The Three Pillars of Jewish Belief

By Rabbi Evan / November 17, 2013

Today I am speaking at the country’s largest Jewish book fair in Detroit. My task is to distill Jewish spirituality into 45 minutes, including question and answer! Fortunately, other rabbis have faced a similar challenge. 2000 years ago they struggled to summarize the essentials of Jewish belief it. They arrived at three core practices: prayer, study, and good deeds. Each of them brings us to God. And each of us can deepen our faith by looking at the ways they do so. Prayer We often think of prayer as asking for things. As Chicago comic Emo Philips once joked, “When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.” Continue reading

Do Jacob and Esau Live Happily Ever After?

By Rabbi Evan / November 15, 2013
“But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” Genesis 33:4


Fairy tales famously end “and they lived happily ever after.” Biblical stories rarely end that way. Moses’ story ends as he looks down with longing on the Promised Land. Abraham dies with one son lost to him, another who doesn’t talk to him, and no homeland in his control. Continue reading

What This Veterans Day Means to Me

By Rabbi Evan / November 11, 2013
we remember them

This Veterans Day would have been a moving and important one for my grandfather. A proud veteran he served his country for six years during the Second World War and its aftermath. He made lifelong friends and gathered a treasure trove of stories that would entertain and inspire his seven grandchildren for hours on end. For Jews, however, this Veterans Day is special. It falls the day after the 65th  anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. On this date in 1938 police offers, civilians and Nazi officials in Germany and Austria attacked Jewish homes and stores, murdering 91 people, burning down 1000 synagogues, and damaging or destroying 7000 stores. 30,000 Jews were also arrested and placed in forced labor camps. Many historians see this date is the beginning of what would become the Holocaust. Continue reading

Does Your Faith Light a Fire?

By Rabbi Evan / November 11, 2013

I came across a wonderful metaphor from a great 18th century rabbi known as the “Kotzker Rebbe.” He taught, “Some people wear their faith like an overcoat. It keeps them warm but does little for others. Others light a fire when they live their faith. It warms them and brings light to the world.”

Are Rabbis Holier Than Other Jews?

By Rabbi Evan / November 6, 2013

The rabbi of the synagogue where I grew up had a regal presence. His rich resonant voice brought grandeur and wisdom to the sanctuary. My friends and I could be forgiven for mistaking him for God. Contemporary clergy tend to be different. We are less formal and interactive. Rick Warren famously preaches in a Hawaiian shirt. Even so, many people still see their clergy as somehow closer to God. This feeling often appears in jokes, when someone may say, “Can’t you put in a word upstairs to make sure it doesn’t rain for our wedding?” This shot at humor reveals a grain of truth. Continue reading

What Does Tom and Jerry Teach Us About Studying the Bible?

By Rabbi Evan / November 2, 2013

What TV show would you rather watch? Tom and Jerry or Sponge Bob? One show is virtually silent and consists primarily of a cat chasing around a mouse. The other is fast-paced, funny and well-animated.


An easy choice? Absolutely. I would watch Tom and Jerry every time. And I would encourage my kids to do the same. Tom and Jerry makes us think. With its lack of constant dialogue, it forces us to imagine what each character is thinking. Simplicity Begets Creativity Its simple framework of cat chasing mouse forces the writers to come up with ever more creative ways of telling the same story. And getting the humor demands concentration. The gags usually build up to a crescendo. Continue reading

The Secret Lesson of Halloween

By Rabbi Evan / October 31, 2013

Spooky music and fanciful costumes greeted me this morning. It is Halloween. It’s a kids’ holiday with lots of crazy fun. But it also points to a deeper truth. Fear is a part of being human. Some seem to have the gift of being “fearless,” but most of us struggle with it. We fear trying new things, making difficult decisions in a relationship and realizing the best within us. What does God Say More Than Anything Else? Continue reading

How To Pay It Forward

By Rabbi Evan / October 28, 2013

Last week I conducted a funeral service for the matriarch of a large family. Meeting with her children and grandchildren, I learned about the immense acts of kindness she did for so many. They spoke about the hundreds of calls they had been receiving, from her former hairdresser to long-forgotten work colleagues. The family members said to me, “Isn’t it sad that she didn’t get to live to hear all these wonderful memories? Isn’t it too bad that she did not know what an impact she had on others? Continue reading

Is Paradise a Cabin in the Woods?

By Rabbi Evan / October 22, 2013
It’s been a hectic few weeks for me and my family. Sometimes in the midst of these days, I dream of a quiet peaceful place, where sounds are calming and life is unhurried. We all dream of such places. But would such a life be meaningful? A poem I came across recently poses this question. I find its answer deeply meaningful. The poem is by Mary Oliver:
There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees A quiet house, some green and modest acres A little way from every troubling town, A little way from factories, schools, laments. I would have time, I thought, and time to spare, With only streams and birds for company, To build out of my life a few wild stanzas. And then it came to me, that so was death, A little way away from everywhere… I would that it were not so, but so it is. Who ever made music of a mild day?
An old Jewish saying tells us that “Life is with people.” It is with people–in the rough and tumble of life–that beautiful music is made and true meaning is found.
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