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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 →

Sat, September 21 2019 21 Elul 5779