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CONGREGATIONAL DEVELOPMENT RESOURCES


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The 13 Attributes of God's Compassion—Considers the yud gimel midot shel rachamim from a naturalistic point of view. (2 pp.) [KI TISA]

44 Rules for Killing Congregations—Updated and expanded list of tongue-in-cheek rules for killing congregational community organizations. (3 pp.)

Abraham's Faithful Binding of Isaac—Suggests that the Akedah offers insights into thinking about our unanswered High Holy Days questions, that Abraham was struggling with the questions of his yetzer ha-ra, which he "beat to pieces," so that he didn't use his unanswered questions to abandon his faith in God. (3 pp.) [HIGH HOLY DAYS, ROSH HASHANAH 2]

Ahavah Rabbah—Prayer from traditional liturgy, with line-by-line drash.

Aishdat Drives Us Toward God—Answers the question, "What is Aishdat?" and explores how the "fire become law" operates differently for humankind than for all otherforms of life. (1 p.) [VEZOT HABRACHAH]

Animal Sacrifice and Human Spirituality—Spotlights the contemporary commercial slaughter of animals in the billions, the spiritual purpose of animal sacrifice in ancient Israel to bring the individual nearer to God by returning to the path of Torah, and the overall effect of animal sacrifice to ensure the entire people's atonement with God. (2 pp.) [VAYIKRA]

Are There Any Heathens Among Us?—Defines "heathenism" from a traditional Jewish perspective, the characteristic of attempting to manipulate or thwart God's will, the heathen behavior of Balaam (who was nonetheless a monotheist) in that vein, and the parallels to the behavior of many contemporary Jews. (2 pp.) [BALAK]

Are We Defiling the Land?—Questions how we would respond to a dinner guest who unselfconsciously relates his unethical or illegal behavior; the value of tradition in deciding how to respond, particularly the mitzvah not to defile the land, which includes flattering a wrongdoer; the character of the resulting harm when we do so; and how with God's compassion we can reclaim that which has been defiled. (2 pp.) [MASEI]

Are We Wronging Our Children?—Proposes the application of Leviticus 25:17 ("do not wrong one another") to our own children; the destructive effects of teaching children that secular success is the primary source of meaning and fulfillment in life; the difficulties for parents of leading their children spiritually and religiously when those aspects of their own life are unfulfilled; and the need for religiously uneducated parents to accept being students of their children. (3 pp.) [BEHAR]

Arising Prayer—Prayer from traditional liturgy, with line-by-line drash.

Atonement and Moral Spiritual Rebirth—Acknowledges the deaths of Nadav and Avihu as the consequence of introducing personal desires into the religious life of the nation, in contrast to subordinating their will to the Torah, leading to moral and, ultimately, physical death; the modern-day counterpart of personalizing communal worship that takes the form of wholesale rejection of the Torah as authoritative, preferring instead momentary sensual satisfactions; the symptoms and consequences of alienation from the Torah vision and path of our high moral spiritual calling; and the process and power of atonement to achieve both moral and spiritual rebirth by inculcating in ourselves the habit of continuous confession. (3 pp) [ACHAREI MOT, HIGH HOLY DAYS]

Barekh Rakhamanah—Brief Birkat Hamazon (Blessing After Meals) based on Talmud (B'rakhot 40b). (Music tape available from GTP at minimal cost.)

Barukh Habah—Prayer from traditional liturgy, with line-by-line drash. (Music tape available from GTP at minimal cost.)

BBVR Info (1.3)—Explains principles and practices of Bible (and Prayerbook) Biological Virtual Reality, an innovative method for teaching Chumash (Pentateuch) and Siddur (Prayerbook) Hebrew. (11 pp.)

Between A Rock and A Hard Place—Proposes that Jewish congregations are meant to be spiritual communities, historically dedicated to sacred purposes, not homes of a one-day-a-week "religion"—which is more than most congregationally affiliated Jews want to live, leaving them stuck between a rock and a hard place, immobilized by careerism, materialism, sensuality, and spiritualism, which can only be displaced by authentic congregational community that offers the opportunity to move away from spiritual slavery and towards spiritual freedom. (2 pp.) [BESHALACH]

Birkat Hamazon to Arouse Our Spirit—Describes the Birkat Hamazon as a prayer service, its history, the meaning of blessing God to proclaim our intention or actually doing the will of God, the four foundational blessings in the Birkat Hamazon and their relevance to contemporary life, and guidelines for reciting the Birkat Hamazon. (3 pp.)

Blessings for Love-Making (music files)—The sample files will open and play only if you have an mp3 player installed on your computer's hard drive. Please allow several minutes, after clicking on one of the sample files on the left, for the sound file to download if you do not have a high-speed connection to the Internet.

Blessings for Love-Making (text file)—Includes Hebrew and English texts and transliterations, based on several scriptural sources and commentary.

