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teachings from our rabbi

NEWS AND VIEWS FROM RABBI MICAH STREIFFER


 

Read below for sermons, writings, and messages from our rabbi. Feel free to email  Rabbi Streiffer with thoughts or comments!

 

 

Recent Posts:

 

Becoming B'nai MItzvah

on Sunday, 24 January 2016.

A Bar Mitzvah is not something you have. It’s something you become.

Yes, I know we all say “I had my Bar Mitzvah,” or “My daughter is having her Bat Mitzvah.” We’re all saying it wrong.

The Hebrew “Bar/Bat Mitzvah” means “Son or Daughter of the commandments.” It is a statement of having reached a certain age (traditionally 13), at which one is capable of taking on responsibility for Jewish actions and choices. Before that age, we are beholden to others to care for our spiritual needs. After that age, we take it upon ourselves.

The truth is, every Jewish person becomes a Bat or Bat Mitzvah automatically at the age of 13. Every Jewish person – by virtue of reaching the age of majority – takes on responsibility for fulfilling the ethical and ritual commandments of Judaism. We are responsible to give tzedakah to the poor and to do our part in repairing the world. We are responsible to shape a meaningful Shabbat practice, and to think deeply about the meaning of prayer and kashrut and God in our lives.

We are responsible to keep on learning.

The members of Kol Ami’s Adult B’nai Mitzvah class have taken that responsibility very seriously over the last 18 months. For a year and a half, they have met weekly to discuss and debate. To learn about history and ritual, to wrestle with God and ethics, to share beliefs and practices with one another.

And along the way, something extraordinary happened. A group of 13 people morphed into a community – building relationships with one another that will last long past the end of the program. This is Relational Judaism in action.

On February 6 at 10:30am, 13 remarkable individuals will be called to the bima – many of them for the first time – to chant Torah, to lead us in prayer, and to celebrate the learning and building they have done. We hope you can join us.

If you are interested in joining the next cohort of Adult B’nai Mitzvah, slated to begin this September, please contact Rabbi Streiffer.

In Pirke Avot, it says, “Turn the Torah around and around, for everything is in it.” May we never stop learning. May we never stop growing. May we never stop challenges ourselves to be our best.

L’shalom,
Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Make Yourself At Home

on Monday, 21 December 2015.

It’s not easy walking into a synagogue for the first time.

Try to remember what it was like the first time you came to Kol Ami, whether it was last month or 25 years ago. How did it feel to enter a new place? Were the melodies familiar or unfamiliar? Did you feel comfortable striking up conversations with the people around you? What would have helped you to feel at home?

The Hebrew word for synagogue is “Beit K’nesset,” which means “Place of Gathering.” In its essence, a synagogue is a place for people to come together. In fact there is a long history of the synagogue being a place that welcomes guests. In medieval times, wayfarers and travelers on a long journey would often stop off at the synagogue for the evening service, and stay for a meal and a warm place to rest. (By the way, this is the origin of the tradition of chanting the Kiddush in the sanctuary, since guests would be staying after the service to eat.)

In modern times, the record is mixed. Sometimes entering a new synagogue can be an experience of welcome and hospitality. But sometimes it’s not. And we’ve all been there.

Last year, when Rabbi Steve Greenberg was here as our Scholar in Residence, he challenged us to think about the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim (Hospitality or Welcoming Guests) in a different way. His specific challenge to us was to think about our synagogue as if it were our own home, and to behave accordingly.

Think about it. When a guest enters our home, we feel compelled to create a welcoming experience for them: to chat with them, to provide food or drink, to introduce them to others, to help them feel comfortable. We do so because, as a host, we feel responsible for the experience of each person who walks through the threshold.

Kol Ami is no different. In this communal home, we are all the hosts of whoever walks in the door.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the President of the Reform movement, speaks about this in terms of “Audacious Hospitality.” He calls on the image of Abraham and Sarah welcoming strangers into their tent in the desert. And he asserts that....

Audacious hospitality isn’t just a temporary act of kindness so people don’t feel excluded. It’s an ongoing invitation to be part of community—and a way to spiritually transform ourselves in the process.

Being audaciously hospitable is a way to build our community, to help guests and visitors and potential new members feel at home in our congregation, and to create closeness between ourselves as members of the community. And it is an idea that goes back to the very origins of Judaism.

I look forward to seeing you soon in our communal home – our Beit K’nesset.

L’shalom,

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Be the Miracle

on Sunday, 22 November 2015.

