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Rosh Hashanah 5784: Praying Is Hard

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

Prayer is hard. No, that’s not right. Maybe I should say “to pray is hard.” But that’s not right, either. To pray with meaning and conviction is hard. That’s it. And that can be really hard.

During my now 18 years as an ordained rabbi, more than one person has told me that they can no longer pray the words of our siddur – or of any siddur or any machzor. These prayers depict an omnipresent all-knowing God who is the source...Read more...

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5784: My Day in DC – Or What It Means to See Each Other as B’tzelem Elohim

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

On July 19 of this past summer, I flew down to Washington, DC, at the invitation of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, to be present at Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to a joint session of Congress. The pomp and ceremony were remarkable. My seating was fantastic – behind the CSPAN camera. The people with me in the gallery seats had done wonderous things in the name of and on behalf of the Jewish people. President Herzog could have been more...Read more...

B'midbar 2023

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

I grew up in Oakland, NJ, a small town in the northern part of the state. We lived on a dead end – Hannah Road. The street that inter­sected with ours – Page Drive – was also a dead end to the south. Beyond the dead end on Page Drive were some woods. If you walked into the woods and up a hill, you reached the sand dunes. A local family who owned most...Read more...

P'kudei 2023

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

This week we conclude reading from the book of Exodus with the double portions of Vayakheil and P’kudei. When we come to the last portion in a book of Torah, we Jews have an interesting tradition. After the Torah is read, we raise it up high, turn it around to show the words of the Torah to the congregation, and say the Hebrew words, chazak, chazak, v’nitchaziek  – “be strong, be strong, and we shall be...Read more...

Mishpatim 2023

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

You remember March of 2020 don’t you? A virus had arrived in this country in January from the other side of the world. It was a Monday, I believe, when the governor, like virtually all other governors, shut down the state.

The next day, Tuesday, we were all home when there was a ring at the front doorbell. “That...Read more...

Vayigash 2022

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

A story is told: In a mountain village in Europe a few centuries ago, there was a nobleman who was concerned about the legacy he would leave to the people of his town. The man spent a great deal of time contemplating his dilemma, and at last, decided to build a synagogue. In the course of his planning, he decided that no one would see the plans for the building until it was finished. The construction took quite a...Read more...

Yom Kippur 5783: The Healing Power of Prayer

Rabbi Shira Stern, D.Min., BCC

By a show of hands, how many you have said a misheberach prayer for someone who was ill? Please put your hands down. How many of you believe it will do any good? How many of you don’t know if it will, and are only hedging your bets? How many of you feel awkward doing so, but do so anyway?

When I was newly ordained, I came to a tiny shul in New Jersey as their first full-time rabbi. This is significant only insofar as it meant that...Read more...

Kol Nidrei 5783: Thank You For Bringing Me Your Heart

Rabbi Shira Stern, D.Min., BCC

One Friday night five years ago, on the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I decided to stay home. My husband Don - yes, also a rabbi -  led the early Shabbat service. Afterwards, he looked…  anxious? Thoughtful? Puzzled. He described feeling “not right.” He indicated there was some pressure on his chest and tightness in his jaw. We waited. It didn’t get better, so we opted for the ER, figuring, why not have the...Read more...

Sh'lach Lecha 2022

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

It’s June. For many of us, June means the end of school and the start of summer vacation. Or it might mean a lighter work schedule and more family time. It can mean camp, warm weather, mosquitoes.

For anyone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual,...

K'doshim 2022

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

This week’s portion is K’doshim. The portion contains a myriad of commandments, right from the outset, as we read, k’doshim t’hiyu ki kadosh ani Adonai eloheichem – “You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal God, am holy.” That’s the overarching theme. Then we get to the specifics.


A few verses later we read, v’ahavta...

Achrei Mot 2022

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

Our portion this week is Achrei Mot, meaning after the death of. It refers to the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Abihu, who died while offering a “strange” or unwanted fire to God. While our portion refers to those two deaths, I’d like to suggest that death, quite sadly, is all around us. Over 990,000 people in the U.S. have died in the last two years due to COVID. Worldwide, that number is 6.23 million. While COVID...Read more...

The Story of Noah: A Modern Midrash

Barak Gale and Mark X. Jacobs, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life

And God spoke to Noah, and to his children, saying: “Behold, I establish My covenant with you, and with your seed after you, and with every living creature that is with you, of the birds, of the cattle, and of every wild animal of the earth with you” (Genesis 9:9).

A modern Midrash: Noah had all manner of living things aboard the ark and was ready for the great Mabul, the great...Read more...

Vayikra 2022

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

This week we begin a new book of the Torah – Leviticus, called Vayikra in Hebrew. The parasha – Torah portion – is also called Vayikra, and both the book of Torah and the parasha are named for the first key word in the first verse. In this case, it happens to be the first word.

There’s a real oddity to the word as it appears in...Read more...

T’tzaveh 2022

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

Our Torah portion this week is T’tzaveh. I’m not so concerned about the contents right now – if you want to look into the specifics of what’s in the portion, join us for Torah study tomorrow morning on Zoom at 9:30. The link is in the email you should have received from the office yesterday.

Instead, tonight I am going to speak about the meaning of the word t’tzaveh. In...Read more...

T'rumah 2022

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor lived in the 19th century in Lithuania. By all accounts, he was a great rabbi and a great human being. He was a child prodigy who became versed in Talmud at a young age, married at 13, and received rabbinic ordination in his teens. As a rabbi, he was poor and served tiny congregations. Eventually, his brilliant mind became known to the rabbinic leaders in Russia, and he moved to larger...Read more...

