Terrorism Always Fails

July 22, 2016

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

 

This has been a busy three weeks in the news, domestically and abroad, and in the course of it my wife Wendy and I went on vacation to France.  We did this only partly to escape the bombastic noise of the US presidential election.  In any case, we were in Paris for Bastille Day, the French national holiday, and on the morning of July 14th the newspaper headlines highlighted a scandal involving French President Francoise Hollande.  He is accused of employing a hairdresser to cut and style his hair at the cost to the French treasury of over 9,000 euros a month, roughly $10,000, as much as a cabinet minister makes.  Hollande is a Socialist, who became president in part by claiming he would make the job more normal and less imperial.  Apparently his hair was not covered by that campaign promise.  This he has in common with other leading world figures, I believe.

By the end of the night the news cycle had changed dramatically.  We went to see the fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower celebrating Bastille Day, and it was a great show indeed, wonderful pinwheels of fire and color all up and down the famous landmark, carefully coordinated with thematic music.  There were many thousands of thrilled spectators, mostly French, and large numbers of heavily armed French troops and police controlling the area.  But when we returned to our hotel room we learned of the horrific attack on the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, the murder of 84 people, including many children, with over 200 more innocent people wounded.  And shortly after the events, and a bit after midnight in Paris, there was Francoise Holland on the TV news in a suit, speaking movingly about how terrorism would not defeat France, "France is afflicted, but she is strong, and she will always be stronger than the fanatics who want to strike her today," and emphasizing that Bastille Day celebrated France’s dedication to liberty and freedom.

His hair looked perfect…

Read more: Terrorism Always Fails

Bald Truths: How Rebellion Teaches us About Leadership - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon on Korach 5776

July 1, 2016

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

 

Korach chronicles the greatest rebellion in the entire Torah, the palace revolt of the Levite Korach and his 400 followers against the divinely ordained leadership of his fellow Levites, Moses and Aaron.  As so often seems to be the case, we Jews are our own worst enemies.  The result of this insurrection is disastrous, at least for the rebels.  The earth opens and Korach and all of his misguided followers are swallowed up, never to be heard from again. 

By tradition, the rebellion of Korach is the absolute worst revolt of its sort in Jewish history.  But this is hardly the first rebellion of the Israelites against Moses’ leadership, and it is certainly also not the last.  In a couple of weeks the Torah portion of Pinchas will conclude yet another episode of an insider revolution, that one solved by the point of a spear.  And the rebellions against Moses and God have been pretty continuous: the criticism on the very shore of the Red Sea, the Golden Calf episode, the intense unhappiness of the Children of Israel throughout their peregrinations in the desert right up to last week’s story of the failed spies in Shlach L’cha.  Our ancestors had a very bad habit of constantly being dissatisfied and continuously trying to overthrow the proper order of things.  Whoever was in charge always got the brunt of the criticism and the lion’s share of the hostility.

Read more: Bald Truths: How Rebellion Teaches us About Leadership - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon on Korach 5776

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