Tuesday, October 27th 2020   |

Say Little, Do Much

Yahrzeit

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Yahrzeit – commemoration of a loved one on the anniversary of his or her death – is a wise and therapeutic response to the fact that the mourning process never entirely ends. Yahrzeit beckons us to take stock of the spiritual and moral legacy of the departed, which has been entrusted to our care. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the life of someone...

Veterans

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

After God drowned the Egyptian army at the Red Sea, our Israelite ancestors sang their triumphant song, declaring, “The Lord is a man of war.” What does this suggest about the nature of God… or of God’s view of armed conflict?

Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality,...

Twice

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

As a child, one of my favorite holiday songs was Ani Purim, which asks, madua lo tavo, Purim, paamayim ba-shavua: “Why, O Purim, do you not come twice every week?!”

While such a proposal seems, at best, impractical, the lessons of Purim should not be restricted to one day a year. Purim celebrates the responsibility of individual Jews in securing Jewish national survival. Purim reminds...

Thankfully

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

The first prayer we customarily offer each morning are words of gratitude: Modeh/Modah ani – we thank God for restoring us to life and awareness when we wake. This ritual pattern is worthy of a religious tradition which takes “thanksgiving” as its very name.

“Judaism” derives from Judah, son of Jacob and Leah. Upon Judah’s birth, his mother said, “Now I will gratefully acknowledge (or...

Combatants

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Rabban Gamliel was Nasi – head of the Sanhedrin – ancient Israel’s national deliberative body and highest court. A brilliant scholar and able leader, Gamliel had a fatal character flaw. He repeatedly introduced bitter partisan rhetoric and ad hominem attacks into the Sanhedrin’s debates.

Tellingly, he referred to that august rabbinic institution’s members as baalei trisim – “armored combatants” (Berachot 27B). Gamliel demeaned Rabbi Yehoshua...

Rain

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Geshem – the Prayer for Rain – is chanted on Shemini Atzeret, the concluding day of Succot. Cantors dress in a white robe or Kittel, as on the High Holy Days, reflecting the importance of the prayer, the sanctity of the occasion, and the function of Shemini Atzeret (with Simchat Torah) as the final act of the Holiday season.

Beginning with Geshem, a second, brief...

Holidays

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Henny Youngman, the stand-up comic known as “The King of the One-Liners,” quipped: “I once wanted to become an atheist, but I gave up – They have no holidays.”

The month of Mar-Cheshvan (also known as Cheshvan) is notable for its unique and defining lack of all holiday observances. The absence of festivals stands in stark contrast to the month of Tishri, which Mar-Cheshvan immediately...

Again

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

In one of my family’s favorite movies, “The Princess Bride,” Inigo Montoya (played by Mandy Patinkin) avers: “You told me to go back to the beginning, so I have.” His statement represents a turning point. Montoya here begins his transition from a dissolute and lawless past to a heroic and redemptive future.

Going back to the beginning is the defining experience of Simchat Torah. We...

Shade

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

The Festival of Succot prescribes, as its central observance, the construction of temporary shelters – the Succah – in which we “dwell” throughout the Holiday and, especially, eat our meals. Rabbi Akiba teaches that the Succah represents God’s protective Presence during the wilderness period (Sifra 17:11). Rabbi Eliezer disagrees: the Succah reprises the make-shift Israelite shelters of that era.

The Mishnah stipulates that the Succah...

Tashlich

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

It is customary on Rosh Hashanah, or later during the Ten Days of Repentance, to perform the ceremony of “Tashlich.” We go to a body of water and symbolically cast off our past sins and failings by throwing bread (or pocket lint!) into the water. We recite Micah 7:19 – “God will have compassion upon us… and You will cast all our sins into the...