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Weekly Thoughts of Rabbi Mordecai Finley
SEEKING THE GOOD - We, Who Are On the Road ( 01-07-2017 )



For the next several weeks, I want to devote my morning study sessions to reflections on the notable books and ideas that have brought me to where I am in my thinking. For our Torah study time, our Rabbinic Assistant Shy Blakeney will discuss the Torah portion, and then I want to offer a series of talks on Moral Theory - what are obligated to do, and why? Here are some thoughts that serve as a preface to my new morning study session

We, Who Are On the Road
-Rabbi Mordecai Finley

I knew very young tha...




Being Leonard Cohen‘s rabbi - by Rabbi Mordecai Finley ( 11-19-2016 )



Read Being Leonard Cohen‘s rabbi

by Rabbi Mordecai Finley


As Posted on Jewish Journal on Nov. 16, 2016...




Thoughts on Sukkot - Nature and Spirit ( 10-22-2016 )



I am one of those who accepts the idea of "natural religion." This belief does not mean the worship of the natural world. Scholars use the term to mean that religion grows out of human nature.

There are many people, perhaps you, who feel that life is imbued with the "numinous" - a unique spiritual quality, encountered outside of us or found within us. Sometimes just sitting alone, sometimes in conversation with family or friends: you suddenly feel that the quality of the moment has shifted, almost as if the air pressure has ...




Seeking the Good - Black Moon - Thought for the Last Shabbat of the Year ( 10-01-2016 )



Friday night is a "black moon." A black moon refers to the second time there is no moon apparent in the sky in one calendar month. "Black" means the moon is unlit; no moon apparent, but there is a moon, and its gray and speckled color does not go away.

Question: why don't we call the first time there is no moon in the sky a "black moon?" Here is some background.

Every month there is a night when no moon is apparent, after the moon wanes and before it waxes. This has happened about every 30 days for the last 4.5 bil...




Seeking the Good - Black Moon -Thought for the Last Shabbat of the Year ( 09-30-2016 )



Friday night is a "black moon." A black moon refers to the second time there is no moon apparent in the sky in one calendar month. "Black" means the moon is unlit; no moon apparent, but there is a moon, and its gray and speckled color does not go away.

Question: why don't we call the first time there is no moon in the sky a "black moon?" Here is some background.

Every month there is a night when no moon is apparent, after the moon wanes and before it waxes. This has happened about every 30 days for the last 4.5 bil...




Seeking the Good - Virtue, Wisdom and Penitence ( 09-24-2016 )



I have been teaching the idea of "virtue" mostly through the prism of "restraint". A person in my Wednesday class (every Wednesday at 12:30 PM) asked, "But isn't virtue more than restraint?"

Yes, but let me start with the idea of "restraint" and move from there.

Remember, my starting place is human suffering. There is inevitable suffering, out of our control. Disease, war, natural disasters, crime - just getting older - all create suffering that is basically beyond our immediate control.



Seeking the Good - Framing our Lives ( 09-17-2016 )



I recently counseled a family where some harsh words had been said between parents and adult children, including spouses of the adult children. The parents with whom I spoke used words such as "betrayal," "unforgivable," and "appalling". After hearing a truly sad story of people who spoke and acted in thoughtless ways, I asked them if they wanted to hear my take. They agreed. I said, "It seems you went through a very tough moment with each other. This happens in the best of families."

The parents were taken aback. Didn't I ...




Seeking the Good - Weekly Thoughts of Rabbi Mordecai Finley - Generosity of Spirit ( 09-10-2016 )



Regret can overpower joy; loss can overpower hope and trust. Anger and resentment can overpower gratitude and generosity. Despair and grief can overpower hope. Most of us know this well, especially as we go through more life.

A person younger than I am told me that the hardest part of aging is that resentment and regret pile up. For some, the wounds and mistakes seem never to stop haunting us. For some of us, the job of others seems to be to always remind us to be haunted.

Teenagers commit suicide because they think ...




