Moses’ Transition from Stuttering to Speech

         Moses, the man who was “slow of speech and slow of tongue”[1] certainly does not have that problem in the fifth and final book of the Torah. He shares many דברים, words which are mostly harsh rebuke,[2] with Israel throughout this book. How did Moses transition from a stutterer, one who needed his brother Aaron to speak on his behalf, to an excellent orator?

         One answer is practice makes perfect. Moses certainly had ample opportunities to practice his speech in the Torah so that by Deuteronomy he was a skilled speaker. However, I do not buy that being the sole reason. For example, I am not the most coordinated individual to say it mildly. I can work on my hand-eye coordination for hours a day through playing tennis, and while my game would improve, I will never be competing in Wimbledon or the US Open, or even a semipro tournament. It appears to me that something additional is occurring here.

         The Sefat Emet, or Gerer Rebbe, whose writings I study every week, sheds light on this question. He quotes the proverb “a healing tongue is a tree of life…”[3] which the Midrash interprets as “the languages of the Torah liberates the tongue…regarding Moses, until he merited Torah, it is said of him, ‘I am not a man of words.’ When he merited Torah, his tongue was healed and he began to speak.”[4] Had the Midrash been the end of Sefat Emet’s comment, I would not have bought into it either. However, he interprets the Midrash as follows: “Moses our teacher represented the collective wisdom of all of Israel. Therefore, so long as the Israelites were not ready (to receive God’s words), Moses was not “a man of words” because his speech included the speech of all of Israel.”[5] What the Sefat Emet is saying, is that Moses’ initial impediment was not due to his own inability to speak but rather to his inability to be heard…it was the fact that he was already leading them, already bound up with them, that made him see how ineffective he would be without Israel’s full buy-in. Israel’s unreadiness to listen made him unwilling to speak. Moses’ journey towards words, then, was not a move from silence to speech, but from isolation to solidarity, from a ruptured relationship to a repaired one.”[6]

         Today is Tisha B’Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, the exile of Spanish Jewry, and numerous other calamities in our people’s history. While the fast and observance of the day is pushed off until tonight because we do not want to rush towards sad occasions, nor do we want to experience them on Shabbat, we recognize where we are on the Jewish calendar. The rabbis say that the Temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam, baseless hatred between Jews.[7] While actions speak louder than words, it is not true that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ We know, as is the title of Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s book, that there are “words that hurt” and “words that heal.” Moses was reluctant to lead because he saw the stubbornness, the “stiff-necked” nature of Israel, so he was not able to speak. Similarly, as Rabbi Dr. Erin Lieb Smokler writes, “Tisha B’Av lies not only in the breakdown of communication between God and human beings, but importantly, in the rupture of communication between people.”[8]

         At the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, we ended each day of retreat in complete silence and continued silence for the first half of the next day, observing without speaking, taking everything in without verbally reacting. Tonight, at the end of our outdoor Maariv services, we will leave without saying anything to each other, not even the word Shalom. There is a time and place for speech, and Moses recognized that speaking at the outset would lead to resistance. As a matter of fact, the first time he spoke before Pharoah, Israel had to gather their own straw, causing the Israelite leaders to erupt against Moses and Moses to cry out למה הרעותה לעם הזה למה זה שלחתני, “Why have you brought evil onto this people? Why have you sent me?”[9] Tisha B’Av reminds us, in the words of Kohelet, that there is “a time for speaking and a time for silence,” [10] and Tisha B’Av is the time for silence: to take it all in, to feel with our emotions but not respond with words. May we have a meaningful Tisha B’Av where we observe without reaction, where we recognize there are no words for the calamities that befell our people, and where in doing so we draw closer to the Holy One-for we can only start to rebuild towards the New Year when we recognize the broken aspects of our lives.


[1] Exodus 4:10

[2] See Rashi on Deuteronomy 1:1

[3] Proverbs 15:4

[4] Devarim Rabbah 1:1

[5] Sefat Emet, Devarim, 1877

[6] Rabbi Dr. Erin Lieb Smokler, Torah Study to Sustain the Soul, Devarim, Instutute for Jewish Spirituality, 2022, Page 4.

[7] Yoma 9b.

[8] Smokler, Page 5.

