Caring Gifts: Parashat Naso

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Parashat Naso
Numbers 4:21 – 7:89

It is always a pleasure for me to study a Torah portion with a young person and their family as they prepare to celebrate becoming Bat Mitzvah or Bar Mitzvah. It is especially gratifying when I can discern a certain “light bulb” go off, when a student grows in understanding. This Shabbat we look forward to celebrating this milestone with Delia Kravits and her family. In the course preparing the dvar Torah that she will present, Delia came up with abundant teachings that emerged from our studies. Unfortunately, there will not be time at the service to share all of them. So we have made the choice to share one of Delia’s teachings through this forum. Continue reading

Sacred Spaces: Parashat B’midbar/ Shavuot

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Parashat B’midbar/ Shavuot
Numbers 1:1 – 4:20

Perhaps it is because the verse opens our reading and gives our Torah reading (as well as the entire book we begin this Shabbat) its name, B’midbar, that we do not notice how unique and strange the wording of this sentence is: “And the Eternal spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai (-b’midbar Sinai), in the Tent of Meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year since their leaving from Egypt, saying.” (Num. 1:1) Continue reading

empty time: Parashat B’har/B’huqqotai

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Parashat B’har/B’huqqotai
Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

Our double Torah portions bring the book of Leviticus to a close. Yet, a major theme of these readings is a practice that does not center around the sanctuary rituals that occupy most of the book. Instead the Torah turns to imagining the settled life of the people in the Promised Land. The holiness that we are to pursue in our lives, and which is concentrated in the sanctuary itself, is extended into our experience of the land. We are commanded to give the land a year of Sabbath every seven years. During that year we are not to work the land at all. Continue reading

If you will it – Parashat Emor

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Parashat Emor
Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23

We have just marked 70 years since the miracle of Israel was established. The product of manifold forces, of course, the major contributing factor from the human side (- leaving aside the miraculous factor) was the revolution of will undergone by the Jewish people. Long before Israel was proclaimed a state, the political visionary, Theodore Herzl, called out to the Jews: “Im tirtzu – eyn zu aggadah! – If you will it, it is not a legend.” Everything depended on our will – ratzon.

The word, ratzon, has a different meaning and usage in the Torah and in most religious texts of our tradition. It does not mean “will” so much as “acceptance, feeling pleased with [something].” Thus we pray, “Yih’yu l’ratzon imrei fi – may the words of my mouth be acceptable [to God].” On Shabbat we pray, “r’tzeh vim’nuhatenu – [God] be pleased with our [Sabbath] rest.”

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For the Love of Life

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Over these many months I have offered a treatment of the blessings that comprise the Amidah, the standing prayer that is central to all our services. Having concluded discussing them, we now reach the coda that closes the Amidah recitation. That coda was originally unscripted. It was the place that was devoted to personal, spontaneous prayer. It is here that the contrast between the collective and the individual,, the public and the private presents itself with force. (I have written about this issue before – see my columns in Kol Emunah for April 2014 and May, 2014)

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Giving, Giving, Giving: Parashat Acharei Mot/Q’doshim

Volunteers at "Food Not Bombs" feed the Homeless and Needy.

Volunteers at “Food Not Bombs” feed the Homeless and Needy.

Parashat Aharei Mot/Q’doshim

Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27

The prophet Isaiah, transported in a vision to God’s palace, returned to earth and taught us the prayer of the heavenly angels, who declare: ”Holy, holy, holy is the Eternal One of Myriads; the fullness of the entire world is His Glory!” (Isa. 6:3)

The angels celebrate and emphasize God’s holiness by chanting it three times. But what is this holiness that inspires them so much? And what is the connection between the first part of their praise and the second part? The movement outward from God’s palace to “the fullness of the entire earth” seems to be connected to this quality of holiness. But how?

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Pure Speech: Parashat Tazri`a/Metzora

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Parashat Tazri`a/Metzora
Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33

Every year, when we arrive at these Torah readings we swerve away from the literal text that describes a skin affliction and, instead, consider the underlying issue of the matter, as taught by our Sages: the ethics of speech. The relevance for our lives of this underlying topic is at least as great as the irrelevance for us of the literal text.

This is because we live in a time of debased language. Totalitarian, anti-democratic regimes are notorious for engaging in “double-speak” and other forms of language suppression and abuse. Sadly, the West has seen these tendencies encroach upon its society, most painfully here in the USA. Another place where this deterioration is painfully evident is in Israel, where screaming and prevaricating, insult and innuendo are all too often the norm in societal discourse.

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Upside Down: Parashat Sh’mini

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Parashat Sh’mini
Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47

“And a fire went forth from the Eternal and devoured them; and they died in God’s presence. And Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Eternal said; To say, “Through My intimates I will be sanctified, and in the presence of the whole people I will be glorified.”’ And Aaron kept silent.” (Lev. 10:2-3)

On this most glorious day of the consecration of the Tabernacle, just as Aaron and his four sons are embarking on their sacred vocation, two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, are devoured and killed by a fire from God after they approach the Tabernacle improperly. Moses begins speaking. He tries to explain what happened by relating what God had said. So Moses and God speak, but Aaron keeps silent.

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Vessels of Our Intentions: Last Days of Pesach, 2018

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Last Days of Pesach

When is Passover not Passover? When is matzah not matzah?

This year the last days of Pesach fall on Friday and Shabbat. But things will be different in Israel. Since Passover is celebrated for only 7 days in Israel, and not 8 days, as is the tradition outside of Israel, it turns out that Shabbat will not be Pesach at all. That means that the holiday prayers will not be recited in synagogue and the Torah reading will be the regular Shabbat parashah – Torah portion – rather than a holiday Torah reading. Continue reading

And The One Who Does Not Want to Ask

Asylum seekers demonstrating in Jerusalem against their forced deportation from Israel, Courtesy Haaretz

Asylum seekers demonstrating in Jerusalem against their forced deportation from Israel (photo credit: Emil Salman, Haaretz)

I am putting aside the column I had originally intended for this month because I believe it is important to write about a dramatic development just unfolding: The Israeli government has just announced that it is not going through with what they have been planning for some time –  to expel almost 40,000 refugees who have made their way from Africa to Israel in search of safety. Instead, about half the refugees will be permanently settled in Israel, while the other half will be absorbed by Western nations, including Canada, Germany and Italy. (See – Haaretz, April 4, Israel Reaches Deal with UN) Continue reading