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

paris

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.

niceguy4

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.

The Most Revolutionary Part of the 10 Commandments

With the passage of time, the extraordinary can become ordinary. The revolutionary can seem normal.

10commandments

Take trial by jury. When introduced in England, jury trail was a monumental development, and it spurned great resistance. Now we are so accustomed with the practice that we feel inconvenienced when we have to show up to serve on a jury.

Such is the case with the Ten Commandments. We tend to take them for granted. Even pastors or rabbis who teach and preach about them can forget how revolutionary they once were.

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.” 

An Uber Miracle

Much has been written about #uberfails. But how about an Uber miracle?

uber miracle

The New York Times recently featured a story about a young woman who called for an Uber to take her out to a cemetery. She was visiting the grave of her grandfather. He had been a devout Jew.

No one from her family had visited the grave since 1959. She happened to be visiting during the ten-day period between the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement—known as the ten Days of Awe.

This is a time when we visit the grave of loved ones. Something propelled this young woman to visit her grandfather.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Secrets from Torah to Tolstoy

This is the sermon I delivered on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of the Atonement, Judaism’s holiest day of the year.

My youngest child recently went through a Dr. Seuss phase. Perhaps some of your kids or grandkids did so at some point as well.

waiting

One of the books she loved was that classic, often received as graduation gift—Oh, The Places You’ll Go. Her favorite two pages—I’m not kidding—were the following: “You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race/ down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace/ and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,/ headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

The Waiting Place…for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come/ or a plane to go or the mail to come/ or the rain to go or the phone to ring/ or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No/ or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite/ or waiting around for Friday night/ or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil/ or a Better Break or a string of pearls,/or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting.”