New and Upcoming


May 31, 2019

Much of the content from is in the process of being moved to The full name of my book, for those who might be new here, is The Tragedy Test—Making Sense of Life-Changing Loss. Bookmark the link and check back often. Thank you.


March 7, 2018

The Talia Agler Girls Shelter, its parent organization the Centre for Domestic Training and Development, and their founder, Edith Murogo, were prominently featured in Kenya’s leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, in advance of International Women’s Day, March 8. You can read the story here.
We remain honored to do this work and, along with the girls, are more than grateful for your continuing support.


February 18, 2019

In memoriam: Al Vorspan, a GIANT of Social Justice. See this article by Jeffrey K. Salkin in the Religion News Service. (And thanks, Jeff, for the shout-out 😉 )


December 3, 2018

Thanks to one and all who have caused the first shipment of The Tragedy Test to be sold out!

As a first-time book author, I really had no idea how these things worked. but needless to say, I am most grateful for the initial reception. Stay tuned as we continue to roll out the launch over the coming weeks.

You can go to and place an order, which will be filled as soon as the next shipment is delivered (expected Dec. 14.) A generous contribution from the proceeds of all orders filled through will be donated to the Tali Fund.

Again, many thanks, warm regards and a Happy Chanukah to all.


November 26, 2018

Please join me at the Keys Jewish Community Center, MM 93.1 O/S, on Thursday evening, November 29, at 7:30 p.m. for the “Keys Launch” of The Tragedy Test.

I’ll be introducing the book, will open up for questions and discussion and of course, have copies available for sale and signing.

Bring your friends! All who come in the spirit of peace are welcome.


November 1, 2018

The Keys Jewish Community Center hosted an overflow, SRO crowd last night, for a gathering titled Prayers for America: A Memorial Service for those Massacred in Pittsburgh. It was especially heartening that it was attended by members representing every segment of our community. Here is some of what I had to say


October 10, 2018

Exciting news from the Tali Fund!  See it here!


September 20, 2018

Shana tovah to one and all. Links to the speaking notes for the three formal talks I offered this year at the Keys Jewish Community Center in Tavernier, Florida are posted below. Thank you for reading!

Rosh Hashanah: Our Values–Clarifying Them

Kol Nidre: Our Values–Holding Onto Them

Yom Kippur: Our Values–Fighting for Them


September 12, 2018

As you may have noticed, This site has not been active for some time. The main reason is that I have been completing arrangements for publication of the book I have been working on for the past five years.

I am happy to be able to report that if all goes well, the book should be in print before the end of the calendar year. The current (and likely final) title is:

The Tragedy Test: Making Sense of Life-Changing Loss

It carries an endorsement from Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People. It is being published by Wipf and Stock, a noted publisher of both academic and religious texts (although the book is written for a general audience) on the west coast.  It will be available wherever books are sold, online and through stores. I will be sure to let you know when it becomes available.

I expect to be much more active online as the launch approaches so watch this space (and @rabbiagler on Twitter) for news! In the meantime, deepest gratitude to one and all who have been journeying with us.


January 17, 2018

Speaking this Shabbat evening, Jan. 19 at 7:30 and teaching the following morning at 10 in honor of the installation of Rabbi Marci Bloch as Rabbi of Temple Beth Orr in Coral Springs, FL. All who come in peace are welcome. Would love to see you there!


October 3, 2017

All High Holyday speaking notes are now on the Talks, Writings and Sermons page. Focusing this year on overcoming tribal differences and making peace. Shana Tovah to one and all!


September 19, 2017

I’ll be leading High Holiday services at the Keys Jewish Community Center once again this year.  Our themes will include recovering from the hurricane, overcoming tribal differences and making peace.

Things will be a little different post-Irma but the community is resilient and we will welcome the new year with new strength, new spirit and new grounding. As per usual, all who come in the spirit of peace are welcome.

Shanah tovah to one and all.

August 21, 2017

Part 3 of our Africa Trip Report is now posted on the Tali page. Thank you for taking the time to read and support.

In related news, Mindy and I spoke last week with the medical, outreach and administrative staff at the Miami Transplant Institute. They are affiliated with Jackson Health System and UM (University of Miami) Health. It was a privilege to be with the professionals who make organ donation and transplantation a reality in South Florida.

If there is even a chance that you might be eligible to be a donor and have not yet registered to do so, what are you waiting for? Head over to and make the arrangement today!


July 21, 2017

Part 2 of our Africa trip report is now posted on the Tali page.

NEWS: The Talia Agler Girls Shelter and its parent organization CDTD are proud to announce a sponsoring partnership with One World Children’s Fund. TAGS is one of the first forty organizations in the world to be so designated! This partnership also allows TAGS’ supporters to make automatic monthly recurring donations. Details on the Tali page.

Thank you one and all!


June 20, 2017

Sorry haven’t been posting much lately. Busy writing a book. Look forward to sharing the info when ready.

Meanwhile, just back from Africa with lots new to share from the Talia Agler Girls Shelter! See the Tali page for the updates.

Also, speaking on the subject of the Holocaust at St. James the Fisherman Episcopal Church in Islamorada on Wednesday, June 28 at 6 p.m. All welcome!


December 12, 2016

New on the Tali page–A first person account by one of Tali’s successor interns from American University describing her work at the TAGS in Nairobi. Also story, pix and video of a community of  expat Indian women doing their seva work with girls from the TAGS. to Click right here to read all about it.

And of course, if you are making contributions at this time of year, I can promise you that the Tali Fund will put them to very good use!

Warm wishes to one and all,


————— –

October 14, 2016

Congratulations to Bob Dylan on his latest triumph, the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. As everyone knows, many of Bob’s songs have great spiritual and Jewish content. Here is a small collection of them that I have been teaching over the years. They and others, are worthwhile spending time with. Special thanks to my buddy Rabbi Larry Schlesinger for help with this compilation.


October 13, 2016

Now on the Talks, Writings and Sermons page, speaking notes from all of this year’s High Holiday talks. It is a three part series that I hope you find worthwhile.

I will be speaking this Sunday morning at Spirit and Truth Ministries, led by my friend Pastor Marlin Simon, in Islamorada, FL at services beginning at 10 a.m. The theme will be “The Biblical Roots of the Fall Jewish Holidays.” All who come in peace are welcome.


September 18, 2016

New on the Tali page, how day care can mean the difference between an independent successful life and a collapsed one–and how inexpensive it can be to make that difference for a mother and her child!


September 2, 2016

How’s this for a prominent Midwestern Lutheran’s thoughts on New York Jews–and related matters. From Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune:

Torah Learning at the Keys Jewish Community Center resumes next Shabbat, September 10, at 10 a.m. All who come in the spirit of peace are welcome.