[9] Exodus 5:22

[10] Ecclesiastes 3:8

The Strength of Zelophehad’s Daughters

         In Parshat Pinchas, we learn about the strength of women, specifically the five daughters of Zelophehad. We learned in Parshat Shelach Lecha that none of the men would survive entry into the Land of Israel except for Caleb son of Jephuneh and Joshua son of Nun because of the spies’ bad report showing their lack of faith in God. In Deuteronomy we learn that all of the men perished except for Moses, Caleb and Joshua. Rashi has an interesting comment there. He writes, “All the men but not all the women. The men said זכרנו את הדגה, ‘remember the fish we ate for free in Egypt,’[1] whereas the women said תנה לנו אחוזה, ‘give us an inheritance in the Land of Israel.’” [2]

         We often look at the fact that Zelophehad’s daughters wanted to inherit yet we overlook the importance of this inheritance being in the Land of Israel. In spite of the lack of water and meat, the rebellion of Korach, the battles with Sihon and Og, these women wanted to be in the Land of Israel. They were not part of the caravan that formed to go back to Egypt, nor were they part of the cultic worship of Baal Peor. Their desire to have a foothold in the Land was paramount.

         In life we have to look at our personal mission and keep our eye on the prize-our focus on our mission. It is far too easy to divert our eyes, to be taken in by all of the distractions and to be all over the place. The goal is to know what we are looking for, both individually and as a congregation and to not stop trying when the going gets tough. Rather than diverting our eyes or giving up at the first sign of difficulty, we need to be like the daughters of Zelophehad-knowing what we want and trying to get it, working strategically, with both patience and perseverance.

         There’s another equally compelling part of the Zelophehad narrative. After hearing the daughters’ request, Moses takes it to God, one of only a handful of times when he does so. God says כן בנות צלפחד דברות, “Yes, the plea of the daughters of Zelophehad is just.”[3] By taking the case to the Higher Power, Moses admits that he does not have all the answers. Equally important to being focused on one’s mission is not becoming an ideologue-when one recognizes that s/he doesn’t have the answer, the goal is not to make something up but having the courage to say, “I don’t know.” As such one’s mission can change with new information or new situations-as long as it does not change every time something (or someone) gets into one’s ear. Finding the balance is challenging; recognizing that there is a balance is crucial.

         As we continue in the three weeks of mourning, a time of intense soul searching, let us be mindful of reflecting on who we are and what we value most. May we have the strength to stay the course when that is required, while concurrently having the humility to admit that we don’t know everything, as well as the wisdom to see when someone else is right and we are wrong.


[1] Numbers 11:5

[2] Numbers 27:4

[3] Numbers 27:5

Things Beyond Reason

In my first interview to become rabbi at Mosaic Law Congregation, I mentioned that I would like to unite a congregation behind a common goal. Rabbi Moses, who was at the interview, asked me to say more about that. I said that for my first year I would set a goal behind connecting a topic, be it Torah, Israel, Social Action or something else, to the congregation through 4 dimensions, or if you’re kabbalistically inclined, through the four worlds.

My Hevruta Mitchell Chefitz taught me about the 4 worlds. The way I found this most constructive is when someone asks me a question from which world is it coming? Is it Asiyah, about constructive action, Yetzirah, emotional or feelings, Beriah, idea focused, or Atzilut, spiritual emanation.

Using Torah as an example, through Asiyah, the dimension/world of action, we would engage in Torah through physical engagement with Torah, be it a Torah roll out, interactive activities with our illuminated Torah, or allowing B’nai Mitzvah families to bring a Torah home the weekend before their Bar/Bat Mitzvah (liability insurance permitting). Through Yetzirah, the dimension/world of emotions, we would explore having Torah connect with our hearts through guided meditation/reiki practice (I’ve actually done a reiki Torah guided meditation), small group discussions about Torah teachings have entered our heart or our relationship with Torah. Through Beriah, the dimension/world of ideas, we can explore resources for giving a D’var Torah (luckily MLC has plenty of excellent darshanim), compelling adult education classes including but not limited to Shabbat Torah Study and connecting Torah to current events. If all three of these are done well than the fourth dimension/world, Atzilut, or spiritual emanation, takes care of itself.

         Why go through this list of possibilities? Because different people relate to torah differently. Those of us who are concrete, centering ourselves in the world of action, or intellectual, focusing on the world of ideation, both would struggle with this week’s portion. What logical rationale is there for someone declared “impure” to take a three-year-old, unblemished and unyoked red heifer, and have it sacrificed on your behalf, its ashes sprinkled upon you? Furthermore, the one who sprinkles the ashes becomes impure through carrying out this ritual. This is the ultimate Hok, law for which there is no rational explanation, which is likely why it commences Parshat Hukkat.

