September 2, 2016
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Should we choose safety or opportunity? That’s a question we often ask, in our lives, our professions, our investments, our relationships. It’s not a new question in this generation, however.
This week’s Torah portion of Re’ei begins with a powerful statement of choice: I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing if you follow God’s commandments, the mitzvot; the curse if you turn aside and choose to do evil. It is a stark, even harsh statement—but it is also a remarkable and powerful one.
Judaism believes that we each have complete free will to make our own decisions about how we will live our lives. There is no notion of predestination, no sense that we are living according to someone else’s script. Every woman and man has the chance, and the responsibility, to choose the kind of life he or she will live.
That’s not to say we are able to choose how wealthy or happy we will be. It’s simply that we each have the opportunity and the ability to act in ways consistent with what we believe, to live open lives of character and commitment, of mitzvot. If we do, the rewards will be there for us: connection to God, our people and our tradition, respect and love and honor.
But knowing the limitations of our actual ability to influence events, what
precisely does it mean to say that we have true free will, that we can actually choose the course of our own lives?
Read more: Opening the Door - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Sermon Re’ei 5776
August 26, 2016
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Do you know this classic joke? An Orthodox, a Conservative, and a Reform rabbi are each asked whether you are supposed to say a brochah over a lobster.
The Orthodox rabbi asks, "What’s a...'lobster'?"
The Conservative rabbi says, “Some say yes, some say no.”
The Reform rabbi says, "What's a brochah?"
Or, what are the main differences between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism?
At an Orthodox wedding, the mother of the bride is pregnant.
At a Conservative wedding, the bride is pregnant.
At a Reform wedding, the rabbi is pregnant. And so is her wife.
And so on. Back in the olden days of the 20th Century, when I was growing up, we used to know that there were three kinds of Jews: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. That was it. Then I learned that there were other divisions among us: Sephardic Jews from the Mediterranean and Oriental Jews from parts east and south, as well as Ashkenazic ones like us; Israeli Jews, who were different from North American Jews; and English and Australian and South African Jews who spoke funny. As our horizons broadened we learned that there were other types: Hasidic Jews, who were Orthodox but dressed like they were Amish, and Reconstructionist Jews, who didn’t believe we were the Chosen People; even Renewal Jews, who were very touchy-feely and wore Birkenstocks. We even learned that there was something called Secular-Humanist Jews, who didn’t believe in God but did believe that they were Jews and got together in minyans to not pray.
Read more: The Lessons of the Heart - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Sermon Ekev 5776