We regret to inform you that there is no Chanukah miracle.

Well...sort of.

The earliest account of the events associated with Chanukah come from the book of Maccabees. It tells of the persecution by the emperor Antiochus IV, and the Jewish revolt against his mighty Syrian-Greek Empire. It tells of the long, hard-fought war, the brutal conditions of those who participated, the infighting and angst felt by Jews who were unsure of whether the path of rebellion would lead to oblivion. And it tells of the military genius of the general Judah – known as “The Maccabee” – who orchestrated the unlikely victory of the Jewish forces.

It does NOT tell of the “Miracle of the Oil.”

The story that we now most closely associate with Chanukah – the tale of the Maccabees rekindling the Eternal Light in the Jerusalem Temple – comes from the Talmud and was written some 5 centuries after the Maccabean revolt. It seems that at some point in history, the Rabbis wanted to downplay the militarism of the original story and to amplify God’s role in the victory. The narrative of the oil that lasted for 8 days infuses a genuine, God-given miracle into the story of Chanukah...and gives us a reason to light candles during this cold, dark time of year.

And yet, there is something compelling about the original story. About the idea that the “miracle” of Chanukah isn’t found only in the supernatural – in God’s oil conservation skills. It’s also found in the actions and attitudes of the people who choose to make a difference in the world. Mattathius, who stood for Jewish sovereignty at risk of his own life. Judah, who believed he could win the war even when he was outnumbered and overpowered. The soldiers and peasants and townspeople who lent their abilities and their energies – and sometimes gave their lives – for a cause that mattered.

In the real world, we can’t rely on God for miracles. We have to make them ourselves.

The Chanukah season affords many opportunities to “be the miracle.” It reminds us that we are responsible to bring light into a cold world. We must build supportive communities. We must feed those who are hungry. We must give of our time and our resources to repair our world.

I encourage you, during this Chanukah season, to think about how you can make the world a little bit better place. You might think about volunteering for Out of the Cold or participating in our Tzedakah book drive on December 12. You might consider giving a few hours, or making a donation to a cause that matters to you. You could bring a few cans of food when you come to shul this month.

A few small miracles can bring a lot of light into the world.

Chag Urim Sameach – A Festive and light-filled holiday to all,
Rabbi Micah Streiffer

there's no such thing as reformed judaism!

on Sunday, 25 October 2015.

There’s an old joke about the different Jewish streams:

Orthodox Jews are crazy
Conservative Jews are hazy
Reform Jews are lazy

Of course, none of these are true. But they do represent commonly held stereotypes about the denominations. The beef about Reform Judaism is that it is somehow “less than,” that it represents an easier and less authentic way to be Jewish.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

What is Reform Judaism? It is a way of approaching religion that is built around individual choice and around universal principles. It is a form of Judaism that says that keeping Shabbat can be meaningful if you are mindful about it; that there are many correct ways to keep kosher. It teaches that the truth of science and the truth of religion need never conflict – that egalitarianism and equality and evolution are as true in our synagogues as they are in our schools.

Reform Judaism also teaches that Judaism should never remain static, that as soon as a religion becomes frozen it also begins to atrophy. That’s why there’s no such thing as “Reformed” Judaism. It’s not a past tense verb - Judaism that has been reformed once and never again will change. Rather, we are in a constant state of reforming, evolving, growing, and adapting, while staying grounded in ancient traditions that stretch back to the origins of our people.

We can be very proud of the contributions that Reform Judaism has made to our religious world. And we can celebrate being part of a religious movement – the largest religious Jewish movement in the world – that places tradition and community and Tikkun Olam at the centre of its being.

Please join us November 20 at 8 pm as Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism and head of our North American movement, is the keynote speaker at Shabbat services. We will join all of the GTA Reform congregations that evening at 8 Temple Sinai to sing, pray, learn, and celebrate. (NOTE: We will not hold Kabbalat Shabbat at Kol Ami that evening.) More information is available below.

L’shalom,
Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Taking It With Us

on Thursday, 01 October 2015.

OK, you can breathe again.

Now that the High Holy Days are over, the Jewish world breathes a collective sigh of relief. This is a challenging time of year. It’s spiritually challenging, as we go through the hard work of teshuvah – of self-reflection, and self-evaluation, and goal-setting for the coming year. And it’s physically challenging – we spend a lot of time in shul; we cook and prepare for family meals. We fast, and stand up for long periods of time, and generally come out exhausted.