And yes, I am scheduled to lead High Holyday services at the KJCC once again this year, beginning on Erev Rosh Hashanah Sunday evening Oct. 2 and continuing through Yom Kippur ten days later. Let me take this opportunity to wish one and all a Shana Tovah!


June 15, 2016

Speaking notes of my talk  at the Keys’ Community Memorial Service for the victims of the Orlando massacre on the RDA Blog.


June 9, 2016

How many students could you support in boarding school for $1600? The answer in Nairobi, as well as a deeply personal and moving story, is new at the Tali page.

I participated with the Miami delegation on the March of the Living to Poland and Israel last month. You can see a small snapshot from that journey in the story referenced above on the Tali page. Or, you can come to the KJCC on Wednesday,  June 22 at 7:30 p.m. and hear a full report from me and my fellow Keys participant, Dr. Bernie Ginsberg. All are welcome.


April 9, 2016

Today is the anniversary of Talia Agler’s birth. See the Tali page to learn what she continues to accomplish. May her life and light continue to inspire us all.

I will be teaching Torah at the KJCC on Saturday morning 4/16 at 10 a.m. Our theme will be Passover and all are welcome.


February 5, 2016

See the tribute to Dr. Eugene B. Borowitz, z”l on the RDA Blog.

Teaching Torah this month at the KJCC on Saturday morning 2/27 at 10 a.m. All are welcome.

Thanks to all who have contributed to The Tali Fund to get it to such a wonderful start. Watch this space for further developments!


December 23, 2015

We are honored to announce the creation of The Tali Fund. It is a family foundation with 501(c)(3) status that will enable one and all to support the causes that were vital to Talia as she lived. The website is partially under construction but please visit Even better, at this giving season of the year, make a contribution to support Talia’s ongoing work, life and legacy. Also see the Tali page for an update on our recent trip to the Talia Agler Girls Shelter in Nairobi and a report published by Global Giving on the work being done there.

May the holidays be blessed, joyous and meaningful for all.


December 9, 2015

Sorry for the late notice but I will be teaching this Shabbat morning at the Keys Jewish Community Center in Tavernier, FL. Come at 10 a.m. and learn things about the origins of Chanukah you likely did not know! Next month’s session is scheduled for January 23 so you can mark your calendars now. All are welcome.

Also, many thanks to the Board of the KJCC for designating me as the Resident Scholar of the congregation. It is a great honor and I will do my best to remain worthy of it.

A joyous Chanukah to one and all!


December 1, 2015

We’ve recently returned from a trip to the Talia Agler Girls Shelter in Nairobi. See the Tali page for an account of the visit and an update of the inspirational work being done there. (If you’d like to see and hear more, invite me to your place for a slideshow that I promise will be moving: “How One Life–Maybe Yours–Can Change the World.”)

“Giving Tuesday” is upon us. So is the month of December. Both are occasions for making contributions that help make the world a better place. However and whenever you choose to do so, may your efforts be fruitful and blessed.

Also, we are proud to announce the launching of “The Tali Fund, Inc.” It is a 501 (c) (3) corporation established to support the work and dreams of the late Talia Agler. It is registered in the State of Florida and with the IRS. You can send a tax deductible contribution by check to 168 Sunset Gardens Drive, Tavernier, FL 33070. Online donations will be accepted shortly. Many thanks!


September 29, 2015

I spoke at George Washington University Hospital in Washington over the weekend for the dedication of their “Tree of Life” in honor of organ donors and their families. This was where Tali died and donated her organs. I also spoke to the staff at the Washington Regional Transplant Community which is the organization that facilitates all of the transplant activity in the Greater Washington region. See the speaking notes from the hospital and a TV piece by NBC Channel 4 in Washington on Tali’s lung recipient. All on the Tali page.


September 24, 2015

Now at the Talks, Writings and Sermons page, the speaking notes from this year’s major High Holyday talks. Enjoy and l’shana tovah!


September 8, 2015

See the this link for a new nationally syndicated article on the “Sandy Koufax didn’t pitch on Yom Kippur story. Jesse Agler is in the lead. (I am an unattributed source.) Correction to article: Jesse is currently a TV and radio announcer for the San Diego Padres. Enjoy.


August 31, 2015

It has been a busy summer. Instead of blogging, I have been continuing to write on the subject of life after loss. It seems to be shaping up and I hope to complete it within the next twelve months, most likely in book form. Watch this space for further details.

In the meantime, let’s do a little catching up. If you have not seen the entirety of President Obama’s speech in the Emanuel AME Charleston church after the tragic shooting this summer, please take the time to watch it. I thought it was as important and powerful an address as any President has made in recent memory. Here is the link.

Since people have asked, my answer is that I am, with reservations of course, supporting the Iran deal. It is a complex issue to be sure. Let’s start by saying that no one can predict the future with certainty. Given that, my judgment, as succinctly as I can make it is:

1) It is worth the risks to disarm Iran’s nuclear program for the next fifteen years. That is a very long time in geopolitics and no one knows what the world will look like at the end of it.

2) Even if the U.S. Congress overrides the President’s veto, our partner nations will not enforce the sanctions. That means there is no viable or effective alternative to the agreement at this time.

3) There is no question that the US will continue to support Israel foursquare militarily and with shared intelligence through the remainder of this Administration and the next. (This in spite of the fact that PM Netanyahu’s conduct has crossed lines viz. a viz. the American Presidency that no Israeli leader ever has before.)

You are free to disagree of course but I encourage everyone to write their congressional representatives and senators to let them know that the lobbyists are not the only ones with opinions on this issue—or for that matter on any other.

On a related note, I’d like to recommend Arthur Schopenhauer’s “The Art of Being Right: 38 Subtle Ways to Win an Argument.” Despite its “made for the internet” sounding title, it was written in 1831 by the noted German philosopher. Here is a link to the bulletin board version. See how many of Schopenhauer’s arguments your opponents are making–and maybe which ones you are too. 😉

I promise more and exciting news soon but finally for the moment, I will be leading services this High Holidays at the Keys Jewish Community Center in Tavernier, Florida once again. Rosh Hashanah begins on Sunday evening, September 13 at 7:30 p.m. All are welcome and l’shana tovah!



Thoughts on a great teacher–fifty years later–on the RDA Blog. Enjoy!



Talia Agler would have been 30 years old today. See the Tali page for an update on some of what is happening in her memory.

Torah Study this Shabbat at the KJCC at 10 a.m. All are welcome.



Some changes in schedule–here is the updated:

I will be speaking at Temple Bat Yam in Sanibel, FL on Friday night, March 20 and Saturday morning, March 21 on the themes of “One Life Can Make a Difference” and “Why You Should Become an Organ Donor.” All are welcome.

