​Rabbi Ron, August 12, 2016

Every four years I look forward to the quadrennial summer tradition, and I have been spending evenings watching the Olympics and cheering for Team USA, and especially for my favorite athletes. Michael Phelps continues to amaze as he challenges himself to see if he still has what it takes to win gold one more time. I am particularly impressed by the extent to which he has influenced the sport of swimming, how he has overcome personal challenges and emerged with greater maturity, how he advocates passionately for “clean” sports, and how he is now mentoring younger athletes (some of whom were toddlers when he first won gold)!

There are two other athletes who have also caught my attention, not only for what they have accomplished in their sport but their life’s journey in getting to the Olympics in the first place. One is Simone Biles, considered by many to be the best female gymnast ever. Her personal story began with a drug addicted mother who was unable to raise her. She was raised and adopted by her grandparents who provided her with the love, support, confidence, education and stability that enabled her to reach the heights of excellence in gymnastics. What is equally exceptional about her is her humility, her appreciation for the opportunities and good fortune that came her way, and how she is such a team player.

Although I do not understand all of the rules and terms of rugby, I have been captivated and moved by the life story of Carlin Isles, who never could have imagined that he would be competing in the Olympics. In early childhood Carlin was bounced around from one foster home to another until he was finally adopted at age 7.   His tenacious nature can be summed up in the quote:  “I had a picture I wanted to paint for myself and my life. I wasn’t going to let nobody dab their paintbrush in my painting.”

Carlin has surely created an incredible life picture. He began his improbable journey to Rio in 2012 while training for the Olympic trials in track and field. He watched rugby online and was immediately hooked. Long runs and dashes to the end zone mesmerized the young American. He then got in touch with the chief executive of USA Rugby and asked for a chance to try out for the national team. Despite never having played the game, he impressed U.S. coaches with his break- neck speed, and today is widely regarded as one of its fastest and most exciting prospects. Isles’ speed and rare athletic talent even persuaded a gym owner in Canton, Ohio to sponsor his private training for Rio.  Emblazoned on Carlin’s chest is the word “focus” – that trait to which he attributes his rise.  Perhaps his quote that impressed me most is:  “You don’t have to be your circumstance. You can change your picture how you want to change it.”

As I begin to prepare my mind and thoughts for the Jewish High Holy Days I will adopt “focus” as my mantra as I begin to think about how I wish to change my picture in the coming year. In what do I take particular pride that I would like to nurture and expand – and where are my “growing edges”?  I want to try to spend more of my time devoting my attention to things that matter most to me. Perhaps you might also want to consider a theme or mantra for the year. The theme could filter the opportunities you seize from the ones you decline, influencing your response to the unexpected moments in life that will inevitably come your way.

I know there will be more Olympic stories in the coming days. So stay tuned and enjoy the competition. And do remember that you don’t have to be your circumstance and accept the status quo, because change is always possible once you realize what you wish to achieve.


(Article from the June 22, 2016 Cape May County Herald)

By Rabbi Ron Isaacs

Recently I was invited to visit and tour the factory owned by one of my long-time friends. This was the first time I have ever visited a factory, and I was excited to learn about the manufacturing process.

I spent two hours walking around the plant's three buildings, amazed by the complex production lines and the fascinating robotic machines. The business is a huge international enterprise that dominates the field.  Beyond the size, sophistication, product line diversity, commitment to quality and efficiency that I observed, what impressed me most was my friend’s management style.

What I saw yesterday was natural leadership by the boss. As he introduced me to dozens of workers who operated various machines, he greeted each by name. Each employee received a smile, direct eye contact, and acknowledgment of who they are and what they do.

He knew and shared with me all of the events going on in their lives, whether it was someone who had just become a grandfather, someone who recently had a child or someone who had started at the company when the owner was a young child. 

My friend explained matter-of-factly that he provides full medical benefits for his employees and the many other ways he supports his employees and their families. The employees’ positive attitudes and a caring attitude about their work were palpable.

Jewish texts and teachings about the ethics and morals of earning a living and the rights of workers abound. More than 100 of the Bible’s commandments address concerns of business and economics. Biblical law is very concerned with the worker’s welfare and dignity.

