The Social Covenant - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Noach 5777

November 4, 2016
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

It is so remarkably appropriate that it rained, hard, this week, because of course on this Shabbat we are reading the greatest rain story of all time, the tale of Noah, the truly ancient mariner, when it poured for forty days and forty nights and the world was inundated with water.  Sometimes the Torah syncs up so beautifully with the natural world around us… although in the Sonoran Desert it takes more than a single hard rain to create a flood, or even a steady flow in the Rillito River.  I should note that it also rained quite a bit the night of Simchat Torah ten days ago, just after we had offered the prayer for rain, the t’filat geshem, during Shemini Atzeret services that morning.  Apparently, we are very good at directing divine intervention here at Temple Emanu-El, at least of the meteorological sort. 

I must note that in addition to the coincidence of rain, there is another great confluence in our portion that goes, perhaps, a little deeper into current events and the present climate, although the political rather than the weather-related climate.  After the flood there is a great covenant, a brit, established in our Torah portion.  A covenant—what an elevated word that is!—in more prosaic terms is a contract between God and humanity.  We agree to certain things, and God agrees to certain things.  In this case, after the dove brings back the olive branch and the waters subside from the earth, God agrees to never again wash away humanity and all other terrestrial life through a great deluge.  Noah doesn’t say that we won’t have the capacity to do so, say through creating global warming, but it does definitely testify that God won’t flood us all again.  In exchange, Noah and all his descendants—that is, all of us—agree to abide by certain stipulations. 

The sign of this covenant, of course, is the rainbow in the sky after a storm, favored subject of many songs and myths, from Judy Garland singing, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to the show Finian’s Rainbow to Tony Bennett warbling “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” to the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” to The Muppets, “The Rainbow Connection…”  Heck, Kermit the Frog even started his song in The Muppets Movie by saying, “Why are there so many songs about rainbows…”  But I digress.    

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Deadlines - Rabbi Batsheva Appel Opening Ne'ilah 5777

October 12, 2016
Rabbi Batsheva Appel
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

You might remember a famous skit from Saturday Night Live that is now almost 30 years old. A man is sitting in an office and receiving a call, realizes that he missed a deadline and things are dire. He immediately finishes the project that is needed and goes to Einstein Express.  Their claim is that “Using a patented superconductor matrix, coupled with Einstein's theory of space-time continuum, we can transport any document or package up to ten pounds into the past.” The package is sent three days back into the past and the man’s job is saved. It ends with the tagline: “Einstein Express. When it absolutely, positively, has to be there the day before yesterday.”

Deadlines. As we begin the Ne’ilah service, we are facing the deadline of the end of Yom Kippur, the end of this 25 hours of repentance and atonement. There is just a little bit of time left to get our final prayers for the day in. As Rabbi Cohon noted last night, we cannot go back in time to redo this year, this month, this 10 days since Rosh Hashanah, or even to last night – the weight limit for Einstein Express is 10 pounds after all. We reach the service of Ne’ilah knowing that we are at the deadline.

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Expectations & Every Day - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Yizkor 5777

October 12, 2016
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

A guy goes to see his rabbi.  He tells the rabbi’s secretary that he must see the rabbi because he is so depressed.

He starts by reminding the rabbi his father died just three weeks before.  The rabbi says, “I know, I’m so sorry.  Your father was a wonderful man.  Everyone loved and appreciated him.  I did his funeral and was at the shiva.”

“I know, rabbi,” the man says.  “Thank you again.”

“Of course,” says the rabbi.  “You are depressed because you need to talk about the loss of your father.”

“Well, rabbi, not so much,” the man answers, “But I do need to tell you that my dad left me five million dollars.”

“Oh,” says the rabbi, “Well he was a remarkably successful businessman, and I’m sure he wanted you and your family to be well provided for.”

“Yes,” the man continues, “But what you don’t know, rabbi, is that two weeks ago, the week after my dad died, my uncle passed away, too.”

“Oy,” says the rabbi, “And is that why you are depressed, so much loss all at once?”

“No,” says the man, “But you should know that he, too, left me five million dollars.”

“Goodness!” says the rabbi.  “That was very generous.”

“Yes,” says the man, “And then, just last week, my cousin Bernie the orthodontist died also, he had several clinics, and he left me five million dollars, too.”

“All this death must be very devastating and terrible.  You have my deepest condolences,” says the rabbi.  “No wonder you are depressed.”

“No, rabbi,” says the man, “You don’t understand.  I’m depressed because so far this week—NOTHING!”

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Our Goal Today - Rabbi Baruch J. Cohon's Sermon Yom Kippur 5777

October 12, 2016
Rabbi Baruch J. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

Here we are again, aren’t we!  Joining in doing something we don’t do all year long.  Spending the entire day here, together, for a purpose we all share.  What brings us here?  What can this concentrated day do for us that no other religious occasion does?  Not a week with special food like Passover… not an 8-day party with songs and gifts like Hanukkah… just one solid day.  Why?

We know why we’re here, don’t we?  We have a goal to aim for, and it takes all day to hope to reach that goal.  Last night in our services, we quoted from the Book of Numbers a desperate line that Moses prayed: S’lakh na la’avon ha-am ha-zeh k’godel khas-dekha – “Please forgive the sins of this people, in Your great kindness.”  And he gets the answer: Salakhti kid’va-rekha – “I have forgiven according to your words.”  Later in today’s services comes the poem that starts Yashmi-eynu salakhti – “Let us hear Salakhti – I have forgiven.”  That’s our goal.  That’s why we are here. We want to hear – to feel – that word of forgiveness.

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Giving: the Secret of Survival - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Kol Nidrei 5777

October 11, 2016
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

Last week on Rosh HaShanah I spoke about flat tires, and particularly, bicycle flat tires, of which I have had a plethora of late.  Thank you for your kind comments about that sermon, and those who shared their own cycling stories with me, including suggestions on how to avoid flats.  One of you even suggested we start a new program at Temple, in which we bike 25 miles and then stop and have coffee and argue about the Torah portion.  We would call it “The Weekly Torah Cycle”, or maybe, more appropriately, “Ride and Rant”.

In any case, a week ago, on the morning of 2nd Day of Rosh HaShanah, before I helped lead our Northwest 2nd Day Rosh haShanah service with Rabbi Appel, I decided to go out for a quick ride—20 miles on a cool morning, perfect way to start the second day of the new year.  I ended up riding at the same speed as another guy, and we struck up a conversation about biking.  And then—you probably guessed it—I got a flat tire. 

My new friend stopped and helped change the tire, and as we were finishing I said, “I really hate getting flat tires.  But I’m a rabbi, and at least I got a sermon out of it this week.”

He looked at me strangely, and said, “Did you just say you are a rabbi?  Then I have something to tell you.  You now have a story about a rabbi and a priest.  Because my name is Jim, and I am a Jesuit priest…”

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