Posts

The Characteristic of Sodom (Lekh-L’kha)

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I have a problem with stuff. My main issue is that if I put something in a drawer, I immediately forget that it exists. I moved home in July, and I still have four unpacked boxes and - don’t judge me - I have no idea what’s in them.  Avram and Lot have a problem with stuff. It’s a different kind of problem to mine. In this week’s Torah portion, Lekh-L’kha, Avram responds to the call of the Divine and sets off on his journey - and he takes with him his wife, Sarai, his nephew, Lot (plus Lot’s family), and a bunch of stuff. And they continue to gain more - more riches, more people, more stuff. After leaving Egypt, Avram is described as being kaveid me’od with cattle, and silver, and gold - sometimes this gets translated as Avram being ‘very rich’, but it really means he was ‘very heavy’. He was heavy with his wealth. And Lot also had his own cattle and riches and people. And the land was not ‘big enough for the both of us’, as they say.  In more literal terms, our parashah (Gen. 13:7-8)

Who Signs the Book of Life? Neilah 5782

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B’Rosh Hashanah yikateivun uv’Yom Tzom Kippur yeikhateimun.  On Rosh Hashanah, it is written; on Yom Kippur, it is sealed. Today, I’m thinking about the words we leave behind. Books with notes in the margin: the definition of a word of phrase, ink of a highlighter over an important passage, a name scrawled in the front cover, maybe even a wish for the book’s receiver. Pages that say: Mazal tov. Good luck. Happy birthday.  That time we used a permanent marker on a white board - oops - and the faint lines of the date never quite leave, even when we haven’t walked into the building in a decade.  We are always, always writing. I’m thinking especially about all the places we’ve signed our names, time and time and time again. Checks and rental agreements and greetings cards and books and ketubot and love letters and so on and so on and so on.  How many times do you think you’ve signed your name in your life? How many times will your name be left in the world once you are no longer he

Reflections in the Johari Window - YK 5782

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While I was in the midst of Elul, my ponderings on the Season of Repentance were interrupted by the very mundane fact that my bank card details were stolen. I found myself leafing through a month’s worth of purchases and marking out what was mine and what was not. And, of course, there were in-between spaces - was it fraud, or do I just not remember? It was an unnerving experience, but it was also oddly intimate. There is some criminal out there who stole from me, and in return, I now know about their taste in clothing and pizza. (For the record: good taste in clothing; bad taste in pizza.) Of course, this interrupting my thoughts about forgiveness felt in some ways destined - because it forced me to wonder what forgiveness would look like. I cannot forgive this person because I don’t know them, they have not revealed themselves to me - and as much as I know about their preferences of ride-share services, I need a face and a name and an apology to be able to say “I forgive you”. Frau

Golden Rules and Carob Trees - Rosh Hashanah 5782

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The same ethical rule turns up in almost all religious traditions throughout the world. In our tradition, it comes from the teaching of the great sage Hillel. When asked to summarise the Torah while standing on one leg, he said: דַּעֲלָךְ סְנֵי לְחַבְרָךְ לָא תַּעֲבֵיד - that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. When asked to summarise his ethics, the Chinese philosopher Confucius said: Gay- so pat- yo , ma -seee yu yan . Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire. There we have it. Two great sages of the ancient world on one foot. The same phrase, more or less, in Classical Chinese and Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. This is what is referred to as the Golden Rule.  Confucius was born in a world of unethical behaviour and political corruption, in the late Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history - in the 6th Century BCE. He attempted to bring peace to this era of political upheaval by teaching people to act ethically. That context is clear from his teachings.

#CancelAmalek - Parashat Ki Teitzei

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This week we saw the beginning of the newest trial against R&B superstar R Kelly. It’s an awful and fascinating case for a few reasons. One of those reasons is that it was completely apparent that R Kelly was guilty thirteen years ago. I’m not going to name his crimes explicitly from the bimah because they are too awful to put into words in a holy space, but if you don’t know what they are, the fact that I won’t name them probably tells you something. The primary reason that we know that R Kelly is guilty of at least some of the accusations against him is because he committed those crimes on tape, and that tape was leaked to the public. But he got away with it thirteen years ago, and according to numerous accusers, he continued his abuse. The story of R Kelly is really, I think, the case study in Cancel Culture.  Allow me to explain. R Kelly largely got away with his crimes because of two factors: the first being R Kelly’s fame, fortune, and - I won’t underplay this - his incre