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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...

From Buffet to Brit: In Celebration of 350 Years

Rosh Hashanah I 5765

PDF: 5765-rh.pdf

This month, we are celebrating 350 years of Jewish presence in what is now the United States of America. In September 1654, a small ship carrying 23 Jews from Brazil sailed into the port of New Amsterdam–present-day New York. These were Sephardic Jews, descendants of refugees from the Portuguese Inquisition, which had taken root in Portugal 40 years after the Jewish community was...Read more...

The Art of Losing Things

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Kol Nidre 5765

PDF: 5765-kn.pdf

This past Tuesday I lost my wallet. Somewhere between Fenway Park and my house, it disappeared. In it were all the various things that define my existence as a full-fledged citizen of the world: my driver’s license, credit card and debit cards, my health insurance card, Triple A membership card, and God only knows what else.

This seems to happen to me periodically—every...

From Buffet to Brit, Part 2: Building our Jewish House

Yom Kippur 5765

PDF: 5765-yk.pdf

On Rosh Hashanah, I spoke about the challenge of creating “Jewish houses” for ourselves to live in. I posed the question, what would it look like if the basic frame, the basic structures of our lives, were rooted in what Mordecai Kaplan called our “Jewish civilization”?

I also spoke about Judaism as at its core a transformative project. Our great “master story,”...Read more...

The Cantonist's Prayer

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Kol Nidre 5764

PDF: 5764-kn.pdf

When people ask me how I’m doing these days, I’m never quite sure how to answer. In the realm of own private life, my family, my work—I’d have to say I’m quite well, thank you; aware of many blessings. But in terms of how I’m feeling about the world in general—that’s not such an easy answer. It’s been a struggle, lately, to remain hopeful in the face of so much that is...Read more...

This is the Fast: Isaiah's Challenge

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Yom Kippur 5764

PDF: 5764-yk.pdf

I want to engage with you with the text that Elaine has just read for us, the section of Isaiah that was chosen by the ancient rabbis to be read every year on Yom Kippur morning.

This portion of the Book of Isaiah was most likely written in the 6th century BCE, after the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish community to Babylonia. The...Read more...

The Path of Sorrow and The Path of Joy

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5764

PDF: 5764-erev-rh.pdf

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

A teaching, from the early Hassidic rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, as told by Martin Buber:

The Rebbe was asked: What is the right way, that sorrow or that of joy? And he answered: There are two kinds of sorrow and two kinds of joy. When a person broods over the misfortunes that have come upon him, when he cowers in a corner...Read more...

For The Sake of the World

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah I 5764

PDF:  5764-rh.pdf

Where do we first hear about Rosh Hashanah? In the Torah, in the book of Leviticus, we read:

Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, shall be for you a day a rest, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of the shofar, a holy assembly. (23:23).

It then goes on to give instructions about...

And Jacob Sat Down--Reflections on Fear

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah I 5763

PDF: 5763-rh.pdf

If there’s one word that seems to have captured our attention since September 11th, it’s the word “terror. It’s a dramatic word, fitting for dramatic events, for events that only a year ago would have been unimaginable. On a less dramatic level are the fears we encounter as we go about our lives, fears of pain and loss that each of us have encountered at some point in...Read more...

The Seat of Rachamim

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Yom Kippur 5763

PDF: 5763-yk.pdf

I want to talk today with you about a topic that is difficult, in many ways, a topic that can create tension in families, divide communities, that we often want to avoid because it is so contentious. That topic is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So. Why do I want to tackle this issue today, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of our year?

There are at least two...


Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Kol Nidre 5763

PDF: 5763-yk.pdf

This past summer, I went on a meditation retreat at a center located in the town of Barre, Mass. At the end of the retreat, I went to a little diner and enjoyed a breakfast of eggs, homefries, and iced tea – all of which cost $2.50.

When it came time to pay the bill, I looked in my wallet, and saw that the smallest bill was a $10 bill. But here I was, after a week of silent...Read more...

Unetaneh Tokef: The Spiritual Challenge of This Moment

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah I 5762

PDF: 5762-utaneh-tokef.pdf

It hasn’t been the easiest thing, to come up with words that match the enormity of what we have experienced this week. Sometimes it has felt that silence, or tears, or shouts of pain, are the only appropriate response. And I imagine many of us feel overwhelmed with words and images—from the TV, the radio, the newspaper.

The words I’d like to share with you...


Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Kol Nidre 5762

PDF: 5762-kol-nidre.pdf​​​​​​​

There is such a swirl about us these days, it’s hard to keep one’s head clear…Never-ending commentary on the radio and TV, projections and conjectures and musings about what’s next, and meanwhile many continue to mourn and grieve, to look for the lost, to wonder what the other shoe is and when it will drop.

In the framework...


Yom Kippur 5762

PDF: 5762-yom-kippur.pdf

Today’s haftarah, those powerful words from the prophet Isaiah, were a call and a challenge to a community that had fallen down on its obligations. To our ears Isaiah’s charge may sound radical, like a call for a new type of community or society. But in the context of the Bible, the prophet’s call was not for something new, but for a return to something old:...Read more...

Thirty-One Flavors

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

PDF: 5761-rosh-hashanah-31-flavors.pdf

There are moments, bits of conversation, that can stay with us for a long time, interactions that still echo years later. A few sentences that a friend and I said to each other nearly 20 years ago has remained with me ever since. As I prepared this talk I realized that in some ways my life of the past 10 years has been a partial answer to a conversation that was...Read more...


Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Kol Nidre 5761

PDF: 5761-kol-nidre.pdf

This week and next, we find ourselves in the final chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, Devarim.We find ourselves on the mountaintop with Moshe, standing in the plains of Moav, looking over into the promised land. God has taken Moses up to the top of Mount Nebo and says: Here, look—look across the length and breadth of this land. You may not go in, but I want you to see all...Read more...

Of Zoos, Jury Duty & Barbra Streisand:  Creating Covenantal Community

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

PDF: RH1 sermon 5760-Covenantal Community.pdf

Rosh Hashanah 5760/1999

           In today’s Torah portion, we read about the long-awaited birth of Avraham and Sarah’s son Isaac—the son who represents the fulfillment of a promise made to Avraham long ago of “countless seed,” the promise that he would become the father of a great nation.  Through the rest of the book of...Read more...

Rosh Hashanah I


PDF: RH1 sermon 5760-Covenantal Community.pdf

Of Zoos, Jury Duty & Barbra Streisand:

Creating Covenantal Community

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rosh Hashanah 5760/1999

            In today’s Torah portion, we read about the...

Thu, May 28 2020 5 Sivan 5780