The Terrifying Third Aliyah of Behukkotai

The Terrifying Third Aliyah of Behukkotai

May 31, 2024 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Behukkotai

Why do we continue to read such horrible curses, and another passage much like it in Parashat Ki Tavo (Deut. 28:1–68), each year? The simplest answer is that we read the entirety of the Torah each year, omitting nothing. However, the Mishnah (Megillah 3:6) already notes something special about the curses of the Leviticus passage: “The section of curses must not be broken up but must all be read by one person.”

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What Can a Bird and a Seed Teach Us About Shemitah?

What Can a Bird and a Seed Teach Us About Shemitah?

May 24, 2024 By Yael Hammerman | Commentary | Behar

In Parashat Behar, God tells the Israelites that when they enter the land that God will give them, “the Land shall observe a Sabbath of the Adonai”—veshavta ha’aretz Shabbat l’Adonai (Lev. 25:2). This becomes known as the shemitah year. For six years, you can work to your heart’s content—you can sow, prune, and gather, but in the seventh year, the land shall have a full, complete rest: shabbat shabbaton yihiyeh la’aretz (Lev. 25:4)!

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Are We Just Speaking, or Truly Communicating?

Are We Just Speaking, or Truly Communicating?

May 17, 2024 By Loraine Enlow | Commentary | Emor

Perhaps the breaking of the formula for our parashah’s irregular emor is about more than just words. Using its characteristic wordplay, the Midrash connects the parashah’s emor here to omer in Psalm 19:3 (spelled the same way, but as a poetic noun): “day to day utters speech (omer), and night to night reveals knowledge.”  It explains that the day and the night are negotiating the giving and borrowing of time from each other to create the cycles of the year between the equinoxes. Reading the next verse in the psalm, we see “there is no speech (omer) . . .” Or as the Midrash puts it, “they pay each other back harmoniously, without a contract.”

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Who among Us Is Holy? 

Who among Us Is Holy? 

May 10, 2024 By Talia Kaplan | Commentary | Kedoshim

When God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites קדשים תהיו, “You shall be holy,” the injunction is to be delivered אֶל־כָּל־עֲדַ֧ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל, “to the entire community of Israel” (Lev. 19:2). This week’s parashah opens with a message that seems easy to get behind. The question, though, of what it actually means to be holy, is answered by commentators in a way that paints a more complicated picture. Rashi explains that being holy entails refraining from forbidden sexual relations and transgressive thoughts, which are delineated both in this and the previous parashah.

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What Do the Dead Know?

What Do the Dead Know?

May 3, 2024 By Jonathan Boyarin | Commentary | Aharei Mot

This week’s Torah portion begins with the words “after the death,” referring to the death of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu.  I appreciate the chance to contribute this week’s commentary, since I’m currently teaching a course titled “Death, Dying, and the Dead” at JTS. Much of the course is about Jewish death rituals, but I also aim to convince my students that Jewishness per se is inconceivable without some notion of the continuing presence of the dead in the world of the living. The tradition for the most part seems to take this continued presence for granted, though questions arose about exactly how it manifests.

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<i>Shevi’i Shel Pesah</i>: Living at the Frontier

Shevi’i Shel Pesah: Living at the Frontier

Apr 25, 2024 By Lauren Henderson | Commentary | Pesah

On the seventh day of Passover (Shevi’i shel Pesah), we reached the frontier of our existence: Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds. We had known slavery intimately, becoming deeply comfortable in Egypt even as we clamored to leave. And after all the plagues and darkness and death, we arrived, trembling, at the water’s edge, about to surface and breathe the unfamiliar air of freedom for the first time.

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In Each and Every Generation

In Each and Every Generation

Apr 19, 2024 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Pesah

Twice in the Passover liturgy we hear the phrase, “in each and every generation.” We are taught that “in each and every generation a person is obligated to see himself as though he had participated in the Exodus from Egypt.” On the other hand, we are reminded that “in each and every generation they arise against us to destroy us.” The consolation is that The Holy, blessed be God, presumably saves us from their hands.

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Across the Divide: Tips for Hard Conversations at the Seder Table

Across the Divide: Tips for Hard Conversations at the Seder Table

Apr 15, 2024 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Pesah

Many of us are approaching seder this year with concern about seemingly unbridgeable divides about Israel. It’s tempting to try to avoid difficult conversations, but Passover isn’t merely a holiday of gratitude for a past redemption—it calls us to move toward transformation and freedom internally and externally, individually and collectively, especially with those closest to […]

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Charting a Way Back

Charting a Way Back

Apr 12, 2024 By Ayelet Cohen | Commentary | Tazria

The book of Vayikra can be understood as an exercise in transition; if one imagines the Torah as the lifecycle trajectory of Israel, this The book of Vayikra can be understood as an exercise in transition; if one imagines the Torah as the lifecycle trajectory of Israel, this book represents adolescence/early adulthood. The Israelites are still transitioning from being an enslaved people toward becoming a free people. With their newfound autonomy, they must learn responsibility to one another and service to God. They struggle with faith, patience, ethical behavior, interpersonal relationships, and boundaries—in short, all of the things that are hard about maturation and adulthood.  book represents adolescence/early adulthood. The Israelites are still transitioning from being an enslaved people toward becoming a free people. With their newfound autonomy, they must learn responsibility to one another and service to God. They struggle with faith, patience, ethical behavior, interpersonal relationships, and boundaries—in short, all of the things that are hard about maturation and adulthood.