Seeking the Good - Weekly Thoughts of Rabbi Mordecai Finley - THE PHILOSOPHY OF HEBREW SCRIPTURE ( 08-06-2016 )



We are wrapping up our time in Israel, and will return next week. This week, our synagogue member Curt Biren, who has a deep interest in Jewish political philosophy, will be teaching at the morning study session on the rabbinic idea of "Tikkun Olam" beyond its current use as a term for Jewish social justice. Synagogue member Sheri Manning, our own in house expert on the work of Avivah Zornberg (the greatest Torah teacher of our generation in my mind), will be leading the Torah study. Please come and enjoy their studies!

This...




"The Awful Grace of God, or, How I Spent My Summer Vacation" - Seeking the Good ( 07-31-2016 )



I feel I have to justify what comes next.

Preface: I think I wrote in one of my weekly messages some time ago that in searching for some daily diversion, I began watching episodes of Groucho Marx's "You Bet Your Life." I often looked up the background of - or what became of - some of Groucho's guests and what I found ranged from wondrous to unbearably tragic.

One of his guests was William Blatty, an aspiring writer. Blatty and his co-contestant won the princely sum of $10,000.00 on the show - allowing Blatty, to so...




Seeking the Good - Justice, Truth and Peace ( 07-16-2016 )



How the world stands, or exists, is up for debate, at least in the very influential rabbinic work called "Pirkei Avot" - usually rendered as "The Wisdom of the Sages." We traditionally study this tractate from the Talmud from Passover through the High Holy Days.

"The world stands (omed ) on three things: The Teaching (Torah), Devotion (Avodah) and Acts of Loving kindness (G'milut Hasadim)" we are taught in chapter 1:2. Every "world" (every society, every culture, every subculture) has a "Tora...




Response to the Tragedies This Week ( 07-09-2016 )



Tragedy has struck again this week. Perhaps your outrage is at the police killing of two black men, apparently unjustified. Perhaps your outrage is at the shooting of 11 police officers in Dallas, five killed - apparently premeditated murder, with hate crime intent.

Most of us are deeply troubled, saddened and outraged by both.

Most of us, as well, have our preset responses, which we discuss with family and friends. My only counsel as a clergyman is that in the public sphere (social media, etc.) we do not get into ar...




Seeking the Good - 23 June 2016 - Racialism and White Privilege in the Gun Violence Debate ( 06-25-2016 )



1.I support any measure that has a reasonable likelihood in reducing gun violence and/or the severity of gun violence; in others words, I support gun control. For example, I support background checks and denying weapons to those deemed to be a threat to themselves and/or others. I support the continued tight regulation of automatic weapons. This tight regulation, which amounts to a ban, has been in force since 1934 and tightened more in subsequent legislation. I support that high caliber ammo should be highly regulated.

2. ...




Seeking the Good - Weekly Thoughts of Rabbi Mordecai Finley- TRAGEDIES AND CULTURE WARS ( 06-18-2016 )



I am outraged and sickened, like you, by the tragedy in Orlando - the massacre of dozens and the wounding of dozens more. I am saddened, though, by the predictable script that gets played out over and over again. It seems that many people need to find a singular way to process this tragedy. Others seem to be able to see things in a more complex way. I will add my voice to the cacophony, in some ways predictable, but I hope more nuanced than some.

I see the massacre in Orlando as an unequivocal act of Islamist terrorism. Isla...




Seeking the Good - Weekly Thoughts of Rabbi Mordecai Finley - BASICS OF WISDOM WORK II ( 05-21-2016 )



Two weeks ago I wrote that practical, day to day wisdom, has a simple foundation: insight into the motivations and goals in yourself and in others, and to understand where in the process of life you are. Here I would like to give an example of acquiring that basic, practical wisdom, how one goes about discovering rational motivations and goals.

A long time ago I counseled a young man involved in his family's rather lucrative business. He was really suffering at how his dad and older brother were treating him. He complained th...




Seeking the Good - Wisdom Work I ( 05-07-2016 )



I heard this phrase many years ago: "You can just become older, or you can become an elder." Age does not bestow wisdom. Length of years gives one the opportunity for wisdom, but is not sufficient. What else is necessary for wisdom?

I think wisdom comes from many processes. The beginning of wisdom is skepticism regarding oneself - your judgments, your opinions, your beliefs and certainly your feelings and emotions. Skepticism is not the same as doubt. Skepticism, as a spiritual practice, means a principled questioning of wha...




