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TEMPLE EMANU-EL

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Yom Shlishi, 17 Elul 5775

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Kol Simcha - קול שמחה

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Ki Teitzei 5775: Teshuvah and Change

on Monday, 31 August 2015. Posted in Sermons

Teshuvah and Change

We are nearly halfway through the final month on the Jewish calendar, Elul, which means Rosh HaShanah is just two weeks from Sunday night.  This is the time of year when we examine our lives in the past year, think about how we have lived, and decide how we can improve and change in the coming 5776 year.

Weekly Torah Talk on Ki Teitzei 5776

on Monday, 31 August 2015. Posted in Torah Talks

When You Must Go To War

Ki Teitzei Lamilchama al Oyvecha, When you go out to war against your enemy…”

Most of us who feel positively about religion believe strongly that nations should live at peace, and that war will someday become an ancient, bad memory.  “They shall beat swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall men learn war anymore” our Isaiah prophesied (2:4).  And almost every religion has similar injunctions to peace.

Weekly Torah Talk on Re'eh 5775

on Wednesday, 12 August 2015. Posted in Torah Talks

Choosing to Give

It’s one of the great quotations in the entire Torah, and it’s from this week’s reading:  “Look, today I set before a blessing and a curse.  The blessing if you listen to God’s commandments…”

This is a wonderful a statement of ethical choice, and the foundation of the upcoming season of Teshuvah, return and repentance that begins with the month of Elul which starts on Sunday.  But as important a sentence as it is, it doesn’t match the content of the most valuable teaching in this week’s reading.

Weekly Torah Talk on Eikev 5775

on Wednesday, 05 August 2015. Posted in Torah Talks

Simple Formulas for a Good Life

As a people we Jews are good at many things: at kvetching, of course; at lashon hara, gossip, telling people things we shouldn’t; at eating. Perhaps most importantly, we Jews are good at asking questions.

In fact, the greatest of all Jewish questions was asked in this week’s Torah portion of Ekev, the third sedrah in the Book of Deuteronomy. It reads:

V’atah, Yisrael, mah Adonai sho’eil mei’imach?, “And now, Israel, what does God ask of you?”

The passage in Ekev then answers this great question, “That you have awe of the Lord your God, and walk in all of God’s ways and love God, and serve the Lord your God will all your heart and all your soul.”

Va'etchanan 5775: Speeding Up and Slowing Down

on Friday, 31 July 2015. Posted in Sermons

Mahatma Gandhi taught, “There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.” But in our society, we have pretty completely ignored that teaching. In fact, every year the pace of events in our world speeds up. Things constantly move quicker, even in summer, when it used to slow down here in Tucson. Not anymore.

This increase in the tempo of human affairs has been a long process, but the pace of life has accelerated considerably, even exponentially in recent years. It didn’t start out that way. For many centuries the world didn’t really speed up at all. For example, the armies of Julius Caesar in the 1st century BCE and that of George Washington in the 1700’s travelled at exactly the same pace—three miles an hour at top speed, as fast as human beings could march. And Thomas Jefferson never traveled any faster than Moses did 3000 years earlier: their best speed was determined by the pace of the fastest galloping horse each man had ridden, and horses haven’t really gotten much faster over the millennia. Through much of human history the measured movement of life was more or less a constant, controlled by the physical limitations of our species and of those we could domesticate.

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.

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