I’ve been sleeping more lately. Good sleep is healthful for your body and mind. I think that I’m sleeping more because I am so very busy during the daytime that I am exhausted at night.

One-third of your life will have been spent sleeping.  Rest is essential to your good health.  There are other forms of rest besides sleep.  I do not suggest adding more television time to your schedule as a form of rest.

In addition to sleep, there are spiritual practices of rest like prayer, meditation or contemplative walks. These modalities of rest can be energizing. Prayer is not merely reciting rote statements of faith capped by blessings. Prayer can be what the Hasidim call “hitbodedut”, a walking conversation with God. You probably do this in a limited fashion already. Haven’t you talked to God when late to an appointment and looking for a parking spot?

There is also a long tradition of meditation in Judaism. In the Talmud, Tractate Brachot, we learn that the pious ones would get up early to ready themselves before beginning prayer. Torah beckons us to meditate on its words and Kabbalah asks us to meditate to deepen our relationship with God.

Torah also commands purposeful rest. This commandment is of great interest this year. Every seventh year the fields of the land of Israel are to lie fallow. This is known as the shmitah year and 5782 is such a year. Scientifically, a respite from farming is important to replenishing a field for future crops. Yet Torah offers another reason. In parshat Vayehlech, Deut. 31:10, Moses instructed the people that every seventh year. the year set for remission; the people are to gather so that the Torah can be read aloud to them. By this understanding, a reason to let the fields lie fallow is so that the people can reduce time devoted to work and make time for the study of the Torah.

As we don’t live in an agrarian society, the cycle of planting and lying fallow is unfamiliar to us. In our world workers spend more hours than ever at their employment.  During Covid times, the home has become a primary workplace for many. Vacations are a challenge to plan and execute.  More workers are foregoing their vacation leave than ever before. We work to excess, and rest is too often a result of exhaustion.

Let’s be inspired in this shmitah year to create opportunities for meaningful rest. Learn to meditate or take time to simply be. Whether you walk in nature or relax without distractions, give yourself the gift of you. And make this shmitah year even more meaningful by adding Torah to your days. I’ll study with you if you want.  I love talking Torah. It is a blueprint to a better life and improving the world. Why wouldn’t we make time for such worthy goals?

Shana Tova U’Metukah, a good and sweet year to all.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

One goal of the High Holidays is to be inscribed in God’s Book of Life. Whether veritable or metaphorical, the imagery works. There’s an essentially Jewish approach to getting name-dropped into the Book of Life.

The concept of a book of life comes from Exodus 32:33. In a dialogue with Moses after the Golden Calf apostasy, an angry God threatens to remove the sinners from his book. References to books of life and death follow in Ezekiel and the Babylonian Talmud.

The importance of the book imagery is how it helps us to focus our intentions during the High Holidays. Are we remorseful enough to merit having God put pen to paper on our behalf?

The sages and rabbis of our tradition advise that we start the High Holidays by asking forgiveness of our family and friends, even before we address God. This guidance reveals the core principle of Jewish life. To rescue our own selves, we start by repairing our relationships with others. Our respect for and appreciation of the individuals in our lives is a prerequisite to our approaching God for forgiveness. Once again, the ritual life of our tradition demonstrates that Judaism is found in relationships, our connection to others, and our relationship with God.

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, open your book of relationships. Make connections with all whom you may have offended, which is everyone. Repair those bonds that elucidate who you are. With practice, you may be ready to address God for forgiveness by the time Yom Kippur rolls around.

Shana Tova U’Metukah, a good and sweet year to all.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

I am a sucker for baked goods. My taste in pastries has been refined over the years, from Chips Ahoy to bakery made black and whites, to baking my own meringue cookies.  No packaged cookie is as satisfying as sharing your home-made treats with family and friends. Sharing what we craft is a core element of happiness.

“Happiness is not ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” This is a teaching of the Dalai Lama. The Jewish approach would be to say, “what recipe do I have to follow to create happiness?” And of course, we have more than one answer!

Torah teaches that before we enjoy our produce, we bring the first fruits as an offering. Imagine how tempting it must be for the farmer to taste the bounty of his fields and trees. Our tradition says, wait. First, make it clear to God that you recognize that a gracious and divine source made all that you have possible. It was not your own actions alone.

Acknowledging the Source is the first element of enjoyment. The second is to be in relationship. Enjoyment comes when we share our meals with family, friends, priests, and strangers.

 “And you shall enjoy, all the goodness that the LORD your God has given you and your household, you together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst,” Deut. 26:11.

וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֣ בְכׇל־הַטּ֗וֹב אֲשֶׁ֧ר נָֽתַן־לְךָ֛ יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ וּלְבֵיתֶ֑ךָ אַתָּה֙ וְהַלֵּוִ֔י וְהַגֵּ֖ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּקִרְבֶּֽךָ׃

From the Harvard psychiatrist to the eastern mystic, every expert on positive psychology will tell you that an attitude of gratitude is the key to happiness. The Jewish tradition teaches that happiness is a function of feeling thankful. But our tradition says gratitude alone is insufficient.

To increase happiness we pair our appreciation with personal relationships. While we may make family the primary focus of our lives, happiness grows when we welcome friends and strangers into our homes. Torah teaches that real happiness comes when we share with a wider circle. Our tradition says that as the creator of happiness, you craft the greatest happiness by welcoming others to your home, even those who are strangers.

As we approach a new year, we might again be reminiscing about the large family meals of pre-Covid times. For those who are distanced from family or close friends by the pandemic, the nostalgia may be difficult to bear and disheartening. If you are blessed with abundance to share, here is your opportunity to share in your enjoyment.

We all must navigate this time of social distancing, figuring out how to increase joy by including friends or acquaintances who might not have the same bounty as you. Here’s my suggestion and it comes right from Torah. Be more inclusive with the meals at your patio table or in your zoom dining hall. Sharing a meal brings more joy because happiness is not ready-made but hand-crafted by you and is more vibrant when shared.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

A person I love called to ask if their adult son could attend Rosh Hashanah services and how much that single ticket would cost. I began wondering about the first time a synagogue decided to sell tickets to High Holiday services. That decision transformed the spiritual relationship into in a business transaction. Joni Mitchell understood the difficulty of this situation – it is as if they took all the trees, put them in a tree museum and charged a dollar and a half just to see ‘em!

The rabbis and cantors, and musicians and singers and Torah readers preparing for Rosh Hashanah offer their communities a chance to reboot their lives through prayer and song. Those attending might have a different perspective. Some “congregants” are inspired by the music, the meaning, and the majesty of a prayer service. Others think that Bruce Springsteen can inspire them just as well.

The August blues descend upon those service leaders. The 2021 version of the August blues combines the anxiety of selling spirituality, with the need to offer “hybrid” services, in person and online. In addition, there is the “competition.” Whether on basic cable or a live streaming service, anyone can watch services. You can enjoy sermons by gifted orators and hear melodies from incomparable singers. Perhaps you have thought: “Why should I pay for tickets when I already have the internet?”

If the High Holiday experience is to be sustained then the price of your ticket has to offer an experience that is appealing and meaningful. Gathering, whether virtual or in person, should be as compelling as attending a sporting event with your favorite team. You could watch the reruns on the late news but there is nothing as thrilling as sitting in the stands and watching your team score. (Rarely do fans complain as much about the many boring pauses in the game as they rave about the scoring).

I’ve rarely met a person as enthusiastic about attending High Holidays at a synagogue as arriving at a Springsteen concert or a playoff game. Yet, the single sales tickets for High Holidays are often more expensive!

I am not asking if your High Holiday experience is worth the price of the ticket. That would be falling into the failed business paradigm of Jewish communal life. The question I’d prefer to ask, is this: Will you give me the opportunity to connect your yearnings, hopes, and fears with a Jewish tradition that offers a beautiful, meaningful, and inspirational approach to life?

I don’t want to pave paradise and sell tickets to see the remaining trees. I want to offer inspiration to the community. I want to encourage people to engage in a process of self-improvement as a quest for Godliness. I want you to appreciate the forest and enjoy the trees.

The challenge of High Holiday Services is to deliver spiritual connections to satisfy your soul. The way Jews participate in the High Holiday experience of repentance and renewal is evolving. We will speak new words. We will select inspiring melodies. We will procure new conversations.

If we change too quickly, then we will lose the aspect of the High Holiday experience that feels authentic. If we change too slowly, eventually most everyone will stay home to watch what’s on cable.

If clergy provides truly stimulating and fulfilling experiences, then the task of Judaism is more likely to be fulfilled. We know that the paradigm must change, at least so that the ticket sales become gifts of the heart.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

The Jewish religion of today reminds me of a New York subway station with trains departing the station in opposite directions. Orthodoxy is focused on adherence to rigorous interpretations of Jewish law challenged by modernity. On the other track are progressive Jews who value the search for meaning over the hold of Jewish law and tradition. To some, the traditional ways are authentic. For others, the progressive ways are the better approach to modern challenges. Many are left on the platform not knowing which train to board.

The choice of how we proceed as our Jewish selves seems especially important as we approach the High Holidays. Is this new year more dire than others? I am disoriented by covid, unnerved by political discord, and fearful of environmental devastation. My hope for the New Year is to feel supported by our Jewish religion and community.

Which best maintains your equilibrium –a religion focused on dutiful practice or on providing moral inspiration? Each can be a track to provide comfort and support. Or are you feeling alienated from these choices?

The High Holiday experience should support being wholehearted with God. If prayer is boring, you might pray half-heartedly. If the ritual is inaccessible, you might lose heart entirely. If the offerings are too secular, then the prayer experience is banal.

To start 5782, let’s explore how “doing Jewish” brings you comfort, strength and satisfaction. Which train to wholeheartedness will you board? Can we alternate, embarking on the traditional train at times and then stepping off onto the platform to transfer to a more progressive journey? All the while, how do the conductors avoid jerky stops and starts to offer you a smooth prayer ride? And how do we avoid distractions which derail us from our purpose in gathering?

Service leaders for the coming High Holidays are grappling with these questions. Whether in person or on Zoom, we want to create an experience full of heart. At the Jewish Studio, we will offer the anchoring of tradition with the inspiration of expanding awareness. And with our voices, words, and instruments, we hope to conduct you on an inspiring ride through to Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

You might think that difficult times make us likely to ask God for help. If so, religion would be a thriving business today. Perhaps Judaism offers an alternative response to crisis. Instead of reaching toward God, we might have to start within ourselves when we are frightened or challenged.

In my lifetime, I’ve ducked and covered in response to the Cold War, become vigilant looking for terrorists and hijackers, and masked up to prevent infection. Yet, I feel ineffectual thinking I can’t do much to have a real impact on any of these many existential crises.

As a rabbi I could say that prayer is always available to us. For centuries, religions taught us to seek God in times of despair. After decades of existential threats, I am uncertain if seeking God is sufficient in challenging times.

Torah, at Parshat Eikev, teaches that there is something else we can do. The work to repair world starts in us. At the end of a 40 year wilderness journey, Moses gives this advice to the Hebrews: circumcise your hearts! This may seem an odd use of circumcision as metaphor but one that ultimately makes sense. I can’t change the world, but I can change me. I can peel away the emotional scar layers that obstruct my better nature. Let’s call it a spiritual open heart surgery.

What is the emotional peel we need? Here are a few suggestions.

Set aside being judgmental. Put away jealousies. Undo your sense of superiority. Peel away these layers that separate you from others. With a circumcised heart, you are better equipped to improve the world. No, you won’t influence Vladimir Putin or end the coronavirus. You will help to create a progressive society and contribute to the faith we need to overcome challenges.

When I’m feeling fear or dread, the repair is to circumcise my heart. In removing the layers of emotional plaque on my heart, I can be open to possibilities. I won’t end the arms race or cure Covid. I can cut away the callousness and ego that poisons the world. My circumcised heart is prepared to improve the world one relationship at a time.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

I hesitate before sharing my opinions these days. The problem is that I am optimistic in a time of great stress. My optimism might seem uncaring to those who are suffering. Here is what I want to say. The promised land lies just ahead.

For nearly two years we’ve suffered the pain of sequestration, isolation, and dislocation. We have been fearful, frustrated, and heartbroken. Yet, I remain hopeful. Not longing for how it was before, but looking forward to a promised land.

Consider how we endured the Covid Pandemic. We benefitted from the greatest innovations and accomplishments of our time. The scientific and technological advances of modern times kept most of us safe from severe illness or financial distress. Vaccinations were created in months and hundreds of millions are now protected. The internet permitted commerce to continue and work at home to be productive. Entertainment choices expanded with new streaming services.  Even the government was successful in assisting millions of Americans with financial relief checks, small business loans, rent moratoriums, and student loan payment abatements. The world was challenged by Covid-19 and its variants, yet people in developed countries had much to celebrate.

In Moses’ final speech in Torah, he recounts the fear, frustration, and heartbreak of the 40-year journey through Sinai. Even as he chastises the people for their foibles and infidelities, he sets before them the miracles of their times. In the presence of enemies, the Jewish approach is to notice the banquet of life.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein taught this lesson in the context of the fast day, the ninth of Av (Tisha B’av, July 17 -18, 2021). Just as Jews observed a day of sadness for the destruction of the Temples, both first and second, the more important day might be the tenth of Av.  The day after destruction we get up from the ashes and reimagine our world.  On the tenth of Av we begin a process of renewal demonstrating resilience, ingenuity, and faith.

Let’s not merely hit the restart button as we emerge from our covid cocoons. With your hopefulness for kindness, safety, and justice, let’s work to build a reimagined world.

Natalie Merchant sang the anthem for this moment:

“These are the days you might fill with laughter until you break
These days you might feel a shaft of light
Make its way across your face
And when you do you’ll know how it was meant to be”

Rabbi Evan Krame

A very smart woman I know chose not to get vaccinated. She had already been infected with Covid and reasoned that she now had the necessary antibodies. Now she complains that without a vaccination card, businesses may bar her from entry, punishing her because of her choice not to vaccinate. She could have chosen the rewards of vaccination to avoid denunciation, exclusion, and isolation. Yet, human beings don’t always apply simple, studied logic to real-life choices, even to avoid the penalties.

Choices are set out before us for good and for bad. These choices are particularly vexing when it comes to our health. Eat the celery or eat the cake? Get the vaccine or go without? It all seems simple until we hesitate just long enough to incorporate personal predilections into the process.

Parshat Reeh begins with a simple choice and admonition. “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse; blessings if you obey the commandments . . . curse if you do not obey.” I hope that people will choose the path of blessings. All they have to do is obey the commandments. Yet, people make the wrong choices. Were it otherwise, Moses would not even present the curses to us!

Why do we make the wrong choices? Why eat the cake? Why not take the vaccine? There are two answers to explore – personal choice and heuristic thinking.

In a news report, I watched a gaggle of medical professionals declared that they were not convinced that the vaccine was safe. Rather than choose caution they asserted personal privilege. One person adapted the pro-choice slogan: “my body, my choice.” Americans believe so strongly in personal freedom, many are willing to wager or sacrifice their lives for that conviction.

The other impediment to choosing blessings is heuristic thinking. Our desires, biases, and fears override our ability to make propitious choices. We fail to make the best decisions because the process gets muddied with our own emotional, irrational muck.

Famed Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky researched biases in decision-making. Their research focused on heuristic technique, an approach to problem-solving that is not optimal, perfect, or rational, but is nevertheless sufficient for reaching an immediate, short-term goal or approximation. Their Nobel Prize-winning contribution, prospect theory, poured real, irrational, only human behavior into the process of decision making, enabling a much more powerful prediction of how individuals really choose between risky options.

When making choices involving risk to health, most will pick the blessing of health, the responsible choice. As President Biden reminded us, “with freedom comes responsibility.” Moreover, the healthy decision-maker will take time to dismiss desires, biases, and fears that cloud decision-making. The curse of a bad choice may harm you and others around you.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

“Every age has its signature afflictions,” wrote the Korean-born philosopher Byung-Chul Han in his book The Burnout Society.  Burnout is that feeling of exhaustion and even depression that follows an ordeal. The “signature affliction” of our time has been the Corona Virus.  As we emerge, what words or wisdom do we need to propel us forward? Torah may have some answers.

At the start of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of Torah, we behold an exhausted and cantankerous Moses speaking to the worn-out and hesitant Hebrews. Forty years of torturous Sinai journeying is at an end as is Moses’ time as leader. Moses himself is suffering from burnout. Sinai living was not lifestyle magazine-worthy. The sequestration, the lack of water, and the hostility among the tribes made life arduous for all.

Moses is at the end of a difficult leadership tenure. He will not be continuing into that promising future. The people gather around him to pay attention.  They quit their complaining to listen. They review the challenges overcome and anticipate the promised land.

As a leader, Moses delivers a speech to compel the people forward.  What words did Moses offer to encourage the people? Go up! Take possession of your future. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be disheartened.

During 17 months of coronavirus, much of it spent sequestered, we had our own smaller scale Sinaitic experience.  We have been isolated from the world, terrified of an unseen pathogen. Many are burned out by the anxiety.

For a healthy transition, we can again hear Moses. Be strengthened by appreciating how we endured the challenges of the past two years. Look forward to the possibilities before us. Pay attention to moral and ethical leadership.

The Hebrews were accustomed to living a nomadic life in an arid and rocky peninsula. The transition to a promised land required a mental realignment. Some were resistant and stiff-necked while others were eager to press forward.

Today, many long for the halcyon days when we fearlessly boarded public transportation, packed Broadway theaters, and jammed into elevators. But the promised times ahead will offer a new reality. Perhaps face masks will be de rigueur.  We might redesign public spaces. Priority will be given to virus research.  Those are elements of the promised land we hope to enter. Constructing a safer future is one counterbalance to the burnout we feel.

We might not have a Moses who can gather and motivate the people. But the words and wisdom to combat our own burnout are already with us. They were given over three thousand years ago and remain as potent today; take possession of your future and set aside your fear.

Rabbi Evan Krame


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A local rabbi condemned Israel in a recent social media post. I was frustrated and agitated as I read the harsh rebuke. I held onto that angst for weeks. And then I read the Torah of parshat Mattot-Masei for this week and I gained a new understanding.

As the Hebrews meandered through the wilderness the Midianites confronted them.  God ordered revenge.  “Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Let men be picked out from among you for a campaign, and let them fall upon Midian to wreak the LORD’s vengeance on Midian.” Numbers 31.

The text continues to provide particulars of the campaign. The slaughter of men. The slaughter of women.  The slaughter of male children. No gruesome detail was spared. In the past, I might have dismissed this “book of war” as a myth. If I am honest about my response to any conflagration, I must read this Torah as a history of the nature of people-kind.

The paradigm of revenge drives people to do violence. Incendiary balloons are heinous random attacks on Israel.  The targeted bombing of terrorist cells is needed but still odious. I am not decrying the need for a strong defense which sometimes requires preemptive strikes. I am merely learning from Torah, that we must also confront our own propensity toward violence. Even if our cause is in the service of the Lord’s vengeance, are we nonetheless dissolute, if not sinful 

I believe that Torah is asking us to be strong and resolute, even using violence against our enemies. At the same time, I understand Torah to be a blueprint for constructing a better world. With that in mind, I understand the detailed recounting of the campaign against the Midianites as an example of what we hope to avoid as a righteous nation and treasured people.

Knowing my own love of Israel and proud Zionist proclivities, I will always be perturbed by attacks on Israel when in conflict with its enemies.  Now, I hope to add another layer to my response. We must abhor both the aggression that precipitates a violent response even as we regret our own need to respond with force. Even as I laud the Israeli military’s might I understand the need for a strong dose of remorse. Jews must always strive to fulfill the prophetic vision of Isaiah, turning our swords into ploughshares. Otherwise, Torah is merely a book of war.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame


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