Talmud this Shabbat: God’s Curious Commands That a Prophet Marry and then Hire Prostitutes

In our Talmud class this coming Shabbat, we are going to start a multi-week series on what is called the trei asar–Aramaic for the number twelve. The trei asar refers to the twelve so-called minor prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadia, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zecharia, and Malachi. We will study highlights from each prophet.

Our first prophet is Hosea, who immediately confronts us with complexity and problematics that you would never dream would be in the Hebrew Bible—unless you read it. Attached are the texts from Hosea, the commentary from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s classic The Prophets, and Haftarot: JPS Bible Commentary edited by Michael Fishbane.

Not only does God command Hosea to marry a prostitute, and to have three children with her.

God seemingly commands Hosea to hire a second prostitute, too. Or is that just a retelling of the command to marry the first prostitute? It is unclear.

There are so many problems and questions with these episodes.

Why would God command anyone to marry anyone else to make a point?
That would seem to not respect the humanity of the prophet or the prostitute.

Why bring children into the world and saddle them with weird names? That does not seem to respect the humanity of the children.

Why not one, but two, prostitutes?

And here is the most rich question of all: Out of this hot mess, out of this morally very complicated and challenged material, come the beautiful verses we say every morning, that I personally say every morning too, that Shira said to me under our wedding canopy:

I will betroth you forever:
I will betroth you with righteousness and justice,
And with goodness and mercy.,
And I will betroth you with faithfulness,
Then you shall know the Lord.

How should we understand these crucial words of our daily faith and daily prayer life coming from this disturbing story of a prophet marrying a prostitute, and being followed almost immediately by a prophet hiring out a second prostitute?

Yuck. Or pashnisht, as they would say in Yiddish. Out of yuck and pashnisht, can you make a recipe for the holiest, most beautiful and sacred commitment of all?

See you virtually on Shabbat morning at 8:30. Gann Chapel Live Stream.

Moadim l’simcha,

Talmud this Shabbat: Resurrection

Note: Due to technical difficulties, the first 7 minutes of the class doesn’t have video

This coming Sunday, April 12, is Easter. Our Christian friends celebrate the resurrection of their Lord and Savior, who had been crucified on the cross, who had been dead, and who was resurrected. “He is risen” are very important words in the Christian faith. Andy Stanley, the pastor at North Point Church in Atlanta, speaks passionately about how the physical resurrection of their Lord and Savior is a foundational tenet in Christianity.

What do Jewish sources have to say about resurrection? It seems implausible that somebody who was dead could get resurrected.

Perhaps surprisingly, not only do foundational Jewish sources accept the physical resurrection of the dead. Our sources democratize resurrection. It is not only one man who gets resurrected. All of us get resurrected. This is not some minor side doctrine. To the contrary, resurrection of the dead is absolutely front and center in Judaism’s most important prayer. The second paragraph of the Amidah, known as gevurot, because it extolls God’s strength, affirms five times in one paragraph that God resurrects the dead, mechayei hameitim. We daven the Amidah three times a day on week days, a fourth time on Shabbat with Musaf, the additional service. In other words, 110 times a week, in the daily and Shabbat Amidot, we affirm that God resurrects the dead.

We say it, over and over and over again. But do we mean it? Do we believe it? And if not, why are we saying it?

Mordecai Kaplan, the great teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who would go on to become the founder of the Reconstructionist Movement, taught that when we pray, we should say what we mean, and mean what we say.

On Shabbat, Michelle, Aliza, Elias, Dan and I will be in a conversation about resurrection of the dead. Do we mean it when we say it?

Wishing all of you a happy and healthy Pesach, and look forward to being with you virtually on Shabbat morning at 8:30.

Chag kasher v’sameakh,

Talmud this Shabbat: Stay Awake for The Second Half!!

Football games are won in the second half. Basketball games are won in the fourth quarter. Baseball games are won in the last inning. (One day we will see these games again.)

So too the seder’s deepest meanings are gleaned from the second half. Ironically, many American Jews miss it. We do our talking and sharing in the first half. We eat. We drink. We are tired. We bail. The second half of the Haggadah is often unloved and not experienced.

After our Talmud class last week, Michelle pointed out that the second half of the Haggadah has deep wisdom for this surreal season.

Tomorrow, Michelle, Aliza, Elias, Dan and I will each present our favorite teaching from the second half of the Haggadah. If you are struggling to get your head in the game, if Pesach is not yet where you live, if you can’t yet make yourself feel like Pesach is coming, if you cannot make yourself care like you usually care, this class is for you.

The texts are here. Additional resources here. The link for our 8:30 virtual class is here. The second half of the Haggadah can lift us all up now.

Shabbat shalom,

Talmud this Shabbat: How to Do a Zoom Seder When No One Has Ever Done a Zoom Seder Before?

Zoom seder? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Zoom is about screens. Distance. Long-distance. Seders should be about face to face.

My own family has an absolute rule, which we had never violated until two weeks ago: no screens at the table! Dinner is about face to face, all the more so a seder is about face to face.

