Category Archives: God

How Do We Receive Torah

At Shavuot, how we receive the gift of Torah is one of the great questions posed.  I found a path towards understanding in a passage of the Talmud.

One is really two and two is really four. This is not a set of alternative facts but an insight from the Talmud (BT Shabbat 2a) about the nature of things. Shavuot is the time of the giving of Torah. But in any transaction there are two components, giving and receiving; one is really two. But it doesn’t stop there.

Both giving and receiving are either active or passive. In giving, we can thrust it towards another actively or we can be passive and open our hands for the other to take it. Similarly, in receiving, we can actively take the gift with eagerness and enthusiasm, or we can open our hands to passively receive the gift that is to be bestowed upon us. Two is really four.

So at this time of matan haTorah, the giving of the Torah, how do we receive it? Our tradition focuses that this is a gift from God to us and it is about the giving. The Eternal gave it once but we are always receiving Torah. And although we think of ourselves as all being at Sinai in this incredible moment, each generation comes to Torah to take it as their own. It is entirely up to us to accept it passively or embrace it actively.

How will we come to Torah?

Will you grab the Torah with gusto or just accept it. Is it truly a gift a living thing that brings meaning to us, something extraordinary to be treasured, loved, and lived; or is it some musty manuscript kept safely away in an Ark in a place we rarely visit if ever? The choice is ours, collectively and individually.

Perhaps it is this distinction in the way we receive this gift that helped God understand that the generation that received Torah was not the generation ready to enter the Promised Land. For the way we receive a gift can affect how the giver gives the next gift, which builds on the first. If we receive it enthusiastically and with gratitude, the gift giver might be more excited to bestow the next gift. And if we receive it passively perhaps the giver might consider whether, in fact, the recipient was ready for it or for the next gift.

This brings to mind the phrase mitzvah goreret mitzvah (Pirkei Avot 4:2) a good deed encourages more good deeds. So at this special time and place, are we able to exclaim a special Shehecheyanu, enthusiastically offering gratitude to God for this amazing gift of Torah, and use it to live our lives fully and with meaning, and preparing ourselves for God’s next gift?


Dayenu- as partner in the miracles




It would have been enough for us.

This is our response to each of the many miracles we enumerate at the Seder table. Thank you God for doing each of these great things; if you stopped at any point along the way that should have been enough to satisfy us.

But our response is incomplete.

We celebrate God’s presence in the miracle of the Exodus. However, we cannot forget our role. It is as if God continue to tighten the string, pulling back on the bow further and further until the people are ready to spring forward into action. God is preparing us, inciting us, readying us to take on the challenge that lies ahead. It is as if God is saying, “get ready,” I am handing this off to you as you engage as my partner in the active unfolding of history to create the world that should be.

This message has never been more important.

As we go to our Seder tables next week, we will recite God’s miracles and recount the tale of our liberation from the life of slavery to the hope of freedom. But freedom requires work to overcome the forces that would return us to the days of old, the days of slavery. We must use this modern-day Seder as our rallying point to commit ourselves to pursuing the freedoms that started with a miracle, back in Egypt or here in Philadelphia. The values that we hold dear of life, liberty, and justice are under threat by hostile forces. The miracle of our freedom is done, the time for our action to fight for what our freedom means is at hand.

So at this Seder, when you say Dayenu, mean it; be grateful for the miracles and express your gratitude by becoming a partner in the ongoing work of bringing our values forward so all may be so blessed.

Wishing everyone a zissen Pesach!


Shabbat Shalom in a World Desperate for Peace

We wish each other Shabbat Shalom, with the image of Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body seared into our minds. This horrific image profoundly disturbs the peace we are supposed to welcome and embrace. The suffering of countless victims of war in places like Syria and Africa is unimaginable.   The willingness to risk life itself to escape gives us some measure of the conditions that exist in the places from which they flee.

