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Showing posts from April, 2018

Heartland (Installation Sermon, Tazria-Metzora, 2018)

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Installation Sermon Agudas Achim (Parashat Tazria-Metzora)
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz Heartland
Now that I live in the United States of America, and in the Midwest, to be specific, a lot of things have started to make sense.
Perhaps my most enduring observation now that I live in the American heartland is the size of this country. When my husband and I drive to Wisconsin for a short Spring break vacation, we were kvetching that in the time it took for us to cross state lines, we would have crossed three national borders in Europe.
America’s size is a shaper of destinies. It indelibly affects perceptions, behavior and relationships. It influences how identities are constructed and boundaries are negotiated. It intimately affects our personal journeys of wandering and rootedness. Being in the heartland of the United States has affected me too: the expansiveness of the corn fields, the friendliness of towns and villages that historically faced the harsh elements together and the self-definiti…

The Morning After Of The Day Before

Sermon Parashat Shemini Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
The Morning After of the Day Before
Jews likes numbers – a lot. In fact, we like numbers so much that there is an entire branch of Jewish mystical thinking dedicated to Hebrew numerology called Gematria. Due to the fact that the Hebrew letters of the alphabet also have numerical value, there are rabbis who love playing number games, using Gematria, to look for patterns of meaning (or even a predicted score of their favorite sports team!)
However, we can scale it back: we do not need to reference the arcane in order to appreciate Judaism’s fascination with numbers. Numbers loom large in our tradition and have a great number (pun intended) of interpretations attached to them. The first number that our tradition roots itself is, as you may remember from your Passover seders, One. ‘Echad mi yodea, echad ani yodea, echad Eloheinu, shebe’shamayim uv’aretz’ – ‘Who knows one, I know one – One is our God in Heaven and on Earth.’ As the ditty at the …

Pour Out Your Wrath/Love

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Sermon: 8thDay of Pesach, Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz


Pour Out Your Wrath/Love
What do we do with anger? 
Anger is an important and defining emotion in the Hebrew Bible and we might be inclined to recoil from it. The Israelites get angry, Moses gets angry, God definitely gets angry. In our contemporary politeness, we may not always know how to meet that anger and there may be a real philosophical disconnect between the source of anger and its expression. 
God identifies as ‘El Kana’, a zealous God, and this may only layer onto our discomfort with the notion of anger and retribution. What human behavior merits God’s wrath? I suspect all of us here would reject such toxic theology outright.
We scrub and sanitize our texts or obfuscate their meaning. But how intellectually honest is it? Meanwhile we sit with the anger radiating off the pages of our tradition. By ignoring or dismissing anger, we are not examining its sacred mechanism. Just like in the human psyche, anger has a purpose in our Scrip…

Tell Your Own Story (Pesach Sermon)

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Tell Your Own Story
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz


Pesach is many things to many people: memory, message, meaning, food, tradition, song or a call to justice, action, and transformation. Regardless how Pesach may resonate with you in your own life, give yourself a unique Pesach gift: the blessing of telling your own story. This can be interpreted literally of course: we tell the stories of our ancestors at our Seders, just we chant Hallel, the festive psalms, at our Festival services. From Kiddush to Chad Gadya, from Maggid to Nirtza there is plenty of story and song. We can also, however, transcend the literal understanding and look at a deeper meaning: what does it mean for us to tell our own story? The word Haggadah means ‘the telling’. It’s interesting that our tradition has chosen this word when other terms would have fitted too: ‘Limmud’, ‘the learning’ would have been adequate – after all, the Seder has an undeniable pedagogical methodology through its melodies, foods and rituals. Yet, it…