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From the Rabbi's Study

Rabbi Jenny's Bi-Monthly Sermonette —  June 1, 2023


“Put these words of Mine on your heart and on your soul;

tie them as a sign on your hand.”

Devarim 6:8

Emmanuel and I had our final in-person Bar Mitzvah lesson last Sunday. After a year of study, it was finally time for me, his female Rabbi, to teach him how to wrap Tefillin. As we sat in my office and placed our prayer boxes above our inner upper arms and said our first prayer, I felt a wave of gratitude in my soul. We then secured the arm prayer box and then placed our head prayer box on our third eyes. As we completed the prayers and the wrapping of the name of G-d on our hands, I asked him, “How do you feel?” He smiled big. “Pretty cool, huh?” He nodded, “Yes.”


Anyone who has practiced Tefillin wrap with morning prayers can attest there is an undeniable feeling of connection when you do. It is an act of ritual that brings the body and the mind into alignment with the divine. A grounding occurs that centers the person for prayer. By eliminating all distractions, Tefillin allows the individual to focus on the moment at hand, the moment of prayer and meditation. One then becomes carefully wired for a clear conversation with the heart and to listen for the guidance of G-d.

There are many different purposes and benefits to wrapping Tefillin. To some it marks “a binding of the mind and body to G-d” and to others, it becomes about “empowerment.” For many women, LGBTQ, and nonbinary the act of wrapping Tefillin marks permission to embrace one’s Judaism without shame. There is even a study that Tefillin wrapping may be good for your health. “We found people who wear tefillin in either the short or long-term recorded a measurable, positive effect on their blood flow. That has been associated with better outcomes in heart disease,” explains Dr. Jack Rubinstein, a cardiologist and associate professor at the University of Cincinnati.

There are many debates on who is allowed to lay Tefillin. The answer is everyone. The sticking point comes with the prayers. The man is always required to recite the prayer while laying his Tefillin. However, the female and the slave may refrain from taking the time to say the prayer.

I find the laying of Tefillin a deep and rewarding practice that should be encouraged in all Jews who desire to practice it. With our modern culture of instant gratification and technology, there has never been a better time to embrace Tefillin. Tefillin is a gateway to cultivating patience, focus, and faith. When we embrace the ancient rituals and find modern relevant places for them that we allow our Judaism to shine brighter than ever.



By Rabbi Jenny Steinberg-Martinez JD CHT

The peaceful Buddhist country of Tibet was invaded by Communist China in 1949. Since that time, over 1.2 million out of 6 Tibetans have been killed, over 6000 monasteries have been destroyed, and thousands of Tibetans have been imprisoned. When the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Sanctuary, was invaded by the Chinese, and the surviving monks were sent out into the world to survive, he called upon Jewish leaders for advice. Why? It is because we are strong in our identity and have remained true to ourselves in a life of Diaspora. With our strength we have managed to touch all four corners of the globe with our wisdom, joy, and traditions.


The summer time in the Western World brings celebration, barbecue, swimming and fun. It seems a strange time of year for our most somber holiday. Tish B’ Av, the sacred fast, arrives this month to remind us of the 9th day of Av a day when a number of disasters in Jewish history occurred, primarily the destruction of both Solomon's Temple by the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Second Temple by the Roman Empire in Jerusalem.


Tisha B'Av is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and it is thus believed to be a day which is destined for tragedy. The observance of the day includes five prohibitions, most notable of which is a 25- hour fast. The Book of Lamentations, which mourns the destruction of Jerusalem is read in the synagogue, followed by the recitation of kinnot, liturgical dirges that lament the loss of the Temples and Jerusalem. As the day has become associated with remembrance of other major calamities which have befallen the Jewish people, some kinnot also recall events such as the murder of the Ten Martyrs by the Romans, massacres in numerous medieval Jewish communities during the Crusades.


So how do we honor this day with an appropriate balance of reverence and optimism? This is how; we claim our Diaspora as a beginning and not an ending. We claim our Diaspora as a call from God to persevere in the world and be a force of Torah for all to experience. We claim our strength. It is when we claim these things that we can help bring unity and healing to the whole world without preoccupation with what was lost; for we have found more than we have lost. We have found our power. We are strong!


*To read more about the Jewish and Buddhist conversation: The Jew in the Lotus, by Roger Kamenetz

Rabbi Rubovits
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