Abusers of power undermine our society. Whether politicians or rabbis, those entrusted with power often betray their privileges. Thereafter comes the “conversation” about abuse, power and privilege. The problem is made worse by the internet which gives rise to new and more complex power dynamics. Between the right to free speech and the privilege of an internet connection, lies a tortured path. When powerful people abuse their privileges, we can easily call them to task on social media and listservs. Yet, using the internet to correct, warn or reprimand is also fraught with abuses.

The laws in parshat Mishpatim, instruct us to guard our speech, especially when it comes to questions of guilt or innocence. Exodus Ch. 23:1.  Do not carry false rumors; you shall not join hands with the guilty to act as a malicious witness: 23:7 Keep far from a false charge; do not bring death on those who are innocent and in the right, for I will not acquit the wrongdoer. Judaism offers a deep appreciation for the power of words. Talmud teaches that words created the universe and words can destroy a life. Similarly, our testimony against another person might alter the course of their lives.

In recent decades, the internet gave a new dimension to the power of speech as an instrument of justice. Each of us is empowered as an individual media outlet, able to blog, vlog, and podcast, or share ideas widely on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Reddit and more.  Given these platforms, we can express our opinions with great effect. Our pronouncements can ascribe guilt to people whether we know them or not, assessing them along the spectrum from rudeness to felonious behavior.

In response to people who have caused harm, the internet can be a tool to warn others, create community among victims, and share resources. Yet, those who undertake to share concerns, criticism or condemnations also have obligations to limit their words. In every case, each of us should stop before posting to ask, as Bernard Meltzer urges – “Is it true?” ”Is it kind?” ”Is it necessary?” – and add, “is it helpful?”

That pre-broadcast analysis of what we share on the internet is a holy endeavor. The first step is to be a fact checker.  We know that gossip, whether spoken or posted, may contain kernels of truth but ultimately is not factual.  Before speaking against another person, we should be certain of our facts.

The second step is to be caring enough to even consider the feelings of the person whose actions offend us. Without giving solace to a person who has caused harm, can we also demonstrate some concern for another person despite their doing a bad thing? As Bryan Stevenson likes to say, we are “more than the worst thing we have done.” Within Stevenson’s creed is the assumption that each of us is an imperfect creation, likely to behave badly at times.

The third step is perhaps the most difficult. We may feel justified in sharing our thoughts, and even be aggrieved by a third party’s offense. Yet, our own sense of satisfaction does not give the penumbra of necessity to our posts.

Finally, I would add, ask if your words provide a warning of harm to avert further offenses, or provides information likely to instruct proper behavior.

And our personal assessment or attacks on others should take into context the offending person’s position. All people make mistakes and sometimes abuse their power. The assessment of persons entrusted with power, such as political leaders, teachers, doctors, and rabbis demands a higher level of public scrutiny.

The response to people whose bad behaviors caused deep or repeated harm demands appropriate public warning. Yet, consider if your additional warnings are needed and deserved. When is our carping about another person’s inappropriate or even unlawful behavior an exercise in serving our own needs, licking our wounds, rather than benefitting the recipients of our postings?

Every person will at some point act improperly or even illegally. You would not want every infraction announced and revisited. Accordingly, we should be circumspect about our public criticisms of others.  How we are treated when we err or abuse our power may reflect how we have treated others. Ultimately, the golden rule reminds us that how we regard using electronic media is how we may be regarded in turn on Facebook and listservs.

Jewish law offers no specific instruction on the dangerous confluence of social media and the abuse of power. The power to communicate using a laptop is a privilege we should regard as holy. Perhaps we need a Torah of the internet teaching the right use of privileges and the righteous use of power.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame


Boundaries can keep us protected. With concern for health and safety we learn that there are things we don’t touch, and even times when we don’t look. Of course the Torah sets out a compelling case of healthy boundaries serving as holy behavior, applicable to today’s hyper-electronic world.