And yet, like many other families, this year we will be doing a zoom seder. Shira, Sam and I are in Newton. Our other children are in San Francisco and Los Angeles. If we want to share a seder, we have no choice but Zoom. Many other families have shared that they are in the same predicament and plan on using Zoom for the first time at their seders.

How do we do a Zoom seder when nobody before has ever done a Zoom seder?

Tomorrow morning, Michelle, Aliza, Elias, Dan and I will talk not only about how to do a Zoom seder, but more generally how to do a seder that is responsive and helpful to this surreal moment.

Each member of the clergy team will share his or her best single move for a meaningful seder. It could be a text, a song, a recipe, an idea, a poem.

From our seder table to yours, with love. May all of our families find in this dystopian time seders of surpassing beauty and meaning and joy and love that transcends all.

See you tomorrow morning virtually at 8:30.

Shabbat shalom,

Talmud this Shabbat: Passover in a Pandemic

Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?

All other Passovers we were free. On this Passover we are largely confined to our home.

All other Passovers we read about the plagues God visited upon the Egyptians. On this Passover we are experiencing our own very serious plague.

All other Passovers our seders were big and bustling, 20 people, 30 people, 40 people. On this Passover we are 10 or fewer.

All other Passovers we welcomed the stranger. On this Passover, welcoming the stranger could be dangerous to the stranger and/or to us.

All other Passovers were a multi-generational lovefest. On this Passover, young grandchildren could endanger their older grandparents, and so the generations are wisely kept apart.

All other Passovers took place in the spring, a season of joy. On this Passover, we are in the midst of a season of worry and fear.

Given all that, how do we our seders this year? And we need to do our seders this year—at their appointed time—Wednesday and Thursday night, April 8 and 9. Doing them later—not an option. Not doing them—not an option.

How can we authentically connect to the serious dangers posed by the Coronavirus to health and life, to our economy and our jobs—and do a seder that is uplifting and inspiring and maybe even fun?

Tomorrow morning, Michelle, Aliza, Elias, Dan and I will explore the texts and talk about the perils and possibilities of our Passover Pandemic coming soon to a home near you.

See you virtually on Shabbat morning at 8:30.

We will get through this together.

Shabbat shalom,

Talmud this Shabbat: A House of God at a Time of Plague

What should the role of our synagogue be at this time of plague?

Of course we must attend to health and safety first and foremost. Hence the emails yesterday making the hard but necessary decision to go on-line.

But physical health is not our only concern. How do we attend to our spiritual welfare? How do we nurture our heart and soul, and the hearts and souls of others, when we must be physically distant?

Tomorrow morning I will be having a conversation with Michelle, Aliza, Elias and Dan on the spiritual dimension of the Coronavirus. How do we hold onto our optimism, our hope, our faith in the face of this assault which overturns all of our lives as we know it? What works for them?

I will teach the powerful Haftarah (for Parshat B’har) from Jeremiah 32, a copy of which is attached. Jeremiah writes in a season of utter and consuming darkness. He is in jail—incarcerated for speaking truth to power. The Babylonians are coming to destroy the First Temple. Personal darkness. Communal darkness. National darkness. The opposite of hope. The opposite of faith. The opposite of light. What does he do? From his jail cell, he arranges to buy real estate in Jerusalem. “Houses, fields, and vineyards shall again be purchased in this land.” (32:15)

That is the deed he does. But what does he feel? After he arranges to purchase Jerusalem real estate, he prays to God, the second part of the Haftarah. His faith is suffused with doubt. The end of the Haftarah is a question. Is there a God in charge of all this?

How do we act with faith, even when we feel doubt?

Click here to view the attachment.

Please join us only by livestreaming this class HERE.

Together we will get through this.

Shabbat shalom,

Talmud this Shabbat: Can Feeling Felt Happen in Transactional Contexts?

You are getting a ride in an Uber, Lyft or cab. You are tired, busy, distracted. You’d like to respond to texts and emails; catch up on the news; phone a loved one; chill out and sleep. But the driver is chatty. The driver wants to talk. Do you cue the driver that you are not interested? Do you cue the driver: please just drive? Or do you transcend yourself in an effort to make the driver feel felt?

On Shabbat we are going to read “Heart,” a short story in Elizabeth Strout’s new collection, Olive, Again. What is new and different about “Heart” is that all of the relationships are transactional: a doctor, a nurse, two different home health aides. Olive’s heart attack sets in motion all of these transactional relationships with different health care providers. Previous stories featured long-lasting relationships: spouses, parents and children, siblings, attorney-client, friends. This is a story for a gig economy about temporary relationships that come into being for a specific reason and are then no more.

What would it look like if we were able to suffuse our transactional relationships with holiness? What would it look like if the other person on the other end of a gig moment felt felt? Can you, by how you engage your driver, add to the quantity of healing in our world?

How do we make others feel felt? A helpful answer is in “Heart.”

See you on Shabbat,

Talmud this Shabbat: Feeling Felt

Lori Gottlieb is a therapist in Los Angeles with an active practice. One day, she herself needs a therapist. Her boyfriend, whom she had thought she would marry, breaks up with her, and in a particularly cruel way. She is the mother of a young son. Her boyfriend says to her, out of the blue: I don’t want to spend time watching your son play with Legos.

In her book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (2019), she tells the story of how she found her own therapist, and worked with that therapist, while also continuing her own work as a therapist to her patients. She talks about the single most important criterion for her in finding the right therapist:

Study after study shows that the most important factor in the success of your treatment is your relationship with the therapist, your experience of “feeling felt.” This matters more than the therapist’s training, the kind of therapy they do, or what type of problem you have. (p. 36)

What goes into “feeling felt”? What are the ingredients for “feeling felt”? Have you ever experienced this? Have you helped others to feel felt?

It is super hard to do well, and easy to mess up altogether. We are going to do a two-part series on feeling felt. Tomorrow we will see one story from the Torah and two from the Talmud where a person in pain does not feel felt. From that we can learn what not to do. Next week we will encounter a beautiful story of people who do feel felt.

Why does this matter, and why does this matter now? In an era of negative energy, a beautiful and helpful antidote to that negative energy is feeling felt, and helping others feel that way as well. If Temple Emanuel could be a place where everybody who walks into 385 Ward Street feels felt, that would make a better world, at least here.

Shabbat shalom,

Talmud this Shabbat: When Do We Commit the Sin of Patience?

Is patience always a virtue? Our Torah portion and President’s Day invite us to consider when patience is a sin.

The first laws after Sinai permit slavery. Rich Israelites can enslave poor Israelites. Indeed, poor fathers can sell their own daughters into slavery. Horrible, painful texts, what Bible scholar Phyllis Trible calls “texts of terror.”

How to understand our holy Torah, God’s word, permitting atrocity and evil?

No less an authority than Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks says it’s all about patience. God wants to abolish slavery, but slowly. Incrementally. Patience is called for. In an essay entitled “The Slow End of Slavery,” he writes:

So slavery is to be abolished, but it is a fundamental principle of God’s relationship with us that he does not force us to change faster than we are able to do so of our own free will. So Mishpatim does not abolish slavery but it sets in motion a series of fundamental laws that will lead people, albeit at their own pace, to abolish it of their own accord….

If history tells us anything it is that God has patience…

What does patience look like, what is the price to be paid for patience, and who pays that price? As Alexis Coe writes in her new biography entitled You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington (2020), our first president was a massive slave-owner. He was on record as saying that slavery should be abolished “by slow, sure, & imperceptible degrees.” What that meant in practice was that he never freed a single slave during his life, and he pursued zealously his own slaves that ran away. When he needed money to buy molasses, rum, limes and tamarinds, he sold a slave named Tom to the West Indies knowing that this slave would work hard, eat poorly, receive no medical care, and die young. His own words and letters testify to this. To his credit, at his death, his will did free his 123 slaves upon the death of his wife Martha. (By contrast, Benjamin Franklin freed his slaves while he lived, and he petitioned Congress to abolish slavery.)

Only somebody who is not and has never been a slave can speak of patience here. If you are a slave, patience is no virtue. It is a sin. George Washington’s slaves suffered grievously, and his grounds at Mount Vernon are filled with the unmarked graves of the human beings he enslaved.

But this is not only about Mishpatim and George Washington. This is about us. When do we commit the sin of patience?

When is the better response, the moral response, the response of the Rebbe, the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who taught that “Anything worth doing is worth doing now.”

Shabbat shalom,

Talmud this Shabbat: From Deuteronomy to Parasite, Poverty and Economic Inequality Are Insoluble

In winning Best Picture at the Academy awards and being the first non-English-speaking film to do so, Parasite made history. When I saw Parasite several months ago, the wisdom of Ernest Hemingway came to mind. You know something is good for you if it feels good not while you are doing it, but if it feels good after you have done it. I found watching Parasite exquisitely uncomfortable. For large stretches of the movie, I was squirming, it was that uncomfortable. And yet, in the months since, more than any film I have seen recently, it has stayed with me.

The film is about economic inequality, the very rich and the very poor, in South Korea, and the simmering resentments that lie just below the surface.

But the film is not only about South Korea. It is about us. Think about the New Hampshire primary this week. So much of the energy is around different responses to economic inequality, to the problem of the persistent and permanent economic underclass–a perennial issue in every election cycle.

About this problem the Torah has something sober to say, something that no politician running in Iowa or New Hampshire would or could ever say: Poverty is insoluble. There will always be a permanent economic underclass. There is no program, no policy, no plan that can change that. There is no sermon, no teaching, no exhortation that can change that. God seems to have a special solicitude for the poor, but that does not stop them from being poor. Economic inequality there always was, economic inequality there always will be.

On Shabbat, we will examine the Torah’s sober wisdom, and then talk about two very different responses: our prophets and our rabbis. Echoes of both voices are heard at every campaign stop in this, and in every, election cycle.

See you tomorrow!

Shabbat shalom,