Blot Out Amalek—But Don't Forget—Considers how it is that we're to blot our Amalek, but not forget; and the link between these instructions and the commandments to keep honest weights and measures. (2 pp.) [KI TEITZEI]

Bringing the Light—Chanuka readers' theatre retelling the story of the Maccabees, suitable for 10 to 12 players. (7 pp.) [CHANUKA]

Brit Milah Is Not A Medical Procedure—Reviews and responds to critical opinions of brit milah; the procedure as primarily a spiritual discipline; the principal protagonist; the social and communal meanings and implications of the ritual; the hoped-for effect on the moral career of the child; and the role of the ritual in ensuring the eternity of the Jewish people. (6 pp.) [TAZRIA]

Building Congregational Unity—Considers traditional teachings that bear on healing congregational divisions, and the importance of gemilut khasadim, kriat Torah, and po'eil tzedek in fostering congregational unity. (3 pp.) [VAYAKHEL]

Building Spiritual Communities—Notes that in most congregations a handful of people are carrying the load, the commonplace failed idea that the synagogue has to be "entertaining" to attract participation, recognition of potential synagogue spiritual strengths as revealed in the offerings of the ancient Temple, and strategic and tactical implications for building up contemporary congregations as spiritual communities. (2 pp.) [SHEMINI]

Charge Your Children—Highlights the importance of raising children to be not only students of Judaism, but teachers of the Jewish people; the need to model Jewish parenthood, peoplehood, and citizenship to achieve that end; the materialism that prevents us from doing so; and the role of Torah as a foundation for familial, communal, and national life. (2 pp.) [HAAZINU]

Children Become Teachers: Building Up Attendance, Participation and Education—Recounts the principles and methods of successfully involving young people in the adult religious life of their congregation and, through them, increasing their parents' participation. (2 pp.)

Concealing Torah From Yourself—Highlights the historical attractiveness of Torah's accessibility, the necessity of learning Hebrew and reading rabbinic commentaries to encounter the text fully, the difficulty if one didn't receive a Jewish education as a child, and a perspective and options that allow one to remedy that lack as an adult. (2 pp) [NITZAVIM]

Congregational Political Action—Distinguishes between (1) a rabbi exhorting a congregation to political action based on his or her ideology or interest, and (2) a congregation exploring and acting on an issue in the larger community that can affect the lives of its members; the case of a local ballot initiative affecting commercial development in a small town; related teachings from the tradition; and understanding when halakhah is l'maaseh, not for intellectual stimulation but doing. (2 pp.) [MASEI]

Consecrating Oneself As A Sanctuary—Asks why so many Jews are rejecting Judaism and congregational life; describes the two most common models of liberal congregations; and explains what parasha Terumah proposes as a picture of spiritual community, particularly the idea that the sanctuary is not holy in itself but an edifice with the primary role of teaching how to live according to God's will, which in turn is a model for making ourselves into sanctuaries of God. (3 pp.) [TERUMAH]

 Contemplative Journey I—Guided Jewish contemplative journey, balancing the right and left hemispheres of the brain and linking the unconscious brainstem and limbic systems with the conscious prefrontal cortex, to promote foundational body-mind-spirit integration L'sheim Shamayim—to enable each soul to fulfill a life of righteousness, truth, and justice, freedom, peace, and kindness. (33:29) [Suitable for individual and group practice.]

Creating Openings to the Light of Torah: Avodat Khevra shel Kharakim—Identifies the challenge of an Am Kadosh to transform the world through the creation of openings to the light of Torah by action as a group of visionaries, teachers, and keepers of sacred space and time within a kahal poalei tzedek. (3 pp.) [BAMIDBAR]

Cycle of Jewish Holidays—Diagram shows relationship of holidays to the four seasons and their relationship to the months of the Jewish calendar.

A Dwelling for God's Torah—Highlights fractional attendance of Jews at Shabbat services; the mistaken belief that "producers" rather than "consumers" of congregational activities and events can remedy the situation; the difficulty of imagining most American Jews centering their lives around congregational life; and the necessity of creating a welcoming place for the Torah in our minds and hearts, which may in turn inspire others to see the potantial of overcoming the absurdities, frustrations, and disappointments of their lives through Judaism and congregational life. (2 pp.) [TERUMAH]

Ending A Long Night of Darkness—Describes the pain of estrangement from loved ones, the related symptomology, the ways in which Joseph worked out reconciliation with his brothers, the choice we have whether first to express our hurt or our anger in strained relationships, and the value of self-revelation in repairing relationships. (2 pp.) [MIKEITZ, CHANUKAH]

Ending Our Estrangement from God—Recognizes that misconceptions about Jewish ideas of sin are widespread among Jews, often reflecting non-Jewish concepts; the Jewish view of sin; desensitization to sin in modern life; and the value of engaging others in our process of reflection to avoid sin. (3 pp. ) [HIGH HOLY DAYS]

Exercising Our Jewish Birthrights—Acknowledges that many Jews don't know their Jewish birthrights; that such birthrights are often seen as burdensome to secular and assimilated Jews; how we inherit and lose our birthrights; what our Jewish birthrights are; and the birthright lessons taught by Yakov and Esav. (3 pp.) [TOLDOT]

Festivals Celebrate Our Connection—Acknowledges the lack of attendance at synagogue services by most congregants, the history and conditions for joyous festival celebrations at the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, and the potential for revitalizing shalosh regalim as joyous celebrations connecting contemporary Jews with one another, with Torah, and with God. (2 pp.) [REEH]

