Your Shul at the Jersey Shore

Jonathan Shapiro

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Shabbat Parshat Reeh 5777

Teshuva and Seeking Out God, No Signposts for Olei Regel

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5775

I promise that it is more frightening for me than for you that today is Rosh Chodesh Elul which means that Rosh Hashanah is only a month away.

It also means that the season of repentance has begun, or should begin.

There is a beautiful and meaningful teshuva idea that emerges from a difference between two travelers, one recorded in this morning’s parsha and one in next weeks. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Ekev 5777

How Many Arons?  Which One Goes to War?

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5774

An Iron Dome battery commander tells the following story:

“A missile was fired from Gaza. Iron Dome precisely calculated [its trajectory]. We know where these missiles are going to land down to a radius of 200 meters. This particular missile was going to hit either the Azrieli Towers, the Kirya (Israel’s equivalent of the Pentagon) or [a central Tel Aviv railway station]. Hundreds could have died.

“We fired the first [interceptor]. It missed. Second [interceptor]. It missed. This is very rare. I was in shock. At this point we had just four seconds until the missile lands. We had already notified emergency services to converge on the target location and had warned of a mass-casualty incident. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Va’etchanan 5777

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Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5773

About a month ago I was visiting a congregant in Centre State Hospital. He was in the cardiac critical care unit. After spending some time I sat outside the room waiting for the nurse when I was approached by a woman who turned out to be the hospital chaplain. She came over with the following request. There was a family in the next room whose husband/father had just had an aneurysm. He was not going to recover but not yet clinically brain-dead and they had decided to pull the plug. And they were looking for a rabbi to do deathbed prayers. Would I mind doing that with them, as they would prefer a rabbi to a Christian chaplain?

After navigating the “he’s not brain-dead and this is murder issue” I did go to do vidui for this man. When speaking to the family I came to learn that they had no religious affiliation. They had no rabbi. They had no real connection to Judaism. Yet when I asked them to recite the Shema with me, they all joined in without skipping a beat.

When thinking about it – it really struck me; this family with literally no connection to speak of to Judaism knew the Shema. It rolled off their tongue.

You wonder – what is the secret and meaning of Shema? Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Pinchas 5777

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And the Sons of Korach Did Not Die!

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5775

This week 4 words in the parsha caught my attention. ובני קרח לא מתו, and the children of Korach did not die.

After the plague has ended there is a military census conducted and recorded. In the midst of the count, while listing the family of Reuven, we find:

במדבר פרק כו

ז) אֵ֖לֶּה מִשְׁפְּחֹ֣ת הָרֽאוּבֵנִ֑י וַיִּהְי֣וּ פְקֻדֵיהֶ֗ם שְׁלֹשָׁ֤ה וְאַרְבָּעִים֙ אֶ֔לֶף וּשְׁבַ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת וּשְׁלֹשִֽׁים

ח) וּבְנֵ֥י פַלּ֖וּא אֱלִיאָֽב

ט) וּבְנֵ֣י אֱלִיאָ֔ב נְמוּאֵ֖ל וְדָתָ֣ן וַאֲבִירָ֑ם הֽוּא־דָתָ֨ן וַאֲבִירָ֜ם קרואי קְרִיאֵ֣י הָעֵדָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר הִצּ֜וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֤ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹן֙ בַּעֲדַת־קֹ֔רַח בְּהַצֹּתָ֖ם עַל־יְקֹוָֽק

י) וַתִּפְתַּ֨ח הָאָ֜רֶץ אֶת־פִּ֗יהָ וַתִּבְלַ֥ע אֹתָ֛ם וְאֶת־קֹ֖רַח בְּמ֣וֹת הָעֵדָ֑ה בַּאֲכֹ֣ל הָאֵ֗שׁ אֵ֣ת חֲמִשִּׁ֤ים וּמָאתַ֙יִם֙ אִ֔ישׁ וַיִּהְי֖וּ לְנֵֽס

יא) וּבְנֵי־קֹ֖רַח לֹא־מֵֽתוּ: ס

The family of Reuven contained 34,700 men of military age. Phalu had Eliav whose child was Eliav who was the father of the infamous Datan and Aviram who were major players in the Korach affair. The ground swallowed them up etc. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Chukkat 5777

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Og Melech Habashan

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5768

There are some stories that you hear as a child that will stay with you and intrigue you forever. One of these legends surrounds a Biblical figure that we read about this morning: Og melech haBashan, the famous Og, the king of Bashan. In our parsha, we read of the military defeat of Og at the hands of Moshe and the Jews. An ordinary man, albeit a king, defeated in battle.  The presentation of the story in the Torah is very clear and simple.

