Rabbi Weintraub’s Teachings
The Rabbi’s brief commentaries on the Torah portion are featured in our monthly Kane Street News publication, Kane Yirbu.
L’fi Dati: Message from Rabbi Weintraub
Yizkor: The How of Jewish Memory
Our Torah in an unique and essential way is a book of history. While the sacred texts of other ancient religions are often written as poetry, epic sagas, or collections of maxims, the Torah is almost entirely the prosaic story of our ancient father and mothers from Abraham and Sarah through the forty year desert wandering.
It is very strange then that there is no word in classical Hebrew for “history”. There is no Mitzvah in the Bible to research, and not much attention is given to recounting. There are however numerous mitzvot, commandments in which we are bidden lizkor to remember. Memory is the central value, not history.
How do we remember? How do we keep lit the Ner Tamid, the eternal light of our tradition? Is it by knowledge of facts, people, wars and regimes? Is it by surveys and courses?
Jewish memory lives in the heart. When we remember, we don’t just recall events that happened to someone else. We feel a claim that they make on us. So the Haggadah famously teaches, “In every generation, one must see oneself as if he or she personally came out of Egypt”.
One of the most well attended Jewish services is Yizkor, our memorial prayers for the dead. The Hebrew root Z CH R means to remember but the term Yizkor often refers to the future. G-d Yizkor/remembered Noah and brought him and his household out of the Ark. G-d Yizkor/remembered the cries of the Israelite slaves and planned their liberation. We remember not just to learn past events, but to direct ourselves towards a more just future.
We rightfully consider it a tragedy when a person forgets his or her childhood friends, brothers, sisters, or earliest, formative experiences. It is no less a tragedy when the struggles and the faith of our forbears is derided or lost.
We have now, through digital technology, massive information easily available about our family backgrounds and genealogies. Yet the children I speak to these days are less aware of their family histories then my pre-internet childhood friends, fifty years ago, in our first generation Jewish community in Washington, DC.
Passover challenges this amnesia. As all Jewish ritual, it does so in a paradoxical way. By conserving and hallowing the old, we bolster our ability to change. We remember that a fractious, powerless and errant pack of slaves took on an empire. To quote Jerusalem philosopher Rabbi David Hartman, of blessed memory, “the act of protest against (our) environment can occur because the Jews possess a memory of the impossible that became possible”.
At Pesach, we take this epic, world changing story of the Exodus and bring it into the hearts and minds of amcha, of Jews of all ages and all literacy. The bridge must be personal. Who from the Jewish past can you bring into your Seder? What hero, heroine, or story has inspired you, or helped you through a vulnerable time? Who would you set up as a model for your children? What Jewish struggle might you research and teach at this year’s Seder? What knowledge or insight do you have this year that you did not have last year? What would you like to learn?
Chag Kasher V’samei’ach, a Happy and Kosher Pesach!
Li’fi Dati: Uniting Jewish Culture and Jewish Belief
Frequently, I have conversations with Jews whom I love and respect, inside our Synagogue and out, in which my friend poses some version of the following:
“Rabbi, I like the community, but I’m just not into services. I’m more into the culture.”
“I often like often what you have to say, but I’m a cultural Jew, not religious.”
“Rabbi, don’t take it personally. You and the Synagogue have been there for me and my family at very important times, but my identity is about family and food and customs, not about belief.”
I’m the last person to underestimate the importance, demands and uniqueness of our faith. It holds forth very particular ideas about G-d, human nature, redemption, the future of humanity, and more. As a Conservative Jew, our commitments include a sweeping network of ethical and ritual commandments, which govern everything we do from washing our hands upon arising to preparing for bed at night. READ MORE HERE
Aging with Honor and Happiness
Last year I turned 60 and realized that even if I am granted the Jewish ideal of 120 years I have more of them behind me than before me. I began to mine Jewish texts and traditions for wisdom about aging. In few other areas have I seen so much dissonance between Jewish values and popular, contemporary American values.
In America, we view old age with fear, disdain, confusion, and dishonesty. We spend more money on surgeries, treatments, and cosmetics to hide old age than on research to treat cancer and its other scourges. For those ages 50 and up, lying about one’s age is socially acceptable. We spend billions on birthday parties for toddlers but shun visits to nursing homes. We idolize beauty in the young, but compliment the elderly only if they look “years younger.” Rabbi Harold Kushner, descrying the stigma of aging, challenges us, “Do you doubt that? Try this little experiment. Go into a store where greeting cards are sold and look at birthday cards for middle aged men and women. They will almost all be about loss, about life slipping, about the fact that we are losing our figures and our vigor.” 2013.11.Aging with Honor and Happiness
Elul, the month before Rosh Hoshana, is one of the most intense times in Jewish life. We review our lives and strive to become closer to G-d and our G-d given potential.
The day before Rosh Hoshana has unique significance and special laws and customs. We sound the Shofar in Synagogue every weekday morning during Elul except for Rosh Hoshana Eve. Why?
Kabbala sees here a reflection of a cosmic process. It imagines that just before Rosh Hoshana the world “goes to sleep.” This does not mean that the world stops functioning, anymore than our bodies cease to exist when we sleep at night. However, the inner Divine Will which purposefully animates the world temporarily recedes. For the day before Rosh Hoshana, this Will ponders and evaluates creation, just as Jews reflect during this period on their lives. 2013.09.TheChoiceIs Ours
Rabbi’s Teachings 2013
Rabbi’s Teachings 2012
Rabbi’s Teachings 2011
Rabbi’s Teaching, September & October 2011
Rabbi’s Teachings 2010
Toldot, “Enough!” November 5, 2010
Rabbi’s Teachings 2009
Chukkat-Balak – “Don’t Lose Yourself When You “Lose It” – July 3, 2009
Korach – “Exposing Ourselves” – June 26, 2009
Sh’lach L’cha – “Protecting Ourselves” – June 19, 2009
B’ha’a'lotcha – “Your Heart and Your Mouth” – June 12, 2009
Naso – “Being Identical Is Special” – June 5-6, 2009
Bamidbar/Shavuot – “Live Beyond Your Means” – May 22-29, 2009
B’har-B’chukotai – “The Rear View” – May 15-16, 2009
Emor – “Showing up is 90% of Success” – May 8-9, 2009
Acharei Mot-K’doshim, “Monitoring Your Heart’s Intake” – May 1-2, 2009
Tazria M’tzora, “What’s inside a problem” – April 24-25, 2009
“Passover: External and internal observance” – Nisan 5769 | April 2009
Vayikra, “Hold that spice!” – March 27, 2009
H’Chodesh, “I am beautiful!” – March 20, 2009
Ki Tissa, “Avoiding Panic” – March 13, 2009
Zachor, “Keeping Judaism Fresh” – March 7, 2009
Terumah, “How Do We Slow Down” – February 27, 2009
Mishpatim, “The Great Vision of Jewish Law” – February 20, 2009
Yitro, “Becoming More Jewish” – February 13, 2009
B’shalach, “We Are How We Eat” – February 6, 2009
Bo, “Why Choseness is OK” – January 30, 2009
Va’era, “Why believe in one G-d?” – January 23, 2009
Sh’mot, “Fighting Justly” – January 16, 2009