Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Four Weeks of Elul 5776- Week Four: Our Physical Selves

Sue and I have two exercise machines in our basement – an elliptical and a treadmill.  When we bought them 3 years ago, we were determined that we would use them at least 4-5 times a week.  We figured it would be easy to just roll out of bed in the morning, put on our workout clothes and get in some exercise before the day started.
During the first few weeks we were very successful.  We had our routine: we even recorded TV shows on our DVR that we could watch as we shvitzed.  However, as the days and weeks went by, 4-5 times a week morphed into 2-3 times, then once a week, then….maybe one time a month…and soon, we avoided the basement altogether because our exercise equipment became a reminder of what we had hoped to accomplish, but couldn’t always get around to completing.
There have been fits and spurts when we have gotten back into the routine of exercise – especially after vacations and holidays when we looked at our excesses in the bathroom mirror and realized that we needed to take drastic measures .  Sue upped her game in anticipation of her High School Reunion this summer and this past week I started again: three days in a row on the Elliptical machine is a powerful way to lead into Rosh Hashanah.  I don’t know if I will be able to keep going long term, but I’m feeling good for now.

Truth be told, our failures in the past should not be seen as an excuse for not trying to improve ourselves in the present.  It is never too late to start healthy habits.  During the past 3 weeks we have focused on our spiritual selves, our relationships, and our responsibility to community. This week, I want us to be very much aware of our physical selves. If we do not take care of our health, then we cannot perform Tikkun Olam - the repairing of our world. Our bodies are holy.  The Torah teaches that we are created B’tzelem Elohim - in the image of God. In this light, taking care of our bodies is a sacred task.  As such – I offer the following questions:

  1. Have I taken care of my body through diet and exercise?
  2. Have I prepared medical directives that are clear and unambiguous stating my desires for illness and end-of-life issues?
  3. Have I done all that I could to comfort those around me who are affected by illness – have I performed the mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim – visiting the sick?
  4. Have I truly appreciated and taken advantage of the beauty of the mountains that surround me?
  5. How much stress is in my life?  Is it affecting my daily activities?
  6. What bad habits have I cultivated that I need to change?
  7. What positive habits should I trying to incorporate into my daily routine? 

Again, these questions are in no way complete.  If answering any of them causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantor Sacks and I would welcome the opportunity.  Note that all of these materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation, contact the Temple and we will send them to you.

L’shanah Tovah U’metukah – May you have a good and sweet new year,

Rabbi Joseph R. Black

P.S. If you have not yet seen our Congregation’s High Holiday Video, R.E.P.E.N.T., here’s a link for you to watch and share:

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Our New Temple Emanuel Video: "R.E.P.E.N.T."

Once again, our incredible Temple Emanuel Staff Team has come together to bring you our semi(?)-annual greeting in advance of Rosh HaShanah.  With apologies to Otis Redding - who wrote the original, and Aretha Franklin - who made it a classic, we bring you R.E.P.E.N.T.

If you like what you see, share it with others.  Paste this link on your Social Media pages:

CLICK HERE to view Temple Emanuel's 5777 High Holy Day Video - R.E.P.E.N.T

Published on Sep 2, 2016
The Staff at Temple Emanuel - Denver, CO want to wish you a Shanah Tovah U'metukah - a good and sweet New Year. For more information about High Holy Days at Temple Emanuel, go to 

(Based on “Respect” by Otis Redding)
New words by Rabbi Joe Black
Temple Emanuel, Denver,CO

What’ll you do to greet the New Year?
We’re all getting ready to see you hear.
The Shofar calls us - it’s time to Repent (Just a little bit)

Oh those prayers….They come from our hearts.
If you’ve made some mistakes you can get a new start
Our hearts are open and our prayers sincere
It’s time to Repent (just a little bit)

People are coming, like you and me
With our new prayer books in our sanctuary
Rosh HaShanah Unplugged and Shema Koleynu
L’shanah Tovah from Shwayder too
It’s time to Repent (Just a little bit)

Apples and honey, for a sweet New Year
We all can’t wait, to welcome you here
The old year’s quickly, coming to a close
What the New Year will bring - nobody knows
It’s time to Repent (Just a little bit)
R.E.P.E.N.T. I’ll pray for you if you pray for me.
R.E .P.E.N.T. – From the 720 and the 303

Shanah Tovah – 8x

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Four Weeks of Elul 5776 Week Three: Personal and Professional Relationships

Dear Friends,
In the beginning of the Book of Genesis 2:18, God states, “It is not good for Humans to be alone.”  This profound statement teaches us the importance of relationships.  Each of us is involved in many different kinds of relationships – from families and loved ones, to work associates, to acquaintances we see only occasionally.  Our tradition teaches that every person with whom we come in contact reminds us of the fact that all humanity is created in the image of God.  As such, all of our interactions with others – from the most intimate to the merely mundane – contain the potential for holiness.  If we approach them from this perspective, maintaining healthy relationships takes on a sacred dimension.

Our tradition teaches that on Yom Kippur the sins we have committed against God will be forgiven if we are truly repentant. The sins we commit against others, however, cannot be forgiven unless and until we have asked those whom we have wronged to forgive us.   In many ways, this is one of the most difficult aspects of Cheshbon Ha-nefesh – taking an inventory/accounting of our souls.  It means that we have to take risks by reaching out to others.  We may encounter resistance, anger, or resentment.  Sometimes it is impossible to reach out to others – and yet, it is our duty to do all that we can to assess whether or not reconciliation is possible.  If there is even the slightest hope then we need to try - even if we fail.

The following questions are designed to make us think about the current status of the many different relationships in our lives.   Again, this is by no means a complete list.  Hopefully it will provide you with a starting point for improving the relationships in your lives.
1.      Have I taken part in any business or personal transactions this past year that were against my religious, moral or ethical principles?
2.      Have I ignored or been impatient with those I love the most?
3.      Are there people I have wronged that I need to ask to forgive me?
4.      Will I be able to forgive those who come to me to ask for my forgiveness?
5.      Have I taken time recently to let the most important people in my life know how much I care about them?
6.      Have I done all that I could to repair damaged relationships in my life?
7.      How have my actions towards others influenced their opinions of me?

Again, these questions are in no way complete.  If answering any of them causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantor Sacks and I would welcome the opportunity.  Note that all of these materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation, contact the Temple and we will send them to you.
L’shanah Tovah U’metukah – May you have a good and sweet new year,

Rabbi Joseph R. Black

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Invocation for Colorado Remembers 9/11

I was asked to deliver one of the opening prayers for Colorado's commemoration of September 11, 2001.  Here is my text:

September 11, 2016
Rabbi Joseph R. Black – Temple Emanuel, Denver, CO.

Our God and God of all people:
God of the Rich and God of the Poor
God of the Progressive and God of the Conservative
God of the Immigrant and God of the Children of immigrants
God of the Muslim, the Christian, the Jew, the Hindu, the Sikh – God of every faith, race and nation.
God of those who have no God.
We have come together on this sacred occasion to remember, to commemorate and to show strength as one community – united in both grief and resilience – to raise our voices in prayer and humility and to state that we will never allow those who would use fear and violence as a weapon to divide us.
We need to come together, O God.  These are troubling times.
Our unity gives us strength,
Our strength is reflected in our determination
And our Determination brings us together  - united as one great State of Colorado;
One Nation under God – indivisible
One Human family created in Your image.
Today we remember those who perished in the fires of hatred and those who died extinguishing those fires  - in selfless acts of courage and commitment.
15 years ago – on September 11th 2001 – our nation witnessed a horror and received a blow that changed us forever.  Over 3,000 precious souls were wiped out in an instant – victims of baseless hatred and evil. While most our wounds have mended, the memory of those who perished and the implication of their deaths remain as a scar that will always be a part of us.
Today we pray for continued healing – of body and soul.
Today we proclaim our strength.
Today we come to give thanks for the power and beauty of community.
Bless this gathering.
Bless our leaders – and those who serve:  soldiers, first responders,  peacekeepers, fire fighters and police officers
Bless us all – as we remember and pray for a better world – a world of peace.

And let us say, AMEN

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Four Weeks of Elul - Week Two: Our Spiritual Selves

For many of us who are fortunate enough to live in the State of Colorado, the Rocky Mountains provide a backdrop of beauty that fills us with awe. Spending time in, or simply gazing at the mountains from a distance can often prompt us to feel both grateful and insignificant. On the one hand, we give thanks for the opportunity to appreciate their splendor.

When we hike, bike, ski or simply go for a drive in the mountains, our mind opens and our consciousness expands to give thanks for the glorious vistas we encounter.  On the other hand, when reflecting on the evolutionary processes that had to occur for the mountains to form - the millions of years, the geological upheaval and the movement of glaciers - we sometimes can't help but feel small and unimportant in contrast to the vast expanses that spread out before us.

These two contradictory experiences - feeling grateful and insignificant - are the central building blocks of spiritual growth. Rabbi Simcha Bunim Bonhart of Peshischa, an 18th century Chasidic master, once taught that every person should carry two pieces of paper: one in each pocket.  In our left pocket should be written the words: "I am nothing but dust and ashes."  In our right pocket, it should say:  "For me the world was created."  On those occasions when we are feeling full of ourselves and our accomplishments; when we feel invincible and important, we should reach into our left pocket to remember that we are mortal, fallible and, in the vast reaches of God's creation, merely a blip on the cosmic screen of existence.  But on those occasions when we are feeling too small and insignificant, we reach into our right pocket and reflect on the fact that our lives are a gift and we are incredibly fortunate to be alive.
Becoming a spiritual person is less about what we believe and more about what we feel.  Spirituality is about keeping one's balance between gratitude and existential angst.

During the month of Elul, our process of Cheshbon Ha Nefesh - self reflection and evaluation  - one of our tasks should be contemplation our relationship with the Divine (however we define that word...) and our Jewish sacred texts and traditions.  The following questions are designed to provoke introspection and self understanding. As always, they should not be perceived as a complete listing – they are merely a beginning. If you have other questions that you think may help others in our community, I would love to receive them.  I will post them on my blog – which is linked to both Facebook and our Temple Emanuel website.


