Debt Crisis: National and International (Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

By Rabbi Dr. Shmuly YanklowitzSince the economic crash of 2008, millions of Americans have suffered as they drown in debt.The national economic picture has been grim during this Great Recession, which was largely brought on by deregulation of the financial sector, an increased desire for quick returns and easy availability of credit that turned much of the economy into a virtual casino. A few basic statistics make the extent of the damage clear:As of 2011, there were 8.2 million … [Read more...]

Our Immigration Debate: A Matter of National Importance (Ki Tetzei, Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

By Rabbi Daniel LehmannComprehensive immigration reform has been a contentious issue in the halls of the United States Congress for years. The Senate has recently passed a bill to address the needs of immigration reform but it will likely be more difficult to pass legislation in the House of Representatives and there is already talk about a less comprehensive compromise in the works.In Israel there has also been significant political tension over the status of illegal immigrants from … [Read more...]

“Orange Is the New Black:” Incarceration in America (Shoftim, Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9)

By Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer“Heartbreaking and hilarious” is how Netflix describes its new series “Orange Is the New Black,” which premiered on July 11 (all 13 episodes are now available live to subscribers). Based on the 2010 memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman, the show woos viewers with an exotic real-life premise: a beautiful blond WASP, a Smith graduate with a loving Jewish fiancé, finds herself with a federal prison sentence of a little more than a year, the result of a misguided lo … [Read more...]

“Doing What Is Right and Good”: Nelson Mandela & Moral Courage (Re’eh, Deuteronomy 11:26-16:18)

By Rabba Sara HurwitzMy parents moved our family out of apartheid South Africa in December 1989 with the dream of a new life where justice and equality prevailed. We settled in South Florida, and on Feb. 11, 1990, just two months after we had arrived, Nelson Mandela was released from prison. On that day, I discovered a role model for the pursuit of a good and just path. Mandela could have walked out of prison with anger and hate in his heart. Instead, he publicly called upon humanity to … [Read more...]

Learning to Listen (Ekev, Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

By Ariel Evan Mayse And if you do hearken to these rules and observe them carefully, Y-H-V-H your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers (Deut 7:12). If, then, you faithfully keep all this Instruction that I command you, loving Y-H-V-H your God, walking in all His ways and cleaving to Him (Deut 11:22).  This week’s Torah portion (Ekev) opens with the call to listen to God’s commandments and closes with an invitation to connect to the D … [Read more...]

Grief and Consolation in the Month of Av (Isaiah 40:1-26)

By Rabbi Claudia KreimanThis week we observe the saddest day on the Jewish calendar: Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. It is a national day of mourning, when Jews throughout the world focus their attention on the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (first by the Babylonians, in 586 BCE, and then again by the Romans, in 70 CE) and the beginning of the long and tumultuous exile that followed.Tisha B’Av is the culmination of a period of three weeks of mourning, which be … [Read more...]

Courageous Vision: Shabbat Hazon (Isaiah 1:1-27)

“Even though our eyes don’t see, our souls see.”  — Babylonian Talmud, Megilah 3aCaryl Barnett was a congregant who died last year from cancer at the age of 78. Caryl was fierce — a skier, biker, mountain climber, therapist, synagogue leader, and mother. And she was blind. She lost her sight in her 20s from a rare disease. But she never lost her vision.This week we mark Shabbat Hazon, the Sabbath of Vision. It takes its name from the opening words of the book of Isaiah, the selection of p … [Read more...]

The Earth Is a Gift (Numbers 30:2-36:13, Mattot-Masei)

Moses seemed to know he was running out of time. In these last chapters of the book of Numbers, he pours out a bucketful of laws that tumble forth upon the Jewish people.Embedded in this great sacred gush, as the Israelites stand between wilderness and homeland, vastness and boundedness, Moses speaks fundamentally of the power and meaning of place, where, how and to whom it is distributed.The reading recounts every place the children of Israel stopped on their 40-year journey, and the … [Read more...]

Torah and Superstition: Parashat Balak

Early in Shakespeare's glorious play, our protagonist Hamlet and his compatriots are confronted with an incredible sight: the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father. When Horatio expresses skepticism, Hamlet utters the oft-quoted line, encouraging Horatio to expand his worldview: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet 1.5.166-7). Horatio here stands in for the audience, manifesting our disbelief: ghosts don't exist! Don't make me belie … [Read more...]

Serpents, Inner Demons, and Spiritual Renewal (Hukkat, Numbers 19:1-22:1)

By Rabbi Niles Elliot GoldsteinWe’ve all seen it, usually adorning the walls of doctor offices and pharmacies: the image of a snake twisting around a pole. It’s the iconic and longtime symbol of the American Medical Association. But where does it come from? You don’t need to be a rabbi to be curious about the origin of such a striking yet seemingly random and even bizarre visual emblem.While the AMA website notes that it depicts the rod of Asclepius from Greek mythology (a rod associated … [Read more...]