The Symbolism of Light

The Symbolism of Light

Dec 27, 2003 By Lauren Eichler Berkun | Commentary | Hanukkah

As the menorah shines with all eight candles on this Shabbat Hanukkah, I am inspired to reflect on the powerful spiritual metaphor of light in the Jewish tradition.

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Repairing Jonah’s Sukkah

Repairing Jonah’s Sukkah

Oct 11, 2003 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Sukkot | Yom Kippur

This coming Friday evening we herald in the first festival of the Jewish year, Sukkot. Between Motzei Yom Kippur (the evening concluding Yom Kippur) and Friday, sukkot (temporary booths) are built all around the Jewish world. It is an especially memorable event in Israel where cities and villages alike are transformed by the festival greenery. Special markets spring up across the country peddling the four species that are brought together as we celebrate the absolute joy of the holiday. The fragrance of the etrog embraces all as we enter the sukkah, declaring our faith in God’s protection. That said, the sukkah is not only at the essence of Sukkot; the sukkah, in all its beauty and symbolism provides a powerful bridge between the most sacred day of the year, Yom Kippur, and the harvest festival of Sukkot.

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Torah and Teshuvah

Torah and Teshuvah

Sep 20, 2003 By Lauren Eichler Berkun | Commentary | Nitzavim | Vayeilekh | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

The beautiful and famous words of this week’s parashah have always touched my heart. This year, I read the following passage with new lenses, as I immerse myself in the month of Elul and the spiritual preparations for teshuvah. The Torah teaches:

“Surely, this Instruction (Ha-Mitzvah Ha-Zot) which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it” (Deut. 30:11-14).

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How To Choose Life

How To Choose Life

Aug 31, 2002 By Melissa Crespy | Commentary | Nitzavim | Vayeilekh | Rosh Hashanah

We stand at an exciting and important time in the Jewish year. We stand less than two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, when so many of us will spend hours in synagogue praying for a good, healthy and fulfilling new year. We stand in a moment of transition, filled with potential. There is so much we can do, so much we can learn, so much we can become.

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Torah In Our Mouths

Torah In Our Mouths

Oct 1, 2005 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Nitzavim

Mystical streams within any given religion would have us believe that to be in God’s presence, one must separate oneself wholly from the material world. Routine distractions must be cast aside in order to experience the sacred. Yet, while meditation and reflection have their place in religious encounters, Judaism places its emphasis and value on the attachment to community. Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of Our Ancestors, teaches, “Do not separate yourself from the community.” The locus of moral and ethical strivings must be rooted in the building of life. Prolonged separation from community often leads one to paths of selfishness, zealotry, and destruction. Parashat Nitzavim is timed perfectly before the renewal of our Jewish lives on Rosh Hashanah – reminding us precisely how close a life of holiness is to our everyday lives.

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Raising the Bar

Raising the Bar

Sep 24, 2005 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Parashat Ki Tavo showcases the creativity of the rabbinic sages and offers a unique challenge to enhance our Jewish learning. The Torah reading opens with a declaration that each farmer had to say when he brought the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple, giving gratitude for the fruit, and ultimately recognizing the God who made his livelihood possible. The Israelite would recite a lengthy passage, a synopsis of Jewish history, beginning, “A wandering Aramean was my father” and ending, “He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore now I bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O Lord, have given me” (Deuteronomy 26:5–10).

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Shattering Our Idols

Shattering Our Idols

Sep 4, 2004 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tavo | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

Judaism tantalizes the senses with the sights, sounds and fragrant smells that characterize its observance. Rosh Hashanah is certainly one of those times when we are overwhelmed by the richness of Jewish symbolism. At the heart of our New Year observances, however, lies the piercing cry of the shofar. What is the meaning of the shofar? Many explanations have been offered to explain why we blow the shofar during the month of Elul into Rosh Hashanah, and at the close of Yom Kippur. Included in these interpretations are the following: it signifies creation, specifically of the beginning of God’s kingship, it is meant to remind us to hearken to the blasts echoing from God’s revelation at Sinai, it links us to the binding of Isaac since the shofar is a symbol for the ram caught in the thicket by its horns that ultimately is offered to God in place of Isaac; and, that the sharp sound of the shofar is to be understood to be a call to teshuvah, repentance.

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Moments of Transition

Moments of Transition

Sep 13, 2003 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Liminal moments are often marked by meaningful ceremonies. A baby is welcomed into the covenant of the Jewish people through a simhat bat or brit milah ceremony. Children celebrate becoming a bar or bat mitzvah by being called to the Torah. Marriage is marked by a ritual of kiddushin (sanctification) under the huppah. So too are such moments ritualized in the annual Jewish calendar. One need only think of the coming High Holidays — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — to be reminded of the special rituals that transition us into the new year (the sounding of the shofar, tashlikh, and the ascetic laws in observance of Yom Kippur).

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“The World Belongs to God”

“The World Belongs to God”

Aug 24, 2002 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Ki Tavo | Pesah | Rosh Hashanah

The month of Elul is a time for preparation for the High Holy Days. Some industrious hosts and hostesses are already making tzimmes and putting it in the freezer. Other kinds of preparations are being made, too– studying, thinking about and discussing the themes and meanings of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur so that these holidays are not just repetitions of prior years. Even our weekly Torah readings, seemingly disconnected from anything to do with the High Holy Days, can be read through Elul eyeglasses.

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Redeemed for This Reason

Redeemed for This Reason

Sep 17, 2005 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

Hurricane Katrina united our country in common empathy and purpose. The outpouring of support, monetary and otherwise, has been greater than most of us could have hoped for or imagined. But was it really so surprising? The Torah suggests that our national response was correct but would not have expected any less.

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