Your Shul at the Jersey Shore

Jonathan Shapiro

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Shabbat Parshat Miketz 5778

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Maximizing Our Spirituality

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5768

Last Tuesday I was at a Chaplaincy meeting with federation leaders and other community rabbis and one of the other rabbis shared with us the following anecdote. A family of his attending public school was dismayed that a Christmas tree was put up in the school but there was no menorah. When challenged, the principal responded that the school does not allowed religious symbols and that a Christmas tree is not a religious symbol, but the menorah is.  Leaving aside the rationale of the principal, at least I said to myself there is recognition that the menorah is indeed a religious symbol. Depressingly however it has come to resemble the Christmas tree. It reminds us that the holiday is here but asks very little of us if anything at all. This morning I want to share an important Chanukah idea with you. It is an idea that is based on a chapter that I recently read in a book of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s writings on Chanukah and Purim, and it speaks to what the menorah asks of us.  Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Vayishlach 5778

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Was Dina to Blame

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5772

The first thing that a rape victim is told is, at least on TV, it is not your fault. You did not ask for this to happen and the blame lies squarely with the rapist.

That is not however, the approach taken by Rashi in his commentary to the rape of Dina recorded in this morning’s parsha.

Rashi, quoting the Midrash, argues that Dina is partly to blame because she was a yatzanit, “a person going out for lewd purposes”.

I could never completely understand why the Midrash, Rashi and others take this approach, and it always bothered me. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Vayetzei 5778

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How did Yaakov not know it was Leah?

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5774

This past Tuesday night I presented the religious Zionist worldview of Rabbi Shlomo Goren. He believed that our future in the state of Israel and our fate as a people in our land is dependent upon the spiritual and religious nature of the state and its people.

That is a frightening argument. It might well be right, but it is frightening. Therefore we come up with alternate strategies. 

One of the primary sources for such argument stems from a very puzzling episode in this morning’s parsha. Yaakov works seven years for his beloved Rachel. As we all know Lavan takes Leah and gives her to Yaakov in place of Rachel.

The Torah then tells us that

כה) ויהי בבקר והנה הוא לאה ויאמר אל לבן מה זאת עשית לי הלא ברחל עבדתי עמך ולמה רמיתני

25. And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah; and he said to Laban, What is this that you have done to me? did not I serve with you for Rachel? why then have you deceived me?

The Midrash and subsequent commentators read And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah to imply that until this point he did not know.

How in the world could Yaakov not know that it was Leah? There is a wedding; they go back to the tent, together as husband and wife. Are we really meant to believe that he did not see her face or recognize her voice? He loved her for seven years! Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Toldot 5778

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Isaac and Rebecca

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5769

Rivkah falls off  the camel as she encounters Yitzchak.

As with every verse in the Torah, we must ask ourselves “why is it recorded, what is it there to teach us? It certainly creates a memorable picture in our mind of the encounter but we must then ask, who cares? Why is this piece of information important enough to merit inclusion in the eternal Torah?

In order to answer that question, in the age old Jewish tradition, I will ask you another one.

At the end of our parsha we encounter the classic scene in which Yaakov and Rivkah trick Yitzchak and steal the blessings from Esav. That episode raises many questions: What was Yitzchak thinking? How does the blessing work? Were Yaakov and Rivkah right or wrong?

Of most interest to me this morning is the following powerful question:

Why doesn’t Rivkah simply tell Yitzchak that he is making a terrible mistake? Or at least question his decision and have a conversation about it. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Vayera 5778

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The Danger of Unchecked Perception

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5768

Chana, a self-appointed monitor of the Shul’s morals (Yenta), kept sticking her nose in to other people’s business. Several members did not approve of her extra curricular activities, but feared her enough to maintain their silence. 

She made a mistake, however, when she accused Moishe, a new member, of being an alcoholic after she saw his car parked in front of the town’s only bar one afternoon. She emphatically told Moishe (and several others) that everyone seeing it there would know what he was doing. 

 Moishe, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and just turned and walked away. He didn’t explain, defend, or deny…he said nothing. 

 Later that evening, Moshe quietly parked his car in front of Chana’s house…walked home…and left it there all night!!! 

 You gotta love Moshe!  Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Lech Lecha 5778

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What Causes Jews to Divide and Separate, Lot & Avraham

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5773

For more than 2000 years Jews have been divided and separated for two primary reasons. At times an external enemy causes Jews to have to flee and separation ensues. Sometimes the enemy is directly responsible for the separation.

Other times our divide and separation has nothing to do with anyone or anything external. We do it to ourselves, we are our own worst enemy and usually it revolves around religion. That which is supposed to unite and bind us is actually what causes the divide.

It is always fascinating to see commentators read these historical realities into the text. Continue reading

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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