The Piatzetzner Rebbe, Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, writes in his instruction manual Derekh HaMelekh, “We understand that a Hukkah is a law beyond reason/understanding (שכל/sekhel). Rashi explained the derivation of this word from the phrase (see Numbers Rabbah 19:1): “I have decreed this decree [and you are not permitted to trespass my decree]”. This, then, has the sense of “a decree that shall never be trespassed” (Psalms 147:6). In the end, these interpretations are actually one. The command [a parent gives] their child according to some reason (שכל/sekhel) can be investigated by the child, seeking some reason. If it is appropriate, they will do it; otherwise, they will ask its reason. But that command which is given because it is a decree (חוקה/chukkah), because this is what the parent desires beyond explanation/reason is a “decree that shall never be trespassed”.[1] Let’s make this concrete with an example. You tell your child, “Don’t touch the stove!” You have a reason-you don’t want your child’s hand to get burnt. Your child may not understand the reason but does understand from the tone and volume of your voice how serious this is. The Piatzetzner concludes “God has indicated to us that every innovative interpretation [in Torah] that we express (“say”) from our mind (שכל/sekhel) is not “new” from our mind alone, but instead from the innerness of our soul, which is beyond our mind.”[2]

Some things we feel in our gut, our kishke, but we don’t have a rationalization for it. Think about our feelings, especially in relationships. I remember during my year in Israel I fell for a girl at the Hartman Institute who (I didn’t know at the time) didn’t share those feelings for me. After a few dates she said we can’t be together because I’m leaving Israel in 3 months. I tried to reason, saying “We still have 3 months together. Let’s see how it goes. If it works out, I could even come back over Winter Break.” However, logic is no substitute for what she emotionally felt. It is no substitute for what any of us feel, even if we can’t intuit exactly why we feel that way. Thankfully I later met Karina and the rest, as they say is history.

As different people connect with Torah in different ways, I plan to explore this year our engagement with Torah in all of these dimensions. Having opportunities to physically interact with the Torah scroll, emotionally connect with the teachings of Torah and intellectually relate to Torah are all important. It is my goal that in the year 5783 MLC will be united in our engagement in Torah. The goal is not reason alone but rather connecting with Torah in all its complexity. Mind you there is risk involved: one might begin a rationalist and emerge a mystic or an initiative planned to the T might flop. Yet it is our responsibility to continually find new ways to connect with Torah for God is המחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית-the one who renews the acts of creation each and every day.


[1] Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, Derech HaMelech, Parshat Hukkat.

[2] Ibid.

Making Torah Fixed

         One aspect I love about Judaism is that the opinions of the minority are preserved in the text. Generally, the school of Hillel is victorious over the School of Shammai. However, the words of Shammai are preserved in the text. Shammai says the following in Avot: עשה תורתך קבע אמר מעט ועשה הרבה והוי מקבל את כל אדם בסבר פנים יפות “Make Torah a fixed practice, say little and do much and receive everyone with a cheerful countenance.”[1] While the last statement might seem ironic given other stories, we know about Shammai, it’s the first that I want to focus on-making study of Torah fixed. The Gerer Rebbe from 19th century Poland, in his book Sefat Emet, writes ופי’ חקת כמ”ש עשה תורתך קבע. הפי’ להיות נקבע בגוף האדם ידיעת התורה כיתד שלא תמוט… Another explanation for “hukkat” is, as it says, “make your [study of the] Torah fixed” –meaning, knowledge of the Torah should become fixed in the body of a human being like a stake that will not move.[2] The statement from Pirkei Avot is usually interpreted to mean: “choose a regular study time and stick with it.” But the Sefat Emet interprets it rather to be an injunction to “fix” Torah–or to engrave Torah–within. The act of engraving here is linked to stabilizing. Internalizing Torah is a way of making it stay put, lodging it resolutely within. Like a stake planted firmly in the ground–maybe anchoring a tent for shelter, maybe asserting a territorial claim– “fixed” Torah is immovable.

