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.)

Can Chanukah Teach Us Anything Today?

Those of us born in America often take our freedoms for granted. We forget the centuries of struggle that went into creating them.

As an American Jew, I strive to be doubly mindful. The Constitution guaranteed a freedom of religion for which we had yearned for thousands of years. America is a home where Jews have thrived.

Chanukah at the White House

This truth was on my mind last week as I represented my congregation and community and celebrated Chanukah at the White House. Along with a few hundred others, I got the chance to sing the Chanukah blessings along with the President, First Lady, Vice-President. I heard the Marine Corps band play traditional Jewish folk songs. And I ate kosher potato pancakes prepared in the White House kitchen.

My immigrant great-great grandparents could never have imagined this scene. To them it would have seemed like pure fantasy.

In America, however, anything is possible. ​

We are nation rooted in the biblical principle that every human being is created in the image of God, and therefore every human being has a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Holiday’s Greatest Lesson.

Thou Shalt Not Take This For Granted

The holiday of Chanukah reminds us that these rights wither when we take them granted. Freedom does not sustain itself. The heroes of Hanukah—known as the Maccabees—stood up when they lost their rights to worship and practice their faith. They had to fight King Antiochus. They had to say no when he ordered them to place statues of Greek gods in the Temple in Jerusalem.

When we forget our responsibility to guard our freedoms—when we take them for granted—we eventually lose them. That is been the fate of every great civilization that came before us.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it, “The oldest and most tragic phenomenon in history is that empires which flourish eventually decline. Freedom becomes license, license becomes chaos, chaos becomes the search for order, and the search for order be- comes a new tyranny imposing its will by the use of force.” When we forget to defend what we stand for, we lose it.

An Unfinished Experiment

Can this happen in America? Absolutely. Judaism had already been around 2000 years when the Macabees had to defend it. America has only been around for 240 years. In comparison to China and the nations of Europe, we are a young country.

Indeed, Sigmund Freud once wrote that America is an unfinished experiment. We are the participants in that experiment. Chanukah at the White House made me ever more committed to ensuring its success.

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.

The Most Revolutionary Part of the 10 Commandments

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


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.”