We Have Eyes, Ears, … Legs: Yom Kippur Sermon 5779

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Greenstein originally gave this sermon on Yom Kippur 5779 (Sept 2018).

“Why is this day different from all other holidays of the whole year?” For, on all these other occasions, including celebrations of the New Moon, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, we sing psalms of joy and praise, called Hallel.

But we don’t sing the Hallel on Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. Why not? The Talmud presents this question in dramatic form. The sages imagine the angels of heaven using this omission of ours as a chance to criticize the people of Israel. The Talmud relates:

“The angels inquired of God, ‘Master of the Universe, why does Israel fail to sing the Hallel songs of praise before You during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?’

And God replied, ‘When the Ruler sits on the throne of judgment before the books of life and death, could Israel utter such songs?’” (BTRosh Hashanah 32b) Continue reading

The Choosing People: Kol Nidre Sermon 5779

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Greenstein originally gave this sermon on Kol Nidre 5779 (Sept 2018).

A new rabbi arrives in town and the congregation eagerly awaits his first sermon. They are all ears as he eloquently speaks about the importance of observing Shabbat.

After services the President of the shul approaches the new rabbi and confides to him, “Rabbi, you can’t speak about observing the Sabbath to this community. No one observes the Shabbat here. You’ve got to know your audience! Believe me; I’m trying to help you out.”

The rabbi is suitably grateful. The next Shabbat he gets up and gives an impassioned sermon, citing chapter and verse, on the virtues of keeping kosher.

After services the President goes up to him. “Rabbi, you can’t talk about keeping kosher to us. Keeping kosher is not who we are!”

The rabbi apologizes and promises to do better next time. Continue reading

Compassionate Justice: Rosh Hashanah Sermon 5779

A Camden, New Jersey, police officer talks with a neighborhood child. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

A Camden, New Jersey, police officer talks with a neighborhood child. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Greenstein originally gave this sermon on the first day of Rosh Hashanah 5779 (Sept 2018).

So you’re driving along with your beloved – maybe on the way to a movie or something. All is well. You’re talking about this and that. You approach the quiet intersection and the light turns red. But you give some gas and make the turn.

And then you hear the siren and see the flashing lights drawing up behind you. Your spirit sinks. You pull over. You are in a foul mood now. Maybe your beloved shoots you a look or lets out an expletive. Who are you more upset with? The officer, your beloved, or yourself? Continue reading

Finding Light: Yom Kippur Sermon 5778

YK sermonEditor’s Note: Rabbi Greenstein gave this sermon on Yom Kippur 5778 (Sept 2017).

So, a rabbi walks into a cave.
With his son.
The son says to his father: “Abba, Father, can I get you anything?”
And the rabbi says: “That’s alright. I’ll just sit in the dark.”

This joke is inspired by a story in the Talmud (BTShabbat 33b-34a). It happened during the Roman rule over Palestine, in the middle of the second century CE.  Continue reading