Satire audio I just created… Parody BBC interview with Ram Bamba, the secretive leader of the radical militant cell, Shlama Hashta (which means “peace now” in Aramaic).
D’var Torah – Shavuot 5769
Rabbi Maurice Harris
Shabbat shalom and gut yontiff. As we celebrate our 2nd Shavuot in our new home, I want to ask us all to take a moment to look around. We are so blessed. We have now completed one full cycle of Jewish holy days and sacred seasons, one full year of the cycle of the Five Books of Moses, one full year of ups and downs, controversies and moments of serenity, one full year of mitzvot and of mistakes. One full year of life. There are so many people who worked so hard to make this new home possible, and we have only just begun to discover the ways we can continue to grow as a community in this amazing space. Shavuot is a festival of offering our first fruits, the first fruits of our labor, to God. We, as a community, now can offer one year’s worth of Jewish living to the Eternal One as an expression of our thanks and our desire to bring greater meaning and unity into our lives and into the world.
Over the last 24 hours we have engaged three different texts in our observance of Shavuot. Last night we studied the Book of Ruth, which is traditionally chanted at Shavuot, and this morning we read the story of the giving of the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai in the Book of Exodus. Then, Rabbi Yitzhak chanted the assigned reading from the books of the prophets, which happened to be from the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel.
Ruth, the 10 Commandments, and Ezekiel. Something I noticed about these three readings is where they take place. The Torah reading featuring the dramatic revelation at Mt. Sinai takes place not in the land of Israel, but in the Sinai desert, in the wilderness, in an in-between place that was neither Egypt nor the Promised Land. Ezekiel takes place in ancient Babylon, and tells the story of the visions and activities of a prophet who was sent into exile in Babylon along with the entire leadership of the ancient Israelite community some 2, 600 years ago. That leaves the Book of Ruth. Ruth takes place partly in the land of Moab, just to the east of the Land of Israel, and partly in the territory of Judah, which was part of ancient Israel. It is the Book of Ruth that brings us geographically closest to Jerusalem, as Ruth ends up making her new life as a Jew by choice in Bethlehem, which is only a few kilometers away from Jerusalem. Although the Book of Ruth never specifically mentions Jerusalem, because the city had not yet become the Israelites’ capital, the last words of the book point to Jerusalem. As many of you may know, the Book of Ruth ends with a genealogy that shows Ruth to be the ancestor of King David, and David’s name is the final word of the book. The Book literally points towards a Jerusalem that has not yet been realized, a Jerusalem of the future.
It is that idea – a Jerusalem that has not yet been realized, a Jerusalem of the future – that caught my attention these last days.
The city’s name, Yeru-shalayim, roughly means “they will see peace” or “the inheritance – yerushah – will be peace.” Yet for the last 2500 years, Jerusalem has known so much war and far too little peace. As we all know, Jews, Christians and Muslims all consider Jerusalem to be sacred, and the mythic encounters with the Divine that are so central to all three of the Abrahamic religions intimately involve Jerusalem and the Temple mount itself. Just to illustrate this with one small example: in Arabic Jerusalem is called al-Quds, meaning “the holy.” This is from the same Semitic language root that forms the word kadosh in Hebrew. It’s as if our people had named the city ha-kadosh. And in fact, we have, as one of the city’s Jewish nicknames is Ir ha-kodesh, “the holy city.”
Note: Translated from the Hebrew. All names have been changed.
Officer 1: Let the record note that we’re beginning this interview at 05:44 local time and we are recording this conversation. We have a few questions for you, Rabbi Schechter. Where were you between 19:00 and 20:00 on the evening of June 5, 2018?
Rabbi: At the Beach Plaza Hotel near Haifa.
Officer 1: And what were you doing there?
Rabbi: Officiating a wedding between two Jews.
Officer 1: Who said you could do that?
Rabbi: Well, I’ve been doing it for 35 years.
Officer 2: Answer the question!
Officer 1: No, it’s okay, Rafi. He’s cooperating. Rabbi, can I get you anything? Cigarette? Coffee? Bamba?
Rabbi: No thank you.
Officer 1: Are you sure? There’s nothing like Bamba–
Officer 2: Stop coddling him, Shmulik. Rabbi, why did you do it!? Tell us now or it won’t go easy for you!!
Rabbi: The wedding?
This essay appeared in the RRA Connection, the newsletter of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, in 2014.
I’m guessing that many of us have given a d’var at some point that cited the passage in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot 32b, that reads, “From the day that the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer have been closed . . . but even though the gates of prayer are closed, the gates of tears are not closed.”
I’ve always been struck by what this, and some of the surrounding passages in the Talmud, appear to reveal about the attitudes of the early rabbis towards God. For instance, right after this sha’aray dimah [gates of tears] passage, we also read, “Since the day that the Temple was destroyed, a wall of iron has been established between Israel and their Father in Heaven.” (I left the male God imagery unaltered because it offers the poignant metaphor of a child unable to access his or her parent.)
As one studies the whole of this page of Talmud, one also finds passages that nevertheless offer reassurance that, with great effort and sincerity, we can still reach God and move God to compassion. For instance, “Every person who lengthens their prayer – their prayer will not be returned empty (ayn tefilato chozeret ray-kam).” And, “If a person sees that s/he has prayed but it is unanswered, s/he should pray again, as it says in Scripture, ‘Wait for the Eternal, be strong and let your heart take courage,’ etc.” Continue reading “The gates of the ancient rabbis”
This is a talk I gave at Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, Oregon in 2010. Though it is now almost a decade later, and we continue to lurch from Gaza-Israel crisis to crisis, as I just re-read it, it seems very applicable to this time.
In this week’s Torah portion, called Shelach Lecha, we find the Israelites at a critical crossroads in their early history as a free people. A little over a year has passed since they escaped slavery in Egypt, and they’ve arrived close to the border of their destination – the Promised Land. God commands Moses to select a team of 12 leaders – one from each of the tribes – and assign them the mission of scouting out the Promised Land. They are to take a full tour of the land, and then return and make a report to Moses and the Israelites.
After spending 40 days scouting out the land, the team returned to the Israelite encampment in the wilderness of Paran. They brought samples of the land’s produce, including a cluster of grapes so large it had to be attached to a large wooden pole and carried by two men.
THIS IS A WORK-IN-PROGRESS THAT I’M GOING TO BE EDITING AND CHANGING, POSSIBLY A LOT. I’M NOT SURE I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING IN THE ESSAY AS IT IS. I STARTED IT IN 2012 AND THOUGHT IT WOULD BE A SUBSTANTIVE LECTURE, AND I’VE RETURNED TO IT A FEW TIMES. THERE’S LOTS THAT HAS HAPPENED, ESPECIALLY SINCE THE TRUMPOCALYPSE BEGAN, THAT HAS IMPACTED MY THINKING ON THESE ISSUES. SO IF YOU’RE READING THIS, PLEASE KEEP THIS CAVEAT IN MIND. -MAURICE
Few nations evoke such strong feelings, either positive or negative, as the State of Israel. I come to my relationship with Israel as a Jewish-American rabbi from a liberal denomination of Judaism and as part of a large family of Moroccan Jews who live in Tel Aviv. I spent much of my childhood in Israel, my Hebrew is good, and I love being there. I love the language, the way the light looks, the history, and the mix of Jews from many lands who come in different skin colors and have different accents. Israel is in my heart and there’s no un-doing that. I disagree with many of the Israeli government’s actions, but I love Israel unconditionally. My love for the U.S. is similar.
This is an essay I wrote on behalf of Reconstructing Judaism. You can check it out at: