• “Now We Are Free”: But Who Pays the Price?

    A d'var Torah for Chol HaMoed Pesach. “Let My people go,” God famously said to Moses. We usually don’t finish the quote, which ends “...so that they may serve Me.” Freedom, the rabbis say quite plainly, is another kind of servitude. The cheirut, freedom, that the Jews achieved on Passover (z’man cheiruteinu, the time of our…
  • Addiction: The Strange Fire in Our Midst

    Commentary on Parshat Shmini (Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47) What happens when the gift we want to offer isn’t accepted? Why do our efforts to be holy sometimes have tragic consequences? Our Torah reading celebrates the completion of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle built to be God’s dwelling place amongst the people. Precise instructions have been followed, sacrifices…
  • Technicalities, Flames, and Democracy

    Before I was a rabbi, I was a lawyer. Most of my legal career was spent assessing almost-inevitably doomed appeals. These were often criminal cases based upon what are popularly called “technicalities.” That work came back to me when I read the story of Nadav and Avihu, to which we return again this week in parshat Shemini.…
  • Shemini: Strange Pitfalls and Big-Picture Solutions

    Those of us of a certain age remember the heady days of the 1960s, when we hoped to create a new world of peace and love. Fast forward half a century to the last election. How did the love generation devolve into today’s isolation, rage, and powerlessness? What went wrong? This week’s parashah, with its narrative…
  • Eish Zarah: The Feeling of Being Foreign

    I had never been inside Perth Amboy's quaint, two room art gallery on the outskirts of this heavily Hispanic town in Central New Jersey. What brought me inside at this moment, nearly four years after I moved to Perth Amboy to be the rabbi of Congregation Beth Mordecai, the remaining synagogue in town, was not art,…
  • The Paradox of Havdalah

    This is the law of the animal, the bird, every living soul that swarms in the water, and for every creature that creeps on the ground; to distinguish between the impure and the pure, and between creatures that may be eaten and the creatures that may not be eaten.  (Lev. 11:47; Artscroll translation) Parashat Shmini concludes…