How do we engrave Torah on our hearts and in our bodies, as a well that nourishes and/or as a stake that stabilizes? It’s easier said that done. We often view study of Torah as an intellectual exercise, yet for the Sefat Emet is talking about it as a physical and an emotional act. Tomorrow morning, I will speak about the four worlds: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual, and how each and every one of them connects directly with immersion in Torah. It is my goal that Mosaic Law Congregation continues to be a community in which Torah is fixed-not only Torah Study but also where we explore our feelings of engagement with Torah, where we physically feel Torah in our bodies and where Torah helps us draw spiritually to the Holy One. It’s not an easy task yet perhaps this Shabbat can become a starting place through engagement with it.


[1] Mishnah Avot 1:15

[2] Sefat Emet on Parshat Hukkat

Creating a Holy Congregation

         Shabbat Shalom. It is so wonderful to be here at my first Shabbat as Rabbi of Mosaic Law Congregation. I look forward to many joyous Shabbatot spent together and to getting to know each and every one of you.

         As I did during my interview, I have included a cartoon called Keep on Truckin’. This was featured at my Institute for Jewish Spirituality training on Emunah, or trustworthiness. What could it possibly have to do with Judaism, you might ask? Judaism teaches us about always aspiring towards increased growth. When we feel stuck, depressed or unsure of what to do, we need to Keep on Truckin’.

         Korach is a common Shabbat for a rabbi to begin his/her tenure, as it often falls out at the beginning of July. In the past I have contrasted Korach to Yitro: Korach as the person who aligns people with different interests all of whom jump in to make accusations against Moses; Yitro as one who observes a situation, asks questions and speaks in a way that reflects Moses’ best interest. Two different types of leaders-one who is admonished and one who is praised. However, there is an equally valuable lesson that does not only reflect the leader but also the culture of a synagogue.

         In May I was at the concluding retreat for my JOIN for Justice Fellowship on Community Organizing when Meir Leikin taught me this fascinating piece of Torah, giving new insight as to what is wrong with Korach’s approach. At first blush it appears that Korach merely wants to democratize the leadership process, accusing Aaron and Moses for taking too much for themselves. However, in the spirit of egalitarianism he cleverly makes a problematic statement: כי כל העדה כלם קדושים-for the entire community is all holy.[1] Sounds good, right? The problem is that’s not what God told Moses דבר אל כל-עדת בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם קדושים תהיו, “Speak to the entire community of Israel and tell them you should aspire to be holy.”[2] Israel is addressed in the future tense, not the present.

         Is this merely a matter of semantics? Not so. Meir quotes Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who said if you are already holy, you have the license to do anything. If you aspire to be holy, the work is not finished. That is the lesson God imparted to Israel-everyone needs to continue striving to be the best version of themselves, to learn from their mistakes and to grow each and every day. Holiness is a continuous process-not something which one reaches and then can rest on his/her laurels.

         An example of this is from Rebbe, the biography of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Joseph Telushkin, where someone tells the Rebbe that he is retiring. The Rebbe looks at him horrified and advises him to find something to do. Telushkin writes that, “for the Rebbe, retirement was premature death.”[3] Each of us has a mission to do in this world, and it is our task to continue to aspire both to better ourselves and to move ahead. In other words, to keep on truckin’, even, or perhaps especially, when we feel frozen or stuck.

         This lesson applies not only to each and every one of us as individuals but also to our congregation as a whole. Being and becoming a קהילה קדושה, a holy and a sacred community, is an ongoing process. It involves seeing people for who they truly are, learning their stories, discovering their talents and passions and increasingly bringing them into Mosaic Law Congregation to strengthen us. Believing that we are holy as is and that’s enough-that’s the Korach approach-settling for the status quo and being threatened by growth and development. Aspiring to be better each and every day-that’s the Godly approach. It’s a lot harder but it benefits us greatly in the long run. It also creates a culture of ownership, where each and every person is valued for what they are able to contribute to our congregation. For some that might be in religious services; for others social action; for some social programs; for others ways and means. Each person’s contribution is valuable as part of our קהילה קדושה, our sacred community. May we never forget that the work is never done and that each of us plays an integral role day after day in making both ourselves and our congregation holy.


[1] Numbers 16:3

[2] Leviticus 19:2

[3] See also https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/62177/jewish/1972-The-Rebbes-Thoughts-on-Retirement.htm

Lashon HaRa

         Shabbat Shalom. How wonderful to be with Mosaic Law Congregation for my first Shabbat-the first of Gd willing 30 years together, one day at a time 😊.

