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Divrei  Torah - Rabbi Toba Spitzer

These divrei torah have been delivered on High Holydays and on other occasions.

Rabbi Spitzer is also writing for ON Scripture – The Torah, a weekly Jewish scriptural commentary, produced in collaboration with Odyssey Networks and Hebrew College. Thought leaders from the United States and beyond offer their insights into the weekly Torah portion and contemporary social, political, and spiritual life. These...Read more...

Seven Things I’ve Learned about Teshuvah From Household Appliances

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5779

PDF:  Erev RH Talk 5779-Teshuvah & Appliances.pdf

There are many ways my life has changed in the two years since my spouse, Gina, passed away. I recently realized that this is the first time in my life that I have been the sole person responsible for the upkeep of a house.  Until the year I turned 40, when I acquired my first mortgage with Gina, I had always lived in someone else’s...Read more...

Finding Faith

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah I 5779

PDF: RH Talk 5779-Finding Faith.pdf

This past July, during a visit with my mother in Maryland, we happened upon the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, on the Eastern Shore.  Established just a few years ago, the Park has a wonderful visitors’ center, with a great exhibit about Tubman’s life and the activity of the Underground Railroad in Maryland...Read more...

Lovingkindness and Truth Will Meet

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Yom Kippur 5779

PDF: Lovingkindness and Truth Will Meet.pdf

In 1974, when I was in 7th grade, my teacher took our class to a Congressional hearing on Capitol Hill.  We sat in a small room on wooden benches, listening to the testimony of a very elderly man, one of the very few survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.  The hearings were about a proposal to pay reparations to survivors and descendants...Read more...

Water, Place, Voice

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5778

PDF: Erev RH Talk 5778 - Water-Place-Voice.pdf

So here we are, entering a new Jewish year, a time that in our tradition is seen as one both of hope and of trepidation.  Hope, because we are celebrating the creation of the world as if today were that day - everything lies new before us.  Hope, because we are given an opportunity to turn the page, to write a new chapter in our personal...Read more...

Reconstructing "Peoplehood"

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah I 5778

PDF: RH1 Talk 5778 - Reconstructing Peoplehood.pdf

 

 

I have a friend and former employer, Jerome Segal, who a number of years ago wrote a book about the Torah called Joseph’s Bones. I love the first paragraph of his introduction - it goes like this:  “Imagine a book club that has only one book. When the club members finish their book, they return to the beginning...Read more...

Slavery and Its Atonement

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Yom Kippur  5778

PDF: YK Talk 5778- Slavery and Its Atonement.pdf

 

 

In the Yom Kippur Torah service, we heard from two of the central models of leadership in the Torah: the priest and the prophet.  The priests oversaw the rituals that were designed to allow God’s Presence to dwell among the Israelites, via the sacred space known as the Mishkan, the holy sanctuary.  The priests were...Read more...

After the Death

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Yom Kippur 5777

PDF: After the Death

 

 

This morning’s Torah reading begins with the words, acharei mot–“after the death.”  This verse refers to an odd and upsetting episode from a few chapters earlier in Leviticus.  Aaron’s eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, brought the wrong kind of offering into the Mishkan, into the Holy of Holies, and were zapped by a deadly fire.  This...Read more...

Your Purpose is Everything

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5777

PDF: Your Purpose is Everything

 

 

Over the past few years, I spent a fair bit of time at Mass General Hospital, accompanying my spouse Gina on various appointments.  In each of the examination rooms in the cancer center, on the inside of every door, there is a sign that says this:

 “Confirming your identity will be a repetitive process while here...Read more...

Active Hope

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah I 5777

PDF: Active Hope

 

 

Rosh Hashanah is traditionally understood as the day that God sits in judgment over all of creation.  The great medieval scholar Maimonides, in his code of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, writes that this “judgment” takes the form of a scale, weighing human transgressions against good deeds.  For each person, if our positive deeds outweigh our...Read more...

Our Path Together

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Kol Nidre 5777

PDF: Our Path Together

 

 

On my various rabbinic listservs, there has been some discussion, as you might imagine, about how and if we rabbis will be addressing the presidential election over the High Holydays.  Due to the tax exempt status of our congregations, we are legally barred from telling people to do everything in their power to keep a misogynistic, racist, narcissistic...Read more...

