From the Bimah: Jewish Lessons for Life show

From the Bimah: Jewish Lessons for Life

Summary: Bringing weekly Jewish insights into your life. Join Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz, Rabbi Michelle Robinson and Rav-Hazzan Aliza Berger of Temple Emanuel in Newton, MA as they share modern ancient wisdom.

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 Shabbat Sermon: Always Ready, Always There—For God and Country. A Jewish Army Chaplain’s Reflection on Serving Our Nation in Uniform with Chaplain, Colonel Larry Bazer | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 1346

Chaplain, Colonel Larry Bazer shares some special experiences of serving as a full-time National Guard Chaplain in light of Parshat Korah and our nation’s 246th birthday, as well as personal insights regarding the last few challenging years for our country, as he oversaw the National Guard's religious response during the pandemic and the tumult of these last few years.

 Shabbat Sermon: Roe is Me with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 1138

On Thursday, the Supreme Court struck down a New York law which required citizens to demonstrate “proper cause” to carry a firearm in public.  Yesterday the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.  Next week, the Court will hear West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency and will almost certainly strike down the right of the EPA enact rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to fight climate change. Whatever your political affiliation, whomever you voted for in these past elections, we should all be concerned about these decisions.

 Shabbat Sermon: What is the Opposite of Dismantle? with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 1182

Do you know what the word dox means—d-o-x? I had never heard of the word before this week. I learned its meaning as our community has encountered something you might have heard of, a website called The Mapping Project of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) Boston. The dictionary definition of dox is to publish private or identifying information about a person or organization on the internet with malicious intent. BDS Boston engages in a massive doxing of both Jewish institutions and individuals, including many who are members of our own community. It lists names and addresses of institutions and individuals, while the people responsible for this website refuse to identify themselves. BDS Boston is ostensibly about Israel and Palestinians. But in fact it does not discuss Israel. Does not discuss Palestinians.  BDS Boston is about us, the Jews of Boston. They are not after Israel. They are after us. Cloaking themselves in anonymity, they pursue a double agenda.

 Shabbat Sermon: Find Something Heavy to Carry with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 1061

This past week in the holy city of Boston, a miracle happened not once but twice. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, Paul McCartney, who is eleven days shy of 80 years old, rocked on at Fenway Park. Fenway was jammed to the rafters, and this 80-year old singer wowed and captivated a full park for two and a half hours. Thirty songs. Did I mention that he is 80? How does an 80-year-old still have the energy, the charisma, the voice to hold that big of an audience for that long? How does a performer continue to perform the same songs that he has been singing, some of them Beatles classics like Can’t Buy Me Love, Hey Jude and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da for 60 years, with fresh energy? Can you do that? Can you do the same thing for 60 years, with fresh energy? Could I give the same sermon for 60 years, with fresh energy? Could you hear my same sermon for 60 years, with fresh energy? How does he do that?

 Talmud Class: Is Self-Care a Legitimate Jewish Value? | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 2625

Is self-care (the agenda of summer rest, renewal and relaxation) a Jewish value? Did Jeremiah go swimming? Did Rabbi Akiva go to the beach? Did Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi go off the grid so that he could recharge? Did Elijah ever need “me time”? Jewish sources talk about learning (Talmud) and doing (ma’aseh).  Do Jewish sources value doing neither of those in the interests of recharging? How does our context figure into this question? Since the world, and our country, are in such a challenging place now, is thinking about the next few months as a sanctuary in time where we get to focus on our own healing and our own welfare an abdication—or it is essential for the work that lies ahead?  What Jewish sources speak to this question, and what do they say about this moment?

 Shabbat Sermon: Restoring as we Remember with Rabbi Michelle Robinson | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 586

Shavuot 5782 June 6, 2022

 Shabbat Sermon: A Legacy of Principles from the Principal with Ilene Beckman | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 749

Shabbat Shalom, Everyone! What a morning! I am utterly overwhelmed and so deeply blessed to be a part of this truly special community. As I reflect upon what has been most important to me on this extraordinary journey as an educator, I’d like to share three of the “principles” that have motivated and guided me.  But first, a disclaimer: You may hear things about me that will surprise you. As they say in the commercials, don’t try these at home…or at Religious School!!

 Talmud Class: A Post-Columbine, Post-Newtown, Post-Parkland, Post-Uvalde Reading of The Binding of Isaac | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 2631

For many decades, Rabbi Simon Greenberg would teach his students at the Seminary: Never preach about the binding of Isaac, Genesis 22 , the Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah. A parent sacrifice his child? Who would do a thing like that? A parent place some principle above the life and health and welfare of their own child? Who would do a thing like that? The whole premise of the binding of Isaac is so unrelatable, Rabbi Greenberg taught, that real people cannot relate to this opaque tale of a parent prepared to sacrifice his own son. Better to not talk about it. I have been thinking about Rabbi Greenberg’s question: Who would do a thing like that? It is now clear that the answer is: we would. Our country would. Our country does. It is now clear that Genesis 22, this opaque tale of a parent prepared to sacrifice his own child, is our current, foundational American story. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac for his principle, the commanding voice of God. America is prepared to sacrifice our children for the commanding voice of the Second Amendment, and the unfettered right of every American to own a gun, including assault rifles. We know about Columbine, Newtown, Parkland and Uvalde. But the Daily’s discussion of Uvalde taught me something I did not know. 

