Ki Tisa

Mon, 02/18/2019 - 12:00am

Exodus 30:11−34:35

By Rabbi Sarah Bassin for ReformJudaism.org

Can We Have a Relationship with God?


We Jews are good at a lot of things. Talking about God is not one of them. I would even venture to guess that some of us are grateful that our prayers are in Hebrew, so we don’t have to think too hard about what it is that we’re actually saying about God.

It’s less complicated to articulate what we don’t believe. As one of my rabbinic colleagues often tells congregants, “I don’t believe in the same God that you don’t believe in.”

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Mon, 02/11/2019 - 12:00am

Exodus 27:20–30:10

By Rabbi Sarah Bassin for ReformJudaism.org


High Moral Standards for Our Leaders, and Ourselves

We all know the danger of turning people into symbols. Every one of us has our own story of a hero who let us down: when we learned a favorite athlete doped his way to victory, how we unknowingly laughed at the comedy of a rapist, or when we supported a politician who only feigned monogamy. We barely find ourselves shocked by these examples anymore.

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Mon, 02/04/2019 - 12:00am

Exodus 25:1–27:19

By Rabbi Sarah Bassin for ReformJudaism.org

The Limits of Communication

As with any good architectural design, this Torah portion offers precise instructions. Parashat T’rumah lays out a manual for building our place of worship in the desert (known as the Mishkan) along with all of the instruments contained within. It details exact measurements, materials, and methods of construction. The instructions were intended to be foolproof and impossible to misinterpret. But there appears to be some daylight between the original concept and the final product — at least with one very important element: the menorah.

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Mishpatim - Mahar Chodesh

Mon, 01/28/2019 - 12:00am

Exodus 21:1−24:18

By Rabbi Sarah Bassin for ReformJudaism.org


Learning from the Imperfection of Religion

Religion is the source of most atrocities in the world. Religion makes us better people.

Well, which is it? You can look to almost any sacred text in any tradition, and find those passages that condone and even encourage violence. And you can also find those that compel us to strive to help others, and live more compassionately. Religious apologists often pretend that the texts of terror don’t exist. New atheists1 often pretend that the texts of compassion don’t.

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Mon, 01/21/2019 - 12:00am

Exodus 18:1–20:23 


By Rabbi Sarah Bassin for ReformJudaism.org

Encounters That Can Make Us Become Better Jews

Jews are good at nostalgia. We remember with fondness the tenements of the Lower East Side when our community was tight knit and intact. We remember the quaintness of shtetl life untouched by outsiders. We yearn for the sovereignty of Ancient Israel where we controlled our own fate, unmolested by other nations.

But as Rabbi Rachel Adler reminds us, “there never was a time when ancient Israelite religion or the Judaism that succeeded it were not being influenced by the cultures and religions they encountered.”1

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Shabbat Shira - Beshalach

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 12:00am

Exodus 13:17-17:16 

By Rabbi Sarah Bassin for ReformJudaism.org

How We Win Is Important

If we as Jews believed in a hell, Amalek would have a special place in it.

Since we don’t, we take care in every generation to blot out Amalek’s name. It’s a level of disdain we retain for the worst of the worst. Amalek makes it to the top of our list of enemies. So who was Amalek and why is he the focus of all our ire?

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Mon, 01/07/2019 - 12:00am

Exodus 10:1−13:16 

By Rabbi Sarah Bassin for ReformJudaism.org

Thinking Big and Failing Fast

Think big. As a society, we value those who step beyond the status quo, who push us beyond what we think is possible. We think of them as heroic — because they possess a talent that we do not.

But what if thinking big were not a talent but a skill to be cultivated — something even God had to practice?

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Mon, 12/31/2018 - 12:00am

Exodus 6:2-9:35 

By Rabbi Sarah Bassin for ReformJudaism.org

Shortness of Breath, Shortness of Spirit

High school wasn’t great for me. I functioned at the periphery of social groups, laying low and laughing at jokes made at my expense so as not to be excommunicated into social oblivion. The weekend I left for college, I never once second guessed my decision until the moment my parents said goodbye and drove off. Watching that van pull away, it suddenly hit me that I was fully alone. I was 1,200 miles away from anyone who knew me. Every worst-case scenario flooded my brain in that instant. What if it were worse than high school? What if I didn’t find any friends or a group of friends? What if I failed my classes? What if none of the clubs wanted me? I froze. I wanted nothing more than to return to the familiar — to go back home. I must have stood there looking shell-shocked for a solid five minutes before a kind orientation leader coaxed me out of my stupor to some ice-breakers and what turned out to be the start of a fulfilling college experience.  

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