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Selected Drashot from Rabbi Mike

Tazria-Metzora 5780: "Kavod Over Covid"

Rabbi Mike Rothbaum

The Torah reading this week is, on first glance, less than gripping.  It discusses, in great detail, how we are to confront a plague of what’s called tzaraat.  Tzaraat is a scaly affliction that can strike the walls of houses, clothing, as well as human skin.

Excited yet?  Did I mention that this week there’s a double portion? 

But there’s a...

Ki Tissa 5780 - "A Bearhug on God"

You all know how much I like hugging.  In a world of fear, of suspicion, where we’re alienated from each other, being in contact with each other is vital.  Vital, as in life-giving.  As souls, we need intimacy, the love of other souls.

But today, I don’t need to tell you, we find ourselves in uncharted territory.  COVID-19 has created a worldwide...Read more...

Yom Kippur Morning 5780 - "The Hands on the Kids"

As many of you know, Anthony and I spent five years in California.  As a lifelong New Yorker, living in California took some getting used to.  For one thing, everyone in the Bay Area dressed like they had just come back from hiking.  Business attire seemed to mean wearing your good hoodie.  And, compared to New York, people were clearly in less of a rush. There were other things to think about:...Read more...

Kol Nidre 5780 - "On the other hand, Israel"

There’s a fine tradition in Judaism — the Kol Nidre sermon starts with a joke.  Far be it from me to undermine tradition.  So here goes.

Man goes into a bar in Jerusalem.  Says to the bartender, “I’m looking for a rabbi.”  Bartender says, “nu, in Yerushalayim?  You can’t find a rabbi?”  Guy says to the bartender, “Well I’m...Read more...

Rosh Hashanah Day One 5780 - "The United States of Hagar and Ishmael"

We’ll start this with a tale of a bonehead move.  We’ll acknowledge, at the same time, that the bonehead was me.

When I was in rabbinical school, I lived in Manhattan.  Harlem, specifically.  I had a little gold Ford Escort, with a 5-speed, that I drove to my student pulpit out in tree-lined Maywood, New Jersey

It was...

Masei 5779 - "In Honor of Steve Sussman's 90th Birthday"

A boy came to visit me this week.  Actually, the first day back from my vacation.  He’s 11.  “I’ll be 12 in October,” he was quick to add.

While his friends were enjoying the long summer days, catching up on YouTube videos and sharing secrets behind camp bunks, his family went to visit his grandfather.  I’ve met his grandfather.  Good...Read more...

Ki Tissa 5779 - "Don't Have a Cow, Man"

February 22, 2019

When I sit down to write my drash each week, there’s often a point when I have some sort of mini lightbulb moment. Like, this week. I had a really cool a ha moment. I knew I would be writing about chet ha-egel — the sin of the Golden Calf — considered by our sages to be the worst sin in Jewish history

You probably know the story — at the very moment that Moses is receiving the tablets of the covenant on...Read more...

Parashat Shemot 5779 - "The Hebrews are Animals"

December 28, 2018

The drive west, away from I-19 in southern Arizona, is nothing if not beautiful. Saguaros dot the landscape as you approach the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, majestic mountains rising out of the approaching landscape. I’m here on a trip with other rabbis to see the Mexico-US border first-hand. We’re in our own caravan, rental cars of rabbis chasing the sun.

Except our path is not...

Parashot Toldot 5779 - "Red State Esau"

November 10, 2018

I have never been hunting.

I have no desire to go hunting.

It is true — I am a meat eater.  I wear leather.  By consuming animals as food and clothing, I participate in their killing.  But of course, killing an animal by bowshot or gunshot is not a kosher method of slaughter.


Yom Kippur 5779 - "The Man Who Never Returned"

September 19, 2018

One thing we can say for certain.  Massachusetts — it’s a proud place.

It’s proud of its history.  It’s proud of its politics.  It’s proud of its Dunkin Donuts.  It’s certainly proud of its sports teams. 

The pride is well-earned.  But there’s one area where, to be honest,...Read more...

Kol Nidre 5779 - "Care What Other People Think"

September 18, 2018

“Basically, you know, like, be yourself.”

