Click HERE to read the formatted version of (more or less) my Rosh HaShanah Sermon of Day 2 5774!
Read below for the hard-to-read version of the sermon (not verbatim, just like the pdf linked above).
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A Prelude: Before the Torah Reading of the Day
At just about midnight Saturday night or Sunday morning (depending on how you look at it), as our first week of marriage came to a close, my spouse Raysh and I were leaving synagogue after Selihot services, those late Saturday night services that prepare us for the High Holiday season starting in the week ahead. Raysh and I were walking with friends of ours, another married couple. I knew our first week of married life had come to a close as a man following us closely began lamenting to us how synagogues are unwelcoming to unmarried people. “Do you know,” he said, “there is not a single synagogue that has programming for singles in their 40s and 50s?” He then cited that in certain Jewish newspapers, when there are events for singles in their 40s and 50s, these events are listed under “Bereavement Groups.” From there, he told us the statistics of how many Jews marry late in life, how many Jews never marry, how many Jews never join synagogues, how many Jews marry people of other faiths, and every other statistic that should in fact remind us both how painful and how likely it is for a Jew to be lonely in, or outside, the Jewish community.
When we read the Torah today, we read the story of the Binding of Isaac, when Abraham binds his son Isaac upon an altar he builds on Mount Moriah. But, first off, how old is Isaac?
<open the floor to answers>
It seems from the story like he might be a young kid. Anybody above a certain age, we’d imagine, would protest or question the situation. After all, Isaac is being tied down, and he can see tools for fire. At a certain point, don’t you think he’d start to suspect something? So it sounds like he’s young. But when we try to do the math, it seems he’s older. When the rabbis do the math, they come up with different answers: some say he’s 37 years old, some say he’s 26 years old. I prefer the answer of 26 years old, for the simple reason that I am also 26 years old. So I have to imagine myself, at 26 years old, in Isaac’s position in life. Isaac, always at home. Never married. Never found love at all. And, though Iasac may have thought that he was loved by his parents—in knowingly bringing his son to a near-death experience, and presuming that the experience would result in the killing of his son—Abraham has now proven himself unreliable in ensuring neither that he will love his own child nor that his child should have reason to trust him. Isaac is no longer guaranteed parental love, and he has no other love of which to speak. Isaac is alone in the universe.
But the story goes on. The angel stops Abraham from killing his son. In fact, when the rabbis retell this story, Abraham says, “But I thought you told me to kill him.” God explains that there was a misunderstanding. When God said veha’alehu, to “raise” Isaac as a “rising offering,” our forefather was not supposed to raise his son to the altar, but to raise his son spiritually, as an ethical, holy being in the image of the Supernal God in Heaven. Abraham comes to terms with that explanation, he and Isaac go on their way—Isaac, as we can imagine, completely shattered and alone. Our Torah reading, the majority of which is the story of the binding of Isaac, ends on an auspicious note though. We recite a family tree listing the eight offspring of Milkah. It is only at the very end of the listing that we learn of the birth of Rebecca. Isaac, unloved and without reason to love his parents, does not know it yet, but the love of his life has been born. It is only years later that both Isaac’s and Rebecca’s world will turn around and we will witness the first loving relationship of Biblical spouses, Isaac and Rebecca—a profound love arising only after suffering a near-death trauma.
I do not know what is in store for the future of the single man who spoke with Raysh and me on Saturday night, but I do hope that, after all of the trauma he has suffered, he will soon find love, and he will soon find release. When the rabbis comment on the story of the Binding of Isaac, they add a curious note: that in every generation, there is always someone like Abraham; that in every generation, there is always some like Jacob; that in every generation, there is always someone like Moses; that in every generation, there is always someone like Samuel. My understanding of this comment is that, in every generation, the spirit of every character of the Hebrew Bible gets revived, and their lives relived. Many of us know modern-day Isaacs, and many of us are, or have been, modern-day Isaacs, who have hit rock-bottom and seen little value in their own lives, and we hope that the modern-day Isaacs will, like the olden-day Isaac, find the love and release deserved of any soul after such profound suffering. The story of the Binding of Isaac ends up does not simply conclude with the Unbinding of Isaac as he is unbound from the altar. The story of the Binding of Isaac comes to a close with a hint of the Bonding of Isaac, when his future marriage is nothing other than a textual foreshadow. I hope that that man who followed us on Saturday night has love waiting for him somewhere in the shadows of his universe, waiting soon to be revealed, even if he does not yet know it. Although Raysh and I had a lot of fun at our wedding, one of the hardest realities in planning our wedding was knowing how many people in our lives are lonely or, for whatever reasons, legal, religious or personal, do not see themselves as ever getting married, or ever being loved.
I wanted to recite a prayer on the day of the wedding for those who have not yet found the love they are seeking. I decided to search through Likkutey Tefillot, a “collection of prayers” from Rabbi Nahman of Breslov, one of the great founders of Hasidic Judaism. The book is organized by day, according to the day on which Rabbi Nahman of Breslov said each of the prayers in the book. Since my wedding was on the 19th of the Hebrew month Elul, I looked to see what Rabbi Nahman prayed on that day about 200 years ago. He prayed these words, and I, last week also prayed these words on the 19th of Elul:
וּבְכֵן תְּרַחֵם עַל כׇּל־עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל הַצְּרִיכִים לִמְצוֹא זִוּוּגָם,
And so may it be that You will have compassion for all of Your people Israel who need to find their partners,
שֶׁיִּזְכּוּ לִמְצוֹא זִוּוּגָם מְהֵרָה,
That they may merit to find their partner soon,
Their true partner,
זִוּוּגָם הֶהָגוּן לָהֶם מִן הַשָּׁמַֽיִם,
Their partner reserved for them from the Heavens,
וְיִזְכֶּה כׇּל־אֶחָד לְהִתְעוֹרֵר אֵלֶֽיךָ בִּשְׁעַת הַהִתְקַשְּׁרוּת…
And may each and every one merit to become conscious of the Divine in the moment of their loving connection.
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The Sermon Proper: Upon Returning the Torah to the Ark
I don’t usually title sermons, but this sermon is called, “Nine Tips On Life, Love and Marriage; from somebody who’s only been married for a little over a week.” I can’t say I know too much yet, but I like to think that I’ve learned a lot of great wisdom from people far wiser than I am. I’ll try and attribute each life lesson, each personal piece of Torah, to each teacher.
Time management is holy. I used to get home from a day of work—which for me is school—and I used to have free time during which I would work. Not just homework. I’d write. I’d compose. I’d be organizing events. During my free time, I would do the work that I didn’t have time to do during my other work time. In the end, this means that I never had free time. I just had work time, and then other work time. In those days, when I wanted to keep working but eat anyway, I used to do a thing called “grabbing a quick bite to eat,” which meant taking something out of the refrigerator and eating it, and then getting back to work. I don’t quite do that anymore. These days, when I eat at home, I’m eating in the presence of someone I love, and eating can take 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, 2 hours. It depends. This means: My old schedule doesn’t work anymore. It’s not because I shouldn’t work anymore, but it’s because I have to acknowledge that free time is free time, and work time is work time. I would be denying myself the sanctity of free time, and time to be with someone I love, if I felt it would be better to work than to sit around for a few more minutes of a meal. Rabbi Greg Wall once said to me, “There is nothing we have that is holier than time because we can never get it back.” Work time is work time. Free time is free time. All time is holy. Time management is holy.
2. A marriage must be built. (And for that matter, so must all relationships—business, friendship, family, community.) I used to have my own money, and Raysh used to have her own money too. And, in fact, we each still have our own money. But all of a sudden, the money that I had became money that Raysh could have, and the money that Raysh had could be money that I could have. Our money became shared in a way. This means that every time that I spend a cent, this is a cent that Raysh could have saved, or spent differently. And every time that Raysh spends a cent, there’s one cent that I could have saved or spent differently. This means that the way that we handle money now must be, to some extent, determined by shared values. And those values do not come automatically. We have to work together to build together what the values are that we share: For what reasons do we spend money? How much money do we spend on different things that matter to us? Building the values of a marriage is not limited to money. This includes far more than just money. This includes what information is private to me, or what information is private to Raysh, and what is now private to us. Building the values of a marriage includes what are the things that concern us? What social issues, political questions, religious experiences, lifestyles, works of art are the drives of our marriage and our spiritual connection? No marriage, and no relationship—business, friendship, family or otherwise—is ever built without a foundation. The establishment of a friendship, or a marriage, or any other relationship does not happen in a vacuum, and the relationship must be built thoughtfully and talked through in order to create the relationships we want to see. A relationship must always be built. Thoughtfully. And founded on certain values.
3. Don’t go to sleep with an argument. Anyone could be tossing or turning if the last thing you hear left you unsettled. This rule is very simple: Don’t go to sleep with an argument. This means you’ve got at least two options. First, if it’s nighttime, and if you need to bring up something uncomfortable, wait until the morning, or the afternoon, or some time when you have the time to discuss it, just as long as it’s not nighttime. Second, if it’s nighttime and you need to bring up something uncomfortable immediately, then make sure that you both can stay up long enough to get the conversation out of the way, bring yourselves down to a level of calm, and remember how much you love each other. And then remind each other how much you love each other. After your moments of anger, remind yourself why you love whom you love, why you are friends with whom you are friends, and why you connect with those to whom you connect. During our first week of marriage, Raysh and I observed the tradition of Sheva Berakhot. Sheva Berakhot, meaning “Seven Blessings,” is a practice of—at the end of meals during the first week of marriage—gathering together with friends who offer seven special Hebrew blessings to bless and to sanctify the new marriage. Raysh and I actually adapted this tradition a bit to our liking though. In addition to the seven Hebrew blessings typically recited, we would ask seven friends to give impromptu blessings of their own design, in English. During our week of Sheva Berakhot, I was very moved by my friend Emily’s blessing. Not only did she bless us that we never should argue before we go to bed, she blessed us that we should never be angry at nighttime so that we have to stay up later trying to calm down so that we don’t go to bed upset. Don’t go to sleep with an argument, and don’t ever have to stay up late just so that you can go to sleep after an argument.
The truest verse of the entire Torah is Genesis 2:24: עַל־כֵּן֙ יַֽעֲזׇב־אִ֔ישׁ אֶת־אָבִ֖יו וְאֶת־אִמּ֑וֹ וְדָבַ֣ק בְּאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וְהָי֖וּ לְבָשָׂ֥ר אֶחָֽד: Therefore shall a person leave their parents and cleave unto to their partner, and they shall become as one flesh. This teaching comes from Rabbi Morris Allen, who served as the rabbi of the synagogue to which Raysh belonged towards the end of her time at the University of Minnesota. Rabbi Allen offered us much wisdom as we prepared for our wedding, and he gave us the counsel and exercises he would give any other couple for pre-marital counseling. Despite the role that Raysh’s parents have played in her life, and despite the role that my parents have played in my life, our relationships to our parents must now change. Although our parents can offer us their love and their support for the two of us, the truth is that we have to find our own way of building our own home now. The home that Raysh and I build ought to be defined neither solely by what Raysh’s parents have taught her nor solely by what my parents have taught me, but by Raysh and me using all the lessons that we have learned to put together the foundations of a loving marriage, and a loving home. If neither of us were ever to change our relationships with our parents, and if we were never to leave our parents’ home, then this marriage would never have a home.
Advice from the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh: “When you get into an argument with someone you love, please close your eyes and visualize yourselves three hundred years from now. When you open your eyes, you will only want to take each other in your arms and acknowledge how precious each of you is. The teaching of impermanence helps us appreciate fully what is there, without attachment of forgetfulness.”
I believe that the quote speaks well for itself. All I will say is: We often argue about stupid things, and sometimes we argue when there isn’t even anything to complain about. We don’t have to.
Speak well of your in-laws. The #1 reason: Why not? When you marry somebody, you are legally marrying only one person. But the reality is you’re marrying an entire family. The Jewish tradition values that we refrain from leshon hara, “the evil tongue,” or speaking ill of our family and friends. Unless there is a situation of abuse or violence or another serious violation of trust that must be made public in some way, there is never a reason to say anything hurtful about anyone. The only reason speaking ill of someone behind their back might not hurt them is that they’re not actually there to hear what we have to say about them. But the words do hurt because often these words get around. As Jews, we value refraining from leshon hara. On top of how much we value refraining from leshon hara: If your spouse were to say something terrible about your mother—even if you agreed deep down inside—you would almost certainly want to retort, “But, that’s my mother you’re talking about!” So, if you’re going to speak of your in-laws, speak well of them. If you’re going to speak of people who are—when it comes down to it—in no way violating a certain pact of trust, then speak well of them. Speak well of all people as much as you can. I’ll tell you: when it comes to in-laws, I lucked out in this marriage. The Weiss family is one of the most thoughtful, talented, honest and caring families you might ever meet. Myra Weiss, Raysh’s mother, is one of the most learned and dedicated people I’ve ever met. She herself studied for a doctorate in Biblical Studies and knows the Tanakh, the Old Testament, like no one else. She has dedicated her life not only to her own personal pursuit of knowledge, but also to the altruistic goal of raising three wonderful daughters we’ll discuss in a minute. Raysh’s father Ira is a doctor—a cardiologist to be exact. Dr. Ira Weiss still works hard 6 days a week, taking a break for Shabbat and holidays, and has always had the gentlest demeanor you could ever imagine. In addition to all that he gives his family, Dr. Weiss has spent his life thoroughly caring for his patients and teaching his own medical students to be as astute and meticulous as he is. At a certain point in his career, Dr. Weiss became a renowned doctor in the world of American Chasidic Jewry, having cared briefly for the Bostoner Rebbe, and eventually becoming something of the personal doctor of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of Chabad fame. Sarah, the eldest of the three Weiss daughters, works for the Israeli Foreign Ministry as the Director of the General International Law Department and as the Acting Director of the International Law Department. She speaks about half a dozen languages, and she is married to Yaniv, a caring father and an architect who specializes in making Israel a more handicap-friendly country. Together Sarah and Yaniv are the parents of three sweet children: Lielle, a great singer who just began first grade; Aviad, who, despite being younger than Lielle, is already an amazing breakdancer; and Shai, who is hardly two months old, and absolutely cute. Becky is the middle child of the three Weiss daughters, and she herself is a riot. She has a witty sense of humor, a strong sense of responsibility to her family and to the community at her synagogue, and she has worked hard and coded innovative programming for Windows ever since she graduated from college. Her husband Eric, one of the sharpest lawyers you could ever meet, is no stranger to the Supreme Court, having sat there several times, and having co-authored papers advocating for positions in favor of which the Court has ruled. Eric and Becky have two adorable, musical, talented children with great senses of humor: Daphne, who just started 3rd grade, and Charlotte, who just entered 1st grade. And, last but not least, the most important person I married when I got married last week: Raysh Weiss. How often do you get to meet a Jew who is an imaginative visual artist, a brilliant writer, a profound philosopher, a non-stop social activist, a lush poet, a an aficionada on several saxophones, an awesome film director and editor and videographer, a PhD, a rabbinical student, a kind-hearted soul, an articulate speaker with an amazing sense of humor, and a sheyne punim? And then how often do you marry them? So, nu? What’s there to complain about? Always speak well of your in-laws. Always speak well of others.
7. Take out the trash when nobody’s asked you. In fact, don’t stop at taking out the trash when nobody’s asked you. Do other kind things for people when nobody’s asked you. The more you can take out the trash when nobody’s asked you, the more you can clean the floor when nobody’s asked you, the more you can cook for others when nobody’s asked you, the better off you’ll be. It’s as easy that. Take out the trash when nobody’s asked you. They’ll love you forever.8. Both #7 and #8 come from my sister-in-law by the way. I asked her for marriage advice the Friday night before the wedding. #8: Be a rock when your loved one is shaken. No matter how easy it is to feed off of your partner’s energy, and no matter how easy it is to get angry when your partner is angry; if both of you go crazy at the same time, then everybody will be crazy. If you can learn to listen calmly when your partner is upset, then you will maintain sanity. If you’re upset too, don’t forget why you’re upset, but don’t act on it. If you need to act upset at some point, wait until you no longer need to be the rock. Wait until your partner is calm, and let your partner be your rock when you’re infirm. One of you must be the rock when the other is shaken.
9. You must love yourself. If you cannot love yourself, it will be harder for others to love you. In fact, it may be impossible. Two years ago, I was living in Jerusalem and I often got together in a quartet of rabbinical students who would write songs with each other and we’d play for each other the latest songs we had written. Many songs that I write tend to be comedy songs. Many of these comedy songs though are self-deprecating, in a way. Once when I was talking with Ruhi Sophia, from the song-sharing quartet, I was discussing how I was alone. I had never been in a relationship before. So, Ruhi Sophia said I had to stop writing songs that were self-deprecating, and I owed it to myself to write myself a love song. Although I didn’t say it at the time, I think she knew that I thought that sounded goofy. Although I thought it sounded goofy, I knew that deep down inside, Ruhi Sophia was right, and I needed to write myself a love song. I did write myself a love song; it felt goofy, but it also felt good. At services the Friday night after I wrote myself a love song, I had a realization in the Shema as I retranslated for myself the passages Ve’ahavta:וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת ה֣’ אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ
You shall love the Lord your God…
בְּכׇל־לְבָֽבְךָ֥…in your heart… You shall love the Lord your God in your heart. The Lord your God is in your heart. The Lord your God is in my heart. We must love the Lord your God in our hearts, for we must love what is in our hearts. We must love all that is in our hearts, for the Lord God is in our hearts. Ve’ahavta: You shall love yourself. It is a Jewish commandment to love yourself. And I’ll tell you what. Ruhi Sophia was right. Because it was only after writing love songs to myself that I was able to get to where I am today.
