Aaron’s eldest sons, Nadav and Abihu, met a fiery fate. As with reports of many deaths, the event shocks us. How could the two oldest sons of the High Priest be consumed so suddenly? The answer might have some importance to us in a time of climate change.

Their death seems inexplicable, but rabbis nonetheless have offered their views. Some say they were inebriated. Others say that they added a ritual not commanded by God, involving strange fire.

For context, I scrolled back by one verse in the Torah. At this point in Leviticus, the Tabernacle was built and the altar for sacrifices was finished. The priests organized the rituals for setting up the altar. Then, a heavenly fire descends. The Bible calls it a “fire from before God.” Next sentence. “And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces.”

“The two sons of Aaron, Nadav and Abihu, each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it and offered it before God, a strange fire . . .” Ergo the zap.

Do you see what I see? The people were so awestruck by the fire from before God that when they saw it, they shouted and covered themselves by falling to the ground. Their actions demonstrate a mixture of fear and reverence. Aaron’s sons, on the other hand, took a bit of the same fire, to burn some incense. These are two very different reactions to the heavenly conflagration that appeared before the people.

Frankly, I’m reminded of every sci-fi disaster movie where a few people stay to watch Godzilla approach, or aliens descend, rather than running away. These rubberneckers are the first to get zapped.

Rather than shelter in place like the rest of the people, Nadav and Abihu want to join in the holy spectacle. They have the temerity, the hubris, and the chutzpah to receive the holy flame by saying, great, let’s start a bar-b-cue.

Torah offers a great lesson for our times. Events, both natural and supernatural, with destructive forces, are ever present in our world. Whether lightning, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, or windstorms, sudden threats to our safety abound. Our first response must be to be awed by this phenomenon so that we seek safety for ourselves and others. Our second reaction to these phenomena should be to appreciate their awesomeness. We should not discount the power of nature or be complacent in our response.

Nadav and Abihu did not respect the destructive power of nature. Perhaps then this bible passage is a cautionary tale for those who fail to offer the proper response to environmental disasters. The first step is to protect lives. The second is to learn the lesson that we must sustain preparedness and awe for the phenomena to come. Third, as God’s partners in sustaining this world, our holy task is to preserve life by saving this planet from destruction.

Rabbi Evan Krame


Passover recalls escaping slavery, which is the narrowest imaginable place. Slavery not only shrinks the world, but it also constricts the spirit. In modern times, physical slavery continues. And there is also personal slavery as we are sometimes enslaved in the Egypt of our own making.

The word mitzrayim translates from Hebrew into a narrow place. The Hebrews literally escaped from the narrowness of slavery into freedom. Yet the geographic and political sense of narrowness evoked by Egyptian oppression of the Hebrews also calls spiritual and psychological degradation to mind.

From a spiritual view, the Hebrew slaves were at the 49th of 50 levels of spiritual degradation. Their rescue from Egypt came just before their souls would have been utterly lost and irredeemable. From a psychological point of view, enduring hundreds of years of oppression impairs psychological health, squeezing out essential emotions such as hope and joy.

While we celebrate the freedom of the Hebrews and see ourselves as if God freed us, this concept has modern applications. Many of us experience a self-imposed constriction of the soul and mind. With such mental oppression, we squeeze out hope and confidence.  My friend, Rabbi Jennifer Singer, wrote beautifully about this very idea.

“We all have our narrow spaces to escape, and our own Pharaohs holding us back. Sometimes the tyrant is our own voice; slandering, speaking ill, and downplaying skills and successes. There are times when I am astonished at the things I say to myself, things I’d never dream of saying to another person.

I think about the fact that in Exodus, when Moses stands barefoot before the bush that burns but is not consumed, God is kinder to Moses than Moses is to himself. Moses can’t accept that he is capable, that he can effect change, and that people will turn to him as their leader. Even in the Presence of God’s confidence in him, Moses doubts.

May we each be blessed . . .  to have faith in ourselves and escape from the narrow places where we have confined ourselves. May we be strong in the face of adversity and resilient in times of stress, and may we each have the confidence to say, “I am enough.” And I would add, “I am free!”

Thank you Rabbi Jennifer.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

The Exodus never ended. The historic journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is over. But the existential state of exodus continues. Sometimes we are moving away from and other times we are moving toward it. And the key to life might be in our ability to live in the advance rather than as an exit.

The Hebrews were birthed as a people when they emerged from the bloodied doorposts of their homes. The angel of death passed over. The people passed through. Then the journey began.

Jews are not the only people to flee oppression. Throughout history, people have moved from the narrowness of repression to the expansiveness of freedom. Even today, we are witness to the migration of North African and Near Eastern refugees seeking safety in Europe. Millions of Ukrainians have fled war for safety in other countries.

The Jewish story includes an outstretched arm of God. The people were whisked away on eagles’ wings. The outstretched arm and the eagles’ wings have not reappeared for us or any other groups of imperiled peoples. The outstretched arms are now human, and the eagles’ wings today are planes, boats, and trains.

Understood as an advancement, the Exodus story is also a genesis story. Torah gives us a prototype demonstrating to the world that the ideal human experience is expansive and free. Once the principle was established, God left it to humans to repeat the pattern. At this task, humans have failed miserably.

Jews frequently focus on our exodus stories. We were exiled from Israel to Babylonia, and again by the Romans to even further reaches of the world. Spain expelled its Jews. For European Jews who survived the Shoah, the Promised Land was a beacon. And for Jews of Arab lands, their expulsion in the 1950s and 1960s brought them to Israel too.

Perhaps a story to tell at the Passover seder is our ability to reimagine the future. We can persevere and, if necessary, migrate, if we sustain hope. The dream of a Promised Land is about sustaining a positive attitude because we can adapt to new realities.

The next exoduses are already upon us. Ecological disasters and climate change will bring environmental migrations. Power-hungry autocracies will invade and conquer peaceful neighbors causing widespread displacements. The seder is a reenactment to teach the world how to emerge into a better future.

Advancement requires preparedness. How can we best prepare ourselves and our planet for the next Exodus? Are we nimble in our thinking? Can we adapt to new situations? Are we willing to extend ourselves to others in need?

We anchor ourselves deeply to our homes and our nation-states. Exodus teaches us that there is no permanent residence. Rather, there are cycles of migration and dislocation. At this year’s seder, I’ll be thinking about the elements of resilience that make an exodus possible. And how I can stretch out my arms to aid others in the throes of an Exodus story of their own.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Sitting around a campfire requires a lot of effort. Someone must arrange the logs, poke the logs, and add more logs to keep the fire lit. I find it tiresome and prefer to sit at other people’s campfires. Yet, I enjoy sitting outdoors, watching the flames jump. And I luxuriate in the light and warmth. I’ve looked at campfires from both sides now!

In Leviticus, the priests are instructed to keep the fire of the altar going. Whether or not an offering is burning, the altar fire must be stoked. Faith-stoking religious leaders use this metaphor of fire to urge you to perpetually sustain your burning desire for God.

The blaze under the altar began with a fire sent by God. Flames roasted the sacred offerings. Some slabs of meat roasted all night long. But not every night. The fire continued to burn with the Preists’ help. The duty to continue the fire is a metaphor for faith. We must maintain that flame sent by God. But in what form? Perhaps it is a burning desire for the Divine, which requires a lot of effort to sustain.

Rather our relationship with God might be more like sitting around a campfire. It begins with some effort, like that to create and sustain a good fire. For a while, we relax and delight in the flames. We appreciate the warmth, but only if from a safe distance from the firepit. Looking around us, we see our companions’ faces shining with the fire’s light. However, our appreciation is short-lived. Sometimes we are just working, replenishing the fire with more wood. For a long time after, the coals continue to keep us warm. They dwindle but keep burning as embers even as we head back into the house.

Your personal experience of Judaism might be more like visiting a campfire than a perpetual flame under an altar tended to by the priests. We gather, albeit periodically, to feel warmed and enlightened. Perhaps, to keep the metaphor burning, rabbis and cantors and leaders have the priestly duty to bring the heat.

After a while, we light another campfire to warm us and enlighten us. That is the mission of the Jewish Studio. We offer events that ignite excitement, meaning, and joy. Then we let the fire die down. The embers will last in our hearts until we rekindle the fire again. All we ask of you is to keep the passion burning until the next time we meet.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Of the five senses, Jewish tradition says that the sense of smell is bursting with holiness. Not sight or sound or touch or taste. These senses were corrupted in the Garden of Eden. But the sense of smell remained as it was, with the potential for expanding holiness.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve defiled four out of their five senses. They heard the serpent’s alluring words, the fruit was “a delight to the eyes”, they touched it by taking from its fruit, and they tasted it. But the sense of “smell” remained untarnished. Accordingly, this sense denotes inner purity and deep attachment to God. As we know, God blew life into Adam through his nostrils. Smell retraces the holy, unadulterated level of our innermost soul – the neshama – that is free of defilement.

With each of the burnt offerings to God in Leviticus, there is a pleasing odor. Whether the smell of animal or grain or incense, the smoke rises to heaven to remind God of God’s love for us. God gave life through the nostrils (Genesis 2:7). creating an association of smell with our life force. We reenact the giving of life through the nostrils when we smell the incense at the end of Shabbat in our Havdalah ceremony.

Pirke avot, the sayings of the ancestors, offers a list of ten wonders fashioned for our ancestors in the Temple. The first is that no woman miscarried from the odor of the sacred flesh. The verse challenges us to connect an act used to praise God with the protection of new life within the womb.

With the destruction of the Temple, the system of sacrifice was abandoned. If Pirke Avot is to be believed, more women should now suffer the loss of a miscarriage. The sacrificial ritual for preserving life is gone. No new ritual has taken its place.

Early in my rabbinic career, a young couple asked me to visit a hospital’s neonatal care ward. Twins had been born prematurely. The son died shortly after birth. The mother wanted to name the other twin, her daughter, in an attempt to affirm and protect life. I blessed the daughter but had no ritual to offer for the deceased son.

Approximately twenty percent of all pregnancies, about one in five, will end in a miscarriage. In Jewish law, an embryo is not considered life. In fact, Talmud says the embryo is merely water (Yevamot 69b). After a miscarriage, we don’t say kaddish. No burial ceremony occurs. Judaism offers no ritual for a lost pregnancy. Moreover, Judaism offers little comfort to the women and men who suffer the anguish of a miscarriage.

The absence of a public ritual may leave the would-be mother bereft. Friends and family are at a loss as to how to respond. The bereaved should not feel shunned and abandoned in their time of grief.

We can and should create a ritual. I believe that ritual should engage our sense of smell. Something sweet prompts us to notice the goodness in the world. A pleasant fragrance restores our souls. Something savory reminds us that blessings are precious. And perhaps the ritual should take place on Saturday night after Shabbat when we re-ensoul ourselves with incense.

A mother expects to see her child, feel its tender skin, and quell its cries. I suspect that no ritual can supplant those expectations or satiate those senses. Should this notion speak to you, please offer your thoughts on how we can provide balm in the ritual context, to offer comfort and hope to the mother who has suffered a miscarriage.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

The Jewish Studio just hosted a weekend of events. In crafting the services and events, we gathered together people of great skill and wisdom. We only gave them an outline. As with a blueprint or a recipe, greatness was achieved and the holiness found was in the execution and not merely in the directions. This is a lesson from Torah.

In Parshat Vayakhel God tells people to gather the people together. God offers further details on the construction of the tent of meeting, the Mishkan. Moses then deployed Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skilled person whom God had endowed with skill, everyone who excelled in ability, to undertake the task and carry it out. He connected the artisans of varying skills with the tasks at hand.

We were blessed to learn Torah with Rabbi Michael Paley who spoke about Bezalel. Rabbi Paley explained that Bezalel’s name literally means “in the shadow of God.” What does it mean to be in the shadow of God? It means that Bezalel’s work came from a Divine aesthetic.

The blueprint for the Mishkan was not sufficiently detailed. Like a shadow cast, Bezalel had to craft the Divine details from an outline. His deployment as an artisan was to complete the structure beginning with a mere projection. Bezalel could not rely solely upon his skill but had to use great wisdom to complete the project.

Moreover, Bezalel had to cast his own shadow. He had to inspire the other artisans to complete the project appropriate to the holiness of the task. The end result was a Mishkan worthy of God’s presence.

The great beauty in the weekend we just shared was how musical artisans crafted an amazing, holy experience from an outline of a weekend. Rabbis and Cantors, singers and musicians, all came together with their skills, but fashioned an extraordinary Shabbat experience with wisdom. They created a Shabbat that was like the Mishkan, a container for the Holy One of Blessings.

