Light in Dark Times: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Mikets 5776

December 11, 2015

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizona

Once there was a Chasid who was afraid of the dark.  “Tell me, Rabbi,” the Chasid asked,  “How can I chase the darkness from the world?”

So the Rebbe sent the Chasid into the deep darkness of the shul’s basement.  Handing him a broom he said, “Go sweep the darkness out of the basement.” 

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Ordinary Miracles: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Vayishlach 5776

November 6, 2015

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizona

Thank you all for being here on this Shabbat.  I'd like to thank Marjorie Hochberg for singing tonight, and Chris Tackett our accompanist for doing a beautiful job on the service.  I’d like to thank Beth Horowitz for her drash.  I'd like to thank each and every one of you who are present.  I’m grateful to be on the bimah tonight, and I am most grateful to be the rabbi of this congregation.  I can't tell you what it means to me to be here.  You are too kind to listen to me offer this sermon.  By golly, thanks!  No really, thanks a lot.  Is there anyone I've forgotten to thank?  Wouldn't want to do that.  Oh, and I'd like to thank my mom and dad, for without them I wouldn't be here.  And I'd like to thank the Academy for this great honor...

Read more: Ordinary Miracles: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Vayishlach 5776

The Resilience of Abraham: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Parshat Chayei Sarah 5776

November 6, 2015

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizona

I have just returned—literally so; I landed an hour ago—from the Reform movement URJ Biennial in Florida this week.  While a number of speakers and events are still to come there, including celebrating Shabbat with 5000 other Reform Jews under one large roof and hearing from Vice President Joe Biden, I had some wonderful experiences the last few days that are well worth sharing tonight with you.

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Religion and Peace: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Parshat Lech Lecha 5776

October 23, 2015

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizona

An old Jewish man is taking a walk in the desert. He comes across a banged up old lantern, the kind Aladdin would have played with.  As he rubs off some of the dust, lo and behold, a Genie appears!  The Genie asks the man for his favorite wish. Thinking a bit, the man says, "I used to live in Chicago and I still love the Cubs. They just lost in the league championship series.  I want that the Cubs should win the pennant and the World Series next year."

The Genie shakes his head and begs the man to reconsider his wish.  "The Cubs? They haven't won the World Series in 107 years. Can't you ask me to fulfill a wish that’s a bit easier?”

The old man takes a minute to think, and then he says with a smile, "Ok, how about making peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians?"

The Genie strokes his beard slowly and responds, "Would you like the Cubs to win in seven, or do you insist on a four game sweep?"

My apologies to all Cubs fans present tonight…  Yitgadal v’Yitkadash…

Read more: Religion and Peace: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Parshat Lech Lecha 5776

Yom Kippur 5776, Ne’ilah - From Gehenna to the Gates

September 23, 2015

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizon

My favorite High Holy Day quotation of all time comes from that great font of Jewish knowledge, Charles Schultz’s cartoon “Peanuts”. Charlie Brown, the every-man nebbish, says “Sometimes I lie awake at night and ask where have I gone wrong?” And then a voice comes and says to me, “This is going to take more then one night.”

Teshuvah is like that. We repent, and repent, and repent, not only one night but the following morning and afternoon and into the evening, one whole long day. And yet still, in our hearts, we have the sense that remaking ourselves might just take more than this single Day of Atonement.

But on the other hand, as Tevyeh used to say, maybe not. Maybe this will prove to be enough… if the conditions are just right. If we have gone our very best to atone for our sins. If we have apologized to all of those we have wronged. If our hearts are open, our defenses down, our awareness of God and the sanctity possible in this world heightened. If we have come to know our own failings and repent them and seek to return to what is sacred and best within ourselves. Then, maybe, this Yom Kippur will prove to be enough.

After all, we have been at it now for nearly 24 hours, since we began Kol Nidrei last night. By this time we have probably apologized for sins we didn’t even dream of committing…

Now we come to Ne’ilah. Ne’ilah is a unique time. According to the tradition, this is time on Yom Kippur, on the Day of Atonement when the very gates of repentance are beginning to close. Ne’ilah in Hebrew means the “locking of the gates”, and as the Book of Life is sealed, the gates of repentance, too, are locked. This is the time for our final appeal to our Creator, and to ourselves, to live a better life in 5776 than we managed to achieve in 5775. It is our last hurrah, our final curtain, the fading rays of the sun on this day of fasting, penance, and prayer. To paraphrase an old cliché, if the opera isn’t over until the fat lady sings, Yom Kippur isn’t over until the gates are locked.

Read more: Yom Kippur 5776, Ne’ilah - From Gehenna to the Gates