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Congregation L'Dor V'Dor
11 Temple Lane
Oyster Bay, NY 11771
Phone: (516) 470-1700
info@ldorvdor.org

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Rabbi's Weekly Torah Thoughts

 

our future
Vision Statement
To bring meaning and healing to our lives and the world.

Guiding Principles
We are a warm, welcoming and inclusive community. Through our engagement with Torah we add meaning to our lives. We strive to instill a love of Jewish learning in our children and our children’s children. Through joyful and uplifting prayer, we celebrate life’s blessings and bring healing to our souls and those struggling with illness, loss or despair. Our synagogue is our spiritual home enabling us to come together. We seek to better our community and the world by strengthening relationships and reaching out to others. We strive to balance Jewish commitments with the demands of modern life in new and creative ways.

Our Future!

We are proud to share with you the future of Congregation L’Dor V’Dor!

The former Oyster Bay Jewish Center had provided a place of worship for more than 50 years, building a strong Jewish community on the north shore of Long Island. As a result of the recent merger with the Jewish Congregation of Brookville, we now have a vibrant, growing Reform congregation that we can pass along from "generation to generation."

Mission Statement of Congregation L’Dor V’Dor

Working together, the Board and the Rabbi have outlined our Congregational Vision and Guiding Principles. We believe it covers the expectations of who we are and the path that we as a congregation are looking to take together.

Vision Statement

To bring meaning and healing to our lives and the world.

Guiding Principles

We are a warm, welcoming and inclusive community. Through our engagement with Torah we add meaning to our lives.

We strive to instill a love of Jewish learning in our children and our children’s children.

Through joyful and uplifting prayer, we celebrate life’s blessings and bring healing to our souls and those struggling with illness, loss or despair.

Our synagogue is our spiritual home enabling us to come together.

We seek to better our community and the world by strengthening relationships and reaching out to others.

We strive to balance Jewish commitments with the demands of modern life in new and creative ways.

Brian Land, President
Bret Pearlman, Vice President
Michael Reisman Treasurer
Eric Brotman, Recording Secretary
Lisa Weiner, Past President

Trustees
Ben Braunstein, Michael Falkove, Marcia Glick, Nancy Krosser, Andrew Levine, Nancy Rosenberg,
Oren Simon, Jonathan Siskind, Edra Tepper, Kathy Weiss, Brenda Wilensky

Click here to visit Rabbi Moskowitz's complete blog.
www.RabbiMoskowitz.com

  • Uncertainty and Its Roundabout Path

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jan 14, 2022 | 01:50 am

    At the last Shabbat evening services on Friday night, the camera did not work properly. No matter how emphatically I pressed the buttons on the app, the camera remained frozen on the Shabbat candles and then when it did respond, zoomed in on my bald head. I was finally able to get it set to the default position and left it there for the remainder of the service. I am sure others have had similar frustrating experiences when attending Zoom meetings or online conferences. At that point all we can do, or should do, is laugh. Despite our increasing dependence on technology, it is as imperfect as the human beings who design it. Nothing ever works perfectly or even runs exactly according to plan. A smart home is rendered quite dumb when power is lost or the internet is down and even then, sometimes one app stops talking to another, and the newest smart TV will not show the latest movie everyone is talking about.Don’t get me wrong. Technology is great. It allows us to do things that were once unimaginable. People can attend services no matter where they are. They can find meaning in our Shabbat prayers and songs whenever they choose. And this is very good.But technology offers the illusion of perfection. It looks so neat and tidy that we start thinking it’s perfect. Likewise, we think that science can offer certainties and these days we seem to expect that scientists can offer perfect advice. They speak in the language of exactitudes, but science is filled with educated guesses.The Webb telescope that recently blasted off to outer space is a technological marvel, but it is also an illustration of how much science does not know. We are spending billions of dollars in the quest to answer questions that have captivated astrophysicists. As soon as this telescope discovers the answers to these questions it will crack open the door to heretofore unknown questions. With every answer comes even more questions. Certainty evades us. One can trust scientific experts—I recognize that there are astrophysicists who know more about the cosmos[…]

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  • Lightning and Truth

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jan 6, 2022 | 21:53 pm

    I opened the Torah to this week’s portion somewhat apprehensive that I would have to once again read about the final three plagues visited upon the Egyptians. (These days I don’t need any more plagues!) I would not have to justify the Egyptian’s pain as the price for our freedom and as a necessity to demonstrate God’s power to our people. That was not where my heart can be found. My Hasidic commentaries rescued me. I scanned the words of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the movement and Menahem Mendl of Kotzk. Menahem Mendl, the Kotzker rebbe, offered me a path away from the plagues. He did not even make it past the first word. He never made it to locusts or the death of the first born.He asks, “Why does the portion begin with the word bo? Why does the verse say the following: “And God said to Moses, ‘Come to Pharaoh?’” This makes no sense. It should say instead, “Go to Pharaoh.” The Kotzker rebbe responds, “The Torah does not say, lekh—go—to Pharaoh, but bo—come. The reason for this wording is because one cannot go from God; one cannot move away from God because God is everywhere. Therefore, God told Moses, “Come,” or in other words, “Come with Me, for I will be with you wherever you are.”His interpretation was revelatory. It hit me like lightning. And so, at first, I thought the Kotzker rebbe had redeemed the portion and its plagues. I would not have to talk about darkness again. I would not have to wrestle with the dilemma of why God made Pharaoh so stubborn. The first word tells us all we need to know. Bo. God is everywhere. I delved into the Kotzker rebbe’s life. I followed his teachings and asked where they might lead me. Menahem Mendl was brilliant, but troubled. Darkness hovered over his life. He was exacting and controversial. Some report that one year he did not even show up for High Holiday services. Imagine that! And yet it makes sense when you think about the Kotzker’s life. He was[…]

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  • Don't Walk Away from the Heart

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Dec 30, 2021 | 18:39 pm

    Joan Didion writes: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”The Talmud reports: “Rav and Shmuel disagree about the interpretation of the verse, ‘And there arose a new king over Egypt who knew not Joseph.’ One says this means he was actually a new king, and one says this means that his decrees were transformed as if he were a new king.” (Sotah 11a)It is a fascinating disagreement. One rabbi believes, as I had always thought, that it was in fact a new king who did not know about all the good Joseph did for Egypt. Perhaps he was not told. Or perhaps so many generations passed since Joseph’s death that the stories about his ingenuity were lost to Egyptian storytellers.The other rabbi suggests that it was not so much about the forgetting of history, or more precisely the failure to teach history, but instead about the king’s character. The king, as rulers so often do, became enamored with his power, and grew more and more callous towards his subjects.This disagreement makes all the difference in the world regarding how we view God. If it was a new king, and many years had passed, then one wonders why God waited hundreds of years to respond to the Israelites’ suffering. If it was the same king, then God did not wait but responded, more or less, as soon as the Israelites’ cries reached heaven.This debate follows us into our own day. It may seem like God waits generations to respond to our suffering. In fact, God is waiting for the callousness to be removed from our hearts. God cries out, “I have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.” (Exodus 6)Once again, we gain insights about a person’s character. Each of us has the tendency to forget the good others do for us. Our hearts can become hardened towards others. It is easier to imagine it was a[…]

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  • Curse the Alphabet, Bless the Air

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Dec 28, 2021 | 15:59 pm

    The Book of Exodus begins, “These are the names…” And yet my thoughts gravitate not towards the children of Israel listed in that opening chapter but the Greek letters that have become part and parcel of our everyday conversations. Delta and Omicron, Zeta and Iota. I was not in a fraternity, so I never learned the Greek alphabet. I sometimes struggle to pronounce our most recent dreaded name. And here is my latest realization. I don’t very much like these letters. Their names instill fear. Between the named hurricanes that enter our vocabulary when the weather whips past the letter Z to this most recent Covid-19 variant that upends our lives, and our plans, in a matter of days, I am starting to recoil before this Greek heritage. All I can think about is Sisyphus and that cursed boulder. When will this cycle ever end? I understand why the Greeks held on to that myth. It feels like the push-ups will never let up. Then again there is much in Greek philosophy that captures my heart and mind. I remain grateful for their notions of democracy. I really like Aristotle’s ideas, especially as they are distilled through Moses Maimonides’ writing. We don’t believe in a never-ending cycle of despair. Our God does not curse us. God does not damn us to perform fruitless endeavors. It sure feels otherwise these days. We feel trapped going up and going down. I am tempted by the myth. One of my seventh graders said, when we recently discussed what we believe God does and does not do, “I do not know.” That seems a better answer than giving in to despair. In his magnificent, but unimaginably difficult, work, The Guide of the Perplexed,Maimonides struggles to resolve such perplexities and square Jewish and Greek thought. Among its pages are gems of understanding about God’s role in the world. He writes, “The more urgently a thing is needed by living beings, the more abundantly, and cheaply, it is found.” Thus, the very air we breathe is a sign of God’s goodness. Maimonides had every reason to[…]

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  • Merry Christmas!

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Dec 25, 2021 | 19:40 pm

    What follows is my brief message from December 24th Shabbat evening services.Merry Christmas. I recognize that this is a surprising statement to hear at Shabbat services, but it is my wish for our Christian neighbors and friends. This evening of course marks Erev Christmas, Christmas Eve. And I very much like wishing my Christian friends a heartfelt Merry Christmas. I don’t very much like the bland and nondescript Happy Holidays. I prefer that we know the greeting that evokes meaning to our friends and is most authentic to their faith. Knowing what is important to our neighbors is a significant quest.This week we read the opening chapters in the Book of Exodus. Our stay in Egypt, which began with Joseph and his brothers, turns ugly and turns into the slavery that we retell at our Passover seders. There is one reason why a new Pharaoh enslaves us. It is because he forgets. His failure to remember all the good Joseph and his descendants did for prior generations of Egyptians is what makes him grow afraid of the Israelites. It is his forgetting that leads to our suffering. The Torah states: “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” Knowing what matters to our neighbors, to those among whom we live, makes all the difference in the world. Knowledge suggests intimacy. It means knowing what your friends like and dislike. It means knowing what is important to your neighbors. It means knowing what they believe and having enough confidence in our faith, and our Jewish holidays, to wish our friends on this evening, a holiday filled with Christian meaning.And while Happy Holidays is the invention of those who do not wish to offend, or those who wish to place Christmas in the same box as New Years, Merry Christmas is a greeting that matters to those who believe in Christianity and who find Christmas deeply meaningful. While many of our friends, and neighbors, are Christian more and more are Muslim or Hindu or Chinese and so that means learning how to say, Ramadan Mubarak—a blessed Ramadan or Happy[…]

