Today, November 26, 2022 is the 100th birthday of Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts. In tribute to him and to his extraordinary talent, I would like to share a sermon that I delivered in 2006 and published as part of my book The Long Way Around: Stories and Sermons from a Life’s Journey:



The source for my remarks today is not the Torah. But it has earned its own standing for me as a critical source of learning. For decades it has been a font of wisdom, insight, and meaning and will remain, I am sure, a source of learning and joy for generations to come. 

The source features situations to which we can all relate, introduces us to characters with whom we can all identify, showcases the talents and the weaknesses of human beings we all know, and always seems so perceptively to reflect the reality of our struggles to make sense out of our world.

We know the characters so well for they resemble us. Like us, they populate a world which at once is too big for them and yet which is just the right size. That they are children reminds us of our subservience to a presence greater than us. That they are in a world without visible adults reminds us that we decide our own destiny and cannot directly see that presence. We must depend on ourselves and on our own limited intelligence and experience to make sense of a world which is so rapidly changing around us as we grow. 

And we owe all of this insight to one man, one genius who, by sharing his talent with the world and displaying his soul so publicly, changed all of our lives. This man’s name was Charles Schulz.

I don’t imagine there is anyone who can honestly say: “I don’t like Peanuts.” Other art forms are more dramatic and more brilliant, but our world has never been the same since Charlie Brown came on the scene.

While I could go on for hours about my favorite Peanuts strip, I will share with you only one gem: my favorite Charlie Brown cartoon. 

Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy are lying on their backs looking up into the sky and Lucy asks the others to tell her what they see in the cloud formations.

Linus talks about the clouds looking like a map of British Honduras, the profile of a noted sculptor and “the stoning of Stephen … I can see the apostle Paul standing there to one side.”

And Lucy says: “Uh huh, that’s very good. What do YOU see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?”

And Charlie Brown says: “Well, I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsey but I changed my mind.”

Charlie Brown’s answer at first seems so sad. You can’t but feel pity for him. He feels completely out of his league.

But then we notice something. Charlie Brown isn’t “thinking” this. He is saying it. He might have “changed his mind” but he said it anyway. I don’t think this is a sign of his well-documented “wishy-washiness.” Rather, I think it is a brilliant statement: “I was going to say it but changed my mind, but I honestly think you need to hear it anyway.” He looked at a younger friend who had seized the moment and impressed everyone with all that he knew, and Charlie Brown still said his simple piece and I love him for it. 

We need to think deeply about Judaism. Our Judaism needs to grow as we grow. We need, to the best of our ability, to look at the forms around us and utter statements of wisdom, linking events of today to those in the past, rattling off the names and ideas of the Jewish philosophers and artists, the thinkers and the poets, and relate them to that which swirls around us. We need to look up into the sky and understand the wisdom of the ages. 

But we need as well to remember that the wisdom of the ages is sometimes found in the simple stirrings of the human heart, in seeing the duckies and the horsies around us and not being afraid to say so. Wisdom can be found in seeing this world with childlike eyes no matter how old those eyes might be, in seeing and being satisfied with simple answers to complex questions, relating to a Judaism of the heart and the childlike wonder and joy of the world.

Sometimes, I fear, in our zeal to bring great meaning to our Judaism, we make it too difficult. Others often raise the bar so high that we are not comfortable responding, feeling that what we can add is not appreciated and not valued. Like Charlie Brown, we may feel like we should change our minds about saying what we feel. Unlike him, we may in fact swallow our words and remain silent.

May we always continue our serious investigation of all that Judaism is and all that it can be. May we struggle with Torah and grapple with ideas. May we fret or, God willing, rejoice over population studies and look for new spiritual awakenings. May we make great plans for ensuring our people’s future and bringing meaning to a new generation of Jews.

But we deprive ourselves when we do this. For the answers to our deepest questions as Jews, and as human beings, are often to be found in the simplest words and in the simplest, purest meaning. Those ideas can be voiced by anyone, no matter how much or how little they know about the intricacies of our faith, the language of our people, the words of ancient rabbis, or the current sociological theories. 

May we also find plenty of time to lie on our backs in the cool grass, look up into the sky and see the simplest of visions and then have the confidence to share them with others.

As we look for role models around us, let us learn from those whose examples shine for us in our contemporary world as well as those who came before us. And let us always look for role models in unexpected places. 

And so let us learn. 

From Schroeder, who played the most beautiful piano music with his talented hands on a toy piano, let us learn to take the simple instruments we have: our hands, our voices, our hearts, and make the most beautiful music, rising above all of our limitations to make the best use of the talents we have been given. 

From Linus, who carried his security blanket everywhere, let us learn to treasure the things which bring us security in the world: holding tight to family, friends, and faith to help us steer our way through the difficult days ahead. 

From Lucy, who showed brash chutzpah, let us learn to face this world with confidence but let us figure out a way to leave the arrogance behind and make room for others and respect them. 

From Pig Pen, who perpetually walked in a cloud of dust, let us really be a part of this world, let us get dirty helping others, let us feel the earth between our fingers and our toes, and let us rejoice in a love of the world we live in. 

From Charlie Brown, who always came back for more, let us learn to trust even if we get hurt on occasion, learn to dream even if the rest of the world laughs, and learn to get back on the pitcher’s mound again even after we get hit so hard that it knocks us over. 

Finally, from Snoopy, let us love our homes, let us love our meals, and let us always dance with joy and always, always let us dream great things. 



         This morning, I will begin by speaking about Abraham. Then, I will reflect on the memory of another critical figure in our history.

Earlier this morning, during the shacharit service, we sang together the paragraph before the recitation of the Sh’ma, Ahava Rabba and in that paragraph, we read these words: lillmod ulilamed, lishmor v’laasot. We commit ourselves lilmod, to learn, lilamed, to teach, lishmor v’laasot and I’ll treat these as one concept, to observe the commandments and do them. 

         Learning, Teaching and Doing. 

         Learning: Observing and coming to a conclusion, Teaching: Sharing that conclusion with others and Doing: making a practical difference in the world by bringing the lessons learned and taught into practice. 

         There are three midrashim in Bereshit Rabbah which portray Abraham as following this process of learning, teaching and doing. 

         The first midrash has Rabbi Yitzchak telling a story that Abraham was like a man traveling from place to place when he sees a building in flames. He says: “Is it possible that the building lacks a person to look after it?”

         The owner of the building looks out and says: “I am the owner of the building”

         Similarly, Abraham looks out and sees a world in flames from idolatry and hatred and responding to the urging of the owner of the world, God, resolves to dedicate his life to putting out the fire.

         Abraham has learned.

         The second midrash begins with a verse from Song of Songs: lirayach shimanecha hatovim, “Your ointments have a beautiful scent”. This midrash compares Abraham to a sealed vial of perfume lying in a corner. Until Abraham traveled following God’s command of Lech Lecha, the perfume of his commitment to influencing the world was sealed. Now, it is spread throughout the world as Abraham travels from place to place and influences all of those around him. 

         Abraham teaches.

         Finally, in the third midrash, the verse quoted is also from Song of Songs: Achot lanu kitana, “We have a little sister”. In this case the Midrash offers a pun on the word, achot, sister and says Abraham ichah, united, the world through changes that his teaching has brought.

         Abraham has done. 

         Learning, Teaching and Doing. Observing the world, sharing your perspective and leading the world to real change. 

         Tonight, we observe the 27th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, zichrono livracha

         Yitzchak Rabin was shot after speaking at a peace rally in Tel Aviv, a mass rally in favor of negotiating a “two state solution” to end the conflict with the Palestinians. 

         That Rabin was at that rally at all and that he sang the passionate peace song Shir LaShalom which said that peace can’t just be a dream but needs to come now, are evidence of his reading of the political reality of the time. But it also was evidence of this same process that Abraham, lihavdeel, followed: learning, teaching and doing. 

         After many years of leading Israel on the battlefield, Rabin saw the flames and concluded that he needed to lead his people in a different direction. So, he made difficult choices, including shaking hands with Yassir Arafat and speaking at this rally in order to influence more people given what he had learned: the reality of the need for such a peace agreement. 

         Of course, he- and Israel- never reached the third stage, doing, changing the world as the Midrash tells us that Abraham did. Rabin was tragically shot before he could continue his work and those who followed and tried to take this same path failed to make his stated dream of peace come true. The fault for the failures lies in so many factors, obviously not all Israel’s responsibility as we know that the Palestinians rejected many ideas for moving forward, but regardless, it never happened. And, we are all left to ponder, 27 years later:  “What is the status of Rabin’s dream?”

There were many then and clearly the majority now within Israel who, while loudly and clearly condemning the act of the assassin, did not or do not today support the idea of the two-state solution, thinking at best that it would be a wasted effort doomed to failure, at worst an existential threat to the State of Israel. 

         Security concerns are legitimate and since I don’t live in Israel, I defer to those who do to make evaluations relating to security. But the fact is that continuing the status quo means the continuation of the agonizing ethical and moral questions raised by the occupation and the lack of self-determination for Palestinians. In addition, the demographic reality threatens Israel’s vision of being a Democratic Jewish State based on Jewish values. 

         Then, there are many on the other end of the political spectrum who have given up on the two-state solution altogether and are proposing ideas for a “one state solution”, a confederation of some sort which would bring Israelis and Palestinians together in a different form of relationship.

         It sounds impressive but this path undermines the idea of a Jewish state, which can be defined in so many different ways but remains, I believe, an absolute essential aspect of Israel’s existence. 

         And, then sadly, I must add, there are those in Israel who openly consider Rabin to have been a traitor, a rodef, a pursuer of Jewish lives. Some defend his assassin and spew anti-Arab rhetoric and support horrendous acts of violence. As sad as it is that there have been these voices in Israel, it is the reality that some who have most clearly spread this type of poison and with it, exclusion of women from positions of political leadership and  horrendous anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and threats, are now a vital part of the equation in the results of Israel’s election and stand to be part of the government coalition. 

         This is an abomination and all who look to Israel as a reflection of Jewish values should abhor this and speak out clearly against it. It is a disgrace for a nation which presents itself as representing Jews throughout the world. 

         Now some nostalgia of a sad time but a time that had some hope as well. 

Turning the clock back 27 years, in my sermon on the Shabbat after Rabin’s assassination, I shared words that were written earlier that week by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times in an essay entitled; “How About You?”

            Friedman wrote about the fact that Rabin had made his choice to stand with those in favor of peace through territorial compromise. Friedman wrote: “We do not honor Mr. Rabin by avoiding that choice. We honor him by making that choice. We honor him by helping in every democratic way possible to enlarge the Israeli majority in favor of peace with the Arabs, because, as Mr. Rabin knew, that is the only hope for preserving a secure, democratic Jewish state. For everything there is a season and this is the season of choices. Yitzhak Rabin made his. How about you?”

         After quoting those words, I said: “And so, even though I know in my heart I have said it before, let me say it again clearly. The best way to honor Yitzhak Rabin is to speak out loudly in favor of this peace process which is Israel’s best hope for survival. We owe this great man who paid the ultimate price for the risk he took to be forthright in our choices and my choice is for this process to continue.”

         That was then and this is now and it is clear in so many ways that regarding the two-state solution, we are inclined to say that “That Ship has Sailed’ and in all honesty and candor, I am sad to admit that this may in fact be the case. 

         But the status quo of the occupation continues to be a refutation of Israel’s claim to be a democratic Jewish state and a country based on the foundation of ethical Jewish values. It continues to leave Palestinians in the territories without the self-determination that all people deserve. And I have yet to see a Plan B that addresses those realities.

         So, as distant a hope as this may be, I continue to hope in some way that Rabin’s goals, the goals he formulated but never saw to fruition will someday come to pass, in one form or another. 

         For now, all of us should mourn this man who learned, then taught but sadly was not able to make the practical difference in the world that he sought to make. 

         God willing, someone will come along who will.

          Please rise for a memorial prayer. 



In this week’s episode of my podcast, Wrestling and Dreaming, I shared a personal story and a prayer for the New Year. I encourage you to listen to the podcast but I wanted to share the prayer here.

I wrote the prayer in 2011 in celebration of the completion of my goal which I set for myself when I was 12, to be in all 50 states. It took 45 years but I succeeded!

I hope that you will find it thought provoking as we continue with the process of teshuva, repentance in anticipation of the New Year:

May we find meaning and inspiration all over the map this year.

In tribute to New Hampshire, the Granite State, may we be strong as a rock when faced with the difficulties and the tribulations of life. May we, in Bob Dylan’s words, have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift. May we face the world with stubbornness and determination.

In tribute to Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, may we recognize the important and essential elements of our lives, those elements which hold our lives together, and protect them and nurture them. 

In tribute to Wisconsin, the Badger State, may we finally learn to stop annoying ourselves and others with constant complaints and criticism. We should let old arguments or disappointments go, find ways to offer gentle constructive criticism and always hold a mirror up before ourselves. But, we should also give ourselves a break because badgering ourselves can sometimes be as bad as badgering others.

And, then, in tribute to Tennessee, the Volunteer state, may we take the time we save from not badgering ourselves and others and use that time to make the lives of others better, volunteering our time, our energy, our resources to make this a better world. 

And when we take a break from volunteering, in tribute to Kentucky, the bluegrass state, let us take pleasure in the music that moves us: whether opera, rock, country or whatever. May we find our lives calmed and sweetened by the melodies and rhythms life presents to us. And if you’re not a music lover and the garden is more your style of a place to relax, you can thank New Jersey for that inspiration. 

In tribute to Montana, the treasure state, may we always recognize that life is a treasure and one to be cherished and embraced at all times.

And, in tribute to Oklahoma, the Sooner State, may we stop procrastinating and make these changes now. 

