My dear friends, I believe that every one of us has used the Hebrew and Yiddish word which I titled tonight’s sermon, probably often. For example, when we conclude the service tonight, we’re going to make kiddush in the auditorium. At the end of kiddush many of us are going to say “l’chayim” before we take a drink.
Until recently I had not known the origin of this l’chayim custom; I learned it from the writings of Rabbi Robert Scheinberg. He explained that this custom goes all the way back to Midrash Tanhuma, a book more than a thousand years old which contains many ancient Midrashim. The Midrash says: “when there was a death penalty trial and the verdict was about to be announced, one of the judges would say ‘Attention Justices, what is your verdict?’”
Rabbi Charles P. Sherman Shabbat Mattot-Massei Temple Israel, Tulsa, OK
Recently Nancy and I were talking with the Wards, our dear friends in West Hartford. We were commenting that our eldest, Aaron, had recently turned 45 years of age, and we wondered how it was possible for this to have happened – since Nancy is admitting now to being 55. The Wards reminded us that their first born – one of Aaron’s dearest childhood friends – was going to be 46. In fact, he turns 46 this coming Monday. It is a date that is easy for us to remember, because Chuck Ward was born on the day that Apollo 11 landed and the first man walked on the moon.
I am sure that like us, most of you who were living 46 years ago were glued to your television sets as you saw Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.
Moses and Aaron’s big sister was a great lady in her own right, but Torah did not give her just due. Let’s correct the record.
You heard the seven verses I read at the end of Chapter 20 of the Book of Numbers concerning the death of and mourning for Aaron. Those of you who are regulars on Simchat Torah are familiar with the last chapter of the Torah, Deuteronomy 34, which concerns the death of Moses. “So Moses, the servant of God, died there in the land of Moab at the command of the Eternal. He buried him in the valley of the land of Moab near Beth-peor, and no one knows his burial place to this day . . . Moses was 120 years old when he died; his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated, and the Israelites bewailed Moses in the steppes of Moab for 30 days.”
Rabbi Charles P. Sherman Shabbat B’shalach January 30, 2015
You know that the phrase “D’var Torah” literally means “word of Torah”. But when I say I’m going to give a D’var Torah it is never a single word; it is a drash, an explanation, a Torah lesson. The plural of “D’var Torah” is “Divrei Torah”, words of Torah. So I would like to begin this evening with two words of Torah which seem so far-out, so far-fetched, that you may even find them funny. Listen to these two Divrei Torah, for which I’m grateful to Rabbi Jack Riemer, and then let’s explore the truth behind their humor and what they may mean for our time.
The first comes from Rabbi Menachem Mendl of Kotsk, one of the great leaders of Chassidism. The Kotsker was a passionate man who could not tolerate dull or boring people. He wanted his Chassidim to be on fire with the love of God. And so the Kotsker once said: “I ENVY PHARAOH.” It’s a rather remarkable statement for a Chassidic Rabbi – “I ENVY PHARAOH” – and he continued:
The Hebrew month of Elul began this past Tuesday evening. Elul is that special 29-day period of preparation for the Holydays. This means, friends, that our New Year is less than four weeks away. Our tradition calls upon us to use this month of Elul to prepare ourselves so that 5775 can truly be a New Year for each of us. Let’s begin by considering some questions relating to the Holydays.
If I were to ask which baseball player you think of as you contemplate our Holydays, I bet I know what most of you would say. If you are a certain age, you would reply – Hank Greenberg. If you are of a slightly younger generation, you would respond Sandy Koufax.
Rabbi Charles P. Sherman Teacher Appreciation Shabbat
The Debt We Owe Our Teachers
Art Buchwald was one of America’s great humorists. For many years he entertained and educated us with his columns which appeared in newspapers all around the country. In these columns, Art Buchwald would take a painful truth about us – a truth so painful that we did not want to face up to it – and tell it to us in such a funny way that we had to listen to it and take it seriously.
I’m going to give you an example this evening, and I sincerely hope no one is offended by this column. Everyone knows that education in America today is under serious siege. So many contemporary problems are laid at the foot of our teachers and our schools. And yet we also know that our education system – especially in states such as Oklahoma – is woefully underfunded. Who will go into education when salaries are often so shamefully low that a person cannot support his or her family on a teacher’s salary?
Rabbi Charles P. Sherman This Shabbat marks a special anniversary in modern Jewish life, and I am pleased that Rabbis Karen and Micah wanted to mark this occasion and invited me to speak. I feel privileged to have been involved a little bit in what makes tonight special.