Filling the Hands of Leaders—Links the historic survival and success of Am Yisrael to leadership accountability, both to the people and to God. (1 p.) [TETZAVEH]

Finding God—In Nature or Community?—Points out the modern religious axiom that the synagogue service doesn’t compare to praying outdoors in the beauty of nature; that the bamot or "high places" were forbidden when there was a central sanctuary; that the prohibition reflected an understanding of bamot as places to pour out personal thoughts and feelings rather than take in Torah teachings, effectively promoting autonomy in life-decisions rather than reliance on the Torah vision and path; and that living according to Torah we understand the purposes of choosing the synagogue over nature: to learn and teach God’s will; to discern it in the liturgy, Torah readings, and divrei Torah; and to seek its realization more effectively as a community. (2 pp.) [REEH]

Finding the Holy in High Holy Days—Notes that most Jews regret their wrongdoing and want to do better; that the High Holy Days are designed to help us nurture that which is alive and life-giving within us, and that to have an experience of awe during High Holy Days requires a significant commitment; and offers suggestions on preparing for the High Holy Days, including the emotional and spiritual "posture" most conducive to finding holiness and the hope and joy that accompany it. (2 pp.) [HIGH HOLY DAYS]

Forgiving Lashon HaraTells of a personal experience of lashon hara; the consequences it had on the lives of two people; the conditions that must exist to justify speaking what otherwise would be lashon hara; the steps necessary for teshuvah if one has spoken lashon hara; the high communal price paid when lashon hara nonetheless is not forgiven; questions to ask ourselves when we find it hard to extend forgiveness; and a simple process to effect reconciliation when fear of further injury is the main obstacle to forgiveness. (3 pp.) [KEDOSHIM, BEHAR]

Freedom to Make Moral Choices—Proposes that the modern tendency is to believe that if the scriptural history of our people is not valid, then the tradition has no relevance for our day to day lives; that miracles, such as the events at the Reed Sea, are the greatest challenge to our beliefs; that those events were no more miraculous than any other extraordinary phenomena of nature; that the miracle was that we were at the sea when it opened—our liberation, the true miracle, which can only be explained as an act of God; and that we went out of Egypt as free to make moral choices—and chose to trade our status as slaves to Pharaoh for being servants to God, who took us across the sea. (3 pp.) [BESHALACH]

From Secular to Sacred Ashes—Recounts the authors' early experience of ashes as representing the end of human life and its artifacts; the meaning of the "lifting up" of ashes by the priests in the ancient Templ;, and the ritual significance of ashes in Jewish life—not to denote an ending, but a call to an "ever-fresh beginning of our eternal mission" as a nation. (2 pp.) [TZAV]

 God's Warden—Asks, "Why pray? What's the point?" Explores the meaning of hitpaleil (praying), from the root fei-lamed-lamed, meaning to judge oneself, based on a new element that comes from outside of oneself—to change us, not God; in the prophet Isaiah's words, making us holy; and concludes with a letter to us from Isaiah. (11 pp.) [YITRO]

Growing Old Jewish—Reviews the various "benchmark decades" of life, Jacob's view of the "days of the years" of his life, the importance of not dedicating one's days to materialism, and the value of community in combining the gifts of many individuals to bring light into old age. (2 pp.) [VAYIGASH]

Hachnasat OrchimInviting the Stranger Into the Congregational Family—Proposes a guided fantasy in which the reader becomes Isaiah in ancient Jerusalem, witnessing the routine life of the Temple juxtaposed with indifference to poverty and sickness in the streets, with a challenge to think about how we can bring people back to the Torah and congregational life through hachnasat orchim. (1 p.) [VAYEIRA

Haggadah shel Pesach—Includes 12-page readers' theatre, "Let My People Go," with 15 parts, which allows broad participation in the Magid (telling the story of the Exodus) by those present at the seder, plus a Reed Sea midrash. (47 pp.) [PASSOVER]

Holding Us Before God's Presence—Explains the moeid of Shemini Atzeret as an independent festival, the purpose of which is to hold us in God's presence, so that we gather all the messages and resolutions of the whole year and resolve to hold on to them. (1 p.) [SHEMINI ATZERET]

How to Make Miracles—Suggests that in three examples—the reconciliation of Yaakov and Eisav, the Hasmonean defeat of the Syrian-Greeks and rededication of the Temple, and the survival and success of the Jewish people in the second half of the twentieth century—the essence of the miraculous is revealed. (2 pp.) [VAYISHLACH]

Is Nothing Sacred Anymore?—Recognizes the cry for something spiritual beyond ourselves, the meaning of Moses' breaking the first set of Tablets, indiffrence to Torah in contemporary Jewish life, and the relationship between the engraving of the Luchot and the opportunity to keep Torah at the center of our lives. (2 pp.) [KI TISA]

