Ki Teitzei 5775: Teshuvah and Change

August 28, 2015

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

We are nearly halfway through the final month on the Jewish calendar, Elul, which means Rosh HaShanah is just two weeks from Sunday night.  This is the time of year when we examine our lives in the past year, think about how we have lived, and decide how we can improve and change in the coming 5776 year.

Around a synagogue like Temple Emanu-El, Elul is always an interesting time—that is a Chinese curse, by the way, may you live in interesting times—a period of accelerating preparations and steadily increasing stress leading up to the great pressure-cooker of the wonderful, awesome, overwhelming High Holy Day season.  In this swirling maelstrom of activity we need to find the time and energy to figure out how we need to change in the coming year.

Hot Dog httpsflic.krp8JznR6

My favorite joke about change is the one about the Zen Buddhist hot dog vendor.  A man walks up to the Zen Buddhist hot dog vendor and says, “How much is a hot dog?”  And vendor says, “$4.”  So the guy says, “OK, I’ll take one with everything” and hands him a $20 bill.  The Zen Buddhist hot dog vendor hands him the hot dog, takes the $20, puts it into his cash drawer and closes it.  The guy says, “Hey, where’s my change?!”  And the Zen Buddhist vendor says, “Change must come from within.”

Read more: Ki Teitzei 5775: Teshuvah and Change

Blessings in Advance - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon on Re’ei 5775

August 15, 2015

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El

Tucson, Arizona


The sun is still hot, and the weather unpredictable and monsoony.  But while I know it's slightly unbelievable, public school started last week, our Kurn Hebrew School begins soon, and Religious School kicks off next Sunday.  The seasons are changing. 

The High Holidays are coming up in about a month, four weeks for Sunday if you must know.  We bless the new month of Elul on this Shabbat because Rosh Chodesh Elul is Sunday, the beginning of the last month of the Jewish year.  It's the time of year to think about the state of our relationships, to prepare to do a cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the state of our souls, to reflect on where we are in our lives, where we've been, and where we are headed.

We are just beginning the yearly journey of getting ready for the chagim, the Jewish fall holidays, examining the choices we continually make and the way our choices have worked out for us in the past year.

The opening lines of this week's parsha, Re'ei, are famously about choice.  In that beginning passage Moses says to us, the people of Israel,

Re'ei, anochi noten lifneichem hayom bracha u'klalla.
Et habracha asher tishm'u el-mitzvot Adonai Eloheichem asher anochi m'tzaveh etchem hayom.
V'ha klallah im-lo tishm'u el-mitzvot Adonai Eloheichem…

“See, I give you today a blessing and a curse.
The blessing, if you listen to the mitzvot of your God

that I command you today.
And the curse if you don't obey or listen.”

Read more: Blessings in Advance - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon on Re’ei 5775

Eikev 5773: No More Strangers

July 26, 2013

Cantorial Soloist Marjorie Hochberg, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

I recently watched an HBO special starring African-American comedienne, Wanda Sykes. Among other comments she made about growing up black in a mostly white society, one was especially memorable to me. She said her mother would not let Wanda and her siblings dance in the car. Picture it: a great song comes on the radio. Wanda and her brothers and sister kids starting grooving to the beat. And their mother slams on the brakes. She would say, "There is no dancing in the car. Either we are driving or dancing, but not both." She would continue, "White people are watching you."

"White people are watching you." Today, in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, those words seem ominous. A little over a week ago, a Florida court acquitted George Zimmerman of charges of 2nd degree murder and manslaughter in the death of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. Many of us heard this verdict on television as it was delivered from the Florida court. More than any other verdict in recent memory, this one has spurred a flood of discussion, commentary and criticism about many issues, including the nation's gun laws, the state of the nation for African American youth, and race relations in general in our country.

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Sh'lach L'cha 5773: The Why Factor

May 31, 2013

Reverend Canon John E. Kitagawa, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

Shabbat Shalom!

I am very pleased to be with you once again, and I am honored be here at the bimah to address you. My starting point this evening is a little unusual, so please bear with me. All Episcopal clergy in Arizona have seen a video featuring Simon Sinek talking about How Great Leaders Inspire Action . Sinek's premise is rather simple. He uses the "Golden Circle" to illustrate. Imagine a target with a bull's eye in the middle, with two concentric circles around it. He labels the center "Why", the next circle "How", and the outer ring, "What". Sinek says most people are pretty clear about "What" a company or organization does, "How" they do it, but tend to be fuzzy about "Why" they do it. He goes on to use this simple construct to explain Martin Luther King, Jr's. ability to succeed where others had failed. Sinek's contention is that King succeeded because he focused on the "Why" rather than on the "What" or the "How". Many of us remember his "I Have a Dream" speech (08.28.1963).

Read more: Sh'lach L'cha 5773: The Why Factor