Rosh HaShanah | ראש השנה

A Note of Confusion: Shabbat Rosh HaShanah 5781

Do you find the shofar service confusing? Good, because it is supposed to be that way! Many rabbinic traditions about shofar, such as blowing it daily for a month prior, but then stopping the day before Rosh HaShanah, and then blowing it at different points of the service are supposed “to confuse Satan.” Poor Satan—Jews…

Digging In Against Anti-Semitism: Rosh HaShanah 5780

Anyone here from Kansas? Two weeks ago I made my first trip to Kansas City to give a talk about tzedakah at a beautiful synagogue there. Afterwards I stood in the parking lot, schmoozing with the rabbi about the 2014 attack on their JCC. Three people were murdered that April day by a neo-Nazi Klan…

Standing Together: Nitzavim 5779

One of the greatest privileges and responsibilities of a rabbi is to train candidates for conversion to Judaism. Such people are often spiritual seekers, and their questions challenge teachers whose Jewish identity and practice are well established. Why do you do this? What do you believe? What does this text mean? Will this practice make…

Recovering from Moral Injury: Rosh HaShanah 5779

Out damn spot! Out I say! Who said that line? [Reply] Correct, this is perhaps the most famous line in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, and it belongs to his wife, Lady Macbeth. Macbeth was the murderer, but it was she who goaded her husband on to the heinous act of killing their houseguest King Duncan. It…

An Understanding Heart: Ki Tavo 5778

Moses presents the people of Israel with a paradox toward the end of the parashah. In 29:1-3, he first states that they have “seen with their own eyes” all the miracles wrought by God on their behalf from the Exodus until this point. But then he states that God did not give them, “a heart…

Just Mercy: Rosh Hashanah 5778

The pick-up truck was parked outside a prison in rural Alabama. It was festooned with Confederate flags and bigoted bumper stickers; there was a shotgun in a rack. Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer, fresh out of Harvard Law School, coming to visit a new client imprisoned on death row there. He noticed the truck…

We Have Sacrificed Nothing: Rosh HaShanah 5777 Day 2

“You have sacrificed nothing, and no one!” This powerful statement came from Khizr Khan, a patriotic American immigrant from Pakistan who reveres the US Constitution, and who with his wife stood up in a national forum as grieving parents whose 27-year old son Captain Humayun Khan was killed in action in Iraq defending his unit….

Practicing Judaism: Rosh Hashanah 5777 Day 1

  When I was a kid we had a set of toys from my father that was pretty special, because my dad was pretty special, and still is. As a physician who trained in the sixties, he had one of those old-time doctor’s bags at home and he let us play with the tools. There…

Clearing the Mind to Hear the Voice: Yitro 5776

What do you feel when listening to the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur? It is very difficult to describe the experience of hearing the shofar. There are many regulations and associations that come with the shofar, of course, and some of these may come to mind while we listen to the “voices of shofar.” We…

A Green Rosh HaShanah: 5775

Could it be that Rosh HaShanah is not a Jewish holiday? No—it couldn’t be! Rosh HaShanah is the Jewish New Year. On Rosh HaShanah Jews gather in Jewish houses of worship and say Jewish prayers. We hold our Jewish books, and we blow our Jewish horns. We even take one day and turn it into…

Mountains of the Spirit: Rosh HaShanah 5774 /2013

Early one morning my friend and I broke camp, hoisted our packs, and hit the trail. Soft light filtered through forests of spruce and birch, and drops of dew glistened like gems on every leaf. Approaching the trailhead, we came to the register—a big ledger inside a wooden box where hikers record their names, addresses,…