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Weekly Insight

Shabbat Parshat Vayakhel 5779

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Improving Observance One Step at a Time

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5774

On Thursday afternoon I typed in “teach me the entire Torah” and out popped the phrase “teach me the entire Torah on one foot.”

Many are familiar with the passage from the Talmud. A person comes to convert to Judaism and requests that Hillel teach them the entire Torah on one foot. The answer that Hillel gives is equally famous – “what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. The rest is commentary, now go and learn.”

What nearly everyone takes away from this piece is the centrality of kindness and treating people respectfully in Judaism. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Ki Tisa 5779

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Erase Me From This Book

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5774

In literature we spend most of our time analyzing what is there. What is included in the story? Why those details? Why did this character do that? Why these words?

One can also learn from what is not there, from that which is missing.

In a month or so we will read the Megillah and notice that God’s name is not mentioned once in the Megillah. That is certainly significant.

A month after that we will read the Hagaddah and note Moshe’s near complete absence from our retelling of the story. 

Last week we read Parshat Tetzaveh and Moshe’s name was not mentioned once. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Tetzaveh 5779

 

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Structure of the Parsha and the Ketoret (incense) Altar

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5768

I was not until relatively recently in the world of Biblical Exegesis that one might hear the words “literary structure” and “Torah study” uttered in the same sentence. Yet that is not uncommon to hear today, articles and books have been written about the sequence and order of verse, chapters and even entire books. The results from such study usually yield new insight and profound ideas.

My bet is that many people would object in the orthodox world might object to studying the literary structure of the Bible, which is curious because although not as often as we do today and not as a field of study, the general idea and method has been used by rabbis for over two thousand years.

Continuing from last week on the theme of doing things a little bit differently I want to analyze the structure of Terumah and Tetzaveh with you and highlight how an appreciation and study of it will help us understand the role of one of the instruments in the mishkan. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Terumah 5779

 

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How Important is the Temple?  Messages from the Haftarah

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5774

Did you ever open up to the haftarah and see “Sephardim conclude here” only to realize that you are going to keep reading another 20 verses or so?

We all have and at that point I know that you are thinking – let’s adopt that custom! I can’t believe we have to sit through more when there is a shorter option available!

What we should be thinking is – the portion for the haftarah is carefully selected from the prophets. Two different selections or two cutoff points implies as argument as to what the focus of the Haftarah is or should be! I would love to know what lies behind this argument; I want to understand the rationale for why this particular section is chosen!

As you would expect the haftarah for Parshat Terumah which begins to detail the command to build the Mishkan (tabernacle), deals with the command to build the temple in the times of king Solomon. There is no question at all as to the thematic connection – tabernacle to temple, and there could be no more appropriate section to choose. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Mishpatim 5779

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Appreciating the Importance of Bein Adam Lechaveiro

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5769

Every year Parshat Mishpatim provides us with an opportunity to focus on the importance of being honest and ethical and properly appreciating the need to treat our fellow Jews and human beings with the respect that they deserve.

This year I would like to approach the topic by debunking a very common misconception regarding one of the most famous and quoted phrases in the Torah- Naaseh Venishma.

We are taught from a very early age that the Jews accepted all of the Mitzvoth and told Hashem, we will do and we will listen. Or, as it is generally taught, we will do without question and only then will we try to understand. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Yitro 5779

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Do Not Murder!  A Return to Basics!

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5775

There were times when I used to look at the 10 commandments and wonder: That is it? This is the great revelation! This is supposed to blow me away. Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not kidnap!

I want to focus today on don’t murder. It seems too basic to impress anybody! So basic that many of the commentators don’t offer a word of commentary. And I would wonder – why is this one of the 10 commandments?

It might be this very question that leads the Eben Ezra to offer the following explanation. He writes that “do not murder includes via hand and speech. If you testify falsely and that leads to the death penalty or you encourage someone to commit murder, or you don’t share information that will save someone from death – if you do any of these you are like a murderer- אתה כמו רוצח Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Beshalach 5779

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Kindness, Decency, and Respect

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5772

I spent a part of my vacation at a ranch in the Catskills with my family. One of the afternoons as I was walking down the hall from our room to the main cabin I walked past a teenage girl sitting on the floor reading a book. I figured that she was someone’s kid who either had a fight with her parents or had a baby sibling sleeping outside and didn’t give her a second thought.

As we made our way back and forth she was still there, sitting in the hall for a couple of hours.

My sister who is obviously more astute than I am, or at least pays more attention to what people are wearing, realized that she was not one of the Jews who was there on vacation and went to see who she was. It turns out that she was a local teenager who was hired to babysit one of the vacationer’s children.  They did not require her services when they were in the room so they had her sit outside. They didn’t offer you a chair, my sister asked? No, said the girl, almost embarrassed. Can I get you some coffee or soda, my sister asked? They have coffee here?! That would be great. Thank you. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Bo 5779

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The Spiritual, the National & the Conversion Crisis in Israel

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5771

There was a wonderful oped in the Jerusalem Post last week regarding the conversion crisis in the state of Israel today. It was written by Rabbi Seth Farber who is the head of an organization named ITIM which helps people navigate the Israeli rabbinate when dealing with conversion and lifecycle events.

He pointed out that nearly half of the recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union do not meet the rabbinate’s criteria for Jewishness. That includes people whose father is Jewish but not the mother or cases where there is simply not enough evidence to determine Jewish status definitively. The numbers are now in the hundreds of thousands.   A few thousand convert a year but the rest cannot meet the demands of the rabbinate and do not, or are completely secular and do not.  The question is – what do we do about it? Do we simply let throw up our hands and give up, or do we work to find a halachick solution to this dilemma? Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Vayera 5779

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Quiet During Kaddish & Our Relationship With God

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5773

Three weeks ago at the Kiddush someone came over to me and said: “I am glad that you finally got the decorum down for adon olam, how about getting the people quiet during kaddish. It is just wildly disrespectful.”

On one hand, I was glad that I am not the only one who feels that way, yet on the other hand, it was depressing that many others do not get it.

A large part of the problem is the nature of our relationship with God. That issue is highlighted by a problematic verse/declaration in this morning’s Parsha.

שמות פרשת שמות – וארא פרק ו

  ב) וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי יְיָ

    ג) וָאֵרָא אֶל אַבְרָהָם אֶל יִצְחָק וְאֶל יַעֲקֹב בְּאֵל שַׁדָּי וּשְׁמִי יְיָ לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם

2. And God spoke to Moses, and said to him, I am the Lord; Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Vayechi 5779

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Jewish Attitudes Towards Cremation

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5777

About five years ago a woman called the shul to discuss her burial plans. She was an out of town member and her health was failing rapidly. Her husband had predeceased her and was buried in our cemetery.

She called because she wanted to be cremated. After a short discussion I asked her if she would like to be buried in our cemetery next to her husband. She replied in the affirmative. I proceeded as delicately as I could to explain to her that would not be possible if she chose cremation. She did not and she received a kosher burial on North Linden Ave. Continue reading

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