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  • Bless Your Kids

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Dec 17, 2021 | 19:35 pm

    When our children were young, and now when they return home for Shabbat and holidays, we place our hands on their heads and offer the tradition’s blessing: May God make you like Ephraim and Manashe. (Genesis 48)May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.May God bless you and guard you.May God’s face shine on you and be gracious to you.May God’s face smile at you and grant you peace. And here is my confession. The first time, and even the second and third times, we offered this blessing, it felt unnatural and awkward. We did not grow up in homes in which our parents recited these words. Of course, our parents hugged us. Of course, they wrapped their arms around us and said, “We love you.” This ritual formulation, however, was foreign. And so, when I began saying it, I felt like an interloper. “Who am I to say these words?” I thought. It all felt so strange. Our children also sometimes protested. They shouted that I was hugging them too tightly. Or that I was messing up their hair. Or as they grew older, they fidgeted suggesting that they were in a rush to go out with their friends. But we persisted. And over time, the tradition’s formula became our words. The ritual became our own. And here is my worry. People appear to think that saying the tradition’s words or offering such a ritual formulation is what rabbis or cantors are supposed do. It’s not what “regular” people do. Rabbis, and cantors, believe every single word of the prayerbook they read and sing. They feel it in their bones every time they chant “Oseh Shalom.” Of course, they are going to bless their kids! Of course, they are going do what the tradition says they are supposed to do. This priestly benediction is not just mine. It is yours. It belongs to all of us. And so here is some advice. There is no perfect way to say it or even do it. There is no perfect way of placing your hands on your children’s heads.[…]

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  • Change Is Who We Are

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Dec 10, 2021 | 16:17 pm

    I often hear people say that the Orthodox way of life guarantees Judaism’s survival. I hear this argument from all manners of Jews, from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews. The notion is that only strict observance and inviolability guarantees the Jewish future. This is false. I understand when I hear this argument from Orthodox Jews because it makes sense that they would believe their commitments are the true path. It saddens me when I hear this from fellow Reform Jews because it suggests a lack of faith in our own chosen path. This week we conclude the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph has framed his brothers by hiding a goblet in his brother Benjamin’s bag. Joseph accuses the brothers of thievery and threatens to jail Benjamin. Rather than allowing Benjamin to be carted away and made a slave, as they did to Joseph so many years ago, Judah draws near to Joseph and begs that his younger brother be spared. Judah pleads, “Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father unless the boy is with me? Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father!” (Genesis 44) In that moment Joseph realizes his brothers have indeed changed. The rabbis are forgiving of Joseph’s machinations. They believe he devised a legitmate test of his brothers. Given the opportunity, would they once again get rid of their father’s favorite son or this time, make a different choice? Would they defend Benjamin even though years earlier they had betrayed Joseph? The only true test of teshuvah shleymah, complete repentance, is to find oneself in the exact same situation and make a different choice. This is how Joseph discovers that his brothers have made done the hard work of repentance. The Torah states, “And Judah drew near.” Judah has changed. It is instructive that Judah is the spokesman for the brothers. It was he who had earlier suggested that they sell Joseph[…]

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  • Our Sanctuary Dedication

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Dec 5, 2021 | 19:57 pm

    What follows is my sermon and message on the occasion of dedicating our congregation's newly renovated sanctuary. This is indeed a blessed evening. We are thankful to those who volunteer to serve our congregation and help it make it even better. We are thankful for this holiday of Hanukkah that sheds light on our lives during the darkest time of the year. And we are thankful that not only can we gather together, but that we do so in this beautiful, newly renovated sanctuary...Ten years ago, this is not what anyone at the Jewish Congregation of Brookville ever imagined. Ten years ago, this is not what anyone at Oyster Bay Jewish Center ever imagined. And yet here we are and now we are Congregation L’Dor V’Dor and we must no longer look back to what we imagined long ago, but instead only forward to what I believe will be a strong future filled with much song, many celebrations, lots of lots of Jewish teaching, and plenty of spiritual uplift. In this sanctuary, we will celebrate the milestones in our lives, we will mark the holidays of our people, we will mourn our losses, we will watch as our children hold the Torah scroll close to their hearts as grandparents shed tears in the front rows. Here we will mark our years and fill our hearts with the lessons and values we have taught for millennia. It is this place that has ensured that the teachings contained in our Torah have survived for generations. This synagogue will stand in line with every synagogue that has stood before it.Long ago, when King Solomon offered words at the dedication ceremony of the very first Temple, finished in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, he said, “O God, may Your eyes be open day and night toward this House, toward the place of which You have said, ‘My name shall abide there’; may You heed the prayers which Your servant will offer toward this place. And when You hear the supplications which Your servant and Your people Israel offer toward this place, give heed in Your heavenly[…]

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  • Seeing the Good in Wrong