Biblical prophets often preached from the marketplace, rather than from a lectern in the Jerusalem Temple. They sternly denounced employers who delayed in paying their workers – even by a single day. Rabbinic thinkers translated many of the prophetic teachings regarding justice and righteousness directly to the arena of business.

How was a worker to be treated? How many hours should he work? Should a worker receive food as part of his compensation? Are there occasions when a worker could leave his work and not return to it at all? How often should a worker be paid?

Businesses which exist solely to maximize profit become disconnected from their soul, and from the spiritual interconnectedness of humanity. Imagine a world in which all people would heed the timeless wisdom of the Talmud (Baba Kama 30a) which states: “Whoever wants to be saintly should live according to the laws of the Talmud dealing with commerce and finance.”

The importance of business ethics in Judaism is emphasized by the Talmudic text which notes that when a person is brought before the heavenly court for judgment after his death, he is asked several questions.

The very first question asked in heaven is “Did you conduct your business affairs honestly?” Our tradition teaches us that God’s first concern is personal decency.

In the workplace, people who feel valued and are treated with respect and dignity will tend to go the extra mile, demonstrate their loyalty, and excel in their work.  I am grateful that my first ever factory visit was such an outstanding exemplar of how to do right.

Congratulations to my friend on being a great boss and manager, as well as an all-around mensch (nice guy).


One way to discern a society’s values is to analyze its leaders. A leader who is chosen by the populace of a democratic society can be viewed as the embodiment of the values and ideals that his or her group holds dear. In a few months Americans will have our chance to speak and vote for our leaders, including the President of the United States.

As a naturalized U.S. citizen, I take voting very seriously. I am honored and privileged to assume my responsibility to have a voice in selecting the leaders of my community, state and country.  My personal decision-making leads me to reflect on the enduring texts of our Jewish tradition.  Over the course of our four-thousand year history, Jewish civilization has had an abundance of leaders and heroes. These timeless tomes continue to touch us and teach us today. This is especially true of the Bible, which is filled with stories that parallel our own lives.

There is no more important Biblical character than Moses, who helped change the course of human history. As the first leader of the Jewish people and as transmitter of the Torah, Moses exerted a unique force in shaping the Israelite nation. We learn that one of Moses’ salient characteristics is that his life is not his own, but rather is bound up with the lives of the Israelites and with the mission of the emergent nation. We read about the difficult and painful choices that he must make, and how he is always supportive of his people, even when they fail. Despite the people’s constant challenges to his leadership and the rejection of his authority, Moses never totally loses hope. In recognition of his wise leadership and personal role model, the Jewish sages titled him Moshe Rabbenu—Moses our rabbi and teacher.

Much has been written in Western civilization throughout the centuries and in the contemporary press about the mechanics of leadership.  Much less is written about the values and lifestyles that should characterize our leaders. So I turned to rabbinic sources to guide my thinking about the requisite qualities of leaders – and invite you to also consider these attributes as you determine your choice for new leadership:

Ben Zoma taught: ”Who is a leader? One who conquers one’s passion and emotions, as it is written ‘One who is slow to anger is better than a leader, and one who rules over his spirit is better than one who conquers a city" [Proverbs 16:32] (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1).

The acts of the leader are the acts of the nation. If the leader is just, the nation is just; if the leader is unjust, the nation too is unjust. (Zohar ii, 47a)

Rabbi Judah Nesiah said: “According to the leader, so goes the generation.” (Talmud Arachin 17a)

There are four kinds of people whom people dislike: One is a leader who is arrogant toward his constituents for no good reason. (Talmud Pesachim 113b)

A leader who guides with humility shall lead them also in the World-to-Come. (Talmud Sanhedrin 32)

Who is the leader of all leaders? Some say one who can transform an enemy into a friend. (Avot deRabbi Natan, chapter 23)  

Pondering this ancient advice will guide my decision-making in the voting booth. I hope that it will also illuminate your choices about who will lead and represent our great nation.


“For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

This quote, from Benjamin Franklin’s poem has a message meant for people of all ages. Pay large attention to the little things. Years ago, all people on a jet were killed because the rudder system in the aircraft lost a little bolt less than one inch long. A dot or a single hyphen left out of an e mail address will prevent a message from being sent.