My next scheduled Torah learning sessions at the KJCC are April 11 and May 9. Join us on those Shabbat mornings at 10 a.m. In conjunction with Yom HaShoah I will also be conducting a book discussion on “The Sunflower” by Simon Wiesenthal on Sunday evening April 12 at 7 p.m.


Teaching Torah this Shabbat at the Keys Jewish Community Center. All invited at 10 a.m. Next scheduled dates for this are Feb. 28 and March 21.

See the Tali page for an update on the Boca Raton Mitzvah Lunch Club–and how you can set one up in your community.


See the Tali page for a report on a visit to the TAGS by dear friends of ours. (How could they not be dear friends if they visited the TAGS?!) Edina and Alan Lessack spent a day that can be an inspiration to us all. Who’s next?


Now at the Talks, Writings and Sermons page, speaking notes from all of my High Holyday talks. Enjoy and l‘shana tovah!


I will be posting the texts of my Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur addresses here as the holidays unfold. If you are unable to join us in person at the Keys Jewish Community Center I invite you to click, read, contemplate and share the holidays with us in this manner. The themes of this year’s three-part series are “Empathy,” “Courage,” and “Comfort.” May it be a year of peace, health and honor for us all.

The founding meeting of the Treasure Coast Jewish Center to be led by Rabbi Arthur Rutberg has been rescheduled for October 19 at 10 a.m. at 440 Northwest Peacock Boulevard in Port St Lucie, FL. I’ve been invited to give the keynote address and am honored to do so. If you are able to attend you are welcome!

Finally, thanks Rabbi Mark Mahler and everyone at Temple Emanuel of Pittsburgh for the beautiful hosting of our just concluded weekend of learning. Special thanks to the members of the Schwartz family and the Temple’s Social Action Committee who committed themselves to continuing the work that Talia Agler z”l lived for.


A stunning article on AIPAC from the New Yorker. Long but a must read! Link on the RDA Blog.


New on the RDA Blog: The Hamas Charter. Very much worth reading–especially after the events of this summer.


On Sept. 19-20 I will be speaking at Temple Emanuel of Pittsburgh. I am scheduled to discuss organ donation at services on Friday night, to teach Torah on Shabbat morning and address the issue of human trafficking at Slichot services Saturday night. If you are in the South Hills, come by!

And once again I will be leading High Holyday services at the Keys Jewish Community Center in Tavernier, FL beginning Erev Rosh Hashanah, Wednesday, Sept. 24 and continuing through the conclusion of Yom Kippur. See the KJCC website for details.

I have been invited to give the keynote address at the founding meeting of the Treasure Coast Jewish Center in Port St. Lucie, FL by their Rabbi, Arthur Rutberg. It will be  POSTPONED until after the High Holydays. Further details to come–watch this space!

May it be a Shana Tovah for one and all.


Summer 2014

I have no public schedule this summer. Time to go a bit deeper into writing and planning for the fall. Next major item on the list is the High Holydays.  I will lead services once again this year at the Keys Jewish Community Center in Tavernier, FL. Erev Rosh Hashanah is Wednesday evening, Sept. 24. All are welcome of course.

In the meantime may the season bring one and all the opportunity for rest, re-creation, renewal and hope.



See the RDA Blog for some new quotes (at least for me) on dealing with life’s inevitable setbacks.



Mindy and I speaking on organ donation at the Key Largo Rotary Club on June 18. Once again, we encourage everyone we know to register to become a donor. Save a life–or several–at no cost or pain to you. Go to to make it real.


Suffering, Happiness and the relationship between them. See the RDA Blog for a most thoughtful essay by Times columnist David Brooks on the subject.


I don’t usually post music here but I’m making an exception. See the RDA Blog for a powerful essay-video combination led by David Halivni Weiss from Israel.

You may remember an entry I wrote on celebrating the passage of the Affordable Care Act in March 22, 2011 (see RDA Blog for that date). In a related story, here’s an appearance I would have rather not made in the 3/30/14 Sunday NY Times–but which I am grateful for nonetheless.

Speaking of video (non-musical), here’s a treat of some new video from my favorite sports announcer, now working for the San Diego Padres: 1) With Exec Chairman and President 2) With General Manager 3) With Manager

Mindy and I have been speaking frequently this season telling our story and encouraging  the life saving gift of organ donation. If you are not a registered donor, you can become one today at If you are already registered make sure your family knows your wishes. And don’t be shy about telling others about the great decision you have made.



New on the Tali page, an essay from her cousin Adam Agler, age 15. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Talia’s second yahrzeit is 3 Shevat according to the Hebrew calendar. The civil calendar anniversary of her death is January 27. Thanks and blessings to all who continue to honor her memory, through contributions to the Talia Agler Girls Shelter in Nairobi, via Organ Donation, through the Religious Action Center in Washington and through service to others with a hand, with a smile and with love. Her memory and her life remain very much for blessing.


Mindy and I will be speaking on Organ Donation at various venues in the Keys this month. This is part of a community initiative to sign up as many donors as possible. Tali saved five lives through her donations. Most all of us have the ability to save at least one through a donation of organ or tissue. Once again, if you are not a donor, don’t wait any longer to register. From anywhere in the U.S. go to to give the greatest gift of all, the gift of life.



On the RDA Blog today, what do David Letterman and Maimonides have in common? Click here to find out!


Now on the Tali page — an article from the Sunday South Florida Sun-Sentinel on the “Mitzvah Lunch Club”, which was inspired by Tali. Look to the 9/23/13 entry there and if you haven’t gotten to it yet, the 9/17/13 entry as well.


Now posted are the speaking notes of my High Holyday talks at the Keys Jewish Community Center here. I called this year’s series “Touching Holiness.” Click the link  and enjoy. Thank you and shana tovah!


There are now pictures, videos and descriptions of the Talia Agler Girls Shelter in Nairobi, Kenya, all from our recent trip there on the Tali page. See the 7/18/13 entry.


Posted in opportunities

Talks, Writings and Sermons



The Keys Jewish Community Center hosted an overflow, SRO crowd last night, for a gathering titled Prayers for America: A Memorial Service for those Massacred in Pittsburgh. It was especially heartening that it was attended by members representing every segment of our community. Here is some of what I had to say.



Shana tovah to one and all. Here are the speaking notes to my talk from Rosh Hashanah morning. It is the first of a three-part series on “Our Values.” I look forward to posting the other installments after Yom Kippur.


All of the speaking notes from this year’s High Holyday talks is here:

“Our Tribes–I”

Our Tribes–II

Making Peace

I hope you enjoy and Shana Tovah!



