Temple Jeremiah


Shabbat Kedoshim

Dear Friends,

Our tradition teaches us that there is nothing as whole as a broken heart (Menachem Mendel of Kotzk). Our hearts are truly broken. Attacks on houses of worship throughout our world: Pittsburgh, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Poway, CA. So, where is the wholeness? The wholeness comes through strength and resolve to repair, restore, and reinvigorate.

Leviticus teaches us that what can be broken can be repaired. A broken heart can be repaired. The wholeness results from the acts that we perform to repair our broken world. How do we do this? I am not so arrogant as to suggest I have the answer. I do, however, have my own response that may resonate with you as well.

This week we read from Leviticus 19, also known as “The Holiness Code.” God commands us to be holy for God is holy. The path to fulfilling this command is immediately set forth: Treat people well! We are told that we must be fair in business. We are told that we cannot take advantage of the vulnerable. What’s more, we are told that we cannot hate another in our hearts and that we must love our neighbor as ourselves.

This is quite a challenging path. And yet, it is the path to holiness. It is the path of God. These verses caution us against bearing a grudge and taking revenge. They warn us against incurring sin because of another. And, we are warned, you must reprove your neighbor when you see them behaving badly.

We make our broken hearts whole again when we are able to travel this path. Even when anti-Semitism rears its ugly head and manifests in horrific acts of violence as it did this past Shabbat in Poway, CA. We must not succumb to hate; we cannot plot out our revenge. We must instead strive for holiness. We must work to fix that which is broken.

Here is what I want to do and what we can do together. Let us first make sure that we are on the path to holiness; treating the people in our lives with love and respect. This should be reflected in our face to face conversations, our texts, our email and our social media accounts.

Then, let us advocate for real change. Let us hold one another accountable for how we use our words and how we act. Let us demand that our political leaders hold themselves and each other accountable for anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic and white supremacist speech. We can also continue to push for sensible gun control with mandatory background checks. And, finally, we must demand from our local, state and federal representatives to provide the resources to treat mental illness.

This, my friends, is the path to holiness and the path to wholeness. I know that it is an enormous task. The teachers in Pirke Avot remind us that we are not required to complete the work; we are required to engage in it with fullness of spirit.

This Friday night we will include readings and prayers of healing into our Erev Shabbat worship as we honor the victims of the Holocaust and pray for the families of Poway, CA, the most recent victims of anti-Semitic violence. In our prayers, in joining together as a community of faith and hope, let us find the strength to create the world as it ought to be. For it is in this way we can truly feel the wholeness of our broken hearts.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, D. Min., D.D

Rabbi Paul Cohen

About Rabbi Paul Cohen

Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, D.Min., D.D. is originally from Chicago. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from Grinnell College where he studied biology and comparative religion. Upon graduation, he moved to Minneapolis where he worked for two years in a short-term residential treatment program for delinquent adolescents. Rabbi Cohen received his Masters of Arts and rabbinic ordination and the honorary degree, Doctor of Divinity, celebrating 25 years in the rabbinate in March 2015, from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. While there, he served as the student rabbi for the United Hebrew Congregation in Ft. Smith, Arkansas and the auxiliary chaplain at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Rabbi Cohen's rabbinical thesis was titled "Modes of Divine Communication: Some Aspects of the Rabbinic Views" which focused on some of the less conventional ways rabbis expect to send and receive communication vis a vis heaven. Rabbi Cohen was awarded a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Bangor Theological Seminary in May 2001. His dissertation is entitled "Digging Our Parent's Wells" and deals with congregational renewal. While in Cincinnati, Rabbi Cohen met his wife, Cathy, and together they moved to Norfolk, Virginia where he served as the assistant and then associate rabbi of Ohef Sholom Temple. Active on many community boards of directors, Rabbi Cohen was the founding president of the South Hampton Roads Campaign for the Homeless. Immediately prior to serving Temple Jeremiah, Rabbi Paul Cohen was the spiritual leader of Congregation Bet Ha'am in South Portland, Maine and served on the boards of the Jewish Federation, Cedars Nursing Home, the Equity Institute and the Cancer Community Center. He was the president of the Greater Portland Interfaith Council, a founding member of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination and the Maine Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Choices and sat on its executive board. Politically and communally active, Rabbi Cohen has been asked on several occasions to offer testimony before state legislative committees. Rabbi Cohen served as chair of the Rabbinic Advisory Committee of Olin-Sang Ruby Union Institute, he is President of the Chicago Association of Reform Rabbis and is a past board member of the Interfaith Housing Center of the North Shore (now called Open Communities), was a founding board member of Family Promise of Chicago North Shore, served as President of the Chicago Board of Rabbis and is a member of the Winnetka Interfaith Council, served on the Ethics Committee of the North Shore Senior Center. He is a graduate of the Kellogg Management Education for Jewish Leaders program, sits on the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation Board of Directors and the Jewish Center for Addiction Advisory Board and serves on the Clergy Advisory Board for the Public Defender of Cook County. He is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
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