Posted by: Aaron Bergman | April 13, 2014

The Real Question of Passover


According to a recent study of Jewish observance, Chanukah is the holiday that more Jews observe than any other. The Passover Seder, however, is probably the most celebrated ritual in Jewish life that does requires more than lighting candles and frying potatoes. So many people have a Seder that we do not realize what a revolutionary idea it is.


To the best of my knowledge, the Seder is the first significant religious event that took place originally at home and not in a temple. It is still primarily home based. The Sedarim not done in the home are based on the ones that are.


In the history of religion, not just Judaism, the most important rituals took place in public and were performed exclusively by the religious leadership on behalf of the people. They were completely controlled and supervised by the priesthood.


The first Seder took place in Egypt, the night before the Exodus. It took place in the homes and was conducted by the people who lived there. It would have been very dangerous to conduct it in public, perhaps, but if God had wanted it that way I am there could have been a miracle allowing it to happen.


The Torah instead empowers the people to have a discussion about freedom that makes sense to them, without outside interference or criticism.


Even later, the high priest had no more standing at a Seder than anyone else.


The Seder was the beginning of the idea that any space could be sacred and holy if the people in it made it so.


It is to remind us of our responsibility to uncover and rediscover the inherent holiness of all places.


Let’s look at some of the rituals. First, the wine. All Jewish holidays and Shabbat have a blessing over wine. On Passover, there is more than one cup. There was a disagreement whether there should be four cups or five. The rabbis decided to compromise and drink four, leaving a fifth on the table, for when Elijah would come some day and decide. The wine, then, is a metaphor for the importance of compromise. That is how we begin.


The motzi, the blessing we say over challah, is exactly the same as the one we say

over matzah. Challah is soft and chewy. Matzah is not. Both, though, are nutritious and will sustain us. The Seder teaches us to be grateful for the things in our lives that we take for granted or feel we are entitled to. We learn that everything can be delicious if we appreciate how lucky we are to have it.


The Haggadah is important for what it says, but maybe even more so for who says it. For many centuries in many cultures there was the idea that children should be seen but not heard, that they were merely empty vessels in which the adults would pour in the knowledge they felt was necessary. It is amazing to me that our sages thousands of years ago understood that education can only begin when the child is genuinely curious, and that the adults teach to the interest and level of the child. It also speaks to the importance of listening to everyone in the house, both the most powerful and the most vulnerable .At the Seder everyone is heard, and everyone deserves a good and thoughtful answer.


Preparing for Passover is a reminder that we can live every moment in a sacred and holy place. Cleaning for Pesach means getting rid of all those things that prevent us from seeing that.


What can we each do to make our homes into a place of freedom and joy in responsibility? That is the real question that we ask at the Seder.


Passover is a chance to think about how to be free and happy. We do not always take that chance. This Sunday, Rabbi Aaron Bergman will talk about an ancient approach to the Seder that can enhance the joy we have at ours today. Everyone is welcome. 9:30 am. Adat Shalom.

Posted by: Aaron Bergman | March 7, 2014

Put Your Mask on First-This Sunday Morning at Adat Shalom






Put Your Mask on First

How the Purim Story teaches us to free ourselves so we can liberate others

Purim is the last holiday of the Jewish Calendar. If Passover is about God freeing the slaves, Purim is about the people freeing themselves. Helping ourselves to live good lives, and helping others to do so is the goal of Judaism.

We will talk about and meditate on some of the themes of Purim, such as figuring out our real names, living in places that are not always warm and welcoming, and not letting the anger of others consume us.

This Sunday, 3/9

Adat Shalom Synagogue

9:30 am

Everyone is welcome

Part of hamakOhm

with Rabbi Aaron Bergman

Let it Snow!-Jewish meditations and teaching on weathering life’s storms

A hamakOhm Session with Rabbi Aaron Bergman

This Sunday, 2/9 9:30 am

Adat Shalom

The misery of the cold weather this winter is a good opportunity to look at ways that Judaism teaches us to deal with the stormy and challenging situations we all face in our life.

We will study texts and learn meditations that will help us warm up to every aspect of our lives.

Everyone is invited.

Rain, Sun, Sleet or Snow, or typical for Michigan, all four at once.

Posted by: Aaron Bergman | January 9, 2014

Hear What Your Life is Telling You, Sunday morning, 1/12

Hear What Your Life is Telling You

Meditation and Study of the Shema

for Greater Insight and Inspiration

Join Rabbi Aaron Bergman this Sunday morning, 1/12

for a look at the Shema in a new and helpful way.

You will meet wonderful people and maybe even yourself.

9:30 am

Adat Shalom

Everyone is Welcome

Posted by: Aaron Bergman | December 26, 2013

Listening to your stories

The Jewish people are wonderful story tellers. We contributed many of the tales of 1,001 Nights of Scheherazade. We brought the stories of other traditions into our own. I am teaching a course of Jewish folklore and folk tales this month. I hope you will come.

More importantly to me, though, is I want to hear your stories, the stories of who you are, and the stories of where you and your family come from. I want to hear the stories of where you want to go in your life, particularly your spiritual and intellectual journey.

I tend to meet people at events, where there is not a lot of time to speak meaningfully for more than a few minutes, or at life cycle events where we are mostly focusing on family dynamics or the details of the day itself.

Judaism has so much wisdom and so many riches to make our path in life a happy, good and meaningful one.

