Category Archives: Beth David

Bo: D’var Torah and Davar Acher

A little late, but here’s my D’var Torah for Bo for Ten Minutes of Torah,  followed by the Davar Acher that Jeff Saltz, a past president at Beth David, delivered at Shabbat services.

Pharaoh’s Final Request, by Rabbi Beth Kalisch

In the middle of the night, in Parashat Bo, Pharaoh and his whole court wake up to the horror of the 10th plague: as the firstborn sons are slain, every Egyptian household is suddenly in mourning. Under the weight of this tragedy, the king who fancies himself a god is finally humbled. In desperation, he gives in to Moses’ demands of freedom for the Israelite slaves. Pharaoh declares, “Up, depart from among my people, you and the Israelites with you! Go, worship the Eternal as you said!” (Exodus 12:31).

But at the end of this middle-of-night surrender, as Moses must have already been heading out the door, Pharaoh tags on a surprising request. “Uveirach’tem gam oti,” he calls after Moses, “and may you bring a blessing upon me also!” (Exodus 12:32).

I’d often read this line as a bit of a throwaway, hardly worthy of consideration, but when I stopped to think about it, Pharaoh’s request seemed incredibly galling. What chutzpah for a tyrant who had until this point been mocking Moses and refusing God’s demands, to suddenly ask for a blessing! For the entire narrative in Exodus so far, Pharaoh has refused to acknowledge God’s power. And now, in the moment when he finally does humble himself before God, he wants to benefit from God’s power to receive a blessing. Even as Pharaoh finally acknowledges the limits of his own power, he still unabashedly focuses on himself.

Traditional commentators interpret Pharaoh’s request in several different ways. Rashi, the 11th century French commentator, thinks Pharaoh is being cynically practical. What Pharaoh means, Rashi suggests, is that Moses should ask his God not to let Pharaoh die – because Pharaoh himself is a firstborn son. Because the 10th plague threatens his own life, Pharaoh is suddenly ready to seek God’s blessing. Nachmanides, the 13th century Spanish sage, reads Pharaoh’s words slightly more generously, arguing that Pharaoh is seeking a blessing not just for himself, but for the entire kingdom of Egypt.

But the most generous reading, and I think the most surprising one, comes from the M’chilta D’Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, an ancient midrash. According to the M’chilta, Pharaoh’s request indicates that:

Pharaoh knew that he was lacking in prayer, and God does not forgive someone until he has persuaded his neighbor [to forgive him as well].1

In other words, Pharaoh’s change in heart is not just a reluctant surrender by a king who has lost to a more powerful rival, but a kind of t’shuvah. Suddenly, Pharaoh is aware of his own spiritual distance from God. In order to repair that breach, though, Pharaoh must go through Moses. This is the same Rabbinic teaching that we emphasize on Yom Kippur in our contemporary Reform liturgy:

For transgressions against God, the Day of Atonement atones; but for transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another.2

Now t’shuvah is a powerful force in Judaism, so if Pharaoh did do t’shuvah, the M’chilta reasons, he must have earned some reward for it. The M’chilta then provides a number of biblical verses as answers. It points to the way the Egyptian soldiers died at the Red Sea, indicating that it was a dignified death, a proper burial (Exodus 15:12). It references the commandment, “You shall not abhor an Egyptian” (Deuteronomy 23:8), reasoning that while we were oppressed by Egyptians so many generations ago, we are forbidden to hold on to any hatred, in part because of Pharaoh’s t’shuvah.

But it is a third reward suggested by the midrash that I think offers the most intriguing possibility. The M’chilta quotes a verse from Isaiah that envisions a future where the Egyptian people worship God, just as the Jewish people do (Isaiah 19:19). Pharaoh’s reward, the M’chilta seems to suggest, is that future generations of Egyptians will not experience the same distance from God that he feels.

But if you keep reading in Isaiah, the imagery is stunning. The very next verse explains the significance of the future Egypt’s loyalty to God: “when [the Egyptians] cry out to the Eternal against oppressors, God will send them a savior and champion to deliver them.” (Isaiah 19:20).

The reward for Pharaoh’s t’shuvah, our midrash suggests, is that one day, God will liberate Pharaoh’s people from a tyrant – just as, in our Torah portion, God is liberating the Israelite slaves from Pharaoh. And what’s more, this role reversal will culminate in the adversaries becoming allies, each nation sharing in God’s beneficence. Isaiah prophesied, “In that day, Israel shall be a third partner with Egypt and Assyria as a blessing on earth, for the Eternal of Hosts will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be My people Egypt … and My very own Israel’ ” (Isaiah 19:24).

What an image for the moment of liberation! At the very moment when Moses is walking away from Pharaoh, leaving Pharaoh’s presence for the last time to go and lead the Israelites out of Egypt – and at the moment he finally emerges victorious over Pharaoh – Pharaoh is planting the seeds for a future reconciliation. Perhaps that is a true vision of liberation: not simply overcoming the ones who had oppressed us, not simply escaping from their control, but also glimpsing a future, however far-off, when together, we will serve as a blessing.

1 W. David Nelson, trans. and annot., Mekhilta De-Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, Pisha 15:4 (Philadelphia: JPS, 2006), p. 50

2 Gates of Repentance (NY: CCAR, 1996, rev.), p. 324.


Davar Acher by Jeff Saltz

My cousin Dick died a few weeks ago.  I had visited him in the assisted living facility just a few days before he passed, and he was clearly failing.  After he died, I went to his funeral, hugged his family, helped to carry his casket as a pallbearer, watched him lowered into the ground, performed the mitzvah of shoveling dirt onto the casket, caravanned from the cemetery to his daughter’s home, and returned again that evening for the shiva service.  In other words, his death was a concrete physical fact for me.

But it didn’t strike me that he was really gone until a few days later, on Friday night, here at Beth David.  It was right when we began the Misheberach l’Cholim — the prayer for healing of the sick.  Many months before, after Dick’s cancer had returned, I had begun to whisper his name when our Rabbi asked for the names of our loved ones in need of healing.  It had become a regular ritual for me, every time the Rabbi’s gaze panned across the room, inviting names to be spoken.  So on the Friday night after Dick’s death, right after the sermon, the Rabbi turned to the Misheberach — and it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks.  Dick was gone.  I couldn’t say his name anymore.  The time for healing was past.

I went through a series of emotions as I sat in the pew and thought about it later.  My first reaction was amazement that I had not really appreciated that my cousin was gone until that moment.  My amazement turned quickly to anger and frustration.  Why was I saying his name, week after week?  What good did it do, when we knew that his cancer was terminal?  Then foolishness at feeling angry.  Did I ever think that praying the Misheberach was going to result in a miracle cure?  So why was I upset when it didn’t?

Then this week came around, and I had to prepare a Davar Acher — another point of view, a response to Rabbi Kalisch’s D’var Torah for Parashat Bo.  Her commentary — which you really should read if you haven’t yet done so — focuses on what seems to be a throwaway line in this week’s portion.  When Egypt has been devastated by the tenth plague and Pharaoh finally allows Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, Pharaoh adds, “And may you bring a blessing upon me also.”  But of course, no line of Torah is a throwaway, and Rabbi Kalisch explores what Pharaoh could have meant by asking Moses, of all people, for a blessing.  Was he acknowledging that the God of Israel was indeed the most powerful?  Was he asking to be spared the death of the first-born that his fellow Egyptians has suffered through?  Was he in fact making t’shuvah, repentance, so that one day the Egyptian people, the children of slaveholders, might worship the same God as the children of slaves?

As I read this commentary, I pondered what it means to even ask for a blessing.  We use the word “blessing” all the time, without even thinking about it.  On Shabbat, we bless the candles and the wine and the challah.  We bless our children.  Our Rabbi begins many services by asking us to share blessings from the past week.  We sing out loud, “You shall be a blessing.”  Even when someone sneezes, we reflexively say, “God bless you.”  But do we know what a blessing is?  Do we know what it means to be a blessing?

For some reason, I turned back to the Misheberach l’Cholim.  Our siddur includes it under the heading “Prayers for Healing.”  But the more I looked, the more I felt that this heading isn’t quite right.  The prayer begins, Mi Sheberach avoteinu v’emoteinu — may the one who blessed our fathers and our mothers — hu m’vareich et ha-cholim — may that one bless those who are ill.  Actually, the English translation in our siddur reads, “bless and heal those who are ill,” but even from my rudimentary Hebrew, I can tell that the words “and heal” are not part of the Hebrew.  The prayer asks for blessing, not for healing.  True, it goes on to pray for a r’fuat ha-goof — a healing of the body — but only after we have prayed for r’fuat ha-nefesh — a healing of spirit — and, most importantly, r’fuah shleimah.  That phrase is normally translated as a complete healing, but it can also be read as a healing of peace.

So I wonder whether, instead of calling the Misheberach a prayer for healing the sick, we should read it as a prayer for blessing the sick.  May the one who blessed our fathers and mothers grant blessing to those who are most in need of it — those who are suffering from illness, physical or spiritual.  Grant them r’fuah shleimah — a blessing of peace.  And may we find a blessing in caring for them and comforting them.

I still don’t think that I understand what a blessing is.  But I’m pretty sure I want one.


From the January Monthly: Changes

Dear Friends,

As 2016 begins, the board, the rest of the staff and I are starting to prepare for some major transitions at Beth David.

Of course, Beth David has been immersed in change for a few years now. I know that in many ways, I am still the “new rabbi” here. It was not so long ago that you said goodbye to Rabbi Egolf and welcomed me to Beth David – although I will say that I feel so at home here that it is hard for me to believe it has been less than three years!

The rabbinic transition was followed by the first stage of our cantorial transition, when our beloved Cantor Lilia retired in June after 31 years as the voice of Beth David. Thanks to the Cantor Search Committee’s hard work, we found Cantor Jessi Roemer and Cantorial Soloist Joel Kutner to serve us on an interim basis this year, and we have been blessed by their voices and presence on the bima and in the classroom.

The second stage of our cantor search begins now, as the Cantor Search Committee resumes its work planning for the long-term musical leadership of our congregation.

As if that weren’t enough change, we are now also heading into educational transition, as our beloved educator of nearly 25 years, Susan Levey, prepares for her retirement. As Tracy shared with you last month in her email, Susan has wisely counseled us that in order for us to have a two-year window to find the right person to serve as her successor, we should begin searching this year, with the possibility that Susan will retire as early as this summer, and as late as next summer.

At their December meeting, the Board of Trustees decided to follow Susan’s suggestion, and in the next few weeks, we will be appointing the Educator Search Committee. Because some of the people who are trained in Jewish education are also rabbis, our search will likely include some candidates who would serve as a second rabbi to the congregation in addition to their role as Educator.

As difficult as it was to imagine Beth David without Cantor Lilia on the bima, it is even more difficult to imagine Beth David without either Cantor Lilia on the bima OR Susan’s loving leadership of our Religious School. Please know that the Board, the rest of the staff and I are acutely aware of what a major transition their two retirements represent. Just as Susan and Cantor Lilia cared for this congregation through so many ups and downs, so are we committed to making sure that the transition goes as smoothly as possible, that Susan is fully honored, and that the best of the Beth David spirit not get lost amid all this change. At the same time, all of this change represents a potentially once-in-a-generation opportunity to dream big about the vision for Beth David’s future, and the kind of Jewish life we want to create for ourselves and our children.  We will not be taking these decisions lightly.

If you have questions or concerns about all of this transition work, please reach out. I am grateful that our immediate past-president, Susan Anderer and the co-chair of the rabbinic search committee, Susan Cohen-Dickler have agreed to oversee the senior staff transition, and to coordinate communication between the two search committees. Please feel free to reach out to them, to me, or to Tracy, with any overall questions or concerns. If you have specific comments about Cantor Search, you can reach out to the co-chairs of the Cantor Search Committee, Judy Grinspan and Barry Siegel. For specific comments about Educator Search, you can contact the newly appointed co-chairs of the Education Search Committee, Rachel Mauceri, and Jason Newman.

With gratitude for this opportunity to lead this congregation l’dor va-dor, from one generation to the next –

Rabbi Beth Kalisch

Ten Minutes of Torah: Shemot

Those of you who have been following me on Facebook know I’m writing a weekly D’var Torah for the Monday edition of the Reform Movement‘s daily email, Ten Minutes of Torah.  I’m the writer for Exodus this year, so I’ll be publishing a D’var Torah each week through early March.  If you don’t already subscribe, I’d encourage you to ad_ten_minutes_torah_1sign up for Ten Minutes of Torah – each day of the week has a different theme, and you can sign up for as many or as few days of the week as you’d like. Since I know a lot of the readers of this blog are signed up for TMT, you can read my Divrei Torah on Mondays there – but later in the week (sometimes the following week), I’ll also be reposting them here with an added bonus.

