Your Shul at the Jersey Shore

Jonathan Shapiro

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Shabbat Parshat Nitzavim Vayelech 5777

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Belief in Miracle and an Omnipotent God

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5770

I had two conversations with some of the young members of our shul over the Yom Tov season, one in high school and one in college regarding what stories we must believe to be literal and which we do not. Must we believe that all of the stories in the Talmud happened or do we assume that they are just good stories meant to illustrate a message. What about the stories in the Torah, or the rest of the Bible?

Those are certainly fair questions and they are questions that I think about every time I encounter such a story. Continue reading

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Shabbat Parshat Shoftim 5777

The Meaning of Hurricane Irene

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5771

I had a peculiar and possibly disturbing thought last Shabbat during shul. There were not too many of us here Shabbat morning. Some chose to evacuate and some chose to stay home. Looking at the relatively empty shul I thought to myself- If people really believed that there was a time that they were supposed to die, that everyone had their time, they would not have left. Because if they were supposed to die and this was their time then God would get them no matter where they were.

The tree could come down in Long Branch or lightning could strike in Harrisburg.

That leaves two options:

  • That assumption is true- everyone has their time, we just don’t have enough faith and thus we flee.
  • Our assumption is wrong. There is no time that we are fated or slated to die and therefore we must do everything that we can in order to avoid that fate and stay alive.

I usually don’t have those kinds of thoughts but I guess that hurricane Irene and the uncertainty as to how bad the storm would be got me thinking in that direction, about God’s role in the world and our lives. Continue reading

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

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