Is Ritual Really Irrelevant?—Acknowledges that modern people often believe that much of Torah's description of ritual is irrelevant, but that there is a deep, potentially redeeming connection between Torah ritual and the social dysfunction and disease in contemporary society, particularly wrongdoing done in secret by powerful leader; and the importance of ritual in communicating as a community with ourselves about what we value most and how to protect it. (3 pp.) [REEH]

Isaiah on Spiritual Development—Looks at Isaiah's prophecy (57:14-58:14) as a teaching on how to achieve spirituality; that one day of atonement doesn't suffice; the need to free ourselves from the prison of preoccupation with sensual satisfactions; the rewards if we choose the derech Adonai; and particular ways in which we can invigorate our congregational community. (2 pp.) [YOM KIPPUR]

A Jew Doesn't Lose Hope—Describes different sources of hope in Jewish life; challenges to remaining hopeful; linkage between the Covenant, the Sabbath, and Days of Mashiach; and the relationship between hope and faith. (3 pp.)

Jewish Survival and Success—Recognizes the Barchu as a ritual of solidarity, a supplement to solitary efforts to foster kindness and uphold justice; the news of the last year that suggests the high costs of promoting kindness and justice; how the seeming irrelevance of Judaism and congregational life to those ends can change in an instant, becoming indispensable for our survival and success as Jews; and the purpose of the High Holy Days, not to exclusively find personal happiness through teshuvah, but to ensure our survival and success as a community and a people. (2 pp.) [YOM KIPPUR]

 Jonah's Mitzvah Reward—Considers what we learn from Jonah's example, his failure and success, his fears, and his sacrifice and reward. (2 pp.) [YOM KIPPUR]

Kavanah for Sukkot—Offers a kavanah for entering the Sukkah, one that recognizes we are still required to act without concrete guaranteesto act for the sake of heaven even when our experience tells us it's pointlesstaking courage from the knowledge that God produces the wealth we enjoy, which comes to us in joy when we join together to make Torah a reality on earth. (2 pp.) [SUKKOT]

Keeping Torah at the Center—Questions why congregations allow members and leaders to undermine their unity and comity; the spiritual and social effects of not keeping Torah at the center of community life; the impacts of ranking personal autonomy as the highest social value; and the necessity for uniting in common purpose. (2 p.) [TERUMAH]

To Know the Queen—Tells the tale of a man who didn't know his own worth and sought solace in being close to the Queen rather than those whose lives he could enrich. (2 pp.)

Knowing God With CertaintyAcknowledges that our relationship with God is often tenuous; that God may be accepted as an order of intelligence beyond our comprehension, but as presented in Siddur and Tanakh is often not believable to us; that understanding requires grappling with our wisdom tradition; and that the tradition calls on us to act out its teachings in our day-to-day lives by keeping the mitzvot, which is how we come to know God with certainty from within. (3 pp.) [KI TAVO]

Korach's Rebellion of Informal Leaders—Suggests that what Korach "took" (vayikach Korach) was the opening created by the spies "evil report" to launch a revolt; that he recruited informal leaders as organizers and agitators; the means he used to appeal to them; his own interests and modus operandi; how and why Moses responded as he did; and the lessons offered for contemporary congregational policies and practices affecting informal leaders. (4 pp.) [KORACH]

Leaders Mentor More Leaders—Describes the hallmark of effective leaders as commitment and competence to widen the circle of leaders, both formal and informal; Moses' model of leadership development in that vein; the traditional view that character is the critical qualification for leadership; the essence of leadership development as relational; and practice guidelines. (4 pp.) [YITRO]

Leading to God's Miracles—Notes that so-called miraculous events are often understandable naturalistically; that it's only being in the right place at the right time that lends a supernatural quality to them; that possibly Moses was punished for striking the rock because he momentarily lost faith; and that it's essential for leaders not to lose faith but, on the contrary, to fully accept the possibilities in God's nature and to lead themselves and others to the times and places where God's miracles are waiting to occur. (2 pp) [KORACH]

Let Them Know—Considers the challenge of forgiving someone who has harmed or wronged us; the connection between holiness and how we treat our neighbor; the necessity to reprove and avoid hatred, revenge, and grudge-holding—reflecting our commonality as children of God; and the particulars of how, under the circumstances, we are "to love one's neighbor as oneself." (3 pp.) [KEDOSHIM]

Let's Look for a Way Out together—Proposes that High Holy Days may be used productively to search for and act out the highest and best parts of ourselves, the fears that keep us from teshuvah, the basis in hope and faith to overcome our fears, and the value of acting with others in a congregational community. (3 pp.) [HIGH HOLY DAYS]

To Lighten Parenting's Dark Side—Acknowledges the "dark side" of parenting, when parents must come to grips with their children's wrongdoing; the different sources of pain involved in these situations; how that pain can be lessened by doing everything possible to be a loving and responsible parent; and recognizing the role of Divine Providence in the future of one's children. (2 pp.) [VAYEISHEV]

Living A Moral Spiritual Life—Asks: Why buy and eat kosher meat and poultry? and answers by outlining the spiritual purposes of shechita (ritual slaughtering) and semicha (placing one's hands on the head of the animal to be slaughtered) in ancient Israel, suggesting that similar moral spirituality may be served by buying and eating kosher meat and poultry today. (2 pp.) [VAYIKRA]

