Sh'lach L'cha 5772: Spies Like Us

June 15, 2012

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

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."

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Korach 5772: Rebellion, Holiness, and Leadership

Board Installation Shabbat - June 22, 2012

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

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.

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Chukat 5772: Healthcare

June 29, 2012

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

When I was a college student, a history professor of mine, Robert Rockaway, told me that if he had to choose any period of time in history in which to live, he'd choose any time that he could be king, because it's always good to be the king.   That's nice and all, but many kings lived when kings didn't live for very long, nor anyone else for that matter.   Much is made of the fact of Moses' age, but remember, it only took forty years for almost everyone born in Egypt to completely die out in the wilderness.  One hundred years ago, in 1912, the life expectancy in the United States was 51 years for men and 55 years for women.   Nowadays, the average life expectancy in the US is 78 years.  Israel's life expectancy for those of you wondering is 81 years.  So what happened? 

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Balak 5772: The Role of Mazal

July 6, 2012

Rabbi Sandy Seltzer, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

Some of you may remember the song "You Gotta Have a Little Mazel", which I think was originally made famous by the Andrew sisters, Patty, Laverne and Maxine: "You gotta have a little mazel, 'cause mazel means good luck and with a little mazel you'll always have a buck."

Similarly, it is customary in many congregations, on the occasion of a birthday, a wedding, a Bar Mitzvah or other festive moments, for everyone to sing: "Siman tov umazal tov, y'hei lanu ul'chol Yisrael." Literally, may we be the beneficiaries of good signs and good fortune along with the entire household of Israel.

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

July 13, 2012

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

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.

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


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