Parashat Toldot – November 10, 2018 – 2 Kislev 5779

Jacob and Esau were twins. According to a fanciful interpretation of the rabbis, even when they were still in Rebecca’s womb they revealed their core values. When their mother would walk by a disreputable place, Esau would push to be born. Whenever she would walk by a reputable place, Jacob would push to be born. The commentators note that Esau, being the first born, must have been ahead of his brother in the womb. Therefore, Jacob could not push himself out because Esau was in the way. However, they ask, given that Esau was in the advantaged position, why didn’t Esau follow through and push himself out if being in a disreputable place was so important to him?

The answer, it seems, is that Esau was not primarily interested in pursuing bad for himself. Rather, he was committed to preventing his brother Jacob from pursuing good. We often suppose that our moral choices are between pursuing the good vs. pursuing the bad. Our tradition points out that sometimes a situation is more complicated. There are instances in which even if a person refrains from doing wrong himself, he may prevent another from doing right. This too is morally problematic behavior.

Judaism is practiced not by mere individuals but by individuals who are members of a community. Part of what it means to be a community is that members are not satisfied to only do the right thing themselves; we also work hard to support others in achieving their goals.

B’Yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Parashat Chaye Sarah – November 3, 2018 – 25 Cheshvan 5779

Ha-Makom Yinachem…

Our Parasha begins with reporting the death of Sarah. “And Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her.” It has been pointed out that the wording here is counter-intuitive. It would be expected from one suffering the death of his beloved that he would cry first and afterwards eulogize. Why the reverse order?

The Book of Ezekiel contains a prophecy which says, “Behold, I take from you the delight of your eyes at a stroke… Groan silently; do not mourn.” The Talmud cites this passage and posits that it refers to the tragic situation of a sudden, unexpected death. A case in which the deceased was “snatched” away.

Death can be shocking and disorientating. Sometimes tears of mourning cannot come right away. A person may need the framing and modest emotional distance of a few words, or a eulogy, to regain a sense of equilibrium. Whereas some may find it “too early” for words, another may “groan silently” until the right words, carefully chosen, allow the more raw expressions of profound loss, wailing and tears, to well up. Perhaps Abraham found at first he could not cry for Sarah. He eulogized her, and then his tears flowed.

Terrible sadness, anger, and a range of unhappy emotions hammer us as we reel from the blow of the anti-Semitic atrocity perpetrated at the Tree of life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Some of us were immediately moved to tears on the behalf of the victims, fellow Jews at prayer, and for the courageous police officers wounded while trying to save them. Some of us may need the acknowledgment of words to begin to fully absorb the tragedy. Whether it moves from tears to words, or from words to tears, mourning is a process. “May God console the mourners in the midst of all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Message from Rabbi Levine

Our sages tell us us that the Holy Temple in Jerusalem had two gates; one for those suffering loss and anguish. The people of Jerusalem would gather by that gate and offer words of kindness saying, “May the One who dwells in this house comfort you.” Today, we have our synagogues; places of holiness, that in times of hardship we may gather to bear our grief and console ourselves in mutual solidarity.

On this coming Shabbat morning, November 3, the Agudas Achim community will be gathering as we do each and every Shabbat. Some of us attend Shabbat services regularly and this Shabbat, in addition to our regular service, we will acknowledge the atrocity which occurred at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. While I know that some of us are not regular shul-goers, or may have made other plans for this Saturday, I’m asking that you change those plans. This Shabbat we should come together in solidarity as an Agudas Achim community. This is in line with the international #ShowUpForShabbat initiative.

In the wake of the tragedy, our leadership team led by Ari Goldberg, Executive Director, and Julie Saar, President, immediately set out to convene a task force consisting of the Executive Committee and staff to meet with the Columbus Jewish Community’s security consultant, Fred Bowditch, to re-examine our security protocols. This Shabbat, we will be joined by Bexley’s Chief of Police, Larry Rinehart, who will speak to us at the conclusion of services about what we are doing now and what we will be considering going forward to make sure we and our families are safe in our building. Chief Rinehart will also join us for Kiddush lunch to answer any questions or address any concerns individuals may have.

This Shabbat we will have two armed, uniformed police officers guarding the building, grounds, and atrium entrance. The doors will be locked from the outside, with access to the building using your key fobs at the parking lot door. If you do not yet have a fob, we will be able to greet you at the door and arrange for you to have a fob for future access. If you prefer not to use electronic devices on Shabbat, please notify me or Ari by Friday morning so that we may appropriately accommodate you. Locking our doors is important for our security. If you have questions or concerns about this policy, please do not hesitate to contact Ari or me. Further adjustments to our security protocols are still under discussion and we will provide those details as they are finalized.

A number of the rabbis who are part of our Agudas community have graciously agreed to contribute their presence and lend a voice to helping us acknowledge and navigate these challenging times during services this Shabbat. They will be joining me on the bima to share passages from our tradition to help us regain our orientation and face this awful tragedy. Please join us.

As your spiritual leader I know this is a period of emotional turmoil for our community. Our Jewish tradition and our basic humanity tell us that coming together will always be part of the solution. Let that which binds us together continue to strengthen us, and may life and goodness prevail.

B’Yedidut (with friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Parashat Vayera – October 27, 2018 – 18 Cheshvan 5779

After the destruction of Sodom, we are informed, “And Avraham journeyed from there.” (Gen. 20:1) Avraham, as we learn at the beginning of the parasha, had a passion for the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim; providing hospitality to wayfarers. According to the Midrash, the destruction of the major city in the region resulted in a sharp decline in the number of available wayfarers. Upon realizing that his opportunities for this mitzvah had been considerably diminished, Avraham decided to pitch his tent somewhere more promising. What might we learn from this?

