Discover the Secret to Live Long and Prosper on #GivingTuesday

The land of Israel has two main bodies of water: the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. They are both fed by the Jordan River. Yet, they differ significantly.

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The Sea of Galilee is full of life. It has greenery, fish, and living creatures. The Dead Sea, as its name implies, has no life. What’s the difference?

The Dead Sea, as Jonathan Sacks has pointed out, receives water, but does not give it. The Sea of Galilee both receives and gives. In other words, the Dead Sea is a reservoir. It keeps its water for itself.

The Sea of Galilee is a spring. It gives its water to others. In that giving, it becomes alive.

This geographic feature has a lesson for each us. Giving enhances living. The more we give, the more we live. How? 

How Faith Helped Knock Down the Berlin Wall

Speaking to a Polish priest friend recently, I asked why we had so many Polish-born priests here in Chicago. The obvious reason is that Chicago the largest-speaking Polish-speaking population outside of Warsaw.

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He revealed to me, however, something more profound.

During the Cold War, the church was where young Poles found freedom. During a time of misery, the church was where they found hope. The church was where they found generosity. The church was where they were human beings, not pawns in a political showdown.

Why Mark Zuckerberg Wears the Same Shirt Every Day

In a recent interview Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was asked why he wears the same shirt everyday. He answered in the same way Steve Jobs answered a similar question.

Mark Zuckerberg in his standard gray shirt.

He wants to focus his brainpower for the big questions. Deciding what to wear every day, he said, would be a needless waste of intellectual capital.

Zuckerberg is known to be a minimalist in his lifestyle, and this answer reflects that philosophy. It may also reflect some of the lessons he learned growing up at his synagogue. While Judaism does not embrace simplicity in the same Zen Buddhism does, several core practices embody it.

Will God Condemn Brittany Maynard for Choosing to Die?

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On the most sacred Jewish holiday of the year–Yom Kippur–we literally imagine our own funeral. Men traditional wear a white sash that will also serve as their burial shroud. The purpose is to picture our own death in a way that helps us live more fully.

What if, however, we could not only imagine our death, but choose it. And what if that choice seemed the right and dignified thing to do.

The Hardest Question We Ask of God

The eternal question of religion is why do bad things happen to good people. Hundreds of thousands of volumes have addressed the questions. We still yearn for a satisfying answer.

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The horrific and highly-visible impact of hurricanes and natural disaster continually raise this question. How can we come to grips with thousands of homeless families, a couple killed while walking a dog, a woman electrocuted in front of a fallen transformer, and other horrors? How do we come to grips with broken promises, betrayals, senseless hatred?

The Bible offers two main answers. I will add a third articulated most popularly by Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

The Strangest Book of the Bible

Tonight begins the Jewish “Festival of Tabernacles.” Known in Hebrew as Sukkot, we spend time in  temporary outdoor dwellings.

The Sukkah Outside My Home

They remind us of the fragility of life our ancestors experienced during their journey across the Sinai Desert.

Vanity, Vanity, All is Vanity! 

The biblical book we read on Sukkot is Ecclesiastes. Tonight we will chant it in my synagogue.

I confess this book has always mystified me. Ecclesiastes seems to contradict other parts of the Bible.

How to Live from the Heart

This past weekend around the world gathered for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. This is the sermon I delivered on Friday evening. It is longer than my usual posts, so should you wish to hear the audio recording of the sermon, click the link right below the picture. A shorter version will appear shortly on the Huffington Post. With prayers and shalom, Evan

Once a year at summer camp, the entire camp would divide into four teams. We had races, basketball games, tennis matches and forth. Whichever team had the most points at the end of the day won.

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hear the audio recording of the sermon

The final event was a tug of war. The four teams would face off against each other. Now, as you can probably imagine, because of my great strength, my team inevitably won.

But before the event we all used to chant—especially if our team was not in first place—“the tug is all that matters. The tug is all that matters.”

The point, of course, was that whoever won the tug of war was the strongest physically, and that ultimately mattered most.

Well I have a different message tonight. In Judaism, in our community, in our lives, the heart is all that matters. The heart is all that matters.

Yom Kippur: The Happiest Day of the Year

Yom Kippur is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It is filled with solemn prayer, and most Jews fast. How, then, can it be the happiest day of the year? Allow me to explain…

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Picture the scene: It is 1944, in Glasgow, Scotland, in the midst of the Second World War. The Yom Kippur service is about to begin in the city’s largest synagogue. The sanctuary is dark and full, and the rabbi prepares to take the Torah scroll out of the ark.

Before he does so, he calls up the only soldier in uniform in the congregation. That soldier goes and holds the Torah scroll, as the choir sings.

My Grandfather’s Wisdom

I think about that scene every year on Yom Kippur because the man holding the scroll was my grandfather. This Yom Kippur  I cannot call him and wish him a happy New Year.

The Secret to Traveling Light

Once upon a time, a poor man walked from town to town. He carried a heavy load on his back.

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One day a wagon driver stopped his horse and offered him a ride to the next town. The grateful man said “Yes, thank you for your kindness.”

After they had gone a few minutes, the wagon driver turned around. He saw the poor man still carried the load on his back.

“You don’t need to carry that heavy load. You can put it down on the wagon.”

The poor man, “You’ve been so kind to pick me up. I can’t ask you to carry my load as well.

What You Should Say on the Jewish Holidays

While speaking at a church recently, I received an urgent question: “Is it okay for me to wish my Jewish friends ‘A Happy New Year’ on Rosh Hashanah?

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“Absolutely,” I said. The questioner then asked what was appropriate to say on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, when many Jews do not eat or drink and spend most of the day in synagogue.

I thought for a minute. My answer was a bit disappointing. About the closest we get to a customary greeting in synagogue is “Have an easy fast.”

As I thought more about it, however, I realized we have a few other possibilities: