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Lech-Lecha

October 22, 2018

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Noah was destined to be neither the father of the Jewish people nor the founder of our faith. Though the most righteous one in his corrupt generation, he failed to reach out and save human lives besides those of his family. Thus, the rabbis who were aware of Noah’s disturbing limitations in the terse, yet [...]

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Not the neighbor’s Yom Kippur

September 14, 2018

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The first Jews were part of the Ancient Near East. They knew the habits of thought, the default assumptions, of their society. But as Jews, they were revolutionaries, rejecting the depravity and the inhumane expressions of Bronze Age life, with its murderous despotism in the political realm and its debasement of human life in a slavery-based social system. This combination of indebtedness to, and protest against, the traditions of the neighbors characterizes Biblical religion in virtually every domain.

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The Year of the Pen

September 7, 2018

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In services on the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, tradition requires us to recite the masterwork of prayer U-netaneh Tokef on both Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. These awe-filled days are times of questions. There are the spiritual questions that teshuva, repentance, demands: Who am I? Am I on the right path? Have I [...]

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The past

June 22, 2018

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Rabbi J. D. Gordon was the rabbi of B’nai Israel Congregation of Norfolk until 1947. He gave some spirited sermons in his time and published a collection of his High Holiday addresses for future rabbis to learn from and emulate. One year, Rabbi Gordon spoke about the past. He reminisced about the days when people [...]

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Passover, Yom Hashoah, and Yom Ha’atzmaut

March 23, 2018

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The Biblical account of the celebrated Exodus from Egypt became the leitmotif of rabbinic theology, perceiving in the Israelites’ redemption from a House of Bondage, God’s greatness, guidance, and goodness. Thus the Shalosh Regalim—the three Pilgrim festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot revolving around the common theme of the Exodus—point at the divine gifts of [...]

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Why Passover is about a lot more than good food

March 2, 2018

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(My Jewish Learning via JTA)—What is the essence of Passover? On the one hand, it seems obvious: Passover is about gathering together with loved ones to recall, through sumptuous home rituals, the exodus from Egypt. We gather round our seder tables and quickly become engulfed in the warmth of family and friends, the culinary delights [...]

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Purim: A timeless holiday

February 16, 2018

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Purim’s extraordinary fun making often masks and matches the extraordinary seriousness of the life and death issues behind the holiday—while allowing for the healthy release of pent-up tension and emotion. After all, a threat of genocide hanging over a vulnerable people with a plot to terminate Jewish existence in the vast Persian empire of antiquity [...]

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The Joseph saga

December 18, 2017

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The great and most colorful Joseph saga extends over four Torah portions and 13 chapters. How opportune it is as we celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah and the reading of Joseph’s awesome adventures, that the Jewish experience has often been to find ourselves like Joseph in the darkness of the pit without losing faith in [...]

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How much God do we need?

December 1, 2017

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Every Jewish child grows up hearing, at Hanukkah time, the story of “the miracle of the oil,” how one day’s supply of consecrated oil lasted eight days as the Temple was rededicated. It’s explained as the reason Hanukkah lasts eight days and why we eat foods fried in oil during the holiday. But is the [...]

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Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-32:3)

November 20, 2017

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With the blessing and urging of both father Isaac and mother Rebekah, Jacob leaves home. Indeed, he flees. There are two reasons for his hasty departure: Esau’s wrath and the need for a proper bride. The complex and conflicting dynamics in the household of Abraham’s son Isaac—Remember Abrahams’s own dilemmas—were due in part to Isaac’s [...]

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