Looking for God—Acknowledges that when one might be tempted to celebrate the fruits of the harvest by communing with nature, we are called instead to celebrate in the Torah—and in that way get close to God; yet we are not to see God, but to learn how to see the world as God sees it—and in doing so, to see God by seeing ourselves in God's image. (3 pp.) [CHOL HAMOEID SUKKOT]

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself—Lays out some of the demands and dynamics of forgiveness, both offering and accepting it; Torah's directives regarding hatred, revenge, and holding a grudge; the distinction between loving one's neighbor versus what belongs to one's neighbor; and the importance and acceptable forms of reproof. (3 pp.) [KEDOSHIM]

Making Jewish Moral Decisions—Considers contemporary approaches to moral decision-making commonly used by American Jews, the difficulty of their using Torah for that purpose since it's unread in Hebrew by the overwhelming majority of them, and they are even more unfamiliar with the oral law; and the necessity of our choosing Torah in making moral decisions if we are to be unified and achieve progress as a spiritual community and people. (2 pp.) [MISHPATIM]

May God Bless You and Keep You?—Drash on the Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) that emphasizes blessings as openings, which require human initiative for their realization. (1 p.) [NASO]

Mezzuzah Consecrates A Jewish Home—Considers purposes of consecrating a Jewish home; the necessity of interpreting life-challenges as part of God's loving management of creation and as a reminder of the mission entailed in those purposes; the understanding that affixing a mezzuzah symbolizes much more than awareness of one's personal identity as a Jew; and that the mezzuzah communicates a message to the larger non-Jewish community about the convictions and commitments of the Jewish people. (2 pp.) [VAETCHANAN]

The Miracle of Yom Kippur—Recognizes that the greatest pain of our wrongdoing for us is the subsequent spiritual alienation we experience, which incrementally destroys our capacity for love, joy, and contentment; the tendency to reify the deadliest parts of ourselves as unchangeable; the redemptive functions of the Temple olah, chatat, and mincha offerings and their prayer substitutes; and the role our prayer offerings play in the miracle of Yom Kippur. (2 pp.) [YOM KIPPUR]

Miraculous Manna from Heaven—Emphasizes the importance of not trivializing stories in the Torah, like that of the manna; what we may understand about the manna and its delivery from a naturalistic viewpoint; the traditional teaching about the manna as a gift from God to sustain the people in the wilderness; and what the manna teaches us about God's power over nature and history, and about our role role as a holy nation and a nation of priests. (2 pp.) [BESHALACH]

Moral Spiritual Leadership and Legacy—Explores the character of Esav and Yakov as prototypical personalities; the risk Yakov took to obtain the birthright; the reason for the disparity in the brothers' character; the impracticality of limiting moral spiritual leadership to one son; the basis for the high parental expectations of Yitzchak and Rivka; and the unanswered questions and implications their expectations raise about the survival of contemporary liberal Jews. (3 pp.) [TOLDOT]

Moshe Rabbeinu—Not Goaleinu—Points out that at the end of his life and his mission, Moses demonstrates his legendary modesty and humility by serving Joshua and, in doing so, he teaches us the radical principle of national survival: caring for one another as neighbors, which requires humility and kindness; and ironically, it's his own momentary lapse of modesty and humility that destines him to die in the wilderness, bequeathing the everlasting lesson that his extraordinary gifts were entirely human, not unlike our own potentialities. (2 pp.) [VAYEILECH]

Never Leave the Stranger Outside—Underlines Abraham's commitment to extending hospitality, the priority of welcoming strangers over communion with God, the common reluctance of congregants to reach out to newcomers, and suggestions for overcoming fear of rejection by asking about the newcomer and taking an interest in the person. (2 pp.) [VAYEIRA]

A New Leadership Recruiting Poster—Introduces the idea that congregational leadership development requires focusing not primarily on recruiting methods but on the substance of leadership roles, and that Joseph offers a model of leadership qualities. (2 pp.) [MIKEITZ]

The New Moon of All New Moons—Explores why Avraham planted a tree in b'eir shavah, how he teaches us a new name of God, how this name was related to his hopes for the future, and what the new moon teaches us about the future. (3 pp.) [ROSH HASHANAH]

Observing Shabbat—No Matter What!—Questions how it is possible to use Shabbat to bring more happiness and fulfillment into our lives; the demands placed on us that are obstacles to keeping Shabbat; the meaning of the commandments to remember and observe Shabbat and the consequences, in the form of spiritual disease, for ignoring them; the need for trust in God to have the courage to protect Shabbat; and a verbal formula for doing that when challenged to give it up. (2 pp.) [YITRO, VAETCHANAN]

On the Wings of Eagles—Describes Yaakov's "wrestling match," the meaning of the contest between Yaakov and the descendants of Eisav, and the reason why we don't eat the sinew that is on the joint of the thigh. (2 pp.) [VAYISHLACH]

One-Being (Shema)—Interpretative translation of the first line of the Shema. (Music tape available from GTP at minimal cost.)

