Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Sukkot 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Gratitude and Faith

Posted on October 20, 2016

This week we read special selections from the Torah in honor of the holiday of Sukkot, which began last Sunday night and lasts for eight days.  This season is an embarrassment of holiday riches for Jews, and the Torah readings reflect this. 

Sukkot marks the great fall thanksgiving festival, the feast of Tabernacles or booths, and we are commanded to remember the transitory nature of our ancestors’ wanderings through the Wilderness of Sinai, as well as the transitory nature of our own lives.  In the season of the fall harvest, when we eat the first and best of the produce of the natural world, we take a week to demonstrate our gratitude for the necessities of life: food, shelter, and clothing.  And in this week’s Torah reading we receive the mitzvah of building a Sukkah, a temporary Tabernacle, a booth or hut, outdoors, designed to last just a week—actually, eight days—to eat in and perhaps sleep in.  We decorate it with the symbols of the harvest, fruits and vegetables, and enjoy a fall harvest festival to celebrate the goodness of the world God has given us.

It’s a great lesson in appreciating the gifts we have received, and appreciating the many good things we have.  Gratitude is an experience that few of us can maintain for long, but it is the essential source of so much that is profoundly religious, and profoundly good.

So may it be for each of us in this week dedicated to gratitude.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Sukkot 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Vayelech 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Dedicated to the Good End

Posted on October 5, 2016

If you knew that you were living your final day on earth, how would you spend your last hours?

According to the traditional commentaries, on Moses’120th birthday he spent his last day dedicated to addressing the needs of his community.  He visited each of the tribes and offered words of encouragement.  Even on his very last day of life, Moses dedicated himself to the Israelites, devoting himself to his congregation.  

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Vayelech 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Nitzavim 5776

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Teshuvah: God is Here, Now

Posted on September 28, 2016

This week we celebrate the final Shabbat of the year, which means that our Torah portion is one of the great sections of the entire year, Nitzavim: you stand here today, all of you, from the oldest to the youngest, from the wealthiest to the poorest, the most famous to the most humble, the leaders of your community and the strangers visiting with you.  You are all part of the covenant with the Lord your God.  You, and every other generation to come who will be descended from you.  You are all engaged in this great berit, the covenant that affirms you will be God's people, and God will be your Lord.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Nitzavim 5776

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Ki Tavo 5776

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

What's Missing?

Posted on September 21, 2016

Whenever we carry the Torah around the sanctuary during a hakafah we sing Al Shloshah Devarim, the passage from Pirkei Avot in the Mishnah: on three things the world stands.  On Torah, on work, and on acts of kindness.  Torah is listed first, making it the most important part of our tradition. 

And you may be familiar with the great Labor Zionist Achad Ha’Am’s related concept that Judaism is made up of three great elements: God, Torah, and Israel.  Torah, here, is at the very center of it all.

So what are we to make of a central Jewish text that completely omits Torah?

This week we read the portion of Ki Tavo in Deuteronomy, which begins with an unusual declaration: when we come into the land that the Lord our God will give us as an inheritance we are to take the first fruits of our produce, and bring them to the priest, and say this formula: “Arami oveid avi, my father was a wandering Aramean, and he came to Egypt few in number, and became a great nation there; the Egyptians dealt harshly with us, and enslaved us; but God brought us out with a great hand and an oustretched arm… and brought us to this place, flowing with milk and honey.”  In addition to its central role in an important Biblical ritual, this passage was quoted often in rabbinic literature, most famously in the Pesach Haggadah.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Ki Tavo 5776

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Ki Teitzei 5776

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

War and Peace

Posted on September 11, 2016

Last Sunday was the 15th anniversary of 9/11, so it is appropriate that this week we read a Torah portion that deals very directly with war, Ki Teitzei. 

Most of us who feel positively about religion believe strongly that nations should live at peace, that war will someday become an ancient, bad memory.  “They shall beat swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall men learn war anymore” our prophet Isaiah predicted.  And almost every religion has similar injunctions about peace.

But Isaiah predicted this great time of peace 2700 years ago, and it still seems as far away as ever.  The historical truth of human civilization is that a war is always going on somewhere, and sometimes everywhere, in the world, and that the number of years in which this planet has been free of war is very few.  One calculation says that of the 3400 years of recorded human history only 250 years have been free of a documented war—that is, once every 15 years or so we have had a year without war.  To be honest, that seems wildly optimistic.  In my lifetime I cannot recall a single year in which warfare has not been waged somewhere on the globe.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Ki Teitzei 5776

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