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Coming Home

on Wednesday, 22 August 2012.

September 2012/Elul 5772-Tishrei 5773

     “You can’t go home again.”  -- Thomas Wolfe
                                     “All that God desires is your return.” – Babylonian Talmud

 

September represents a rare opportunity to change our destiny.  In spite of the passage of a year and the erosions of time,hhd God grants us, through these holidays, the ability to turn back the clock and reverse the natural order of things.  The greatest purpose of this unique season is to allow us a second chance—to give us the ability to go home.

The Jewish High Holy Days are a time of spiritual elevation, religious intensity, and ritual beauty.  Everything is at an improved level, from the music to the sermons to the shine on the wooden pews. Expectations rise: perhaps this explains why this period is known as the High Holy Days…

In fact there are many names for the two most religiously powerful festivals of the entire Jewish year that fall during these Yamim Nor’aim, the Days of Awe, which incorporates the Aseret Yemai Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance, the time from Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, through Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  These specific holiest of days have multiple names, too: for Rosh HaShanah they are Hayom Harat Olam the birthday of the world, Yom haZikaron, the Day of Remembrance, Yom Teruah, the Day of Shofar blowing, and Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment; Yom Kippur is also called Yom Tzom Kippur, the fast Day of Atoning, and Shabbat Shabbaton, the Great Sabbath of Sabbaths, while the evening service beforehand is often known by the name of its signature musical text, Erev Kol Nidrei.

Re'eh 5772: Banking on Blessing

on Friday, 17 August 2012. Posted in Sermons

Shabbat Shalom. I know it's unbelievable, but public school started over a week ago, Religious School begins this coming week, and the High Holidays are coming up in just over a month. We bless the new month of Elul on this Shabbat because Rosh Chodesh Elul is Sunday, the beginning of the last month of the Jewish year. It's the time of year for us to think about the state of our relationships, to prepare to do a cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the state of our souls, to reflect on where we are in our lives, where we are headed, where we've been.

We are beginning the yearly journey of getting ready for the chagim, the Jewish fall holidays, examining the choices we continually make and the way our choices have worked out for us in the past year.

Weekly Torah Talk on Re'eh 5772

on Thursday, 16 August 2012. Posted in Torah Talks

The Right Thing to Do

This week we read the Torah portion of Re'eh, the fourth sedrah in the book of Deuteronomy, which follows a sequence of marvelous Torah portions with yet another remarkable text. Re'eh includes one of the most radical statements in the entirety of the Torah: "ki yihyeh v'cha evyon mei'echad achecha, b'echad sh'arecha, if there is among you a poor man, one of your brothers, within one of your gates, in the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand from your needy brother; ki fato'ach tiftach et yadcha lo, you shall certainly open your hand to him, and give him enough for whatever he lacks-whatever he wants."

The commandment is not simply to provide for the needs of the needy, not just to alleviate their suffering, but to give them what they actually want: sustenance, security, a decent life. It is much more than we seek to provide in our American society, in which the safety net seemingly has as many holes as net. It is more than the social protestors in Israel last summer believed that their society was providing. It is a powerful, dramatic statement. Open your hand, and surely give the needy poor what they ought to have.

Statement & Prayer for the Sikh Memorial Service

on Sunday, 12 August 2012. Posted in Community Events

My friends, what is it that most clearly allows us to see?

They say that love is blind, but that is not quite right. For love actually opens our eyes to qualities and aspects that mere sight misses. Love allow us to see the essential God-given humanity, the tzelem Elohim, the image of God, as well as the divine soul, the neshama present in every human being.

No, it is not love but hatred that is blind. Hatred blocks out our ability to see that innate quality in every creature. Acts of hate are by nature blind, a darkening of the divine light that otherwise shines from every one of us.

Eikev 5772: Cardiac Judaism - The Lessons of the Heart

on Friday, 10 August 2012. Posted in Sermons

Do you know this classic joke? There used to be a lot of them like this.