         I want to briefly tie last week’s portion into this weeks’. Miriam and Aaron spoke against the Cushite woman whom their brother Moses married. Miriam was stricken with tzaraat and Moses prayed for her healing. One can link Moses’ actions in Shelach Lecha with Korach. Because Moses’ own brother and sister spoke against him, it opened the door for Moses’ cousin Korach to “take others” who had different agendas and to bring them all together against Moses. Two people engaging in lashon hara created the opportunity for Korach, Datan, Aviram, On and 250 priests to conspire against him. Things left unchecked tend to snowball until it’s too late.

         Sir Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ z”l has the following words about lashon hara. He writes “You should practice zero tolerance toward lashon hara. Allowing people to speak badly about one another will eventually destroy the integrity of the group. Evil speech generates negative energies. Within the group it sows the seeds of distrust and envy. Directed outside the group it can lead to arrogance, self-righteousness, racism and prejudice, all of which are fatal to the moral credibility of any team. Whether or not you are the leader of such a group, you must politely make it clear that you will have nothing to do with this kind of speech and that it has no place in your conversations.”[1]

         As your rabbi, I will have a zero-tolerance policy for lashon hara. Negative energy can increase exponentially, skyrocketing until it is out of control. We must distance ourselves from the behavior taken by Korach and his assembly. The Chofetz Chaim teaches that lashon hara is the most difficult commandments to avoid, [2]so we have to work extra scrupulously to avoid it. Let us do our part to be a Kehilah Kedoshah, a holy community, through watching what we say and treating each other with kindness and respect.


[1] Miriam and Lashon Hara (sefaria.org)

[2] Chofetz Chaim, Introduction to the Laws of the Prohibition of Lashon Hara and Rechilut, Positive Commandments 13 (sefaria.org)

Let Them Place My Name on Israel and I Will Bless Them

          The use of God’s name appears often in Parshat Naso. First we have the Nazir who invokes God’s name in a vow to serve God wholeheartedly through following restrictive measures. Then we have the Sotah who needs to swear to an oath invoking God’s name that she has not committed adultery. Now, after the priestly blessing, we have the line וְשָׂמ֥וּ אֶת־שְׁמִ֖י עַל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַאֲנִ֖י אֲבָרֲכֵֽם׃, “let them place My name on the Children of Israel, and I will bless you.”[1]

          What does it mean to place God’s name on the Children of Israel? Ibn Ezra, an 11th Century Spanish and Italian commentator, writes “that when they shall mention My name over the children of Israel [I will bless them], for God’s revered and awe-inspiring name is found in each one of the three verses.”[2] Rabbenu Bahya, from 13th and 14th Century Spain, takes this a step further. He asserts that “God meant that as soon as the priests would mention God’s name as part of the blessing, He would bless them all, Priests, Levites, and Israelites, seeing that God’s name appeared in each of the three verses constituting the formula of the blessing.”[3]According to Rabbenu Bahya of 13th and14th century Spain, the 1st blessing of the threefold priestly blessing corresponds to the Kohanim, the 2nd blessing corresponds to the Leviim and the 3rd blessing corresponds to the Yisraelim. Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno of 15th century Italy makes another key point, stating “every one of these blessing features mention of My name, not the name of those who receive the blessing. This is the meaning of ואני אברכם, “I, the Lord, bless them. The priest or priests are not to say: “We bless you.”[4]

          The key point of the priestly blessing is that the Kohanim are invoking God’s name. One should not mistake the priests’ blessing for them having some special power in and of themselves. Rather the impact of their prayer stems from the invocation of the Tetragrammaton, the four letter name of God. Israel needs to hear God mentioned by “THE NAME” in order to be blessed.           How can we relate to this today? We have forgotten how to pronounce the name Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey since the destruction of the Temple. Adonai is our attempt to substitute for it, yet that is Alef-Dalet-Nun-Yod which means “our Lord” rather than the special name of God Almighty. While we do not invoke God’s name today, we can still feel the impact of the blessing every time we hear the Kohanim recite it. Feeling as if we are present in Temple times, underneath a Tallit, and hearing the powerful melody of the call and response of the Shaliach Tzibbur (prayer leader) and the Kohanim carries significance. Having mindful focus at these moments as well as any time we pray is both how we feel God’s presence and God’s blessing. It is my hope as we continue reading the Book of Numbers, a book where the Children of Israel did not demonstrate faith in God or in God’s name all too often, that we strengthen our faith in the Holy One as we bless God by God’s name.