One Has Told You What Is Good—Identifies two key sources of unhappiness in life, focusing on the need to have the unique part of ourself—that which is created in the image of God—be lovable and loved; the primary importance of kindness from a life-partner in satisfying that need; and the crucial role of justice and humility in sustaining kindness in relationships. (2 pp) [CHAYEI SARAH]

One Mastermind of Substance and Spirit—Raises the question of why Joseph's behavior towards his brothers, after he revealed himself to them as viceroy over Egypt, was tzadik-like, extending comfort to them—suggesting that he accepted God as masterminding the events of his life; notes that as modern Jews we find it difficult to believe in God's masterminding and Divine Providence, especially the idea that the latter touches us personally; explores how the contemporary debate between the more extreme advocates of evolution and intelligent design reflects the question of God's masterminding and Divine Providence; and concludes that the extremes on both sides of the debate follow from a failure to understand that One God is masterminding both substance and spirit. (3 pp.) [VAYIGASH]

Opponents of Jewish Revitalization—Points out that the particulars of Torah are largely unknown to a majority of modern Jews, including those who are congregationally affiliated; that abandonment of the tradition without knowing it is often defined as "progress"; the incremental consequences of alienation from Torah; and the potential for ignorance of Torah to nurture fifth columns and factions within congregations that are covertly committed to subverting efforts to strengthen the congregation as a moral spiritual community. (2 pp.) [BECHUKOTAI]

Our Most Grievous Sin—Relates the character of sin in Judaism, Moshe's sin of taking the creation for granted when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it, practical steps to avoid taking for granted what we care about most in creation, and the crucial role of a kehilla in remaining on the path of righteousness to do that. (2 pp.) [CHUKAT]

Peoples Blessing—From traditional Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing), with interpretative translation. (Music tape available from GTP at minimal cost.)

Pinchas and the Promise of God's Peace—Briefly outlines the historical context of Pinchas' action in killing Zimri and Kosbi; the strategy and tactics of the Midianites to destroy Israel; the primary points of Pinchas' critics; the implications of his commitment to rodef shalom for the sake of heaven; and the ultimate consequences of his action. (3 pp.) [BALAK, PINCHAS]

A Place for God on Earth—Explains the meaning of the torn olive leaf in the beak of the returning second dove that Noah sent out; the reason the Torah was given to a "stiff-necked" people; the implications of Noah's prophecy for his three sons; and the connections between these aspects of the Noah story and our blessing of God, which brings the Shechinah to dwell among us on earth. (2 pp.) [NOACH]

Plowing A Flourishing Future—Questions the significance of the first commandment given at Sinai; what it means practically that Adoshem is to be one's God; the requirements of demonstrating our allegiance to God; the incentives for satisfying those requirements; the relevance of the understanding that God brought us out of Egypt; the legacy of our miraculous history as a people; and what we will do to protect that legacy now that it's in our hands. (1 p.) [SHAVUOT, YITRO]

Prayer as a Uniting Force—Recognizes that prayer is often "bargaining" with God, which contradicts our scientific outlook; and Jacob's prayer seeking to make God a "comprehensive, uniting force," linking the individual with family, community, and people through their Torah-guided action together. (2 pp.) [VAYEITZEI]

Prayer for Peace (music file)—The sample file will open and play only if you have an mp3 player installed on your computer's hard drive. Please allow several minutes for the sound file to download if you are not using a high-speed connection to the Internet.

Prayer for Peace (text file)—Includes Hebrew and English texts, transliteration, drash (homilectic interpretation), and iyun tefila (poetic meditation).

A Primer on Spiritual Prayer—Acknowledges the generic spiritual needs of congregants; mistaken assumptions of how they're to be satisfied; naturalistic understandings of awe and fear of God, and faith; the potential for achieving kirvat Adonai (nearness to God); and the role of fixed, communal prayer in Jewish spirituality. (3 pp. ) [VAYEIRA]

Prompting Anti-Semitic Hatred—Notes the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism, its primary basis in the mitzvah for the Jewish people to sanctify God by not refusing to do good and not hiding in the presence of evil, and the choice not to be "incidental victims" of anti-Semitic hatred but instead run the risk of prompting it to suffuse our life with spiritual meaning. (2 pp.) [EMOR]

Psalm 92—Prayer from the traditional liturgy, with line-by-line drash.

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch On Chanukah (audio file)—Reading of the commentary of Rabbi Hirsch on Chanuka, from the Collected Writings, including an introduction that illuminates the contrast between Hellenism and Judaism; and an historical narrative that pinpoints the corruption of the priests and princes, which invited the oppressive decrees of Antiochus. (Note: This is a relatively large file that may take a minute or two to download.) [CHANUKA]

Remedying Our Communal Bloodguilt—Questions whether we’re going to do anything about the discrimination and violence suffered by other Jews; the relevance of the text in Deuteronomy that obligates local officials to carry out a ritual of responsibility when a person is found slain in a field; the ascribing of bloodguilt and its effect on the land; and the necessity for communal atonement, which in the present might include pressing local law enforcement agencies to gather, share, and respond to more intelligence on hate groups. (2 pp.) [SHOFTIM]

Removing the Chametz of Strange Gods—Clarifies what chametz is, its place in Jewish tradition, and the connection between removing chametz and spiritual renewal. (2 pp.) [PASSOVER]

Renewal of Rabbinic Leadership—Explores links between (a) abandonment of daily religious practice and declining participation in congregational life; and (b) challenges to rabbinic leadership, particularly to widen the circle of religious and spiritual leaders and to make Torah and Judaism more relevant to the day-to-day pressures and hopes of congregants. (4 pp.)

The Righteous in Death are Called LivingDevar Torah on Bereshit 47:28-29 (Parsha Vayachi) that explores Yaakov's desire to be buried in Eretz Yisrael, and the tradition's honoring of those who are righteous in life by enabling them to go on living after their death. (3 pp.) [VAYACHI]

Ritual Purity and Social Justice—Points out that although most modern Jews accept the Torah's moral and ethical teachings, they reject its ordinances concerning ritual purity; they fail to see the connection between the two, and that there is a reciprocal relationship between social justice and moral individual and family life. (2 pp.) [ACHAREI MOT]

Rosh Chodesh A Vital Holy Day—Proposes that several features of Mevarekhim ha-Chodesh distinguish it from other liturgical blessings and benedictions; that the purpose of Rosh Chodesh is not, per se, to commemorate the astrological event of the new moon, but to mark a monthly meeting between God and the Jewish people, on a day that is mutually determined, as an inducement to our own voluntary spiritual renewal, for which the moon serves as a model and monthly reminder, and which has as its object our social transformation. (2 pp.) [ROSH CHODESH]

The Second Day of Rosh Hashanah—Proposes spiritual purposes for the second day of Rosh Hashanah; the necessity of suffering in one's life to take those purposes seriously; the character of spiritual suffering experienced by contemporary American Jews; their estrangement from their spiritual inheritance; and the relevance of the second day's prophetic reading. (3 pp.) [ROSH HASHANAH]

Shared Responsibility for Teshuvah—Points out Moses' concern for the future moral spiritual well being of the people and his extending the covenant beyond those present at Moab; how Jews yet unborn could be obligated in the covenant; Moses' goal to make Israelites responsible for one another; the view of our commentators that teshuvah requires not only personal virtue but communal leadership; and that every Jew is responsible for the teshuvah of others within appropriate arenas of authority. (2 pp.) [NITZAVIM]

The Shortest Path Between Two Points—Explores righteousness and self-righteousness in the context of lashon hara, the characteristics of Noah's righteousness, the threat of lashon hara to congregational well-being, and derekh y'shara as the shortest path to all worthwhile goals in life. (3 pp.) [NOACH]

Social Sins and Social Justice—Points out that the metzora ("leper") was not afflicted with leprosy (Hansen's disease), but "touched" by God because of social sins; that the treatment was not for communicable disease but to encourage self-improvement; and that moral spirituality and social justice are mutually reinforcing. (3 pp.) [METZORA]

The Soul of Family, Community & Nation—Reviews some of the more important misconceptions about congregational community development and the critical contribution of each person's unique gifts to the process. (3 pp.) [BAMIDBAR]

Spirituality and Religion in Social Work Practice—Focuses on micro (clinical) aspects of spirituality and religion in social work practice. (5 pp.)

Spiritually Striving Upwards to God—Describes the modern revulsion at the idea of ritual sacrifice; the contemporary search for spirituality; the actual symbolic purposes of the ancient sacrificial rites, which form the foundation of Jewish spirituality and prayer, and which entail striving upwards to God in daily life; and the role of a congregational community in achieving that aim. (3 pp.) [PINCHAS]

Spreading Jewish Spirituality—Recognizes Shalosh Regalim as spiritual opportunities not only for the individual and family but the community and nation; the obligation in Judaism to aid others who are in "spiritual danger"; the quality of uniquely Jewish spirituality that may be endangered; and what should be done or avoided, including the role of community, to lead other Jews to a Jewish way of life. (3 pp.) [KI TEITZEI, REEH, MISHPATIM, KI TISA]

Striving Upwards Together Next Year—Acknowledges that many Jews are only marginally involved in congregational life, but that we come together for the High Holy Days to become better Jewish human beings; the necessity of contributing to a Jewish community if one is to claim authentic Jewish identity; a proposal that each of us come to High Holy Day services with a communal spiritual intention; and the attitudes needed to do that. (1 p.) [YITRO]

Stumbling Blocks Before Children—Notes that young people involved in drug-dealing and use, and violent gang activity, have had stumbling blocks placed before them, including the availability of guns, for which the entire society is responsible; that even many middle-class suburban children live in fear of violence; that God knows of our placing or not removing these stumbling blocks, which is to say that our indifference represents the degrading of our highest values; and that rejecting responsibility for these stumbling blocks may ultimately bring them into our own back yards. (2 pp.) [KEDOSHIM]

A Tale of Two Goats—Describes the paths of the two goats, that they symbolize a single personality, and that they represent our possible destinies, from which we can choose by exercising our unique moral free will. (3 pp.) [YOM KIPPUR]

