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A Reform Jewish Community for all of Tucson
225 North Country Club • Tucson, AZ 85716
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Yom Chamishi, 12 Elul 5775

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August 7, 2015

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

If you do good things do you expect a reward? When you act badly do you anticipate punishment?

If you answered yes to those questions our Torah portion this week is for you!

I was asked by a bat mitzvah student what the difference is between commandment, mitzvah, and covenant, berit. I explained that commanded mitzvot are ethical acts we are ordered to fulfill, while covenant, berit, is a kind of sacred contract, an agreement we make with God: if we do this, then God will do that. A covenant can include mitzvot, but essentially it is a deal, a quid pro quo. It limits us to a course of action that is specified in the contract, the berit—and oddly, it also limits God, who is stuck doing whatever it is God promised us if we stuck to the rules.

Read more: Eikev 5775: Here's the Deal: Covenant, Commandment and Good and Bad People

July 31, 2015

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

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.

Read more: Va'etchanan 5775: Speeding Up and Slowing Down

July 24, 2015

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

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.

Read more: Devarim 5775: Unity Lessons from the History Fast

July 17, 2015

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

There has been lots of news this week about President Obama’s potential nuclear deal with Iran, a 15-year pact between the US and the other Big Five nations plus 1—Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the plus one, the European Union—and the Iranian terror sponsors themselves. The agreement comes in the face of strong Saudi Arabian opposition. You might not have heard much about that, but in fact Saudi Arabia, and most of the Arab world, is terrified that Persian Iran will get a nuclear bomb, and the Saudis have been very quietly, and very expensively, lobbying everyone they know in Washington to attempt to stop it. They are horrified that Shi’ite non-Arab Muslims will have the bomb, and the Sunni and Wahabi Arabs of the Saud family kingdom will not. The Iranians just flat out scare them to death, and they are sharing that fear with our governmental leaders here in America.

Read more: Matot/Masei 5775: Israel and America: Iranian Bombs, Ad Campaigns, Alliance, and Jewish Unity

July 3, 2015

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

While the economy of Greece melts down in debt and the European Union struggles to choke down panic about the Euro, there is also some odd stuff going on relating to the US Treasury and our currency—only it’s not quite as serious a challenge as they are facing now in Europe. It turns out that our biggest American issue right now is that our Orthodox Jewish Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew, decided that after almost 240 years of American history it’s high time for our currency to have a woman represented on a bill, and he has chosen to redesign the $10 bill to do just that.

In truth, we have had ill-fated versions of US coins with women’s images on them before. Remember the unfortunate debacle of the Susan B. Anthony coins that were supposed to supplant dollar bills long ago? And Sacajawea is on a dollar coin, too, although that also had problems with public acceptance and use. Unlike people in most countries, we Americans have a problem using any coins larger than a quarter, and we prefer, if we are going to spend cash, to use paper bills. And so Treasury Secretary Lew had decreed that we are going to change the image on one of the bills we actually do use, the $10 bill, to the image of a prominent American woman.

Read more: Balak 5775: Separation, Our American Jewish Currency