  1. And they turned and went up by the way of Bashan; and Og the king of Bashan went out against them, he, and all his people, to the battle at Edrei.
  2. And the Lord said to Moses, Fear him not; for I have delivered him into your hand, and all his people, and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon.
  3. So they struck him, and his sons, and all his people, until none was left alive; and they possessed his land.

The legend that has stuck with me goes as follows: Moshe was 10 amot, or cubits, tall. He had an ax that was 10 amot tall and he jumped 10 amot off the ground, struck the ankle of Og and killed him.  For years I had this in my head until I finally sat down to think about it: Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Korach 5777

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Shul Unity, Breaking Out of Our Comfort Groups

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5772

Our parsha opens with a technique used at times by the Torah where a verb is used but we are not given the object which that verb relates to. At times I believe that this is done to allow for the possibility of many interpretations that all might be correct. Let me give you an example to illustrate-

In the famous story of Cain and Abel, Genesis 4/8 the Torah tells us:

ח) ויאמר קין אל הבל אחיו ויהי בהיותם בשדה ויקם קין אל הבל אחיו ויהרגהו

And Kayin said to Hevel, and they were in the field, and kayin arose towards hevel his brother and he killed him.

What did Kayin say to Hevel? What was their fight about? The commentators and Midrashim have many answers, there are many reasons that brothers fight and people in general fight and kill each other. There is no one answer, so the Torah leaves it open to allow for many correct interpretations. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Shelach 5777

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The Majority Are Not Always Right

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5772

Very often it is difficult to be in the minority. In the world of orthodox Jewry and the world of the rabbinate centrist orthodoxy is in the minority. Very often I sense among people and at times even amongst rabbis within our community a certain religious and spiritual inferiority complex regarding our place and positions within orthodoxy.

To that I would respond, stand firm in your principles and beliefs; being in the minority does not mean that you are wrong!

And I can prove that to you from today’s parsha!

The major episode in today’s parsha is the sin of the spies. Every year it becomes more difficult to find new meaning and new aspects of the story. I glanced through a couple of books on the parsha and numerous articles and we have been there and done that. Then it hit me – the greatest lesson was staring at me, literally jumping off the page of the text. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Tazria 5777

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The Need for Reminders

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5767

On Wednesday after paying a shiva call on the upper west side of Manhattan I hopped on the train to meet a friend for lunch in midtown. As I came up the stairs at the Times Square station I experienced the magnitude of the lights and activity there as I do each and every time that I emerge from that station. The word impressed is not the correct word but one is certainly aware of the enormity of it all. What always draws my attention the most is the billboards; some are 2-3 stories in height while others are well over 20 stories in height.

The same thought runs through my mind every time I see the ads- that must cost a fortune of money! Why would a company spend that much money on a sign? And the realization that always sets in is- it must be worth it. Research is done before the money is spent and that research must conclude that heavy and pricey advertising affects consumers’ choices. That research must show that putting an item in front of you and forcing you to look at it and think about it will have an impact on your choice and action. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Shmini 5777

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Not Enough Questions

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5773

Every year I notice that I receive more questions in in the 3 weeks or so leading up to Pesach than I do during the rest of the year combined. It is a good news bad news scenario. It is very good that we care about Pesach and pay extra careful attention to the details of the mitzvoth of the holiday. It is relatively bad news for the rest of the year but more on that in a moment.

The other pattern that I noticed and this was more interesting was that nearly everyone apologized before they asked their question. I am sorry to bother you but can I ask you a question?

Only a handful of people prefaced their question with “I hope this is not a stupid question”. There is a small and underappreciated section of our parsha that contains an important message for us regarding asking questions. Continue reading

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