Temple Jeremiah


Shabbat Ki Tetzei

Dear Friends,

We are in the midst of the Hebrew month of Elul, the month leading up to our celebration of Rosh HaShanah, the birthday of the world. Elul, our sages of blessed memory teach us, is an acronym containing the words from the biblical book, Song of Songs. “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”

Many wedding couples cite this verse in their invitations, their ketubah, and even the rings they exchange. These words represent the commitment each makes to the other and the love that they share. Elul is the time when we take stock of our lives; a time that we use to reflect on our relationships with the people in our lives and with God. The Song of Songs is not just an erotic love poem of two people, it is a poem about the love that God has for us. During Elul we turn our hearts and open them up with the hope that we can strengthen the bonds of love we share. That, indeed, we can do better in the coming year. We commit to repairing damage we caused to our relationships and to not repeat mistakes of the past.

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Each of us wants to experience more joy and less pain. We each want to feel more deeply connected to our fellow human beings and to God. All of us want to be guided by the Jewish values of generosity, Nedivut, of respect/honor, Kavod, and humility, Anavah. These Jewish values form the very foundation of all relationships. It is with these Middot, these Jewish values, that we can repair and strengthen our connections.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, we learn more about the laws that govern our welfare. But, in the midst of this discussion we read about relationships. In the case of a man who has a loved wife and an unloved wife he is admonished to treat his children from both wives with generosity, honor, and humility. Immediately following this instruction we read about the horrible case of parents who have a “stubborn and rebellious” son. This child is so incorrigible that, ultimately, he is put to death by the parents and the community. Our sages of blessed memory quickly point out that such a case never happened nor would they ever allow such a child to be executed.

But, if so, why do we have such a text and why is it placed here? Every day I am reminded through conversations, phone calls, email, and even social media that people feel besieged. We live in a world filled with violence. Not just physical violence, although certainly there is physical violence, but also emotional and spiritual violence. People feel that they are at war. Under this incredible stress, relationships suffer and our children suffer. The parental view of an incorrigible child comes out of this fear, anxiety, and pain that blinds us to the goodness and the love that does exist. It is impossible, at times, to break out of this battle and see the good, to feel the joy that comes from being connected, from being in relationship.

The opening verses of Ki Teitzei are cautionary. They reveal what can happen to us in a state of war; how we can lose sight of the importance of our relationships and our connections to one another. So, we have the caution and we know that we have to change. Ben Azzai, a second century sage taught: “One mitzvah leads to another, just as one transgression leads to another.” His hope was that we could see, even in the darkest time, that performing one act of kindness, one mitzvah, can truly effect change. One act of generosity, one word that expresses honor or respect, one deed that demonstrates humility will lead to another and another. We are not doomed to succumb to the stress and anxiety of present day life, nor do we have to accept the injustice we see all around us.

Elul is a time to remember we are capable of love and worthy to be loved. Elul is the time to perform one mitzvah and then another. Elul is the time when we recommit ourselves to the work of bringing more Shalom, more wholeness in our lives, into our relationships and into the world.

Elul “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” I am deeply grateful for the love I share with Cathy and our children Jacob, Eli, Anna, and Hope. I am grateful for the joy I experience through our belonging to this sacred community based on the Jewish values of generosity, honor, and humility.

Our family wishes each of you a happy, healthy, and very sweet New Year.

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.

Comments are closed.