Here are the speaking notes from this year’s High Holyday talks, given at the Keys Jewish Community Center in Tavernier, FL. It is a three part series, inspired by what I considered to the be “High Holiday” level questions raised during my participation in the “March of the Living” last Spring. I hope you find the journey as  worthwhile and meaningful as I did. L’shana tovah to one and all.

“How Could People Do This?”

“How Could People Let This Be Done?”

“What Does It All Teach Us About God?”

I also composed a tribute to Leonard Cohen, some of whose compositions we have been studying at the KJCC. This is to the tune of his well known song, “Hallelujah,” and it weaves the themes of this year’s sermons with a well known story about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai that we learned on Erev Rosh Hashana. I hope you enjoy it.

“Be A B’racha”

And speaking of Leonard, David Remnick has a must read profile of him in the current New Yorker magazine. Read it here.



Here are the speaking notes from my High Holyday talks for this year.

Rosh Hashanah“Living with Holiness.”

Kol Nidre: “Seven Not Necessarily Deadly–but Still Pretty Damaging Sins–Part I”

Yom Kippur: “Seven Not Necessarily Deadly but Still Pretty Damaging Sins–Part II”

I hope you enjoy and l’shana tovah!



Here are the speaking notes from my High Holyday talks this year, given at the Keys Jewish Community Center in Tavernier, FL.

First, from Erev Rosh Hashanah a D’var Torah on what we believe–and what we don’t. It may surprise you! Click on Thoughts on Belief–from a Bookplate

The theme of the three major talks this year was “It’s About Us.”

From Rosh Hashanah morning, “It’s Not that We Lack Empathy…”

Om Kol Nidre the topic was “Courage” and on Yom Kippur it was “Comfort.”

I hope you enjoy reading and reflecting on them all.

Don’t miss out on any updates to by clicking “Follow” in the lower right hand corner of the homepage. You can get the same, along with some 140 character bonuses, by following me on Twitter @RabbiAgler. Thank you!



Here are the speaking notes of my major talks from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 5774 at the Keys Jewish Community Center in Tavernier, FL. Click on the titles to open  the texts. Thank you and l’shana tovah!

Rosh Hashanah  “A Sacred Community” This one points us to a deeper understanding of time and how we might use it best to serve ourselves and those around us.

Kol Nidre “When Is God?” Addressing some of the conundrums and questions of faith. PLEASE NOTE: These speaking notes have been updated. The previous version on the website was of a working draft of the talk, nothing near the final version. If you read that one, please read this one now. And if you forwarded that one, please send this one along instead. Thank you and I apologize for any inconvenience.

Yom Kippur morning “Prayer and Blessing” How we can strengthen this essential aspect of our spiritual  lives.



I’m posting here, for the first time online, my rabbinic ordination thesis, “Meditative and Contemplative Practices of Certain Hasidic Masters.” The title is self-explanatory and it includes a recommendation of acceptance by Dr. Eugene B. Borowitz, who advised me on the thesis and later encouraged me to expand it into a book. (The duties of the congregational rabbinate have so far prevented that from happening.) Note that considerable portions are in Hebrew, but even the English reader should be able to appreciate the content. And have fun with that old time font, manually typed! I hope you enjoy. Let me know if you do.


So what’s the deal with the Evangelical Christian community these days? The answer may be surprising and more  complex than you may have thought.  Read an article by author Marcia Pally published as a NYT Opinion piece on 12/10/11 by clicking here.

It’s welcome news for those who may have thought of that community as being overly narrow and monolithic. Also for those of us who believe in building bridges.


Here’s some must reading for all who believe President Obama is insufficiently pro-Israel.  It comes from today’s issue of Ha’aretz and is by blogger Chemi Shalev. Click here for the article.

See the RDA Blog of May 20 for my thoughts on why supporters of Israel should be happy with President Obama’s major address on the Middle East–and why they shouldn’t. Here also are links to excerpts from two TV interviews <first> and <second> I gave on the subject.

The death of Osama Bin Laden was an event of global significance. Read “Some Jewish Thoughts on Bin Laden’s Demise”, delivered at CBI on our High School Graduation night, May 6, by clicking here.

You can click on the title to read “Hope and Fear in the Middle East,” delivered at CBI on March 11. Or you can click here and listen to or download an audio file of the talk being delivered live.

Here’s a talk on the theme of “Civility in American Public Life,” given at Congregation B’nai Israel on February 4, 2011.  Many people asked for copies.  Click here for yours.

An article on relations with our Muslim neighbors, extrapolated from the lengthier essay below, was recently printed in the Florida Jewish Journal.  Click here to read it.

Have you said to yourself–or someone else–that you wish American and other Muslims would be more vocal in their opposition to terrorism? Then click here for the entry titled “Response to My Friend Rabbi Shalom Lewis.”

And here’s another one for you–the most broadly popular religious group in America today is…?  To find out, you’ll have to click here and see my article on page 2 when you do.

Religious Knowledge in America”, a talk delivered on October 8, 2010. Click on the link and discover the surprising findings from a recent survey and a new book.

The three-part High Holyday 5771 series on relationships is linked here.  Our Relationships with One Anotheris from Rosh Hashanah and contains both personal and civic perspectives. On Yom Kippur the themes were “Our Relationship with God” and Our Relationship with Ourselves.” Click on and enjoy!

Sept. 15–new on the RDA Blog–learn about a prominent Muslim moderate critical of militants. From the Wall Street Journal.

A brief post and suggested links on the Gaza Flotilla affair are on the RDA Blog. Continue reading

Posted in talks | Tagged , , ,

RDA Blog

This is a personal blog. I write here as a private citizen and nothing contained herein is to be associated with any organizational affiliation.



A great light has gone out. Dr. Eugene Borowitz, the world’s leading liberal Jewish theologian, passed away last month. It was my privilege to be one of his students. Here is his obituary from the New York Times. I highly recommend following the link to Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman’s eulogy as well.

His legacy is enormous. As a member of the rabbinic faculty of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, he taught for more than 100 semesters. I was fortunate to have written my rabbinic thesis with him. Integrity–intellectual and ethical–was his touchstone. No one left his presence unimpressed by his gifts, talents and commitment. His influence has guided me every moment of my rabbinate. It will continue to do so. His memory is for great blessing.



Yoga teacher Eileen shared this sutra with the class the other day. I thought it worthy of reprinting here. It counsels that we cultivate the attitudes of:

Friendliness towards the happy,

Compassion for the unhappy,

Delight in the virtuous and,

Disregard for the wicked.

It is intended to be a guide for relating to individuals, not entities, where of course the wicked cannot simply be disregarded. Otherwise, I thought it wise counsel for our journey through life.



