Sukkot 5776

Dvar Torah given at Ohr Kodesh Congregation, September 28, 2015

Do you know the minimum size of a sukkah? What is the smallest a sukkah could be and still be kosher?

What I find interesting about this question is that for many halakhot with physical parameters some of the minimum requirements are quite well known. What you need for a kosher lulav and etrog, how much matzah we have to eat or what constitutes the basic components of mishloah manot. Continue reading

Yom Kippur 5776

Dvar Torah given at Kehilat Hadar, September 23, 2015

Throughout the liturgy of Yom Kippur we have recited line after line asking God to hear us, answer us.

We ask in plural:

משענה לרבקה בלכתה לדרוש הוא יעננו

May the one who answered Rebecca when she went seeking answer us

and in first person:

ה׳ שמע בקולי- תהיינה אזנך קשובות לקול תחנוני

God hear my voice, may your ears pay attention to the voice of my supplication.

Over and over we cry out: Continue reading

Vayikra 5775

Dvar Torah given at Kehilat Hadar, March 21, 2015

I’ve long been fascinated with the grammatical construction of “passive to avoid taking responsibility.” Perhaps there’s an actual technical name for this phenomena, but you should all be familiar with it:

“It spilled….” of course it didn’t someone knocked it over!

Or “it fell,” and its popular cousin, “it got dropped” Really? by who?

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Yom Kippur 5775

Dvar Torah given at Kehilat Hadar October 4, 2014 

This drash starts in a bar. I know that’s a bit unconventional for Yom Kippur, but please bear with me. Last year, I met Tim, my spouse at a midtown bar for afterwork drinks with his colleagues. It was also a goodbye party for someone who was leaving. At some point, champagne was brought out, poured into flutes and distributed to all as part of his goodbye toast.

Of the 30 or so people there, who had their pick off the bar’s menu, no one had ordered champagne. Who would? Yet, because it was a toast, we all put down our beers, whiskey, cocktails to pick up flutes of fizzy wine. Toasting is an odd ritual when you  think about it.

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Parshat Re’eh 5774

Dvar Torah given at Kehilat Hadar, August 23, 2014 

Re’eh contains the laws of what you can and can’t eat- a system that evolves into Kashrut as we know it. And there are many rules. Rules about separate dishes and about kosher certifications, special rules that apply to knives especially if they are used to cut onions and chilis. And then there’s Passover!

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2nd day Pesah 5774

Dvar Torah given at Ramah Darom Pesah Retreat, April 16, 2014 

Hag Sameah.

Shortly in Musaf, depending what siddur you’re using, we will read the following words:

וקרב פזורינו מבין הגיום ונפצותינו כנס מירכתי ארץ

Gather our scattered from among the nations and our Diaspora from the edges of the world

והביאנו לציון עירך ברנה ולירושלים בית מקדשך בשמחת עולם

and bring us with rejoicing to your city Zion and to Jerusalem and your temple with everlasting joy.

ושם נעשה לפנך את קרבנות חובותינו … Continue reading

Installation of Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg

Shavua Tov!Rabbis Konigsburg

It is such an honor for me to be here tonight, for the installation of my father Rabbi Randall Konigsburg.

Just this morning we read about the details, rites and rituals of the portable sanctuary. Over and over, we read that all was built to precise specification, according to God’s instructions. For example, one verse reads:

ויעש משה ככל אשר צוו ה’ אותו כן עשה

And Moses did all that God commanded him to do, so he did. (Exodus 40:16)

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Parshat Terumah 5774

Dvar Torah given at Kehilat Hadar, February 1, 2014 

Our topic today is the miskhan, the portable sanctuary assembled and disassembled and moved around the desert while B’nai Yisrael wander in the wilderness. Today we read a detailed description of its creation from soliciting the materials to the particulars of construction both of the structure itself and of the ritual items to be housed there. Despite their detail, It would be imprudent to try to use these descriptions to recreate the mishkan, the instructions are wholly insufficient. Yet the usually concise Torah devotes much time and space to this topic. Far more than is practical or, at least according to some, interesting. In study of Torah, both traditional and critical, such extensive description is treated as a measure of importance. Clearly, the Torah thinks the mishkan is important.

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Reflections from Sderot

Visiting Sderot felt a bit too much like disaster tourism. I kept wondering how those who live there felt when we drove by in our bus. Are they used to it? Do they consider visitors flooding their town to be a second wave of disruption, preventing them from getting on with the normal lives that I’m sure they want to live? I would have liked to ask that question to someone in Sderot, but unfortunately the group wasn’t given this opportunity.

We did however, have a fascinating meeting with the mayor of Sderot, David Buskila. Buskila has the difficult role of trying to restore order to a town filled with constant disruption. He can quickly quote the number of rockets that fall in a given year, and describes vividly the 15 seconds between when an alert is issued and the rockets land. Of the statistics that was most difficult to hear, we learned that 25% of the residents of Sderot are afflicted with post traumatic stress disorder. But what was most surprising was what he said next:

The children in Gaza are also suffering. Do you think they are responsible for this violence either? How can their parents vote freely with guns to their heads? I know them, they worked with my father. They want peace.

Unfortunately I didn’t take down the words verbatim, but I think this summary accurately captures the gist. What it doesn’t capture is the tone, strong, sincere and hopeful. I was not expecting a man who is responsible for a place where even the bus stops double as shelters to have such a perspective.

Often, all that we hear is the rhetoric, sound bites created for media or twitter, their authors perhaps thinking that whichever side has a more catchy or more compelling slogan will be winning the battle of propaganda. At other moments of the trip I found myself wondering if those who utter such statements think them to be compelling arguments. How can you even have a proper argument, one where each side tries to engage with and learn from the other when everyone is just repeating sound bites?

All too often the discussions are about right vs. wrong; us vs. them; religious vs. secular; Jew and non Jew or Jew vs. Jew. But to truly engage with Israel we have to go beyond the catchphrases and tweets. We have to get to know the parties involved and to listen to one another. For a moment, after hearing Mayor Buskila speak, I was able to truly realize the complexity of what Israel is about.

Israel is a place where the mayor of a town who has lost citizens to rocket fire can be concerned about the children of the ones doing the firing. Israel is complicated and deserves more than sound bites.

Israel deserves our engagement.