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TEMPLE EMANU-EL

A Reform Jewish Community for all of Tucson
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Yom Rivii, 13 Av 5775

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Kol Simcha - קול שמחה

Kol Simcha - קול שמחה

 

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Weekly Torah Talk on Va'etchanan 5775

on Wednesday, 29 July 2015. Posted in Torah Talks

Listen in Order to Love

You are all familiar with the most important text in this week’s Torah portion of Va’etchanan. It might be the very first Hebrew words you ever learned: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad – Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Most commentary on the Shema focuses on the word Echad, One, the core idea of our belief in one God, monotheism itself. But for me the most interesting word in the Shema is not the word Echad, “one”; no, the most interesting word in that seminal sentence is the very first word, Shema.

Devarim 5775: Unity Lessons from the History Fast

on Friday, 24 July 2015. Posted in Sermons

This Shabbat marks an interesting day on the Jewish calendar. It actually falls on the 9th of Av, the fast day of Tisha B’Av, which remembers the destruction of both the First Temple by the Babylonians nearly 2600 years ago, and that of the Second Temple by the Romans 1945 years ago, as well as the burning of Jerusalem and the end of the independent Jewish state both times. It also marks the anniversary of the fall of Betar, ending the last great Jewish revolt against Rome by Bar Cochba in the year 135 CE, and of the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, fully effective on this Hebrew calendar date in the year 1492. Altogether, a terribly dark day in Jewish history.

Weekly Torah Talk on Devarim 5775

on Wednesday, 22 July 2015. Posted in Torah Talks

Words of Justice

This week we begin reading Devarim, Deuteronomy, final book in the Torah. The name Deuteronomy, captures a midrashic explanation of the essence of this Sefer—it means “a repeated text,” which in Hebrew is called Mishnah Torah. This reflects the fact that the whole book of Devarim is made up of a few long sermons by Moses recapitulating the events and commandments established over the previous three books. Not bad work for a man with a serious speech impediment.

Tribute to Dr. Steve and Ruth Dickstein

on Saturday, 16 May 2015. Posted in Community Events

My friends, it is a special honor to speak about the manifold contributions that Dr. Steve and Ruth Dickstein have made to Temple Emanu-El, and to our entire community. Just listing their many, many programs, projects, and great works requires a good deal of time.

But in order to do this properly, to acknowledge the remarkable depth and breadth of their giving to our historic temple and to this community, it is necessary to understand the true nature of avodah, of sacred service.

Poem by Rabbi Cohon from the January 8th Commemorative Service at St. Philip's in the Hills Episcopal Church

on Friday, 09 January 2015. Posted in Community Events

Dear Friends,

This is the poem I composed and delivered at the commemorative service last night at St. Philip's in the Hills Episcopal Church. I based it on Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai's work, which I have included below.

It was a beautiful service in which I was honored to be included, organized by my friends the Reverend Canon John Kitagawa and the Reverend Greg Foraker.

May it bring us to actions to heal, and repair, our world.

L'Shalom,

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Weekly Torah Talk on Vayigash 5775

on Monday, 29 December 2014. Posted in Torah Talks

Revenge and Grace

This week's Torah portion of Vayigash begins with the climax of the great Joseph story that fills the last sections of the book of Genesis. Joseph is the powerful ruler of Egypt, richest country in the ancient world. His miraculous ascent from slavery and prison to the heights of political power is the stuff dreams are made of, and he is the master of all he surveys, subservient only to a Pharaoh who trusts him completely. He is handsome, rich, hugely powerful, with a wife and two fine sons, completely assimilated into Egypt's elegant culture, and still comparatively young. The world sits at his manicured feet.

But wait, there's more! For into this idyllic scene blunder Joseph's early tormentors, the very half-brothers who taunted him and beat him up. These are the conniving thugs who stripped him and tossed him into a pit in the earth and sat down to eat lunch, debating, in his hearing, whether to kill him or just abandon him to thirst and starvation--and then sold him into slavery in a foreign land instead.

Weekly Torah Talk on Vayeitzei 5775

on Wednesday, 10 December 2014. Posted in Torah Talks

Transformers

Beginning with this week's sedrah of Vayeshev, Joseph, the last of the patriarchs, becomes the principal character for the final four weekly portions in Genesis. A more complete narrative than any that has preceded it in Genesis, the story of Joseph is also a developmental transition that leads the literary way to the long narrative of Moses that fills the rest of the Torah.

The Joseph story has been called the first truly modern piece of literature, filled with contemporary authorial techniques in the delineation of character and plot. Each segment ends in a cliffhanger, and the interplay of story lines and locations make the whole narrative vibrant and rich and exceedingly compelling. This modernity of style is particularly impressive since the book of Genesis was written at least 2500 years ago.

Vayeitzei 5775: Everything Old is New Again

on Friday, 28 November 2014. Posted in Sermons

I'd like to share some news stories for you today. Please, listen closely. These are especially important news items.