An Orthodox, a Conservative, and a Reform rabbi are each asked whether one is supposed to say a brochah over a lobster.

The Orthodox rabbi asks, "What is this...'lobster'...thing?" The Conservative rabbi says that some say no, some say yes. The Reform rabbi says, "What's a brochah?"

Here's another one:

What are the main differences between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism?

At an orthodox wedding, the mother of the bride is pregnant.

At a conservative wedding, the bride is pregnant.

At a reform wedding, the rabbi is pregnant.

Weekly Torah Talk on Eikev 5772

on Wednesday, 08 August 2012. Posted in Torah Talks

The Simple Formula for a Good Life

You know, as a people we Jews are good at many things: at kvetching, of course; at lashon hara, gossip, telling people things we shouldn't. We're also good at eating. And, perhaps most importantly, we Jews are good at asking questions.

Perhaps the greatest of all the Jewish questions was asked in this week's Torah portion of Ekev, the third sedrah in the Book of Deuteronomy. It reads:

V'atah, Yisrael, mah Adonai sho'eil mei'imach?

Which means, "And now, Israel, what does God ask of you?"

The passage in Ekev then answers this great question, "That you have awe of the Lord your God, and walk in all of God's ways and love God, and serve the Lord your God will all your heart and all your soul."

It's Time to Arise

on Wednesday, 01 August 2012.

from the August E-Temple Times

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

-- Albert Einstein

Fear not, be not ashamed... for a brief moment I turned My back on you. But with eternal love I will gather you to Me.

-- 2 Isaiah, 54:4, 54:7

The past four or five years have been trying times for most Americans. If you don't believe that, just watch any political speech or ad in this presidential election year... The Great Recession was deep and the Not-So-Great Recovery has been slow. Things are getting better now, but it's a gradual process. Our Jewish tradition has a great deal to teach us about overcoming disappointment, and that reassurance can help, both now and whenever we feel low, collectively or personally.

Devarim/Chazon 5772: Olympic Vision

on Friday, 27 July 2012. Posted in Sermons

July 27, 2012

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

This is the Shabbat immediately before Tisha B'Av, called Shabbat Hazon, meaning the Sabbath of vision, and it is named for the Haftarah that is chanted tomorrow. That prophecy is the first from the greatest of the literary prophets, Isaiah, and it begins its somber words of warning of imminent destruction with the phrase Chazon Yishayahu ben Amotz, this is the vision of Isaiah... It is always chanted on the Shabbat of Devarim, the beginning of Deuteronomy, and it always precedes Tisha B'Av, the 9th of the Hebrew calendar month of Av, perhaps the saddest day on the Jewish calendar.

Actually, tonight, technically begins the actual 9th day of the month of Av. But when a fast day that is not Yom Kippur falls on the Sabbath we move it a day, so that our Shabbat joy is not diminished. After all, the Oneg Shabbat on a fast day would be quite limited...

Matot-Masei 5772: Finding Pride Inside -- Learning Talmud in Korea?

on Friday, 20 July 2012. Posted in Sermons

A question about Jewish life in the Diaspora, particularly America: why is it that if you want Jews to feel good about their Judaism the best way to do it is to have someone who is not Jewish compliment us or imitate us?

Since you are here in shul tonight you probably already know that Judaism is a wonderful religious and cultural world in and of itself, that it has wisdom that the world needs, that our ethical teachings are the basis for all of Western Civilization, and that our holidays and rituals are beautiful, meaningful, and inspiring.

Pinchas 5772: Many Voices to Reach the One God: The Nature and Purpose of Collective Prayer

on Friday, 13 July 2012. Posted in Sermons

Jewish communal prayer has been defined as praying alone, together. We each do our own thing, but we must do it with other Jews, usually a minyan of them. So, two questions for us: what is the nature of worship in synagogues today? And what is the purpose of celebrating Shabbat together, as we are doing now?