 Europe cannot turn its back on these people and we here in the United States must also be ready to offer help to those that flee. Moreover, the world must be willing to address the circumstances that have created these desperate situations. The time to act is long overdue.

More on Elul

Welcome to Elul- continued

For those using Elul as a time for reflection and preparation leading to the High Holidays, let me suggest Jewels of Elul.

Craig Taubman, an extraordinary artist and musician started This website shares a daily thought written by another leader/thinker from our community. These are aptly named as the daily thought is usually a gem. Something to think about, ruminate on and uplift your day. it is a few minutes well spent.

And if you like the poetry of the Psalms, take a look at:

Psalms 7,8,9

The long and winding road*… The End of Numbers

The long and winding road*…

 For us of the “older” generation, the end of the book of Numbers (Parashat Matot-Masei) should resonate deeply. Here we have the recitation of the forty-two encampments during our time in the wilderness, a lifetime of experiences recounted as this chapter in our lives comes to a close. We look back at the long strange trip it has been.* Is the land that was promised indeed the Promised Land and has the crucible that was the Midbar, or desert, prepared us and made us deserving. We wonder how this will play out as we move into the next chapter, which is the book of Deuteronomy. Have our experiences prepared us for the next phase of our lives? Have the experiences been worthwhile? Have we really learned anything along the way and how might we share it with our children? We can only hope that this journey leads someplace.

 But we know that this someplace is more than something physical. There is a spiritual and mystical component as well. For as we stand at the threshold of something new, we recognize that this “someplace” is the legacy that we are to leave to the next generation. Where we are becomes the foundation for our children. In the beginning of the book of Deuteronomy we will find the V’ahavta. The V’ahavta prayer remains at the heart of Judaism. It tells us that our encounter with God and the principles we have learned along the way are central to our existence as children of the Divine. And we are instructed to teach these principles to our children. Each of us hopes that we leave something of value- that our journey was worthwhile and our legacy will survive after we are gone.

 Shabbat Shalom

* Thanks and apologies to both the Beatles and the Grateful Dead.

Thoughts for Shabbat

The swirl of events both at home and abroad makes keeping an even keel difficult if not almost impossible. The storm rages and calls out to us to react harshly, which can only add to the anger. Some may recall Jonah offering himself up to be sacrificed and when the sailors threw him overboard, the seas calmed. But that is not how it is here. Instead it is more like Nadav and Abihu, the priests and sons of Aaron who brought offerings ostensibly honoring God. But God rejected their alien fire and they were destroyed. The storms call out for more sacrifices but to give in would consume not only our offerings but us as well.

We are compelled to act against the injustice and the evil we see in the world around us, compelled to act against the injustice and evil that seduces its followers to do wrong while believing they champion a worthy cause.   Now more than ever, each of us is compelled to seek the wisdom of our texts, the Ethics of our Fathers, to guide us on straight paths. This Erev Shabbat, I share with you the poem “IF” by Rudyard Kipling:


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.

Shabbat Shalom


A Message for Peace and Hope this Shabbat

This Shabbat brings to a close a sorrowful week. The tragic deaths of five were senseless and all the more so that they were in synagogue when the assailants struck. We are left with our grief and profound sadness and a fork in the road, a choice for us to determine how we react and how we move forward.

A prayer to God in this moment is not sufficient. For I am sure God’s Will is for peace. Now, my prayer reaches out to humanity. May we find it in ourselves to refuse to succumb to blind hatred. May we have the strength to resist the temptation for sadness and grief to devolve into blind hatred and we not seduced by the desire for revenge. May we take the proper time to mourn our loss and support the grieving families. Then let us arise and find ways to move forward along a path that brings peace and compassion. May our leaders help to bring calm and not incite or place blame with incendiary rhetoric.

There has been enough hate this week to last us a lifetime. Hate has only brought us despair, distrust and deep loss. May the time of hate come to a close and a new chapter rise from the ashes of this tragedy. May we find the way to peace.

Shabbat Shalom