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From the Rabbi's Study


The Month of Elul


This Shabbat, we announce and bless the coming month of Elul, the twelfth and last month of the Jewish year. Traditionally, the month before Rosh Hashanah, the month of Elul, is a special month since it precedes the High Holidays. Ritually, it is celebrated by the sounding of the shofar daily, except for Shabbat, and each day we read a special psalm, Psalm 27. In addition to alerting us to the upcoming holy days, these rituals remind us of the opportunity to look inward that is at the heart of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Our sages teach us that looking inward is the essence of the month of Elul. 

According to the Midrash, after the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses ascended Mount Sinai on the first of Elul. It was during Elul that he prayed for the people and received the second set of the Tablets of the Ten Commandments to replace the set that he had smashed. Since that time, our tradition has understood that the month of Elul is a time of return and renewal. We return to God and God receives us and returns to us.

Additionally, our Rabbis see an allusion to the renewal of the relationship between the People of Israel and God in the very name of the month - Elul. They teach us that the month, ELUL, (in Hebrew - Alef, Lamed, Vav, Lamed) - is an acronym of -Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li - I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine (Song of Songs 6:3). Reading the Song of Songs as an allegory of the relationship between God and Israel, our tradition reminds us of the opportunity Elul affords us to reconnect with God, our Holy Community, and our spiritual selves. 

With this in mind, I would like to share an opportunity with you. It is a website called The Jewels of Elul ( If you sign up, each day of Elul you will receive a daily "jewel," either a short story, anecdote, or introspection from some fascinating people, inside and out of the Jewish world. These short pieces offer the opportunity of reflection, introspection and growth. On the website you can also see the collected jewels from the previous years. 

It is my hope that this Shabbat as we bless the month of Elul, it brings us blessings and opportunity for thought and self-examination that will lead us to a meaningful and wonderful year.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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Divine Comfort and Heschel


This Shabbat, the Shabbat following Tisha B'Av, is known in our tradition as Shabbat Nahamu, the Shabbat of Consolation. The name and the theme of this Shabbat come from the opening words of the haftorah spoken to the People of Israel after the Babylonian Exile. The Prophet, speaking for God, tells the People, "Comfort, oh comfort my People." Coming as it does each year after Tisha B'Av, this haftorah, and these words, serve as a reminder of God's consoling nature. 

While Tisha B'Av commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, it also serves to remind us of our shortcomings. Our tradition teaches us that more than being destroyed by our enemies, we brought about our own downfall. Baseless hatred and sinful jealously caused us to turn on each other and weakened the fabric of Jewish community. In many ways, we still have not recovered.

Still, in just over seven weeks, we will gather to celebrate Rosh HaShanah and welcome a New Year. How do we turn from destruction to renewal, from communal mourning to religious celebration? 

The words of this week's haftarah, and the next six following, offer us support and consolation. They remind us that God is forgiving, compassionate, and merciful. Inherently, these haftarot also remind us that we are not perfect. We will stumble and fall, but the key to life is how we pick ourselves up and move forward. 

Recently, I came across a teaching of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that helped me understand the tension of living with our shortcomings and striving for better. 

Heschel wrote:

"Should we despair of our being unable to attain perfect purity? We should, if perfection were our goal. However, we are not obliged to be perfect once and for all, but only to rise again and again beyond the level of the self. Perfection is divine, and to make it a goal of humans is to call on humans to be divine.... To be contrite at our failures is holier than complacent in perfection."

Tisha B'Av reminds us of our deficiencies, while Rosh HaShanah beckons with its call for renewal. This Shabbat we are comforted by the notion that God accepts our imperfections and calls on us to rise up so that we may try to be our better selves. We are comforted knowing God does not expect perfection, only that we not abandon striving for good.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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Tisha B'Av
Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, commemorates the destruction of the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans.  The destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE led to the Babylonian Exile, and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, led to the dispersion of the Jewish People and two thousand years in the Diaspora. Our Rabbis say five catastrophes befell our people on Tisha B'Av, beginning in biblical times and many point to periods of persecution of our People throughout our history that coincided with the ninth of Av. For all these reasons, the beginning of Av is a time associated with mourning and diminished joy.
On Saturday night and Sunday, August 10th-11th, the Jewish world observes the fast of Tisha B'Av. At MJC we will begin our service on Saturday, August 10th at 9:00 PM (the fast officially begins at 8:02 PM and Shabbat ends at 8:48 PM) with Ma'ariv and the reading of Megillat Eicha.
On Sunday morning, August 11th, MJC will be joining our communal Tisha B'Av service organized by the Board of Rabbis of Rockland County. It will be held at 8:30 AM at the Ramah Day Camp in Nyack (Christian Herald Rd, Nyack, NY 10960).

While we live during a period of unprecedented Jewish renewal, we face increasing challenges to our Jewish way of life.   Our American Jewish community is experiencing religious, social, and economic opportunities that few other Jewish communities have ever known.  We also live during a time when more Jews than not, only know a world that includes an independent Jewish State of Israel.  We should thank God for these blessings every day.
Still, we are fully cognizant of the challenges and renewed dangers we face as Jews in America.   In addition to forces of assimilation, for the first time in a generation, American Jewish communities are confronted with increasing and violent anti-Semitic attacks. Over the past year, we have seen the attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, California. There is evil in the world, but we are surrounded by more good than evil.
Many may not be fasting but as Maimonides wrote, "Remembering our misguided ways gives us the opportunity to be better people." (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Taaniot, 5, 1)
Whether fasting or not, I urge our MJC community to use Sunday as an opportunity for reflection and prayer. Through fasting, reflection, and prayer, we remind ourselves of what is broken in our world and strengthen our resolve to continue in our efforts to repair the world God gave us. Whether through fasting, prayer, or personal reflection, I wish all a meaningful day and the blessings of working together for our community and our world.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein
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