Elul, Again.

Elul is upon us.  Rosh Hashanah is a month away.  Rabbis are frantic.  Cantors are frantic.  What about you?

What does this time mean for you?  Is it a time when you reflect on the year that has been?  Or is it just another month?

Do you plan for the future?  Do Chesbon hanefesh/an accounting of your soul?

Today is my anniversary.  I think of the last eight years and am grateful for each day–or at least that’s what I say.  Like everyone we have amazing days and lousy ones.  Sometimes I’m rude, can’t agree on what to make for dinner, or ignore the children or the stinky diaper.  This time of year reminds me that I can’t ask the Holy One for forgiveness for the mistakes I’ve made with my wife.  First I have to talk to her.  If she can forgive the dirty diaper, then I can talk to G-d that I did not see the Divinity in her in that moment.  I can pledge to do a little bit better this year.  On the wall in our bedroom is a beautiful painting, of a candle.  The flame is written in Hebrew and shows the Hebrew words for fire, God, man and woman, depending on the direction it is read.  It shows that without God, a couple have only fire, but together, they can build a sacred life.

Together we can build a home of Torah, of love, of laughter.  Thank you!

” Marci Wiesel was influenced by the Midrash, the Talmudic legend based on a biblical verse 2:18 of Genesis: And the Lord God said, It is not good for the man to be by himself: I will make one like himself as a help to him. In the flame appear the Hebrew letters that form the words Ish, man, and Isha, woman. The two letters Yud and Heh are shared by both words and make up the name of G-d. Without His name Ish and Isha become only Aish meaning fire. The verse in the candle whose explanation appears in the profile on either side and below the paper cut were taken from the Midrash while the Hebrew and English passage inscribed along the outer edge is taken from the Zohar.” Image and text from:(

As we enter this new month, as we count down the days to Rosh Hashanah, I think of the messages that I share, the hope that I have and the love of family, of the Holy One, and of our community that keeps me going every day.  May my accounting of my successes and failures, my deeds, my thoughts and my prayers help me to better serve them all.


Vows and Oaths–the Israeli Dream edition

Note: These were my notes for Parshat Mattot-Maasei.  The spoken version rarely coincides with what I wrote, but it should give you an idea of my thought process!

וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־רָאשֵׁ֣י הַמַּטּ֔וֹת לִבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר זֶ֣ה הַדָּבָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֖ר צִוָּ֥ה Hashem׃

Moses spoke to the heads of the Israelite tribes, saying: This is what the LORD has commanded:

אִישׁ֩ כִּֽי־יִדֹּ֨ר נֶ֜דֶר לַֽHashem אֽוֹ־הִשָּׁ֤בַע שְׁבֻעָה֙ לֶאְסֹ֤ר אִסָּר֙ עַל־נַפְשׁ֔וֹ לֹ֥א יַחֵ֖ל דְּבָר֑וֹ כְּכָל־הַיֹּצֵ֥א מִפִּ֖יו יַעֲשֶֽׂה׃

If a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips.


Our parsha opens with these sacred words.  The rabbis are very concerned about vows and oaths.  They strongly discourage us from taking them, noting in the Talmud that the Nazir, like Samson, the one who refuses hair cuts and wine, must offer a sin offering at the end of his vow.  The following verses detail how women’s vows are limited; that fathers and husbands can annul their daughters’ and spouses’ vows.  While patriarchal and seemingly sexist, it shows a deep discomfort with the concept of vows themselves.


While in other weeks, I have spoke about the concept of shalom bayit, of peace in the home, and how that might seem to occasionally supercede complete honesty; the arc of our tradition shows us over and over again that words matter.  Unlike many of our politicians who seem not to know truth if it smacks them in the face, who make campaign promises they have no intention of keeping, our Torah teaches us that our word must be true.


Words are incredibly powerful.  According to Bershit, it is with words that the Holy One created this world.  There are Talmudic stories of people who throw themselves in fiery furnaces to avoid embarrassing another person with their words.  There are many books on Lashon Hara and Motzi Shem Ra, discouraging us from gossip or even sharing painful truths about one another–words are powerful.  All these books show us that even a flippant comment can be dangerous to the wellbeing of others–I know I can be guilty of this!


I have been told that in the diamond district, many deals are sealed with a handshake and a “Mazel and Brocha”.  No contract need be signed, because the trust in that community is so strong, the word of one Jew to another is inviolable.  While I cannot attest to the reliability of those deals, I have heard that these words are stronger than any contract.  Is the same true for us?
This week we conclude the wanderings in the wilderness.  Next week we read from Devarim, as Moshe Rabbenu will help us be sure of our commands before we enter the land.  The parsha opens with concerns about vows, with concerns about words and their power.  As we prepare to enter Israel, we are envisioning a perfect society.  As such we are building it peacefully with a reminder of the importance of the truth!  We must be honest!