Rabbi Abun cited a verse from the Book of Job, “Mountains collapse and crumble; Rocks are moved from their place.’ ‘Mountains collapse and crumble’ – this is Lot. ‘Rocks are moved from their place’ – this is Avraham, for he turned from place to place.

This seems paradoxical. A mountain is just a really big rock; a rock is just a chunk of collapsed mountain. What’s the difference?

Lot was like a mountain. Fixed to his spot, he could not extract himself from a negative situation until it literally collapsed around him. By contrast, Avraham was a restless seeker, a rolling stone constantly on the prowl for a spiritual frontier; for an opportunity to strike sparks in some new place that had not yet seen the light. In the case of Sodom, it proved better to be an independent “rock” than a settled “mountain.” Nonetheless, there are situations where the sacred is to found in the well-established, and where being an entrenched mountain is better than floundering amidst the flux. Ultimately, we must have the capacity to be both – at times dwelling undisturbed like a mountain; at times breaking loose like a rock.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vorki was asked what constitutes a true Jew. He said: “Three things are fitting for us: upright kneeling, silent screaming, motionless dance.” We may add: To be spiritually seeking while dwelling.

B’Yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Trip to Kokosing Nature Preserve

Lots of people personalize life cycle events such as their baby’s naming by adapting a ceremony found on the internet, or their wedding by having friends recite the sheva brachot (7 blessings), or by wearing a special tallis from Israel during prayer. One aspect of Jewish life which seems to be mostly still stuck in the one size fits all cookie cutter style of religious practice are the rituals around death and dying, burial and funerals. Is there a “Jewish” way to die? Can a funeral service be “spiritual”? What feelings and values should the design of a cemetery evoke? These questions and more will be addressed during the course of this year as part of the Lunch w/the Rabbi series.
We will begin with a special field trip to the Kokosing Nature Preserve on Sunday, November 11. The Kokosing Nature Preserve is a conservation burial ground located in the picturesque countryside of Gambier, Ohio. A project of the Philander Chase Conservancy, Kenyon College’s land trust, the preserve utilizes sustainable practices and efforts to offer people environmentally friendly burial options.
What you need to know:
$15/person includes transportation (on the Bexley Beat bus) and a box lunch. Meet in the shul parking lot at 9 am. If the weather allows, we will participate in a walking tour. Please wear appropriate shoes and seasonal clothing. We will return at approximately 2 pm.
Box lunch options (pick one)
Choice of egg salad, tuna salad, grilled chicken, sliced turkey, or hummus & roasted vegetable on wheat bread, wheat wrap or challah roll served with lettuce, tomatoes and red onion.
Each sandwich or wrap is served with potato chips or pretzels, a cookie, and a seasonal hand fruit.
Spaces are limited on the bus! RSVP no later than November 5th to  (   with your lunch choice.
For more information about the destination, visit

Parashat Lech Lecha – October 20, 2018 – 11 Cheshvan 5779

The Lord said to Abraham, “Get going from your land, etc.” Rabbi Yitzhak said, “It is like one who was passing by and saw a palace on fire. He said, ‘Is it possible that this palace is without a manager?’ The owner of the palace peeked out at him and said, ‘I am the owner of the palace.’ So it was with our father Abraham. He said, ‘Is it possible that this world is without a manager?’ The Holy One Blessed Be He peeked out at him and said, ‘I am the owner.” (Bereshit Rabbah)

We call Abraham the founder of ethical monotheism. Some people think that God must be the basis for morality and so belief in God comes before, and leads to, a commitment to a moral life. I think Abraham took the opposite view. According to the midrash, Abraham saw the world as a palace on fire. He demanded to know, “Where is the master of the palace?” Abraham saw a world burning to ruin. He demanded justice, and reasoned that justice demands a judge. He committed to the proposition that life must be governed by morality, and that led him to God.

“He [Abraham] had faith in the Lord; and he [God] reckoned it to him as righteousness” is the Biblical source for Abraham as an exemplar of faith. The word here used for “faith” is more accurately understood as “trust.” Abraham is not being described as righteous on account of some advanced degree in theology or because he blindly embraced some cosmic esoterica. Abraham trusted. He trusted that there is a permanent relationship between the Divine and the world and its creatures. This trust manifests itself as love, fear and in deliberative action. That’s the Biblical tradition of “faith,” and it is reckoned as righteousness.

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

JoLT/Shabbat Project 614 Friday Night Dinner

Friday, October 26 at 5:45 PM
Please join the JoLT children for a Friday night Shabbat dinner in conjunction with Shabbat Project 614.
$25/Family cap
RSVP no later than October 19 to the shul office at 614-237-2747 or  (  .

Great Big Challah Bake (as part of Shabbat Project 614)

Thursday, October 25
7-9 pm at Columbus Torah Academy (doors open at 6:30 pm)
Please be our guest at the Agudas Achim table at the Great Big Challah Bake!
First come, first served! The first 10 people to email Naomi  (   by October 23rd are the 10 people able to attend (12 and older). Guests of Agudas Achim (who are confirmed with Naomi) DO NOT need to register.
Click here for more information on the Challah Bake and to purchase your own ticket(s).
Click here for more information on Shabbat Project 614.

Brotherhood’s Night Out with the Stars

Formerly Boys Night Out
Sponsored by the Agudas Achim Brotherhood
Wednesday, October 24 at 6 pm
Honoring Kathy & Jay Worly
Featuring comedian Basile
…and the very best in Brotherhood culinary arts.
A Night Out with the Stars is open to all!
Call Bobbie Shkolnik for more information at 614-237-2747 x22 or email Bobbie  (  .