Little things have not only been responsible for huge losses, but also have triggered great discoveries. A spider web over a garden path led to the suspension bridge. A tea kettle singing on the stove was the inspiration for the steam engine. A falling apple suggested the law of gravity. A lantern swinging in a tower was responsible for the pendulum. On both sides of the ledger, great consequences have come from little things.

In our personal lives too, little things play a far greater role than we usually realize. Little things give us pain, and little things give us pleasure. A cruel word can cast a dreary cloud over the brightest of days. A word of appreciation can send our spirits soaring.  A small act of kindness can often make a big difference in the delicate machinery of the human spirit.

Few of us are ever asked to do great things, but we are always given the opportunity to do little things in a great way. Some of the most heroic people I have known have been anonymous little people who inspired me by the spectacular way they performed ordinary, unspectacular deeds.

Recently I learned about a Texas-based non-profit whose very name intrigued me: The Importance of the Little Things, Inc. This organization provides grants of up to $100 to professional caregivers to purchase NON-MEDICAL GIFTS for financially-strapped patients who are battling a life-threatening condition or are under hospice care. As someone who works with hospice patients, I know firsthand that the simplest of gifts can dramatically improve a patient’s care, mood and outlook on life. A gift could be a bus ticket, a baby monitor, a simple hearing device, a therapeutic massage, or ever a window fan.

I invite you to take a look at this amazing organization, whose founder Steven H. Frantz joined me at my Passover Seder this year. He is a man with a caring heart who knows the importance of the little things.   According to Jewish practice, this Passover season is the time for opening our doors to the hungry and opening our hearts to those who are enslaved.  I invite you to contribute to an organization that will help professional caregivers improve the lives of those battling a life-threatening condition by clicking on www.theimportanceoflittlethings.org 

 In an age addicted of bigness it is important to pay large attention to the little things. They so often contain the seeds of greatness and have the power of transforming lives. No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. (Aesop)


Our God and God of our ancestors, protect our mouths from speech that could dishonor Your presence.

Guard our tongues from words that may later need recalling and could destroy Your world. Keep falsehood from our lips, for we know how harmful words can be.

Our God, we have been made in Your image and likeness and therein lies the core of our dignity as human beings.

In our busy and distracted lives we can easily forget about the community as a whole, being aware only of our needs and desires. Through the power of Your spirit that lives within us, bring us as leaders of the community to a greater awareness of those around us.

Lead us to become a community built on compassion and respect for the other.

Make us courageous enough to accept the Prophet Isaiah’s invitation of bringing light and peace to the world.

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, Our Rock and My Redeemer.

As You created Your world in the beginning, uniting fragments into a universe, so may it be Your will to unite our hearts. May the One who brings peace to the universe bring peace to us, to all the people Israel, and to all who dwell on earth.



Primary season has begun and many exit polls report that people say they are voting for a particular candidate because they are angry.  A recent New York Times editorial proclaimed that this is the year of the angry voter. How many times have we heard Donald J. Trump say “Our country is being run by incompetent people and until we fix it, I am very, very, very angry.” Bernie Sanders is angry too:  “I am angry. The American people are angry.”

It’s surprising that so many of the angriest voters identify with communities of faith, since the Book of Psalms constantly admonishes us to stop being angry.  By what logic can the devout commit the sin of anger and resist the call of the virtues of forgiveness and understanding – and acting pro-actively to ameliorate the cause of their anger?

The Bible is filled with stories of vengeance, wrath and angry people. Even Moses, the greatest Prophet of them all, finds himself spiritually compromised after he succumbs to anger after the constant complaining of his people. If Moses is able to express such unbridled anger, and he is the greatest of the Prophets, can we deduce that perhaps it is not such a great transgression to be saddled with anger?

The Reverend Amy Butler at New York’s Riverside Church suggests that there are really two kinds of anger.  The first is the kind of anger that is the fruit of our own egos.  The second type of anger is focused outward toward the injustice of the world. In other words, it’s one thing to be angry because you don’t like one of the moderators at your debate. It’s totally another to be angry because you think, for instance, that the whole electoral process is rigged to benefit the wealthy. The latter kind of anger can be a force and possible first step on the road to change.

According to Talmudic rabbis, when a person is quick to lose his or her temper, that person’s life is not worthy living, since that individual is always miserable.  The anger breeds and incites even more anger and animosity – which is not at all productive.

It is disappointing to see the verbal fighting and anger that is expressed during this year’s Presidential debates which sometimes seems totally out of control. Angry egotistical leaders are not true leaders. Leaders who deserve respect are those who truly love their people, understand them, and respond to their troubles with compassion. Ultimately, leadership is not about an ego trip or about seeking personal honor. It is about having a vision that is worth putting into action and making clear plans to enact it.Perhaps we should all heed one of the most interesting statements that appears in the Talmud in Eruvin 65b:  “A person’s character can be judged by the way he/she handles three things: one’s drink, one’s money and one’s anger.”  Let us harness the passion that is expressed through anger and turn it into positive energy to improve the world.

Seeds of Thanks Preserve Tradition

By Rabbi Ron Isaacs- Posted 1/20/16 Cape May County Herald

From time to time I will devote my column to relatively little-known Jewish customs.

While much of Jewish life is governed by Jewish law, there are many interesting Jewish customs that supplement the law.  Jan. 23 is a special Sabbath, called Shabbat Shirah”— the Sabbath of the song.

The Bible reading for this day includes the song that Moses and the children of Israel sang after crossing the Sea of Reeds, (Exodus 15).

In the biblical story we also find the fascinating account of the heavenly food called manna which fell from the sky and nurtured the Israelites for 40 years. Some of the Israelites tried to gather the manna on the Sabbath, which was specifically noted by Moses as prohibited (the Sabbath being a day of complete rest).

Jewish legend tells us that two men, Datan and Aviram, hoping to discredit Moses as leader, went out late Friday night and spread some of their left over manna around the camp. The next morning (the Sabbath) they went throughout the camp and told the people to go out and discover that Moses was wrong and that there was ample manna available to gather on the holy Sabbath.

However, they were foiled in this plot by birds which flew over the camp early in the morning and ate all the manna that had been left around it. When the people went looking for the manna, it was Datan and Aviram who were discredited.

Over the centuries a custom developed for Jews to put out bird seed or bread crumbs on the eve of the Sabbath of the Song in order to express appreciation to the birds that acted in order to preserve the honor and respect of Moses as leader.

Now the birds that we see today are certainly not the birds that ate the manna to preserve the honor of Moses and the honor of the holy Sabbath. Nevertheless, there are Jewish people that continue to pay tribute to “all birds” by commemorating the occasion and “rewarding” them for their good deed. 

This takes the Jewish concept of hakarat hatov — expressing gratitude for goodness, to a very high level. It is a beautiful custom, often observed with children and grandchildren along with the recitation of this biblical story and presentation of this lesson. 

But as always, there is more to the story than just the story. If the lesson of expressing gratitude for goodness pertains to the descendants of wild birds 3,300 years later all over the world, how much more should we focus our efforts to fulfill the religious obligation of expressing gratitude concerning people who do favors and other good things for us? 

In this fast paced world of ours, it is all too easy to forget or take for granted the things people do for us. The Five Books of Moses and our tradition teach us that this cannot be. We must be aware that there are others around us and that we live in a society.

We are not “entitled” to favors from others without due appreciation and recognition for the benefits we so willingly accept.

This Sabbath, remember the birds. Think of this wonderful custom (and consider putting out seeds or breadcrumbs with your children and grandchildren) before the Sabbath. Then think of the people who have done favors for you recently. Maybe even call someone and say thanks. Truth be told, it’s not strictly for the birds. 


By Rabbi Ron Isaacs-posted 12/23/15 Cape May County Herald

When watching the Presidential debates one witnesses an enormous amount of arguing points back and forth. Some of the verbiage is quite unbecoming a Presidential candidate, but nevertheless the back and forth arguing often continues throughout the entire broadcast.

My own Jewish tradition has recognized the fact that there will surely be disputes and arguments in life. But proper arguing must be done without treating another person unkindly.

Pettiness and showing no care about another’s views is also not proper arguing. Using obscenities and words that show lack of proper decorum is not in keeping with Jewish tradition. 

