Not By Bread Alone: Parashat Eqev

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Parashat Eqev

Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

Bread is one recurrent motif in our Torah portion. The manna – the “bread” that fell from heaven sustained the Israelites for 40 years. Moses explains that the message of this heavenly bread was “for it is not by bread alone that a person will live; rather, it is from all that issues from God’s mouth (motza pi YHVH) that a person shall live.” (Deut. 8:3)
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This Good Mountain: Parashat Va’et’hanan/Shabbat Nahamu

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Parashat Va’et’hanan/Shabbat Nahamu 
Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

You took my hand in yours and you said to me:
“Come, let’s go down to the garden.”
You took my hand in yours and you said to me:
“What you see from there – you don’t see from here.”

(Words: Y. Rotblit; Music: Mati Caspi)

Moses begs God to reconsider God’s judgement against Moses and allow him to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. “Please, let me cross over and I will see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.” (Deut. 3:25)
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Pursue Peace First: Parashat D’varim/Shabbat Hazon

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Parashat D’varim/Shabbat Hazon 
Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22

Moses creates a new book of the Torah, this fifth volume, D’varim, Deuteronomy, which we now begin. This book is the radical result of a unique partnership between God and a human being that has played itself out in our story for over 40 years, a partnership sanctified by the Jewish people for thousands of years.

This stark fact colors every word of this book. It challenges us to make sense of the words spoken and the story told by this man, embraced and empowered by God. As Moses repeats the Torah’s previous teachings, all the while rephrasing, adding to and changing the text, we wonder just how far his agency extends. Here is but one example –
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Shelter: Parashat Mattot/Mas`ei

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Parashat Mattot/Mas`ei 
Numbers 30:2 – 36:13

They call it – “`ir miqlat – a city of shelter.”  (Num. 35:11) And yes, it is safe here. The avenger seeking my death cannot touch me here. The avenger will not listen to my story, will not listen to reason. I did not mean to kill their loved one. Of course, I wish it never happened! It was a tragic accident! Yet I feel a heavy burden of guilt. And the avenger will have it no other way. If not for my fleeing here faster than they could catch me, I would be just as dead as their beloved. So, this city keeps me safe. Here is security and forgiveness, as it keeps my unforgiving enemy at bay.
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Life Itself: Parashat Pinhas

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Parashat Pinhas
Numbers 25:10 – 30:1

A new census is taken of the able-bodied men of Israel after a plague has engulfed the people and thousands have died. Indeed, death is a recurring concern in this Torah portion. Numerous deaths are recorded and remembered. And, in fact, the death of a whole generation affects the preparations of this new generation to enter the Promised Land. Therefore, for instance, the laws of inheritance need to be laid out (- to be modified in response to the objections of the daughters of Tz’lof’had). In addition, Moses’ own imminent death is put before him by God. More accurately, the theme of these sections of the Torah portion is not death itself, but how to move past death Continue reading

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

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