  1. How often during the course of the past year have I taken the natural beauty that surrounds me for granted?
  2. What events have caused me to question my faith during the course of the past year?
  3. When/where was the last time I felt close to God (however I define God)…?
  4. Jewish tradition teaches that all of us are created in the Divine Image.  When was the last time I looked for holiness in the people that I love the most?
  5. What aspects of my personality reflect the values that I have inherited from my family? From society? From Popular culture? From my own inner holiness?
  6. When was the last time I was able to pray without any distraction?
  7. How often, during the course of the past year, have I been able to set aside my own needs for something bigger than myself?

Again, these weekly lists are in no way complete.  They are designed to help us as we prepare for the High Holy Days.  If any of these questions has caused to you want to speak to me or any of the other clergy at Temple Emanuel, please do not hesitate to call us at 303-388-4013.  You can also send me an email at

May you utilize these and all of your questions to help you gain a better understanding of your spiritual selves.

L’Shanah Tovah,

Rabbi Joseph R. Black

Monday, September 5, 2016

Four Weeks of Elul- 5776. Week One

The Four Weeks of Elul 5777 – Week One

My Dear Friends,

This Sunday, September 4th, marks the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul – the month preceding the High Holy Days. It is customary during this holy month to begin intensive personal preparations for the New Year. This process, called Cheshbon Ha-Nefesh – ‘an inventory of our souls’ – requires that each of us engage in a process of self-examination. During this sacred season we look closely at our relationships, thoughts, deeds, fears and dreams. We do this so that we can enter into the Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe – spiritually and personally refreshed and prepared for the process of teshuvah (repentance/returning). Our tradition teaches that the month of Elul is when ask those around us whom we have wronged to forgive us for our actions. We are also commanded to forgive those who ask us as well.

As we reflect back over the past year, it is important that we put every aspect of our lives into perspective. As in previous years, during the month of Elul I will be sending out weekly lists of seven questions (one for each day of the week) to members of our community and to all who wish to receive them. These questions are designed to help us examine our lives in all of the varied aspects and arenas in which we live: Communal Spiritual, Physical, and Interpersonal. Hopefully, by answering these questions we will be better prepared to enter into the New Year. The purpose of these questions is not to make us feel bad or unworthy, but rather to “nudge” us into looking at these vitally important aspects of our lives. There will be seven questions in each list – one for every day of the week.

I welcome your comments and suggestions for additional questions and formats that we can use.   If answering these questions causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantor Sacks and I would welcome the opportunity.  Note that all of these materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office.  They also will be posted on my blog and linked to both the Temple website and Facebook page. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation, please contact the Temple office and we will be happy to send them out.

The Four Weeks of Elul 5777 – Week One

Week One: Communal Selves
As you know, there are many changes taking place at Temple Emanuel.  This year, we will be introducing our new Machzor (High Holyday Prayerbook), Mishkan HaNefesh.  This will be Cantor Sack’s first High Holydays as our Sr. Cantor.  Our Cantoral Soloist and Music Director, Steve Brodsky  - while certainly not a new face at Temple -  will nonetheless be taking on a much larger role at services. While we are confident that the beauty and traditions of the High Holydays at Temple will not only remain as powerful as they always have been, but will also be enhanced, we know that change of any kind can be unsettling. 
Rav Abraham Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel wrote: 

Hayashan Yitchadeysh V’Ha Chadash Titkadeysh
Let the old be renewed and the new be made holy.”

This is our goal in introducing new liturgies and melodies at Temple this year.

One of the key ways that we both celebrate and assimilate change is through our community.  As Jews, we see the power of coming together to celebrate, worship, find comfort and forge new paths in concert with one another.  Most of us are part of multiple communities.  Sometimems they intersect and sometimes they don’t, but our ability to forge meaningful relationships with those with whom we share our lives are vitally important aspects of our overall health.

The following are a few questions designed to help us explore our communal selves as we begin the process of Cheshbon Hanefesh:

1.      Have I taken advantage of all that my congregation and community have to offer?
2.      Have I taken my own comfort for granted and “looked the other way” when I saw poverty or despair in my community?
3.      Have I allowed the current divisive rhetoric so prevalent in the presidential elections to impact my relationships with people in my life?
4.       Regardless of political perspective, have I been vocal in my support of the State of Israel?
5.       When I am at synagogue, have I done all that I can to make others feel welcomed in the same way that I want to feel welcome?
6.       When asked to help support the important institutions in my community, have I given as much as I could or should?
7.      How often many times, during the course of the past year, have I listened to or spread malicious gossip without thinking of the consequences of my actions upon myself, the people or persons about whom the gossip was spread, or upon the fabric of the community that it affected?

These questions are in no way complete.  They are designed to help all of us to begin the process of looking deep within ourselves and our souls as we enter into the month of Elul.  Again, we want to hear from you. If you have thoughts, questions or comments about anything we encourage you to let us know. 

May we utilize these and all of our questions to help us to gain a better understanding of our communal selves.

L’Shanah Tovah,

Rabbi Joseph R. Black