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HaShirah haZot - This Song

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Sermon Parashat Beshallach 2018 Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz

HaShirah HaZot – This Song
Az yashir Moshe u’vnei Yisrael et hashirah hazot’ – ‘then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song.’ Thus opens chapter 15 of the Book of Exodus, otherwise known as the Song of the Sea, the oldest Biblical text of our entire canon.
Many of us will be familiar with the ‘Shirat haYam’, the Song of the Sea. Despite its ancient, convoluted, poetic Hebrew, we are familiar with threads of it, woven into the tapestry of the liturgy. ‘Ozi v’zimrat Yah, vayehi li lishuah’ – ‘the Eternal is my strength and might, he is my deliverance’ is a staple of summer camps and spiritual gatherings where its well-known contemporary melody makes for beautiful harmonies. ‘Adonai yimloch le’olam va’ed’ – ‘the Eternal shall reign forever’ is a theological proclamation that is seeded across our liturgy. ‘Mi chamocha ba’elim Adonai’ – ‘who is like You, among the gods?’ is sung with gusto by congregations just before the eveni…

Our God is Marching On

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Parashat Va’era 2018 Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz


Our God is Marching On
Ani Adonai, va’era el Avraham, el Yitzchak, v’el Ya’acov, be’El Shaddai, ushmi Adonai lo nodati lahem.” – “I am the Eternal, Who appeared before Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai but I did not make Myself known to them by My Name YHWH.” (Gen. 6:3).
At face value, this statement speaks to a theological reality: a notion of progressive revelation. God’s Name YHWH, which we could inadequately translate as ‘IsWasWillBe’ was not revealed to the Patriarchs but is now revealed to Moses and the Israelites.
Let us consider a possible and timely interpretation that is not primarily about theology; at least not in the classical understanding. God’s revelation of God’s own Name is not mere philosophical abstraction: it is deeply embedded in relationship.
We will skip ahead a few verses:
Vayedaber Moshe ken el B’nei Yisrael, v’lo shamu el Moshe mikztor ruach um’avodah kashah” – “But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they…

Open Heart Surgery

Parashat Shemot 2018 Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
Open Heart Surgery
There is a curious, little-known prayer called the ‘Havineinu’, meaning ‘grant us understanding’. Havineinu is a condensed version of the weekday Amidah. Instead of the usual thirteen middle blessings, the Havineinu offers a shortcut for extenuating circumstances.
One of the lines of this prayer that stood out to me was ‘l’da’at derachecha umol et levavenu liratecha’ – ‘that we may know Your ways; open our hearts to revere You.’At least, that’s the slightly parve translation Siddur Sim Shalom gives us. Instead, we could translate it as ‘that we may know Your ways; circumcise our hearts to fear You.’
A little more intense, nu?
Circumcision of the heart is a frequently recurring trope in the Hebrew Bible; from the Torah (Deut. 30:6) all the way through the Prophetic literature (Ezekiel 36:26). It always refers to an internalized, emotional process of contritely drawing closer to God and self. The opposite is also true: an unci…

Of Good Endings and Beginnings

Parashat Vayechi 2017, Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
Of Good Endings and Beginnings
There has been no shortage of seasonal idyll this last week with a White Christmas and what looks to be a White New Year’s Eve also. Every family is bound to have their own seasonal traditions during this time of year and one of ours has been to see Star Wars – and I suspect some of you have done too.
I’m not going to talk about ‘The Last Jedi’ in great detail because I want to make sure I don’t spoil anything for those of you who haven’t seen it, but suffice to say, it is a subversive but classic tale of rebellion, repentance and redemption. Despite the Zen flavors of the Jedi cult, this Star Wars felt very Jewish in some of the themes it explored: the choice between good and evil, the balance between sacred tradition and disruptive innovation and the belief that any human being, even the most morally compromised, can still do t’shuvah and pivot towards the good. Added onto that, it was very much a tale of ma…