Mapping our Love

Mapping our Love

Jun 22, 2022 By Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek | Commentary | Shelah Lekha

Moses had no idea what he was getting into.

It wasn’t just when he was talking to shrubbery and confronting tyrants at the beginning of his journey that he was in the dark about what his future held. Even deep into his leadership, even after he had weathered rebellion and despair, even after he had personal encounters with the Divine, he had no idea what was coming next.

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How Should One Shine One’s Light?

How Should One Shine One’s Light?

Jun 17, 2022 By Rabbi Luciana Pajecki Lederman | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

In the past few years, technology and social media specialists, neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers have been discussing the ubiquity of distraction in our modern lives. As Joshua Rothman puts it, “like typing, Googling, and driving, distraction is now a universal competency. We’re all experts” (The New Yorker, June 16, 2015). These specialists have been warning us about the personal perils of distraction to our learning, professional performance, financial stability, creativity, mental health, social skills and civic engagement, and even to our physical lives. And as should be expected, some suggest strategies to “reclaim attention” in this age of distraction. 

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Does God Speak?

Does God Speak?

Jun 10, 2022 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Commentary | Naso

The final verse of Parashat Naso is easy to miss. It comes after a long passage that describes the gifts the leader of each tribe presented at the Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting (both names are used for the structure) in the wilderness. Twelve times we read six verses listing the exact same set of items donated from each tribe. The substantial amount of repetition may lead readers to lose some focus as they move through the passage. But Numbers 7:89, the verse that comes right after those twelve sets of six verses, is highly significant. It provides crucial information about the nature of revelation as understood by the kohanim (Priests) who wrote this section of the Torah.

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Counting With the Full Severity of Compassion

Counting With the Full Severity of Compassion

Jun 3, 2022 By Beverly Bailis | Commentary | Bemidbar

Bemidbar, which opens the book of Numbers with a census in the wilderness, was going to be my son’s bar mitzvah parashah. His bar mitzvah had been scheduled for May 16, 2020, a date that coincided with the beginning of the 2020 US decennial census. Initially, the rather administrative biblical verses seemed dry and perfunctory: lists of names and numbers, first of a military census, followed by a census of the Levites, and then the family of Kohath, a Levite subclan. Yet as we became increasingly aware of the importance of these biblical censuses, we came to understand our own current moment and the 2020 census in a new light. Censuses capture a moment in time, as valuable points of data help to paint a picture of what a society is like, who we are as a nation, and our identity as a People

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The Blessings of Curses

The Blessings of Curses

May 27, 2022 By Ellie Gettinger | Commentary | Behukkotai

It is easy to see the last two years as a curse. A million people have died in the US alone; lives have been upended. We are in a constant state of emotional whiplash, responding to whatever new national emergency faces us. Reading the curses at the center of Parashat Behukkotai, I was struck by how chaos and lack of control presented within the tokhehah, or admonition, dovetails with the constant emotional disruption of the pandemic.

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The Limitations of Ownership

The Limitations of Ownership

May 20, 2022 By Yedida Eisenstat | Commentary | Behar

Rashi, the well-known medieval northern French biblical commentator, begins his commentary on this week’s parashah with a famous question, loosely paraphrased as follows: In what way does the matter of shemittah[the sabbatical year] have anything to do with Mount Sinai? In other words, the laws of Leviticus 25—beginning with the agricultural restrictions of the seventh year, the regulations regarding the jubilee year, limitations on sale of land and slaves—are wholly dependent on Israel living in Israel. So why, Rashi asks, were these laws commanded so long before they would become relevant? Of what relevance are the laws of shemittah to the Israelites at Sinai?

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For What Should I Compromise on Religious Observance?

For What Should I Compromise on Religious Observance?

May 13, 2022 By Alan Imar | Commentary | Emor

To what extent should we be flexible in our adherence to religious precepts, and to what extent can we remain steadfast in our commitment to certain principles, even if they exclude others? With this dilemma in mind, I want to consider the opening lines of this week’s parashah, which discuss cases where a priest may allow himself to receive tumat met (impurity from a corpse), something he is not usually permitted to do

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Fruit Trees and Foreskins

Fruit Trees and Foreskins

May 6, 2022 By Naama Weiss | Commentary | Kedoshim

In Parashat Kedoshim, the Torah introduces the commandment of orlah (עָרְלָה), where one is forbidden from eating fruit that grows in the first three years after a tree’s planting.
But the use of the word orlah here has puzzled generations of commentators, for though it appears frequently in the Torah, it is not typically connected to trees. Indeed we primarily associate the term with circumcision. How are the two uses of orlah related? And can tracing this relationship reveal something new about the rite of circumcision itself?

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Who is the Stranger?

Who is the Stranger?

Apr 29, 2022 By Linda S. Golding | Commentary | Aharei Mot

What a great invitation, I thought, to write a d’var Torah on Aharei Mot!  The opening verses that include “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain . . . lest he die” came immediately to mind. The directive to be mindful and thoughtful when entering God’s presence and the presence of others certainly aligns with a chaplain’s way of being. When entering a hospital room, for example, I know that the Shekhinah, God’s healing presence, is at the head of the patient’s bed. Holiness is already in the room, and I must be prepared to pay attention. 

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Remembering Together

Remembering Together

Apr 22, 2022 By William Plevan | Commentary | Pesah

The celebration of Pesah is an outstanding example of the central role that memory plays in Jewish tradition. Underscoring the importance of memory for sustaining human societies, Elie Wiesel wrote, “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.” Communal memory, of course, goes far beyond what any one individual can remember and experience. And yet, what makes memory so powerful as a vehicle for communal identity is that it speaks to us on a personal level.

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Which Is “Wiser”: The Story of the Exodus or the Laws of Pesah?

Which Is “Wiser”: The Story of the Exodus or the Laws of Pesah?

Apr 15, 2022 By Jeremy Tabick | Commentary | Pesah

One of the core aspects of the Torah’s Pesah commentary is the education of the participants. In its very introduction, in the reading for the first day of Pesah, the concern of education is placed front and center: “When your children will ask you, ‘What is this service for you?’ you will say, ‘It is a pesah sacrifice to God . . .’” (Exod. 12:26–27). Indeed, justifying the practice of Pesah to children comes up in the Torah no less than four times.

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Evergreen Lessons from the Haggadah

Evergreen Lessons from the Haggadah

Apr 8, 2022 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

The Passover seder—the most celebrated Jewish ritual—serves as a symbolic reenactment of the journey of the Israelites from slavery to freedom. The Haggadah commands us to experience it annually as a way of developing historical empathy for all who are oppressed, enslaved, displaced, and hoping for liberation; we have ritualized the recounting of our people’s enslavement and deliverance in part to cultivate a sense of moral responsibility toward those suffering in our own day.

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Here I Am, <em>Tzara’at</em> and All

Here I Am, Tzara’at and All

Apr 1, 2022 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Tazria | Shabbat Hahodesh

When I was 12, a few weeks before my bat mitzvah I went in to meet with one of the rabbis of my synagogue. At the time, the synagogue newsletter included a “pasuk of the week,” a verse from that week’s Torah portion that was particularly interesting or thought provoking. However, as the rabbi confessed to […]

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The Deathly Power of the Holy

The Deathly Power of the Holy

Mar 25, 2022 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Shemini | Shabbat Parah

Finding the right words after loss is hard, but Moses’s comments to Aaron in this week’s parashah are unusually difficult. At the moment that God fills Aaron’s hands with abundance, appointing him as high-priest and his descendants as an eternal priesthood, his two eldest die when they attempt to offer incense with a flame brought from outside the newly dedicated sanctuary—a strange, uncommanded offering. “And fire came forth from the LORD and consumed them . . .”

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Lessons From the Ashes

Lessons From the Ashes

Mar 18, 2022 By Naomi Kalish | Commentary | Tzav

Many of us choose our careers and life roles carefully and spend our days engaged in pursuits about which we feel passionate. However, sometimes even a vocation can feel like drudgery. Whether a profession, family role, or volunteer position, roles that once came with a sense of calling or purpose can become hard to face and starting the day can require exceptional energy. This can happen as part of the ups and downs of ordinary life but is especially true when we experience multiple simultaneous crises.

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“Tis the Gift to Be Simple”

“Tis the Gift to Be Simple”

Mar 11, 2022 By Gordon Tucker | Commentary | Vayikra | Shabbat Zakhor

Parashat Vayikra inaugurates the book of Leviticus, the center(piece) of the Torah. Following immediately on the completion of the meticulously constructed Tabernacle (Mishkan) and its sumptuous appurtenances, it launches a set of instructions for how that sacred space was to function, and under whose authority. No wonder it was called in Rabbinic times “Torat Kohanim”—“the priests’ manual.” This week thus presents an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between that Mishkan—and all its successor institutions in Jewish life—and spiritual quests.

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Can You Rival and Respect Your Teacher?

Can You Rival and Respect Your Teacher?

Mar 4, 2022 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Pekudei

Parashat Pekudei brings the Book of Exodus to a close. Strikingly, Exodus opens with the loss of one home as the Israelites descend into Egyptian enslavement, and that same book closes with the festive completion of another home, the Mishkan or Tabernacle that is the dwelling place of God’s presence. As Pekudei opens we are reminded that the Tabernacle project, far from being the work of one person, involves the entire Israelite “village”—God, Moses, Israelite craftsmen, and Israelite donors. Still, most significantly, we are reintroduced in this Torah reading to the master artisan of the Tabernacle and its appurtenances, Bezalel.

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The Sanctity of the Schoolroom

The Sanctity of the Schoolroom

Feb 25, 2022 By Ofra Backenroth | Commentary | Vayak-hel | Shabbat Shekalim

In the Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962) highlights the importance of the home for each of us: “The house, even more than the landscape, is a “psychic state,” and even when reproduced as it appears from the outside, it bespeaks intimacy” (72). This week’s parashah speaks about building a home—a home for God. Reading the description of this process underscores for me, an educator and a scholar of the arts, the importance of aesthetics and beauty in what we study, the manner in which we study, and above all, the spaces where we study.

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On Needing Certainty Now

On Needing Certainty Now

Feb 18, 2022 By Yitz Landes | Commentary | Ki Tissa

Imagine, for a moment, that you are an Israelite at the foot of Har Sinai. Over the past few weeks, your life has been turned upside down: you have witnessed mind-boggling miracles, you have been freed from slavery, and you have been brought out into the wilderness, to the bottom of Har Sinai. Too scared to go up the mountain (Exod. 19:18, 23), you and your fellow Israelites remain camped out below as Moses goes up and down, eventually staying up on top as God teaches him and prepares the Tablets. You know that you are going somewhere that you should consider home—to be sure, a place that you have never seen—and you know that many of your practices must change.

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Garments of Light

Garments of Light

Feb 11, 2022 By Raymond Scheindlin | Commentary | Tetzavveh

Last week, we read God’s orders to Moses for the construction of the Tabernacle and its accoutrements. This week, our parashah continues on the subject of the Tabernacle and the preparations for starting the sacrificial cult, focusing on the Tabernacle’s personnel: the priests—particularly their vestments and the rituals for the priests’ consecration.

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