What is it that makes a great teacher? I’ve been fortunate enough to have several over the course of my life, and the first one (aside from my parents) was in elementary school. I took part in an experimental program designed to cover three years of work in two years time. Charged with the task of teaching us all this was one teacher, Mr. Ronald Rotella. Last month, more than fifty years after we graduated, many of us reunited–with one another and with him.

Here are my remarks from the occasion. Perhaps they will remind you of a teacher you knew–or the teacher you would like to become.

“Mr. Rotella:

We always knew you were a great teacher. We loved you. We respected you. You could even say we revered you. That was about as far as our childhood vocabulary could take us. Now, fifty plus years later, I’m going to try and put it in fuller language.

There is an ongoing national debate on the purpose of education. There are those who say its purpose is to transmit knowledge and tools. Others argue it is to prepare students for the job market. My vote goes to those who say, “The purpose of education is to transform human beings.”

We didn’t understand that when we were kids. We thought the purpose of education was to learn things–things that would somehow help us make our way in the world. For all I know, that’s what the East Meadow School District thought too.

We did learn many things from you: photosynthesis, bacteriology, the French Revolution, the Civil War, the Cold War, and proper English grammar to name just a few. Even during recess you managed to teach us–sportsmanship during kickball. And then there are those three little words of yours I’ve been repeating to myself ever since, “Organize your thoughts!”

Now we can articulate that you taught us a lot more than things. Our EAP years did transform us. Maybe because during those years the love for and the excitement of learning were nurtured to the point where they became an inextricable part of us. We got that in part from one another–it was great to be surrounded by so much innocent intellectual curiosity. But the fountainhead was you.

That love for and excitement of learning cannot be taught the way photosynthesis is taught. It can only be taught by someone who understands, and believes with a passion, that the purpose of education is to transform human beings.

The better part of a lifetime later, Mr. Rotella, we can say that these gifts have blessed us every day since. How fortunate we were to have had you as our teacher. And how fortunate we are to be able to say this to you today. Thank you.”

If you’d like to see video of the occasion, click here:



For friends of Israel a must read on AIPAC. I learned plenty from this and you will too.


Some of Israel’s current high minded critics might do well to acquaint themselves with the Hamas Charter. Not only does it call for Israels destruction but also for the widespread murder of Jews (not Zionists). It blames Jews for engineering the French and Russian revolutions and both world wars. It even manages to find enemies in Rotary and Lions Clubs. (You can’t make this stuff up.) If you want to pick and choose, start with Article 22 in this translation provided by, an Arab website. If you are interested in the role of women in society try Articles 17 and 18. There’s much more so it’s better to read the whole thing if you can. If it does not remind you of Mein Kampf, you don’t know your history.


The recent election loss of Eric Cantor brought the following quotes to the forefront. Cantor, who it seems now will not be the first Jewish Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives,  quoted a Holocaust survivor of his acquaintance to the effect that “Suffering is part of life. Misery is a choice.”

Similarly, current House Speaker John Boehner, also commenting on Cantor’s defeat, quoted Winston Churchill. “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. The courage to continue is what counts.” I thought this last worthy of inclusion in Pirke Avot, the second century compilation of Rabbinic wisdom found in the Mishnah.

I don’t know that I need to add any commentary to either of these statements. Except to say that they are worth meditating upon and to the extent we can make a them part of our own outlook on life, it will be to the betterment of ourselves and those around us.


David Brooks writes in yesterday’s NYT  about the relationship between happiness and suffering. I found it compelling reading containing significant wisdom, particularly for those who have suffered a loss–or one day will. Click here for the essay.


David Halivni Weiss holds centrist political views in an increasingly polarized Israeli society. Here is an essay and possibly more important, a music video from a group headed by Tomer Yosef that recounts the “Great Story” of Jewish history–and wondering where it will go from here. The video is in Hebrew but there is some translation in the Weiss essay. The rest is worth finding a Hebrew speaker to share with you. Read, see and especially, listen, here.


David Letterman has a new book out and in an interview with David Itzkoff in the NYT  connected to its publication he offered the following observations on tzedaka (not using that word) and happiness:

“…Asked if his work on “This Land” had made him want to contribute to more charitable causes, Mr. Letterman answered that this was something he had “done actively for a long time.”

“But,” he continued, “I’m not going to tell you what it is, because I’m from the old school where if you start talking about it, you’re not doing it for the right reason.”

But whatever cause he chooses, he said, there remains “this huge chasm of injustice, just by virtue of being born in the wrong place.”

All he could offer on the subject, Mr. Letterman said, was a lesson he had learned as “a person who spends a great deal of his time wondering why he’s not happier.”

“I have found that the only thing that does bring you happiness,” he said, “is doing something good for somebody who is incapable of doing it for themselves.”

As a familiar sardonic tone crept back into his voice, Mr. Letterman continued: “It always works. It never fails. And so I guess from that standpoint, it’s not generous. It’s really sort of selfish.”

You could say that it sounds as if the comedian has studied Maimonides’ teaching on the subject (unlikely as it might be). It is better to give anonymously than it is to make oneself known, says the Rambam and the highest degree of tzedaka is to help someone become self-supporting. At the same time, his hard won knowledge as to what constitutes happiness can be fairly characterized as wisdom. Way to go David.


My Passover message to you is, if you have not seen it already, get yourself to the movie “The Gatekeepers.” This is the documentary that features six former heads of the Shin Bet—Israel’s domestic security agency responsible for the prevention of terror.

The film makes it clear that these very tough, very dedicated and very smart men, try though they might to do right while protecting the people of Israel, face an impossible task. This is only minimally due to shortcomings of theirs and the agency they head. It is primarily because the occupation itself is impossible.

Complicating matters further are political leaders who act like, well, politicians; ideologues both Jewish and Islamic with whom there is no reasoning; and the brutalities inherent in every war, no matter how just.

I won’t tell you the conclusions that the former directors draw, but I will say that it is difficult to imagine anyone not being informed and impressed by what they have to say. At the same time we can take pride that Israel can produce such a movie. It is a powerful testament to the strength of its democracy, even as it is to its shortcomings.

Finally, if there are sufficient “wise sons and daughters” at your seder, “The Gatekeepers” is an excellent place from which to launch a discussion on the Haggadah’s message of freedom from oppression.

Chag Sameach—a happy Pesach to all.


Here is something from a posting I wrote for our CCAR rabbinic list serve. It is part of an ongoing discussion regarding J Street and other organization’s views on how to best support Israel and facilitate peace at this time. There are some references to previous postings but you should be able to extrapolate easily enough. Sadly, it is more depressing than I wish it would be.

“It seems that the core question and point of disagreement among us is, as they say in Israel, “Yesh partner or ain partner?” (Is there someone with whom we can conclude a deal or not?) I appreciate the evidence brought to bear by each side but frankly, I don’t know that any of us really knows the answer. And I don’t expect we will until such time as genuine negotiations commence (yes, with our enemies). But letting the talks take place and having the onus fall where it may is not something either side seems eager to do right now–and it’s not difficult to understand why. The price of failure would be too high.

We all saw what happened after the Palestinians shouldered the blame for the collapse of the Camp David negotiations in 2000. And with the current turmoil in Syria and Egypt, those neighbors might like nothing more than an excuse to turn their unwanted attention towards Israel.

There are also questions about our side’s commitment to a two state solution–at least as far as the current Prime Minister is concerned. The Palestinians can point to statements–and actions–of his government that are as objectionable to them (land continually appropriated for new and expanded settlements) as some of theirs are to us. They too wonder, “Yesh partner or ain partner?” (in Arabic of course).

Again, we won’t know the answer, and more critically we won’t have peace, until such time as the two sides find a way to sit down and hash it all out. Which leads to the other reason why neither side wants to negotiate now–because neither appears ready or willing to make the painful compromises that will be necessary.

It is also worth remembering that the participation of a superpower has been all but essential to conclude Israeli-Arab agreements. It may be true, as has been pointed out, that as soon as you want something in the shuk, the price goes up. Well if the US wants peace, the parties can’t charge America as much as they can charge one another. But how much does the US really want/need a final resolution to this conflict right now and how much are we (or the Quartet, remember them?) willing to pay for it? These too are answers we won’t know until all of the parties get themselves around a table.

The avoidance of all this has given us the path we’ve been on for some time–that of least resistance and inertia. It is the path of concurrent posturing before respective constituencies while kicking the can down the road. I believe it is only a matter of time before this “policy” leads to a new round of bloodshed and recrimination. With Hamas and Hezbollah armed as never before, the consequences for Israel will be greater than ever before.

Better to sit down now and find a way to make the compromises that everyone knows must be made–painful and far from perfect though they be. Then empower the 90%+ of the people who want to find a way to live alongside one another in peace do just that. I hate to think it will take another war before this can happen–but it just may.”



Parent of the Year!

At a rabbinic conference I attended that combined study and skiing (really) last week in Vail, Colorado, I was moved to give my “Parent of the Year” award to a particular dad. Unfortunately, I do not know his name, or even what he looks like.

Here is the story. I was in the mid-mountaintop lodge at Vail, where our group was meeting for lunch. While walking from one part of the lodge to another I overheard a young boy, perhaps nine or ten years old, who was tagging along behind his father say, “You know what I don’t like?” The dad immediately responded, “I don’t care.”

This is not always the best way to respond to our children’s concerns but in this instance, it may well have been.

Allow me to elaborate. Vail is not only a spectacularly beautiful mountain, it is one of the world’s finest ski areas. Anyone who is there cannot help but be uplifted. Having the opportunity to ski there it is a greater blessing and privilege still. Being taken by your dad, who had to work hard to be able to bring you, when presumably he could have gone with his buddies instead, well it doesn’t get much better.

Still and all, for some reason our intrepid youngster found the need to focus on something that he “didn’t like.” The dad was having none of it. His response essentially said, “Kid, if you are skiing up here, at Vail, with me or the family, on a school day no less, and want to talk about what you don’t like, you are barking up the wrong tree. Get real. Be grateful. If you have to tell me something, find a way to tell me that. For your sake (and mine), that’s what you need to focus on.”

I hope everyone can appreciate this. Maybe you had to be there. In any event, to you, anonymous Dad, goes my Parent of the Year–if not Parent of the Decade–award.



My 20 year old cousin was killed by a handgun thirty years ago. For some time after that, as part of my rabbinate and as part of my citizenship, I was a handgun control activist. I felt pride that I, along with millions of other Americans, had a hand in passing the 1993 Brady Law which required an FBI background check and a waiting period before a handgun could be legally purchased.

After that however, the failures were far more numerous than the successes. The pro-gun lobby simply outspent, outworked and sometimes even out-argued those who believe that the bloodshed in this country could be at least somewhat curtailed with sensible gun legislation. In time, I am not proud to say, I let the cause drop from my activist agenda. It was too much of an uphill fight and there were other, more winnable battles to fight.

Things may have changed in the wake of the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. At the very least it seems that people are demanding an honest conversation on the issue. The fact that NBC invited 31 pro-gun United States senators to appear on Meet the Press yesterday and not one accepted speaks volumes. Very well then, we’ll begin the conversation without them.

I for one, intend to be active again. I have signed a petition at and I invite you to do the same. It has been too long. And it has been too bloody. This is not the kind of nation we deserve. But it is up to us to prove it.

In peace,




On Operation “Pillar of Defense” (Amud Anan)

No country in the world accepts that enemy rockets can be fired into its territory with impunity. Israel is no exception. As Prof. Moshe Maoz of the Hebrew University recently put it in a related context, “Israel does not have a sense of humor here.”

The Hamas regime in Gaza remains sworn to Israel’s destruction and has been firing rockets into Israel for its own internal purposes. Such provocations can only be suffered for so long and yesterday, Israel responded by taking out the Hamas military commander, Ahmad Jabari, with an air to ground missile.

Not surprisingly, it provoked a violent response. As of this writing over 200 rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israel. (Thank you Iran—and others.) Some have been intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile batteries (thank you America) but others have not. Though most of the rockets have reportedly fallen in unpopulated areas, there have been fatalities, injuries and destruction. More is certain to follow.

It is unlikely that any long term strategic goals will be fulfilled during this operation by either side. When it is over, both Israel and Hamas will be standing. Given that, it would be best to find a way to end the hostilities as quickly as possible. A cease fire that leads to restored quiet along the Israel-Gaza border will happen sooner or later. It will be best for all concerned if it happens sooner.



On the surface it seems to have been a relatively quiet election for the Jewish community. Scarcely a mention of us–unlike say in 2000 when we were at ground zero in Palm Beach County, Florida.

But don’t be fooled. We were very much a part of this election’s narrative. As follows:

The Jewish experience in America is the immigrant experience.                                            The Jewish experience in America is the minority experience.                                                   The Jewish experience in America is the experience of striving.                                               The Jewish experience in America is the experience of advancement through education. The Jewish experience in America is the experience of reward through meritocracy.          The Jewish experience in America is the experience of help and opportunity for others.                                                                                                                                                  The Jewish experience in America is the pursuit of fairness and justice for all.

These experiences have defined our families since we first set foot on these shores. And these experiences were affirmed and validated–for us and for others–by the election of 2012.

