Rabbi Tom Heyn - Bringing to Light Judaism's Contemplative Tradition
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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, May/June 2017


When Moses came down the mountain with a set of carved tablets, he had to explain what they were. We had never seen or received anything quite like them before.

He tried to explain that they were a gift from God, but that didn't work so well. Gifts are usually things we want or like; something fun or pretty. Why would we want those dull-looking tablets? And when he read what was written on them, they seemed even less appealing. After all, we're busy and when we have a little time off, we like to relax. If this gift contains new “commandments” for us to follow, we're not interested.....
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by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, March/April 2017


Over the years, I've been in many shpiels. One year I was cast as King Achashverosh and found myself to be very uncomfortable in that role.

Achashverosh was a buffoon who was all too easily influenced by his cronies and his evil adviser, Haman. It shouldn’t have bothered me. After all, Purim is a time to be risqué and poke fun at ourselves and others, more than we would during the rest of the year....

[But] without being intoxicated, it’s hard to laugh about it....
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by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, January/February 2017


I love new words. They enable us to formulate and express what we are thinking and feeling in new ways.

Four times a year, the Oxford English Dictionary publishes a list of new words that have only recently been invented. A couple of recent additions include “YOLO,” “gender-fluidity” and “clicktivism.” I’ll tell you what “clicktivism” means since most of us have seen much of it lately, and even engaged in it. Similar to the word “activism,” it means support for a political or social cause–specifically through social media, like sharing posts on Facebook or signing and circulating online petitions. I suppose I could be called an occasional “clicktivist.”...
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Making the Most of Today and Tomorrow
by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, November/December 2016


When it comes to writing, I have a tendency toward being a perfectionist. I want the finished product to be worth reading, but because I know the process could take awhile, I usually end up procrastinating or avoiding it altogether. I find some consolation in knowing that I'm not alone.

There is a story told by Winston Lord, a US diplomat who served as a speechwriter for Henry Kissinger in the early 70s. He had finished writing a speech and Kissinger called him in the next day and said, "Is this the best you can do?"...
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by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, September/October 2016


Most Jews are well-acquainted with the concept of Tikkun Olam (or to be grammatically correct, Tikkun HaOlam.)

We generally associate “repairing the world” with acts of social justice like feeding the homeless, raising awareness about human trafficking, and similar humanitarian efforts. But there is another kind of Tikkun that is not as well-known but equally important -- Tikkun HaNefesh, the repair or healing of the soul.
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by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, July/August 2016


As I write this article, the news on everyone's mind is the mass shooting that took place in Orlando. Even as you read these words, the tragedy continues to be a solemn reminder for me that our congregation’s role as one of Miami's most progressive religious institutions is more important than ever before.

I am proud of our reputation for being on the leading edge of social justice issues, but we cannot rest on our laurels. Even with a small percentage of our members being active in our social justice initiatives, Temple Israel is playing an important role in the battle against an invisible form of cancer.
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Counting the Days from “Is” to “Ought”
by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, May/June 2016


During the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot, Jewish tradition prescribes a daily practice that may seem trivial to some and radically insightful to others. This tradition is called “sefirat ha-omer” or “counting the omer.” It presents us with an opportunity and a challenge....
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by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, March/April 2016


When you walk into any institution or place of business, there should always be a sign that helps you know exactly where you are. It should convey to newcomers something that is unique about that place.

Case in point; this sign in a veterinarian’s waiting room: “Be back in five minutes. Sit! Stay!” Or this sign at the reference desk in a music library: “Bach in a minuet.”

I wonder: what sign would be most appropriate in the waiting area at Temple Israel? What message might convey a quality that characterizes our congregation?
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by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, January/February 2016


There was once a man who made a strange request of Rabbi Hillel, the great Jewish sage who lived and taught in Israel about 2,000 years ago.

The man was not Jewish but was willing to convert if Hillel could explain to him the whole Torah “while standing on one foot.” This was another way of asking Hillel to summarize the vast array of Judaism's teachings in less than a minute. Either the man was impatient or felt that if something had intrinsic value, it shouldn't take long to explain it or understand it.

He was right.
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by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, November/December 2015


...As I was chatting away, I suddenly became aware that my hosts were staring at me with mouths half-open as though they were stunned.

“What's wrong? What did I say?” I wondered aloud.

“Are you saying that the miracle of the oil is a myth?”

“Well, a sacred myth....” Unfortunately, it was too late. By then, it seemed a cloud had settled over the party and we ate our latkes in silence for a while until someone changed the subject.....
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Sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Yom Kippur Morning 5776/2015


I recently signed up for...Webster's Dictionary's “Word of the Day.”

Every day, when you open up your email, you get a word....One day they threw in “jawbreakers,” words that are really long...and there was one in particular that I found intriguing. It was 17-letters long and I knew it would be appropriate for this a sermon. The word is “agathokakological.” and it refers to something that is comprised of both good and evil. The “agatho” part means “good,” and the “kaka” part -- well, you all seem to know what that means....
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Sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Kol Nidre / Erev Yom Kippur 5776/2015


...Our Temple is located in the center of our city, geographically & ideologically.

We sit firmly between unbridled assimilation on the one hand, and the rising tide of fundamentalism on the other. What situates us between these two opposing forces is the recognition that our freedom, to choose how we want to live our lives, comes with a responsibility. We can be careless about our freedom, or surrender it to some authority outside ourselves, or we can choose to embrace the task that we are now called upon to fulfill.....
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Sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Rosh Hashanah morning 5776/2015


There was once a rabbi who concluded a High Holy Day sermon by wishing his congregation a Happy New Year. “And,” he said, “since I'm not likely to see you until next year, I want to wish you a Happy Passover as well.”

I will conclude my sermons with a very different message, because I'm a very different kind of rabbi and this is a very different congregation....
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Sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Erev Rosh Hashanah 5776/2015

....I want to talk about what teshuvah FEELS like...


...It's about going somewhere and coming back transformed. In the words of T.S. Elliot: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”...
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by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, August 2015


There's a remarkable instinct in many species of birds which causes them to follow the same migratory patterns year after year for centuries.

The American Cliff Swallow, for example, is famous for making a 6,000-mile trek each year to the same location in Southern California. You may remember the song, recorded by Pat Boone in 1957, "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano."

Another species, the Bar-tailed Godwit, is known to travel even further. Members of this species have been tracked by satellite, revealing that they fly over 7,000 miles from Alaska to New Zealand in about nine days, without stopping for food or water....
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by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, June 2015


About a month ago, GableStage at the Biltmore staged a performance of New Jerusalem.

The play was about the interrogation of Baruch Spinoza, a 17th-century Jewish philosopher whose unorthodox ideas put him at odds with the religious establishment of his time. It was sad to see such a brilliant man accused of heresy and excommunicated from the family and people he loved, but...
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by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, March 2015


Everyone I know loves the Hillel sandwich.

It's named after Hillel the Elder, perhaps the greatest rabbi of all time....He is famous for his patience and humility, as well as for his sayings which are recorded in Pirke Avot, a collection of rabbinic aphorisms. But for anyone who celebrates Passover, Hillel is probably best known for the sandwich we are enjoined to eat during the seder.

...It's funny, but one of Hillel's best-known sayings is also like a three-part sandwich. Perhaps you've heard it: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”...
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by Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, December 2014


There were times when we could have said we just didn't know any better; when cigarette ads claimed that doctors favored one brand over another; when we drove without seat belts; and when we enjoyed schmaltz and gribenes without knowing or caring about their effects on our arteries.

These are only three examples of ideas and behaviors which we now know were not conducive to good health and safety. With a little reflection, we could probably come up with more examples. In most cases, however, there are only three reasons why such misguided thinking can persist for long periods of time....
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Sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Yom Kippur morning 5775/2014

Sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Erev Yom Kippur (Kol Nidre) 5775/2014


Imagine working as a security guard in the Louvre in Paris, which houses about 35,000 works of art and is visited each year by more than 8 million people.

They come to see such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. And every day you hear groups of tourists come through, casting their own judgment on them, saying things like, “I like this one,” or “I don't like that one,” “This one is good,” or “That one is not so good.”

...So it is when we come, on this day, before the symbols of our tradition; the words, the music, the images and architecture....
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Sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Rosh Hashanah morning 5775/2014


Today we commemorate the birthday of the world and read the opening verses of Genesis, the story of creation....

In traditional synagogues, the Torah reading for today is not Chapter 1 of Genesis but Chapter 21, the chapter just preceding the story of the binding of Isaac. In Chapter 21, we read of the birth of Isaac and how his mother Sarah became jealous of Abraham's concubine, Hagar, and her son Ishmael. In fact, Sarah insisted they be banished to the desert, thus beginning the discord between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael that continues to this day.

Nowhere do we see this discord played out more intensely than in the Middle East, where huge segments of the Arab and Muslim populations are committed to the destruction of the State of Israel....
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Sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Erev Rosh Hashanah 5775/2014


A rabbi boarded a flight to Miami. He was looking forward to reading and preparing a sermon, so he was not trying to encourage any conversation with the man seated next to him, but that's not how it worked out.

When he brought on his reading material, the man next to him took notice and introduced himself. It turns out he was an astrophysicist. After a few minutes of pleasantries, he decided to share his conclusions on the topic of faith. “Rabbi,” he mused, “I know very little about religion or theology, but doesn't it all boil down to the Golden Rule? -- that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”

The Rabbi thought for a moment then replied, “You know, I've never studied astrophysics or astronomy but doesn't it all boil down to 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star'?”
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By Rabbi Moshe Thomas Heyn, July 2014

There's an old story about Reb Levi Yitzchak (1740-1809), an early Hasidic rabbi from the Ukrainian town of Berditchev.

When his son was engaged to be married, he excitedly sent out invitations to everyone he knew announcing that the celebration would take place in Jerusalem on such-and-such a date and time. In small print at the bottom of the invitation, he added: If, G-d forbid, the messiah has not yet arrived, the wedding will be held on the same date and time here in Berditchev.
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By Rabbi Moshe Thomas Heyn, June 2014


Tradition tells us that when God gave the Torah to Moses, our ancestors trembled in awe.

They had recently left Egypt, an event we commemorated with Passover, and were now standing together at the foot of Mount Sinai. God spoke amidst an awesome spectacle of smoke and thunder, and the people responded in one voice, saying “na’aseh v’nishma – We will do (the practice) and later (hopefully!) we will come to understand why.” . . .
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By Rabbi Moshe Thomas Heyn, April 2014

Have you ever forgotten to eat?

Maybe you were working on the computer or engrossed in some other activity and didn’t notice you were hungry until you smelled or tasted something which caused you to suddenly realize that you were ravenous.

Something like this happens at least once a year, especially during this season in which we celebrate Pesach. Just before we take the first bite of matzah at a Passover seder. . .
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By Rabbi Moshe Thomas Heyn, February 2014

I have an idea that some might call 'audacious.' That's OK. It's time.


...My idea is to engage everyone in the work we have come together to do. That’s because we are here, as human beings on this planet, as members of a Jewish community and as members of Temple Israel, to cultivate what we might call “spiritual fitness.”....

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By Rabbi Moshe Thomas Heyn, December 2013


In 1969, Judi Sheppard Missett was a student at Northwestern in Chicago. She liked to dance and began teaching classes in a jazz studio. Unfortunately, her classes had a 90% dropout rate.

Then it dawned on her that some of her students attended the class to lose weight, have fun and get in shape. As an experiment, she turned them away from the mirrors and became less critical of their movements. Her students enjoyed the classes and attendance soon doubled and then tripled, until her studio was packed....
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Sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Erev Yom Kippur (Kol Nidre) 5774/2013


A story is told in the name of the Baal Shem Tov: Once there was this guy who saw a beautiful bird, nesting high in the top of a tree. No one else could see it. A great longing came over him to reach this bird, capture and tame it. But the tree was too high and there was no ladder. So he devised a plan.

He persuaded people on the street below to form a human ladder even though they knew nothing of the bird and were unable to see it. Nonetheless, they assembled themselves long enough to stand on one another’s shoulders until they could reach the nest. It took them a long time to build this living ladder, but when the person at the top reached with her fingertips and was just about to capture the bird, those who stood near the ground grew impatient, shook themselves free and caused everyone else to collapse....
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Sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Rosh Hashanah morning 5774/2013
For the sermon's supplemental "take away"
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An Amish boy and his father were in a mall. It was their first visit to the big city and they were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and then slide back together again.

The boy asked, “What is this, father?” The father (never having seen an elevator) responded, “Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life. I don't know what it is.” While the boy and his father were watching with amazement, a frumpy old lady in a wheelchair moved up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the lady rolled between them into a small room. The walls closed as the boy and his father watched the small circular numbers above the walls light up sequentially - 1-2-3. They continued to watch as the numbers then began to light in the reverse order - 3-2-1. Finally the walls opened up again and a gorgeous 24-year-old blonde stepped out. The father said quietly to his son, “Go and get your mother.”....
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Sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Rosh Hashanah evening 5774/2013

A man got into trouble when his wife informed him that the day had gone by and he had forgotten her birthday. He told her how sorry he was, and said he would do anything to make up for it.