At Sinai, before God revealed God’s self, God gave Moses a warning. First, Moses told the people not to touch the mountain. Then, on the morning of God’s revelation, God further told Moses to warn the people not to look at God’s manifestation above the mountain. Moses warned that the failure to obey these rules would result in death. God gave us an eternal instruction. What is holy must not be treated as ordinary. Seriously!

In a modern world, we have less regard for holiness. The scientific revolution deconstructed faith. The technological revolution allowed people to believe that they are on par with divinity. After all, we each hold a computer in our pockets that can access almost any fact, image, or sound.  Knowledge need not come from Sinai when you have an Apple product in your hands. We are boundless in what we can hear, see and touch.

Without boundaries the fabric of society shreds and tears. The same is true for the fabric of our civilization. Today, we have few boundaries to personal pursuits. Everything seems available and anything appears possible. Perhaps money is the only real restriction to access.  MacBooks and iPhones can be expensive. Yet, the barrier to owning a hand-held computer is  low enough and the priority of owning a personal device is high enough that  internet access is an entitlement. That small screen is now our window on the world. And if the world is not enough, we now have artificial intelligence to create alternatives.

We shifted focus from God’s omnipresence as eternal to information access being universal.  The model of Sinai was disrupted. Our sense of awe and wonder is diminished. What was once could only be imagined is now ordinary. The supernatural is conventional. We get messages through the thin air and connect across vast distances. Ho hum. Moreover, access to information is believed to be an entitlement. Just notice any person you bump into on the street who is looking at their phone and not where they are going.

As direct human interaction falters, humanity suffers. Because we gather less often as a community the greater good slackens. We shift focus inward as we know few boundaries in our pursuit of personal entertainment. Accordingly, the world is shifting in its moral grounding and regard for principled living. Consequently, younger generations are more protective of their rights, their feelings, and their entitlements. Those empowered by their electronic devices cocoon around their individual sensibilities. Personal boundaries are heightened and narrowly construed.

There are two correctives we might consider involving the reinstatement of some boundaries in our lives. The first is to reconnect with the meaning of shabbat.  Many progressive Jews have come to identify shabbat as a limitation on our activities.  However, when we practice limitations, we elevate the quality of our lives and our world. We limit work in favor of rest. We set aside ordinary interactions in favor of holy engagement. Personal relationships on shabbat should take precedence over electronic connections.

The second corrective is to recreate Sinai experiences. Limit your connectivity through the internet and connect  outdoors and in nature. Contemplate the majesty of mountains and oceans and vast skies. If inspired, set aside the senses of touch and sight and taste for a while. Engage the world with your inner being – with sympathy, empathy, and love.

Restoring holiness to the world requires new boundaries. Separate the ordinary from the extraordinary. We achieve holiness pursuing time for personal connections rather than internet connectivity. Godliness expands when we appreciate our limitations rather than speak of our privileges. Through the practice of observing boundaries, we reset our compass toward the true north of holiness.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

All people complain. Jews elevated complaining to a holy art. Just read the Torah. The text is peppered with complaints. Perhaps Torah anticipated the “gig” economy, where the world revolves around the threat of complaints. I’m not complaining, but . . .

Just after exiting Egypt, complaining began. Scared and untethered, the people wondered why they had left Egypt to die in the desert. In parshat Beshalach, before and after the miracle of crossing the sea people complained to Moses. What could be the Torah’s purpose in sharing this unpleasant side of the newly freed slaves? I believe that the Torah demonstrates that faithlessness is the underpinning complaining. Among the newly freed slaves, fidelity to God was tenuous. Whether chased by Egyptian troops or shadowed by hunger, the people lost conviction and hope. To demonstrate that point, the Torah preserved their complaints forever.

Yet, Rabbi Irwin Kula taught that complaining can also be understood as a yearning for a better world. The barren wilderness of Sinai was certainly not as attractive as the lush banks of the Nile or the milk and honey laden Promised Land. Complaints may also be born of a motivation to seek a better life.