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Honoring Aaron’s Tragic Sacrifice in the Laws of Mourning

Honoring Aaron’s Tragic Sacrifice in the Laws of Mourning

Apr 5, 2024 By Shira Billet | Commentary | Shabbat Hahodesh | Shemini

Shemini begins on the eighth and final day of inauguration week. The ceremony narrated in Leviticus 9 culminates in a felicitous and ecstatic moment of response from God to their carefully orchestrated sacrificial rites: “Moses and Aaron then went inside the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the Presence of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt-offering . . . on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted and fell on their faces” (Lev. 9:23-24).

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Prayer as Resonance

Prayer as Resonance

Mar 29, 2024 By Luciana Pajecki Lederman | Commentary | Shabbat Parah | Tzav

According to sociologist Harmut Rosa, the main role of rituals is to produce axes of resonance, through which we not only affect but also open ourselves to being affected by God, people, and even things around us. In conceiving of Jewish prayer, our ancient rabbis indicate a concern with creating resonance, by balancing “affecting” and “being affected.”

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Amalek and the Torah of Purim

Amalek and the Torah of Purim

Mar 22, 2024 By Yitz Landes | Commentary | Purim

The Purim most of us celebrate is one that marks a moment of redemption – when a descendent of Amalek tried and failed to destroy the Jews. It is the holiday that best encapsulates the sentiment “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat”. And yet, Jewish thinkers have also understood Purim as a day that touches upon the cornerstone of Judaism itself: the covenant between God and Israel via the acceptance of the Torah. How is this connection formed? What is the relationship between Torah and Purim? And, in a calendar already chock full of holidays celebrating the Torah, what place is left for Purim?

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Playing Hide and Seek with God

Playing Hide and Seek with God

Mar 15, 2024 By Cecelia Beyer | Commentary | Pekudei

Our quest for the Divine is not a new one; we’ve been playing “hide and seek” with God since we left Egypt. In Parashat Pekudei, our ancestors also strove to come close to the Divine Presence, through assembling and dedicating the Tabernacle as a place for encountering the Divine: “When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of Adonai filled the Tabernacle” (Exod. 40:33–34). The dedication of the Tabernacle, God’s “dwelling place” on earth, was completed as God’s Presence filled and rested upon it

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The People Step Up

The People Step Up

Mar 8, 2024 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Shabbat Shekalim | Vayak-hel

By this point in the Book of Exodus, the story outlines are probably familiar: the people—having been redeemed from Egypt and covenanted with God on Mt. Sinai, and having already sinned a terrible sin by building the Golden Calf—respond to God’s detailed instructions to build a Tabernacle by donating so generously that the collection of the material with which to construct the sanctuary has to be stopped midway, even as the people are still in the process of donating.

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The Desperate (and Comprehensible) Project of the Golden Calf

The Desperate (and Comprehensible) Project of the Golden Calf

Mar 1, 2024 By Ilana Sandberg | Commentary | Ki Tissa

After the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, the Torah focuses on the project of how they could ensure God’s immanence, or retained presence, within their world. God instructs the Israelites to build the Mishkan, or Tabernacle, and establishes the sacrificial system to insure God’s continued presence. The episode of the Golden Calf seems like a grave error in this process that demands interpretation. Why would the people violate the second commandment they had just received and turn to idolatry?

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Ilana Sandberg – Senior Sermon (’24)

Ilana Sandberg – Senior Sermon (’24)

Feb 29, 2024 By JTS Senior Sermon | Commentary | Senior Sermon | Ki Tissa

Ilana Sandberg shares her senior sermon for Parshat Ki Tissa

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Senior Sermons: Class of 2024

Senior Sermons: Class of 2024

Feb 29, 2024 By JTS Senior Sermon | Commentary | Senior Sermon

Each year, student in their last year of Rabbinical School give a Senior Sermon for fellow students, faculty, and special guests and offer a sample of their unique Torah. All of the Class of 2024 will have their sermons listed here.

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The Jewelry of a Master Teacher

The Jewelry of a Master Teacher

Feb 23, 2024 By Lilly Kaufman | Commentary | Tetzavveh | Purim

Without using alchemy, the 16th-century Italian commentator Seforno (1470–1550) turned gems into gold. Writing a few short words about the gemstones that adorned the clothing of the High Priest, described in Parashat Tetzavveh, Seforno shares a truly fine insight about achieving greatness as an educator.

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Terumah—The Gift That Elevates

Terumah—The Gift That Elevates

Feb 16, 2024 By Eitan Fishbane | Commentary | Terumah

Sometimes we all feel like we’re giving more than we get, that we do more than our share, or that our individual needs are being sacrificed for the sake of someone else’s happiness. It is an emotional struggle that we encounter in our families and friendships. Why should I give when the other person doesn’t reciprocate in the way that I would want? If I give, will I also get what I deserve?

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How Can Humans Uphold Divine Justice?

How Can Humans Uphold Divine Justice?

Feb 9, 2024 By Caleb Brommer | Commentary | Mishpatim

In Parashat Mishpatim, the Ten Commandments are immediately followed by a more thoroughgoing account of the Israelite legal code. God, through Their intermediary Moshe, reveals some of the particularly sticky, tricky, and challenging cases of civil law. Mishpatim begins to answer the questions “What happens when human beings are slammed together in community? What happens when they disagree, make mistakes, and cause incidental or intentional harm? What happens when they kill each other?”

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