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Dec 3, 2021 | 02:17 am

    Joseph is a stunning character. Despite adversity he achieves great renown. His brothers first try to kill him and then sell him into slavery in Egypt. He quickly becomes Potiphar’s most trusted servant. Then when he refuses the advances of Potiphar’s wife, she becomes enraged and accuses him of trying to molest her. Joseph is thrown into jail. There he interprets dreams, in particular those of the chief cup bearer (can someone please provide me with the job description for this position?) and chief baker. His interpretations are proven true. The chief cup bearer is restored to his position and the chief baker is executed. Lo and behold, Pharaoh is plagued (get it?) by repeated, disturbing dreams. No one can interpret them. The chief cup bearer reports that he met this guy in jail who has a unique ability to interpret dreams. Joseph is summoned to Pharaoh’s palace. He is cleaned up and given fancy clothes. He interprets the dreams to mean that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. “Put someone in charge of stockpiling the food during the first seven years so that there will be enough food during the seven lean years,” Joseph suggests. And guess what. Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of the task. Our hero becomes the second most powerful, and influential, man in all of Egypt. Pharaoh showers Joseph with riches and gives him a bride. During the years of famine, Jacob and his children run out of food. They hear that there is food to be had in nearby Egypt and so they venture there to procure food for their large, extended family. Joseph’s brothers appear before him and bow before him—just as he had dreamed when he was a younger man. Soon the brothers and Joseph will be reconciled. First the brothers must be tested. Will they stand up for their younger brother Benjamin and protect him? Will they behave differently towards him than they did to Joseph? Come back next week to see what they do. Or, if you prefer, read ahead. My question at[…]

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  • Jefferson's Statue, Jefferson's Words

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Dec 1, 2021 | 18:56 pm

    I imagine a debate about our founding father, Abraham and what would happen if we were looking at a statue of him. On the one hand, he set out on a journey that reshaped the world. In this new land to which he traveled, he grew closer to God. His family, and wealth, increased. Through his heirs three religions were born, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I would like to think the world has benefited from his extraordinary vision. On the other hand, he fathered a child with his slave, Hagar. He then cast this child, Ishmael, and his mother aside, leaving them to die in the desert. I remain troubled by his heartlessness. I recognize his flaws but hold on to his faith in God. Others might be unable to look past his wrongs. If holders of these divergent views were staring at the same image, would they be able to compromise? Would the nuances, the mistakes and failures, be smoothed over? In the Torah’s words, there is room for opposing views. I wonder as well. Do I hold on to the aspirations in Thomas Jefferson’s words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” or the image of Jefferson now removed from New York City’s Council chamber? I have come to believe that statues are more about their creators than the people they depict. Did you know that Jefferson’s statue was commissioned in 1834 by one of the first Jewish officers in the U.S. Military? Uriah Phillips Levy served in the navy and fought in the War of 1812. He was a member of New York’s famous Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue. He saw in Jefferson the possibility of overcoming the antisemitism he experienced. In fact, Levy is also responsible for commissioning the Jefferson statue in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Was Levy unaware that Jefferson was a slaveholder? I doubt it. Levy was like far too many of his contemporaries unaware of slavery’s evils. I[…]

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  • Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and the Myths We Tell

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Nov 25, 2021 | 14:38 pm

    It feels somewhat strange when we celebrate Hanukkah a few days after gathering for Thanksgiving. Our Jewish holidays are tied to the Hebrew calendar which operates independently from the Gregorian calendar. Occasionally however, Hanukkah finds its way into November and nears Thanksgiving.This offers us a unique opportunity to reflect upon our dual commitments as American Jews. Interestingly both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are built upon myths that are thinly tied to history. Let me explain.Nowhere in the Book of Maccabees, the first written record of the events surrounding Hanukkah, is the miracle of oil mentioned. I realize this may come as a surprise given that this story forms the core of how we talk about Hanukkah. We first find the miracle story in the Talmud, a book completed nearly 700 years after the Maccabean revolt.Did the miracle of oil really occur?This post continues on The Times of Israel.

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  • Forgiveness Should Be Easier

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Nov 19, 2021 | 03:58 am

    I know I am supposed to admire Jacob and love him more than Esau. Jacob is, after all, the father of the children of Israel. He is the man through whom we trace our people’s sacred lineage. And yet, this week, I find myself looking admirably towards his brother Esau. Jacob deceived his father and stole the birthright from Esau. Jacob then runs away—Esau threatens to kill him after discovering the deception. On the run, Jacob experiences God, marries and builds a large family, experiences God some more and becomes incredibly successful. We do not know what Esau is doing during these years. Is he nursing a grudge towards Jacob? Is he perseverating about the wrongs done to him? He has every right to be angry. It is true that Jacob lied and stole from him. We learn little about what Esau is thinking. We learn a great deal about Jacob. We read about his dreams and how he wrestles with God. We learn a great deal about his fears. They continue to plague him. When he realizes that he will see Esau for the first time, he sends messengers ahead to greet Esau. They report that Esau has become wildly successful. Many people work for him. Jacob believes these four hundred men are not a measure of his brother’s success but instead proof that Esau wishes to attack his family and carry out his earlier threat. Isn’t it remarkable that Esau has become so successful without the first-born blessing? Maybe he did not need the blessing after all. Maybe Jacob needed it more. After dividing his family into two camps, Jacob sends gifts to Esau in the hopes of placating him and earning his forgiveness. But Esau no longer appears angry. Instead, he appears confident in his success. In contrast, Jacob is still afraid. His decisions appear guided by his fears. Is he so guilt-ridden that he cannot see that his brother is no longer the dangerous and skilled hunter of their youth? Does Esau require all these gifts? Are these what effectuate his forgiveness? Again, we do not[…]