Tashlich—Service for Rosh Hashanah includes background on tradition of casting bread crumbs or pocket lint on a moving body of water, and community-building kavannot. (10 pp.) [ROSH HASHANAH]

The Temple Is Not Holy—Notes that Jewish history reveals spiritual confusion when we build temples of brick and mortar; the raison d'être of the ancient Temple; the symbolic roles of its furnishings in achieving its spiritual purposes; the necessity of integrating the Temple and the day-to-day life of the people; and the recognition that the Temple is not holy in itself, but a teaching guide to the sole source of holiness—the Torah. (2 pp.) [PEKUDEI]

There Are No "Converts" in Judaism—Highlights the large number of intermarried families in liberal Jewish congregations, the disincentive to convert to Judaism given the discrimination of born Jews against Jews by choice, and what the tradition teaches about how proselytes should be treated. (4 pp.) {MISHPATIM, EIKEV]

Training Our Children for Life—Contrasts the life-affirming character of Yom Kippur with unwittingly training our children to kill; reviews the writing of a retired Lt. Col., a former Army Ranger and now a psychologist, outlining how children are trained to kill by video games and other violent media; exhorts parents to engage in self-examination regarding their role in the exposure of children to these learning experiences; and suggests steps to avoid complicity in such learning. (2 pp.) [YOM KIPPUR]

True & Certain (Emet v'Yatziv)—Prayer from the traditional liturgy, with line-by-line drash. (Music tape available from GTP at minimal cost.)

Tsunami & Reed Sea Theology—Explores two main theological explanations of the disastrous December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami; theological differences and similarities with the events at the Reed Sea; contrasting perspectives from science and the Torah wisdom tradition; the human element that determined outcomes in the tsunami and Reed Sea events; and optional theological explanations and their implications for humankind. (3 pp.) [VAERA]

Two by Two They Came to Noah—Considers the parallels between Noah's life and our own in relation to preserving all forms of life, finding guidance in Jewish wisdom literature, having and being a helper, and defining ourselves not by what we think or feel but how we act. (1 p.) [NOACH]

We Will do and We Will Hear—Reviews traditional perspectives on the history of the people's pledge, the difficulty for modern Jews of acting without understanding, and the role of community in accepting Torah's directives before understanding its wisdom. (2 pp.) [MISHPATIM]

Which Are We? Dust Or Angels?—Acknowledges that humankind was formed of dust from the ground; that God's breath created our soul with the Divine spirit; that as humankind (adam) we are most closely related not to the earth (adama), but to red (adom), the pure ray of light that is the nearest revelation of the Divine on earth; and that our link to the Divine is expressed through our free will when we choose to show lovingkindness in the image of God. (2 pp.) [BERESHIT]

Why Bother With Judaism?—Questions the reasons why one might believe in and practice Judaism, why many Jews don't, and what's required to do so. (3 pp.)

Why 'Crisis Judaism' Doesn't Last—Essay on the pressures for out-migration from Judaism and congregational life and the decline in covenantal community, authority, and faith. (3 pp.)

Why Keep Kosher—What's the Point?—Acknowledges that more than 80 percent of American Jews ignore kashrut; the mistaken belief that its purpose is to foster health and hygiene; the role of ritual as symbolic communal communication with ourselves about what we value; and the spiritual purpose of kashrut to bring us closer to God as a people. (3 pp.) [SHEMINI]

Why Not Time for God?—Encourages preparation for self-examination during the month of Elul, before High Holy Days; the character of commandments as a gift; and why it's reasonable to accept that observance and non-observance have consequences for us as members of a kahal. (3 pp.) [REEH]

 A Woman Bearing A Child Becomes Impure—Illuminates the ritual impurity that accompanies submitting passively to the physical forces of nature in childbirth; the connection to death, the loss of freewill, and living up to the Torah; and the role of water in ritual purification. (2 pp.) [TAZRIA]

The Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven—Explores the meaning of the first commandment, particularly the import of accepting the "yoke of heaven" as a means of moral spiritual liberation, and the Jewish connection between spiritual and physical liberation, both in the past and in the future. (1 p.) [YITRO]

Yomim Nora'im—Awe or Fear of God—Highlights the sound of the shofar as a call to spiritual yoveil; the difficulty of responding, given daily pressures and the search for sensory pleasures to assuage them; the importance of yirat Adonai and the choice we have between fear and awe of God; the role of teshuvah; and the necessity for hitvadah to find the intellectual, emotional, and physical intimacy that accompanies living in awe of God. (2 p.) [HIGH HOLY DAYS]

You May Rule Over It—Commentary on Genesis 4:7 ("If you do good, shall it not be lifted up? And if you do not do good, sin reposes at the door; and to you is its desire—but you may rule over it"), including implications for the individual to overcome the yetzer hara in the context of community. (2 pp) [BERESHIT]

You Will Present the Blessing—Explores the national ritual based on the commandment to ". . . present the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Eval," entailing a renewed acceptance of the Torah to confront transgressions typically committed in secret by powerful and influential people—and the relevance of the ritual to present-day social life. (3 pp.) [REEH]


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Updated: 10/17/17