A Frog Must Jump: Or How We Always End Up Following Our Passion

A good friend of mine is a highly successful entrepreneur. He also happens to be a rabbi.

We met in rabbinical school. At the time he planned to lead a congregation, as I do now. By the time we graduated, however, plans had changed.

Even before graduating, he was leading a new Jewish organization. (The closest Christian analogy would be a church plant). Then he was advising other start-ups.

Soon he began an after-school initiative. While rooted in the Jewish value of education, this is not a religious program.

10 Prayers for the New Year

We all need a little inspiration as we approach the New Year. Following is a series of short prayers based on Jewish wisdom and tradition.

1. Looking Backward and Forward: The name January comes from the Roman god “Janus.” He had two faces so he could look forward and backward at the same time. Eternal God, help us to know this truth. We can look back, and in so doing, we can help create the way forward. The past need not hold us back. It can lead us ahead.

2. Unwrap the Gift: Eternal God, You gave us the greatest gift: the gift of life. In the coming year, help us use it wisely. May we grow in generosity, kindness and forgiveness, hope, faith and love. Amen.

3. Beginnings are blessings: Eternal God, bless this new beginning with an extra spirit of your strength, so that we may turn our days into blessings of your name. Amen.

4. Possibilities: To begin again is not a dream. It is an everlasting possibility. God, help us to grab hold of it and make it real in the coming year. Amen

5. The Book of Life: A new year is a new page in the book of our lives. May we write with color, wisdom and humility. And may your grace fall upon it consistently and unceasingly. Amen. (The ultimate prayer for many Christians is the Lord’s prayer. I offer a new understanding of it in this excerpt from my upcoming book.)

6. Waiting for Us: The good we missed last year waits for us still. Eternal God, give us the eyes to see it, the ears to hear and the heart to find it. Amen

7. Strength: God, we do not ask for a life of ease and comfort. We simply ask to be uncomplaining and unafraid. May you give us that strength for the New Year.

8. The Possibility for Change: The Hebrew word for “year” also means “change.” Change is a possibility for each us. May we embrace that possibility for change within ourselves, change within our families, change within our communities, and change within our world.

9. Change is inevitable: Growth is not. It depends on our will, our hopes, our dreams. And it rests on Your Grace. Give us an extra portion of it, so that we may fill the New Year with your Presence. Amen

10. Presence: The greatest gift we can give to others and You can give to us, Oh God, is Presence. May we be present for others during the coming year, and may You bless us with Your presence at every moment. Amen.

What is Your Prayer for the New Year? (The ultimate prayer for many Christians is the Lord’s prayer. I offer a new understanding of it, unpacking its Jewish context, in this excerpt from my upcoming book.)

Mark Zuckerberg’s Stunning Act of Jewish Piety

3 Truths We Can Learn

Mark Zuckerberg stunned the world yesterday. Not with the announcement of a baby girl. Everybody knew that was coming.

Mark Zuckerberg charity

It was an accompanying letter outlining his and his wife Priscilla's plan to donate 99 percent of Facebook stock (valued now at $45 billion) to a foundation.

The foundation will address global issues like disease, poverty and lack of educational access around the world. If Zuckerberg's success with Facebook is an indication, his and Priscilla's giving will improve the world.

A 4000-Year-Old Tradition

As a rabbi, what truly inspires me is not the amount. It is the way Zuckerberg is following a 4000-year-old Jewish tradition. Tzedakah–the Hebrew word meaning both “charity” and “justice”–is a core Jewish value, as important as prayer and study.

May the God of Light Bless the City of Light

A Prayer for Paris and Her People

This week’s Jewish Bible reading contains one of our most poignant stories. Jacob wrestles with an angel from dusk until dawn.

He survives, but he emerges with a limp, a sign of the struggle he experienced and will continue to face his entire life.

All of us are limping after the horrific acts of terrorism in Paris this week. Paris symbolizes the values of freedom and democracy that are an anathema to much of the world. Seeing the hundreds murdered and injured leaves us in utter pain and shock.

Yet, when Jacob finished wrestling with the angel, he asked him for a blessing. According to the Jewish sages, this teaches us to try to find a blessing within every struggle.

Finding a Blessing

It is too early to find a blessing in the mayhem we have witnessed in Paris. Yet, we can find traces of a potential blessing in the voices from all religions, including moderate Muslims, who have condemned these despicable acts of hate and terrorism.

In the coming days and weeks, let us find ways to join with them in the critical work of bringing peace and security to Europe, Israel, America and all those places where forces of light and darkness continue to clash

Our prayers join with those of people around the world. May our Eternal God, the One who makes light and peace, bring peace to the City of Light. Amen

Nice Guys Do Not Finish Last

And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured. (Gen. 41:49)

I conducted a wedding recently where the bride and groom decided to give away all their gifts.

They were not an affluent couple. They could have used the utensils, china and other household items. They simply wanted to start their marriage off with a feeling of abundance.

Nothing demonstrates our abundance more than generosity. By giving away their gifts, they reminded themselves of the gifts of love and companionship that are more valuable than all the others.

Did Yogi Berra Read the Bible?

The late great Yogi Berra famously said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

yogi berra bible

The not-so-subtle point of Yogi’s saying was that we sometimes overthink our decision. Sometimes when just need to make a choice and stick with it. 

Unfortunately, making the wrong choice can get us in trouble. And the more trouble it causes, the harder it is to turn back.

Abraham and Lot

Amongst the most searing biblical illustration of this truth is Lot. In Genesis 13, he and his uncle Abraham come to a fork in the road. They have decided to go their separate ways.

Was Christopher Columbus Secretly Jewish?

3 Facts Say Yes

On July 31st 1492, under threat of death and forced conversion, the last Jews left Spain. Three days later Christopher Columbus set forth for America. Coincidence? Perhaps.

columbus jewish

Yet, some scholars suggest there is more to Christopher Columbus’s story than we have been led to believe. At least three arguments have been put forth suggesting he was not only a Jew, but that his faith motivated his voyage.

It’s Time to Go All In

A New Perspective on the Jewish Holiday of Sukkot

Near my home is a very intimate theater. My wife and I love attending plays there because you can almost reach out and touch the performers.

go all in

We recently attended a play and had one of the seats closest to the performance area. During a particularly poignant part, my phone vibrated.  I did not commit the grievous sin of interrupting another person’s experience of the show because only I could hear the vibration.

Yet, for some inexplicable reason, I glanced at the screen to check the message. I pulled my attention away from the show and missed one of the most moving and critical scenes. 

What Really Makes Us Happy?

3 Truths from 4000 Years of Judaism

This sermon was delivered the morning of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.

If we took a big white board and made a black dot, what would we focus on? The dot. That’s what we would notice. But the board would still be 99.99 percent white. But the dot would draw our attention.

happiness judaism

We often live our lives in a similar way. Things can be going well. We can have stable jobs, good food to eat, a nice house, yet something happens—maybe a stock goes down, or our child or grandchild does poorly on a test, and we get worked up. We focus on our energies on that.

It’s like when we get a report card from school, and it would have all A’s and then maybe a B, and your parents would focus on the B.

In fact, sometimes the better things are, the more we notice what may not be perfect. Have you ever stayed at a nice hotel, and then one little thing that you would normally tolerate somewhere else—say, the towels are not thick enough—and we get upset over that?

Okay, there are far worse problems in the world, but we have a tendency to focus on the negative in context. It seems sometimes we are wired for negativity. Or as Lily Tomlin once put it, “Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.”