The speaker is a 14-year-old girl.  Her name is Kayla, and she’s a character in Bo Burnham’s recent film titled, appropriately, Eighth Grade.

“And don’t care about what other people think about you.”

She’s speaking into a...

Rosh Hashanah 5779, Day 1 - "Days are Scrolls"

September 10, 2018

These days.

I said last night that these days are days of stories.  The stories told about us.  The stories we tell about ourselves.

But Rosh haShanah is not just an inventory.  It is an invitation.  To retell the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves.  Not just who we were last year. ...Read more...

Balak 5778 — "Safe at Home"

June 29, 2018

I stood here roughly a year ago, on Parashat Balak, at my first official service at Beth Elohim.

I spoke about houses.  Specifically, this house.

I said what a beautiful house it is.  Beautiful because of the spirit and dedication and love that’s in it.

And, a year later, I haven’t wavered from that conclusion.  It is a great blessing to be your rabbi, in this house.

That...

Chukat 5778 — "The Miriam of the Moment"

June 22, 2018

Few substances are as precious in Torah as water.  Of course, taking place in the arid landscape of the Middle East, it’s hardly a surprise.  But over the course of the five books, water seems to take on an almost mystical quality.  It is treasured and desired, it is scarce and valuable, it engenders life and — occasionally — deals death. 

It is death that we consider this week,...

Korach 5778 — “Parashat Killmonger”

June 15, 2018

A storied and isolated tribal community.  They have their own ways, their own laws, their own traditions and customs.  They are chosen for a holy mission.

And they are led by a forceful and charismatic leader. 

Until, one day, there is a revolt.

A man well respected in the community decides the leader is not doing a good job.  And creates a confrontation.  And the confrontation...Read more...

Sh'lach L'cha 5778 -  “How to Go On When You Know You're Not Going On to the Promised Land” 

June 8, 2018

If you know anything about the Torah, you probably know that the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert on the way to the Promised Land.

And if you’ve spent any time around synagogues, you’ve probably heard the old joke about why they wandered for 40 years.

Because Moses, being a man, refused to ask for directions.

You can see why it’s a well-known joke.  Pretty good...Read more...

Kedoshim 5778 - “God Knows” 

April 27, 2018

On a Sunday night in February I got an urgent email. It was from a cantor in Haverill, Vera Broekhuysen asking for religious folks to show up at the ICE office in Burlington. We were needed to stand in solidarity with a man named Jacob from the Caribbean island country of St. Lucia, who was in danger of being deported after almost 20 years of living in this country.

Now Monday is my day off, so I wasn’t exactly...Read more...

Toldot 5778 - “May I Ask Who’s Calling?” 

November 17, 2017

I will never know what it’s like to be pregnant.

But I do know what it’s like to be pregnant in the Torah.

At least I know what it’s like for Rebekah to be pregnant in the Torah.

In a word, “lousy.”

This week’s Torah portion, from the book of Genesis, is called Toldot. In it, we find the story of Rebekah’s sons Jacob and Esau, the famous fraternal, and (in time) fratricidal...Read more...

Rosh Hashanah 5778 Day Two - “We do not enjoy the protection of that country any longer”

September 22, 2017

The Suffolk County jail, in South Boston, looks like a lot of the other buildings around it.  The neighborhood is a concrete and brick complex of brutal buildings, neglected parking lots, rutted roads.  Lots of warehouses. 

Except, of course, that the jail is a warehouse not for property, but people. 

You might expect the facility to house violent criminals, thieves, troublemakers. ...Read more...

Rosh Hashanah 5778 Day One - “Crying Out — Reviving God”

September 21, 2017

Excuse me.  I’d like to speak to the manager?

My husband Anthony grew up in a military family in Texas and the Bay Area.  I grew up just north of Manhattan, among New York Jews.

The difference in our upbringing, I think, is most palpable when we sit down in a restaurant.  Anthony, given the choice, is happy sit wherever.

Me?  Well — I try to be polite.

Now I know that...

Thu, October 1 2020 13 Tishrei 5781