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  • Lift Up Your Legs, There Are Miracles To Be Seen

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Nov 11, 2021 | 22:58 pm

    Miracles are all around us. It is not that they do not exist. It is instead that we fail to see them. That is the Torah’s perspective. And so, we read many times, the refrain, “And he lifted up his eyes (vayisah einav).” Abraham heads out on a journey with the faith that God will direct him to a special and holy place. “On the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place from afar.” (Genesis 22) Later, an angel stays Abraham’s hand as he is about to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Miraculously a ram appears, and he sacrifices it instead of his son. “And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and he saw a ram caught in the thicket by its horns.” Did the ram appear out of nowhere? Was the place magically created out of thin air? Of course not. They were there all along. The power of miracles is held in our eyes. Miracles are all around us. It is a matter of lifting up our eyes. And yet, this week, Jacob does not set out on a journey because God commands him like his grandfather Abraham. Instead, Jacob is on the run. After tricking his brother Esau out of the birthright, Esau threatens to kill him. Fearing for his life, Jacob runs away to his extended family’s home in Haran, the land Abraham left. As night falls, he becomes exhausted and lays down to sleep. He dreams of a ladder going up to heaven with angels going up and going down on it. He sees God standing beside him. He awakens and proclaims, “Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it! How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God.” (Genesis 28) In the most ordinary of places, there in a nondescript patch of desert, he finds God. His eyes are opened by the experience. The Torah, however, does not use the phrase, “And he lifted up his eyes.” His eyes do not see something that was there all along. And yet, Jacob[…]

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  • Waiting for Miracles

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Nov 4, 2021 | 21:06 pm

    A common theme in religious literature is the miraculous birth of its heroes. The Torah is no different. Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah after years of infertility. Sarah is in fact ninety years old when she gives birth, and Abraham, one hundred. Isaac’s birth is not only unexpected and surprising but miraculous. The Torah’s message is clear. The only way that Abraham and Sarah could have a child is by divine intervention. Jacob and Esau are also born to Isaac and Rebekah after the Torah reports that Rebekah is barren. There is, by the way, no suggestion that their infertility is because of Isaac. The Torah’s perspective is that it must be because of Rebekah. And so, we read, “Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived.” (Genesis 25) Still, we cannot know what causes their infertility. We only know that they struggle to have a child. The Torah states that Isaac is sixty years old when Jacob and Esau are born. He is forty years old when they get married. Apparently, they struggled to have children for twenty years! And while it is true that oftentimes the Torah is written as if time does not exist, we frequently gloss over the significance of these intervening years. We skip over this seemingly unimportant fact because the miracle occurs. Jacob and Esau are born. God responds to Isaac’s prayers! There are no words indicating what transpired during these years of waiting and longing. There are no reports about what Isaac said to Rebekah or she said to her husband. There are no verses suggesting what they felt. Were they consumed with doubt? Or were they instead steadfast in their faith? I wonder. Did these twenty years strengthen their relationship or cause it irreparable pain? Do these intervening years explain that as soon as the children are born, Isaac turns his favor towards Esau and Rebekah to Jacob? The Talmud derives a lesson from this story and states that one may wait[…]

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  • Antisemitism Three Years Later

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 30, 2021 | 11:28 am

    Three years ago in Pittsburgh, eleven Jews were murdered and seven injured while doing the most Jewish of things, offering Shabbat prayers at their synagogue, the Tree of Life. Furthermore, this far-right extremist claimed he was angered by the community’s support of immigration rights, by this community’s expression of their Jewish values. This past summer, protests against Israel’s war in Gaza, turned violent. Jews were attacked because they wore a kippah or they dined at a Jewish restaurant. It was thought that somehow these outward manifestations of their Jewishness made them legitimate targets for their attackers’ anger at Israel’s actions. Make no mistake, antisemitism, and murderous hatred, and violent attacks, have no such rational explanations. There is no such legitimacy. It is folly to suggest that if Israel was not so heavy handed in its response to Hamas rockets, or if Jews were not so supportive of liberal causes, antisemtism would cease.One in four American Jews has been targeted by antisemitism over the past year, including 17% who were subjected to antisemitic remarks in person and 12% who experienced antisemitism online or on social media. (AJC The State of Antisemitism in America 2021) Congregants share with me more and more stories of how a longtime acquaintance blurted out antisemitic remarks. On the right this increase in antisemitism appears to have begun with the conservative embrace of fringe groups. When political leaders fail to denounce antisemitism, or hatred of any group, most especially from within their own ranks, antisemitism flourishes. The trial now beginning in Charlottesville is an important step forward. Take away the funding of those who support violent antisemitism. Speak out against those who defend the absurd protests against mask wearing and vaccine mandates with Nazi analogies. Defend free speech but know its limits and limitations. Are we to believe free speech really means that factual inaccuracies should be allowed to flourish online?On the left this increase in antisemitism appears to have begun with the liberal embrace of racial justice. Let’s be clear. Racial justice for African Americans is not the same as justice for Palestinians. The insistence that[…]

