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Reb Barry's Torah Commentaries Current Year

                    For sermons from 5766 (2005-2006) click here.

                    For the sermons prior to 5765 (2004-2005 and earlier), click here
For selected sermons by subject click here

Current year (5767, 2006-2007)


Shmini 5767 -- The Power of Silence.  Traditionally, when we hear the news of the death of a loved one, we tear our clothes and say a blessing, acknowledging God as the true judge. But sometimes, loss is too overwhelming for even that. And this was the case for Aaron. In this week’s parsha, after the loss of his sons, Moses says a few words of comfort, and we are told vayidom Aharon, and Aaron was silent. Vayidom – he was struck dumb. Sometimes words fail us, and the only possible response is silence.

Shabbat Chol haMoed Pesach 5767.  Today – the Shabbat during Pesach – we have a double reminder that we were slaves in the land of Egypt. Passover itself, of course, is all about remembering our ancestral time of slavery and God’s loving redemption. And as we said at Kiddush last night, Shabbat is zacher l’tziyat Mitzrayim, a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt, as well as a zikaron l’ma’aseh bereshit, a remembrance of the Creation.

Shabbat HaGadol 5767 -- God Loves You!  God loves you.  But I don’t blame you if you don’t know it. Most rabbis forget to point this out to their congregations. I did a Google search on the phrase “God loves you.” 840,000 hits, and all the ones that come out on the first few pages are from Christian sites, mostly citing sending Jesus as the proof.

Vayikra 5767.  If I were making a movie like “Oh God!” or “Bruce Almighty” that anthropomorphizes God and gives him a human appearance, I would definitely do one scene that showed God with an apron on and an ecstatic look on His face as he flips a burger on a grill. Because God must surely love a barbecue.

Ki Tisa 5767 -- The Power of the Story.  How do you make peace with someone whose entire view of recent history is COMPLETELY different than yours?  For Jews, 1948 stands out as one of our finest hours – tiny, beleaguered Israel heroically stood up to vastly superior Arab forces in the War of Independence which gave birth to our dream of 2000 years, an independent Jewish state in Palestine.  For Palestinians the war of 1948 is called “Al-Nakba,” “The Catastrophe,” a time when the colonizing Zionists, with international support, expelled hundreds of thousands of Arabs from their homes and turned them into refugees.

Purim 5767 – God’s Hidden Miracles.  Tonight we will read Megillat Esther, the scroll or book of Esther, which tells the story of Purim. Before the Hazzan begins reading, he will recite a blessing that thanks God "who did miracles for our ancestors in those days." But what miracles did God do at Purim? Read the whole megillah – a complete book of the Bible – and turn it this way and that, and you will not find a single reference to God or to miracles.

Terumah 5767 -- God's Intellectual Property.  So this humble menorah – a beautiful and glorified candle holder – was actually a partnership between God and Man. God was the designer. God drew up the plans. God gave the detailed instructions, and according to the Midrash even provided a detailed model. And Man, the artisans of the Jewish people, built the menorah to God’s design.  God’s involvement – the design, the instructions, the plan – is all what we would call “intellectual property.” The design itself is not a physical thing – it’s an idea. And the idea for the menorah belongs to God, who shared His idea with the Jewish people.

Mishpatim 5767.  There is one law in particular I want to focus on this morning:וְכִי-יִפְתַּח אִישׁ בּוֹר אוֹ כִּי-יִכְרֶה אִישׁ בּר וְלא יְכַסֶּנּוּ “if a man opens a pit or digs a pit, and does not cover it, and an ox or donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall pay (Exodus 21:33-34).”

Yitro 5767.  Exodus 18:21. And you shall choose out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens;  As I read this verse, I reflected on how the two countries I care about most -- America and Israel -- have both been plagued with political leaders falling far short of those noble ideals. The sheer volume of scandals involving politicians in the last year is depressing. Just a small sample:

Bo 5767 -- Due Process.  You don’t want to get on God’s bad side. When God chooses to take action, God acts as jury, judge, and executioner. Even though the Midrash tells us that when we pass away, the sins that you’ve committed act as your prosecutor, and the mitzvot that you did create angels that come to your defense, there was no such “due process” for the Egyptians.

Vaera 5767 -- The Theology of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.  Do you believe in miracles?  If you saw a mamash miracle, would it firm up your faith in God?

Shemot 5767 -- Anti-Semitism.  Pharaoh was the world’s first anti-Semite. The Egyptians were the first people to persecute the Jews as a people.

Vayechi 5767 -- visiting the sick.  If we look at the examples from the Bible and the Talmud we’ve been discussing this morning, we find that those who offered theology to the ill – Job’s friends, Raba suggesting one should examine one’s deeds – did not succeed in helping. The one who helped was R. Yochanan – and all he did was to be present, offering his hand.

Vayigash 5767 -- Moving On.  Ford felt it was time for the nation to move on. To put the difficult period behind us. And so he pardoned Nixon.  Interestingly, we find a similar message in this week’s Torah reading, Vayigash. Joseph pardons his brothers for the way they mistreated him. Joseph’s pardon allows the family to move on.

Vayishlach 5767 -- Wrestling with God.  This past week the Conservative Movement did some mighty wrestling with God, and 25 our brightest and most dedicated rabbis did a lot of wrestling with each other, as they struggled to hear the voice of God and decide how gays and lesbians should be treated under halacha, under Jewish law.

Vaytetze 5767 -- Roots of Intolerance.  Would the world be better off without religion?  I have secular friends who look at what’s going on in the world around us – Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims killing each other in Iraq, Jews and Muslims killing each other in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, riots breaking out and people losing their lives over some cartoons, demonstrations against the Pope – and they ask me whether we wouldn’t be better off without religion.

