Pinchas 5771: Synagogues, Here, There, and Everywhere

July 15, 2011

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

As some of you know, Wendy and I just returned from a trip to Europe, where we had a variety of interesting Jewish experiences. Well, it's good to be back home and over the next couple of weeks I'll share some of those stories with you. We attended Shabbat services afloat and at historic synagogues in two different countries, and learned of ancient synagogues at some of the great cities of antiquity, now astounding archaeological sites, and met interesting Jewish people from very different places. It was both gratifying and surprising, as travel in the Jewish world so often is.

One of the most surprising Jewish experiences took place during a very pleasant conversation with a man on our cruise ship while we waited in line for tender-boat tickets to go ashore at the island of Santorini, Greece. He and his family live in Connecticut and travel a great deal.

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Matot 5771: The Very First Synagogue in the World

July 22, 2011

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

This morning driving to work we saw a rainbow. That is never an unusual thing here in a Tucson summer, filled with monsoons and lightning and storms. But I don't remember seeing one in the morning recently—or perhaps ever.

You know how it usually works: there is a huge storm, filled with thunder and lightning and rain. Great drama and power and pyrotechnics. And then, at the end, as the rain is clearing or still coming down somewhere, a beautiful rainbow emerges in the sky, a kind of promise in the air. It is a lovely thing, isn't it? A reminder of that first rainbow in the story of Noah, an artistry of hope wrought by God out of water vapor and light.

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Masei 5771: Life After Death in Baseball

July 29, 2012

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

At a recent Temple softball game one of our players hit a little dribbler to short, and while sprinting down the line shouted "Hell!" Which prompted another player to call out, "careful about your language out there—and we don't even believe in Hell." And that led to an entire philosophical debate about the Jewish views on life after death, heaven, and hell, and the soul, both throughout the remainder of the ballgame—we lost, unfortunately; or as I put it to our team, we won the silver medal in the contest—and over email and texts and discussions for the next couple of weeks. I have played softball for about 30 years now, but this was a first for me. I guess it takes a Jewish temple softball team to spend four innings debating whether heaven and hell exist, rather than arguing about actual baseball...

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D'varim 5771: Moses and Personal Growth

August 5, 2012

Rabbi Jason Holtz, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

My wife Jodi, who is here tonight, and who I'm pretty sure loves it when I start a sermon talking about her, and by loves it, I mean hates it, is a teacher in the Catalina Foothills School District. While the students don't report back to school for a few more days yet, the teachers started this week. As part of the lead-up to the start of the school year, the faculty in her school district has been working hard to make sure that they provide the best 21st century educational experience possible for their students. As part of that effort, they have been brushing up on the latest research in educational psychology. She shared with me an article that was passed around to the teachers in her district. The article , by Dr. Carol Dweck who is a psychology professor at Stanford University, was a new twist on an old debate—nature vs. nurture.

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Eikev 5771: Bad Things, Good People, and the One True Reward

August 19, 2011

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

I was asked this week by a bar mitzvah student just what the difference is between commandment, mitzvah, and covenant, berit. And I explained that commanded mitzvot are ethical acts we are ordered to fulfill, while covenant, berit, is a kind of sacred contract, a deal we make with God: if we do this, then God will do that. A covenant can include mitzvot, but essentially it a deal, a quid pro quo. It limits us to a course of action that is specified in the contract, the berit—and oddly, it also limits God, who is stuck doing whatever it is God promised us if we stuck to the rules.

Read more: Eikev 5771: Bad Things, Good People, and the One True Reward

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