In November, 1988 the Jewish world commemorated the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, which many scholars believe marked the beginning of the Holocaust. In preparing for our own Temple observances, I asked Rabbi Rosenthal, of blessed memory, about our Czech Torah. He explained that Moe and Dorothy Gimp had very generously made possible the acquisition of a Czech Scroll for Congregation B’nai Emunah, the Fenster Museum, and Temple Israel. Frankly, Rabbi Rosenthal said he did not know much about our scroll, which had arrived here in 1971.
Rabbi Charles P. Sherman Grace Bryan Bat Mitzvah Shabbat Balak
In recent years, the phrase “road rage” has entered our vocabulary. Everyone knows what it means, and many of us have experienced it at one time or another.
A stupid driver cuts you off, almost causing an accident. Some greedy so-and-so pulls into the parking spot you were heading for. The highways are so crowded nowadays, parking places seem to be fewer, and drivers are so hot-tempered that it is almost impossible to go anywhere now-a-days without experiencing road rage.
That’s the term we use when a driver loses composure and threatens to harm – or actually harms – the driver who has upset him. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, more than 10,000 incidents of road rage occur in this country every single year – and that is just the number which are reported. Imagine how many more there must be that are not reported. Cases where people exchange their insurance information, call each other nasty names, then get back in their cars and go on with their lives without reporting what they have said or done to the police.
Let me begin by asking you to consider two questions. First, when you hear the words “Memorial Day”, what is the first thing that comes into your mind? This is the beginning of Memorial Day weekend, so what does Memorial Day trigger for you?
If you are like most people, I suspect that the answer is probably: first day of summer, opening of the JCC swimming pool, day for big store sales, or something like that. Very few of us Americans think of Memorial Day as a day for commemorating an historical event.
In fact, I suspect that most Americans are not exactly sure what event Memorial Day commemorates. So that is question two. Is it the end of World War I?
Rabbi Charles P. Sherman Roberta Wasserman Bat Mitzvah Shabbat Naso – May 18, 2013
Shalom is probably the best-known Hebrew word, and it is the climax of this week’s Priestly Benediction. I propose that we concentrate on offering this greeting with genuine concern and warmth, for it has the potential to transform the lives of those with whom we come in contact, and of our own lives as well.
The Shalom Committee
Friends, this morning I want to propose that – in addition to all the other committees we have in this congregation – we create one more. This committee will be a little bit different than all the other committees we have – it will have no meetings, no minutes, no chairperson. That alone should make it a committee which you will want to join.
Two stories which I hope Jewish graduates of whatever level would remember as they move on to the next phase of their lives. They teach us that – with all due respect to Vince Lombardi – kindness trumps winning.
Vince Lombardi Was Wrong
Whether they’re graduating from Pre-School, Middle School, High School, or college, students get a lot of advice this month – graduation speeches, well-meaning relatives and, of course, unlimited parental advice. So I’d like to share just two stories which I hope graduates would remember as they move on to the next phase of their lives. The rest of you who are not graduating this year can listen as well; you may find these stories helpful to you too.
Rabbi Charles P. Sherman Consecration of Confirmands
As we focus on Shavuot and the Ten Commandments, the prohibition against idolatry should remind this generation to battle against the fake god of mediocrity. A blind rabbi’s campaign for Congress offers us wisdom, guidance, and an inspiring example.
We Can Do Better
There is a story about a young boy who was filling out a parochial school questionnaire (perhaps a Holland Hall application) when he came to the line marked “Religion,” after thinking about it for a while, he wrote “Jew.”
When the headmaster noticed the entry, he called the boy in. “Daniel,” he said, “why did you write ‘Jew’ under ‘Religion’? Don’t you know you’re an Episcopalian?”
A king whose renowned collection of beautiful birds did not chirp, peep, or sing a note turned to Rabbi Zusya for help. Zusya’s advise holds for rulers, parents, and employers, not just for birds. We also learn about the wording on the Liberty Bell found in this week’s sedra on the Liberty Bell.
The Kingdom of Singing Birds
My sermon this evening is addressed to those people in the congregation who are young. My definition of young is not a matter of years however. You and I know 80 year olds who are still young, and other people who are 30 and are old. My definition of young is when you still love stories.
Rabbi Charles P. Sherman Lag B’omer Picnic Service
A chilling episode reported in the Talmud inspired a modern storyteller. The story brings together Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, students disguised as hunters, the Zohar, and even the Jewish “mystery man” – a Lag B’omer treat.
