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Showing posts from October, 2009

My thoughts on the Holiness of Shabbat (URJ Ten Minutes of Torah)


Penny Kessler

Download the PDF of these pagesMusic is midrash: it enhances and fills in gaps and unanswered questions suggested by texts and lyrics. Choosing music for prayer texts and saying that this or that setting “works” means that the text and music complement and respond to each other.
Each of the three prayers of K’dushat Ha-yom (Mishkan T’filah, pp. 250, 252) represents a variety of aspects of our celebration of Shabbat: joy, renewal, reinvigoration, community, family, contemplation and meditation. And the music for these prayers should reflect its own particular midrash. Yism’chu is a prayer of pure joy – oneg – and its music should reflect an outpouring of delight. I frequently choose Rabbi Joe Black’s setting of Yism’chu1 because it makes me smile when I feel the joy and the love and the absolute delight of the music. I love that it's not frantic, I respond to the salsa beat, it's fun and a…

Not My Job? Yom Kippur Mincha Devar Torah 2009

The words and concepts that we will read this afternoon are engrained in each Jew so deeply that they are the essence of Jewish DNA as it were. Known as the “Holiness Code,” the text is a to-do list of making ourselves holy, meaning to be special, unique, separate.

Taken at face value, it would seem obvious that these are things we should do: revere your mother and father, keep Shabbat, stay away from idols, don’t steal, don’t lie, and don’t be deceitful … to be vulgar, this is a “no-brainer.”

But clearly there is more to be gleaned, more to be learned; and we find our lesson in the first two verses of our parashah.

Moses is speaking to the “whole Israelite community. We are all here – figuratively if not literally (as I look out into the congregation this afternoon) – and we are all included. These words, these chores, these admonishments are not meant for some of us. We are ALL involved: whether we consider our Jewish practice to be observant, secular, ethnic, cultural; whether we pray…

Finding God - Yom Kippur Morning - Devar Torah

O Lord, where shall I find you?
Hid is Your lofty place;
And where shall I not find You,
Whose glory fills all space?

These words from Yehuda ha-Levi, the late 11th/early 12th Century Spanish Jewish physician, poet and philosopher, inserted into the morning worship of the Reform Movement’s Gates of Repentance Machzor, sum up the essence of this morning’s Scriptural readings.

We began last night’s service by reciting a formulaic prayer declaring it “permissible to pray with those who have transgressed.” Since this is a communal declaration, we must assume that we are referring to all of us – we have all transgressed. An appreciation for this communal state of spiritual defilement is essential to this morning’s Torah and Haftarah readings.

We begin with the relatively dry job description of the priest’s responsibilities found in parashat Acharei Mot. At the end of the lit of his chores, we have a personnel change: From the priest’s job description, we switch to our own.

We start with Aaron off…

Seeing Things - Rosh Hashanah Day 2 Devar Torah

God said to Abraham: take your son by the hand.
God said to Abraham: you gotta take him by the hand (take him by the hand).

Take your son, your only son – Isaac, yeah, that’s the one.
Moriah is where you’ll be when you offer up your boy to me.

God said to Abraham: take your son by the hand.
God said to Abraham: you gotta take him by the hand (take him by the hand).

At first glance, the Akedah appears cut and dried: God “tests” Avraham’s commitment by demanding that Avraham offer his son, the only one he has left, as a sacrifice to God. And the traditional lesson of this parashah is that – especially on Rosh Hashanah – we trust God, we have faith that God will do right by us, we enter into the period of Asarah Y’mei Teshuvah believing that God will answer us, just as God answered Avraham’s unspoken prayer that his hand will be stilled from killing his child. Avraham has experience in trusting God; according to our Sages, the Akedah is the tenth such time God has tested Avraham’s faith. But w…

Hearing Ishmael - Rosh Hashanah Day 1

In this morning’s parashah, Abraham sends his son Ishmael and his son’s mother, Hagar, into the wilderness at Sarah’s order in order to remove the threat she perceives Ishmael to be to Isaac. The two – mother and son – soon face certain death from starvation and dehydration. The text reads, “15 When the water was gone from the skin, she left the child under one of the bushes, 16 and went and sat down at a distance, a bowshot away; for she thought, "Let me not look on as the child dies." And sitting thus afar, she burst into tears. 17 God heard the cry of the boy, and an angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heeded the cry of the boy where he is. 18 Come, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him." 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and let the boy drink.”

Why doesn’t God respond immediately to Hagar…