Congregation Beth Ami About Us
Meet the Rabbi
Rabbi Mordecai Miller
"Past Imperfect, Future Tense"
My late father, Rabbi Meyer Miller, found this "grammatical" headline intriguing. I actually think he may have used it as a title for a Rosh Hashanah sermon or two! Even thirty years ago it captured the world political situation. For whatever reason, we human beings appear incapable of learning the lessons of history. Or perhaps it’s a matter of only focusing on those lessons we want to learn and screening out any others.
It’s no coincidence that within the space of four chapters our Torah describes two major infractions on the part of humanity: one between individuals and God and the other between two individuals. I’m referring, of course, to (1) violating the Divine commandment not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and (2) the murder of Abel by his brother Cain.
The first is about the willingness on the part of human beings to accept higher authority. We are talking about a lack of desire to examine the long-term implications of our behavior as individuals. To what degree do we need to listen to the voices of others whether living in the present or the past and make our choices accordingly? Just because I believe something is right or good, isn’t a sufficient or even reliable criterion. Divine Command, I believe, lies somewhere between the historically interpreted words of our Tradition and the demands of the time.
The second (Cain vs. Abel) centers on the challenge for human beings to coexist. In the Biblical account, Cain and Abel bring offerings to God. It appears that Abel brings the best of his flock, while Cain brings leftover fruits and vegetables. When God accepts Abel’s offering and reject Cain’s, Cain feels injured and subsequently furious. God questions Cain and suggests that he needs to examine his own actions. Cain can only focus on his own hurt. He is consumed with jealousy of his brother. The end result: Cain murders Abel.
The issues described by the Torah are universal. Every single human deals with the challenge of hearing the voice of God—or should I say, "listening" to the voice of God. And every human being has to decide whether or not they are willing to face their own inadequacies. Following that, are they willing to take the steps necessary to survive in a competitive environment through their own hard work and not by simply eliminating the "offending party."
As we approach the time of harvest, the time to take stock of the fruits of our labor, the Festivals of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur provide us with opportunity to take stock of our lives. It's essentially about our moral imperative to examine the life we are living. What kind of harvest have we achieved so far; what have our lives yielded? As long as we are alive there's always the possibility of changing for the better in the New Year.
The past may be imperfect, but the future can be bright!
Susan, Sarah, Micah, Aliza, Miles and I wish you a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. May you be inscribed in the Book of Life!
About Rabbi Mordecai Miller
Rabbi Miller comes to Beth Ami from 21 years as the Rabbi of Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel in St. Louis. In 1991, Rabbi Miller came to St. Louis from Canton, Ohio where he served as Rabbi of Shaaray Torah Synagogue for ten years. Prior to his tenure at Shaaray Torah, he spent seven years at Temple of Aaron in St. Paul Minnesota as Assistant Rabbi to Rabbi Bernard Raskas.
The son of a rabbi, Mordecai Miller was born in the United States and moved with his family to South Africa when his father, Rabbi Meyer Miller, accepted the pulpit at Temple David in Durban. After receiving his B.A. from the University of Natal, Rabbi Miller returned to the United States and entered the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati where he was ordained in 1974, receiving both B.H.L. and M.A.H.L. degrees.
Rabbi Miller is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly of America and is a past president of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association. Rabbi Miller has served on the boards of the St. Louis Jewish Light, Care and Counseling and is past member of the cabinet of Interfaith Partnership. He continues to serve on the advisory boards of these organizations. Over his twenty-one years in St. Louis Rabbi Miller has taught various classes in Bible and Rabbinics at BSKI and throughout the St. Louis community, including teaching Talmud to the Seventh and Eighth grade classes at Solomon Schechter Day School and offering courses at the Adult Melton mini-school and the Robert P. Jacobs Adult Institute.
Rabbi Miller comes to Santa Rosa with his wife Susan; their daughter Sarah, who is working for for Brandeis Hillel Day School of San Francisco and Marin, as Interim Director of Jewish Life and Learning; and Susan's son Miles Yehonatan. The Miller's son, Micah, lives with his wife Aliza in Los Angeles where he is completing his first year of study at the Ziegler Rabbinical School of the American Hebrew University.
In his free time, Rabbi Miller enjoys studying texts, reading, singing, playing the clarinet, cooking and baking.
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