We couldn’t really handle the intensity of Yom Kippur more than once a year. From both a physical and spiritual standpoint, a single DAY of Atonement is about all we are capable of. And yet, we still have work to do.

The closing service of Yom Kippur is called Ne’ilah, which means “locking.” It is called that because at its conclusion, the Gates of Repentance are said to be locked, and the Book of Life sealed. But we know that’s not true. Our opportunities for growth and learning never cease, and our responsibility to be our best selves never ends.

In fact, as the holidays end, the real work begins. We’ve spent time thinking, praying, and reflecting; building a road map for the coming year. That’s the easy part. The harder part is to actually follow that map – to challenge ourselves to live in the real world by the standards that we set from the comfort (or relative discomfort) of our sanctuary seats.

The month following the High Holy Days is called Cheshvan. This year, it begins on October 15. It is often referred to as MAR-Cheshvan (“Bitter Cheshvan) because it is the only month on our calendar with no holidays at all. But that’s OK. Once Simchat Torah is over, we’ll be all
holiday-ed out. We don’t need any more holidays right now. What we need is daily life, the opportunity to walk out the plans we made through our ongoing choices, and to work toward being what we pictured on Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is done. Now the new year begins. Let’s make 5776 a sweet and successful one.

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Measuring The Year

on Sunday, 23 August 2015.

In the Broadway musical “RENT,” the performers ask a very important question: How do you measure a year? They reject measuring in daylights, sunset, midnights, or cups of coffee, and conclude that we can best measure our time in LOVE.

It’s an interesting idea. There are a lot of ways that we measure our time in the 21st century: in the things we’ve accomplished, the books we’ve read, the progress we’ve made toward our professional goals. Jewishly, we might measure by the Torah we’ve learned, the simchas we’ve celebrated, or the relationships we’ve strengthened. These are the ways that we can tell what we’ve prioritized in the past year.

The High Holy Days are all about “measuring the year.” At this time of year, Judaism challenges us to look over the accomplishments of the past year, and plan for what we’d like to accomplish in the coming year. When we gather together in the sanctuary on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it will be with the goal of working toward becoming our best selves.
I am looking forward to beginning 5776 with each of you. I pray that the coming year will be one filled with learning and accomplishment, and joy and celebration, for our families, for Israel, and for the world.

L’shalom,

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

You Are What you Learn

on Sunday, 21 June 2015.

“Education is what remains after we’ve forgotten what we learned in school.” – Anonymous


Pop culture says that everything we need to know, we learn in kindergarten. But Judaism would argue that we should keep learning all throughout our lives.


Pop culture says that “All you need is love.” But according to Judaism, it’s “study, worship, and acts of kindness” that hold up the world.


Pop culture says that“The way to our hearts is through our stomachs.” And on THAT, Judaism would agree.
You’ve heard me argue before that in Judaism, community and learning are one and the same. We come together to challenge our minds, to connect with our friends, and to fill our stomachs. And the result is that we deepen our relationships both with God and with each other, and our resolve to repair the world. That’s what Judaism is all about.


In the coming year, we are excited to be partnering with Leo Baeck to offer a new and innovative approach to Jewish learning called Chai Mitzvah. Once a month, we will gather for a learning group with a specially designed curriculum that focuses on real life, relevant issues. We will talk about things that matter, we will eat and get to know each other. And we will challenge ourselves to grow as Jews – each of us choosing a Jewish study topic, ritual, or practice to pursue as an independent project.


Chai Mitzvah means “Life of Mitzvah,” and it is an approach that encourages integrating what we’ve learned into real life. We will meet one Thursday morning a month at 8:30am (before work), beginning just after the High Holy Days. Do you have an hour a month to join an incredible community of learners? Give me a call at the synagogue or send me an email to become part of this initiative.
L’shalom,

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

What did you Learn?

on Thursday, 28 May 2015.

Every day, when my kids get home from school, I ask them two questions:

1. How was your day?
2. What did you learn today?

Mostly, they grunt at me on their way to the refrigerator. But once in a while, it's nice to hear that they're learning SOMETHING.

Learning is really important in Judaism. The Mishnah says, "Talmud Torah k'negged kulam – Study of Torah is equal to a life of mitzvot." Judaism teaches us that as human beings, we always have a lot to learn. It's our way of growing as Jews, making the world better, making ourselves better.

