Rabbis' Sermons

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April 12, 2014
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Shabbat HaGadol If the wicked child were sitting at the Global Planning Table of the Jewish People rather than at the Seder table, the response he would receive would be of a decidedly different and far more embracing nature. “What does this service mean to you?” the chutzpah-filled child asks. “To you and not to him...
March 22, 2014
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Sh’mini/Shabbat Parah It was this Sabbath, Shabbat Parah of 1922, that American Jewish history and arguably all of Jewish history changed forever, and in my opinion, for the better. Less than a mile away from here – on 86th and Central Park West, at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, twelve-year-old Judith Kaplan, the...
March 01, 2014
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat P’kudei Goldstein was pulled over by the police one night around two in the morning. After checking over his ID and noting his advanced age, the policeman asked Goldstein exactly where he was headed at that time of night. Goldstein replied, “I am on my way to a lecture about the abuses of alcohol, its toxic impact on the human...
February 22, 2014
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Va-yak•hel In a commencement speech to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College, the late David Foster Wallace began his remarks with the following parable: Two young fish were swimming along and happened upon an older fish swimming in the opposite direction. The older fish nodded at them saying, “Morning boys, how’s...
February 08, 2014
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat T’tzavveh No matter how humble Moses may have been, I have to believe that the opening verses of this week’s Torah reading hit him like a ton of bricks. “And you shall bring forward your brother Aaron, with his sons, from among the Israelites to serve Me as priests: Aaron, Nadav and Abihu, Eleazar and Itamar, the sons of...
February 01, 2014
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Terumah The most thought provoking, most depressing – and for this room, most relevant – data to emerge from the recent studies of New York and American Jewry concerns the decline of synagogue life. According to the Pew Study, 31 percent of Jewish respondents claimed to belong to a synagogue. Ten years ago the percentage of...
January 18, 2014
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Yitro It is not often that the line at the salad bar launches a sermon – but for the purposes of this morning I need to set the scene. It was just about two weeks ago that I was standing in line at the salad bar in an all-inclusive holiday resort in the Dominican Republic when a bathing suit clad man in front of me bellowed at his...
January 11, 2014
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat B’shallah Generations from now, when the history of American Jewry is produced – please God even as new chapters are still being written – there will be a footnote, if not an entire chapter, on Adam Sandler. One cold December night some twenty years ago, in the midst of an otherwise forgettable Saturday Night Live...
December 21, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Sh’mot Down the rabbit hole I fell this past Monday, faster and further than I had ever imagined possible. I had been invited to present a paper at the AJS conference in Boston, the annual gathering of the Association of Jewish Studies, comprised of Jewish studies academics from around the world. I wasn’t due to speak until...
December 14, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Va-y’hi Jews don’t believe in the Christian concept of original sin, but if we did, our tainted condition would result from a sin that occurred towards the end of the book of Genesis, not the beginning. “Because they sold a tzaddik (a righteous person) for silver,” explains the book of Amos (2:6), God’s...
December 07, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Va-yiggash The most interesting thing about the blessing one must recite upon seeing a king or secular head of state, is that such a blessing exists at all. Barukh she-natan mik’vodo livriotav. Blessed who has given of His glory to human beings.(Berachot 58a) I recited the blessing for the first time in my life this past Thursday...
November 16, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Vayishlah In my entrance exam for rabbinical school, I was asked to recite the Talmudic debate on the proper sequence of family and career. As formulated by the gendered language of the Talmud: “What should a man do first, get married or study Torah?” Not surprisingly, the Rabbis disagreed. Some rabbis argued that a person...
November 05, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Parashat Tol’dot Considering that I am just under one month shy of my oldest daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, it may strike you (as it does me) as a bit presumptuous for me to deliver a sermon about parenting. The returns, as they say, are not yet in. Proud as I am of each of my children, caution, common sense and a bit of humility would...
October 19, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Va-yera Had the Pew Research Center analyzed the condition of the Jewish community of this week’s parashah, their assessment would undoubtedly have been altogether gloomy, if not downright bleak. Relative to the general population, the Jewish community as represented by Abraham and Sarah suffered a desperately low fertility rate. It...
October 05, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Parashat Noah The most remarkable, most provocative and most self-evident premise of Biblical theology is the assertion that God cares at all about human beings. Mah enosh, “What is man, that you should take note of him?” The pointed question of the Psalmist goes to the heart of the matter: The humbling realization that relative...
September 28, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Parashat B’reishit Had Adam and Eve the presence of mind to invoke their Miranda rights in the Garden of Eden, the history of biblical religion, if not all of Western Civilization, might have turned out very differently. Scarcely had they wiped the fruit off their lips, having just positioned their fig leaves in strategic locations,...