My deep gratitude to Rabbi Jessica Kate Meyer, Cantor Basya Schechter, Rabbi Michael Paley, Cantorial Student Lisa Sokolov, Rabbi Noah Diamondstein, Instrumentalist Oren Neiman, Cantor Jessi Roemer, Cantor Stephanie Weishaar, and Rabbi Jessica Shimberg. We heard from William Kristol, who reflected some glimmers of optimism for our future. And my deepest and most heartfelt appreciation for Cantor David Abramowitz, my partner in The Jewish Studio, whose soul shines bright as a spiritual leader, musician, and friend.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

EBay transformed the way people transact business. What was so revolutionary is that unseen buyers and sellers on eBay had faith in the internet and trust in each other. The foundational assumption of eBay users is that most people are good and trustworthy. Perhaps, that lesson came from Torah.

Internet commerce sites like eBay, Air BnB, Uber, and TripAdvisor, are premised on the belief that people are basically good and honest. For example, reviews are posted on these websites by buyers and sellers. Through these interactions,  the honest assessments of users build a marketplace. People want to believe that people are essentially good, and that goodness should be rewarded, sometimes with a positive review.

Internet commerce is also famously susceptible to fraud. From damaging reviews to pernicious scams, the worst elements of society take advantage of our belief that people are essentially decent.

Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, described the company’s founding principles. He said, “we believe people are basically good. We believe everyone has something to contribute. We encourage you to treat others the way that you want to be treated.” His words recall biblical axioms, some even found in this week’s Torah reading, Ki Tisa.

Parshat Ki Tisa underscores Omidyar’s words. Ki Tisa tells a harrowing story that ultimately confirms a belief that people are basically good. Moses left the people to ascend Sinai and receive the laws. After an extended absence, the people grew fearful. Aaron, the high priest, placated the people with the creation of a god substitute, in the form of a golden calf. Throughout Jewish history, this episode represents the greatest apostasy.

The Hebrews were a holy people and treasured by God. God saved them from slavery through a process of plagues and miracles. Yet, when they were fearful and uncertain, they lost faith in God.

God’s reaction? God said to Moses I will wipe out these stiff-necked people and start again. Moses convinced God not to pursue such harsh justice. People should not be evaluated by their worst moments.

While we might assume that every person is basically good, the possibility of doing evil is ever-present. Torah teaches that bad behavior deserves punishment. When we judge people we should not limit our assessment of others to their failings and worst moments. As Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative has said, “each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done.” Moses taught that lesson to God.

What does this have to do with eBay? Pierre Omidyar created eBay by betting on goodness. Omidyar knew that most people will be honest most of the time. Some will lie and cheat and steal but the eBay enterprise succeeded because we have faith that most people are basically good. Accordingly, eBay flourished to become the third most used e-commerce website for consumer purchases.

Torah demonstrates that even a holy nation can behave badly. Thankfully, Moses was able to recalibrate a desperate situation. Moses navigated past the Hebrew people’s worst moment. From the depths of their depravity, Moses reoriented God and the people toward the promise of their potential.

Sustaining hope and an expansive view of human nature are both essential to the growth of civilization. Goodness remains the dominant character trait for most people. We all will confront people who lie or steal or cause harm. Our challenge is not to judge people by their worst behaviors in those moments. Rather, our world will improve as we nurture each person’s potential to contribute from the goodness within them.

As Anne Frank noted, in the depths of her hiding during World War II, “’I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Scientists recently discovered monster galaxies near the edge of the known universe.  The James Webb space telescope has detected what appear to be six massive ancient galaxies, which astronomers are calling “universe breakers.” Their existence upends current theories of cosmology. As one cosmologist explained: “it’s bananas.”

Early Greeks explained the universe with stories. Helios drove a chariot of winged horses across the sky. The sun rose as Helios ascended in the sky. The day ended as Helios circled the world. Yet the light of the sun never stopped shining.

In Jewish tradition, God has set the sun in motion, the moon and stars in their paths, and the light never stops. Our task is only to notice and appreciate. Each night at services, those attending, tell the Jewish story of the universe. The Creator created day and night, darkness before light, light before darkness. Each day is a reminder of the inexplicable unfathomable force that creates our Universe. It’s bananas.

Religion, like cosmology, is an attempt to explain the inexplicable. Humans abhor uncertainty. Not knowing unnerves us. Alternatively, God comforts us. In the Jewish tradition, God is sometimes referred to as the womb. How so? God is merciful. The Hebrew word for mercy, rachamim, is related to the word rechem, which means womb. God is the source. God birthed all that is.

I can’t fathom a news story about the discovery of rapidly developing galaxies at the edge of the known universe. Rather, I find comfort in God, as creator and mother, who generated light that pulses from one edge of the universe to another. When we perceive that light, we receive new revelations.

