by Rabbi Ari Sunshine
One of the most oft-cited passages from the Talmud is the text from Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 which focuses on the significance of God creating all humanity from Adam, a single human being. According to the text, this teaches us that all people have a common ancestor, that no one can claim “my ancestor was greater than yours,” and that destroying a single life is akin to destroying the entire world, while saving even one single life is as if we have saved a whole world. This profound message, that every person matters equally, is one that, even today, close to 2000 years after the Mishnah was compiled, we still often struggle with putting into practice.
Good evening, and welcome to Congregation Shearith Israel! It is a great honor and privilege to be hosting all of you here at our congregation for this first of what we hope will be an annual Community Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, rotating in venue from year to year amongst different local houses of faith. I’m also honored to have been asked by my friends and colleagues on the planning committee for this service to present some remarks this evening on our theme of “Diverse in Faith, United in Gratitude”.
Last night we had a beautiful evening here at Shearith as we hosted the 1st Annual Greater Dallas Interfaith Thanksgiving Service. Beck Family Sanctuary was filled with 400 people from Jewish, Christian and Muslim congregations all over the area who came for a celebration of community and to reflect on the evening’s theme of “Diverse in Faith, United in Gratitude”.
by Rabbi Ari Sunshine
This past weekend was an incredible high for our family as we celebrated our daughter Elana’s Bat Mitzvah. We were so proud of Elana, the wonderful job she did, the poise she displayed, and her warmth that shone through. Moreover, we were so delighted and honored to be able to share this simcha with so many of you in addition to our out of town family and friends. Your presence and the outpouring of your love and support for Elana and for our family added so much to this experience and elevated our Shabbat and our weekend.
Sermon/Bat Mitzvah Charge for Elana
Parashat Chayei Sarah
by Rabbi Ari Sunshine
At the end of last week’s parasha, Vayera, we experienced the harrowing and traumatic story of the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac. The narrative relates to us, the readers, of God’s test of his faithful servant Abraham, demanding the sacrifice of Isaac, the beloved son of his old age and the key to the continuation of the lasting covenant that God had promised Abraham. Hearing God’s command, and despite any apprehension or doubt he may have felt at the incongruity of this demand with the covenantal promise, Abraham zealously gets up early, saddles his donkey, and sets off with Isaac on what Abraham initially can only assume will be a journey that will end in personal heartbreak, even if it simultaneously affirms his faith in God. And what does Isaac know or understand about this journey? Not much, it would appear, until the third day, when Abraham and Isaac separate from the two servants who were travelling with them and take the wood, the firestone, and the knife and continue their trek alone, with Isaac himself bearing the burden of the wood while Abraham carries the firestone and the knife, “vayelchu shneyhem yachdav”, “and the two of them walked on together”. It is only at this juncture that Isaac begins to wonder what is happening here, as he notices that they have the instruments necessary for a sacrifice, but they are missing the most critical element of all: a sheep.
The joy and serenity of our Shabbat was pierced this morning with the news of the killing of eleven people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. This afternoon, what we no doubt suspected was confirmed by city officials: that this heinous act of cruelty was borne out of hatred for our people, our values, and our way of life.
This sermon was given on Erev Yom Kippur by Rabbis Sunshine, Roffman & Wallach
On Erev Yom Kippur, our prayers begin to slip the earthly bonds of gravity. By the conclusion of this most sacred day, they are propelled straight through the gates of heaven. And what guides their way? A ladder.
Ya’ale tachanuneinu me’erv, v’yavo shavatenu mi’boker, v’yera’eh rinuneinu ad e’rev.
There’s a story told about a man who was walking down Sderot Rothschild, one of the main streets in Tel Aviv, when all of a sudden he had a heart attack and immediately lost consciousness. When he opened his eyes, he looked around and found himself standing at the entrance to a hotel with impeccably groomed lawns, a magnificent pool with a lazy river, a lobby generously decorated with beautiful white marble, and a restaurant with a mouth-watering buffet clearly visible from the lobby. The man was at once excited to see all of these sights, and also puzzled as to where he was. So he went up to the reception desk and inquired, “where am I?”, to which the manager on duty replied, “you’re in heaven.” The man was still processing this amazing response when suddenly he was jarred awake by the current coming from defibrillator paddles on his chest. He was relieved to gradually discern that he had been revived and was very much still alive, but in the back of his mind he still recalled this incredible vision of what lay in store for him in heaven when his time ultimately came.
by Rabbi Ari Sunshine and the Klei Kodesh
As we reconvene in these coming days and weeks, we want to share with you a few important changes in our ritual life that you will notice when you come to shul. Our first core value in our new vision statement is that we are a caring community—one that is inclusive, warm, and welcoming to members and guests. We believe that each of these changes will help ensure that each soul who walks into our building, and participates in the life of our community, can see themselves represented in our rituals and liturgy. We also believe that these new initiatives will make our services more accessible and inviting, building and strengthening connections between each of us and our tradition and between us and our fellow congregants.
By Rabbi Ari Sunshine
The Talmud in tractate Ta’anit 5a speaks of “Yerushalayim shel ma’alah” (the heavenly Jerusalem) and “Yerushalayim shel matah” (the lower, or earthly, Jerusalem), when Rabbi Yohanan explains that God won’t enter the heavenly Jerusalem until first entering the earthly Jerusalem.
Shearith Israel clergy, staff and congregants share