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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