Showing posts from September, 2018

Hadasim / Myrtles: the branches that bind

See my other essays on the remaining plants of the Arba Minim (4 Species):  Lulav: Etrog: Willows: Among the Four Species used on Sukkot, the myrtle branches (Hadasim) seemed to me to be the most innocuously pleasant.  The Etrog is fragile; the Lulav is dangerous with its sharp leaves; the willows quickly dry out. The myrtle branches are, in my experience,most likely to survive Sukkot intact without harming itself or others.  And the myrtle leaves have a fresh, vaguely Mediterranean scent   - best unleashed by crumpling up the leaves, or by scratching the myrtle branch itself.   In fact, unlike all the other parts of the Four Species, it is not particularly difficult to keep the myrtles fresh and fragrant for weeks and even months aft

"Through the narrow passage" (Sermon for 2nd day of Rosh HaShanah, 2018)

The story is told of a rabbi, a priest, and an imam who all receive a message from God.  The message is that God has finally had it with all of humanity’s sins once and for all. And in six months time, God is going to punish everyone with a flood, but there will be no Noah’s Ark this time. The religious leaders go to their people to share this grim news.   The priest and imam say to their people:  “We now have six months to purify ourselves before we meet our God. We have six months to pray, to beg for forgiveness, and hopefully our God will be merciful to us.” And the rabbi goes to his people and says, "Fellow Jews:  we now have 6 months to learn to breathe under water." Why was I thinking of this old old joke throughout the summer?  Because of a story in the news that you certainly saw. In a year full of so many terrible news stories, with so much sadness and heartache, there was at least one news item that everyone could celebrate - even though it was so stre

"Listen to the Stories" (Rosh HaShanah sermon at the United Synagogue of Hoboken, September 10, 2018)

I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in astrology.  With one exception. I find it very moving that the astrological sign for this time of year is Libra - the scales - which have been a symbol of justice for so many centuries. One nickname of Rosh HaShanah is Yom Ha-Din - the day of judgment.  Throughout the high holiday season, our prayers use the image of a courtroom.  This is the day when, from the perspective of Jewish tradition, we each feel judged, and we make every effort to judge ourselves.  In the stirring prayer Unetaneh Tokef , we confront the elaborate metaphor that each of us has our verdict inscribed in a fearsome heavenly book, determining our fate for the coming year. So for the sages of our tradition, who were more interested in the zodiac than you might have thought, it was no surprise that the astrological sign for this time of year is Libra - the scales of justice - which our sages referred to by the Hebrew name - ‘ מאזניים Moznayim.’  For them, thi