Rabbi Shimon’s Cave
A little history, then an interesting Jewish folktale.
A chilling historical episode is recorded in the Talmud.(Shabbat 33b) Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yosi, and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, were once sitting together discussing the Roman Empire. Rabbi Yehuda declared, “How magnificent are the accomplishments of that nation! They established marketplaces, bridges, and bath houses.”
Jenn Lorch D’var Torah – April 19, 2013 Acharei Mot – Kedoshim
This week happens to be another double portion, acharei mot (after death) and kedoshim (holiness). Remember, we sometimes have a double portion in order for us to be able to squeeze in the reading of all 54 portions throughout the year. Tonight I will be chanting the opening verses from parshat kedoshim, found on page 798 in your plaut commentary.
Acharei mot, after death. Kedoshim, holiness. Acharei Mot opens up recalling the death of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s sons. Then various laws are instructed about Yom Kippur, fasting, blood, and eating meat, my favorite topics. Then, in Kedoshim, we read the Holiness code, various laws that help us to live holy lives – respecting parents, not worshipping idols, judging cases fairly and leaving corners of the fields for the poor. Even in our darkest moments of death, pain and suffering, there is a way for us to live a holy life.
A heart-warming story reminds us of what we shall be remembered for. As Yizkor brings our loved ones to our side once again, turning minutes into sacred moments, we come to understand our choices.
The People Who Touched Our Lives
As an old tennis player, I remember the sweet spot on the racquet. Well, this morning I’d like to share a story that touched a sweet spot in my heart. The story by an anonymous author is entitled “Red Marbles.” It goes as follows:
“I was at the corner grocery store buying some early potatoes. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily appraising a basket of freshly picked green peas. I paid for my potatoes but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas.
Rabbi Charles P. Sherman Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach
The term children does not necessarily mean young children. A good case can be made by I. B. Singer and Gil Meche for simple people. If God loves them, maybe we should too.
My Favorite Child at the Seder
I hope all of you had a good seder on Monday night and perhaps another enjoyable seder on Tuesday night. The number FOUR has a special place at the seder. There are four cups of wine, four questions, and four children. I want to tell you something about the four children – the wise, the contrary or evil, the simple, and the one who doesn’t ask questions. These four children are based on four verses in the Torah in which we are told to tell our children the meaning of Passover.
Rabbi Charles P. Sherman Shabbat Tsav/Shabbat Hagadol
Why were the kohanim the ones who had to haul out the ashes every morning? To teach those of us who live in a highly stratified society that all work is potentially holy and that no one should feel that they are too good to do “ordinary” work.
Who Cleans Up in Your House?
This week’s Torah portion begins with a rather strange law. Leviticus 6:3-4 says “The kohen, the priest, shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar, and place them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his vestments and put on other vestments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.” So let me ask you two questions.
Exodus 40 describes Moses as personally doing all the last minute, pre-dedication Mishkan preparations – hammering, lifting, furniture moving, etc. Had the “the humblest of all men” turned into a megalomaniac, a micro-manager, a control freak, a perfectionist? Perhaps a contemporary New Jersey synagogue move can help us lean from Moses’ actions still valid lessons about leadership.
Leaders Like Moses – Wanted/Needed?
There is a nuance in this week’s Torah portion which, I confess, I had really never paid much attention to before. The writings of Rabbi Jack Riemer brought it to my attention. Listen to Exodus Chapter 40, which is the last chapter of the Book of Exodus. For five weeks now, our Torah has been concerned with the building of Israel’s very first sanctuary. It is now ready.
Rabbi Charles P. Sherman Bar Mitzvah Lance Lehman Shabbat Ki Tisa
When the frightened and faith-challenged Israelites demand an idol to worship, how could Aaron the High Priest have gone along with them?
Upon examination, we may discover a little bit of Aaron in ourselves.
A Near-Fatal Flaw in a Very Good Man
As we listened to Lance chant and then translate from this week’s Torah portion, we recognize that Aaron is a key character in the Jewish story. Aharon Ha-Kohen – Aaron the High Priest – had many good qualities. He was able to be second in command to his brother Moses, even though Moses was three years younger than he was. This is a rare quality. Most of us find it a challenge to play second fiddle, especially to a younger brother, but Aaron did that and nowhere in our Torah does Aaron even complain or express envy over being number two. For that he deserves to be admired.
I am grateful and humbled by the opportunity to speak on this very special Shabbat. We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Women of Reform Judaism, formerly known as the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (NFTS). I have several goals tonight. While we certainly want to celebrate WRJ’s 100th birthday, I want to particularly focus on the history of our Sisterhood and the leadership of our Past-Presidents and Queen Esthers, whom we honor tonight.
Since I was not here at the founding of Temple Israel Sisterhood, I have relied on Rabbi Randy Falk’s rabbinic thesis written in 1946, as well as a history of the Sisterhood written by Fannie Friedman (8th Sisterhood President and 2nd Queen Esther). I don’t know if you’re all aware that we have these two books here at the Temple – a compendium of the Sisterhood presidents with a biography of each, and the same for our Queen Esthers. These two books were primarily written by the late Isabelle Rips, a Queen Esther, who was the Temple historian. Some of the later entries were written by the late Ann Weisman (Queen Esther) and by Carol Stahl (Past President and Queen Esther).
Four examples of a vulgar expression which contradicts and undermines a core Jewish value – the dignity and sanctity of every human live.
A Price Tag on Human Life?
I am offended by an offensive statement which I’ve encountered three different times in three different places. It’s a vulgar expression which articulates a totally un-Jewish value.
You may be surprised, therefore, that the first time I encountered this statement was in Bereshit, the Book of Genesis. It appears in a story which took place in the land of Israel at the very beginning of our history. The second time I found it was in the Megillah that we shall read this Sunday morning; it appears near the climax of the story. And the third time I found it was in a report of a committee meeting which took place in California about a year and a half ago. Each time I saw that expressionsomething within me shivered, for I believe it is one of the most tasteless expressions I’ve ever heard. I fear for what will happen to this world if this expression takes hold and is used more often.
The generous act of a reclusive, New Jersey farmer reminds us to never underestimate the attachment of even the most marginal Jew.
Who knows when the “pintele Yid” will flare into a flame?
A Miracle Fund
How many of you remember who Eliot Ness was? Interesting how many hands go up. When I was growing up, Eliot Ness was one of my heroes. If you remember, he was an FBI agent, and in those days the FBI was very highly respected. I was impressed because Eliot Ness was absolutely incorruptible – neither threats nor bribes could stop him from doing his appointed task. He was going to get the bad guys no matter what it took. If he couldn’t get them for murder, then he was going to get them for income tax evasion. But one way or another, Eliot Ness was going to get his man. He finally brought down Al Capone.
In this week’s sedra, Moses misquotes God. Our sages recognized the problem and “corrected” it in their way. Modern female scholars have added their own insights to enlarge and enrich our understanding.
When God Is Misquoted
I want to study with you this evening two passages in the Torah where God gets misquoted. The first occurs near the beginning of our Torah. The serpent says to Eve: “Did God really say you may not eat of any tree in the Garden?”
And Eve answers: “Of any tree in the Garden we may eat, but God said of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden do not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.” (Gen. 3:3)
God’s instruction to put blood on the Israelite doorposts “as a sign for you” is a reminder to look beyond exterior surfaces and also to let people into our life.
Is What You See What You Get?
Each morning on his way to work a lawyer passes by an old woman selling bagels on the street, and each day as he walks by, the lawyer puts down a dollar bill and hurries off to work without ever taking a bagel. He doesn’t like bagels, but he wants to help out. So every day for five years, it’s another dollar. And the man never says a word. He sees himself as the old woman’s silent benefactor, her anonymous saint. Without ever sharing a word, he knows that his kindness must be greatly appreciated by the poor woman.
The Exodus was made possible because of the independent and cooperative will of six brave, righteous “women of justice” – Yocheved, Miriam, Shifrah, Puah, Batya, and Zipporah.
The Women Behind the Man
The Rabbis say the Exodus was made possible because of the merits of righteous women. Now some interpret this statement as a patronizing approach to women in the spirit of the famous dictum – “behind every great man there is a great woman”. These critics say this relegates women to the sidelines and renders them nothing more than hidden tools helping to pave the way for their husband’s success. I have a very different perspective – the Exodus was made possible because of the merits of six righteous women.
Sh’mot, the Book of Exodus which we Jews started studying this week, actually begins the national story of the Jewish People. After twelve weeks of studying Genesis, we’ve gone from the creation of the world through the Abrahamic family sagas and the beginnings of the Jewish People. At the end of the four generation patriarchal period and the Book of Genesis, the Jewish People is a family, and Judaism is a family faith.