September 26, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Shemini Atzeret, Yizkor More so than any other Jewish holiday, the meaning of today’s festival of Shemini Atzeret is as enigmatic as it is elusive. “For seven days,” commands Leviticus, you shall bring an offering unto God. But on the eighth day, it shall be a holy convocation for you, a day of atzeret,” a day of...
September 16, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Yom Kippur Of all the dark and despairing hours of the Yom Kippur War, rock bottom arrived on day three – Tuesday, October 8, 1973. According to later recollections, it was those twenty-four hours that would be remembered as “a critical, almost hopeless … struggle for physical survival.” (Rabinovich, The Yom Kippur War, p...
September 05, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Rosh Hashanah 5774 Franz Rosenzweig’s decision to attend Rosh Hashanah services exactly one hundred years ago today, oddly, came down to a procedural matter. The only son of a wealthy industrialist, Rosenzweig belonged to a generation of German Jewry fully integrated into the social, cultural and material opportunities of the time. His...
September 04, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Erev Rosh Hashanah Goldstein, after much delay and against his better judgment, finally gave in and agreed to go on a camping trip with his dear friend Cohen. At the end of the first day, exhausted, they set up camp, ready for a night under the stars. At that very moment, they hear a growl coming from the woods, the leaves rustle, and not more...
June 08, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Korah On Wednesday of this week, Cantor Schwartz and I were honored to officiate at the funeral service for Senator Frank Lautenberg, of blessed memory. Given his years of tireless service on behalf of our country, I know I speak for our entire lay and professional leadership in saying that Park Avenue Synagogue is grateful to have...
June 01, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Sh’lah L’kha Not too long ago, I found myself at the front of a funeral procession, sitting in the passenger seat at the side of the hearse driver, on my way to officiate graveside for a long-time congregant. Like a doctor on call, a rabbi can have the day turned upside down at any moment due to a pastoral emergency or in...
May 18, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Naso Every medical student, I am told, is assigned at some point to read the article referred to as “The Hateful Patient.” Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. James E. Groves describes four different kinds of “hateful patients” that a doctor may encounter over the course of his or her career or more...
May 11, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat B’midbar, pre-Shavuot You may be familiar with one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, “The Bedroom.” I remember as a college student putting it up on my dorm room wall with adhesive poster putty, a momentary expression of my individuality – until I discovered that pretty much everyone else on my hall had...
May 04, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat B’har/B’hukkotai/Yom Yerushalayim The sweetest and perhaps most famous legend told about Jerusalem is the tale of how King Solomon chose the spot to build the Temple. Once upon a time, there lived a farmer who, upon his death, left his farm to his two sons. These two brothers lived on either side of a hill. One brother was...
April 27, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Emor, Pesah Sheni  Three weeks ago, I had the chance to revisit one of the great “could have–would have–should-haves” of my life, a regret that I have carried with me ever since college. My years at University of Michigan overlapped with the Fab Five – the most promising starting line-up that...
April 06, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Sh’mini/Yom HaShoah When you leave the synagogue today, pause to look at the bronze relief on the front façade of the building above the Madison Avenue entrance. At the center of the Nathan Rapoport sculpture is Janus Korczak; surrounding him are children gripping his arms and legs, each one with a look of terror on his or...
April 02, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
8th Day of Pesah - Yizkor Strangely, the lens of history can at one and the same time serve both to clarify and to blur our understanding of the past. The clarifying part is easy enough to understand. Historians have the task of piecing together the events of the past. For incidents small and large, individuals of great and modest distinction, we...
March 26, 2013
Dew
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Passover First Day Nine times out of ten, there is a direct correlation between cantorial bravura and theological stakes on the table. The liturgical highlights of the synagogue year, when the vocal talents of our cantor are showcased, when we retrieve the finest arrangements of composers past or debut new ones – at these moments,...
March 16, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Va-yikra, Pre-Passover Before you take your first bite of matzah next week, ask yourself the following question: What is the matzah meant to symbolize? I know, I know, you think you know, every school age kid knows: the children of Israel left Egypt in a hurry, with Pharaoh in hot pursuit and there was no time for the dough to rise. What does...
March 02, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Ki Tissa Yesh koneh olamo b’sha’ah ehat, “There are those,” explains the Talmud, “who acquire eternity in a single hour.” (Avodah Zarah 17a). For Pope Benedict XVI, now Pope Emeritus, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, that hour occurred on April 19, 2005. The College of Cardinals gathered to hear him...
February 23, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat T’tzavveh/Shabbat Zakhor/Erev Purim Generally speaking, the festival of Purim is not meant to be the starting point for delicate discussions concerning Jewish practice and identity. It is a joyous holiday, celebrating Esther and Mordechai’s courage in the face of Haman’s wickedness. This evening, there will be a Purim...
February 16, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat T'rumah I do not know if Rabbi David Hartman ever spoke at Park Avenue Synagogue, but I do know that his Torah is taught here every day. Rabbi Hartman passed away at the age of 81 on Sunday in Jerusalem, following a long illness. By any metric – his scholarship, the institutions he shaped, the disciples he inspired – Rabbi...
February 09, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Mishpatim/Shabbat Shekalim ~ UJA Shabbat It is not difficult, not difficult at all, to identify the low point of my mission to Ethiopia last week. We arrived in Addis Ababa on Monday and took a commuter plane to Gondar, the regional airport closest to where the historic – and now last – remnant of the Ethiopian...
January 19, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Bo Only a person tone deaf to history could fail to appreciate the remarkable calendrical convergence taking place in our country this weekend. Barack Obama, our nation’s first African American president, will take the oath of office publicly on Monday, on the national holiday honoring this country’s champion of civil rights...
January 12, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Va-era If you want to understand Jewish theology, Jewish ethics and perhaps Judaism as a whole, a good place to start is Genesis, Chapter 1, Verse 27. “And God created Adam in the divine image, in the divine image God created them.” This verse is a bold statement not just about Adam, but about every human being, that our...
January 05, 2013
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Sh'mot In this season of college admissions, I found myself speaking the other day with a congregational parent about the two very different worlds of campus life that I have experienced. I did my undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, a classic college town if there ever was one. Big Ten Football, lecture halls of hundreds...
December 22, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Parashat Va-yiggash In the annals of our people’s history, there are few figures considered so wicked, so worthy of our contempt as Titus. As military general under Vespasian and then in his brief reign as Roman Emperor, he was responsible for the siege and sacking of our holy city of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Second Temple in...
December 08, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Va-yeishev Given the multiple “New Years” observed by Jews throughout the year – Rosh Hashanah, Tu BiShvat (the Jewish Arbor Day), the first of Nissan – it is not surprising that another such Jewish New Year, Yud Tet b'Kislev (the 19th of Kislev) came and went last Monday, December 3, without much fanfare. To be...
November 10, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Hayyei Sarah If you really want to appreciate the kind of person Rebecca was, then you need to know two very important things about the Near East. First, a thirsty camel will, on average, drink up to one hundred liters per watering session. Second, according to my research on dromedaries and other fun facts of the ancient world, a...
October 27, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Lekh L’kha Pop Quiz: what is the very first sentence spoken by a man to a woman in the entire Hebrew Bible? Give it some thought From the Garden of Eden to Noah and the flood, all the way through Genesis … when was and what was the first line of dialogue on record shared between a man and a woman? The answer is not Adam and...
October 14, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat B'reishit According to the armchair economist Steven Landsburg, there are two great mysteries of the universe. The first, not surprisingly, is “Why is there something instead of nothing?” Why do we – why does anything – exist at all? The second question is slightly less expected and though it seems trivial at...
October 08, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Sh’mini Atzeret/Yizkor 5773/2012 There exists in each of us a certain character trait, as understandable and pervasive as it is problematic, that inclines us to believe that things in this world “just happen.” We have a tendency to go about our business, seeing our laundry folded, the dishwasher emptied and dinner cooked and not...
October 06, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Sukkot 5773/2012 “Baseball,” said the late great baseball player and manager Leo Durocher, “is like church. Many attend, few understand.” I think what he meant was, whether we root for the Mets or Yankees, Cubs or Marlins, it is in the friendly confines of a baseball stadium, as much as in a house of...
September 29, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Ha’azinu 5773/2012 Next month, Americans will take note of what is probably the most significant thing that never happened in our country’s history. At the time, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 brought the world to the very brink of Armageddon. Kennedy and Khrushchev stood “eyeball to eyeball” with the...
September 26, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Yom Kippur 5773 This year, many children, my own included, will be reading The Diary of Anne Frank – seventy years since her first diary entry in 1942, sixty years since the diary first appeared in English. Not everyone has read it, and for many of us who have, we have not done so for years, but I suspect most of us are well familiar with...
September 17, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Rosh Hashanah 5773/2012 Six long years the two of them worked closely together. She, the daughter of one of Baltimore’s great rabbis; he, the up-and-coming crown prince of Solomon Schechter’s recast faculty at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She had moved to 123rd Street with her mother following the death of her father, her...
September 16, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Erev Rosh Hashanah 5773/2012 Secured in the lower level of the famed Shrine of the Book at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum sits the Aleppo Codex. You may have read about it this summer in the paper, and there is a new book about it by the journalist Matti Friedman. Some call it the Aleppo Codex, some call it the Crown of Aleppo; this evening we...
September 15, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Nitzavim It is tempting, I know, to draw parallels between 1938 and 2012. My inbox is filled with emails about appeasement, about Neville Chamberlain’s haunting 1938 proclamation of having secured peace in our time. We see a leader on the world stage who has repeatedly declared genocidal intent against our people and has an ambition...
September 08, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Ki Tavo Last week, the Cosgrove family took its annual road trip – this year from Ohio to Indiana to Michigan to New York, through central Pennsylvania. It was a great trip. We visited old friends, saw Niagara Falls, saw where Daddy went to college and experienced slices of America that my children could never have imagined. My...
June 16, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Sh’lah L’kha Not too long ago, a friend of mine shared with me the difference between a psychotic and a neurotic. A psychotic, he explained, believes that 2+2 = 5. A neurotic, on the other hand, knows that 2+2 = 4, but he worries about it all the time. I kept thinking about his quip last week as I absorbed the newly-...
June 09, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat B’haalot’kha This morning, I want to talk to you about a program called Birthright Israel – a ten-day free trip to Israel for young Jews between the ages 18 and 26. I just returned from traveling for a few days with a Birthright bus that included many participants who grew up at Park Avenue Synagogue, and for which much...
June 02, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Naso As I begin my fifth year at Park Avenue Synagogue, I have had many opportunities to reflect on what it means to stand on the cusp of a generational shift in American Jewry. One hundred and thirty years of congregational history, generations of families, the stature of our past rabbis, the stature of our congregants – if there...
May 19, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Parashat B'har/B'hukkotai From the Garden of Eden and onward, humanity has been confronted with the delicate balance of personal freedom and its limitations. “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and master it.” (Gen 1:28) Our very first command is a libertarian’s dream, as Jefferson noted, “The God who gave us...
May 12, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Emor/Lag BaOmer This past Thursday, on Lag BaOmer, 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims gathered in the northern Israeli town of Meron for a memorial celebration , a Yom Hilula, at the grave of the mystic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. A student of the great Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai emerged...
May 05, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Aharei Mot/K’doshim Whether in reference to Yonatan, the fallen hero of the raid on Entebbe, or Bibi, the present Prime Minister of Israel, the Netanyahu name has long evoked an image that is both gutsy and altogether original. But even before the sons, it was their father, Benzion, who with his path-breaking work first bestowed the...
April 14, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
8th Day Pesah, Yizkor When it comes to counting the Omer, the days between the second night of Pesah and Shavuot, as many of you may know, I count the days according to different professional athletes and their jersey numbers. Two days ago, day 5: Albert Pujols. Yesterday, day 6: Bill Russell, Lebron James or if you like, Dr. J. Today: Day 7,...
March 31, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Shabbat HaGadol When the historian Peter Novick died last month, he bequeathed to the Jewish community a set of questions that will extend well beyond his years on this earth. In my years at the University of Chicago, I never studied formally with Dr. Novick, though I can clearly recall the controversy surrounding his 1999 book, The...
March 24, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Va-yikra 2012 marks the one hundred year anniversary of the publication of one the most important volumes in the study of religion – Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. One can rarely say that a single book defines a discipline, but in this case there is consensus that the entire field of religious studies...
March 10, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Ki Tissa  This past week, along with over 13,000 other pro-Israel delegates, I attended the AIPAC policy conference. I have been going since my junior year of college when I led a delegation of fellow students. If you have never been, then you should know that it is, hands down, the largest Kiddush you will ever see. Thousands of...
March 03, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat T'rumah When it comes to an appreciation of culture, my tastes tend to be more “Big Ten” than “Ivy League.” I will not knowingly go to a movie with subtitles. I like my food to come in a bun. I have never attended the opera without falling asleep, and only under pressure could I tell you the difference between...
February 11, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Yitro There is one family relationship so prickly, that I can only discuss it openly while my wife and children are away spending the weekend with my father-in-law, namely, the relationship between a man… and his father-in-law – that delicate and raw and charged relationship you have with the man who, prior to your arrival on...
January 14, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Sh'mot Last Saturday night, like the spies sent by Moses, I boarded a plane to scout out the land of Israel. I have been to Israel more times than I can count and I have lived there on and off during my life. I have been there with our congregation three times in the past two years and I was actually there just two weeks ago to visit my...
January 07, 2012
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Va-y’hi If you have ever flown El Al to Israel, as I did last week and will do again this evening, then you are familiar with its marketing motto, “It’s not just an airline, it’s Israel.” As the six Cosgroves piled into our seats, I reflected on the motto, “How very true – truer I bet than their...
December 17, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Parashat Va-yeishev Two weeks have passed since a series of videos produced by the Israeli Ministry of Absorption caused American Jewry to collectively bristle at the suggestion that Jewish life in America is so thin that the children of Israeli ex-pats living in America will, if they stay in America, assimilate into the melting pot of...
December 03, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Va-yetzei From a historical perspective, there is nothing terribly surprising about the ethical failings we read about every day in the paper. Insider trading, phone hacking, influence peddling, steroids in sports, high school cheating scandals. We are momentarily aghast when we first hear these stories, but then, into the vacuum of our...
November 26, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Tol’dot To sit down at a large family Thanksgiving dinner is to experience the pleasures and pressures of family dynamics…on steroids. All of our familial idiosyncrasies, fissures, and history are brought together around a single table for an exclusive one night engagement. Everyone’s behavior becomes the subject of...
October 22, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat B’reishit For reasons that are too strange to get into, I had the odd pleasure this past week of eating lunch with one of the nation’s most prominent statisticians from the University of Chicago. Over the course of the meal, he shared with me the results of a study he conducted early in his career on risk management education...
October 15, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Shabbat hol ha-moed Sukkot 5772 Before Oscar Handlin, there was one dominant narrative of American self-understanding – the frontier experience. From the Colonial “errand into the wilderness” to Daniel Boone’s trip west, to Lewis and Clark’s explorations, to Huck and Jim on the Mississippi, to Jack Kerouac’s On...
October 08, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Yom Kippur 5772 This past year, I had the opportunity to visit the Menachem Begin Museum in Jerusalem. In learning of Begin’s legacy, I was fascinated to discover that when asked to identify his greatest achievement, Begin did not mention the signing of the Camp David Peace Accords, the bombing of the Osirak-Iraqi nuclear reactor, his...
October 03, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Shabbat Shuvah/ParashatHa’azinu Next time you are on Lexington Avenue, I want you to stop to appreciate the beautiful church that sits between 75th and 76th – the church of St. Jean Baptiste. Over the past few years I have attended a variety of interfaith meetings there, not to mention dropping my children off at the Broadway...
September 29, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Rosh Hashanah 5772 Precisely 70 years ago, on September 29 and 30, 1941, the single most horrific and infamous mass killing of the Holocaust occurred at Babi Yar. It is an altogether sobering thought that during these hours that we gather in our holiday finest, seventy years ago, nearly 34,000 of our people were gathered together in a ravine...
September 28, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Erev Rosh Hashanah 5772 As we greet the New Year, I want to welcome each and every one of you. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of health and happiness. For me, this Rosh Hashanah is especially sweet as for the very first time, I get to welcome both my parents and my in-laws to celebrate Rosh Hashanah together. Mom, Dad...
September 24, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
 Parashat Nitzavim/Va-yeilekh In terms of Biblical prooftexts for supporting Israel, some of the most famous are found in today’s Torah and haftarah reading. L’ma’an tziyon lo eheshe, u-l’ma’an yerushalayim lo eshkot, “For the sake of Zion I will not be silent, for the sake of Jerusalem, I will not be...
September 10, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Ki Tetzei 9/11 has bequeathed to us a huge range of responses, as numerous and varied as we, the diverse humanity living in the wake of the tragedy. For many, perhaps many in this room, the loss, the grief, the mourning continues. This week, I spoke to one member of our community who lost her husband in the towers. Words still fail her,...
June 09, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Shavuot – Yizkor It makes sense that of the 613 commandments, we would be inclined to pay special attention to the first one and the last one. The great twelfth-century sage Moses Maimonides, in his sefer ha-mitzvot, tallied up all the commandments derived from the five books of the Torah. The first mitzvah – first according to...
June 04, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Naso Thirty years ago, a teacher of mine, Ed Greenstein of Tel Aviv University, suggested a fascinating theory regarding the biblical figure of Samson. Destined in utero for greatness as Israel’s savior, Samson would grow up to be an irresponsible and uncontrollable Hebraic Rob Roy. Unlike the other Judges of Israel, Samson never...
May 21, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat B’hukkotai According to the Jewish calendar we are in the midst of the sefirah, which means “counting,” specifically the days between Passover and Shavuot. If you are unfamiliar with the observance, also called “counting the omer,” the mitzvah involves nothing more and nothing less than counting each day...
May 07, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Emor For Israelis, and perhaps the Jewish community at large, the most significant obituary issued this past week may not be the one that you are thinking of. While the world was waking up to the news from Pakistan, my dear colleague, Rabbi Zuckerman, had slipped the obituary of Judge Moshe Landau under my office door. Moshe Landau, the...
April 30, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat K’doshim Over the past decades, our public discourse has provided a catalog of pithy rhetoric, phrases that in a few words capture much broader cultural conversations. “Read my lips, no new taxes,” said George Bush the father in 1988. “Can we all get along?” asked Rodney King in the LA race riots of 1992....
April 19, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Passover 5771 To the degree that I understand Nietzsche at all, I am pretty sure he wrote something very interesting about the long term effects of slavery. He coined a term in French – ressentiment – that to the best of what I can tell is closely related to what you or I would call resentment. He used the term in his book On the...
March 26, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Shemini/Shabbat Parah I have a friend, who, for the purposes of discussion, we shall call David. David is the son of a Holocaust survivor; he grew up Orthodox, and is a fiercely proud Jew. Passover Seders with David are always fun – he knows every word by heart, can sing every song in Hebrew, and is always off-key. To say that David...
March 12, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat Va-yikra Bess Myerson was born with two attributes for which she could take no credit: her Jewish name – at the time, a liability; and her good looks – an ongoing blessing. Myerson was the first, and to date, the only, Jewish Miss America, and historians understand her winning the title in 1945 as a watershed moment for many...
February 26, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Va-yak·hel Abraham Isaac Kook (1865 – 1935) was one of the most influential rabbinic personalities of the Twentieth century. He was the Rabbi of Jaffa in 1904, then became the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, and eventually, the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine. With the offices he held, his voice in...
February 12, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat T’tzavveh This past week, February 9 to be exact, marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Confederate States of America, with Jefferson Davis, a former US Army officer, sworn in as president. One month later, Abraham Lincoln became the 16th president of the United States of America. A month after that, with shots fired...
February 05, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Parashat T’rumah There is a famous scene in Moliere’s play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, shared between the main character, Monsieur Jourdain, and a professor of philosophy. Jourdain, though he grew up in a middle class background, has become wealthy owing to his father’s success as a merchant. Newly rich, Jourdain aspires to travel...
January 15, 2011
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Beshallah — Shabbat Shirah In her Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved, Toni Morrison describes how the protagonist, “Baby Suggs,” would, on occasion, take her company of slaves to an open area some distance away from the white-knuckle grip of their slave masters. “Those white things have taken all I had or dreamed,”...
December 04, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Shabbat Hanukkah, Parashat Mi-ketz In 1903, Chaim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934), the poet laureate of Modern Hebrew, was sent by the Jewish Historical Commission in Odessa to interview survivors of the Kishinev Pogrom. With dozens of Jews murdered, hundreds wounded, and countless Jewish homes looted and destroyed in anti-semitic riots, Bialik was...
November 27, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Va-yeishev If there is one song that embodies the festival of Thanksgiving, it is Lydia Maria Child’s “Over the River and Through the Wood.” “Over the river, and through the wood, to Grandfather’s (or Grandmother’s) house we go, [Journeying through] the white and drifted snow…Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day...
November 14, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Va-yetzei 2010 If you read chapter one of Genesis carefully, or for that matter, any of the chapters that follow, then you can not help but realize that the Divine deed of significance is not so much the act of creation, as the act of separation. In the beginning, the universe was unformed and void. From it, God separated the heavens from the...
October 31, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Hayei Sarah My teacher in rabbinical school, Rabbi Eddie Feinstein of Temple Valley Beth Sholom in Los Angeles, taught me the most important lesson I ever learned about giving a sermon. No matter what you say, no matter what the topic, every sermon should be able to be summarized in a single sentence. Dress it up all you want, doll up the message...
October 17, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Lekh L’kha 5771 You may have heard of the passing last week of one of the titans of New York real estate and philanthropic life, Robert Tishman. As president and chief executive of one of the county’s largest builders of office buildings, Mr. Tishman fashioned not only the New York skyline, but also the skylines of Chicago, Los Angeles...
October 01, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Shemini Atzeret, Yizkor, 5772 In the coming week, when we hear the opening chapters of the book of Genesis, you should know that the most significant part of the story is not what happened, but what did not happen. We know the story well, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, invited to enjoy all the delights of the Garden – with one and only...
September 26, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Shabbat Hol Ha-moed Sukkot 5771 This evening marks the 200th Yahrzeit of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav – the man whom Martin Buber called the last Jewish Mystic. Great-grandson to the saintly founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman communicated his mystical wisdom to his disciples by means of symbolic tales. You may recall that...
September 19, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Who is the most tragic figure of the entire Hebrew Bible? My teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Professor Yochanan Muffs, would start each semester with this question, and since his passing last December, I can still imagine him waiting for a response. First as his student and then as his teaching assistant, every year I would listen to...
September 09, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Rosh Hashanah 5771 / 2010 A century ago, Israel Zangwill’s play The Melting Pot was the talk of the town. The play was a contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The Jewish protagonist, David, immigrates to America from Russia in the wake of the Kishinev Pogroms. He falls in love with a fellow Russian, Vera, who is...
September 09, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Some of you may recall Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray from your high school reading list. Set in Victorian England, the story begins with young Dorian, a cultured, beautiful and vain man sitting for a portrait. At first enamored with his portrait, he soon comes to hate it, realizing that as he ages the picture of his youth...
June 12, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Korah 5770 Coach John Wooden passed away in Los Angeles last Friday night, June 4, at the age of 99. Having grown up in the backyard of UCLA, I lived very much in the shadow of this towering college basketball coach affectionately called the “Wizard of Westwood.” His ten NCAA Championships at UCLA in a 12-year period stand as an...
May 29, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Beha’alotkha 5770 Vay’hi binsoa ha-aron, va-yomer Moshe, When the Ark was carried forward, Moses would declare: “Kuma Adonai, v’yafutzu oyvekha, v’yanusu m’sanekha mi-panekha, Arise Lord, may your enemies be scattered, may your foes be put to flight.” These words, found in our parasha, Beha’alotkha,...
May 20, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Shavuot 5770, Second Day I want to tell you a story about something wonderful that happened to me this past week, very possibly the nicest thing that has happened to me in a long time. It’s a true story, a story-inside-a-story that will require a bit of patience on your part, but I promise it will be well worth it. It will hopefully inspire...
May 15, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
B’midbar 5770 If every single Jewish studies professor, from every campus across North America, were to get on an airplane that took off, flew away, and never came back again, would Jewish life change at all? Our synagogues, our Hebrew Schools, our Jewish summer camps, our UJA’s, our relationship with Israel – if there were no...
May 08, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
B’har/B’hukkotai 5770 Kol ha-olam kulo gesher tzar m’od v’ha-ikkar lo l’fahed klal. “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the essential thing is not to fear at all.” These words, adapted from the writings of the great Hassidic master Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav, are as enigmatic as they are famous....
May 01, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Emor 5770 It may come to you as a surprise to hear that this past week you missed a Jewish holiday. Not just any festival, not some newfangled new age observance begun in the past few years or even centuries, but as Judaism goes, as ancient as ancient gets – all the way back to the time of Moses and the Torah. Last Wednesday, April 28th,...
April 24, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Aharei Mot/Kedoshim 5770 Tomorrow afternoon, t-ball, soccer practice, and other parenting responsibilities permitting, I hope to stop by a one-day conference being hosted at Central Synagogue. I encourage you to attend. If you’re interested, speak to Cantor Elana Rozenfeld, who will be going with a group of our congregants. The conference is...
April 06, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Passover 5770, Eighth Day In every generation, at every Passover seder, we return to the iconic passage of the four children. Four children: wise, wicked, simple, and the one who does not know how to ask. In every reading, we know that these children represent far more than first appears, and have been interpreted differently throughout the ages....
March 30, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Passover 5770, First Day Style… ain’t nothing but keeping the same idea from beginning to end.” So said the great Pulitzer Prize-winning Pittsburgh playwright August Wilson. It is within our capacity to see and sustain a thought, from its origins into unseen future horizons; that is the measure of who we are. If this is the...
March 22, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Sunday, March 21, 2010 If it were the case that Rabbi Milton Steinberg, z’’l, had only led this congregation from 1933 until his untimely death in 1950, building it from a sleepy Depression-era congregation to a beacon of intellectual, social, and religious activity in American life – that would have been enough. We would, as...
March 20, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Va-yikra 5770 It is my distinct honor and privilege to offer a sermon in memory of Rabbi Milton Steinberg on the occasion of his 60th Yahrzeit. On behalf of the entire congregation, I want to welcome Rabbi Steinberg’s sons, Dr. David Steinberg and Dr. Jonathan Steinberg, and their family and friends who have gathered from near and far. We...
March 13, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Va-yak•hel/P’kudei 5770 Over the past few months, there has been much ado in the press about something called the DSM-V. DSM, short for “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” is also known as “The Psychiatrist’s Bible.” Every decade or so (we are now on the DSM-V), the American Psychiatric...
February 20, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
T’rumah 5770 When our community gathers next Saturday night for the festival of Purim and the reading of the Scroll of Esther, many of us may feel that we are being offered two objectionable depictions of femininity. The first of the two problematic options appears in the very first chapter: Vashti, queen to the Persian King Achashverosh,...
February 06, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Right beneath your nose, but just above your upper lip, sits something called the philtrum. The origins and purpose of that small indentation are, for most of us, a mystery. And while I hope none of us spend much time thinking about our philtrums (or, to be more precise: philtra), you may be interested to learn the rabbinic etiology of the...
February 06, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Yitro 5770 Right beneath your nose, just above your upper lip, is something called the philtrum. The origins and purpose of that small indentation are, for most of us, a mystery. And while I hope none of us spend much time thinking about our philtrums (or to be more precise, philtra), you may be interested to learn the rabbinic etiology of the...
January 30, 2010
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
B’shallah 5770 President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s January 1941 State of the Union address bequeathed to us perhaps the most substantial ideological statement of the Second World War, if not of American rhetoric as a whole. He spoke of the “Four Freedoms,” the four essential ingredients of a good society and strong moral...
December 12, 2009
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Va-yeishev 5770 Some time ago, I had the pleasure of being escorted to shul by my daughter. There is no greater pleasure in my life than to walk to synagogue with one of my kids. As we walked hand-in-hand, I was struck by the power of our time together and the memories it evoked. I turned to her and said, “You know what, here we are walking...
December 05, 2009
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Va-yishlah 5770 What is the difference between a war of necessity and a war of choice? Judaism is not a pacifist tradition; it has always acknowledged that war, however tragic, is at times inevitable and necessary. “There is a time for loving and a time for hating, a time for war and a time for peace,” teaches Ecclesiastes. Peace is...
November 28, 2009
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Va-yetzei 5770 Of the 52 Shabbatot of the Jewish year, Shabbat Thanksgiving may not rank at the very top of the hierarchy. Many people are away, and those of us who are here feel the lingering side effects of the last two days of food… and relatives. Certainly, when compared to Shabbat Shuvah, between Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, or...
November 21, 2009
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Toldot 5770 I would hope that when asked for help by a brother in need, each of us in this room would respond better than our patriarch Jacob did. The scene is one we know well: Esau comes home, famished from a hunt. He is faint and believes himself to be near death; he begs his brother for a bowl of lentil soup. Unconscionably, Jacob responds by...
October 24, 2009
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Noah 5770 Dating has become a bit more complex since the days of Noah’s Ark. Two-by-two they entered, male and female: the birds, the cattle, the creeping things – two of each to stay alive. While none of us would wish the circumstances of our parasha to be repeated, in retrospect, the numbers certainly took the guesswork out of...
October 03, 2009
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Sukkot 5770 Embedded deep within the foundation of Judaism exists a tension – an anxiety wrought by an unresolved question that has been with us since our very beginning. Is our faith, our Judaism, universal or particular in its orientation? To put it another way, is our greatest concern as Jews the condition of our collective and shared...
September 28, 2009
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Yom Kippur 5770 Sadie and Abe had been married for many years. Over the decades, they had built a life together, achieving great material success, living far more luxuriously than they ever imagined from their humble beginnings. One day Abe came home from work, crushed, his face downcast and ashen. He turned to his Sadie, his life partner:...
September 26, 2009
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Shabbat Shuvah 5770 Sincere apologies, it would seem, are our nation’s fastest diminishing resource. A few weeks ago, many of you may have watched one of the oddest and perhaps most unsatisfying endings to a U.S. Open tennis match, as Serena Williams strenuously and rather inelegantly objected to the linesman’s call of a foot fault...
September 19, 2009
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Rosh Hashanah 5770 In his collection of stories on the High Holy Days, Sippurei Yom Hakippurim, Shai Agnon, the towering figure of modern Hebrew literature, makes repeated use of the symbol of the tallit. For Agnon it comes to represent much more than a mere piece of cloth. In one of the stories, Pi Shnayim, “Twice Over,” the...
September 18, 2009
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Erev Rosh Hashanah 5770 This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sholom Aleichem. Russian-born, settling in America in 1914, Aleichem has been called the “natural genius of Yiddish Literature.” (Irving Howe, A Treasury of Yiddish Stories, p. 74) If you have ever read a Sholom Aleichem story, then you know that the appeal...