Toldot 5767.  Of the three avot, “fathers” of the Jewish people, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Isaac seems to be the least appreciated and least discussed. Abraham has three parshiot, Lech Lecha, Vayera, and Chayei Sarah largely devoted to telling his story; Jacob has two, Vayeshev, and Vayishlach. But we really only hear Isaac’s story in this week’s Torah reading, Toldot. Why the lack of attention to Isaac? Is he somehow less important than his father and his son?

Chaye Sarah 5767.  The kabbahlists, the Jewish mystics, would say there is a “Torah-way” to do any action that might come your way, from giving charity to tying your shoes. The students of the rabbis of old would pay attention to every last detail of how their teachers conducted themselves, trying to tease some insight into proper conduct from every detail of their lives.  The Piasatzner Rebbe, Kalman Kalanimous Shapira, extends the idea of the role model right into the grave. He taught a d’var Torah on this week’s Torah portion, Chayye Sarah, “the life of Sarah,” which draws a profound message from not just the life of Sarah, but from her death.

Vayera 5767.  Today we read one of the most troubling passages in the Torah. To a parent, it is surely one of the scariest verses in the entire Torah.  God said “Take now your son, your only son, which you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you.”  The Koran, the sacred scripture of the Muslims, has a very similar verse: Abraham says to his son, "O my son! I have seen in a vision that I offer you in sacrifice."

Lech Lecha 5767 -- The Jews of Uganda.  Of all the different Jewish stories and journeys I’m familiar with, one of the most amazing is the story of the Abuyadaya Jews of Uganda.
The Abuyadaya are not one of the lost tribes of Israel. They make no claim to an ancient lineage dating back to the time of the first exile. They are one of the newer Jewish communities in the world. Their story, however, has many similarities to the story of Abraham which we read this morning.

Noah 5767 -- "The earth became corrupt."  With the connection to animals some synagogues offer a blessing for the animals this weekend. Creative people have made this week’s parsha a lot of fun.  Which is totally incongruous and inconsistent with the actual story.  The truth is, this week’s parsha is the scariest story in the entire Bible. We should read it and tremble instead of reading it and smiling. There are a wealth of important lessons we can learn from this truly terrifying tale of death and destruction.

Bereshit 5767 -- Science and Religion.  Fundamentalists – Jewish, Christian, or Muslim – are people who take the Scriptures’ words literally. They believe the universe is actually 5,767 years old. If you ask them “what about the fossils of dinosaurs” you’ll get a variety of responses, including “God made them that way to fool with us.”  Whether you use the Jewish calculations or the Christian calculations the results are a very long way indeed from what science tells us: that the universe is 14 billion years old, and our planet Earth has been around for 4 billion of them.  What are we to do with this glaring inconsistency? Which is it? 14 billion years, or 5,767 years?

Shmini Atzeret 5767  Today is Shmini Atzeret – a day the Torah tells us is a holiday in its own right, separate but connected to Sukkot.  Shmini Atzeret is the 22nd day of Tishrei. It’s the 22nd day we have had in at least a “semi-holiday” mood.  We’ve gone from two days of Rosh Hashanah to Shabbat Shuvah to the intensity and fasting of Yom Kippur to a week of Sukkot, extra prayers yesterday on Hoshanah Rabbah, all leading up to today – Shmini Atzeret, and tomorrow Simchat Torah.  I am almost embarrassed to admit that this time of year I often start to feel “oy, enough with the holidays already!”

Sukkot 5767 -- Be Happy!  Tonight begins the Festival of Sukkot, one of Judaism's three harvest festivals. Sukkot includes one of my favorite commandments: "you shall rejoice seven days before the Lord your God."

Yom Kippur 5767 -- A House of God.  What is it that makes a synagogue a House of God?
It’s not an impressive ark, it’s not the Ner Tamid, it’s not the stained glass or the art on the walls. As Rabbi Goldberg pointed out at the dedication of this building nearly fifty years ago, God does not dwell in time or space, but in spiritual qualities and ideals.

Kol Nidre 5767 -- Why We're Making Aliyah.  God willing, this time next year, Lauri and I, and our three youngest children will be living in Israel. We won’t just be tourists or there on sabbatical, we’ll be citizens of the world’s only Jewish state. The fact that we can do that – that we can go live in a Jewish country – is truly miraculous.

Shabbat Shuvah 5767.  We are two days away from Yom Kippur. In two days, after a very intense 24 hours of fasting and praying, we will all go home from the synagogue feeling spiritually refreshed, forgiven for our sins of the past, able to go out and start the new year fresh.  But being forgiven is only half the battle. If we don’t find it in our hearts to forgive we will be starting the year still carrying a bunch of baggage from the year before. Perhaps from many years before.

Rosh Hashanah 5767 -- Will There Ever be Peace in the Middle East?  A few weeks ago I met with this year’s confirmation class for the first time. The Jewish tradition encourages asking questions, so I like to start the year having the 10th graders come up with a list of questions they’d like answered. And they come up with great questions—like “How do we know there’s a God?” or “Does God answer more if you pray more?”  But when one of the students asked that opening question – “will there ever be peace in the Middle East?” – I have to admit that for a moment I felt, “oy, you couldn’t ask an easier question?”

Rosh Hashanah 5767 --God Needs You.  So why have we had generations of rabbis acting like parents saying “Eat your Judaism, it’s good for you!” and generations of congregants acting like kids facing a plate of limp broccoli?


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