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?

Read More
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. 

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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 […]

Read More
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 . . .”

Read More
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.

Read More
“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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
Holding God, Our Tradition, and One Another Close

Holding God, Our Tradition, and One Another Close

Feb 4, 2022 By Jacob Blumenthal | Commentary | Terumah

As a leader in the Conservative-Masorti Movement, I see my own ambivalence around the use of technology on Shabbat and to form minyanim shared among many communities, clergy, and synagogue leaders. How should we position ourselves? Should the new opportunities provided by these technologies lead the way? Should we temper our enthusiasm?  Should we heed Abraham Joshua Heschel’s call to experience Shabbat “independent of technical civilization” and trust in our inherited traditions to hold us together (The Sabbath, 28)? 

Read More
The Torah’s Creative Team

The Torah’s Creative Team

Jan 28, 2022 By David Shmidt Chapman | Commentary | Mishpatim

The metaphor of a playwright and director crafting a new play together can be applied to our parashah. The playscript God is developing is the set of mishpatim (rules), expanding on the Ten Commandments. God begins developing the “script” in a speech to Moses in Exodus 21:1: “And these are the rules that you shall set before them . . . ”

Read More
Strangers at a Revelation

Strangers at a Revelation

Jan 21, 2022 By Dr. Miriam Feldmann Kaye | Commentary | Yitro

Parashat Yitro is framed by the geographical and conceptual ideas of exile and homecoming. Against the backdrop of Bereishit, the notion of movement is critical in framing the experiences of biblical characters: the exile from Eden; the exile of Cain; the “calls” to Abraham, Jacob, and others to move, relocate, and find new homes.

Read More
Commanded to Remember

Commanded to Remember

Jan 14, 2022 By Nicole Wilson-Spiro | Commentary | Beshallah

In our Torah portion, after Amalek’s unsuccessful attack on the Israelites, God says to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in the book and tell it to Joshua because I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Exod. 17:14). Deuteronomy 25:17–19 repeats the injunction: “Remember what Amalek did to you on your way after you left Egypt . .

Read More
Teach Your Children Well

Teach Your Children Well

Jan 7, 2022 By Dov Kahane | Commentary | Bo

In Parashat Bo, we read about “Pesah Mitzrayim”—God’s instructions to the Israelites for the eve of their exodus—including slaughtering the lamb and placing its blood on the doorposts as a marker of divine protection. In Exodus 12:21–28, Moshe conveys these rites, including the need to explain them to children. Many of these passages are most familiar to us from the Passover Haggadah. What can we learn from the way they have been incorporated there?

Read More
Cover Crop for a Hardened Heart

Cover Crop for a Hardened Heart

Dec 31, 2021 By Dave Yedid | Commentary | Va'era

These two verses describe the impact of the final plague in the parashah, hail. They come in the short thaw between Pharoah softening his heart—for the first time this parashah—and hardening it again, where our parashah ends. Why does our Torah mention these four crops? What do they have to do with the plagues, or in the calculation of Pharaoh’s change of heart?

Read More
Who is “Us”?

Who is “Us”?

Dec 24, 2021 By Jessica Dell’Era | Commentary | Shemot

At first, Pharaoh feels sure he’s harming only them. These Hebrews that he’d inherited, who’d came with a story about some Joseph prince—but who cares about ancient history? In Pharaoh’s view, the Hebrews are merely a tool for building out new garrison towns. What is a Hebrew slave to mighty Pharaoh, a living god among his people?

Read More
Reset Search

SUBSCRIBE TO TORAH FROM JTS

Our regular commentaries and videos are a great way to stay intellectually and spiritually engaged with Jewish thought and wisdom.