Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Nervous Laughter

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband so old?” Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?’  Is anything too wondrous for the LORD? I will return to you at the same season next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”  Sarah lied, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was frightened. But He replied, “You did laugh.” (Genesis 18:12-15)

Sometimes people tell me jokes that aren't funny and I laugh. Sometimes people tell me jokes that are inappropriate and I laugh.  Professor Robert Provine of Department of Psychology, University of Maryland explains that this happens 80%-90% of the time.  My kids remind me that people are often just being polite.  But this becomes a problem because it sends the wrong message.  

Much has been written about the laughter of Abraham and Sarah in this week's reading.  We learn that sometimes we laugh at each other; sometimes we laugh at ourselves; and sometimes we laugh with each other.  It is often difficult to know which is which. The difference between laughing at someone or with someone often depends on whether or not they are laughing.

We are complicated beings with diverse coping and defense mechanisms.  Laughing when we might be horrified or when we might want to cry is only an indication that we are complex beings.  Let's be careful with each other. 


Gratitude Precedes Forgiveness

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

It is time to start healing, mending and fixing.  For the past months we have been the "United, Divided States of America."

We live in an amazing country, with freedoms and rights, with prosperity and benefits.  It is true that so many have so little in our country and we must continue to work towards greater social, educational and economic equality.  However, we must also acknowledge the awesome privilege it is live here on these shores.  Just speak with someone like Moises and Uman, who were with us this past shabbos and are recent émigrés from Iran, and you begin to really understand the opportunities we are afforded simply by living here.  

We have so much for which to be thankful.  It seems more than coincidental that a few weeks after the election we have a chance to come together. On Tuesday evening November 22, at 7:30pm the community of the Rivertowns will come together for a Interfaith Thanksgiving service.  This year we host this gathering at Greenburgh Hebrew Center and this year it even more important that we come together.  Religion must bring people together, raising us all to comprehend our greater humanity.


I ask you to put this brief gathering on your calendar, attend and make the statement that there is more that unites us than divides us. 



Necessary but not Sufficient

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Thursday, November 3, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

The Seven Noahide Laws, meant for the now-Jewish world, as traditionally enumerated are:

  1. Do not deny God.
  2. Do not blaspheme God.
  3. Do not murder.
  4. Do not engage in illicit sexual relations.
  5. Do not steal.
  6. Do not eat from a live animal.
  7. Establish courts/legal system to ensure obedience to the law.


When I was in elementary and high  school, I would rush home and do my homework as fast as I could in order to get it out of the way so I could get on with more important things, like sports and t.v. This approach meant that I regularly got barely a passing grade and sometimes not even that.  It also had the profound effect of leaving me unprepared for tests and class participation. The same is true for living within a moral framework.  When we do the minimum required we are often left unprepared for what lies ahead.


For many, the Noahide Laws listed above, are all that is necessary for moral living.  As the story of the flood unfolds, we recognize that it is a story for all humanity, not specific to the Jewish people.  According to the story mankind is evil, God destroys the world; saves Noah; and together they start over.  From this, the rabbis of the Talmud tell us there is a minimum standard of behavior for all.  These are the Noahide Laws.  While we know these laws are necessary, they are not sufficient.

If we want to cultivate a full, meaningful and powerful life we must do more.