Jerusalem, City of Peace... - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Emor 5777

May 12, 2017
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

In addition to counting the Omer now, we are in a unique period of the year where Israel is concerned.  We celebrated Yom HaAtzma’ut, Israeli Independence Day last week, Israel’s 69th birthday, and in less than two weeks, on May 25th, we will rejoice on Yom Yerushalayim, the day that commemorates the reunification of the city of Jerusalem in 1967.  This will mark the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War and the remarkable, miraculous Israeli victory that allowed Jews to return to the holiest place on earth for us, the Kotel, the Western Wall, and to the Old City of Jerusalem.  This anniversary, while extraordinary, is also controversial.  You cannot help but see criticism of Israel and its half-century long “occupation”, whatever that means to you, and see criticism of how the nation has handled a highly complex and challenging situation for the past five decades.

Over the next weeks I’ll continue to explore this theme, and discuss the West Bank and the possibility of a Palestinian State. 

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How We Create Our Holy Congregation - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Acharei Mot/Kedoshim New Member Shabbat 5777

May 5, 2017
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

With the advent of the internet and its daily overdose of information, nowadays you can learn how to do almost anything just from watching a YouTube video. 

Want to know how to erect a barbed wire fence?  Watch a YouTube video.  Need to build your own septic system?  Watch a YouTube video.  Trying to learn to dance the skanky leg?  Watch a YouTube video.  Have to make baked Alaska?  Watch a YouTube video.  Wish to sing opera?  Watch a YouTube video.  Seek to pilot a jet airplane?  Watch a YouTube video.  Have to deliver a baby in the back seat of an Uber ride?  You got it: watch a YouTube video.

If only United Airlines had watched a YouTube video on how to treat customers when you oversell a commercial airline flight…

But for one thing there is, as yet, no YouTube video available.  I know this because I looked for it this week.  There is no YouTube video for the commandment given at the very beginning of Kedoshim.

Read more: How We Create Our Holy Congregation - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Acharei Mot/Kedoshim New...

Silence & Action - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Shemini 5777

April 21, 2017
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

We Jews are talkers.  We are, in fact, among the most famous talkers in all of history. We are a people renowned for our words, and our leaders are legendary for their verbosity.  Even Moses, a man with a speech impediment who protests that he is a man of few words, manages to orate the entire Book of Deuteronomy, supposedly in one long sermon.

There is a reason we are lawyers, comedians, entertainers, and public speakers of all kinds.  We truly have a tremendous oral tradition.

Rabbis, of course, are no exception.  There is a classic Jewish joke.  One friend says to another, “My rabbi is so brilliant he can talk for an hour on any subject.”

And his friend answers, “My rabbi is so brilliant that he can speak for two hours on no subject.”

But sometimes speech is actually an impediment.

Read more: Silence & Action - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Shemini 5777

Arguing for God and Unity - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Vayikra 5777

March 31, 2017
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

One of the most distinctive qualities of Jews everywhere in the world has always been our ability to disagree and remain in dialogue.  That is, we argue but stick together.  Jewish families are typically loud, contentious, and verbally energetic.  Jewish organizations are active, engaged, and often contentious.  But we have an ability, after thousands of years of overcoming adversity, to pull together in spite of our many, many differences.  Most of the time.

I was reflecting on this fact of Jewish life the last few days.  In truth, both in our homes and in our organizational life, we often sound like we are engaged in something closer to courtroom combat than the loving and harmonious lives that we aspire to living.  This friction is something typical of every Jewish group I have ever had the privilege of being a part of, and to someone not initiated into the verbal thrust-and-parry natural to Jews it can seem that there is real animosity when the situation is quite different than that at heart.  It’s just that in Jewish life everyone considers himself or herself to be an expert on, well, everything, and when you get more than one maven in a room at the same time he or she is each certain to be certain that they are right about everything, or at least whatever it is you are talking about at the moment.

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You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone: But What Part of Me is Me? - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Vayakhel/Pekude/Shabbat HaChodesh 5777

March 24, 2017
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

Two years ago on my sabbatical trip around the world, I visited with a high-ranking member of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey.  A significant prelate and an important assistant to the Patriarch, he grew up in suburban Chicago and spoke English fluently, of course, and we had a wonderful conversation about theology and ritual.  As I endeavored to understand the intricacies of the Greek Church, he explained carefully to me how central the concept of the rewards of eternal life are for Orthodox Christians.  The goal for every believing person, in his faith, was to achieve eternal reward in a much better world than this one.  And then he said, “I don’t understand how you can get people to be good if they aren’t trying to get to heaven, and afraid of going to hell.” 

I did my best to explain that in Judaism we seek to inspire people to live ethical lives through observing mitzvot, fulfilling commandments designed to make life moral and holy.  And I told him what I always say, respectfully: we Jews are much more interested in the quality of life before death than in theoretical rewards or punishments after death. 

But that’s not really the whole story.

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