Sign In Forgot Password

Divrei  Torah - Rabbi Toba Spitzer

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

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 -...

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...

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....

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...

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...

Two Paths

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah I 5772

PDF: 5772-rh-two-paths.pdf

In this morning’s Torah portion, we read about two contrasting events. The first is a moment of joy, of celebration-the birth of Isaac. Isaac’s name means “he will laugh,” and we hear Sarah exclaim (p. 483), “God has brought me laughter!”

Yet within a few verses, the mood shifts dramatically. Sarah feels that Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael, the son...Read more...

A Soul Accounting

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Kol Nidre 5772

PDF: 5772-kol-nidre-a-soul-accounting.pdf

Before we begin the signature prayers of Yom Kippur, the Selichot, prayers for forgiveness, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you.

It may have been that I had a somewhat over-active imagination as a young person. Or an odd way of making myself feel better. Whatever it was, when I was a kid I would sometimes imagine my death-bed scene. In this...Read more...

Lessons from Ghana

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Yom Kippur 5772

PDF: 5772-yk-lessons-from-ghana.pdf

The Mexican-American writer Luis Alberto Urrea once described a visit to a city in Texas, on the border with Mexico, where he was lodged in an elegant, high-rise hotel. At night, drink in hand in his fancy suite, he gazed out over the beautiful twinkling lights below. Then he realized that he was looking at shantytowns on the Mexican side, where workers earn a few...Read more...

An Invitation to Prayer

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5771

PDF:  an-invitation-to-prayer-erev-rh-5771.pdf



There are many things that I love about Rosh Hashanah and about the High Holydays in general. I love that our Jewish new year begins just as the season is beginning to change, as summer gives way to fall; the crispness in the air is Nature’s signal to me to wake up, to think about where I am in my life and where I want...Read more...

At the Judges' Table

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah I 5771

PDF:  at-the-judges-table-rh1-5771.pdf



I don’t watch a lot of TV, but in recent years I’ve become a fan of “Top Chef,” one of Bravo channel’s reality competition shows. In it, a talented group of professional cooks battle to become the “Top Chef. ” Each week they have to prepare dishes under a variety of odd conditions that force them to be creative, to work...Read more...

Two Pockets

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Kol Nidre 5771

PDF: two-pockets-kol-nidre-5771.pdf

I’d like to share with you a Hasidic teaching that I talked about 11 years ago on Yom Kippur (just in case any of you have really good memories). I’ve decided that after 10 years I’m allowed to recycle a teaching! It’s good environmental practice, so that we don’t have an overflow of rabbinic words clogging up the atmosphere.

But seriously, it’s a...

From Anxiety to Agitation

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Yom Kippur 5771

PDF:  anxiety-yk-5771.pdf

While many of you know me as someone who practices mindfulness meditation and goes every year on week-long silent retreats, I will admit that this was not always the case. Back when I was in my 20s and early 30s, including while I was at rabbinical school, I couldn’t have imagined sitting quietly for a week. In fact, I couldn’t sit still very well at all. One day I...Read more...

God and Liberation: A Reconstructionist Approach

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Pesach 5770

PDF: God%20and%20Liberation.pdf

The question: How do we understand God’s role in our master narrative of liberation, the Exodus story? In the traditional haggadah, there is no mention of Moses – the emphasis is on God’s miraculous redemptive power. In both the Reconstructionist and many other non-traditional haggadot, we have the opposite: Moses, Miriam, the midwives, and the Israelites are placed front...Read more...

Seven Things About Teshuvah That I Learned from the Game of Baseball

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5770

PDF: Erev%20RH%205770%20talk%20-%20baseball.pdf

So here we are, gathered on erev Rosh Hashanah, to begin what are called the Aseret Yamei Teshuvah, the ten days of teshuvah, of repentance, of turning and returning. I’d like to suggest to you tonight that it’s no coincidence that these awesome days always fall at a key moment in the baseball season—either at the culmination of...Read more...

Sarah, Hannah, and the Prayerful Stance

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah I 5770

PDF: RH1%20Talk-Sarah%20and%20Hannah.pdf

The story of our matriarch, Sarah, and the story of Hannah from the book of Samuel are an interesting pair of stories to have associated with the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Both of these texts recount the story of a woman who has longed for a child and finally gives birth. In the Biblical idiom, each woman is “remembered” by God after a long period of...Read more...

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784