- January 2023
Jewish Tradition identifies three primary characteristics of our relationship with God. God is our Creator. God is the Revealer of Wisdom. God is our Redeemer. Creation happens, of course, at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, though mystics see it happening continually all the time. As for the Revelation—the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai—and the Redemption from Egypt, they are the focus of the Book of Exodus which we begin this week. Exodus in summary may be expressed this way: God frees us from Egyptian slavery and reveals to us the Torah at Mount Sinai—giving us freedom and holy purpose in one dramatic process.The slavery which begins the Book of Exodus is, in some ways, a surprise. Things have been good in the Goshen section of Egypt for many generations. Joseph’s good offices for the sake of Pharaoh earn him honor and his Canaanite relatives a safehaven from the famine afflicting their land. But, as we read in Exodus 1.8-11: “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. And, he said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise, in the event of war, they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.’ So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor…”
- December 2022
Hanukkah is one of the few Jewish holidays not mentioned in the Bible. The story of how Hanukkah came to be is contained in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which are the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible. These books tell the story of the Maccabees not part of , a small band of Jewish fighters who liberated the Land of Israel from the Syrian Greeks who occupied it. Under the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Syrian Greeks sought to impose their Hellenistic culture, which many Jews found attractive. By 167 B.C.E, Antiochus intensified his campaign by defiling the Temple in Jerusalem and banning Jewish practice. The Maccabees — led by the five sons of the priest Mattathias, especially Judah — waged a three-year campaign that culminated in the cleaning and rededication of the Temple.
- November 2022
The Bible usually refers to the months by their ordinal numbers, although occasional ancient Israelite names are also used.2 The currently used Jewish names for the months were imported from Babylonia and many of them appear in post-exilic books of the Bible. Some of these are derived from the names of ancient gods, such as Tammuz which is thought to come from the Assyrian Du-mu-zu, an Egyptian god, and is mentioned as the name of an idol in Ezekiel (8:14).
- October 2022
What is Sukkot and Why is it Celebrated? You may have noticed that some Jews have been hard at work over the past few days building little huts in their backyards, terraces, and balconies. Those huts are called “Sukkot,”and during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, it is traditional to eat and, for some, to sleep in a Sukkah for seven days. Sukkot is one of the three major festivals in Judaism and is both an agricultural festival of thanksgiving and a commemoration of the forty-year period during which the children of Israel wandered in the desert after leaving slavery in Egypt, living in temporary shelters as they traveled. Sukkot is known as “the Time of our Happiness.” We move from the introspective and solemn mindset of the High Holidays to unbridled joy, which may seem a bit strange since on Sukkot, we are asked to leave the material comfort of our homes, and build a structure that is imperfect, temporary and open to the elements.
- September 2022
As the third week of Elul approaches, we turn to the work of teshuvah: repair and return through our interpersonal relationships as well as a return to the Divine. This work of repentance involves accountability, reflection, and self-transformation. The questions below are offered both to spark contemplation of our actions this past year and to stimulate the spiritual work of turning—of restoration within our sacred relationships.
- Summer 2022
The 17th of the month of Tammuz is observed as a minor fast day, with eating and drinking forbidden from dawn until sundown. Like Tisha B’Av, which comes just three weeks later, the 17th of Tammuz (often called by its Hebrew name, Shiva Asar b’Tammuz) is said to commemorate not to just one calamitous event in Jewish history, but several tragedies of the Jewish people.
- June 2022
Why We Read The Book of Ruth on Shavuot
The connections between this story and the spring harvest festival.
BY RABBI RONALD H. ISAACS
In traditional settings, the Book of Ruth is read on the second day of Shavuot. The book is
about a Moabite woman who, after her husband dies, follows her Israelite mother-in-law,
Naomi, into the Jewish people with the famous words “whither you go, I will go, wherever you
lodge, I will lodge, your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” She asserts
the right of the poor to glean the leftovers of the barley harvest, breaks the normal rules of
behavior to confront her kinsman Boaz, is redeemed by him for marriage, and becomes the
ancestor of King David.
- May 2022
Jerusalem became the capital city of the Jewish people in the time of King David who conquered
it and made it the seat of his monarchy in approximately 1000 B.C.E. It was conquered twice
in antiquity, the second time by the Romans in 70 C.E. The destruction of Jerusalem was a
watershed event in Jewish history that began thousands of years of mourning for Jerusalem—
including an official day of mourning every year on Tisha B’Av…
- April 2022
At the great seder night of Pesach when we read and discuss the immortal words of the Pesach Hagada, my family has always enthusiastically sung the portion of the Hagada that we know as “Dayenu.” By the grace of G-d, I have been able to witness a number of my generations singing this meaningful poem of praise to the Almighty for the bountiful goodness that he has bestowed upon us.Since I am leading the singing that always accompanies this poem, the melody may be somewhat out of tune but what it lacks in pitch it makes up for in enthusiasm and volume. I have always thought about the words that make up this poem and the entire concept that “Dayenu” communicates to us.