I would love to meet with anyone who has, or has had, or would like a connection to Adat Shalom, at a time and place that is good for you, including your favorite coffee or lunch place and talk about what matters to you and how Judaism can be an even more meaningful part of your life. We could also just chat.

You can contact me through my email,, or on Facebook (just make sure you have the right Aaron Bergman, or at the synagogue, 248-851-5100, and ask for my assistant Sheila. 

I will also be calling Adat Shalom members at random from time to time. No obligation, but I think this could be a lot of fun and very illuminating.

I look forward to talking soon.

Posted by: Aaron Bergman | December 6, 2013

Some Quiet Music for the End of The Week

Yiddish is becoming one of the languages of the world musical underground. It is being used by European avant garde and metal groups such as Gevolt and Dibbukim. I am experimenting with creating some modern approaches to Yiddish music that incorporate traditional poems and songs with contemporary melodies and rhythms.

This is my first attempt. I created and recorded all the music. The vocals are by Rahel Jaskow. It is pretty ambient and downtempo.

The painting is mine, too.

Posted by: Aaron Bergman | December 5, 2013

A teaching to help you on your path


Posted by: Aaron Bergman | November 27, 2013

Lincoln and the Maccabees

Abraham Lincoln was the first to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday, almost exactly 150 years ago. Thanksgiving had been celebrated in some communities in America since 1607, but Lincoln was the first to make it a holiday for the nation itself.

The language of the declaration, written for Lincoln by Secretary of State William Seward, is powerful and poetic. It said, “And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, … commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

Lincoln did not wait for the end of the Civil War to offer gratitude and ask for kindness toward those in need on both sides. He delivered it in the middle of a war that would continue for another year and a half.

The story of Chanukah takes place in the middle of the war, not the end. It celebrates the Maccabees reclaiming and rededicating the Holy Temple, but the war for independence took another dozen years.

According to the first book of Maccabees, which was written around the time of the Chanukah story in the 2nd century BCE, The Maccabees declared eight days of thanksgiving, even though one would have been fine. Maybe the oil lasted for eight days because they were willing to celebrate those eight days. The celebration was giving thanks for getting the Temple back and for being able to resume their full lives as Jews.

There are only two mitzvot, two commandments, on Chanukah. The first is to light the lights, and if possible place them so people outside can see them. Even in the darkness moments of our lives it is possible to find light and goodness and share that with the world.

The other is to give thanks. Thanks for everything, for the good things, and for the opportunity to help fix the bad, and gratitude for all those who struggled and gave their lives so we could be free.

This is what Lincoln meant in his dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg almost exactly 150 years ago, too.

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

This is the spirit of the Maccabees.

The struggle is never over. The world is still a dangerous mess. If we wait for everything to be settled and perfect before we celebrate we never will. The celebration must include gratitude for our lives and dedication to making the world better.

We have shown the ability to celebrate during times of grief and chaos, and to still remember who we are, both our identity and our values as Jews.

What we as a people can do is remind the world that it is always possible to still be fully human, and that goodness can be found in unlikely places. And that it is our responsibility to help others live lives they can be grateful for, and to help protect the world from those who want to destroy everybody’s liberty.

If we do so, then we, as Lincoln said, shall not perish from this Earth.

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is probably the most famous musical based on the Hebrew Bible.  It might be the only one, though I would love to see what Sir Andrew could do with Leviticus. The songs in “Joseph” were delightful.  The story was fun. Even Donny Osmond was perfect (maybe because he has so many siblings). The only problem with the story is that the biblical Joseph never had a coat of many colors.  Jacob gave him a Ketonet Passim, according to the Midrash a special long-sleeved or delicate coat; a coat not necessarily colorful, but highly symbolic.

In Biblical times, such a coat seemed to be a sign of tribal leadership.  Joseph’s brothers were not upset that their father gave Joseph a fancy coat.  They were upset that Jacob wanted to make Joseph, the youngest brother, the head of the tribe, bypassing the normal order of tribal succession.  Within a short time of receiving this coat, Joseph begins to dream that he is superior to both his brothers, and then his parents. It is small wonder that Joseph’s brothers try to get rid of him.

I have often wondered if Joseph would have had these same dreams had his father not given him the coat of leadership.  The coat itself seemed to cause Joseph’s dreams, dreams that got him into a great deal of trouble.  Jacob, in a sense, gave Joseph dreams that Joseph was not able to handle.  Joseph spent the next twenty years of his life recovering from his father’s plans.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own dreams. I see so many situations in which the parents are trying to live out their own lives through their children. Maybe they did not have the business or athletic success they would have liked, and so try to have their children make up for it. Sometimes the parents in fact did have great success and believe that their children, with enough effort, can be just as successful. If the child has different plans, this can lead to great stress and tension on the relationship, even if everyone really has the best of intentions.

If we cause dreams that cannot be lived up to, we risk inflicting a great deal of harm on our loved ones.  As Bruce Springsteen sang in “The River”, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t’ come true/ or is it something worse?”  We have to ask ourselves what kind of dreams we are giving to others.  Do we make them feel safe and secure?  Do we give them appropriate levels of responsibility?  Are we generous and kind to those who may not be our favorites?  Do we have reasonable career and financial expectations of our loved ones?  If we cannot answer these questions with a yes, we may be causing nightmares instead of nurturing dreams.

Let us try to make sure the dreams we give our loved ones bring them comfort and peace of mind.

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