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So, reviewing these nine lessons:
1. Time management is holy.
2. A marriage must be built. (And for that matter, so must all relationships—business, friendship, family, community.)
3. Don’t go to sleep with an argument. Don’t go to sleep angry.
4. The truest verse of the entire Torah is Genesis 2:24: עַל־כֵּן֙ יַֽעֲזׇב־אִ֔ישׁ אֶת־אָבִ֖יו וְאֶת־אִמּ֑וֹ וְדָבַ֣ק בְּאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וְהָי֖וּ לְבָשָׂ֥ר אֶחָֽד: Therefore shall a person leave their parents and cleave unto to their partner, and they shall become as one flesh.
5. Advice from the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh: “When you get into an argument with someone you love, please close your eyes and visualize yourselves three hundred years from now. When you open your eyes, you will only want to take each other in your arms and acknowledge how precious each of you is. The teaching of impermanence helps us appreciate fully what is there, without attachment of forgetfulness.” In short, before you argue, ask yourself if it’s really worth the argument. Don’t argue about stupid things.
6. Speak well of your in-laws. Speak well of your business associates. Speak well of your friends. Speak well of your friends’ friends. Speak well of your family friends. When there’s no serious reason you must do otherwise, speak well of everyone.
7. Take out the trash when nobody’s asked you. And do other nice things when nobody’s asked you.
8. Be a rock when your loved one is shaken. Be calm when your partner is shaken.
9. You must love yourself. Each of these 9 tips could change your life, if you haven’t lived according to them yet. You can trust me. Not only have I learned these nine lessons from people who are far wiser than I am, but I’ve also been married for a little over a week. Shanah tovah.
 After having placed the Torah upon the reading table.
 Liat and Daniel Graber.
 Answers I received included “8” and “older.”
 In fact, God implies that Isaac is loved by Abraham, in Genesis 22:2: וַיֹּ֡אמֶר קַח־נָ֠א אֶת־בִּנְךָ֨ אֶת־יְחִֽידְךָ֤ אֲשֶׁר־אָהַ֨בְתָּ֙ אֶת־יִצְחָ֔ק וְלֶ֨ךְ־לְךָ֔ אֶל־אֶ֖רֶץ הַמֹּֽרִיָּ֑ה וְהַֽעֲלֵ֤הוּ שָׁם֙ לְעֹלָ֔ה עַ֚ל אַחַ֣ד הֶֽהָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֹמַ֥ר אֵלֶֽיךָ: (“[God] said, ‘Take your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac, and go for yourself to the land of Moriah, and raise him there, as a rising offering upon one of the hills which I will indicate to you”).
 Bereshit Rabbah 56:7.
 Though Deuteronomy 34:10 teaches, “וְלֹֽא־קָ֨ם נָבִ֥יא ע֛וֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל כְּמֹשֶׁ֑ה אֲשֶׁר֙ יְדָע֣וֹ ה֔’ פָּנִ֖ים אֶל־פָּנִֽים:” (“there never again rose up a prophet in Israel like Moses who knew the Lord face to face”), there are nuanced ways of reconciling these two truths within the same religious framework.
 ליקוטי תפילות ח”ב מו, י”ט אלול; רבי נתן מברסלו בשם רבי נחמן מברסלו, Likkutei Tefillot II:46, 19 Elul; Rabbi Nathan of Breslov in the name of Rabbi Nahman of Breslov.
 After reciting Hatzi Kaddish, we paused for a sermon, continuing after the sermon with our own private Amidah.
 I credit Myra Weiss (my schviger—“mother-in-law” in Yiddish) for giving a devar torah on our third day of marriage, discussing how a marriage needs values so as not to be yesh me’ayin, ex nihilo, or “made from nothing.”
 This was taught to me by my own mother, Ellen Rank, who taught this to me in the name of the rabbi who officiated at my parents’ wedding, Rabbi Kassel Abelson. I believe I’ve heard this from several other sources since.
 Giving credit where credit is due, this friend is Emily Bluma Watkins, author of On the Border of Fire: Origins of the National Religious Settler Movement in Israel.
 Congregation Beth Jacob in St. Paul, Minnesota.
 From his work The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering Into Peace, Joy & Liberation : the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and Other Basic Buddhist Teachings, (Random House LLC: 1998) page 133. Melissa Marver pointed out this quote to us, intending it as a personal blessing during Sheva Berakhot.
 Never speaking ill of in-laws is something taught to me by my mother by way of Rabbi Abelson, as well as Rabbi Allen in working with Raysh and me.
 Not on trial, I should clarify.
 This quartet was: Shoshana Friedman of Hebrew College, Ruhi Sophia Motzkin Rubenstein of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Jacob Siegel now of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and me, of the Jewish Theologiacl Seminary.