B'shelach 2022

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

As I mentioned at the beginning of our service, this week we celebrate a very special Shabbat – Shabbat Shirah, or the Shabbat of Song. The name comes from text in our Torah portion – the text of the prayer Mi Chamocha. As the Israelites walked through the divided sea, they sang the words, “Who is like You, O God, among the gods who are worshipped? Who is like You, majestic in holiness,...Read more...

Bo 2022

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

Parashah Bo: United or Not?

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Bo, opens in the middle of a story, the story that immediately precedes the greatest event in our people’s history. The final three plagues – swarms of locusts, absolute darkness, and the slaying of the first born – are visited upon the Egyptians because of Pharaoh’s continual refusal to let the Israelites leave Egypt.

God does not visit these scourges...

Vayeitzei 2021

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

In our parashah for this week, Vayeitzei, we read: “When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or else I die.’”[1]

Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife, suffered from infertility. The emotional pain was so severe that if felt to her that death was the only possible outcome. From this, the ancient Rabbis taught...Read more...

Tol'dot 2021

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

In this week’s Torah portion, parashah Tol’dot, brothers Jacob and Esau are in a place of conflict for over forty years. At the end of the parashah, their father Isaac sends Jacob away to live with a relative so that Jacob can avoid the death threat of his brother Esau. Just before Jacob leaves, Isaac says to him “Go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethu-el, your...Read more...

Chayei Sarah 2021

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

We find our patriarch Abraham’s life described in three different parshiot. And these parshiot tell us not only about Abraham, but also about God.

Two weeks ago, in parashah Lech L’cha, we meet Abraham, then called Abram. God calls to him, tells him to leave his home, the land of his birth, his father’s house – a place described in...Read more...

Vayera 2021

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

Our Torah portion this week, Vayera, includes the well-known story of the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Near the end of that story, Lot’s wife watches the destruction and is turned into a pillar of salt.

Why? What did she do that caused her to turn into a pillar of salt? Like most women of the Torah, we know so little about her. Our sacred text doesn’t even...Read more...

Lech L'cha 2021

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

As the rabbi of Temple Beth Jacob, I serve as the Jewish chaplain for St. Paul’s School here in Concord. And every fall, I am invited to speak before the student body, faculty, and administration when the entire community comes together for chapel time. Chapel time happens four mornings each week, and this year they had me come twice – right after Yom Kippur and during Sukkot.

St. Paul’s, as I’m sure most of you know, is an Episcopal school, though many of the students are neither Episcopalian nor even Christian. In fact, approximately 13% of the student body is Jewish, the second largest religiously identified group after Christians. The chapel time at St. Paul’s gives the community the opportunity to learn about many different faith and spiritual traditions.Read more...

Yom Kippur 5782: President's Address

Bob Friedburg

Just yesterday Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the URJ sent his thoughts on this Day of Atonement: “There are several steps to t’shuvah, which is often a long, emotionally grueling process. First, we must acknowledge the wrongs we have done. Second, we must demonstrate true remorse and regret for our behavior. Third, we must take responsibility, seeking to repair harm that has been done and using learnings to...Read more...

Yom Kippur 5782: Anger

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

In the Babylonian Talmud,[1] we read a story about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son, Elazar, who had fled from the Roman government. They went and hid in a cave. A carob tree sprouted to provide them with food, and a spring appeared to provide them with water. With their basic needs met, they focused only on the most important thing. They buried themselves up to their necks in sand and studied all day, taking...Read more...

Kol Nidrei 5782: Trauma

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

A couple of weeks ago, a rabbinic colleague of mine offered a suggestion to rabbis across the globe: What if on Kol Nidrei, as we stood before our congregations to deliver our sermons, we simply cried for ten minutes?

I gave it serious consideration.

As I contemplate our world, our country, our state, our community, I just want to weep. COVID...Read more...

Rosh Hashanah 5782 Day 2: D'var Torah

Morissa Sobelson Henn

The video version is linked at the end of the D'var text.

Shana tova. My name is Morissa Sobelson Henn, and I am honored to have been asked to speak this morning. I grew up in Concord, nurtured by the TBJ family. Over the past two decades, as I’ve moved from apartments in Boston and Brooklyn to Salt Lake City, my continued membership at TBJ has helped me stay connected to...Read more...

Rosh Hashanah 5782 Day 1: Boundaries

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

As the Israelites begin their wanderings in the wilderness – after spend­ing two years at Mount Sinai – they were instructed on how to carry and transport the mishkanthey had built, the tabernacle that housed the tablets, along with the holy items used for their sacrifices. The regular Levites immediately surrounded the mishkan, north, west, and south, with the east reserved for Moses,...Read more...

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5782: Déjà Vu? Lessons Learned?

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

Here we are again, attending our primary High Holy Day services online. A year ago, I would not have believed it if someone had said that 5782 would be a repeat of 5781. But it is. The Delta variant of COVID is making its way across our globe and nation, raising the previously low new infections rates, and infecting both vaccinated and unvaccinated. Yes, the unvaccinated are a much higher risk of getting infected...Read more...

Yom Kippur Morning 5781 – Life

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

The singer and songwriter Jewel Kilcher penned these words:
And lend your voices only to sounds of freedom.
No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from.
Fill your lives with love and bravery and you shall lead a life uncommon.

In Judaism we learn that the greatest mitzvah one can perform is p’ku-ach nefesh, to save a life. A Shabbat-observant Jew must violate the laws of Shabbat if in...Read more...

Kol Nidrei 5781 – Gratitude

Rabbi Robin Nafshi

A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet. He held up a sign which read, “I am blind, please help if you can.”

Only a few coins were in the hat – spare change from folks as they hurried past. A woman stopped. She took a few coins from her purse and dropped them into the hat. She then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words. She put the sign back in the boy’s hand for everyone to...Read more...

Mon, September 25 2023 10 Tishrei 5784