Torah teaches that we light an eternal flame. Today we do so in synagogues above the ark holding the Torah. There is an important connection between the eternal flame which represents the primordial and unending light of the universe and Torah which is timeless wisdom. Light persists even when we can’t see it. Knowledge is accessible even when we don’t access it.

The secular scientist learns of six new galaxies and says it’s bananas.  The Jewish theologian’s reaction? “Is anything too wondrous for God? (Gen. 18:14)” For the rest of us, not cosmologists or philosophers, our task is to cherish the energies that create precious life. Our lives are ever-evolving as we emulate God’s mercy that gives quality to our lives. Whether we see it or not, the light never stops shining. How we behave in the light makes all the difference in this world.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame


I am in the thirty days of mourning. My older brother died earlier this month. Each night I try to say kaddish at a synagogue. The quality of my prayer experience depends upon the feeling I get from the space I am in. Yet, it isn’t necessarily the architecture or the décor that creates a sacred space.

Synagogue architects design holy places to foster transcendence, a connection to something incorporeal and ethereal. People often need a physical structure to foster a connection to something greater than themselves. Are we inspired by a physical place to gather with God?

In this week’s Torah reading, God instructed the Hebrew people to construct a mikdash. The structure provided God with a place to dwell among the people. Yet, God didn’t need a physical place. The people needed the mikdash.

To this day, the physical construct remains a powerful inspiration for an encounter with the Divine. Yet, a building alone is not sufficient for me to denote a space as sacred.

Many structures are deemed sacred. For example, the Mormon Temple in Maryland is a majestic and pristine building. The alabaster edifice evokes a sense of holiness. The exceedingly high spires seemingly reach to the heavens. The Angel Gabriel blasts his horn to call us to gather. It is magnificent and, yet, it is not my holy place.

In a medical journal, Dr. Pamela Adelstein wrote that her sacred space is an examination room. Yes, these rooms are cramped and sterile. Yet in these examination rooms, doctors and patients share an intimacy that promotes the holy work of healing body and mind. Dr. Adelstein encourages us to approach health care as a sacred collaboration.

Dr. Adelstein teaches us that it is not the building, room, or structures themselves that create a holy place. It is the people who make a space sacred. In fact, some temples, churches, and synagogues seem sterile to me while doctor’s offices sometimes engender holiness. When I enter a synagogue and no one greets me, even when they know I am a mourner, that place is bleak, no matter how beautiful the building is.

I’ve tried zoom services to say kaddish as well. Being alone while saying kaddish, feels insufficient for me if I am able to join in person. My preference is to be in a space with other people.

After all, the word kaddish means sanctified or holy. Holiness is where God may dwell. I sense God in a genuine greeting, and a warm embrace. Compassionate people are the amen to my prayers.

Generally, it is not the building that makes a space holy. Rather it is the way people are present in the space. There is a Godly presence that can be perceived when caring is foremost among the people assembled in prayer. People gathering to bring God close makes a space sacred.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame


I have long assumed that people who don’t abide by the law are punished. Criminals go to jail and people liable for harm pay for their misdeeds. Yet, people of power and privilege aren’t always held accountable. And disadvantaged people are not always afforded justice. Too often, the law operates independently of people applying ethical and moral standards.

Civilization is constructed of laws. People agree to abide by a set of laws to maintain a civil society. Our justice system is designed to punish criminal behavior and penalize tortious acts. Yet, there are times when the law is applied discriminatorily and unethically.

The Torah reading for this week is Mishpatim, translated as “laws.” What distinguishes Torah law from American law? Torah interposes moral behavior with criminal and civil rules. The laws in Mishpatim are not merely rooted in morality but exist as a mechanism for morality.

Torah gives equal attention to criminal acts, civil wrongs, and immoral behavior. The prohibitions zigzag from kidnapping to the loss of an ox. In between these legal rules, there are admonitions to care for the widow and orphan as well as be kind to the stranger. Within these legal rules is God’s justice. The design of our Creator is to create a moral universe.

Whether we talk about Israel, the United States, or almost any other nation, the secular system of laws is limited by how they are applied. If the government is focused on pursuing decency, then legal systems will provide justice. A great challenge of our time is the moral deficiency of political leaders. They won’t change until the people demand justice and mercy for every member of society including the widow and the orphan and the stranger.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame