On being a sifter...

As many of our younger congregant's head back to school I am reminded of a favorite teaching of mine about the different types of learners. This teaching comes from Pirkei Avot a collection of Jewish wisdom compiled by the first Rabbis between the first century BCE and 200 CE:

Focus on the good

Last Sunday night a rally was held in front of town hall. It was a rally against racism and in support of Charlottesville. About 40 people were there with signs including children. As drivers passed by, they honked in support. All except for one car that yelled something undiscernible out the window. While the words could not be made out the tone was angry and hostile. It temporarily shattered the holy space that had been created. After a moment, the group returned to singing and cars honked more support.

After Charlottesville

Dear Temple Beth David community,

The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past week-end where white nationalists spewed their hatred are both tragic and deeply disturbing. Both my parents and grandparents are natives of Virginia, and members of my family are graduates of UVA. These events therefore touch my life in a very personal way.

Did you ask a good question today?

Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics was once asked, ''Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other immigrant kids in your neighborhood? My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: 'So? Did you learn anything today?' But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. 'Izzy,' she would say, 'did you ask a good question today?' That difference - asking good questions -made me become a scientist!''

Understanding is not the key to meaningful prayer

I was once at a day school doing a report on the students there. It was time for the morning services and everyone began to pray in Hebrew. About halfway through the service I asked a fourteen-year-old boy if he understood what he was saying. What he said next has stuck with me to this day.


In this week's Torah portion Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet and a sorcerer of sorts, is sent by the king of Moab to curse the Hebrews. On his way to curse the Israelites in their encampment Balaam is stopped by an invisible angel. At first Balaam's donkey is the only one who can see the angel. Balaam whips his donkey and eventually the angel reveals itself. There are many lessons we can derive from this story, however, one of the most important is that we cannot always see what is in front of us or what lies ahead. We need to rely on others sometimes and trust if the path ahead of us is safe or dangerous.