Enabling us to have these experiences is no small part of what has made America the world’s greatest nation. And enabling others to have them will insure that this greatness continues.

Congratulations to the United States of America on this vital day in our history.



Prof. Yehuda Bauer, an Israel Prize laureate and Holocaust scholar of worldwide stature, recently challenged elements of the long-held conventional understanding that the Roosevelt Administration declined to bomb Auschwitz primarily because of American anti-Semitism. In the process he emphasized many of the critical nuances that must be a part of that discussion, including the fact that the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem (the Sochnut), originally opposed the bombing as well.

In an article published in The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Bauer asserted that bombing the camps would have killed many Jews and that even bombing the railroad tracks leading to them would have had relatively little effect as they would have been quickly rebuilt. In addition, the Nazis would have found other ways to continue the extermination, e.g. death marches. He noted that some 50% of Jewish  victims during the war were murdered outside of the death camps.

Dr. Bauer also raised the related question of why the US and Great Britain did nothing to stop the mass starvation that killed 2 million Indians on the subcontinent in 1943. “Was Jewish blood any redder than the blood of others?” he asks. His conclusion, that the best tactic for stopping the annihilation(s) was the defeat of the Nazi regime, is essentially identical to the one that Roosevelt proclaimed, publicly and privately, throughout the war.

To read more of this challenge to the charge that “the US could have saved the Jews but didn’t” and to see how that charge is being used in the political arena even today, click here for an interview with Prof. Bauer in Ha’aretz by Tom Segev (registration for ten Ha’aretz articles per month is free and well worth it) or here for a follow up analysis from You can download the full text of Prof. Bauer’s original article in The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs (Volume 6, No. 3) here.



This Election season I have three things to say.

1) Vote! And be sure to cast an informed ballot. By informed I mean one that is not shaped by the torrent of special interest advertising and funds that are accountable to no one and nothing—least of all the truth. This is not a sunny time for American democracy. The unlimited flow of money to politicians, now legal, has been incredibly corrupting. It is no small part of the reason for the gridlock we see in Washington and the fact that our government has subordinated everyday citizens’ interests to moneyed interests. It is also no small part of the reason for the inequality of opportunity that plagues America today. Yes it stinks. But vote anyway. It’s the best chance we have.

2) In the Presidential contest, I will be voting for Barack Obama. I’ve been disappointed by his Presidency in significant ways but I believe he has done as well as anyone could have under the circumstances and that he warrants a second term. At the same time I fear what the Republican Party has recently become. As Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor reportedly told Justice David Souter as she retired from the bench, “What makes this harder is that it’s my party that’s destroying the country.” I’m sorry to all of my Republican friends—but your party has become beholden to some very frightening partisans. Please do what you can to save it. It is not healthy for our democracy.

I am also not voting for or against either candidate because of his stand on Israel. Israel and the US have a strategic alliance that transcends party and personality. It is solid because it is in the overriding interest of each country to keep it that way. If anything, I fault Obama for allowing Netanyahu to shift the agenda from peace with the Palestinians to Iran. (And yes, I hold the Palestinian leadership responsible for this as well.) Iran is a serious threat to Israel. But if there is no peace agreement with the Palestinians, and soon, Israel will lose its Jewish majority and become a de facto apartheid state. This is no less an existential threat to Israel than a potential Iranian bomb, make no mistake.

By the way, if you want a President who will stand foursquare with Israel, history has shown you are more likely to get that from a Democrat than a Republican. No need to take my word for it. See this article from former Mossad head Efraim Halevy who makes the point far more persuasively than I can.

And don’t misunderstand. Standing foursquare with Israel is not ipso facto healthy for Israel. The case can be made that not challenging some of Israel’s self-destructive behavior has enabled more of the same. But we can leave that discussion for another day.

3) In Florida, I’m voting against all of the proposed state constitutional amendments except #9. Crafted by a highly partisan legislature who chose not to pass them as laws, they have passed them on to voters in a shameful abdication of responsibility. Good luck trying to read and understand them in the voting booth. They deserve a “no” vote just on principle.

Beyond that, I believe most of them are bad law. They reflect what have become hard right positions on issues like religion, women’s right to choose, health care and judicial independence. Others would become de facto tax increases for most Floridians (because they will give special tax breaks to certain designated groups that will have to be made up by the rest of us)–and they claim to be the party of lower taxes. The one amendment I’m voting for (#9) is a homestead property tax exemption for the surviving spouse of a military veteran or first responder. They deserve it and it will have a minimal fiscal impact on the rest of us.

There you have it. Remember to vote—early if possible. (There’s less chance of a foul up that way.) And a thoughtful Election Day to all.




“Why are we working?” “Are we making a living or making a life?” And, “What should we do when we stop working?” To what end is our leisure? Do we become bored “doing nothing” or is leisure our most fulfilling time? If such questions speak to you, and particularly at this time of year they should speak to a lot of us, I commend to you this piece by Notre Dame Professor of Philosophy Gary Gutting. It appeared recently in the online version of the NYT.


Political support has become, for many, less a thought-through expression of a particular ideology and more an expression of a particular cultural outlook. This is true both in the US and Israel–and in many other working democracies as well. Education level, ethnic heritage, religious perspective, and especially, the place in the cultural hierarchy in which we see ourselves, can determine our support for political parties and candidates far more than rational arguments about specific policies. The social, economic and religious groups we belong to are among the strongest predictors of who we will support in democratic elections. The political ideology we subscribe to is often more an expression of cultural identifiers than the other way around. Perhaps it has always been this way, but it is especially apparent now.

For example, if we see ourselves as self-made individuals, having earned our way to privileged status, we are likely to wonder why we should extend ourselves to help others achieve what we were able to do “on our own.” On the other hand, if our perception is that we or those around us were only able to climb the socioeconomic ladder because others built institutions, programs and legal safeguards that enabled us to do so, we are more likely to support people and parties who promise to protect those structures.

Or, if we see ourselves as members of a victimized group or are resentful of a perceived cultural elite, we will be drawn to those who fan that sense of victimization and resentment. And if we see an “other” as being even remotely responsible for our unhappy predicament (and any “other” will do, from an immigrant group to the government itself) we will be susceptible to appeals that cast aspersions on that other, either explicitly or implicitly.

This is in part why it is all but impossible to persuade someone to alter his or her political perspective. It is not a matter of rational and intellectual argument so much as it is one of cultural self-definition and life circumstances. And that is something that is essentially non-negotiable.

I wish you a good election season and a shana tovah.




Glory be. The United States of America has taken a huge step forward in making health care affordable and accessible for most–still not all–of its citizens.  Read this from Rabbi Eric Yoffie, immediate past President of the Union for Reform Judaism, writing in the Huffington Post, on why this is a moral imperative. You can also see my post from March 22, 2010, when the legislation originally passed, by scrolling down. The words I wrote then still hold.


