Shoftim 5772: Humility

August 24, 2012

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

When he (the king) is seated on his royal throne, he shall write for himself a copy of this teaching in a book before the levitical priests. Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws. Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the instruction to the right or to the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).

We are now less than a month away from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is traditionally a time for introspection and reflection, a time for looking inward. But I don't want to. Not that it's not important, it is. Rather, I'd like for us to focus on others, not ourselves. To that end, I want to talk about humility.

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Ki Tavo 5772: The Politics of Holiness

September 7, 2012

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

In polite society if you wish to avoid controversy, you are taught early on in life, two subjects are off-limits—religion and politics. Well, here we are in synagogue on Friday night and you know we are going to talk about religion. So why not go for the homerun and talk about that other great taboo subject, politics?

Frankly, this week that's hard to avoid. This week some of you have been watching the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, which concluded last night after President Obama's acceptance speech, and last week I suspect some of you watched the Republican National Convention, which was held in Tampa, Florida and concluded with the nomination of Mitt Romney. I must admit that what impressed me the most about these political extravaganzas of self-congratulation and vilification of the opposition most was the quality of the production values in both shows. I recall watching national political conventions as a child and thinking that they seemed really, really boring—lots of politicians getting up and talking for a very long time; in those days the only interesting stuff happened outside the convention hall where people were rioting. The convention itself was a dreary succession of speech after speech after speech.

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Erev Rosh Hashanah 5773: Tikkun Olam

September 16, 2012

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

A couple of months ago, my wife Jodi and I were traveling to visit our families.   We are still at that stage where we don’t know each other’s more distant relatives very well.  So, I decided to share a few old family stories in preparation of the get together.   She immediately interrupted and said, “Jason, before you tell me any stories, just assume that you’ve already told me.  At least fifteen times.” 

I think I may have already shared that story with some of you.

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, rabbis all over the country are going to try and say something new to their congregations.  They will try to share fresh ideas and insights or to craft some new story.   I often do that myself, not just on the High Holy Days, but weekly on Shabbat.  Tonight, though, I do not have a new story for you.  I do not have a new teaching or a new idea that nobody has ever thought of before.  Rather, I am going to talk about something that has been talked about for millennia.  I am going to talk about Creation.  After all, this is Rosh Hashanah and we are here to mark the creation of the world. 

Tonight marks the year 5773, traditionally understood as 5773 since the creation of the world as described in the Hebrew Bible.  Now, I must say.  I do not believe that the world came into existence almost 6,000 years ago in six days.  All of the scientific evidence we have points to a much older earth and universe.  I think Rabbi Cohon has one of the better ways of explaining the number for the Jewish year.  Now I hope I don’t misquote him, being that he’s my boss and sitting right behind me, but he said that a few thousand years ago the best Jewish minds got together and looking at all of the evidence they had available to them at the time and this is the number they came up with.  Now that we have more evidence that leads to a different conclusion, there is nothing wrong with modifying our estimates by a few billion years or so.  As the great economist Alan Keynes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind.”

Read more: Erev Rosh Hashanah 5773: Tikkun Olam

Rosh Hashanah Morning 5773: The Search for God in the Accelerator -- and in Life

September 17, 2012

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

Hayom Harat Olam, we sang a few minutes ago, today is the birthday of the world.  According to the calculation of the rabbis of the Talmudic period, the entire universe began a very long time ago on this day, Rosh HaShanah.  So how do you celebrate the birthday of the world?

Do you bake a giant honey cake, and put 5,773 lit candles on top of it?  Fill up blue and white balloons and hang “Happy Birthday World” streamers? Purchase and wrap gigantic presents?  Buy a truly humongous card, and get 7 billion people to sign it?  Invite everybody to come over and blow loud horns and sing songs?  Ok, so we do actually blow loud horns and sing songs.  I guess we have that part of the birthday party thing covered.

But what does it mean, exactly, that this is the birthday of the world?  Does it mean that this is the anniversary of the beginning of creation?  And when was it exactly when creation began?

I was asked in a class recently just what we are counting 5773 years from exactly.  I mean, Judaism has only been around for 3800 years, at longest, from the time of Abraham.  So where does this number 5773 come from?

Read more: Rosh Hashanah Morning 5773: The Search for God in the Accelerator -- and in Life

Kol Nidre 5773: The First Community and Ours

September 25, 2012

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

A group of elderly, retired Jews gather at a café in Tel Aviv every morning.  They sit for hours drinking coffee and analyzing the world situation.  Given the state of ings, their talks are usually depressing.  One day, one of the men startles everyone by saying, “You know what?  I am an optimist!”

This shocks the other guys, and one of them notices something fishy.  “Wait a minute,” he says, “If you are an optimist, why do you look so worried?”

And the first man answers, “You think it’s so easy to be an optimist?”

That reminds me of the situation of our congregation, and very likely every synagogue today.  Right now things are going pretty well.  We are having beautiful High Holy Day Services, our music program offers the most active, professional and creative Jewish music in Arizona, our membership is up, our Strauss ECE preschool is going beautifully, our Religious School is educating kids in Jewish life, our Adult Education Academy offers a fantastic array of courses that are filled with adult learners.  Our Outreach Program continues to bring new people into active participation in Jewish life.  We even have a brand new solar array, a newly paved parking lot, and—this is no small thing—brand new bathrooms.  We should be optimistic.

Read more: Kol Nidre 5773: The First Community and Ours

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