Differing Paths? Parashat Huqqat/Balaq

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Parashat Huqqat/Balaq
Numbers 19:1 – 25:9

The specter of the Land of Israel hovers over these Torah readings.

They are stories that take place on the threshold of the Israelites’ entering the Promised Land, and they take place many years after the previous Torah portion left off its story. The generation of the Exodus and the wilderness has died off and a new generation is prepared to fulfill the long deferred dream of entering into the Land. The 38 ½ years of wandering in the desert have come to an end. They are not remembered within the text. As we pace ourselves within the story as it is told, it is as if those years have been completely forgotten in the excited anticipation of this imminent move.
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Standing Guard: Parashat Korah

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Parashat Korah
Numbers 16:1 – 18:32

After weathering the challenge mounted by Korah, the tribe of Levi assumes its proper status as the tribe in charge of taking care of the Tabernacle. The people of Israel are told: “They [- the Levites] shall follow after you and guard the security of the Tent of Meeting for all the service of the Tent, and no one ineligible shall come near to you.” (Num. 18:4) And later, the Torah explains that the guardianship of the Levites is vital for the safety of the Children of Israel: “And the Children of Israel will no longer be able to come too close to the Tent of Meeting, to incur mortal sin.” (Num. 18:22)

The Levites were meant to stand guard around the sacred ground of the Tabernacle and prevent any trespass into that space by an Israelite who was not eligible to enter it. To trespass onto the holy precincts of the Tabernacle would be a “mortal sin.” So the Levites, by barring entry to trespassers, would actually be saving that would-be trespasser’s life.

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What About Caleb? Parashat Sh’lah

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Parashat Sh’lah

Numbers 13:1 – 15:41

What makes one person crumble in the face of a crisis while another person remains steadfast and courageous? This is a recurrent question raised in every place and every era when and where human goodness and faithfulness is put to the test by challenging circumstances and by the spread of popular fear in response – which is to say, always. Continue reading

Guiding Principles of Jewish Law and Tradition and their Application to Our Situation

Sharing Shabbat

It has been my sacred privilege and responsibility to serve Congregation Shomrei Emunah as its Rabbi for almost 11 years. I have always taken on my role as the community’s authority on Jewish Law and as its spiritual leader with a sense of reverence.

The present crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic has placed extraordinary strain on all of us as individuals and families and on our entire world, our society and our synagogue. I am thankful for all of our community members for their extra efforts in helping the Shomrei community meet this challenge. And I am aware that I bear a heavy responsibility in making decisions on behalf of our community that will guide our policies and actions in accordance with my best understanding of what the Torah – Jewish Law and Tradition – demand, permit or forbid.  Continue reading

Transforming Uncertainty: Parashat Beha’alotcha

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Parashat B’ha`alot’kha 
Numbers 8:1 – 12:16

“And it was in the second year[since leaving Egypt], in the second month on the twentieth of that month, that the Cloud lifted from the Tabernacle of Testimony. And the Children of Israel traveled on their journeys from Mount Sinai, and the Cloud came to rest in the wilderness of Paran.” (Num. 10:11-12)

The Children of Israel finally departed from their long stay at Mount Sinai. They had been encamped around Mount Sinai for almost a year. It was home. It was familiar. It was normal. But it was now time to move forward, into the unknown, with the goal of arriving in the Promised Land.
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Ease the Burden: Parashat Naso

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Parashat Naso
Numbers 4:21 – 7:89

Among the many topics dealt with in our reading, the gifts of the chieftans of the twelve tribes is chosen as the concluding one. This lengthy section celebrates the generosity of each tribe’s desire. The gifts were not commanded by God, but were spontaneously offered. Moreover, the tribes each gave two separate sets of gifts. One set of gifts was a collection of animals  and utensils dedicated to the consecration of the new Tabernacle through sacrificial rites. Each tribe gives the identical gift of animals and utensils and each tribe is allocated its own day to celebrate that gift, totaling twelve days of consecration. (See Sparks 2018) These gifts are offered to serve God. Continue reading

Responding to a Society in Crisis

Protest in Livingston; photo courtesy of northjersey.com

Protest in Livingston; photo courtesy of northjersey.com

With great sorrow and great outrage, I join with all people who steadfastly stand for the ultimate value of every human life. The murder of Mr. George Floyd is one more obscene crime in a long history of crimes committed against people of color in our society, crimes that have been ignored and dismissed for too long, crimes that seek to declare that Black lives just do not matter. Black Lives Matter.

During this time of global pandemic, we are under incredible strain to protect our own lives, the lives of our loved ones, and, if we take this situation seriously, the lives of all people. But we must realize that we have been exposed, not only to a deadly virus, but also to long festering failures in how we live as a society. So, it is doubly tragic that in this time when saving a life is so paramount in our thinking, the wanton disregard for human life, systemically entrenched in our society, still continues to thrive. Continue reading

Shavuot: Where E’er You Go

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Shavuot (5780 – 2020)
The Book of Ruth

This year the holiday of Shavuot falls of Friday and Shabbat, preempting a regular Torah-portion reading and calling for special readings instead. Our Torah readings are taken from various parts of the Torah. One reading tells of our amazing experience – once in all of history – of receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai and the other day’s reading tells about the yearly cycle of holidays – including Shavuot – that we have adopted in perpetuity. In addition, as with every pilgrimage festival, we add a reading from a special scroll. For Shavuot the reading is the Book of Ruth. Continue reading

Shavuot Nature Wall

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Celebrate Beautiful Nature on Shavuot!

A Message From Rabbi Greenstein:

There is a wonderful custom of decorating synagogues and homes with flowers and leaves and pictures of nature on the holiday of Shavuot, the festival celebrating our receiving the Torah. While we are still not able to celebrate within the walls of our synagogue, we can create a wall of photos and images of nature’s beauty to enhance our joy.

Thank you to photographers in our community, Judith Antelman, Bruce Baff, Nancy Breslin, Aimee Brooks, Sarita Eisenberg, Aileen Grossberg, Rabbi Richard Hammerman, Laura Monka and Merrill Silver who have submitted their images in honor of Shavuot.

What a beautiful way to welcome our holiday! May we always take to heart the world’s great beauty!

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New Vistas: Parashat Bamidbar

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Parashat Bamidbar (5780 – 2020)
Numbers 1:1 – 4:20 

The fourth book of the Torah begins by setting the location of God’s communication with Moses. It states that “The Eternal spoke to Moses in the desert of (b’midbar) Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting…” (Num. 1:1) The Tent of Meeting is the very same place in which God has been speaking to Moses for months. The first verse of the third book of the Torah begins: “And God called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.” (Lev. 1:1) The conclusion of the Leviticus tells us that the Tent of Meeting was at the foot of Mount Sinai. But the opening verse of Bamidbar changes the name of the location of the Tent from being t Mount Sinai to being in the wilderness of Sinai.
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