Seeking the Good - Weekly Thoughts of Rabbi Mordecai Finley - WISDOM THERAPY 1: CREATING QUIET ( 03-05-2016 )



I have begun to call my approach to counseling "wisdom therapy". I believe we are, in many ways, healed by wisdom. Wisdom has many definitions, but let me start with a simple one: a wise person knows how things are, what the human condition is, how peoples' minds and spirits operate.

Here is an example. Parents say, "I want my kids to respect me." Ex'es say, "I want my ex to realize that I am a good person." Spouses say, "I want my spouse to appreciate me."

Wanting is one thing. Talking someone into it is quite ano...




Seeking the Good - Weekly Thoughts of Rabbi Mordecai Finley - HAMLET, OR FINDING PURPOSE IN AN EXISTENTIAL QUAGMIRE ( 01-28-2016 )



There is an old story, retold many times, of a prince who finds out that his uncle has murdered his father. It turns out that his mother, the queen, was part of the plot, and is married to the villainous uncle. The prince's father's ghost wants revenge.
Things get worse; the prince's two close friends are enlisted in a plot to murder him, the prince. He gets them killed. The prince, thinking he has found his vile uncle hiding behind a wall tapestry, stabs at the wall-hanging and kills his girlfriend's insufferably pontificating fa...




Seeking the Good - Weekly Thoughts of Rabbi Mordecai Finley BEFORE I OFFER ANY POLITICAL OPINIONS. . . ( 01-14-2016 )



As the election cycle heats up, I think people are going to ask my opinion here and there. I am writing these words with a very specific goal in mind: to set the background for any statement I might make on any political issue or candidate. Instead of explaining my starting point again and again, I can refer people (maybe you) to these words, and we can start any conversation from here.

I considered myself to be a "passionate centrist," for lack of a better term, but unfortunately, it seems to imply that I hold a center pos...




Seeking the Good - Weekly Thoughts of Rabbi Mordecai Finley GAME CHANGER IN ISRAEL ( 01-07-2016 )



My wife Meirav's family and I were sitting in a restaurant in the Tel Aviv area celebrating her father's 90th birthday when a concerned quiet fell over the room. There is always someone checking news on their smartphone, and the word was passed quickly: "Pigu'a" -- attack. In Tel Aviv. On Dizengoff - the street that represents more than any other a kind of European normalcy -cafes, boutiques, kiosks, shops and malls. The good life.

Attacks happen. They are frequent in Jerusalem, containing East Jerusalem, which contains a co...





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Seeking the Good - Weekly Thoughts of Rabbi Mordecai Finley GAME CHANGER IN ISRAEL

My wife Meirav's family and I were sitting in a restaurant in the Tel Aviv area celebrating her father's 90th birthday when a concerned quiet fell over the room. There is always someone checking news on their smartphone, and the word was passed quickly: "Pigu'a" -- attack. In Tel Aviv. On Dizengoff - the street that represents more than ...

Read more

Seeking the Good - Weekly Thoughts of Rabbi Mordecai Finley BEFORE I OFFER ANY POLITICAL OPINIONS. . .

As the election cycle heats up, I think people are going to ask my opinion here and there. I am writing these words with a very specific goal in mind: to set the background for any statement I might make on any political issue or candidate. Instead of explaining my starting point again and again, I can refer people (maybe you) to these wo...

Read more

Seeking the Good - Weekly Thoughts of Rabbi Mordecai Finley - HAMLET, OR FINDING PURPOSE IN AN EXISTENTIAL QUAGMIRE

There is an old story, retold many times, of a prince who finds out that his uncle has murdered his father. It turns out that his mother, the queen, was part of the plot, and is married to the villainous uncle. The prince's father's ghost wants revenge.
Things get worse; the prince's two close friends are enlisted in a plot to murder ...

Read more

Seeking the Good - Weekly Thoughts of Rabbi Mordecai Finley - WISDOM THERAPY 1: CREATING QUIET

I have begun to call my approach to counseling "wisdom therapy". I believe we are, in many ways, healed by wisdom. Wisdom has many definitions, but let me start with a simple one: a wise person knows how things are, what the human condition is, how peoples' minds and spirits operate.

Here is an example. Parents say, "I want my k...

Read more