Remember the Palestinians? No they have not gone away. And no, the saber rattling over Iran has not made them irrelevant. The Palestinian issue remains a genuine “existential threat” to Israel as a Jewish democracy.

An irony of the past several years, in which Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has sworn off terror and coordinated with Israel on most security matters,  is that the Israeli government and many Israelis have taken the quiet on the Palestinian front for granted. In an Op-Ed in today’s NYT,  Nathan Thrall, a Middle East analyst at the International Crisis Group, points out the myopic folly of such a position.


Here is a link to a revealing interview on the subject of a possible Israeli-Iranian war with former head of the IDF, Director of Military Intelligence and Vice-Premier Moshe Ayalon.  Interviewed by Ha’aretz journalist Ari Shavit, one of Israel’s most respected, Ayalon makes the case for a preemptive strike against Iran. The interview is both sober and sobering and provides more than a small window on the thought of the Iran “hawks” in Israel’s current government.

Shavit is appropriately sharp and challenging on this highest stakes issue. Leave yourself some time to give this article its due. If there is a strike against Iran, the questions that supporters of Israel will have to answer–to others and ourselves–are the ones that Shavit poses. Whether you live in the Diaspora or in Israel, see if Ayalon’s answers sit well enough with you. (If the link doesn’t take you past the paywall, you can register for free and get access to 10 “premium” Ha’aretz articles per month. This should be one of them.) Continue reading

Posted in posts | Tagged

Events in Israel


As if on cue in response to my cousin Orit’s comments below, see today’s editorial in Ha’aretz.


Well, it seems you can only do so much in 140 characters @rabbiagler. Here is my attempt to distill “Operation Protective Edge” (it sounds much better in Hebrew) to its essence:

1) Israel is more than justified in fighting to remove the threats from Hamas’ rockets and tunnels. Protecting from an enemy whose demonstrable goal is to terrorize Israel’s citizens—and who considers every innocent Israeli civilian to be a target—is unquestionably legitimate.

2) That said, the effort has been horrifically costly to both Israel and the people of Gaza. Israel has been unable to strike at Hamas without terrible loss of life to innocent Palestinians. Yes, this is largely Hamas’ responsibility. By placing weaponry, ammunition, tunnels leading under the border and such in hospitals, schools, mosques and the like, they are practicing as cowardly and cruel a tactic as has ever been seen in the history of warfare. We should hold any nation or group that does not, at minimum, condemn this unequivocally, as too morally compromised to be taken seriously.

3) It will all be for naught if a better way of life does not come from it. I wish I knew how that is going to happen.

There are additional concerns on the home front, both in Israel and in the US. My cousin Orit in Israel is a committed Zionist. After affirming that “there was no choice but to fight this war,” she writes,

“My major fear is from the Israeli Jewish nationalists which are now the majority here. They are a most severe threat, on a personal and national level. Being a leftist in Israel these days makes one really shake – particularly if you drive a car with a Peace sticker (I do – it merely says we want peace)…Major government ministers keep planting the idea that you can only express your opinion if at matches the government’s. Not to mention Israelis burning a live innocent Palestinian teenager – a tragic outcome of the present Israeli atmosphere.”

We have all too frequently seen wartime nationalistic sentiment stifle thoughtful dissent. It is never a healthy phenomenon in a democracy.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.



I haven’t been blogging on this but I am tweeting. Follow me @rabbiagler on Twitter. May lasting peace and quiet come soon.

Posted in blog

Gems of Torah

Days of Awe-5774

The High Holydays are known in Hebrew as the Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe. It is an apt description. Because this is a season that has the power to move us to the point of Awe, and beyond.

The High Holydays address core issues of humanity and spirituality. They ask existential questions. What are we doing with our lives? How can we bring greater honor to our selves, our families, our people and our God? How are we measuring up to our ideals – and, for that matter, how clear are we on what those ideals are? These are nothing if not awe-some and awe-full questions.

We may be tempted to push such questions aside. After all, it is far less disturbing to avoid them than to engage them. But the synagogue does not give us that option. If we are going to be present, we are going to be challenged. And our response to the challenge determines in no small measure the kind of people we will become in the year ahead.

As we know, our culture has been changing dramatically and rapidly, primarily through technology. This has made the challenge of the High Holydays even greater. We have immediate access to an unlimited feast of people, places and ideas. We can communicate instantly across the globe. We can hold the equivalent of the Library of Alexandria and more – great art, literature and music – in the palm of our hand. All of this may persuade us that we have achieved fulfillment. At the same time, it may distract us enough to ignore greater issues altogether. After all, why should we do the hard work of refining our characters and improving the world when so much that amuses us is right at hand?

The answer, of course, is that such a life is not a complete one. The Greek philosopher Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living. For Jews, the unconsecrated life is not worth living, either. During the Days of Awe we ask questions such as, “Have I been dedicated to any higher purpose, one beyond my self?” “How can my interpersonal relationships be more holy and less transactional?” “Has the world has been made better, even infinitesimally, by my being in it–this year or over the years?” And no matter what the answers to those questions are, the next one is always, “Can I be something more than I have been in the new year now beginning?”

We know that for all of our advances, we are not necessarily better human beings than we were a decade, a generation, a century, or even a millennium ago. Our world is still darkened by violence and corruption, oppression and injustice, preventable disease and starvation. At the same time, we have the power to overcome these ills, individually and collectively. The High Holydays place the challenge squarely before us.

As the Jewish calendar starts anew, each of us is a year older and a year closer to our own life’s completion and conclusion. The Yamim Noraim confront us with this truth and help us realize that among the most fitting responses is a life of greater kindness, service and growth.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the most inward of our holy days, spiritual “me” time if you will. They have an awesome power to transform us, redirect us and elevate us. I pray we – all of us – make the most of them.

Mindy and our children join me in wishing all of our dear ones family a year of greater goodness – a true shana tovah.

As we return to the beginning of our annual Torah reading cycle, we see how many universal truths, as opposed to particular ones, are communicated in the Book of Genesis. Leaving aside issues such as evolution vs. creation (in a nutshell, we would do well to accept the modern understanding that the Bible should be treated as a book of life lessons, not as one of science or history), its abiding genius speaks to us.

The morality we gain by linking creation and goodness, the portrayal of the human passions that can motivate us but also bring us down and the call to be true to the best within us in all circumstances are just a few of the ways that Biblical teachings uplift us.

I hope your Torah/Bible study is a gift for you in the new year. Enjoy!

Continue reading

Posted in torah | Leave a comment