Actions and Consequences: A Drash on Mishpatim

In last week’s Torah portion, we read a vivid and powerful description of one of the most momentous and pivotal moments in the story of our People’s journey out of Egypt – the reception of the 10 commandments.

In this week’s portion we find ourselves discussing what some might interpret as the deeper study of those 10 instructions, with examples provided to illustrate the finer legal points that help to ensure a healthy and thriving society.

The Torah portion Mishpatim, which could be translated as “Laws”, contains a mixture of prescriptions and regulations that touch upon many aspects of life: various cases of theft, altercations and property crimes are discussed, as well as communal and religious conduct.

47 detailed instructions can be found in our parasha. In no particular order we are told not to follow the majority for evil, not to curse our parents, not to pervert justice, not to oppress the stranger, not to have sexual intercourse with an animal, to keep the Sabbath and much more.

Perhaps one of the best known and most controversial instructions – a seemingly cruel one, possibly one that permits an act of revenge – is the prescription of “an eye for an eye.”

To read the rest of the entry, head over to BCC’s website.

ACC Spotlight

Honored to be featured in ACC’s Spotlight section.

Click here for the interview.

There is Hope

I’m feeling quite honored to have my song, “Priestly Blessing” featured on this compilation album, as much as I’m grateful for sharing a space with artists I respect and admire.
Thank you to Rabbi Menachem Creditor and Rabbi David Paskin for curating this collection. May the music inspire and be a source of hope and comfort.

Download the album for free now at: www.hopesongs.net


In the world of hashtags, tweets, taggings, and posts there’s one tagline that’s been making the rounds among my colleagues and friends. #whatcantorsdo accompanies posts and pictures of cantors proudly standing by a bar/bat mitzvah student, rehearsing a piece of music, getting ready for services, or offering words of consolation and insight on world and lifecycle events. When cantors get together at conferences and retreats, it becomes obvious how united we are in our passions and commitments while we still recognize what makes each of us unique. Continue reading

Pride & Pain

Singing at the interfaith service on Pride, 2016

As our annual Pride parade and celebration dawned this year, our lives were disrupted by a tragic event on the other side of the country. What should have been a time of festivities and coming together joyously in community became a bittersweet and potentially dangerous experience. I went out into the streets to march, but was wary of my environment. I watched the floats and felt the intensity of the presence of armed officers bookending the parade. I sang “True Colors” at the opening interfaith service and was a little more saddened than usual to be countered with words of bigotry and rejection, shouted out through megaphones by religious organizations standing behind a fence across the street from where the queer interfaith clergy team was preaching words of blessing.
Ever since the shooting in Orlando and its repercussions on the political, social and human front, I’ve been thinking to myself how we as individuals can combat the darkness that still seems to befall us and the hate that still is taught and preached towards anyone who is different. Yes, there are charities to donate to and Facebook filters to update one’s profile pic in solidarity with the victims and that’s all fine and good. But a lasting bitter taste was left for me through realizing the disastrous impacts unresolved internal homophobia (or any other form of internal mental pain) can have. That really hit home for me this year.

As LGBTQ people, many of us grow up in an environment in which we’re led to believe that there’s something wrong about us that needs to be changed. But really it’s the society around us – a society that holds on to “shoulds” and norms and etiquette – that needs the change the most. And so, while I’m not a therapist by any means, I’ve been left thinking that bullies, unkind neighbors, entitled employers and mass shooters too all have in common some unresolved pain carried within them that has gone untreated for too long. After all, it’s easier to just try to blend in and put on a facade of a perfect life, rather than to admit that challenges are real, that struggles are real. Self-acceptance is an evolutionary and often difficult process.

Can we make it our mission to work with and through the pain rather than suppressing it? Can our work lie in releasing our pain by talking about it, singing about it, meditating about it, cooking a meal about it, hiking about it, praying about it, connecting with someone about it, until love, hope, comfort and joy can take the place that was filled up by pain? Can this be one way of combating the darkness outside and inside ourselves? And can we do it alone?

The Orlando shooting occurred on the first day of Shavuot, traditionally one of the three joyous pilgrimage festivals, in which the hallel – a collection of verses of praise – is recited. On the day of the shooting, the first day of Shavuot, Cantor Sam Radwine acknowledged these words from the Hallel: (Psalm 118:17) “Lo Amut, Ki echyeh, Va-asaper ma-aseh Yah—I shall not die, but live and will tell of God’s divine creation.” as “not just a statement of faith” but also as an urgent call to “compel us and all humanity to work for Tikkun Olam, the perfection and preservation of all of God’s creation.” I feel the need to celebrate ourselves with all that we are, as part of God’s creation, more urgently than ever before.

May we, currently divided into many different letters of identities that separate us, use our energy and optimism to overcome the barriers and fences of the past. And may we all come to live in painless harmony with each other and with all that is created.