Devarim 5775: Unity Lessons from the History Fast

July 24, 2015

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

This Shabbat marks an interesting day on the Jewish calendar. It actually falls on the 9th of Av, the fast day of Tisha B’Av, which remembers the destruction of both the First Temple by the Babylonians nearly 2600 years ago, and that of the Second Temple by the Romans 1945 years ago, as well as the burning of Jerusalem and the end of the independent Jewish state both times. It also marks the anniversary of the fall of Betar, ending the last great Jewish revolt against Rome by Bar Cochba in the year 135 CE, and of the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, fully effective on this Hebrew calendar date in the year 1492. Altogether, a terribly dark day in Jewish history.

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Va'etchanan 5775: Speeding Up and Slowing Down

July 31, 2015

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

Mahatma Gandhi taught, “There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.” But in our society, we have pretty completely ignored that teaching. In fact, every year the pace of events in our world speeds up. Things constantly move quicker, even in summer, when it used to slow down here in Tucson. Not anymore.

This increase in the tempo of human affairs has been a long process, but the pace of life has accelerated considerably, even exponentially in recent years. It didn’t start out that way. For many centuries the world didn’t really speed up at all. For example, the armies of Julius Caesar in the 1st century BCE and that of George Washington in the 1700’s travelled at exactly the same pace—three miles an hour at top speed, as fast as human beings could march. And Thomas Jefferson never traveled any faster than Moses did 3000 years earlier: their best speed was determined by the pace of the fastest galloping horse each man had ridden, and horses haven’t really gotten much faster over the millennia. Through much of human history the measured movement of life was more or less a constant, controlled by the physical limitations of our species and of those we could domesticate.

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Eikev 5775: Here's the Deal: Covenant, Commandment and Good and Bad People

August 7, 2015

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

If you do good things do you expect a reward? When you act badly do you anticipate punishment?

If you answered yes to those questions our Torah portion this week is for you!

I was asked by a bat mitzvah student what the difference is between commandment, mitzvah, and covenant, berit. I explained that commanded mitzvot are ethical acts we are ordered to fulfill, while covenant, berit, is a kind of sacred contract, an agreement we make with God: if we do this, then God will do that. A covenant can include mitzvot, but essentially it is 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.

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Mikeitz/Hanukkah 5773: The Real Gift of Hanukkah - Freedom of Conscience

December 14, 2012

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

Before we begin tonight, I must ask you take a moment of silence in memory of the children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut who were murdered earlier today. At times of shocking atrocities like this, which we have experienced too many times in recent years, there is really no response that will make sense of the tragedy. I ask that you pray for the families of all who were killed and wounded, and that perhaps at some point we may find a way to prevent such horrible acts from taking place ever again.

May the families of these innocents find consolation and comfort in God, and may we find a way to work to prevent such horrors from recurring in our land, and in our world.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Chanukah Same'iach!

If you are anything like me, you have been eating latkes and sufganiyot for 7 nights and days now, and after all the fried food and parties it's time to begin to think about cutting back on the caloric intake... Unfortunately, there are other celebrations this time of year that we participate in, and often they also have food to eat, I'm told. The danger is that what we will take from this holiday season may turn out to be nothing but several extra pounds around the middle of our bodies...

And that would be a shame. Because for Jews and non-Jews, the central message of Hanukkah is powerful and important, and it is especially relevant all year-round, here in America and everywhere in the world.

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Mikeitz/Hanukkah 5774: Killing Dreamers and Dreams

November 29, 2013

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

Shabbat Shalom, and of course Chag Urim Samei'ach, and a very Happy Hanukkah. May this festival of light be a time of joy, celebration, and peace for everyone here. And may we all figure out how to lose a few of the pounds we added at Thanksgiving and Hanukkah yesterday... What a truly rare combination of foods: stuffing and latkes. Two fantastic foodstuffs that are totally delicious and have no redeeming nutritional qualities whatsoever.

As we continue in this week's Torah portion of Mikeitz exploring the great story of Joseph, I have been thinking about dreams, and dreamers. When I spoke about this subject last Shabbat it happened to occur on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and also the week of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln. The coincidence of these seminal milestones falling within the same week, and also the week that we began reading the portion that deals with Joseph's amazing Technicolor dream interpreting, was extraordinary. And that this all occurred just before Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates the victory of the Maccabean dreamers and fighters over their dream-free enemies added potency to the multiple correlations.

I noted last week that the Jewish conception of dreaming is that of a practical and pragmatic approach to realizing what some might call the impossible. Theodore Herzl told us, im tirtzu ein zo agadah—if you will it, it is not a dream. That means that our greatest dreamers are those who not only imagine a better world, but who make it happen.

Read more: Mikeitz/Hanukkah 5774: Killing Dreamers and Dreams