A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 11.12.2020

As I write this, there are still a few hours left of Veterans Day. I have a deep appreciation, a reverence, even, for veterans. The election last week and all the subsequent shenanigans – indeed, so much of what has transpired over the last 4 years – has put into stark relief the sacrifice of veterans and all who serve in the Armed Forces. At the end of the day, America is as much an idea as a place. The vision of the founders, inspired and imperfect, incorporated the idea that the country and its people would and should evolve, working always toward a “more perfect union.” The men and women of the Armed Forces are the guardians and defenders of the idea, of the vision. Not every war that this nation has fought has been a just war, but every person who signed up to serve or who was drafted and went to do his or her duty is a hero. On behalf of our entire community, I say God bless you and thank you for your service.

The Jewish world lost a giant figure this past Shabbat. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. He was a prolific author and was in many ways a progressive voice of Orthodox Judaism throughout the world. If you are not familiar with Rabbi Sacks, I encourage you to watch this short (6 minute) video of Rabbi Sacks’ statement “Why I am a Jew.”


The past week saw some interesting programs at EMJC. On Saturday night, a nice group of people gathered to discuss the film Incitement, about the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin. The movie is powerful and worthwhile. If you have not seen it, it is on Amazon Prime; if you have a membership, you can stream it for no extra charge.

On Sunday, Audrey and I hosted a first Zoom gathering of parents with school-age children. Parents shared stories of their challenges parenting in the age of Coronavirus. In my letter to the parents, I referenced the rabbinic saying: tzarat rabim chatzi nechama – “Knowing that many are troubled is half a consolation.” It’s a Jewish way of saying “Misery loves company.” The fact is, we all know that sharing our hardships with others can relieve those hardships to a degree, and hearing that others are having similar difficulties can relieve them even more. That goes for all of us.

I heard great feedback on the ScholarStream program that began this week. It will continue for the next three weeks. See below for details on how to sign up – the program is free for EMJC members.

I’d also like to inform you of a program next week run out of Mechon Hadar. It is a special havruta (partner study) program for grandparents and grandchildren (recommended ages 7 and up). I include it because a) Hadar runs great programs, and b) EMJC has its fair share of grandparents and this is a great opportunity to spend a little time with your grandchildren in Covid times. Here is the blurb and the link:

Join us for Toldot: Learning with Grandparents where we will explore the themes of the Parashah in havruta as we prepare for Shabbat together Thursday, November 19; 5:00-5:45 PM ET. The learning is geared towards kids ages 7 and up. Register here: https://hadar-org.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYld-CorDIuGNWoeGtae0-cVrl1FnB-FJKc

Lastly, a word about the parasha: in this week’s Torah portion, we will read about the death of Sarah and Avraham’s purchase of a burial cave from Ephron the Hittite. This story is the source of our practice of eulogizing our dead, among other laws and traditions around death. Avraham then instructs his servant to go to Aram Naharayim, the “land of my birth,” to find a wife for his son Isaac. Through a series of propitious events, the servant finds Rebekah and brings her back to Canaan. The couple fall in love and Isaac is consoled for the loss of his mother. The parasha ends with a record of Avraham’s death – his sons Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury him. The text tells us that Avraham died “old and contented” (Genesis 25:8). Earlier, in 24:1, we read, “Avraham was now old, advanced in years, and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.” God had promised Avraham a great deal – the Land of Canaan, offspring as numerous as the stars in the heaven, the promise of many nations springing from his loins – yet at the time of his death, he has none of that. What could it mean that “the LORD had blessed Avraham in all things,” and that he died “old and contented?” I leave that as food for thought…. I’d be most interested to hear your thoughts on this matter. I hope you’ll join us for services.

Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat,

Rabbi Sam Levine