In the modern “gig” economy, complaining has become the guarantor of successful commercial transactions. Whether Uber or Airbnb, complaints posted on the internet inform our faith in the unknown service provider. Yet, I have observed that the system has its weaknesses. In one Airbnb house rental, the owner advised me not to post a critical review of her home or she would post a critical review of us. In another case, I posted a complaint about the noise level in a small boutique hotel, before I had checked out. The owner quickly tracked me down and begged me to remove the negative comment as it might affect his livelihood. Otherwise, my complaints would hover on the internet forever.

At the airport, there are red, yellow, and green buttons at the TSA checkpoint and outside the bathroom. Did you find the bathroom experience satisfying? If so, press the green button. If not, press the red. As I don’t believe that my pressing a button will have any impact, I’d rather not touch another germ ridden point of contact.

There is a connection between complaining and faith. If we believe that change is possible, we should offer constructive criticism.  On the other hand, we can believe that grousing and complaining is an entitlement. Complaining for the sake of personal expression will always result in diminished spirit. Torah is teaching us that complaining without faith is puerile and unproductive, perhaps even destructive. Appreciation fills our soul with hope.

I’m not complaining, but I’d like to hear less complaining and more appreciation. Next time I might just press the green button.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Given the many parallels in their lives, Martin Luther King, Jr. is often compared to Moses. For each man, their most important work was during times of great oppression of their people. Both spoke their truths to power – whether it was the Pharaoh of Egypt or the Governor of Alabama. Neither reached their Promised Land. Both had complex relationships with the people they led.

Both Moses and King were greatly admired among their followers and beyond. In Exodus 11:3, we read in the Torah. “יהוה disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people. Moreover, Moses was much esteemed in Egypt, among Pharaoh’s courtiers and the people.” Notice the subtle difference between the relationship between the two peoples and the reputation of Moses among a people. It took God’s intervention to make Egyptian people be “disposed . . . favorably” toward the Hebrews. However, Moses was much esteemed among the Egyptians on his own accord. Of course, this was before the final plagues struck and Egypt was decimated. Perhaps there has been an admiration for strong leadership since the time of the Pharaohs.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was much esteemed among many Americans – even white Americans. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 until the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, King grew in popularity among whites. Then, the admiration of whites from the North was tested. King called for change throughout all of America, not just the South. The civil rights struggle reverberated in northern cities’ housing markets, workplaces, and school districts. White support for the civil rights movement faltered.

Great leaders also have difficulty ensuring their support among their people. The Hebrews often challenged Moses. Even after their liberation from slavery, some cried to return to Egypt. Others abandoned God for a golden calf. Even Moses’ cousin, Korath, challenged his leadership. The people’s complaints tested Moses’ faith.

King persevered against similar internal opposition. Some Black leaders at that time called for measured approaches, less confrontation in the streets, and more reliance on the Courts. Tired of waiting, another growing force within the civil rights movement called for activism. And Malcolm X predicted, if not advocated, a violent resolution.

The public is fickle in its devotion to great leaders. For two heroic leaders, Moses and King, loyalty had to be earned daily among their people. Oddly, admiration for a leader who brings liberation seems more tenuous than the devotion of hoards to dictators.

Godly inspiration should bring us closer to national heroes. Left only to human devices, are tyrants easier to love? For God’s sake, let us support leaders whose path brings us toward freedom, justice, and mercy.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

When you talk to God, you’re praying…When God speaks to you, you’re a schizophrenic.

An early prayer in the Torah is in the fifth chapter of Exodus. God sent Moses to Pharaoh with a demand. Pharaoh responded by increasing the Israelites’ burdens. Then, the people mock Moses. “Moses turned to יהוה and said, “O my lord, why did You bring harm upon this people? Why did You send me?”

Yes, prayer can be in the form of a question. Prayer can be supplicatory or questioning, personal or communal. Moses talks to God and says, “Why, why, why?” Moses’ question is sparked by awe and wonder, frequent elements of prayer.

Recently, my prayers followed Moses’ model. “God, what more are you asking of us? We’ve endured destruction, genocide, and terrorism. What more are you asking of us?”

I imagine God intended that Eden was only a small local park.  Left to our own devices, it took only two humans to misbehave and get evicted from paradise. The earth is not a utopia, and humans are not angels. God created it for our benefit. We haven’t yet learned how to direct our collective existence into peaceful coexistence. I want to talk to God about this dilemma.

