Holding Tight: Sh’mini Atzeret/Simhat Torah/V’zot Ha-b’rakhah (5780 – 2019)

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Sh’mini Atzeret/Simhat Torah/V’zot Ha-b’rakhah (5780 – 2019)
Deuteronomy 33:1–34:12

The beginning of the new year is marked with so many holy days. Now we are reaching their end, the end of the beginning. The annual cycle of Torah portions, begun last year also comes to an end, not at the end of the last year, but at the beginning of this new year. And then we begin once more. We are meant to pay attention to endings and beginnings and to consider how each may also be its opposite. Continue reading

Call to Action: Helping Immigrants in Essex County

Protesters have targeted the Essex County Correctional Facility, which holds about 800 people who have been arrested on immigration charges. Photo credit: Mel Evans/Associated Press

Protesters at the Essex County Correctional Facility. Photo credit: Mel Evans/Associated Press

Dear Friends:
I hope everyone is having a great holiday season. I am writing to let you know about two social actions you can take to help immigrants in Essex County.

1) Join Faith in Essex on 10/23 at 7pm at the Newark Hall of Records for the Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting to insist on ACLU-endorsed civilian oversight for Essex County Correctional Facility. This is a very important meeting where I believe the ordinance for the civilian oversight board that the ACLU is recommending will be introduced.

Please let me know (email hidden; JavaScript is required) if you plan to go to the Freeholders meeting and if so, let’s work in car pooling.

2) Send the email below to County Executive Joseph D. Vincenzo and the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Continue reading

Divine Glory: Parashat Haazinu/Sukkot (5780 – 2019)

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Parashat Haazinu/Sukkot (5780 – 2019)
Deuteronomy 32:1 – 32:52 

This reading often directly precedes the festival of Sukkot, the Harvest Festival. References to nature abound in this reading. They range from the unspoiled, God-given phenomena of rain and dew and go on to include the produce of human cultivation of the soil. Late in the song of Ha’azinu  we find the paradoxical image of “the vine of Sodom, the vineyard of Gomorrah,” where these cities of iniquity are seen as sources of rotten fruit. We have moved from nature to civilization, but civilization as a source of corruption and wrong-doing.

Thus, without stating it explicitly, our Torah portion tells of the vulnerability of nature, available to people to use as they see fit, subject to manipulation and transformation at the hands of humans. Will this usage be for good or for ill? Will nature be enhanced or destroyed? Only we have the answers.
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Material Support: Parashat Vayelekh (5780 – 2019)

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Parashat Vayelekh (5780 – 2019)
Deuteronomy 31:1 – 31:30

The last two mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah (- according to the traditional count of a total of 613) are found in this week’s Torah portion, the shortest of all weekly Torah portions. (Most of the time it is joined with last week’s portion as one reading.) Both concern the Torah herself. The next-to-last mitzvah is to congregate together (haq’hel) once every seven years and listen to the Torah being read to us. The last commandment is for each of us to write, or support the writing of, a Torah scroll.
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The Old Man: Parashat Nitzavim/Rosh Ha-Shanah (5779 – 2019)

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Parashat Nitzavim/Rosh Ha-Shanah
Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20

We are all standing (nitzavim) here together today, as we stood yesterday and the day before that. To hear the Old Man. My brother and I stand here wondering. We feel the burden of years and woes and memories. I was a wood chopper in my youth, in Egypt, and he was a water carrier. We were young and strong. Who knows, though, how long we would have lasted before they would have broken us. But he got us out in time. And we have followed the Old Man ever since. We have buried our parents and we are the elders now.  We have raised our children, who know only sand and stories and Clouds of Glory. We are almost sixty years old, with aching backs and sore arms. The Old Man is twice our age but he seems to have more energy than any of us, more energy now than he has had in forty years!
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In Secret: Parashat Ki Tavo (5779 – 2019)

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Parashat Ki Tavo (5779 – 2019)
Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8

Every morning, in our tradition prayers, we remind ourselves: “A person should always be reverent of Heaven, in secret and out in the open.” In our Torah portion, too, Moses, the public figure whose private life remained secret and off limits to the people, tries to balance public ceremonies with private, secret behaviors and thoughts.

The people, when they enter the land, are instructed by Moses to engage in a dramatic public ritual. Loud recitations of blessings and curses are to be hurled at the people, who are demanded to answer “Amen” in acceptance of these benedictions and imprecations. The litany ends like this: “Cursed be one who strikes their friend in secret; and the whole nation shall say: ‘Amen!’ Cursed be the one who takes bribery to strike innocent blood; and the whole nation shall say: ‘Amen!’ Cursed be anyone who does not keep the words of this Torah, to do them; and the whole nation shall say: ‘Amen!’” (Deut. 27:24-26)
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