Finally, in celebration of Alaska, may we never think we’ve reached the last frontier for no matter what accomplishments we have achieved, no matter how many goals we’ve attained, no matter how many long standing objectives we’ve crossed off our list, there is always another goal and another dream waiting around the next bend in the road. 

Shana Tova to everyone.


         In this week’s episode of my podcast Wrestling and Dreaming: Engaging Discussions on Judaism (wrestlinganddreaming.podbean.com), I shared a favorite text which I encountered for the first time a little more than fifteen years ago. As I explained in the podcast, I think the text reflects some of the most basic statements of Jewish thought and the wisdom of our people through the ages. 

         So, it is ironic is that the text is not from a Jewish source. I discovered the text during our trip to Alaska in 2006. We spent a day in the town of Barrow- now known by the name Utquiavik- the northernmost town in the United States, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. While there, I picked up a pamphlet which included a statement of “The Values of the Inupiat Eskimo People” published by the North Slope Borough School District in Barrow.

         This statement of values is truly inspiring and thought provoking and, in so many ways, reflects who we are as Jews. I say this not because I believe that there is any specific connection between the Inupiat Eskimos and Jews but because these are values shared by so many peoples and that inspires me. Hearing these same values said in different ways than we might say them is an opportunity to re-engage with the ideas.

         As we enter the month of Elul and the High Holy Day season and we consider more seriously the tradition of teshuvah, repentance and return to the proper path in life, these statements of values encourage us to consider the direction of our lives in accordance with the principles of our traditions. 

         In the podcast, I simply stated the values of the Inupiat people as expressed in this document and pointed out that I would post some further commentary on this website. So, here are some of those Inupiat values and some thoughts on how we as Jews have expressed some of the same ideas. 

         “Though the environment is harsh and cold, our ancestors learned to live with warmth, kindness, caring and compassion.” 

         As Jews we have lived throughout the world and the environment we have experienced has often been harsh and cold in many ways, most notably in the way we were treated by others. 

         Yet, from the time of the Torah, our tradition has taught us that we must learn from our experience and care for each other and for those who suffer persecution and degradation with caring and compassion. The most frequently taught law in the Torah is the commandment to care for the stranger because we know the soul of the stranger. 

         Although the surroundings have been harsh, we have been taught to live with warmth and compassion. 

         “Our Elders model our traditions and ways of being. They are a light of hope to younger generations. May we treat each other as our Elders have taught us.” 

         In the Torah we read: “Ask your father and he will tell you; your elders and they will tell you. (Deuteronomy 32:7)” The wisdom of our elders must inspire us. We respect and embrace the concept of “dor l’dor”, generation to generation, not only meaning the continuity of tradition but meaning as well continuing the search for wisdom. Our ancestors did not have all the answers but they gave to us the basis for the wisdom that we employ in our lives. 

         We truly stand on the shoulders of giants and, as Jews, we respect the wisdom of the ages, even as we shape that wisdom to the realities of our world.

         “It is amazing how sharing works. Your acts of giving always come back.”

         There is a beautiful tradition in Jewish thought: “s’char mitzvah mitzvah”, the reward for the observance of a commandment is another commandment.

         There are many ways to understand this statement but one of the ways is to understand that when we perform an act of kindness, we often find that that kindness is returned to us. 

         Here, I can share a brief story. In 1982, I and my rabbinical school colleague, Rabbi Allan Berkowitz, traveled to the former Soviet Union on a mission of outreach to “refuseniks”, those Jews who had been refused permission to leave the USSR for Israel and had suffered terrible persecution because of their decision to apply for emigration. 

         We came to the USSR with the intent to teach and to inspire but found ourselves in Kishinev (now Chisinau, Moldova), on erev Pesach, without a place to attend a Seder after having failed to make a connection with any of the families in the city.

         We were standing on the doorstep of the last home on our list when suddenly the door opened before we even knocked, and we were brought into the home and down to the basement where the Seder was held away from the prying eyes of the police. 

         We came as the ones intending to do the good deed. But, instead, the good deed came back to us. And, after keeping in contact with the family and advocating for them continuously, we were able to return the mitzvah by welcoming the family to freedom. 

         Truly, “acts of giving always come back”.

         “With our language we have an identity.” 

         The native community of Utkiavik takes great effort to teach the native language to its children. Language is so critical for any community. 

This is an opportunity for me to stress the importance of Hebrew in our Jewish consciousness. The Hebrew language, our ancient and now renewed language, binds us to our past and to our brothers and sisters throughout the world. I can not urge anyone reading these words strongly enough to learn or improve their familiarity and comfort with the language of our people because it provides us with a key to our identity that is impossible to measure. 

Indeed, laughter is the best medicine.”

I love this statement. As we enter into Elul and think about Teshuvah, we should take a moment to take a deep breath and realize that many times what is most important is to not take ourselves too seriously. A good laugh, a great smile and an embrace of the world can help us get through many situations in life.

Finally, one last statement from the text: 

“Our creator gave us the gift of our surroundings. Those before us placed ultimate importance on respecting this magnificent gift for their future generations.”

         The idea of all that we have in our world as a gift from our Creator is the basis for all that we are as Jews and as human beings. We must place ultimate importance on respecting and using wisely that which we have been given. This applies to the miracles around us and the miracles of our own lives. 

         There are other value statements which I quote on the podcast but these are the most important principles and the ones which I feel reflect best the questions and challenges we should consider most deeply as the new year approaches. It is truly a blessing to discover wisdom from another source and realize the commonalities between human beings.

Happy National Dog Day!

Today, August 26, has been designated as National Dog Day and, from my perspective, it is a great day to celebrate.

Like so many others, I love dogs- of all sizes and of all breeds. Like so many others, I can’t resist asking if I can “say hello” to a dog I pass on the street. I volunteer at our local Humane Society as a dog walker and have found over and over again how easy it is to fall in love with a dog at first sight. Truly, as my wife, Ellen, likes to say: “God certainly got dogs right.”

But, as much as I love all dogs, there is a special place in my heart for our dogs.

We have had the privilege of sharing our home with 3 dogs and each brought something so special and so unique to our home.

Our first dog, Silky, was a cross between a Chocolate Lab and a German Short Hair Pointer. She actually was Ellen’s dog as she had adopted her before we met. But, Silky quickly took kindly to me and soon became my dog as well.

Silky was so incredibly smart. She understood so many words that we often had to spell things out if we didn’t want her to react. She was very protective of us and of our kids when they were born. But, she always was very kind and sweet to those she would meet on the street (unless the person was driving a UPS truck- for some reason she couldn’t stand UPS trucks).

She was also very sensitive. She knew when we needed comforting and I will always remember walking into our house when I returned from Boston where I had been sitting shiva for my father. Silky, who by then, was a very old dog who had some trouble walking, picked herself up off the floor, walked over to me and sat next to me, quietly letting me hug her and pet her which was such a comfort. When she died two months later, I cried like I had never cried before in my life.

We will remember her always.

Our second dog was Benny, the yellow Lab. What a gentleman he was! We adopted him from the shelter a week after the 9/11 attacks and he brought such comfort to our family.

Benny was not the brightest dog but he had a heart of gold and, unlike both of our other dogs, didn’t strive to be a person. He was satisfied being a dog, sleeping on the floor, not begging for (or stealing) our food. When our kids’ friends would come over to the house, Benny wanted to be right in the middle of the action, lying in the line of fire of pillow fights or dress-up games.

There are many Benny stories I could tell but I will share one which I have told to very few people. One summer, we took a group from the synagogue to Israel on a two week trip. The first week of the trip had been fantastic but very tiring and on the first Shabbat we spent in Israel, I lied down for an afternoon nap and fell into a very deep sleep. While asleep, I had one of the most intense and realistic dreams that I ever had. I dreamed that I had come home from Israel to visit and stood on our front porch and, in the dream, I started to knock on the door when I suddenly woke up with a start.

It was such a realistic dream that it took me a few moments to remember where I was and clear my head and suddenly, I missed home so much that I picked up the phone to call Ellen at home. When she answered, she asked to me wait a moment and I could hear a lot of commotion. She came back to the phone and told me that, for some reason, Benny was sitting at the front door, wagging his tail, and making sweet, soft barking noises. Ellen told me she couldn’t get Benny away from the front door. She said it was like he saw someone there but there was no one at the door. She couldn’t understand it.

When I told her about the dream I had just had, we both just sat on the phone in silence.

Dogs are so perceptive and our souls are really tied with theirs.

And then, finally, there is our current dog, Sami. After Benny died in 2010, we said we didn’t think we wanted to bring another dog into the house but the house was too quiet and as our daughter said: “It isn’t a Dobrusin house without a dog”.

So, a few months later, we saw Sami on the website for a shelter and fell in love with her at first sight.

Sami is a real “mixed breed”, part beagle, part German shepherd, part lab and all goodness and sweetness. She has calmed down from being the nutty, crazy dog she was when she was younger but she still has a smile that can melt my heart. She doesn’t like other dogs but she has human friends around the neighborhood who know her and love her.

Each morning when she wakes up, Sami thanks us with that loving smile but it is we that should thank her for the love she shows us each day.

So, for me, National Dog Day is a day to celebrate, a day to thank God and the human beings who centuries ago, brought these “wolves” into their homes and hearts and gave us all best friends forever.

Shabbat Shalom.


This is a test of the email notification for postings. Some of the email notifications for my early posting today ended up in spam files. If you did not see the posting from this morning, you can find it entitled: “In Memory of Vin Scully”.

Thank you

In Memory of Vin Scully

This morning, we learned of the death of Vin Scully who was, in my opinion, the best baseball announcer ever. As I thought about the joy that baseball announcers bring to our lives, I thought of a sermon I delivered in 1992 for Parashat Naso which contains Birkat Kohanim, the blessing of the priests. Here is the sermon I delivered that week:



This past week, I fulfilled one of my lifelong ambitions. 

It wasn’t quite for real but it was the next best thing. 

On Thursday night, I was able to sit in a booth on the top level of Tiger Stadium, put on a headset, watch a monitor and simulate a broadcast of one inning of a game between the Tigers and the Red Sox as part of the “Fantasy Play By Play” promotion. Despite the fact that the inning that I chose to broadcast, the third inning, was the quickest, least interesting of a long and otherwise interesting ball game, I felt, for those ten minutes like I was where I was always supposed to be. 

As I sat high atop the stadium and barely resisted all inclinations to lock myself in for the duration of the season, a serious thought came to mind. I thought about one element that connects baseball to this week’s parasha, to Judaism in general and to myself. 

Baseball is a game of rituals. These rituals are found on two different levels. First, there is the ritual involved among the fans. In no other game or pastime is there such a unifying sense that you are participants, doing what you are supposed to do. You have to stand up for the seventh inning stretch. You have to eat hot dogs, unless thankfully spared by the laws of kashrut. You have to at least make a passing attempt to keep score in the program. You have to. There is no choice. 

But, baseball’s more enduring ritual is the ritual on the field. Each game, in essence, is exactly the same: a very carefully structured, balanced, regulated progress of 3 strikes, 3 outs, 3 times 3 innings, 60 feet 6 inches from the pitcher’s mound to the plate and 90 feet between the bases. As my teacher in such matters, the late Bart Giamatti wrote: “Baseball is a game of symmetrical demands in a symmetrical setting which encourage both passion and precision.”

Giamatti expressed the idea that because of baseball’s ritual precision, the players were encouraged to act passionately: to find the meaning in the precision by creating within the tight boundaries of the ballpark, new responses to the immutable structures of the game. 

As I sat on top of the stadium Thursday evening, I realized that one of the responsibilities of the announcers is to express the passion and allow others to feel like they were there and involved in the passionate ritual.

Before I listened to the tape of my broadcast, I knew I had failed miserably.

I only spoke. I knew what I was feeling but I wasn’t passing it along. If someone had read the script of my performance, it wouldn’t have been bad. But, I just didn’t pass along the emotion along with the ritual. 

What a challenge it is. It is what separates Ernie Harwell and Vin Scully and Harry Carey and, my favorite Red Sox announcer, Ned Martin, from all the rest.

And, it is also the ultimate challenge for those who engage in public Jewish ritual.

We have chosen as a people to believe that service to God needs to be repetitive in form, consistent, predictable. We have taught that our prayers and rituals mean more than the sum of the meanings of each individual word, that the structures are worth keeping merely because they have been kept for so long and because their roots are in our experience of the divine.

But, somewhere, the passion must come through. 

This morning, we read the section of the book of Numbers which contains birkat kohanim, the blessing of the priests which is such an important part of our tradition. 

Let me share with you two brief comments on this blessing. 

First: the priestly blessing is introduced with the words; koh tivarachu, thus you should bless the people of Israel. The commentaries offer many explanations to the word: thus. Each of these teachings indicates that the blessing had to be said in a particular way: aloud, in Hebrew, standing, with arms outstretched. The blessing was not just the words but also all that went along with the words. 

But Jewish tradition added an element to this ritual. It was not enough that this be a beautiful grouping of three phrases, each with a similar cadence, 3 words, 5 words, 7 words; the structure was not enough, even if we add the different elements which were required: aloud, standing etc. 

When the priests blessed the people, they preceded the blessing with another blessing: that God had commanded them to bless the people in love. It was not enough that they say the words and perform the rituals. They had to do it with love. 

I am quite sure that, on occasion, priests said this blessing without that sense of love. But, it is the potential that ritual has to be infused with love which keeps it alive. It is, in our tradition, the infusing of symmetrical structures with subjective emotion that brings about true worship.

I couldn’t pass that along the other night at the ballpark. No matter how much I love the game, I couldn’t quite pass it along the way I could while sitting in front of the TV or in the stands watching with friends. There the passion came through but not in the broadcast booth.

But, my experience taught me that what a rabbi does is not so different from the announcer. We have our ritual and we have people performing the ritual in varying degrees of love and sincerity. It is the rabbi’s role to make sure that those who aren’t on the field feel the passion involved in Jewish ritual by explaining, elucidating and commenting, orchestrating and coordinating. No rabbi succeeds in those tasks all of the time. But, it is the potential to do so that keeps us trying. 

The other night, I learned that there are similarities between the two respectable professions: baseball announcer and rabbi. 

I also learned the most important thing: no matter what my dreams might be, I’d rather be here. 

In Memory of a Childhood Friend

I never met him but I consider him a close friend and, tonight, as so many mourn his death, in a way I am mourning as well.

His name was Tony Dow but for so many he will always be known as Wally Cleaver.

I love classic situation comedies and have written and spoken extensively about my love of I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show and so many others. These were the greatest examples of the uniquely American art of the Situation Comedy. I love them all.

But, as much as I love I Love Lucy and the others, MY show was Leave it to Beaver.

I am 7 years younger than Jerry Mathers and 10 years younger than Tony Dow but growing up in a family with one older brother, I identified with the show from the first time I watched it as a kid.

My mother didn’t wear pearls to breakfast and didn’t set a table with fine china and crystal for dinner each evening. My father didn’t have all the answers and didn’t turn every mistake I made into a gentle learning opportunity. My friends weren’t as colorful and quirky as Beaver and Wally’s friends. I never backed my father’s car into the street or climbed a billboard to see whether there was real soup in the soup bowl. I never made a funny face to ruin my class yearbook picture and I never insulted a friend who spoke only Spanish by repeating what I had been taught to say by a “friend” and telling him he had a face like a pig.

I never did any of those things but, in my mind, I was just like Beaver and although I had and still have a very close relationship with my older brother whom I love so dearly and respect so deeply, I always felt like Wally was another older brother.

He was just adventurous enough. He occasionally did “goofy” things but usually was the one to warn Beaver about the stupid things he was about to do and often helped him out of trouble he had gotten into. He was steady and he was wise and I learned so much from him.

And that is why Leave it to Beaver was my show. It was my show because I learned so much from it. I Love Lucy always made me laugh but Leave it to Beaver made me think about what it meant to grow up. And Wally, served, in many ways to be the role model of the one who made it through the hardest part of childhood.

I’m 67 and I still watch the show and I still love it and I still learn from it.

And Wally was always one of my most important teachers.

But, as true as that might be, what I’m feeling tonight is sadness: sadness for Tony Dow’s family and close friends who are in mourning but also sadness for me because tonight, I feel so much older.

I know how to feel better though. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to watch an episode of Leave it to Beaver and I know it will make me smile and it might just teach me something essential about life.

That is why it is MY show and why I feel tonight like I have lost a close friend.

May the memory of Tony Dow be for a blessing.

July 4, 2022

On this Independence Day, we placed our American flag in front of our house as we do every year.

Despite the fact that there is much to bemoan about our country at this point in time and much to fear as we look to the future, we still proudly display the flag. For, as so many have written so eloquently over the past few days, our country is worth believing in and working for.

Over the past few weeks, decisions by the Supreme Court have codified into law the direction that the United States has been moving in for the past few years. While not surprised, I am still shocked by the rulings in the matters of Roe v. Wade, gun possession, regulations intended to address the climate crisis and, as I discuss in my podcast to be posted this coming Thursday, the public school prayer decision. (wrestlinganddreaming.podbean.com)

Each of these rulings have been so horribly upsetting to so many and, in fact, in some cases, the majority of Americans clearly disagree with the direction the court has taken. This fact, in and of itself, should deeply concern us for the future (but also should provide us some hope).

In addition, as more details emerge about the January 6 insurrection and more political candidates embrace the lie about election fraud, we appropriately fear what actions might surround the mid-term elections and the 2024 Presidential election.

There is so much to fear.

But, there is hope.

The hope lies in those of us who disagree with the direction of the court and reject those who continue to raise doubts about election integrity and who refuse to follow the lead of those who are moving in this country to disenfranchise others and to act as a nation without compassion or concern for equal justice. We must continue to raise our voices and continue to work for a different direction in our country.

In his second inaugural address, President Lincoln spoke the immortal words: “With malice towards none, with charity towards all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds”.

There were many who questioned how he could have said these words when there were such sharp divisions in the nation and the wounds were not bound up neatly by any means.

Similarly today, it is hard to imagine how we might show enough lack of malice and enough charity and compassion attitudes to work to bring our nation together when the divisions are so deep. But, we can’t give up on the United States of America. We must speak loudly and clearly and seek common ground where it can be found to move away from extremism and to work together to the extent possible to repair this nation.

We must all continue to be proud in the hope our flag symbolizes.

May we all bring the spirit of hope to all we do in the days to come.

Two Beautiful Parks, Two Important Perspectives

         For many years, I have been intrigued by a place called Bryce Canyon National Park. I had never been there, but I had thought it about often. I have visited a few of the National Parks and they all provide great experiences, but I had dreamed of visiting Bryce for two reasons. 

First, the obvious reason: I had heard it was extraordinary beautiful and unique. 

And secondly, because I have a 2nd cousin whom I have never met who lives and runs a store just outside the park. I have wanted to meet her since we first connected about 15 years ago when two branches of my father’s family “discovered” each other. There had been a split in the family two generations ago and, thanks to a wonderful coincidence, we found each other and that led to sharing of family history stories and a better understanding of where we came from. 

So, visiting Bryce was always a dream of mine and when our son, Avi, and I were considering where we might go for a trip together during his vacation and he proposed the idea of going to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, I realized I could make my dream come true. 

We started at Zion National Park, and I have to say that it is an absolutely phenomenal place. In many ways, it was the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The cliffs rising up from the canyon, the beautiful trees, rock formations and the way that the same view looks totally different at different times of day were enthralling.

We hiked on some of the less demanding trails (after all I’m 67, more about that later) in Kolob Canyons and climbing to what are known as the Emerald Pools. We walked along the Virgin River until it begins its course into the narrowest parts of Zion Canyon. 

It was an unforgettable experience, and I could easily see why Avi considers it his favorite National Park of the many he has visited. 

Then, it was on to Bryce Canyon. 

The experience of Bryce Canyon is different from that of Zion. Instead of looking up at the cliffs, you look down on the canyon from above and I found myself mesmerized- and I can think of no more accurate word- by the “hoodoos”- the spire like formations of rock. They are incredibly beautiful and seem to have a “personality” of their own, each different, each more exquisite and impressive than the next. 

Some looked like animals. Some arranged as if a forming a “temple” on a hill. Others, like the ones shown here, reminded me of a group of people, appearing like “sentinels” guarding the valley below. I have never seen anything like them in my life. 

         Now, I’m home, more or less over jet lag and thinking back on what I experienced in these two remarkable places and I realized that these two parks affirmed in a dramatic way something that I have always felt is one of the most important perspectives our tradition offers on what it means to be a human being.

Zion and Bryce Canyon left me with two contrasting but complementary feelings- each critical feelings which we need to continue to balance in our lives. 

While Zion was awe-inspiring and overwhelming in many ways, I felt swept up in the park, carried, as it were, up the walls of the canyon to reach for the skies. Looking up from the bottom of the canyon at the rock walls and cliffs elevated me and made me appreciate once again the glorious beauty of the world. It affirmed my thoughts on how important the role of God as “creator” is in my faith and my theology as seeing the beauty of the world and the intricacy of the universe inspires us to greater heights.

Then, there was Bryce Canyon which left me with a completely different feeling.

From the top of the canyon looking down into these enormous hoodoos, I felt tremendously small, humbled by non-human “figures” which dwarfed my shadow. I could not get out of my mind the fact that these hoodoos were there millenia before I was born and would remain long after I am no longer walking this earth. 

So, I was reminded again, as our tradition teaches, that we must each remember that we are created in the image of God with all that potential that implies while recognizing that we are but dust in ashes and that we are such an imperceptibly small part of our universe. 

Two contrasting feelings from two incredible experiences. Two contrasting feelings that touched different places within me. 

So, which was more meaningful? 

         In one sense, it is impossible to choose between them, nor should I, but if I’m honest, I would say that on a spiritual level, Bryce Canyon resonated with me just a shade more deeply. 

         Perhaps that is because of where I am in life. 

         I do not consider myself “old” and, God willing, have time to visit many more National Parks and experience many more milestones in my life. But I’ve reached the age where I am aware of limitations more than I was a few years ago. I find myself still dreaming, still grabbing onto visions of goals I haven’t yet achieved but doing so within the context of reality, the nagging aches and pains and the fears of watching the years pass by. 

         For me, Bryce Canyon affirmed something that we all realize as we get older: that we can and must continue to dream and continue to seek moments of elevation and grandeur, recognizing that we each comprise an irreplaceable and unique part of the universe. But we realize more clearly every day that our time here is finite and the universe will go on without us sometime in the not-too-distant future and that that is the way of the world.

         So, the lesson is that as we get older, we need to act on our dreams. We need to go to the places we dream of going to and meet the people we dream of meeting- and yes, I did meet my cousin for the first time, and we had a wonderful “reunion”. 

We need to continue to find places where we remind ourselves how grand it is to be a human being and how precious each day is and places which affirm what we’re feeling inside as we watch the years go by.