[1] Numbers 6:27

[2] Ibn Ezra on Numbers 6:27 ד”ה ושמו את שמי

[3] Rabbenu Bahya on Numbers 6:27 ושמו את שמי על בני ישראל  ד”ה

[4] Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno on Numbers 6:27 ד”ה ושמו את שמי

Let Them Place My Name on Israel and I Will Bless Them

          The use of God’s name appears often in Parshat Naso. First we have the Nazir who invokes God’s name in a vow to serve God wholeheartedly through following restrictive measures. Then we have the Sotah who needs to swear to an oath invoking God’s name that she has not committed adultery. Now, after the priestly blessing, we have the line וְשָׂמ֥וּ אֶת־שְׁמִ֖י עַל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַאֲנִ֖י אֲבָרֲכֵֽם׃, “let them place My name on the Children of Israel, and I will bless you.”[1]

          What does it mean to place God’s name on the Children of Israel? Ibn Ezra, an 11th Century Spanish and Italian commentator, writes “that when they shall mention My name over the children of Israel [I will bless them], for God’s revered and awe-inspiring name is found in each one of the three verses.”[2] Rabbenu Bahya, from 13th and 14th Century Spain, takes this a step further. He asserts that “God meant that as soon as the priests would mention God’s name as part of the blessing, He would bless them all, Priests, Levites, and Israelites, seeing that God’s name appeared in each of the three verses constituting the formula of the blessing.”[3]According to Rabbenu Bahya of 13th and14th century Spain, the 1st blessing of the threefold priestly blessing corresponds to the Kohanim, the 2nd blessing corresponds to the Leviim and the 3rd blessing corresponds to the Yisraelim. Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno of 15th century Italy makes another key point, stating “every one of these blessing features mention of My name, not the name of those who receive the blessing. This is the meaning of ואני אברכם, “I, the Lord, bless them. The priest or priests are not to say: “We bless you.”[4]

          The key point of the priestly blessing is that the Kohanim are invoking God’s name. One should not mistake the priests’ blessing for them having some special power in and of themselves. Rather the impact of their prayer stems from the invocation of the Tetragrammaton, the four letter name of God. Israel needs to hear God mentioned by “THE NAME” in order to be blessed.           How can we relate to this today? We have forgotten how to pronounce the name Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey since the destruction of the Temple. Adonai is our attempt to substitute for it, yet that is Alef-Dalet-Nun-Yod which means “our Lord” rather than the special name of God Almighty. While we do not invoke God’s name today, we can still feel the impact of the blessing every time we hear the Kohanim recite it. Feeling as if we are present in Temple times, underneath a Tallit, and hearing the powerful melody of the call and response of the Shaliach Tzibbur (prayer leader) and the Kohanim carries significance. Having mindful focus at these moments as well as any time we pray is both how we feel God’s presence and God’s blessing. It is my hope as we continue reading the Book of Numbers, a book where the Children of Israel did not demonstrate faith in God or in God’s name all too often, that we strengthen our faith in the Holy One as we bless God by God’s name.


[1] Numbers 6:27

[2] Ibn Ezra on Numbers 6:27 ד”ה ושמו את שמי

[3] Rabbenu Bahya on Numbers 6:27 ושמו את שמי על בני ישראל  ד”ה

[4] Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno on Numbers 6:27 ד”ה ושמו את שמי

Enough is Enough!

         Every weekday morning I listen to The New York Times podcast The Daily. On Wednesday June 1, I heard from Kimberly and Felix Rubio whose 4th grade daughter Alexandria Ania (Lexi) Rubio was murdered at Uvalde, Texas. I was shaken to the core, not only by hearing Lexi’s parents speak but by learning that the funerals would begin that day with caskets decorated with their favorite sports and cartoon characters. I immediately thought of my daughters, not much younger, and tears came to my eyes. How many more precious souls have to be butchered before our legislature will act? We thought the teens in Parkland would lead to action yet our legislature has remained silent. To rub salt in the wound, the NRA met a mere 3 days later in Houston, a mere 4 hour drive from where this massacre occurred-just like they had met in Denver right after the mass shooting in Columbine occurred.

Within 10 days we had 3 shootings at places that are supposed to be safe: a grocery store, a house of worship and a school. Since then we’ve already seen shootings at St Francis Hospital in Tulsa, a park in Fresno, a church parking lot in Aimes and in downtown Charleston-one of 14 mass shootings over Memorial Day Weekendd. As the news appears to go, one shooting makes way for the next. Each one outrageous us but then too often leaves us numb as we move on to the next, an endless cycle of violence.

What is wrong with Congress that it cannot pass laws as simple as banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines, increased background checks, creating more red flag laws and raising the age of gun ownership from 18 to 21? Why can’t politicians who see the toll of this epidemic come together in the true spirit of bipartisanship and pass legislation across the aisle? These should not be partisan issues. As Hector Gonzalez, President of Southwest Texas Junior College says “I am a hunter and I own guns. I have several pistols and rifles, but there is no hunting purpose for a high capacity magazine. Bullets projectiles that tumble when they impact tissue those are made to kill and destroy.”[1]

In Parshat Nitzavim towards the end of Deuteronomy, we read הַנִּ֨סְתָּרֹ֔ת לַיהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹ֞ת לָ֤ׄנׄוּׄ וּׄלְׄבָׄנֵ֙ׄיׄנׄוּ֙ׄ עַׄד־עוֹלָ֔ם לַעֲשׂ֕וֹת אֶת־כׇּל־דִּבְרֵ֖י הַתּוֹרָ֥ה הַזֹּֽאת׃[2] Why are their dots above the words לָ֤ׄנׄוּׄ וּׄלְׄבָׄנֵ֙ׄיׄנׄוּ֙ׄ עַׄד? It’s simple. Those violations which are secret (נִּ֨סְתָּרֹ֔ת) unknown to us, we leave in God’s hands. However, those violations which we know about (הַנִּגְלֹ֞ת) it is up to us and our children and our children’s children to handle them (לָ֤ׄנׄוּׄ וּׄלְׄבָׄנֵ֙ׄיׄנׄוּ֙ׄ עַׄד־עוֹלָ֔ם). We know that gun violence has greatly increased year over year. In 2020, the most recent year for which we have records, there were 45,222 total gun deaths in 2020, by far the most on record, representing a 14% increase from the year before.  That year, California, a state with strict gun laws, recorded 8.5-gun deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 13.7 percent nationally.[3] In California, assault weapons have been banned since 1989. Purchasers of any firearm must do so through a registered dealer and submit to a background check. Ammunition sales are regulated, handguns can’t be sold to anyone under 21 and there is at least a 10 day waiting period.[4]

         Enough is enough! It is time for us to act and restrict gun laws, especially for those in their late teens. Of course nothing is limited to one issue-we should also increase mental health services and work to curb violent video games. Nevertheless, the more restrictions one needs to go through to obtain a firearm, especially an assault rifle, the less likely we are to have a Lexi Rubio, buried in a small casket draped with a cartoon character. It is up to us to act. We know gun control saves lives, and it is up to us to act. As it says in We Wait Too Long, “God, too, is waiting-waiting for us to stop waiting, and to begin to do now, all the things for which today was made.”[5]


[1] NPR’s Up First podcast June 3, 2022.

[2] Deuteronomy 29:28

[3] NY Times’ The Daily Podcast June 2, 2002.

[4] https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2022-06-02/california-gun-laws-work

[5] “We Wait Too Long” in Siddur Hadash, Page 805.

Our Role as Stewards of the Land

With Attribution to Rita Hall

The connection between today’s portion and last weeks is profound. Last week in Parshat Behar we focused on the laws of the sabbatical year and Jubilee law, reminding us that, ultimately, everything belongs to God. We do not really own anything. In Western society it is easy to get caught in the trap of materialism. We unconsciously measure our quality of life based on the value of our possessions.

Though Judaism is distinguished by a this-worldly ethic, the acquisition of material possessions is not a high priority. We are guided by an adage of Ben Zoma from the second century,   Who may be deemed rich? Those content with their lot  (Pirkei Avot 4:1). We need far less than we want.    The overriding goal is not to earn as much as we possibly can, but to have a clear conscience when we’re finished.

A commercial transaction should not be entirely market-driven. Ethical considerations serve to protect the social fabric. Jewish law reins in the profit motive because making money is not the supreme value. The manner in which we do our business is no less important than the final payoff.    Torah aims to imbue us with a level of self-restraint that is not normally ours.

This is the spirit which animates the high-minded legislation of Parashat Be–har.  It deals with essential laws of economic justice in an agrarian society, to diminish the accumulation of inequities that eventually unravel the fabric of society – one may not cheat another in selling or buying, nor earn a profit at the expense of one in need.

There is a constant emphasis on obeying God’s bidding in order to gain our goals. It’s difficult to imagine that God merely wants us to do what we’re told, shut down our imaginations, and cease questioning. In the famous prayer “I am a Jew Because” one of the key Judaic principles is “I am a Jew because it requires no abdication of my mind.” We are exhorted to question, to examine, to try to understand.

Our tradition is clear: the way in which we walk in the world makes a difference. Reaching out to others, offering support and comfort, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, these acts, and others, help us to build community. It is a constant balancing act for the integration of the intellectual and the spiritual journeys of our lives.

In contrast, Parashat B’hukotai is one of the Torah portions that makes me cringe.   It promises abundant blessings to those who obey God’s commandments and ghastly disasters for those who do not. It makes more sense when read as a code for communities rather than for individuals. It is the working together that brings about the promised end result.

Metaphorically speaking, human life may have originated in a garden, but its natural habitat is the wilderness, a forsaken place to be settled, ordered and exploited by human ingenuity, as we see next week when we read from the wilderness of Sinai. To turn chaos into order, humankind had to resort to collective action, – to assert the welfare of the whole over the pleasures of the individual.

         It is part of our tradition that we do not only pray for something to happen, but we also put our shoulders to the work and help it to happen.  We must live as earnestly as we pray.

As an example, we pray for beneficial rain, and then must follow through with environmental action.

         At the beginning of B’hukotai, we read that rainfall is a function of our doing God’s will. With a modern scientific understanding that human actions affect the quality and quantity of the rain, the warning of B’hukotai warrants our attention. We must reawaken the awareness that our actions impact the entire planet. A consensus of scientists states that human-caused climate change  may decrease precipitation at mid and low altitudes, where the bulk of farmland lies.

         We not only affect how rain comes down, but also how that rain affects the land when it does fall. With increasing urbanization in the world, land that once soaked up rainwater is being covered in impervious pavement, which prevents the rainwater from replenishing underground aquifers. Unabsorbed rainwater becomes runoff, flowing through drainage systems, causing floods when drains and sewers are overburdened, picking up pollutants along the way, which are then dumped into lakes, streams, and oceans.

         We cannot ignore the connection between our actions and the physical conditions which surround us. Today we have an unbelievably complex understanding of how the earth’s systems work, and how we impact them. But scientific explanations should not obscure the true lesson of B’hukotai – we really are obligated to live in balance with, and be stewards of, God’s Creation.

Praying for beneficial rain and then ignoring the problems of global warming and unchecked urban development is like praying for good health and then continuing to eat poorly and smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.

         Our actions should be consistent with the emphasis of our prayers. Our goal is to honor ancient customs and biblical precepts but finding ways to contextualize the practice and make it more meaningful for us as contemporary Jews. In every generation we receive the same Torah our ancestors did, but we have to work at making it our own. Praying is a beginning, but we must follow through by acting on the awareness that we contribute to bringing either rains of blessing or destructive storms. By doing so, we fulfill our stewardship and we can give our children the gift of a world that is blessed with prosperity and peace.

Some Things Are Beyond Words

There are things in life which are incomprehensible, completely beyond words. The shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas is one of those. What would motivate an 18 year old to allegedly shoot his grandmother and then proceed to the school where he murdered 19 students and 2 adults? What is it like for the parents who dropped their children at school, thinking they were safe, only to never see them again? There are so many questions and so few answers.

Our hearts go out to each of the parents whose children has so much potential, at the blossoming of their young lives. We also are thinking of the teachers who give so much of themselves each and every day to educate the next generation and one of whom was unable to return to loved ones. While the shooter has been killed, there is no possibility for justice to be served for such a heinous crime.

I challenge each and every one of us to teach love, not fear; courage not anxiety; perseverance rather than numbness or throwing up our hands. The problems of our time are great, yet with resolve, confidence and the strength of our convictions we can exemplify that love trumps hatred and unity can overcome animosity and fear.

Let us continue to pray for those in critical condition-that they are able to make a full, speedy recovery.

I pray for better times ahead when we can celebrate as a unified community rather than mourn senseless hatred.