Perhaps you may have asked whether it is ever permissible to argue with God. Judaism has a rich tradition of calling God to task over human suffering and injustice. 

Abraham is the first to do so in the Bible. When learning of God’s intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he tries to change God’s mind, asking: Because there are undoubtedly some good people in the cities, how can God destroy the innocent with the wicked? “Shall not the Judge of all the earth act with justice?” (Genesis 18:25)

Abraham also seems to be arguing on behalf of the evil people. Otherwise, he would have requested that the good people alone be spared. Instead, he appeals to God to save all the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, provided some good people can be found within them.

Arguing with God is perfectly acceptable. I often argue for myself that God would reconsider certain circumstances or that He would make His path clearer to me as I seem sometimes to simply stumble along.

Know that God does not always accede to our arguments. But arguing with Him (while respectfully recognizing God’s authority) is a part of communicating with God with fervor. It is being real with God, giving God a chance to hear and speak to our burdens and feelings, even if by His greater wisdom His path may already be set.

Struggling with God in prayer may produce great blessing. Even when God says “no”, we can know that God has listened to us and considered what we have asked. As with a parent, that can make us love God all the more.

Here is an excerpt from a poem (“If you look at the Stars” by Aaron Zeitlin) that I have always admired and used at my own worship services;

Praise Me or curse Me says God,
And I will know that you love Me.
Raise your fist against Me and revile, says God.
Sing out graces or revile.
Reviling is also a kind of praise, says God.
If you see suffering and don’t cry out,
Then I created you in vain, says God.

Allow me to conclude with my picks for the very best in arguing:

· Be truthful.
· Be slow to anger.
· Never purposefully try to embarrass another person.
· Argue with humility.
· Know your place.
· Be a good listener.
· Be open to the other person’s opinions.
· Avoid petty squabbles.
· Try to end every discussion in a peaceful manner.
· Never argue maliciously.
· Use words to advance your argument but not to hurt your adversary. 

Here’s a wonderful piece of advice from Ethics of the Fathers 5:17: “Every dispute that is for a heavenly cause will ultimately endure.” Wishing you a new year of blessing, peace, health and happiness.


By Rabbi Ron Isaacs- posted 9/23/15 Cape May County Herald

During the summer of 1981, nine adventurers won our hearts and captured the headlines of that time. Five of them could not see, two had hearing disabilities, one had a cognitive impairment and the last had an artificial leg.

These intrepid nine conquered the dangerous snow-capped Mount Rainier. The amazing accomplishment of these people was a dramatic demonstration of the power of the human will to triumph over massive obstacles. It was also a much-needed reassurance to all who have various disabilities. The newspapers used the term “handicapped” to refer to the nine explorers. But was this the best way to describe them?

For the Jewish people, the holy day of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is meant as a time of prayer and introspection, and an opportunity to ask for forgiveness for wrongdoing. There is one lengthy prayer in the liturgy, called the Confessional, which lists a litany of transgressions, including sins for betraying, scoffing, cheating, envy, besmirching a good name and unclean lips.

Since most of the transgressions mentioned in the confessional prayer deal with things that come out of our mouths, I’d like to re-examine the language that we often use to refer to people who cannot see, hear or walk. A person is not handicapped nor is a person disabled. A person has a disability.

The origin of the word “handicap” is Gaelic, referring to a person with a disability who had to stand on the street corner begging with his cup in hand. Handicapped is not a term to describe human beings.

People First Language seeks to put the person first and the disability second. People with disabilities are people, first and foremost. Here are labels they suggest we ought not to use and those that would be better to use:

Labels not to use: The handicapped or the disabled, The mentally retarded or he’s retarded, My student is autistic, She’s a Down’s baby, Epileptic, He’s crippled, Normal and/or healthy, Handicapped parking.  

People First Language: People with disabilities, He has a cognitive impairment, My student has autism, She has Down syndrome, A person with epilepsy, He has an orthopedic disability, A person without a disability, Accessible parking.

In one way or another, all of us are people with disabilities of one kind or another. Not all are physical and not all will be visible, but to be human is to have disabilities. To know that disabilities are the common lot of each and every one of us may make our own disabilities a little easier to accept.