Moses had similar questions. Moses heard back from God. He was not a schizophrenic.

I’m willing to believe in a God that communicates with us. I’m having trouble with the God that abides by human suffering and says nothing. Could God speak to us in ways we can’t understand, or perhaps we are not listening? Or maybe God has thrown God’s proverbial hands up in the air and said, I can’t do better than the Garden of Eden, and you didn’t make it there for a week!

God was still speaking when Moses came along. Moses and God continued their conversations over 40 years. God said, as reported in Chapter 6: “I have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.”   Why does God say “now” he has heard the moaning? Perhaps he was waiting for someone to seek God’s help. Perhaps, Moses was the first to say God, we need a major intervention here and now!

Moses’s request demanded an explanation. God left the answer to Moses’ imagination. Yet, God does respond in a different way. God assured Moses that it was time for God and Moses together to take action.

Like Moses, my questions/prayers also ask why. Why is there terror in Israeli homes and destruction in Gaza? Why are there tyrants in power and willing supplicants to support them? When, if ever, will this end? I may not get explanations. However, a fundamental teaching of the exodus story is that change begins when we call out and ask, “Why?” And the answer may be that we and God take action together.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame


No one knows the names of the people who lived in the mountains surrounding the Mexican city of Oaxaca. We don’t know the names of their rulers, nor do we even know what they called their city. Yet, names are a defining element of a culture or a people. How we record and display names speaks volumes about the kind of civilization created. The Torah, for example, demonstrates a profound approach to recording names. But first, let’s visit this pre-Columbian city-state.

Monte Albán underwent four levels of development, from its foundation to its regional dominance in what is now known as Oaxaca. Visiting the ruins, one striking observation is that we use a Spanish name to identify a region that existed and then disappeared long before the Spanish arrived. Little information exists apart from glyphs that depict snippets of history. These glyphs, wherever found, seem to identify people. The oldest glyphs might identify the conquered peoples who first served the city. The second level of graphic writing appears to distinguish the leaders. The third level juxtaposes the strata of society, possibly sharing the names of rulers, priests, and captives. Finally, a significant shift occurred as a fourth level. Instead of being publicly displayed, stelae were created at the homes of elites, narrating family histories and using genealogy to reinforce the status and legitimacy of power.

Archaeologists believe the Monte Albán nation may have endured for over one thousand years. However, we lack recordings of the names of those lost when their civilization collapsed. Perhaps a devotion to remembering the names of those who were lost gives a people an enduring quality.

In contrast, at the beginning of Exodus, the Torah records the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, with the entire book known in Hebrew as “Shemot,” meaning “names.” Genesis often repeats the lineage from Abraham and Sarah to Isaac and Rebekah, and then to Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. These names serve as reminders of God’s covenant with the ancestors.

Two hundred thirty years later, on the precipice of leaving Egypt, a more comprehensive recounting of names was necessary. Reciting names establishes lineage, which is crucial for people on the move as it helps organize religious and societal structures for the Hebrews.

Later, in the Book of Numbers, a census lists the chieftains and their progeny. Here, the Hebrews are readied to battle for and create a nation with this recitation of names.

Since the days of the Torah, Jews have continued the practice of recording names. We recall the names of our deceased in prayers and on fast days. On Yom Kippur, we recite the names of martyrs. Even today, we repeat the names of those lost in the Shoah as a ceremony. Recently, the names of Israelis taken captive have been displayed on buildings and in protests.

Recalling names is a powerful ritual. We remember our leaders by naming streets and buildings after them and honor those killed by saying their names.

In the context of the Israel-Gaza conflict, while we might not know the names of every casualty, for the Jewish people, the names of each captive taken, each Kibbutznik murdered, and each soldier lost are critical for understanding our civilization. The Jewish people have maintained definition and cohesion by recording and recalling each name. Perhaps no other people have endured so long partly because, as we recall a name, we add that their memory should be for a blessing. Judaism understands that saying the names of cherished and lost individuals creates an enduring legacy and a hopeful future.

Rabbi Evan Krame


We are experiencing a breakdown in society. The divisions between intimates, whether friends or family, are pronounced in our times. We just don’t trust each other enough. People can’t relate to one another unless there is an element of trust.

As we read of the end of Jacob’s life in the Torah, we learn about trust. Jacob asks his son Joseph to swear an oath that Jacob will be buried in Canaan and not in Egypt. Joseph places his hand under Jacob’s thigh and swears the oath. Satisfied, Jacob turns toward the head of his bed, where the Rabbis opine that the Divine Presence is watching over Jacob. You can read this as if God is the guarantor of a person’s oath.

Few have an awe or fear of God sufficient to be bound by their words. Moreover, we no longer live in a time when a person’s word is their bond. People lack faith that others will place their promises above their personal desires.

Just as my Judaism is rooted in the faith of my ancestors, I believe that enduring oaths bind generations. Among those promises are to honor God and live a life infused by the Torah. In an “enlightened” world, that pledge has given way to pragmatism, relativism, materialism, humanism, and secularism. These modern concepts, while enticing, also tear at the fabric of a society based on trust, faith, and commonalities.

Even within families, relationships are rupturing because our faith in each other is lacking. Not too long ago, children obeyed a parent’s instruction. Just as Joseph obeyed Jacob, children did what their parents asked. In American society, such obeisance is a relic or relegated to the deeply observant religious communities. If we don’t practice honoring parents, how can we expect to transcend our differences in other relationships?

Building trust is not a one-way street. Trust requires listening to one another with honesty and candor. A demonstration of trust will require we sometimes set aside our desires to honor others we value.

Without a practice of subsuming our ego to time-tested values, we engender cynicism.  Cynicism, distrust, and egotism are rotting society from the roots of families to the branches of communities.

There was a time when a person was as good as their word. Now, parents cannot maintain faith that relationships will stand the test of the differences we express. We cannot take family loyalty for granted, as Jacob did Joseph.

Grandparents, parents, and children must speak about how we sustain families and build a civil society by pledging faithfulness to one another. With our continued promise to maintain relationships, we must cultivate trust as dearly as we would the essential nourishment that sustains life.

Rabbi Evan Krame


Relationships are unraveling in the face of ideological clashes, particularly when it comes to discussions surrounding the Israel-Gaza conflict. The divisive nature of politics and differing worldviews has permeated family dynamics, causing fractures between parents and children. Amidst this turmoil, the Torah provides insights into the complexities of failing relationships and the possibility of their restoration.

In a famine, Jacob dispatched his sons to Egypt to purchase food. Little did they know that they would encounter the Vizier, their long-lost brother Joseph, whom they sold into slavery. Twenty years later, the brothers failed to recognize their brother. The narrative unfolds: “Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he acted like a stranger toward them and spoke harshly to them.”

Similarly, in today’s context, family and friends are becoming strangers to one another, distancing themselves despite deep-rooted connections. The desire to obscure our faces and retreat from those we once held close to is triggered by far less treacherous circumstances than being sold into slavery.

To reunite, Joseph and his brothers required three crucial elements: opportunity, willingness, and reflection. These components are indispensable for repairing friendships and healing families. In the current socio-political landscape, where individuals grapple with conflicting perspectives on the Israel-Gaza conflict, the choice to cling to anger and disappointments is often fueled by deeply ingrained beliefs. When fundamental convictions are contested, relationships may fracture, and reconciliation becomes possible only through face-to-face encounters, a commitment to affirming the relationship over conflicting beliefs, and the passage of time for reflective healing.

Not all relationships may be salvageable, and distance can sometimes be acceptable. Joseph, too, could have clung to the betrayal by his brothers, choosing self-preservation over reconciliation. The Torah, however, holds out hope that even the most egregious relationships can be repaired. Yet, it acknowledges the hesitancy to reconcile, deeming it both understandable and, at times, necessary. Joseph’s decision to reunite with his brothers is just one potential ending to this story, illustrating that the path to healing is nuanced and multifaceted.

Rabbi Evan Krame

Jewish identity is a bit confusing. There are many organizational and fundamental identities of Jews. Are we a tribe, a religion, a people, or a race? I can hold multiple identities in mind. Jewish identity is confusing to others, and not in a good way.

Reading the story of Joseph reuniting with his brothers, the focus is initially on the tribe. Yet, Joseph invokes his relationship with God, suggesting a religious group.  God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was a homeland for generations. Jews garnered additional demarcations, such as people of the book and Christ-killers.  More recently, Jews became a race as well.

Joseph’s family safely settled in Egypt, but only for a while. Soon, a new Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph. The Jews were a growing minority and perceived as a threat to Pharaoh. With time, irrational fears gave rise to oppression and enslavement.

Reflecting on my Jewish identity, I have celebrated my tribal, religious, and communal Jewish identities. Growing up in New York, I assumed that most Jews were Ashkenazi and white. Now I know that Jews are not monolithic. Moreover, Americans have jumbled racial identity and Jewishness. At first, Protestants in America did not regard Jews newly arrived here as white. In part due to the civil rights movement, Jews became identified as white. And Jews bought into their newly minted identity as an entrée to American society. (The discussion around Jews of color be damned until the next century).

Now, the idea that Jews are a race baffles us. Finally, we understand that race is a social construct.  It is a human invention and not a scientific categorization. Yet, the characterization of people by race continues to divide us.

When Jews are victims of hate crimes, we identify as a protected class but not necessarily as a race. While our skin color might contrast with our African-American neighbors, our experience of victimhood has universal aspects.

Emma Green wrote in the Atlantic, “On the extreme right, Jews are seen as impure—a faux-white race that has tainted America. And on the extreme left, Jews are seen as part of a white-majority establishment that seeks to dominate people of color.” Anti-Semitism in America is rooted in white supremacy, even though in the United States, most Jews are recognized as white.

Scientific circles showed that concepts of racism are arbitrary and false. Yet, to understand the current wave of anti-Semitism, Jews must realize the animus that is born of a hatred rooted in racism. Hatred has persisted since the time of Joseph. Racism has merely given a new dimension to the persecution of Jews. Enjoy your religious, tribal, and national Jewish identities. However, we have to do more than merely be perplexed by anti-Semitism. Now is the time for vigilance regarding those whose racism characterizes us as threatening. The race is to surmount the vitriol and hatred.

Rabbi Evan Krame

Formerly captive Israelis are now telling stories of being held below ground in deep, dark places. The hostages felt scared, lonely, and hungry. Perhaps the emotional consequences of being abducted and held captive, like living in a pit, can only be described by a hostage. Yet, the Torah has also foreshadowed these stories.

Joseph’s brothers threw him into a pit. We read in Chapter 37 of Genesis of his ordeal. Joseph was his father’s favorite among his 12 sons. Moreover, Joseph was precocious and a prognosticator. Unable to read the room, Joseph freely shared his grand dreams of leadership with his family. His impending success was too much for his brothers to bear. Yet, what kind of people would plot the death of their brother?

Often, I hear Israelis and Palestinians described as brothers and sisters. Compelled by devotion to all humanity, such opinions reflect an honorable desire to cherish every life in equal measure. As I feel obligated to honor each person as created in the Divine image, I also sense naivete in that understanding.

The October 7 attack was indecent and indecorous, even more so for those described as brothers and sisters. As if mimicking Joseph’s brothers, Hamas abducted 240 people from Israel.  Prisoners were thrown into pits fashioned as tunnels beneath Gaza’s mosques and hospitals.  Some are now freed. Others are still captive, missing, or murdered.

Once hopeful Israelis now question can we ever have peace with Palestinian brothers and sisters? The memory of murder, rape, and abduction will not soon fade. Torah poses this question. If Joseph’s brothers could treat him so terribly, why should we hope for better for Israel? Ultimately, we must hope, pray, and work for peace. Chastened by the crimes of Hamas, we must find other partners for reconciliation. We have no choice but to pursue peace or we will live in a pit of our own making, a pit of despair.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame