Temple Jeremiah


Shabbat Sh’mini

Dear Friends,

I always get nostalgic when we arrive at this week’s Torah portion, Sh’mini. You see, it was my Bar Mitzvah portion some 45 years ago. What I remember most vividly is that I could not stop my knees from shaking and how grateful I was that no one could see them. Somehow, I made it through the service at Beth Emet without collapsing in a heap.

This year I read the portion with new eyes. I am particularly struck by the story of the deaths of Nadav and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons. We are told by the text that they died because they made an offering that was not commanded by God. They went rogue. This year I paid special attention to what happened to their families in the aftermath. God essentially tells them they cannot mourn their loss.

I find this incredible. Aaron, his wife, the remaining brothers, and Moses (their uncle), were forbidden to take the steps that could provide both comfort and a true healing. For me, this is untenable, yet also understandable. God wanted to emphasize the terrible nature of the two boys’ transgression. Yet, to make the family pay for this just feels cruel.

So, perhaps we can look at this another way. Perhaps we can see this part of the story as a metaphor meant to teach us a lesson about hurt…and about pain and healing. Aaron and his family were so bereft that they could not even find the strength to cry to allow themselves to feel the pain of loss and move through. For me, this teaches that there are times when the pain is so deep, healing seems an unattainable dream.

Perhaps Aaron and Moses misunderstood God’s meaning. It is possible that they were unable to hear and understand so swift and terrible were the deaths of Nadav and Abihu, Aaron’s sons. This is true with our lives. Each of us has encountered a hurt or a pain that seems insurmountable, yet the only way to move forward is to find a way to heal.

On April 15th at 7:00 p.m. we will create a space for healing in the Golder Chapel. We have gathered prayers, readings, and music and brought them together for a service of healing. We all seek comfort, strength and healing. Some of us struggle with physical illness. Some of us struggle with mental illness. Some of us are in remission from addiction. Some of us are in need of spiritual healing. Many will come to such a service to seek healing for friends and loved ones. And, many will come to just lend support to those who are seeking healing of the body or the spirit. I hope you will join us, however you are so moved to do so. Together we can provide what Aaron, Moses, and their family felt was beyond their reach.

The Torah portion is called Sh’mini which means “eighth.” It was on the eighth day that the priests, including Aaron and his sons, were to be ordained. The eighth day is the first day of the new week, bringing with it new possibilities and new hope. This Healing Service is a new worship opportunity for our community. May all in need of healing and all who stand with them as a community of love, joy and connection, find hope, strength and comfort that will lead to healing and renewed life.

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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