One of the unsighted climbers explained the success of his adventure in this way: “We had a lot of help from each other on the trip.”

As we continue our own journey through life we never know what risks and obstacles each of us may have to negotiate as we deal with our own assortment of disabilities. We will always be able to succeed if we learn to continue to help each other in each other’s time of need.

Wishing you a year of fewer obstacles and reminding you always to think before you speak and be careful what you say! 


Give Thanks for ‘Ordinary’ Blessings

Posted: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 2:15 am in

By Rabbi Ron Isaacs

For the first time in my entire life I got to spend the Jewish High Holy days with the Beth Judah congregation in Wildwood, the only synagogue in Cape May County. I enjoyed leading them in song and prayer and found the entire experience spiritually exhilarating. 

I also enjoyed spending time on the Jersey shore, and loved taking a leisurely walk along the boardwalk, feeling the soothing ocean breeze. During the summers in contrast to the shore I spend much of my time enjoying the natural beauty of the Poconos Mountains. This summer at my summer home I was awed by the amazing flight of the hummingbirds that regularly visited my feeder. Surely they are among God’s most wondrous creatures. On one of the clear nights I witnessed the meteor shows putting on a spectacular show. 

These experiences brought to mind Moses, one of the great Bible heroes, who was a simple shepherd boy by profession. You might recall (especially if you saw the “Ten Commandments” movie) the story of Moses seeing a burning bush that was not consumed while he was tending to his flock.  As he stared at this awesome sight, God spoke to him for the first time. Bible commentators usually explain that God used the bush as a way of attracting Moses’ attention. But suppose that you were God and could do anything you wanted, split an ocean, make the sun stand still or set up a pillar of fire. Compared to such spectacular displays, a burning bush is rather unimpressive. So why did God choose such a modest miracle?

Perhaps the bush wasn’t a miracle but a test. God wanted to determine whether Moses would be able to see the mystery in something as ordinary as a tiny bush on fire. Moses had to watch the flames long enough to realize that the branches were not being consumed and that something very special was happening. And once God saw that Moses could pay real attention, God spoke to him.

I have a very special ritual that I use to pay attention. I look for opportunities to say a blessing of praise to God in order to show my appreciation for something that I experience. In Judaism, blessings begin with the words “Praised are You, God.” Saying a blessing can help change an experience significantly and often works to spiritualize it.

Here’s a story by Seymour Rossel that will help you better understand:

Once a boy who just finished eating lunch turned to his mother and said, “Thank you very much.” But his mother said, “You should not thank me alone, for I only prepared the food. The boy wondered, “Whom should I thank?

“He went to the grocery store and saw the grocer and said “Thank you, Mr. Grocer, for the fine bread that I ate.” “Oh said the grocer, you should not thank me alone. I only sell the bread, but did not bake it.”

So the boy went to the bakery and said to the baker, “I want to thank you for the wonderful bread that you bake.” The baker laughed and said, “I bake the bread but it is good because the flour is good. And the flour comes from the miller who grinds it.”  “Then I will thank the miller,” said the boy and he turned to leave. “But the miller only grinds the wheat,” the baker said. “It is the farmer that grows the grain to make good bread.”

So the boy went off in search of the farmer. He finally found the farmer and said to him: “I want to thank you for the bread that I eat every day.” But the farmer said, “Do not thank me alone. I only plant the seed, tend the field and harvest the grain. It is sunshine and good rain and rich earth that makes the wheat so good.” “But who is left to thank?” asked the boy, and he was very tired and hungry again, for he had walked a long way.

The farmer said: “Come inside and eat with my family and then you will feel better.” So the boy went into the farmhouse with the farmer and sat down to eat with the farmer’s family. Each person took a piece of bread and said: “Praised are You, Lord our God, Who brings bread out of the earth.”

And then the boy discovered that it was God whom he had forgotten to thank. 

I hope you will take more time to pay attention and look for blessing opportunities. In doing so you will experience many more spiritual moments, and uncover some of the wonders of our seemingly ordinary world. Don’t take life for granted. Life is too short to be missed. Don’t let the world pass you by. 

(The author is Interim Rabbi of Beth Judah Temple, Wildwood.)

Written by Rabbi Ron Isaacs