hodesh

In an episode of the TV show Friends, one of my most favorite programs of all time, married couple Monica and Chandler are preparing to host Thanksgiving dinner at their apartment when Chandler suggests that they set the table with their wedding china. Monica initially demurs, arguing that such precious dishes are supposed to be saved for something very special – like, for example, a visit from the Queen of England – and worrying about the possibility of breaking an item from the expensive set. Continue reading →


Jun 13, 2017    How in the World? – Yizkor Shavuot 5777    

It is said that the people of Rome spoke of the great artist, Michelangelo, as a man with four souls because he excelled in architecture, sculpture, poetry, and painting. His vast skill produced many of the world’s most beautiful buildings and statues including, of course, his iconic rendering of the Biblical King David. When Michelangelo was on his death bed, a group of friends gathered at his side. One said sadly, “Michelangelo, how in the world will Rome ever get along without you?” With a weak wave of his hand in the direction of the window, pointing vaguely towards the landscape of the city below, Michelangelo answered: “Rome will never be without me.” And so it was and so it remains, over 400 years since the great man’s death. Continue reading →

Jun 13, 2017    Second Chances – Parashat B’haalotcha    

Besides being the man for whom the Nobel Prize is named, Alfred Nobel was also the inventor of dynamite. What would inspire a manufacturer of explosives to dedicate his fortune to creating the premiere award bestowed upon those who have benefited humanity? Strangely enough, it was a printing error. When Nobel’s brother passed away, a newspaper ran a lengthy article about Alfred Nobel, mistakenly thinking that it was he who had died. Nobel had the rare opportunity to do what very few people can – to read his obituary while still alive – and it absolutely terrified him. Continue reading →

May 31, 2017    Monet and Matan Torah – Pre-Shavuot 5777    

When I was a junior in high school I visited Giverny, France, former home of impressionist painter Claude Monet. I spent hours walking across the dainty footbridges and winding garden paths that are the subject of Monet’s many masterpieces, drinking in the sweet smell of Wisteria and reveling in the colors of the French countryside. Of my entire three weeks abroad, Giverny was the absolute highlight of my travels. But along with being the favorite part of my time away, Monet’s gardens were also the most difficult piece of the trip to convey to others. Words like “colorful” or “bucolic” seemed totally inadequate to describe the power of what I had experienced; even superlative phrases could not convey the sheer beauty of what I had seen. Continue reading →

May 24, 2017    Proclaim Liberty! – Parashat B’har–B’hukkotai    

A story is told about Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev whose task it was each Passover to supervise the bakeries throughout his town. In addition to overseeing the kashrut of the matzah, he was much concerned with the treatment of the store’s employees, many of whom were women and children. One year, observing that they were being exploited, forced to labor from early morning until late at night under terrible working conditions, he approached the bakery owner. “Our enemies used to cause great consternation among our people,” he said, “with rumors charging that we use the blood of Christian children to make our matzah. Continue reading →

Wed, February 19 2020 24 Shevat 5780