From my Erev Yom Kippur sermon last Tuesday:
I’ve often thought that there’s (a different Torah portion) that is just as appropriate – perhaps even more appropriate – for Yom Kippur. I’m referring to the famous episode in the 32nd and 33rdchapters of Genesis, when Jacob wrestles on a riverbank with a mysterious stranger the night before he meets up with his estranged twin brother Esau.
Anyone who’s read or studied this text will attest that it’s a phenomenal story with deliciously rich spiritual symbolism. Indeed, I often find myself returning to this portion for its insights on forgiveness, reconciliation and personal transformation. All of which, of course, are central themes to the Yom Kippur holiday.
So on this Yom Kippur eve, please allow me to submit this story as an alternative Torah portion for your spiritual consideration. I hope its lessons will help us all engage more deeply in the spiritual work that lays ahead this coming new year.
Click below to read the entire sermon:
From my Erev Rosh Hashanah sermon last Sunday:
Isn’t it profoundly presumptuous to say our God is the only God? I think we can all agree that right and wrong that should apply to everyone, without exceptions, but whose right and whose wrong are we talking about? Why should our faith system – or any faith system – get to determine the will of this universal moral authority? It’s all well and good to affirm that we all serve one universal God, but history is replete with examples of heinous acts committed by people of faith who believed the rest of the world should do their God’s bidding.
Click below to read the entire sermon:
I’m presently writing some new liturgy for the High Holidays. Here’s a sneak peek: my take on the Unetaneh Tokef prayer:
I see you standing there alone
eyes searching through the blankness
of a year stretching limitlessly on like a
book waiting to be written.
Don’t bother glancing behind.
Don’t pretend you’re unaware
that in a year’s time
a world can be shattered
or born anew.
Just gaze forward
and we’ll ask the questions together:
Will it be a year of curse
or a year of blessing?
Of wounding or
Throw open your hands and
let your hopes and fears fly out
past the blank pages
of a year yet to be.
Dare to believe that we will all
be written for blessing in
the Book of Sweet, Sweet Life.
Now close your eyes and we’ll send off
this one audacious prayer:
May the new year bless us
with health, wholeness,
This one is better late than never: Check out 17 year old Chicago slam poet Tova Benjamin perform her poem “I’m Not an Envelope Opener” at Louder Than a Bomb (a Chicago youth slam poetry competition) this past March. Her piece, which powerfully explores her upbringing as an orthodox Jew in West Rogers Park, helped her successfully advance to the final round of competition. Tova was one of the top thirteen individual poets in the festival, out of a field of over 800 young writers.
If you’re interested in learning more about Tova and her work, click here to hear her and another LTAB finalist, Keith Warfield, interviewed on Chicago Public Radio.
If you’re inclined in the non-theist direction, you might be surprised to learn that there are at least as many varieties of atheism as there are forms of religious belief. Check out this really fascinating piece, “Seven Types of Non-Believers” by psychologist and religious journalist Valerie Tarico.
My favorite passage:
Some atheists think of agnostic as a weenie term, because it gets used by people who lack a god-concept but don’t want to offend family members or colleagues … But in reality, the term agnostic represents a range of intellectual positions that have important substance in their own right and can be independent of atheism.
look at me gaze
cracks know you are
safe see you are
loved now reach
through and touch
Check out this lovely dialogue on the meaning of “chosenness” in Zeek Magazine by two eloquent Reconstructionist rabbinical colleagues: Rabbis Deborah Waxman and Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer.
Ever since Reconstructionist Judaism’s founder Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan famously (some believe infamously) dispensed of the Chosen People idea from his conception of Jewish theology, its meaning has been a point of lively debate in our movement. Here’s a taste of how that conversation is playing out now in the 21st century:
Rejecting chosenness is an explicit embrace of a modern discourse pointing toward universal truths; it is an articulation of harmonious and consistent principles out of competing voices. Rejecting chosenness is about getting down to the hard work of being one of the many peoples of the world, jostling with one another on the path toward the divine, rather than holding ourselves separate and nurturing a belief in God-given superiority. As postmoderns, we may have the capacity to hold multiple and conflicting values. When it comes to chosenness, I would argue that that we should not indulge in this capacity; by moving beyond chosenness, we make a deliberate statement about our highest values.
(No) matter what I choose in my own religious practice, I cannot simply ignore a core piece of our tradition. The idea of chosenness has not gone away. As a Jew, I still own it, even if I do not speak of it in my prayers. In the interfaith encounter, I have to resist the temptation to claim only the parts of Judaism I love. If I skip over the Jewish ideas I find objectionable or, more often, if I explain that they belong to someone else – “the mistaken Jews” – I am acting in a way that is both arrogant and untrue to my own pluralistic commitments. My dialogue principles require that I learn to understand the beliefs of my co-religionists even when I do not share them.
god said to moses i established my
covenant with abraham isaac and jacob to
give them the land of canaan this sounds to me like the
voice of imperial ambition god said to moses i will harden
pharoah’s heart that i may multiply my signs and marvels in
the land of egypt this sounds to me like
the voice of insecurity god said to moses i
have spared you in order that my fame may resound
throughout the world this sounds to me like the voice of
hubris god said to moses lift your rod and
i will strike the nile with the blood of our babies let
it overrun the land of egypt until it rots this sounds to
me like the voice of pain god said to moses i have heard the
cries of the israelites i will free them from their
bondage and set them free to serve an even greater
good this sounds to me like the
voice of god
(Exodus 6:2-6, 7:19, 9:16)
the israelites cried out to god a
shout hurtling into space shining like a
star that would not die like a luminous
ball of plasma burning on and
on like the thermonuclear fusion of endless boundless
hydrogen that can never be exhausted
light emanating from proxima centauri takes
4.22 light years to be seen on earth it took 400 years
for oppression to transform into
liberation burning white hot but
I got into a brief theological kerfuffle in the Twittersphere today over Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who openly (and for some, obnoxiously) expresses his evangelical Christian faith. After Tebow led the Broncos to a dramatic overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers (and as usual, thanked God for the victory), a friend of mine tweeted:
according to Tebow, God has nothing better to do than help him win football games. Tebow is the Santorum of quarterbacks.
To which I responded:
From a Denver fan pov, it’s not that God wants Tebow to win, it’s that this belief gives him the edge he needs to win games.
My friend then tweeted me back:
Tebow sure doesn’t see it that way. His ostentatious proselytizing is loathsome and contemptible.
Loathsome and contemptible? I dunno, I don’t agree at all with his politics or theology, but those are pretty strong words. I’d sooner use those words to describe roethlisberger’s behavior than tebow’s…
My friend responded to this:
if the best you can say about Tebow is that he’s a better man than Roethlesrapist you’ve made my point for me.
never said that was the best I could say about him. Only applied ur words more appropriately.
Another Tweeter chimed in:
I can’t fault Tebow for his faith, but I can fault Roethlisberger for his actions.
Further thoughts welcome…