Yom Kippur Morning 5773: A Work in Progress

September 26, 2012

Rabbi Baruch J. Cohon, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

G’mar Chatimah Tovah – Complete your good seal in the Book of Life.  My friends, this is the 13th time that I have the privilege and pleasure to celebrate the New Year with you.  Happily and gratefully I come to wish you shana tovah um’tukah -- a year that will be good and sweet.  Beyond that, what message can I bring you that will be any different?  Well, let’s start with a personal anecdote. 

One day last year, a young lady brought me a story.  It was a true story from her own growing up years, and it included some famous people and some well-known places.  I liked the story and I asked her what she was planning to do with it.

Read more: Yom Kippur Morning 5773: A Work in Progress

Yom Kippur Yizkor 5773: Parents and Children

September 26, 2012

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

I mentioned last night that the proper name for Yom Kippur this year might well be “The Hunger Games”.  And by this time of the afternoon it certainly feels that way. 

But in a larger sense, and a more intimate one as well, on Yom Kippur there is a significant, and sometimes, troubling focus on survival.  I don’t just mean whether you can survive the many long prayers and songs and self-criticism and endless sermons and especially going a full 24 hours without food or water.  I mean that this survival challenge is in the liturgy itself, the prayers and readings we speak and sing.  It starts with our greeting, g’mar chatimah tovah, to be “sealed in the Book of Life” for a year of, well, life and therefore not death.  Many times already we have prayed to be written in the Book of Life, and not left out; we ask again and again for life—which means we are also thinking about the possibility that we won’t make the cut and will be left out of the Book of Life.  That, of course, means death.

This morning in the BeRosh Hashanah section of the Unetaneh Tokef we chanted about the fate of all who will pass away in the coming year, “Who shall live, and who shall die?  Who by fire and who by water, who in war and who by wild beast?  Who by thirst and who by hunger?  Who by earthquake and who by flood?”  We wear these white robes on this Yom Kippur not just because we seek the purity of forgiveness, which we do, but because we also imitate the white linen shroud in which the dead are buried.  On this holiest holy day of the year there is an overtone of potential ending for each of us.

So why all this focus on death?  Certainly, some of us will not survive this year; this is a sad and tragic fact, but it is also a fact the other 364 days of the year.  So why today, when we are all together and praying and fasting and seeking forgiveness, do we look so much at death?

Read more: Yom Kippur Yizkor 5773: Parents and Children

Noach 5773: Ark & Tower

October 19, 2012

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

What an extraordinary week this has been here at Temple Emanu-El! Just after the long fall holiday season finally ended and you might think that it was safe to go back in the ocean, that things should settle down a bit, we instead had an incredible array of fascinating programs here at Temple. It began a week ago last night when we hosted the Corporation Commission Forum for the League of Women Voters that I moderated, and which focused on solar energy, and continued last Sunday when Dr. Wendy Weise Cohon gave a fantastic presentation on "The Genesis of Gender in the Garden of Eden" to our WRJ. I admit to some bias on this, but even so it was a fabulous exploration of image and identity and Breisheet. That same afternoon we also hosted the first Interfaith Solar Day here with Congressman Ron Barber. On Tuesday we began our fascinating "The Architecture of Sacred Spaces" course for the Adult Education Academy, followed on Wednesday by the first of two outstanding programs on Constitutional Controversies in the 2012 election, this one on SB-1070 and Federal/State issues over immigration with Dean Toni Massaro of the Law School and former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Stanley Feldman on Federal Judicial Appointments and other Constitutional issues; and last night we began our "The God Connect" course on Jewish and Islamic Mysticism with Professor Scott Lucas from the Islamic Department at the U of A and myself, a class that will also include Professors Ann Betteridge and Wendy Cohon.

Frankly, there is something every single day at Temple Emanu-El, sometimes twice a day, that you just don't want to miss...

Read more: Noach 5773: Ark & Tower

Vayera 5773: Hurricane and Stewardship

November 2, 2012

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

While hurricane Sandy was pounding most of the East Coast of the United States, the weather here in Tucson has been simply beautiful: cool, crisp early mornings giving way to warm, sunny, balmy, lovely days. There is something surreal about enjoying gorgeous fall weather while watching photos of flooding, destruction, and havoc wrought by a natural disaster on the other side of the country. It creates a true cognitive dissonance. God is giving us good conditions, and New Jersey, New York and much of East Coast are receiving really bad conditions.

This is both disturbing and weirdly comforting: it is impossible to view the photos of the huge ocean waves and massive flooding, including the New York subway system, and not feel some shock and distress. Over 70 people dead, millions without power, people suddenly homeless, widespread damage and destruction. But in a very basic way it is a relief to be here in a region that looks and feels even better than normal, pleasant and peaceful... It is apparently possible to feel both relieved and guilty at the same time—relieved that this time it's not us, and guilty for feeling relief. Frankly, that's probably a primary Jewish emotional condition, relief and guilt mingled... And we have it now over this hurricane.

Read more: Vayera 5773: Hurricane and Stewardship

Chayei Sarah 5773: Two Types of Religion - The Priestly and the Prophetic

November 9, 2012

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

Even if I had someone like Eliezer helping me look, I don't think I could have done any better. I'll pick up right where Jodi left off.

There are some fascinating details to the story in this week's parashah that affect Jewish practice to this day. When Eliezer and Rebecca return to meet Isaac for the first time, they find that he has "gone out to the field towards the evening to pray." One school of thought says that this is Isaac, creating the afternoon prayer service. Some of the classic rabbis attribute the entire Jewish tradition of prayer back to the patriarchs. To Abraham they credit the morning service, to Isaac the afternoon service, and to Jacob the evening service. As for Abraham and the morning service, there is a biblical verse that states: "The next morning, Abraham hurried to the place where he had stood before Adonai" (19:27). Some of early rabbis took standing to mean praying, and there you have it: morning services. Lastly, the evening service originates with Jacob based on the verse: "And he [Jacob] encountered a place" (28:11). In this case, having an encounter refers to prayer, and "a place" is taken to mean God. If that strikes you as a curious way of describing God as a "place," it is actually frequently done by the rabbis. They call God HaMakom -The Place. Perhaps what they mean is that God is the place where all of creation, all of being exists. If you like these explanations, then I suppose you have Isaac to thank for Yom Kippur services that seem especially long, particularly in the latter part of the day.

Read more: Chayei Sarah 5773: Two Types of Religion - The Priestly and the Prophetic


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