In news this Thanksgiving weekend, the Palestinian Prime Minister urged the Israeli Prime Minister to "take serious and significant steps to renew the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians." Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority leader said that Israeli hints of unilateral moves showed that Israel was not serious about peace.

Weekly Torah Talk on Vayeitzei 5775

on Wednesday, 26 November 2014. Posted in Torah Talks

Travelin’ Man — Finding God in the Wilderness

The urge to journey out into the unknown is a major motivation in the Torah. We saw it with Abraham a few weeks ago. We find it in the lives of most of our ancestors. And we encounter it perhaps most powerfully in the story of this week's great Torah portion of Vayeitzei.

At the start of the tale, Jacob leaves his family and his home, both of which happen to be in Be'ersheva, and journeys towards Sumeria—today's Iraq. He has nothing with him at all, not even a bedroll, and is forced to lay his head on a rock to sleep.

Weekly Torah Talk on Vayeitzei 5775 (Copy)

on Wednesday, 26 November 2014. Posted in Torah Talks

Travelin’ Man — Finding God in the Wilderness

The urge to journey out into the unknown is a major motivation in the Torah. We saw it with Abraham a few weeks ago. We find it in the lives of most of our ancestors. And we encounter it perhaps most powerfully in the story of this week's great Torah portion of Vayeitzei.

At the start of the tale, Jacob leaves his family and his home, both of which happen to be in Be'ersheva, and journeys towards Sumeria—today's Iraq. He has nothing with him at all, not even a bedroll, and is forced to lay his head on a rock to sleep.

Weekly Torah Talk on Vayishlach 5775

on Wednesday, 26 November 2014. Posted in Torah Talks

Wrestling with Holiness

We are currently in the midst of sequence of splendid Torah portions, rich in complexity, action, and misdeed, all blended together with some serious family dysfunction. This week's sedrah of Vayishlach in Genesis continues the tale of Jacob, the most intriguing of the patriarchs, a man who rises above his own duplicitous nature to become the father of almost all of the tribes of Israel.

As our story begins this week Jacob is returning home to Canaan, having made good in the old country of Sumeria—today's Iraq. He has four wives, 12 children—including 11 sons—flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, great wealth in that day. As he is about to cross into Canaan he learns that his brother Esau, whom he wronged so seriously just before leaving home in a rush twenty years before, is coming to meet him with an army of 400 men. Jacob is panicked by this news, deducing that Esau is not heading his way with 400 men with spears just to welcome him home.

Weekly Torah Talk on Toldot 5775

on Wednesday, 19 November 2014. Posted in Torah Talks

There's No Trouble Like Family Trouble

Rebecca is pregnant with twins, who are struggling against one another even in the womb. Like so many—perhaps every—pregnant woman before and after her, our mother Rebecca is physically miserable. It gets so bad that she cries out, "God, why am I alive?" roughly the equivalent of "Just shoot me now." But unlike every other woman in such straits, God answers her.

God says to Rebecca, "Two nations are in your belly; two peoples will spread out from your womb; one will overcome the other; the elder will serve the younger." It is not clear why this should prove comforting to Rebecca, but she seems to be calmed by these words. And when she gives birth to two healthy boys, the younger is indeed clutching the heel of the elder, seeking from the beginning to supplant him.

Chayei Sarah 5775: Negotiating for Good

on Friday, 14 November 2014. Posted in Sermons

Negotiation gets a bad rap these days. Many people see the give-and-take necessary to reach consensus as a kind of moral compromise, a sacrifice of ideals on the false-idol altar of base pragmatism. Compromise? Consensus? Agreement? Not words we have heard in this election year...

Weekly Torah Talk on Chayei Sarah 5775

on Thursday, 13 November 2014. Posted in Torah Talks

Will You Go with This Man? Journeying Together

In one of the most dramatic parts of this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, it tells us that, at the moment of truth, "They called Rebecca and said to her, will you go with this man? And she said, I will."(Genesis 24:58)

There is an interesting book I read once called Walk Across America by an author named Peter Jenkins, which also has a sequel, The Walk West by Jenkins and his wife Barbara. Although the books come from a Christian perspective, they are both beautiful and moving. In the 1970's Peter was a young man who found himself disillusioned and lost, as so many did. He decided to walk across the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific, to find America but more important, to find himself. You know the old Simon and Garfunkel song, perhaps: but he really did "walk off to look for America..."

Weekly Torah Talk on Vayeira 5775

on Thursday, 06 November 2014. Posted in Torah Talks

Sacrificing Our Children

This week we read the Torah portion of Vayeira in Genesis, which includes the great and terrible story of the binding of Isaac, the Akeida. God tests Abraham by having him almost, but not quite, sacrifice Isaac on a rock. Famous for being read on Rosh HaShanah annually its connection would seem to be the fact that a ram appears at the end of the story caught in a thicket by its horns, the model for all future shofars.

But this passage is much more than a mere animal story. Cryptic yet oddly repetitive, it raises a host of painful moral dilemmas, and challenges us to think intensely about just what our relationship to God truly is.

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