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  • Seeing What's Ahead

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 28, 2021 | 22:22 pm

    “On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.” (Genesis 22) People always want to look into the future. They want to know if their decisions will prove successful. And yet, when Abraham looks at Mount Moriah from a distance, he does not know that how this journey will unfold or even that it is a test. Often, we do not see what we are meant to see when we look into the distance. We cannot know what the future holds. When Abraham next lifts up his eyes, he sees a ram. And he turns away from slaughtering his son Isaac and understands that the intended sacrifice is different than he first believed. Was the journey for naught now that its intention has changed? What he believed the future held is far different than what transpires. When looking from afar we often do not understand what is intended. When making decisions, we often get the distant future wrong. Our intentions are transformed when we see what is actually unfolding before our eyes—at least if we allow ourselves to be influenced by events. “And Isaac went out walking in the field toward evening and lifted his eyes and saw camels approaching.” (Genesis 24) Riding on these camels is Rebekah who will soon become his wife. He cannot know that he will grow to love her or that her embrace will offer him comfort after his mother’s death. He sees only caravan in the distance. He does not see Rebekah. “And Rebekah lifted her eyes and she saw Isaac.” (Does Rebekah see more clearly than her husband to be?) Even though she sees Isaac, she does not know about the life they will build with each other. She cannot know that their son Jacob will become the father of the children of Israel. Who can see that far off into the distance? Who can know what the future holds? No one. No one except for God. We lift our eyes, but do not see. We see more clearly when looking back rather than looking ahead. Rabbi[…]

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  • Answering the Unexpected

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 14, 2021 | 20:19 pm

    Seemingly out of nowhere God calls Abraham, “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” (Genesis 12) We are left to wonder why Abraham? What is it about his character that made God choose him?The rabbis of course spin many stories to explain this. The most famous of which is the tale about the time young Abraham was working in his father idol shop. Abraham smashes all the idols except one and then when his father confronts him, he blames the single idol. His father screams, “That is ridiculous! An idol can’t destroy other idols.” And Abraham says, “Exactly!” He reasons that a statue of wood and stone cannot be responsible for our lives. In that moment Abraham begins to realize that there is only one God who moves heaven and earth.Moses Maimonides offers a similar insight. He suggests that Abraham looks to the stars and realizes that they should not be objects of our worship. He understands that there is an invisible force who instead moves the stars and orders the heavens. Aristotle, whose writing greatly influenced Maimonides, called this force the Prime Mover. Maimonides saw this as synonymous with God. Abraham understood that only this force is worthy of our devotion.The particulars of these different stories are somewhat immaterial. All the commentators agree that there was something remarkable in Abraham’s character. There was something unique in his insights. He must have been called by God because he was in essence the first to understand the power of monotheism. Perhaps the commentators are wrong. Perhaps our rabbis are mistaken. Is it blasphemous to suggest such an idea? Is it instead possible that there was nothing special in Abraham’s character? Is it imaginable that God decided to pick an ordinary, everyday man? Perhaps the power of the story is what Abraham accomplished after the call. That in truth might be the more important Torah. Abraham’s character is inconsequential until he is called.We spend so much of our lives devoted to establishing our credentials. Here[…]

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  • Walking with Others, Walking with God

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 8, 2021 | 01:48 am

    What does it mean to walk with others? Moshe Cordervero, one of the greatest Jewish mystics, who lived in sixteenth century Safed, offered this advice. Go for long walks with friends. He and his friend, and fellow mystic, and brother-in-law, Shlomo Alkabetz, who authored one of our favorite Friday night prayers, Lecha Dodi, would go on walks in the fields surrounding Safed. Their goal was to see where their friendship led them. What truths could they uncover as they walked? Cordevero offered this counsel: “One should desire the best for friends, view their good fortune favorably and cherish friends’ honor as your own.” What they discussed on those walks were recorded in a book called the “Book of Wanderings.” Go on an undetermined path with a friend. Go get lost with a friend. Wander together and there you can be found. There you might discover some truth. He offered practical suggestions about his spiritual practice. 1.Always walk with a friend. And 2. Only discuss matters of great importance. No discussions about the weather. Or what this person or that is doing or wearing or buying. Talk about the world. Argue about weighty matters. Discuss Torah. Often, we think mysticism is about separating ourselves from the world. We imagine going on walks by ourselves in the woods or perhaps on the beach. There we are at one with nature. We commune with God’s creation and look within. But Cordervero suggests this is the wrong approach. Instead, we must walk in nature, with others. The Torah offers this insight: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6). Only about Enoch, a descendant of Adam and Eve, do we also read that he walked with God. No other figure in the Bible is described in this manner. It is fascinating to discover that the Bible does not write “walked with God” about any Jewish figure. Abraham is commanded to walk with God. He is not, however, judged as having walked with God. That is what he is supposed to do not what he has already done.[…]