 Shabbat Sermon with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz - Hidden Story, Healing World | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 1117

How do we think about the person whose views are not only different from our own, but antithetical to our own? What they stand for, we stand for the exact opposite. And yet we share a planet, we share a country, we share a community, perhaps we even share a family. They are not changing. We are not changing. They are here. We are here. How do we see this other human being on the other end of a contentious issue in a contentious time?

 Talmud Class: Can the Messiah Come Now? | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 2555

Uvalde. Buffalo. Santa Ana. Bomb threats at JCCs (including our own). If the Messiah were ever going to come to fix our broken world, now would be a good time. On Shabbat we are going to take a look at three texts that deal with the Messiah. The first is an Elijah story. Elijah famously tells a rabbi searching for the Messiah that you can find him in a leper colony, among the most diseased and impoverished people. The second is a story by Israel’s Nobel Prize-winning author Shmuel Agnon called The Kerchief, which is a literary treatment of the passage from the Talmud about the Messiah coming from a leper colony. The third is a sermon by Rabbi Harold Kushner, delivered at his son Aaron’s Bar Mitzvah (Aaron would pass away later that year), on the Agnon story.

 Shabbat Sermon: Never Better with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 1137

If you ever asked Barry Shrage, the long-time former head of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, how he was doing, he always answered in an utterly unique way. In all my life, I have never heard anyone else answer this way. He would always answer: Never better. Never better. What a great response. It is unique. It rhymes. Never better. It is short and to the point. It radiates positive and hopeful energy. There is only one problem. Does it ring true? I have been thinking about Barry’s signature phrase this week given the events of the world. With Buffalo, and Santa Ana, and all the other dreadful news that you do not need me to remind you of, is it possible to say and mean : never better?  We could engage the world as it is, but that might make us depressed. We could ignore the world as it is and focus on the Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and the Heat. But can we engage the world as it is, and still radiate positivity?

 Talmud Class: What Do Elijah and Rabbi Yose in the Ruins of Jerusalem Say to Us Now? | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 2691

Two years and three months later, we now know two things. Covid is not going away any time soon. There will be new variants and new cases. And we have to get back to life. There is a short and haunting passage from the tractate Berakhot 3A that connects deeply with our reality. Rabbi Yose (from the Maxwell House Haggadah) is in Jerusalem, after the Temple was destroyed. God’s house is ruined. The people are exiled. The community that was is no more. He is there apparently alone, and he goes to the Temple ruins to pray. Elijah (he did not die in the Bible, but went to heaven in a fiery chariot, leaving him free to come and help the vulnerable in the world) pays Rabbi Yose a visit in the ruins. Please read this brief story  ahead of our class on Shabbat with an eye towards four questions. 1. The passage imagines how God must feel in this new, changed, sad world—what Abraham Joshua Heschel would call the divine pathos. God has an inner life. God has feelings. We see God roaring like a lion, cooing like a dove, and shaking his head like a resigned parent. What is the Talmud trying to say here, and how, if at all, does it connect with us? 2. Elijah and Rabbi Yose regard one another with extreme courtesy. There is a lot of “my teacher,” “my teacher and master,” “my son.” What is the point of this extreme courtesy, and what does it teach us? 3. What drives Rabbi Yose to pray in a ruined Temple? 4. What are Elijah’s concerns? After all, he comes down to earth specifically because he does not love the rabbi praying in the ruins. What does the Rabbi learn from the prophet’s concerns, and what do we learn? Like the rest of the world, Temple Emanuel has to reimagine life in this new, hard, uncertain age. What do we learn from a rabbi and a prophet conversing in the ruins of the Temple in the holy city of Jerusalem?

 Shabbat Sermon: Rich Strike with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 956

Last Shabbat an event of great importance happened: the Kentucky Derby and the unexpected, unlikely, implausible victory of a horse named Rich Strike. It is a double miracle underdog story. As of the day before the big race, Rich Strike was not even supposed to be racing. At the last minute, because another horse that had been scheduled to race was a last-minute scratch, Rich Strike was the last horse to enter the field. And Rich Strike was an 80 to 1 underdog. That made his upset victory the greatest upset victory since 1913.

 Talmud Class: Abortion and Jewish Sources | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 2726

The conversation about abortion in this country is strident and polarized. You are either pro-life or pro-choice. Every voice is passionate and convicted. There is no space for nuance. That is why, when the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the union of Conservative movement rabbis, published their statement in the wake of the Supreme Court leak, they were unanimous and unequivocally pro-choice. But Jewish tradition, and certainly Jewish law, is never unnuanced. A close reading of the sources reveals that Judaism does not fall neatly into either the pro-life or pro-choice camp. Instead, Jewish sources reveal a third way to engage this issue—we are a tradition that is pro-life, that values the sanctity and holy potential of every spark of life, and we are a tradition that understands the need for medical intervention which can include abortion. This Shabbos, we will be doing a deep dive into the sources to explore the way our tradition invites reflection, nuanced evaluation, and a sensitivity which is all too often lacking in the political conversation unfolding around us.

 Shabbat Sermon with Rabbi Marc Baker | File Type: audio/x-m4a | Duration: 1600

These remarks were delivered on May 7, 2022 by Rabbi Marc Baker, President and CEO of CJP, Combined Jewish Philanthropies. You can find more information about Marc here.


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