This month, as we bring the year to a close, we can reflect on the incredible learning that has gone on at Kol Ami since last September. Our Adult B'nai Mitzvah group has spent the year discussing and reflecting on beliefs and practice. At "Sushi & Study," we've completed Pirke Avot and moved on to Maimonides. Our Torah Study crowd has made their way almost to the end of the book of Kings! We've skyped with Israeli Reform Rabbis, learned about the Holocaust, and had an incredible Scholar-in-Residence weekend with Rabbi Steve Greenberg.

In Religious School, our children have been hard at work as well. We built important topics like Holocaust, Jewish history, and life cycle into the curriculum. We confirmed our largest Confirmation class in 5 years! We gathered to celebrate Chanukah and Israel, and to pray as a community. And our youth group once again was among the most active in the GTA.

Kol Ami is truly a community of learners. This is something that we can be proud of, and something we should continue to build on. In the coming year, look for more learning opportunities, an Adult B'nai Mitzvah service, the new Chai Mitzvah program, and so much more.

Thank you for spending this year learning with me.

L'shalom,

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

For Ourselves And For Future Generations

on Sunday, 26 April 2015.

One of my favourite stories tells that when the people of Israel were standing at Sinai, ready to receive the Torah, God first asked for some collateral – some proof that the Torah would be kept. Our people offered God their ancestors, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of our people. And God replied that though our ancestors were good people, they were not good enough proof that we would keep the Torah.

And so we offered God our prophets, the teachers whose words and deeds helped us to build the ethical tradition we call Judaism. And God replied that those teachers had surely changed the world, but they were not good enough proof that we would keep the Torah.

Finally, we offered to God this idea: If we receive Torah, we will teach it to our children. And they will teach it to theirs, and they to theirs. And in that way, we can ensure that Torah will always be studied, loved, and kept.

And God said, "Your children are good guarantors. For THEIR sake, I give you My Torah."

Everything we do as Jews, we do both for our own sake, and for the sake of future generations. The community we build, the Torah we learn and teach. As we celebrate Shavuot this month, marking the anniversary of our experience at Sinai, we are aware of and grateful for the children who represent our Jewish future.

Please join us for Shavuot evening services on Saturday, May 23 at 7:30pm, as our Confirmation Class leads us in a creative and meaningful worship experience.

Afterwards, we will stay up late for a night of study. Meet us at Temple Har Zion at 10:30 pm for a TikkunLeil Shavuot. Bring a favourite dessert to share!

May the words of Torah always be as sweet as honey.

L'shalom,
Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Ancient Texts, Modern Lives

on Sunday, 29 March 2015.

2500 years ago Judaism said: being gay is wrong.
2500 years ago Judaism said: Jews may not marry non-Jews.
Where does that leave us in 2015?

We Jews are descendants of Jacob, who was also known as Israel – the "one who wrestles with God." As a nation of Godwrestlers, we are commanded in every generation to confront the texts, traditions, and ideas that are challenging to us. We are commanded to learn about them, question and evaluate them, and strive to understand them in the context of our times.

We Jews are also descended from Abraham. He and Sarah were known for keeping their tent open on all sides, so that they could welcome travelers and seekers from all directions. Their welcoming tent and warm community gave character to Judaism as we know it.

In 2015, we descendants of Abraham and Jacob have our work cut out for us. We are the recipients of an ancient tradition, one that often has very different ideas than we do about things like sexuality, religious identity, and community. And we are also tasked with continuing to build Abraham and Sarah's welcoming tent – opening the doors of Jewish life to those who wish to enter.

It is in this context that we are pleased to welcome Rabbi Steve Greenberg as this year's Bernstein Family Scholar in Residence. Rabbi Greenberg is an internationally-recognized author and teacher, and the world's first openly gay Orthodox rabbi. He is in a unique position to help us address questions about how our challenging ancient texts inform our challenging modern lives.

Rabbi Greenberg will lead three sessions. We invite you to join us for any or all of them:

  • "Hachnasat Orchim: Constructing the Welcoming Tent" - Friday Night, April 24 at 7:30 pm Shabbat Services
  • "Wrestling with God and Men: Four Rationales for the Biblical Prohibition Against Homosexuality" - Saturday, April 25 at 9:00 am
  • "Six Queer Heroes and Scoundrels: Finding Ourselves in Ancient Text" - Saturday, April 25 at 7:00 pm – Havdallah, Dessert & Discussion

All sessions are free and open to the public. We invite you to join us, and to let others know about this fascinating weekend of learning and discussion.

L'shalom,

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Wed, January 16 2019 10 Sh'vat 5779