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  • Get Angry, Be Joyful

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 5, 2021 | 16:52 pm

    What follows is my sermon from Yom Kippur morning.  We require the emotions of anger and joy to face life's uncertainties.     A Hasidic story. When the seer of Lublin was a child, he lived near a forest. Almost every day the young boy ventured off into the woods by himself. His father, who was basically a tolerant and understanding man, didn’t want to interfere with his son’s daily excursions, but to be honest, he was concerned. He knew all too well that the forests near their home could be dangerous. One day the father pulled his son aside and said, “I notice that every day you go off by yourself into the forest.” He continued, “I don’t want to forbid you from going there, but I want you to know that I am worried about your safety.” The father added, “Why is it that you go there, and what is it that you are doing there?” The boy responded, “I go into the forest to find God.” His father was deeply moved by his son’s spirituality. “That’s beautiful my son,” he said. “And I am pleased to hear that you are doing that and searching for God in the forest. But don’t you know? God is everywhere. God is the same wherever you go.” “God is,” the boy answered, “But I am not.”The spiritual quest is not about finding a new forest, or even a different and safer forest, but instead about finding a new self. It is about changing ourselves. Every day we are different. And every day we have to start that search anew. The search is about making ourselves different, each and every day. And that to be honest, is confounding and exceedingly difficult, most especially given the times we currently find ourselves in. How do we get up each morning and go out into the world, when confronted with such uncertainty? Every day there seems some new bit of evidence, or advice, about went to wear masks or how many shots to get. Is it advisable to go out to a restaurant, or Yom Kippur[…]

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  • Grasping the Divine Image

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 1, 2021 | 02:20 am

    This week we begin the Torah reading anew. We begin with the opening chapters of Genesis. We join with others so that we might uncover new, and yet undiscovered, understandings in these ancient words.And we notice there are two creation stories. In the first chapter God creates human beings from the earth. The name Adam comes from the Hebrew adamah, meaning earth. Furthermore, humanity is created in God’s image from the outset. This image is a matter of divine will. It is given to humanity by God’s hand. The Torah reports: “And God created adam in God’s image, in the image of God, God created adam, male and female God created them.” (Genesis 1) Man and woman are created simultaneously. The rabbis suggest that adam was an androgynous human with both male and female traits. God then divided this figure into two and fashioned male and female.In the second creation account, man is created first and the woman from his rib. This is perhaps the more familiar account and has for centuries led people to suggest that the Bible believes women are subservient to men. But first created does not necessarily first in a hierarchal order. In fact, one could argue that with the second creation, namely woman, God worked out the kinks in the first creation. Is the artist’s first draft always the best version? Still, I am left wondering how to reconcile these two distinct stories. And then it occurs to me, and only because of poring over these words with others, that these two accounts are not so much about how human beings were created, or for that matter, the relationship between man and woman, but instead about how we gain divine like qualities. In the first it is God’s creative act that fashions God’s image within us. In the second we do not gain a measure of divinity until we eat from the tree of knowledge. Although God forbids us from eating this fruit, we achieve something worthwhile and commendable, when we reach for this tree. We gain knowledge. We grab hold of right and wrong.[…]

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  • Grief is Like the Ocean

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 28, 2021 | 12:29 pm

    The following meditation was included in our Yizkor memorial book.  I composed it after listening to a friend describe her waves of grief.Bonnie Tsui writes, “Not everybody is a swimmer, but everyone has a swimming story to tell.”(Why We Swim)Grief is like the ocean. There are days when the waves come crashing down upon us. There are other days when the water appears calm but then an unexpected wave knocks us off our feet and holds us down as it crashes overhead. We struggle to the surface and gasp for air. And then there are days when the waters are tranquil, and we can float on its gentle current and be carried by a sea of pleasant memories. Grief is like the ocean. No day is the same. We have no choice but to go out and swim into the waters. We have no choice but to recount our tale.

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  • Welcoming Guests, Welcoming Strangers

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 23, 2021 | 22:37 pm

    The holiday of Sukkot is an agricultural festival. In ancient times we built temporary shelters so that we could spend our days out in the field harvesting the Fall crops. The Torah also suggests that we lived in these booths during our wanderings in the wilderness and they therefore remind us of our journey from freedom (Passover) to revelation (Shavuot). Rabbi Akiva believed that these temporary booths symbolized God’s protective shelter over us. For one week we are commanded to eat, and even sleep, in the sukkah. The sukkah should never be built so well that it keeps out rain. In fact, one is supposed to be able to see the stars through its roof. The sukkah’s temporary quality reminds us of the fragility of our lives. Spending time in the sukkah helps to reconnect us to nature. Sleeping in the sukkah teaching us gratitude for the beautiful homes in which we live. We are to invite guests into our sukkah and share our meals with them. The tradition suggests that everyone who is fortunate enough to celebrate Sukkot should invite at least one poor person to join them in their sukkah. Another tradition counsels us to invite ushpizin, imaginary, and legendary, guests. We invite Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. And I would add, Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Leah, Miriam, Abigail, and Esther. On each of the holiday’s seven days, we single out a different Jewish hero. The prayerbook suggests we say, “I invite to my meal the exalted guests, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. May it please you, Abraham, my exalted guest, that all the other exalted guests dwell with me and with you: Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David.” It is an interesting custom that reminds us of the importance of welcoming guests. Our homes, and our hearts, must always be open others. According to the tradition, Abraham and Sarah were models of how we are to welcome strangers. I cannot help but think of their example as I watch, once again and yet again, images of people struggling to enter our[…]

