The Right Kind of Spies - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon on Shlach Lecha 5776

June 24, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

The Chabad House at Harvard challenges the Harvard University oarsmen to a rowing contest. but soon discovers that the Harvard crew is recording practice times that are twice as fast as their own. So the Chabad captain sends a spy across to Harvard to find out why and how they row so fast. A few hours later the spy returns.

“Nuh,” says the Chabad captain, “tell us!”

“Well,” says the spy, “They do everything the opposite of us.”

“Explain,” says the captain.

“It's simple,” says the spy, “They've got eight men rowing and one man shouting!”

This little joke has relevance for this week’s Torah portion of Shelach Lecha, for two reasons.  For the question of what makes for a good spy, and  just where you find the professional qualities necessary for doing espionage work are central to our parshah, and can teach us some important things.  And the need for more people to row, and fewer to shout, is always important in the Jewish circles…

I’m sure that there are all kinds of tests available today for determining who makes a good subject for intelligence work and who just can’t pull it off.   In spite of the oft-repeated slander that the definition of an oxymoron is military intelligence, no doubt both armed services and civilian agencies have lots of ways of figuring out who is good at this stuff and who isn’t. 

Read more: The Right Kind of Spies - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon on Shlach Lecha 5776

The Heat is On: A Time to Act A Response to Orlando - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Beha’alotecha 5776

June 17, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El

Tucson, Arizona

Perhaps you have seen the weather predictions for this weekend: according to the soothsayers, fortune-tellers, and diviners who get paid to guess our future atmospheric conditions professionally, the high temperature in Tucson this coming Sunday is projected to be 117 degrees Fahrenheit.  If true, this will tie our all-time record hottest day in Tucson, which happened in June of 1990, 26 years ago.  It will also be so hot that all the jokes about frying eggs on the pavement, and it’s-a-dry-heat-but-so-is-the-inside-of-a-pizza oven will actually come true.  And our common defensive response—“it’s hotter in Phoenix!”—will be only marginally appropriate.  They are expected to hit 118 degrees, a statistically insignificant difference.

Frankly, my friends, the heat is on.  Of course, as has been noted before, that while everyone talks about the weather no one does anything about it.  They simply kvetch.  Like me.

Read more: The Heat is On: A Time to Act A Response to Orlando - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Beha’alotecha 5776

Yom Yerushalayim—City of Peace? - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Bamidbar 5776

June 3, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El

Tucson, Arizona

This Sunday in Israel they will celebrate Yom Yerushalayim on the Jewish calendar, the holiday that commemorates the reunification of the city of Jerusalem in the miraculous Six Day War of 1967.  It has been 49 years since we Jews were finally able to return to the Kotel, the Western Wall, the holiest place on earth for Jews; 49 years since the commander of the troops who captured the Old City from Jordanian forces, Motta Gur, announced, Har HaBayit B’yadeinu—the Temple Mount is in our hands.

Read more: Yom Yerushalayim—City of Peace? - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Bamidbar 5776

Who Goes to Shul Anymore?: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Behar 5776

May 20, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El

Tucson, Arizona

A friend of mine asked me recently, “Does anyone go to services Friday night anymore?”  It was an innocent question, reflecting the fact that he doesn’t go to services on Friday night, of course.  But it highlights a cultural change in American Jewry over the last forty years. 

Today there is a sort of consensus opinion in the American Jewish community that Reform and Conservative Jews simply don’t go to synagogue on Shabbat any more.  I am here to tell you that while there is a kernel of truth in that assumption, it is not actually true.  The week my friend asked that question we had three different Friday night services, Shabbat Rocks! in the sanctuary with Avanim, the Chapel service with Adult Choir, and Downtown Shabbat with Armon Bizman at the Jewish History Museum, the Old Stone Avenue Temple, our original home.  There were 140 people at Shabbat Rocks!, 35 in the chapel service, and a full house of 65 downtown.  All three were filled with active, engaged, Jews energetically enjoying Shabbat. 

Read more: Who Goes to Shul Anymore?: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Behar 5776

Mitzvot—What are Commanded Acts for Reform Jews Today?: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Vayakhel 5776

March 4, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El

Tucson, Arizona

I had an interesting discussion last week about the difference between Judaism and Christianity with a congregant.  She noted that in her view the key difference between the religious traditions was that Christianity believes that faith is the most important thing of all, while Judaism believes that actions are the most important.  That is, for Christians, belief is the highest principle, and underlies all action; while for Jews, belief matters, but what matters much more is the way that you act.  I agreed with her that Judaism, while cognizant of the importance of belief, highlights action above all.

Read more: Mitzvot—What are Commanded Acts for Reform Jews Today?: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Vayakhel 5776