How Lincoln and the Bible Taught Us the Power of Words

In two minutes Abraham Lincoln changed the world. Using less than 500 words, he shaped the history of a nation. His Gettysburg address is one of the great examples of the power of words.

lincoln

The Bible has always embodied this power. In the opening verses of Genesis, how does God create the world? Through words. “God said, ‘Let there be light’—and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).

This pattern of God speaking and creation coming into being continues. The sky, the waters, the earth literally come into being through God’s words.

How Jewish Sages Answered the Bible’s Most Important Question Continue reading

Did Joseph Meet an Angel?

“And a man found Joseph wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, ‘What are you seeking?’ I am seeking my brothers,’ he said. ‘Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.’ And the man said, ‘They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.” (Gen. 37:15-17)

joseph angel

This text seems unimportant at first. It’s the ancient equivalent of asking for directions. Joseph is looking for his 11 brothers. He wants to join them in the fields. Yet, he got lost along the way. So he steps and asks a passerby for guidance. The man tells him, and they both go on their way.

The Hinges of History

Despite their simplicity, however, these two verses are critical to the unfolding of the entire Bible. Continue reading

The Three Pillars of Jewish Belief

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!

pillars of faith

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?

“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

jacob_esau 

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

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.

grandpa

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 world-war-ii-kristallnachtbeginning of what would become the Holocaust. Continue reading

Does Your Faith Light a Fire?

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.”

fire

Are Rabbis Holier Than Other Jews?

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.

rick warren hawaiin 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?

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.

 tom and jerry

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

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.

kids photo

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