The Values of a Jewish Home

The Values of a Jewish Home

Dec 5, 2015 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayeshev

A few weeks ago, Etgar Keret, an accomplished author on the Israeli literary scene, made a pilgrimage from his home in Tel Aviv to JTS’s Schocken Institute in Jerusalem to address a group of rabbinical students from JTS and HUC. Among the many thoughtful and reflective insights he shared, he spoke of the need for Israeli society to reflect the best of Jewish values. 

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Serving God

Serving God

Aug 14, 2015 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Re'eh

Demonstrating uncompromising devotion to God is the theme of this week’s parashah. Such devotion is expressed through belief, but more importantly, through avodah, meaningful service to God. For the biblical Israelite, service to God meant loyalty to God’s commandments and participation in the sacrificial cult. In Deuteronomy, avodah referred specifically to offering sacrifices to God at a central place of worship: “look only to the site that the Lord your God will choose amidst all your tribes as His habitation, to establish His name there. There you are to go, and there you are to bring your burnt offerings and other sacrifices. . .” (Deut. 12:5-6).

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The Rigors of Leadership

The Rigors of Leadership

May 8, 2015 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Emor

In the wake of violent religious extremism that plagues our world today, why are some religious leaders not expressing their opposition to bloodshed in the name of God? By turning a blind eye and silencing their voices, religious leaders tacitly give their approval to the violence—both tarnishing their reputation as leaders and diminishing God’s presence in this world. Leadership, especially religious leadership, demands scrupulousness and accountability.

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“We Were Slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt”

“We Were Slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt”

Jan 23, 2015 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Bo

Mount Sinai and a pyramid mirror each other, two halves of a whole. The pyramid is upside down, demonstrating that slavery is unnatural. Servitude distorts reality and ambition. This distortion comes not only from slavery to a human master, but also from when we become enslaved to our own drives—lacking the ability to envision an alternative or to hold fast to hope.

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Looking Upward and Outward

Looking Upward and Outward

Nov 7, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayera

Sight and vision play an important role in the two opening narratives of Parashat Vayera. 

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An Environmental Journey

An Environmental Journey

Oct 14, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Sukkot

One of my sweetest memories as a rabbinical student at The Jewish Theological Seminary relates to the holiday we welcome this week, Sukkot.

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Expelling Our Own Scapegoats

Expelling Our Own Scapegoats

Oct 3, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Yom Kippur

This coming Shabbat culminates the period of ‘aseret yemei teshuvah, the 10 days of repentance, as we commemorate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

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Teshuvah: Seeking the Hidden Face of God

Teshuvah: Seeking the Hidden Face of God

Sep 26, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ha'azinu | Shabbat Shuvah

This coming Shabbat, the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is known as Shabbat Shuvah, the “Sabbath of Return.”

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The Covenant and the Land

The Covenant and the Land

Sep 19, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Nitzavim | Vayeilekh

At the opening of Parashat Nitzavim, the Israelites stand rooted before Moses and God. A captive and diverse audience, they are recipients of a message that is both immediate and transcendent in nature.

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From Reflection to Appreciation

From Reflection to Appreciation

Sep 12, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Having underscored the role of memory at the conclusion of last week’s parashah (remembering the cruelty of Amalek), the Torah now accentuates the importance of appreciation in Parashat Ki Tavo.

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A Time to Grieve

A Time to Grieve

Sep 5, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

As the fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas continues to hold and war is waged against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), we turn our soul’s attention to Parashat Ki Tetzei.

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Dependent? Yes, but on Whom?

Dependent? Yes, but on Whom?

Aug 29, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Shofetim

The Cairo Genizah, a rich treasure trove of Jewish history (60,000 fragments of this repository are housed in The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary) rediscovered by Solomon Schechter toward the end of the 19th century, attests to the rich Jewish life that flourished in Egypt and beyond.

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Lessons of Idolatry

Lessons of Idolatry

Aug 22, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Re'eh

Parashat Re’eh looks forward to the entry of the Israelites into the Land.

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Taking Responsibility for the Land

Taking Responsibility for the Land

Aug 15, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Eikev

Parashat Eikev deals heavily with the theme of entering and securing the Land of Israel.

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Humility: God Is Above and Below

Humility: God Is Above and Below

Aug 8, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

Parashat Va’et-hannan, the second Torah reading of the book of Deuteronomy, places much of its emphasis on the loyal observance of mitzvot, God’s commandments.

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A Shared Responsibility

A Shared Responsibility

Aug 1, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Devarim

This coming Shabbat, we begin the fifth and final book of Torah as we read Parashat Devarim, the opening of the book of Deuteronomy.

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At Home, Running for Cover

At Home, Running for Cover

Jul 25, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Masei

The past month has been a time of great emotion and tension for those of us living in Israel. From the moment that Naftali Fraenkel (z”l), Gilad Sha’ar (z”l), and Eyal Yifrach (z”l) were kidnapped, there was a sense of foreboding that overtook the country.

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Binding and Releasing

Binding and Releasing

Jul 18, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Mattot

At the very beginning of Parashat Mattot, the topic of words and vows is addressed.

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The Importance of Constructive Action

The Importance of Constructive Action

Jul 11, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Pinehas

Recall the troubling and cryptic episode at the conclusion of last week’s parashah: the Israelites encamp at Shittim; they are seduced by Moabite women and attach themselves to an idolatrous cult of Ba‘al Pe‘or.

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Always Strive to Be Israel

Always Strive to Be Israel

Jul 4, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Balak

This week’s Torah reading, Parashat Balak, is primarily focused on the Moabite king’s efforts to curse the Israelites.

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