She immediately said, “Alright, tomorrow there better be something in the driveway for me that goes from zero to 200 in two seconds flat, or you're in for it.” The next morning the wife awoke early, and looking out her bedroom window saw a small package in the driveway. She was a bit perturbed, as this was not what she was expecting. She went out and retrieved the package and upon opening it, found a handsome brand new bathroom scale! The funeral for her husband took place earlier this week....

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By Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, March 2013

    I recently joined a fitness club...


It happened after reading a passage in a book by Dr. Alan Morinis. In Climbing Jacob's Ladder, he recounts a darker period in his life when his commitment to spirituality and social action had been supplanted by ambition, vanity and ego. In reflecting on how this came about, he made this observation:   “Spiritual practice is no different from any other kind of daily exercise -- skip one day, then find an excuse to skip another, and another, and finally your spiritual StairMaster is just gathering dust in a dark corner of your soul where the light never shines...."
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A "Four Worlds" sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Erev Yom Kippur 5773/2012


There was once a crowded village nestled within the confines of a big wall. It was a shtetl, an enclosed, isolated village, packed with small houses.

Every family had its own little house, though many of these houses were not much more than huts. The poorest of these inhabitants toiled daily just to provide for their basic needs – food, clothing and shelter.

Some houses were a little sturdier, having been constructed with better materials; enough so that they could support two stories. Those who had a second story decorated it tastefully with furniture and artwork, enabling them to enjoy beauty and leisure and the pleasant company of family and friends....
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Sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Rosh Hashanah morning 5773/2012


Last week, four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, were killed as gunmen fought security forces and set fire to the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The attack came as protesters were demonstrating against an inflammatory video about Islam made in the U.S. At around 10:00 p.m., attackers pelted the complex's main compound with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades. Within 15 minutes, the gunmen entered the building and set the consulate ablaze, killing Stevens and three others.

This morning, on this eve of a Jewish New Year, we read about the creation of the world and of Adam and Eve. But let's be honest...
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Sermon by Rabbi Heyn for Rosh Hashanah evening 5773/2012


We've come together in this sanctuary on Erev Rosh Hashanah; a time when we might expect something within each of us to change.

We all know that the problems and issues we'll face when we walk out of here tonight are very real. Many have concerns about finances, employment; there are enormous economic and social problems, locally and globally, that demand our attention and our problem-solving skills now more than ever.

When we walk out of here tonight, we need to somehow be better equipped to face these issues and address them. There are many other places you could be spending your time right now, but there is something about this time of year and this place that is unique and that can change you, the way you think, the way you live and work, the ways you spend your time and money, and the way you relate to others....
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Rabbi Tom Heyn, Yom Kippur Day sermon 5772/2011


Moses goes shopping at Costco.

That would make for a great sermon, though it's not my idea. I heard about it on NPR, on a program that aired a month ago about two rabbis in Southern California who organized a workshop for their colleagues on how to write better sermons.

They invited, as their instructors, some of the best writers in Hollywood – the guys who write for The Simpsons, Desperate Housewives and other popular shows. One technique they recommended is to place biblical characters in contemporary settings and then see how things play out. OK, how about this one? Moses comes to Brattleboro...
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Rabbi Tom Heyn, Kol Nidre sermon 5772/2011


“The chaplain is here to speak with you.”

That kind of introduction doesn't usually get a rousing response. If anything, it signifies to those hearing it that something is terribly wrong.

I've been introduced in that way to many individuals and families, from nursing home hallways to hospital waiting rooms. I see people in all walks of life. Some are Jewish, but many more are not. Some are happy to see me, but some greet me tentatively, as if they're trying to hide from something...
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Rabbi Tom Heyn, Rosh Hashanah 5772/2011


There was once a Rabbi who delivered the same Rosh Hashanah sermon for four years in a row and the congregation was beginning to talk.

The congregation's senior members decided, after many emails, that someone would have to confront the rabbi about this and they decided it should be the president. She decided to wait until the next board meeting and thought about what she would say; something like, “Rabbi, with the Holy Days approaching, we would love to hear a fresh, new message....”
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