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

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

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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Stand By Me: Parashat B’har/B’chuqqotai

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Parashat B’har/B’huqqotai (5780 – 2020)
Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

“Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me (`imadi).” (Ps. 23:4) This verse from Psalm 23 is recited in times of sorrow and crisis as a source of comfort. We are sorely in need of such comfort and such prayers during this grim time.

The psalmist gratefully states that God “is with me.” The more common Hebrew words for “with me” are “’itti” or “`immi.”  But the Psalmist forgoes those usual words for the word imadi. The usual word “`imadi” can be found in the Bible here and there. And it is found on our Torah reading this Shabbat, as well. Is there a reason this rare term is sometimes chosen? What does this rare word seek to convey?
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Look at Ourselves in the Mirror: Parashat Emor

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Community Food Bank of NJ and Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges to Donate Over a 14 tons of Emergency Food Packages to East Orange Residents During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Photo: Milton Hobbs

Parashat Emor (5780 – 2020)
Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23

Our Torah portion includes a long discussion about the holy days to be observed throughout the Jewish year. The Torah begins with Passover, the festival of the liberation of the Jewish people, and then tells us to count 50 days until the harvest holiday of Shavuot. (We are in the midst of this counting “of the `omer” right now.) Then it proceeds to the holidays of Rosh Ha-shanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
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Locked Out – Locked In: Parashat Acharei Mot/Q’doshim

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Parashat Aharei Mot/Q’doshim (5780 – 2020)
Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27

Our Torah reading begins with reference to the tragic deaths of two of the sons of Aaron, the High Priest. (Lev. 16:1) They died because they tried to enter the holy sanctuary inappropriately. The Torah goes on to limit access to the inner space, the Holy of Holies, to very specific conditions. The High Priest enters only on the Day of Atonement and only in certain clothes and with certain rituals to perform. Otherwise everyone is prohibited from entering that sacred space, on pain of death. For the Torah this warning is necessary because she assumes that everyone will desire to enter the holy all the time. Continue reading