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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

Shabbat Parshat Nitzavim Vayelech 5777

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Deciding What Parts of the Torah We Like

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5769

In inducting Israel into the brit or covenant with G-d, a covenant which consists of Torah and Mitzvoth, Moses warns his people against one kind of sinner whom he regards as particularly noxious.

In chapter 29 verse 17 we read:

יז) פֶּן יֵשׁ בָּכֶם אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה אוֹ מִשְׁפָּחָה אוֹ שֵׁבֶט אֲשֶׁר לְבָבוֹ פֹנֶה הַיּוֹם מֵעִם יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵינוּ לָלֶכֶת לַעֲבֹד אֶת אֱלֹהֵי הַגּוֹיִם הָהֵם פֶּן יֵשׁ בָּכֶם שֹׁרֶשׁ פֹּרֶה רֹאשׁ וְלַעֲנָה

17. Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turns away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that bears gall and wormwood;

There is a description of two different people, first the idolater and then the poison root.

Regarding the latter category the Torah is particularly harsh in terms of punishment for this ideology.

19. The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven.

20. And the Lord shall mark him off for evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the Torah;

What could be so terrible? What do you have to do or believe to deserve this? Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Ki Tavo 5777

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Loving All Jews Despite the Differences

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5768

Every Week I read the Yated Ne’eman, a weekly newspaper that is written for the ultra orthodox communities in America in order to keep up with the news from all parts of the Jewish world. Of special interest if a section called “readers write” which is something like a letter to the editor where all letters are published about nearly any topic in the world. It is a great window into the “everyman” of the chareidi world.

Every so often I regret reading the paper at all as I find something that depresses me terribly.

With regard to this topic, there are three issues at hand: First, there is the Zionist movement itself. Secondly, there is the issue of a medinah. Finally, there is a question of what our relationship should be with the medinah.
There is no difference of opinion in our circles whatsoever in our shita about the Zionist movement. They are corrupt, morally bankrupt, and have brought calamity on our people. All of our gedolim agreed on this point.

This is just one area of fundamental disagreement between or communities and yet they are our Jewish brethren, our fellow orthodox Jews. How do we reconcile these differences? How do we overcome our sense of religious isolation? Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Ki Tetzeh 5777

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Honesty in Monetary Matters

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5768

At the very end of the parsha we find the reading for Parshat Zachor, the command to remember that which Amalek did to us in the desert when they attacked etc.

That is immediately preceded by 4 verses prohibiting us from cheating in business.

13. You shall not have in your bag different weights, a large and a small.

14. You shall not have in your house different measures, a large and a small.

15. But you shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shall you have; that your days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

16. For all who do such things, and all who do unrighteously, are an abomination to the Lord your God. Continue reading

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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Shema

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 Devarim-Chazon 5777

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Tisha B’Av As A Moed (Holiday)

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5775

If you were to go to the cemetery on Tisha B’av you would not recite a kel maleh, our traditional prayer. It almost seems backwards – this is the saddest day of the year, a day of national Jewish mourning and yet we can’t recite a prayer for the dead?

As strange as it seems, that is correct. Why should that be? Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Matot Masei 5777

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Divisions in Orthodoxy

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5773

This past Wednesday (5 years ago) the Jewish people lost a giant with the passing of Rabbi Joseph Sholom Elyashiv, the recognized leader of the Lithuanian Orthodox community in Jerusalem. 

The question that I thought about immediately after I learned of his passing and the question that I pose to you this morning is how our community relates to his life and death.

Clearly there were things that he believed that our community does not espouse and the direction for his community was not necessarily the direction that we have taken. Continue reading

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