Perhaps the best answer to this basic question is to explore the traditional understanding of the rationale for tefilah b'tzibur, communal prayer. We know that as Jews we can pray to God anywhere, at any time, and that we need no intermediary to intercede for us with the Divine Power. So when we gather for services it is not because there is very much we do together that we cannot do alone, without the trouble of schlepping to shul on Shabbes.

Korach 5772: Rebellion, Holiness, and Leadership

on Friday, 22 June 2012. Posted in Sermons

I have to admit that this is a particularly surprising Torah portion for the Sabbath on which we are installing our Temple Board.  As you are now aware, Korach chronicles the greatest rebellion in the entire Torah, the palace revolt of the Levite Korach and his followers against the divinely ordained leadership of his fellow Levites, Moses and Aaron.  As so often seems to be the case, we Jews are our own worst enemies...  The result of this insurrection is disastrous, at least for the rebels.  The earth opens and Korach and all of his misguided followers are swallowed up, never to be heard from again.  By tradition, the rebellion of Korach is the absolute worst revolt of its sort in Jewish history.

Sh'lach L'cha 5772: Spies Like Us

on Friday, 15 June 2012. Posted in Sermons

On this Shabbat of Parshat Sh'lach L'cha it seems appropriate to talk about an excursion to the Land of Israel, as this story marks the first such tour of the land—it is actually called that in our portion, "latur et ha'aretz" the sedrah tells us. The tale of the 12 mraglim, the spies who scouted out the land for Moses and ended up making a bad majority report, sets up a patter of poor PR for the land of Israel that I sometimes think has lasted until today. If you will, the 10 spies who say "it's a rich land and beautiful but full of monsters" are much like the majority of the world's press, that sees Israel's economic, democratic and cultural miracles and says, "Yes, but they are terrible oppressive people." And the two good spies today, the minority report by Joshua and Caleb, the voices calling in the wilderness, tell us "it is a wonderful place and morally pretty good; it only needs God's help to rise to a new level of sanctity."

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Temple Pilgrimage Trip to Israel: Report #9

on Saturday, 09 June 2012.

Israel has changed so much in the 36 years that I have been coming to visit and sometimes live here, and perhaps nowhere is this more obvious than in Tel Aviv. What was once a decent-sized town with one tall building on the shores of the Mediterranean has grown into a major international city of substance and style.

Its skyline is extensive with new buildings, and the cranes continue to work adding yet more high-rises to an impressive array of high-tech towers, financial centers, media facilities, hotels, and much more. In its older areas Tel Aviv still looks the same: four-story, central European looking apartments, in white and off-white, flaking slightly in the humidity of a coastal city. Gentrification is proceeding in many areas, as you would expect in a country of astronomical real estate values.

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Temple Pilgrimage Trip to Israel: Report #8

on Friday, 08 June 2012.

Sometimes when traveling in Israel you have a day that encapsulates the remarkable layering of cultures and civilizations that would make this an extraordinary destination if there were no contemporary religious or political importance to the country. Today was such a day.

We traveled through history and across the country, visiting four very different and quite spectacular archeological sites and places that could each merit a separate trip in and of themselves. The fact that we have now been fully oriented to the flow of the historical narrative of Israel helps establish context, but each place has wonderful and powerful things to teach.

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Temple Pilgrimage Trip to Israel: Report #7

on Thursday, 07 June 2012.

I began today with a run on the land of our Kibbutz hotel, HaGoshrim, in the "far north" of Israel, close to both the Lebanese border and the Golan Heights. The area is simply lovely, green with fruit trees and vistas towards the nearby mountains, running alongside streams of fresh water covered by small bridges.

The old watchtowers at the corners of the fence are a reminder of the historic function of the kibbutz as a border protection settlement, but today this is a successful hotel, hosting groups, individuals and large parties for events. There was one going on last night, complete with tiki torches in a kind of Polynesian setting. Hawaii comes to the Galilee...

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