In the Ten Minutes of Torah email, each of my Divrei Torah will be followed by a “Davar Acher” – a brief reflection written by another rabbi or scholar in response to my D’var Torah, offering a different perspective or opinion.  But on Shabbat evening at Beth David, I’ll be inviting a member of our community to give their own Davar Acher – and (most weeks) I’ll be publishing their words here on this blog along with mine.  So these blog posts will be longer than usual, but you can just scroll down if you’ve aleady read my D’var Torah on the Ten Minutes of Torah email.

To start, here’s my D’var Torah from last week’s Torah portion, Shemot, followed by a really beautiful Davar Acher from Jessi Roemer, one of the Interim Cantors at Beth David this year.

How Humble is Too Humble?
Rabbi Beth Kalisch

When we open the Book of Exodus this week, and turn to Parashat Sh’mot, we find that the Israelites are suffering under the tyranny of ego. Pharaoh, a despot who believes himself to be more powerful than God – indeed, he believes that he is a god himself – has enslaved the Israelites in order to secure his own power.

In this context, I find it particularly fitting that the leader who emerges to help the Israelites escape from Egyptian slavery is Moses, whom the Torah describes as “a very humble man, more so than any other human being on earth” (Numbers 12:3). While Pharaoh’s first words in Exodus are focused on oppressing the Israelites to consolidate his own power, our introduction to Moses in this week’s Torah portion highlights Moses’ humility and his doubts about stepping into leadership. No one can accuse Moses of being a rival to Pharaoh, of leading the Jewish people for his own self-aggrandizement. When God calls to Moses at the Burning Bush and charges him with the mission of going to Pharaoh and demanding the Israelites’ freedom, Moses humbly shrugs off the mantle of leadership five times (See Exodus 3:11, 13; 4:1; 4:10; 4:13).

First, Moses is merely modest: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh . . . ?” (Exodus 3:11) he asks God. But God assures him that God’s Presence will be with him, and so Moses need not feel intimidated. Next, Moses demeans his own standing among the Israelites and points out that he has no proof to show them that he has actually spoken with God (3:13). So God gives Moses proof: the knowledge of God’s own name, and reassures him that “they will listen to you,” (3:18). But Moses hesitates a third time: “What if they do not believe me?” (4:1). This time, God gives him physical proof in the form of a staff that becomes a snake on command, the quick healing of a skin affliction, and the promise of water turning into blood.

Still, Moses is not ready to accept. He tries a fourth time (4:10), pointing to his speech impediment or perhaps a generalized fear of public speaking, as making him a poor spokesman. When God reassures him that he is up to the task, Moses has no more excuses, but simply begs, “Please, O my lord, make someone else Your agent!” (Exodus 4:13).

Some years I read this interaction and feel inspired by Moses’ humility. This, I think, is what the world needs more of: leaders who lead only as an act of service to a greater good, not in order to feed their egos. I read it and think about how far my own humility falls short of the model that Moses sets for us. When I have stepped up to leadership, I wonder, have I always done so out of pure motives?

But this year, I’ve been thinking about humility a little differently, thanks to a midrash I read in a little-known collection that dates to the first two centuries C.E. The Rabbis who wrote this midrash imagined that far from being pleased by Moses’ humility, God must have seen it as an affront:

“They told a parable: To what is the matter alike? It is like a king who had a servant whom he loved completely. The king sought to make him his administrator… What did the king do? He took the servant by his hand, and brought him into his treasury, and showed him his silver vessels, golden vessels, fine stones and gems, and all that he possessed within his treasury. After this, he brought him outside and showed him [his] trees, gardens, parks, enclosed areas, and all that was his in the fields. Afterward, the servant closed his hand and said, ‘I am unable to be the administrator…’ The king said to him, ‘Since [you knew] that you could not be the administrator, why did you put me through all this trouble?!’ And the king was angry with him, and decreed that he should never enter his palace.” (Mekhilta De-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai1:4)1

This parable, the Rabbis explain, can be compared to God, who wanted Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and must have been angry when Moses, although he spent time talking with God at the Burning Bush, didn’t feel comfortable accepting the job. It was at this moment and for this sin, the midrash imagines, that God decreed the punishment for Moses that he would not enter the Land of Israel together with the rest of the people.2

It’s a strikingly vivid parable – one that inverts our expectations for the relationship between God and Moses, and challenges us to think about the proper balance of humility and ego. Moses was being called to serve, called to a sacred task, the midrash reminds us. For him to show such reluctance was not an act of humility, but of hubris. By making himself so small, he ended up making himself more important than the people that he was being called to serve.

