Do you remember the old story about a Jewish mother who gives her grown son two ties for his birthday? The next time the man comes to visit, he makes sure to wear one of the ties. She sees her son, looks at the tie, and exclaims immediately: "What, you don’t like the other one?"

My friends, today I want to speak with you about ties that bind; about constraints and commitments and commandments, about some of the changes you have heard about or noticed in Reform Judaism over the past several years, and about our obligations, to ourselves, to each other, and to our God.

We begin with a story.

Rabbi Richard Israel tells the tale of a pious Jew who is told by his doctor that he has a rare disease, one that could only be cured... by the eating of pork. Now, so far, this is not a problem. For as I am sure you know, Jewish law allows us to do almost anything in order to save a life. So the medical prescription to eat pork is hardly an issue. But this man... this man was determined to triumph not only over his disease, but also over the cure. Yes, of course, he would eat pork, as instructed by the physician. He would not, however, eat an animal that had been killed in an unkosher manner. He wouldn't do it. So he bought a pig. And he took it to the schochet, the kosher butcher.

"Schacht me this chazer," the man pleads. "Please slaughter this pig for me in the proper ritually kosher manner. The schochet listened sympathetically to the man's story. Yes, yes, he would slaughter this animal in a kosher manner. Of course, he’d have to buy a special knife. He couldn't use his old knives. Or, if he did, he wouldn’t be able to reuse them. So, with his new knife, on a new table, away from all the other implements, the butcher went about his business. Only then, when he was done, to his horror, on the lung of said swine he discovered—a blemish.