Seven Things I Learned About Teshuvah from Riding a Bike

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5776

PDF: Erev RH Talk 5776-Teshuvah & Riding a Bike.pdf

 

 

When Gina and I moved from Lexington to our current home in Waltham a couple of years ago, I discovered I now lived only a mile and a half from my office, and our CDT sanctuary, in West Newton square.  The first thing that dawned on me was that I could walk to Shabbat morning services, which I have since done,...Read more...

Asking for Fear

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah I 5776

PDF:  RH1 Talk 5776-Asking for Fear.pdf

 

 

Last year, I cut out of the paper a graphic op-ed called “100 Years of Fears,” by Phillip Niemeyer.  In it, he puts a little graphic and a heading for the major cultural fear of each year.  Here are a few of what he includes:

1915 - U-Boats
1921 - Reds
1924 - Immigrants
1934 - Hunger
1943 -...Read more...

Removing the Stumbling Block: Talking About Race

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Yom Kippur 5776

PDF: YK Talk 5776-The Stumbling Block.pdf

 

 

My favorite book by Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, is called The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion, first published in 1937. In it, Kaplan seeks to “reconstruct” our thinking about God, using Shabbat and the Jewish holidays as frames within which to think about the meaning of Divinity. Each...Read more...

Aleynu – Praise Be!

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Kol Nidre 5776

PDF: Aleynu - Praise Be! - KN 5776.pdf

 

 

In a few moments, we will recite the “Aleynu.” The prayer begins, “Aleynu l’shabe’ach la’adon hakol—“It is up to us to praise Adon HaKol” - ‘the Master of All’ – a poetic way of referring to the Power of life itself, the organizing force behind the cosmos.

The next line is intended to parallel the...Read more...

Holy Mistakes

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Kol Nidre 5776

PDF: Holy Mistakes-KN 5776.pdf

 

 

As we approach the Selikhot section of the service, the liturgy where we ask forgiveness for the ways we have missed the mark, I was thinking about presidential primary season. There are many unpleasant things about this seemingly endless process of picking presidential candidates, but one aspect of it that I find truly disturbing is something...Read more...

Uncertainty, Boredom and Patience: Entering the New Year

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5775

PDF: Uncertainty, Boredom and Patience: Entering the New Year

Advice to Myself

Louise Erdich

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything....Read more...

The Unetaneh Tokef: Jewish Koan

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah I 5775

PDF: The Unetaneh Tokef: Jewish Koan

A little earlier this morning, as we recited some of the liturgy unique to the High Holydays, we chanted a prayer-poem—a piyyut—called the Unetaneh Tokef. It’s a complex and challenging piece of liturgy, containing themes that echo throughout these Days of Awe.

In the poem, God is first described as sitting on a throne, reviewing a book that...Read more...

Overcoming Anger

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Kol Nidre 5775

PDF: Overcoming Anger - Kol Nidre 5775

We are approaching the Selichot prayers, that part of the Kol Nidre service where we have an opportunity to reflect on those ways in which we have “missed the mark,” done things that have hurt ourselves and others. For the next 24 hours, we have an opportunity to reflect on this, to take to heart the ways in which we can do better.

In a few minutes we...Read more...

The Narrative of Compassion

Rabbi Tobah Spitzer

Yom Kippur 5775

PDF: YK Talk 5775-A Narrative of Compassion.pdf

Last year on Yom Kippur, I spoke about the broken communal narrative on Israel within the American Jewish community. I spoke about what should be a rich and complex discourse having devolved into a constant negotiation of which “side” one is on, and the constant pressure to choose sides, to take a position and then defend that position against all...Read more...

The Wonder of Not Knowing

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5774

PDF: The Wonder of Not Knowing 

 

 

I wanted to share with you a piece that appeared in the Boston Globe a few years ago, by Joan Wickersham.  It’s called “Too Much Information”:

AT A recent dinner with friends, someone was telling a story about taking her teenage kids to New York, where they’d stumbled into a store so cool that she hadn’t been...Read more...

God in Metaphor

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

HIgh Holydays 5774

PDF: God in Metaphor

For many people, attending High Holydays services is a bit like going to a play where you really don’t like the main character—where, much of the time, you doubt the very existence of the main character!  If the “main character” in our traditional High Holydays liturgy is God, this can be quite a problem for anyone seeking a meaningful spiritual experience. ...Read more...

Israel:  Telling a New Story

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Yom Kippur 5774

PDF:   Israel: Telling a New Story

 

We have come a long way since the rituals described in our Torah portion today–a long way since Yom Kippur was focused on the Temple, on animal sacrifice and the central figure of the High Priest.  At the center of the Biblical Yom Kippur were rituals of purification, for the Temple itself, for the High priest and his family, and for the entire...Read more...

Teshuvah from Fear, Teshuvah from Love

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Kol Nidre 5774

PDF: Teshuvah from Fear, Teshuvah from Love

 

 

In a few minutes, we will enter into the Selikhot portion of the service, a series of prayers that are unique to the Yom Kippur liturgy.  Selikhot means “forgiveness” or “pardons”–it is here that we begin our Yom Kippur work of asking forgiveness for those ways in which we’ve strayed in the...Read more...

A Door Closes, A Door Opens: Exits into the New Year

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah I 5774

PDF:  A Door Closes, A Door Opens: Exits into the New Year

 

I wonder, sometimes, why these stories of Abraham and his family were chosen as the Rosh Hashanah Torah reading—instead of reading, say, about the Creation of the world—which  we add as an alternative maftir reading.  One answer, perhaps, is the theme of birth and new beginnings that we find in today’s...Read more...

Seven Things I’ve Learned About Teshuvah from (Not) Moving

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5773

PDF: Erev RH 5773 - Moving & Not Moving.pdf 

 

As many of you know from various postings that Gina and I have sent to the Dorshei Tzedek listserv in recent months, we are in the process of selling our house in Lexington and purchasing a new home in Waltham.  It’s a fairly complex and emotional process, so a few months ago I decided it would be a good topic to explore...Read more...

The Wonder of Not Knowing

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5774

PDF:  The Wonder of Not Knowing

 

 

I wanted to share with you a piece that appeared in the Boston Globe a few years ago, by Joan Wickersham.  It’s called “Too Much Information”:

AT A recent dinner with friends, someone was telling a story about taking her teenage kids to New York, where they’d stumbled into a store so cool that she hadn’t been...Read more...

God & Metaphor

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah I 5773

PDF:  RH1 Talk 5773 - God & Metaphor.pdf

 

 

Some of you have heard me say, at past High Holydays services, that I recognize the tension that many people who come to our services experience. In certain ways it’s like being at a play featuring a main character that you may not like very much—or even worse, you question his very existence.  That “character”, of...Read more...

Who Will Live, and Who Will Die

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Yom Kippur 5773

PDF:  YK Talk 5773 - Who Will Live.pdf

Rabbi Alan Lew, the wonderful writer and teacher, has noted that the ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are like a compressed voyage from birth to death.  Rosh Hashanah celebrates birth - the creation of the world, the birth of humanity - and Yom  Kippur is the day we “rehearse” our own death - by wearing white, like the shroud we’ll...Read more...

The Search Party

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Kol Nidre 5773

PDF: Kol Nidre 5773 - The Search Party.pdf

 

 

A few weeks ago, some of you may have heard on NPR an intriguing news story from Iceland.  Here it is:

On a Saturday this past August, a woman who was described as “Asian, about 160cm, in dark clothing and speaks English well” was declared missing somewhere in the vicinity of Eldgjá, in south Iceland. The search went...Read more...

The Place Where We're Perfect

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5772

PDF:  5772-erev-rh-the-place-where-we%27re-perfect.pdf

As many of you know, over this past year we had a special Torah of Chesed campaign focused on the inclusion of children with special needs and their families in the life of our community. There is still much work to be done in this arena, but we had a good year in which we did some important learning together, and began to make some...Read more...

Sat, 23 March 2019