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TEMPLE EMANU-EL

A Reform Jewish Community for all of Tucson
225 North Country Club • Tucson, AZ 85716
(520) 327-4501 • Fax: (520) 327-4504
 
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Yom Shishi, 26 Av 5774

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Advance Credits

Posted on August 20th, 2014

I know it's unbelievable, but public school started a week ago, Hebrew School began yesterday, Religious School kicks off this coming Sunday, and the High Holidays are coming up in just over a month. We bless the new month of Elul on this Shabbat because Rosh Chodesh Elul is next Wednesday, the beginning of the last month of the Jewish year, which we will celebrate by inaugurating our new Project Elul program of 6 AM daily connection, prayer, and inspiration. It's the time of year for us to think about the state of our relationships, to prepare to do a cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the state of our souls, to reflect on where we are in our lives, where we've been, and where we are headed.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Re'eh 5774

Real Cardiac Jews

Posted on August 13th, 2014

Have you heard about the new movement in Judaism? It's not Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox, or even Reconstructionist or Renewal. It's "cardiac Jews." You know—"I'm Jewish in my heart." While we usually think of this as a kind of abdication, meaning "I'm Jewish in my heart but I don't do anything about it in my actual life," there is one sense in which being a cardiac Jew can have real meaning.

In the middle of our weekly Torah portion of Eikev, a great question is asked: "What does the Lord your God ask of you? "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." But it then follows this wonderful spiritual and moral instruction with a puzzling passage in which it tells us to do something physically impossible. We are commanded to "circumcise the foreskin of our hearts." This is a new kind of b'rit milah, and one that smacks of flat-out self-murder.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Eikev 5774

Listening and Love

August 6, 2014

This week we read the second portion in the book of Devarim, Deuteronomy, in the Torah, the remarkable sedrah of Va'etchanan. Va'etchanan includes truly spectacular texts: the Shema, the central statement of God's oneness in the world, Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad, Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. It's followed immediately by the V'ahavta, the commandment to love God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength.

As if that were not enough honor for one Torah portion Va'etchanan also includes the recitation of the Ten Commandments, the Aseret Hadibrot, for the second time in the Torah. If you were to rank Torah portions, you could easily put Va'etchanan near the top in quality of content. A portion that includes the essence of Jewish monotheism, the Shema, and the Ten Commandments, centerpiece of all western ethics, is a pretty spectacular weekly parashah by anyone's standards. It is no accident that this powerfully affirming portion is read the week after Tisha B'Av, on Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of consolation, for we take comfort in our knowledge that morality and holiness will ultimately bring justice.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Va'etchanan 5774

Cities of Justice

Posted on July 23, 2014

This week's portion of Masei includes the final chapters of the book of Numbers. In this concluding section of Bamidbar an important, and unusual, institution is created: the city of refuge.

In the days before police forces and criminal courts were common, justice in cases of manslaughter or murder was typically accomplished by the family of the victim. What we would consider vigilante action was the normal means of addressing the moral and social disruption created by a killing. If you killed someone, intentionally or accidentally, or even if the family of a person who was killed thought you had done the killing, you would likely be killed by their kinsmen. It was like the Hatfields and the McCoys: kill and you would be killed, then your family would avenge the killing, and the other family would respond in kind, and on and on it would go.

That meant that if you were involved in such a terrible situation, you had very little chance to stay alive, even if the killing was accidental—even if you were innocent. The wheels of justice might turn for you eventually, but if you were already dead in a revenge killing it wouldn't help much.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Masei 5774

Sticks

Posted on July 16th, 2014

On a visit to Istanbul, Turkey a few years ago I visited Topkapi Palace, the center of power for the mighty Ottoman Empire from 1450 to the 1800's, 400 years in which they dominated a huge portion of the globe. I had not been in Istanbul in 16 years, and they have a new section of the large museum within Topkapi's ancient walls. It is called The Chamber of Sacred Relics.

While Topkapi Palace is literally filled with rooms and objects of great historical and religious importance, carefully curated with dates and sources, this particular area is actually put together by a Muslim religious agency and it includes what can only be called a collection of pious forgeries and frauds. As tourists shuffle past the elegantly lit displays arrayed behind thick bulletproof glass, they learn that they are viewing the cooking pot of Abraham, the turban of Joseph, Aaron the High Priest's breastplate, King David's armor, and Muhammed's sword and tooth, plus a hair from his beard. I think they might also have had a footprint of Noah's in preserved rock. In imitation of the medieval Christian veneration of fake religious objects in ornate reliquaries, each of these pseudo-relics is reverently presented with an appropriate biblical verse from the Tanakh or New Testament or Koran, and each is treated as though it were the Hope Diamond or a Sultan's bejeweled coronation robe.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Matot 5774

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