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  • Embracing Change

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 19, 2021 | 14:33 pm

    What follows is my sermon from Yom Kippur evening in which I argue that only change will ensure the Jewish people's survival. Let me tell you about our people’s survival. It is captured by a story from nearly 2,000 years ago. It involves the events surrounding the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E, the most catastrophic event the Jewish people ever experienced, until the twentieth century’s Holocaust. It is the story about Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai. During the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans, Yohanan was secreted out of town by his students. They carried him to the Roman general’s camp in a coffin. There he negotiated with Vespasian that Yavneh be spared so that a rabbinic academy could be established there. Why did he need to sneak out of Jerusalem? Because his Jewish compatriots might very well have killed him. So divided were the Jewish people during those years that he feared for his life. He was a known critic of the Sadducees who stubbornly held fast to the rituals surrounding animal sacrifices. Yohanan ben Zakkai also stood against the Zealots who took up arms against the mighty Roman army. He argued that making peace was the best course of action, that accommodation with forces more powerful than our own would best ensure our survival. That is the story in a nutshell. That is also not how we tell it.Instead, we never even visit Yavneh. On every trip to Israel, the tour guide wakes us up early in the morning so we can climb the winding snake path to Masada’s fortress. There we watch the most glorious sunrise over the mountains. The sight never fails to take my breath away. There we glorify the events surrounding Masada’s downfall. We tell the story of how the Zealots held out for three years following the destruction of Jerusalem. When our heroes realized that the Romans would soon break through the fortress walls, because they had completed a ramp on the mountain’s opposite side, the Zealots decided to commit mass suicide rather than be taken as slaves. The Roman army arrived[…]

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  • Zoom Stories

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 19, 2021 | 14:32 pm

    What follows is the meditation I offered at this year's Yom Kippur Yizkor service reflecting what I learned at Zoom shiva.  This year was a difficult year. Our congregation suffered many losses and far more than past years. This year was also a strange year. We observed shiva more often than not on Zoom. Because of this there was a regular shiva minyan in my home for months on end. And yet, even though I sat by myself in my study I strangely, and perhaps even miraculously, felt surrounded by hundreds of people. There, we huddled together on my laptop screen, all trying to bring a measure of comfort to grieving friends.This was not the shiva I had come to know in my thirty years of being called rabbi. In the past this is what I instead observed. More often than not people would arrive and find their way to the kitchen. They would exchange sometimes uncomfortable “Hello’s” and “It’s so sad.” They would talk about the weather’s latest storm or the maddening traffic, or a confounding Jets loss or on occasion, a surprising Mets win. There were times when I would observe a beautiful moment of healing. A familiar face to the mourner, but a stranger to me, would come over and say, “Can I tell you about when your dad did this for me?” or “Can I tell you a story about your mom? There was the time…” And that was my cue. I would offer a hug and a goodbye to the mourner because I then knew they were in good hands. I had confidence that such stories would uplift their spirits and maybe even fill their emptied hearts. I never heard those extra stories. They seemed private utterances, between mourner and storyteller, between the bereaved and their comforter.In this past year, however, I discovered something new. I had to stay in that virtual room because I was now managing the technology. I had to make sure Aunt You Know Who stayed muted when she loudly whispered something to her husband about a relative they had not[…]

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  • On Yom Kippur, Lift Our Chair

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 15, 2021 | 15:51 pm

    On Yom Kippur, Lift Our Chair In Jerusalem’s Breslover synagogue, located in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood, there is aa beautifully carved ornate wooden chair placed near the Ark. No one sits in it. The chair once that of Rebbe Nachman, the founder of this Hasidic dynasty. In 1808, in the days before Rosh Hashanah the butcher of Teplik Ukraine made this gift for the rebbe. The rabbi was so impressed with the craftsmanship, and most especially with the fact the butcher spent so much of his free time during the prior six months making it, that Rebbe Nachman loved to sit in the chair. He felt that the kavvanah, intention, of the butcher helped to lift his prayers. After the great rabbi’s death, this chair became a symbol of the Breslover Hasidim. How it found its way to Jerusalem is the stuff of legends. There are two stories. The first is most likely closer to the truth. During the Cossack pogroms of the 1920’s, Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Lippel cut the chair into pieces in order to carry it to safety. He walked, and some say ran, twenty miles to the nearby town of Kremenchug where it was then hidden by the Rosenfeld family. In 1936 Rabbi Moshe Ber Rosenfeld brought the chair to Jerusalem. It was restored in the late 1950’s by artisans from the Israel Museum, and then again in the 1980’s. The chair was then placed in the synagogue where it can be seen to this day. The second is the story I prefer to tell. When the Nazis invaded the Ukraine, Rebbe Nachman’s disciples realized that the only way for some of them to survive was to run and to scatter throughout the world. But what should they do with the Rebbe’s chair? And so, they decided to cut the chair into small pieces and every disciple would carry a piece of the chair, and the intention of their great rabbi, as they ran for their lives. After the war, the Rebbe’s many disciples and their descendants found each other in Jerusalem. Miraculously every single one who carried a piece of the[…]

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