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A Reform Jewish Community for all of Tucson
225 North Country Club • Tucson, AZ 85716
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Yom Shlishi, 30 Tishri 5776

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Poetry, Faith, and Justice

Posted on September 22, 2015

This week we read great Torah portions on Yom Kippur, which falls Tuesday night and Wednesday, that explore holiness and commitment to God.  In our Reform tradition in the morning we will read from the portion of Nitzavim in Deuteronomy, which affirms that we have the responsibility in this great season, to choose life and God.  In the afternoon we will chant from Kedoshim, the Holiness Code, which teaches us how to be holy through sacred and ethical lives.

Next Shabbat we chant the one of the final portions of the entire Torah reading cycle, Ha’azinu, penultimate section of the final book of the Torah, Devarim.  Ha’azinu composes Moses’ last poetic words to the people of Israel before his death, and it’s an elaborate instruction, charge, and prediction of the future for the Israelites.  Ha’azinu is both a final look inside the thoughts of the greatest leader our people has ever had, and a fascinating snapshot of what was predicted for the future of the twelve tribes once they arrived in the Land of Israel.

Ha’azinu is a longish poem, and the powerful poetry includes a description of God’s word dropping like a gentle rain on tender grass, and a vision of the Lord’s justice and faith as complete and flawless.  It describes God’s love for Israel bringing forth honey from the very rock to nourish and favor our people, a kind of prediction of the way that Israel has made the desert bloom today. 

In language that is rich and complex but also challenging, Moses promises God rewards those who preserve justice, but punishes those who fail to keep faith with God.  In one memorable phrase that has made its way into our prayerbook Moses says, “Ki shem Adonai ekra, havu godel Leiloheinu—I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribing greatness to our God.” 

Accordingly, our role as Jews is both to praise God, and to create justice.  Both are important, and both support each other in our world.  We praise God and acknowledge that justice comes from the One Source of morality.  And then we work to assure that justice for all is central to our moral life. 

We must strive not only to be good, but to create goodness in our world.

May you be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year, a g’mar chatimah tovah, and have an easy fast on Yom Kippur.



Dedicated to the (Good) End

Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Return

If you knew that you were living your final day on earth, how would you spend your last hours?

According to the traditional commentaries, on Moses’120th birthday he spent his last day dedicated to addressing the needs of his community.  He visited each of the tribes and offered words of encouragement.  Even on his very last day of life, Moses dedicated himself to the Israelites, devoting himself to his congregation. 

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Vayelech 5776



 The Torah is Always Here, and so is God

Posted on September 9, 2015

This week we are celebrating the last Shabbat of the year, which means that our Torah portion is one of the great sections of the entire year, Nitzavim: you stand here today, all of you, the oldest to the youngest, from the wealthiest to the poorest, the most famous to the most humble, the leaders of your community and the strangers visiting with you.  You are all part of the covenant with the Lord your God.  You, and every other generation to come who will be descended from you.  You are all engaged in this great berit, the covenant that affirms you will be God's people, and God will be your Lord.

This universal covenant establishes that we are part of a profound and eternal tradition, a connection to our ancestors that will be carried forward to our descendants.  Each of us, all of us, are part of this remarkable compact.  It is an extraordinarily democratic and egalitarian agreement with God, a berit that is shared with everyone regardless of gender or age: children and women stand with men here, not always the case at the time of the Torah, or even today.

So what is the content of the commandment, the mitzvah that we are now to observe?

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Nitzavim 5775



The Missing Center?

Posted on September 2, 2015

Whenever we carry the Torah around the sanctuary during a hakafah we sing Al Shloshah Devarim, the passage from Pirkei Avot in the Mishnah: on three things the world stands.  On Torah, on work, and on acts of kindness.  Torah is listed first, making it the most important part of our tradition. 

And you may be familiar with the great Labor Zionist Achad Ha’Am’s related concept that Judaism is made up of three great elements: God, Torah, and Israel.  Torah, here, is at the very center of it all.

So what are we to make of a central Jewish text that completely omits Torah?

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Ki Tavo 5775


Posted on August 26, 2015

“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.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Ki Teitzei 5775