I think the most challenging part of the midrash is the king’s – and hence God’s – frustration at “all this trouble” that the king has gone through, only to have the servant turn down the opportunity to serve. What a powerful image: God as a sovereign in search of a partner, frustrated that capable people refuse to help with all the work that needs to be done in the world.

And so this year, as I read the conversation at the Burning Bush, I wonder how deeply I have responded to God’s call. What is the “trouble” that God has gone to in order to prepare me to be the kind of leader that my community, my congregation, and my family need? What are the gifts I have received that will be squandered if I don’t have enough regard for them to put them to use? Like Moses, may we all find the courage to stop coming up with excuses to avoid the sacred work we know we need to do.

1) W. David Nelson, trans., annot., Mekhilta De-Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2006), p. 4

2) Ibid.

And here is Jessi Roemer’s Davar Acher:

This week’s portion, Shemot, starts us on the winter’s walk toward Spring and Pesach with the story of our slavery in Egypt, Moses’ call to leadership, and the first part of our path to freedom.

One of the pivotal scenes in this portion is when Moses encounters God at the burning bush, and God convinces Moses to take the cause of the slaves to Pharaoh. As we remember, Moses does not accept this assignment readily; he first protests several times that he is not sufficient to the task.

In her “Reform Voices of Torah” drash this week, Rabbi Kalisch eloquently posits that it may be hubris, not humility, that initially prevents Moses from accepting the call to leadership. She interprets a midrash from Shimon Bar Yochai to suggest that lack of belief in ourselves can actually be an affront to God. “What a powerful image:,” she says, “God as a sovereign in search of a partner, frustrated that capable people refuse to help with all the work that needs to be done in the world.” She asks herself, and inspires us to ask ourselves: In what ways am I not answering the call to my sacred task? Rabbi Kalisch challenges us all to recognize the sacred call in our lives and to answer it.

I agree with Rabbi Kalisch: Yes, answer the call. I want to unpack a little bit what answering the call means.

First: Recognize that there are many different types of calls and each of us has a unique contribution.

This portion headlines Moses’ slow coming to the realization that he is the only one who can confront Pharaoh on the Hebrews’ behalf. But this portion actually shows several different characters answering several different calls; each plays a unique role in this story of liberation.

For starters, Neither God nor Moses is the first savior in this story — for the whole first two chapters, Moses is a baby and God is nowhere in sight. The very first saviors, besides Yocheved, a slave woman who bravely gives birth, are the midwives Shifra and Pu’ah, who defy Pharaoh’s orders and save Moses’ life (as well as the lives of several other slave babies).

The next savior is Miriam, Moses’ sister, who cares for Moses and follows him along the river, and persuades the princess Batya to bring Moses’ own mother to the palace nurse him. Then there is Batya, who adopts Moses and raises him, and Yocheved again, who nurses him. Each of these women is answering her own sacred call, connected to but also independent of Moses. It takes a strong moral compass for a midwife to refuse a King’s order on pain of death, for a sister to insist on preserving a life that is doomed, for a princess to take into her care a baby that she knows is not only a slave, but a slave boy who could only have been kept alive in defiance of her father’s decree, and for a mother to share her child with another mother for the sake of the child. As a result of their answering their own sacred calls, all of them together – midwives, sister, and mothers – not only save baby Moses’ life, but sustain him until he is grown. Long before Moses is called to fulfill his sacred task, it is the sacred acts and the compassion of these women that get this story rolling.

So the first step is to be aware of the many different models of sacred task that are out there. Second is to become aware of your own skills, your own privilege, and your unique position to do good.
Shifra and Pu’ah don’t know they are saving the baby who will one day free a nation; they recognize that they are in a unique position to save lives, and they do. Miriam recognizes that she, unlike any of the Hebrew adults, can follow baby Moses unseen and convince Pharaoh’s daughter to bring his mother as a wet nurse. Batya knows that without her this Hebrew baby would die — she is the one person who can legitimately rescue and raise him. Yocheved is the one person best positioned to nurse him, and she does.

Moses eventually realizes how he is uniquely positioned to free the slaves, having been raised with the standing and mentality of a free man (and royalty at that), but knowing in his heart his kinship with the Hebrews. Aharon, having lived his life as a slave, cannot fill Moses’ role, but as Moses’ clear-spoken brother, he can do the speaking for Moses. Even God has a unique, but not omnipotent role: God could not have delivered the baby Moses, nursed him, or gone by Godself to demand freedom from Pharaoh. However, God’s own unique powers do position God to be the inspiration and the muscle behind Moses’ demands for justice.

Each of these characters not only has a particular skill, but recognizes how they are uniquely positioned to do good. Redemption happens when each and every character uses both their skill and their position to help.

By contrast, Ramses, who as Pharaoh is uniquely positioned to uphold the covenant between the Egyptian people and Joseph, allows his fear to override his commitment and plunges an entire people into slavery.

Third step: Recognize that you can’t do it alone. Each of the women is dependent on the others; Moses is dependent on all of them. Plus, he needs God to push and support him, he needs his brother to help him confront Pharaoh, and he later needs both his brother and his sister to help him lead the people out of Egypt. Even God, as we’ve said, requires human partners to bring about redemption. No one of these characters could have accomplished what they did alone; it is all of their actions together that result in the freeing of the slaves.

I recently came across a public letter, entitled, “To the White Parents of My Black Son’s Friends.” In it, the mother of a black child makes it clear how white allies are uniquely positioned to help protect her son from the dangerous, sometimes deadly effects of racism:

“We are doing what we can to find this bizarre balance of helping him be proud of who he is and helping him understand that not everybody is going to see him the way we see him. Some people are going to see him as a “thug” before they ever know his name, his story, his gifts and talents. But here’s the thing– as much as we can try to protect him and teach him to protect himself, there may come a time when your child will be involved. As the parents of the white friend of my black son, I need you to be talking to your child about racism. I need you to be talking about the assumptions other people might make about my son. I need you to talk to your child about what they would do if they saw injustice happening.

“If they see my son being bullied or called racist names,” she says, “they need to stand with him … If your child is with my child playing soccer at the park and the police drive by, tell your child to stay … Be a witness. In that situation, be extra polite, extra respectful. Don’t run and don’t leave my son by himself. If you are with my son, this is not the time to try out any new risky behaviors. Whatever trouble you get into, he will likely not be judged by the same standard you are. Be understanding that he can’t make the same mistakes you can.”

The letter calls on people who benefit from privilege in our system to a) become aware of the different situations they find themselves in where her son is vulnerable; b) understand how they may be uniquely positioned to help her son or someone else in his position; c) join her in the effort to keep her son safe and alive, because she cannot do it alone.

To me this is a perfect example of a call to sacred task: We all are, to different degrees, modern-day Shifras, Puahs, Yocheveds, Miriams and Batyas, Moseses and Aharons and Pharaohs. We don’t always know what part we are playing in the larger story of a people, or of our world; we don’t know how the story will end until it does. But what we do have are these moments when we may be called to a sacred task.

Sometimes the task takes a lifetime; sometimes it happens in a moment. Sometimes it requires sacrifice; sometimes it requires merely being aware. The trick is to prepare ourselves for them, and be present when they arise. What skills do we possess, and what positions do we hold, that will enable us to do good – in small or big ways – when these moments do arise? In this new Gregorian year, may we each be blessed with the clarity to realize the unique roles, skills, and the powers we have at our disposal to sustain life and bring about redemption.

Seder Supplement 5775

Here’s my annual seder supplement.  This year, all the texts are related to the eating of maror, the bitter vegetable (also called bitter herb) at the seder. Depending on how much supplementary material you’d like to add to your seder, you could pick out one question or text ahead of time to share at the point in the seder where you eat the bitter vegetable, or you could invite people to peruse the sheet and share something with the group that they find interesting. Either way, I hope the supplement will allow you to add something new to your seder this year – even if you’ve been using the same haggadahs for many years! – and to help connect our ancient Passover story to some of the pressing issues of our own day.

Seder Supplement 2015 5775 Maror Maror5775

High Holy Day Sermons 5775

Four sermons for the Days of Awe, all on the theme of 70, in honor of Beth David’s 70th anniversary:

Rosh HaShanah Evening, on Hannah and prayer: Calling Out a Name

Rosh HaShanah Morning, on Israel: 70 Names of Jerusalem

Kol Nidrei, on our congregation’s past and future: Just As They Planted For Me

Yom Kippur Morning, on Anti-Semitism: For You Know the Heart of a Stranger

Questions, comments, and conversation always welcome!

Shomrei Adamah: From the October Monthly

From Beth David’s October Monthly:

Fall is a time when all of us are paying more attention to the earth and its seasons … admiring the leaves, raking leaves, drinking pumpkin spice lattes. The Jewish calendar is particularly attuned to the earth at this time of year. Rosh Hashanah is called “HaYom Harat Olam” in our prayerbook – the day the world was born. And Sukkot, the fall harvest holiday, encourages each of us to live closer to the earth, spending time outside in the Sukkah, and bringing a lulav and etrog inside with us.

Sukkot might just be my favorite holiday, so I hope you’ll join us for some of the programs we have planned – Torah Study and breakfast in the Sukkah on the first morning of Sukkot, lunch in the Sukkah after Shabbat services during Sukkot, or the Religious School fieldtrip to Linvilla Orchards on the Sunday of Sukkot.

My installation last month is an event I will never forget, and I’m so appreciative to all of you who turned out in such large numbers and who helped make it such a special evening. I loved the connections to the earth over that weekend: from the hand-picked flowers from your gardens that decorated the tables at dinner, to the Mitzvah Night session on Judaism and climate change, to the delegation that came with me to New York City that Sunday to represent Beth David and join other Reform Jews – and 400,000 others from around the country – in the People’s Climate March. Please see our Facebook page or the back page of the Monthly for pictures from the amazing weekend!

Following Mitzvah Night and the Climate March, a few of you have asked me for suggestions about what else you can do to live up to our Jewish obligation to be Shomrei Adamah, protectors of the earth, as God commands Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). Here are two easy suggestions.

First, consider signing these petitions from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:
RAC Petition to the President and Congress regarding the UN Climate Summit:

RAC Petition to EPA supporting the Clean Power Plan proposal:

Second, consider switching to a “clean power” electricity supplier for your home or business. All of your electricity can come from a power plant fueled by wind energy. You’ll still get your bill from PECO as you always have – the difference is that PECO will use your money to buy power from a supplier using renewable energy, rather than a traditional supplier using fossil fuels. I made the switch several years ago, and my electric bill is not significantly higher than it was before. Visit for more details.

May 5775 be a year of blessing for all of us, for our people, and for all who call our beautiful planet home.

The Bitter and the Sweet: From the September Monthly

Dear Friends,

What a summer it’s been.

War in Israel and Gaza, atrocities in Syria and Iraq, an epidemic in West Africa, violence in Ferguson.  We’ve been watching suffering around the world, and worrying, too, about our own safety: about Israeli children in bomb shelters, about Americans abroad, about Jews in Europe facing anti-Semitism.  So much pain, so much fear, so much hatred that we thought the world had moved beyond.

I read the news with a heavy heart all summer, and the sadness felt both so deep and also so incongruous with my own day-to-day life, because for me, it was also a summer full of joy.  On one Shabbat in July, I announced my own engagement, heard the happy news of another Beth David member’s engagement, and had the pleasure of officiating at the aufruf, or pre-wedding blessing, of a young man who grew up at Beth David, and his fiancée. A few weeks later, I celebrated the one year anniversary of my arrival at Beth David, then as your interim rabbi.  Who would have guessed that a year later, I would still be here, partnering with so many of you to envision Beth David’s bright future, and preparing to celebrate a second High Holy Day season with you.   I look forward to celebrating with all of you at the oneg on September 5th, and especially at my installation on September 19th, when one of mentors, as well as one of my dearest friends – a rabbi who grew up at Beth David – will be our guests for Shabbat.

Al hadvash v’al haoketz, a popular Israeli song begins, “The honey and sting, the bitter and the sweet… my good God, watch over all of them.”  Al kol eileh, for all of these, for all of this bitterness and all of this sweetness, we need Rosh Hashanah.  The holiday of honey calls us to celebrate what has been sweet in the past year, and to begin the new year with a leap of faith that in the coming year, the sweet will outweigh the bitter.  For all of you whose lives have been sweet this year, may that sweetness multiply in the year to come; for all of you whose lives have been embittered, may the new year bring you a new start, a new hope. Kein y’hi ratzon– may this be God’s will for us, and for all the world, in the year ahead.