Toldedot 5781-2020

“The Ancient Origins and Practice of Anti-Semitism”
(updated and revised from Toledot 2000-5761)

We learn in parashat Toledot that the Philistines envied Isaac, resulting in one of the earliest acts of recorded anti-Semitism. The Philistines close up all the wells that Abraham's servants had dug. It is likely that the Philistines also desperately needed water in this arid land, but they stopped up the wells for spite, to make certain that Isaac and his family would be unable to use them. It is not unusual for anti-Semites to hurt themselves at least as much as they hurt their would-be victims, the Jews.

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Chayei Sarah 5781-2020

“The Personality of Isaac: The Passive Patriarch”
(updated and revised from Chayei Sarah 5761–2000)

Much of the life of Isaac appears to reflect his seemingly passive nature. Yet, it is apparently through his passivity that he achieves greatness. It is Isaac, the "passive patriarch," who takes hold of the land of Israel, probably because he, as opposed to Abraham and Jacob, never left the land. He toiled on the land, worked the land, plowed the land and harvested the land. Through his quiet perseverance, Isaac achieved more than many others accomplish with much noise and bravado.

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Vayeira 5781-2020

“Mount Moriah: Building for the Future through Love”
(updated and revised from Vayeira 2000-5761)

The place where G-d tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is known as Mount Moriah. This place, located in the heart of Jerusalem, is where the Temple was eventually built. The well-known legend maintains that G-d selected Mount Moriah as the place for Jewish worship because of the selfless brotherly love and devotion that was practiced there. If we are to re-acquire Mount Moriah, it can only be accomplished through the practice of true fraternity and sincere, selfless love.

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Lech Lecha 5781-2020

“Lot, Nephew of Abram: The Promise and the Tragedy”
(updated and revised from Lech Lecha 2000-5761)

Abram was very close to his orphaned nephew, Lot, and did his best to educate him in the ways of morality and ethics. But, Abram and Lot soon grow apart because of Lot's obsession with comfort and wealth. At first, Lot showed great promise. In fact, he possibly could have become the material and spiritual heir of Abram, but instead he chose the luscious plain--he chose Sodom.

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Noah 5781-2020

“Noah: The Man Who Brings Comfort to the World”
(updated and revised from Noah 5761–2000)

Abram was very close to his orphaned nephew, Lot, and did his best to educate him in the ways of morality and ethics. But, Abram and Lot soon grow apart because of Lot's obsession with comfort and wealth. At first, Lot showed great promise. In fact, he possibly could have become the material and spiritual heir of Abram, but instead he chose the luscious plain--he chose Sodom.

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Bereshith 5781-2020

“The Origins and Meaning of Evil”
(updated and revised from Bereshith 5762-2001)

When the world was created, Scripture informs us that G-d saw all that He had created and that it was "very good." If that's the case, then how was evil introduced? Apparently, evil was introduced when human beings defied G-d. Fortunately, G-d has given humankind the opportunity to repair the world through good deeds and the technological skills that can eliminate most, if not all, of the world’s evils.

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Simchat Torah 5781-2020

“Celebrating Torah”
(Updated and revised from Simchat Torah 5764-2003)

Torah does not just punctuate, it permeates, the life of a Jew. Torah is meant to be nothing less than the Jews' preoccupation, all of the days and nights of one's life. Like the air that is breathed, or the heart that beats within a human chest, there is no possibility of Jewish life void of Torah.

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Sukkot 5781-2020

"I'm Dreaming of a Warm Sukkot"
(updated and revised from Sukkot 5762-2001)

A rabbi recalls his childhood memories of the festival of Sukkot in the wilderness of the Bronx.

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Yom Kippur 5781-2020

“The Thrill of Coming Home”
(updated and revised from Yom Kippur 5761-2000)

The month of Elul and the early days of Tishrei between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are universally regarded as propitious times for repentance and return. As G-d draws closer to us during this period, we need to draw closer to Him.

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Rosh Hashana 5781-2020

“A Message for the High Holy Days: ‘Export, Export!’”
(updated and revised from Rosh Hashana 5763-2002)

During the period of the Ten Days of Penitence, we need to make our lives more spiritually meaningful. It is during the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur that we must make particularly sincere efforts to "export" good deeds and acts of kindness.

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Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5780-2020

“An Exclusive Covenant with an Inclusive Philosophy”
(Revised and updated from Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5760-2000

In parashat Nitzavim, Moses, on the last day of his life, gathers all the Jewish people, from the lowliest to the most exalted, to bring them into the covenant. Just as the people did in the time of Moses, so do we too, come together in our synagogues during the Ten Days of Penitence, with all our Jewish brothers and sisters, those who are worthy, and those who appear to be unworthy. At this singular moment, we stand together as one Jewish people, past, present and future, seeking G-d’s mercy and forgiveness.

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Kee Tavo 5780-2020

“There are Stones with Human Hearts”
(updated and revised from Kee Tavo 5761-2001)

In parashat Kee Tavo, Moses transmits to the Jewish people some of the specific laws and rituals that apply once the people enter the land of Israel. He instructs the elders that, on the day they cross the Jordan to enter into Israel, the people must set up 12 great stones, cover them with plaster and write upon them all the words of this law. Tradition thus explicitly teaches us that Jewish memorials must incorporate Torah. The most appropriate memorials are houses of study and yeshivot that nurture a new generation of Jews. Only in this manner, will our enemies never be able to defeat us.

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Kee Teitzei 5780-2020

“Polygamy and Jewish Tradition”
(Updated and revised from Kee Teitzei 5761-2001)
The Torah very clearly frowns on polygamous relationships. In every single instance in scripture where a man has more than one wife, the relationship is troubled. Why then does the Torah permit a man to have more than one wife, even though it’s discouraged?

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Shoftim 5780-2020

"Security for Citizens and Caring for Guests”
(updated and revised from parashat Shoftim 5761-2001)

In parashat Shoftim, we encounter the ritual of Eglah Arufah, the ceremony in which a heifer is put to death. The ritual of Eglah Arufah, underscores that both city officials and hosts, have a responsibility of escorting visitors, to make certain that they can travel safely and securely from one city to another. Those who fail to provide security are held morally responsible. It applies to those who welcome visitors into their homes today as well.

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Re’eh 5780-2020

Re'eh 5780-2020

“Changing and Updating Jewish Law”
(updated and revised from parashat Re’eh 5762-2002)

In parashat Re’eh, we learn of the practice known as shmitat k’safim, of forgiving debts in the seventh year of the Sabbatical cycle. However, because of a proclamation by Hillel the Elder known as Pruzbul , the law of forgiving the debts has hardly ever been practiced. How was Hillel able to cancel a law of the Torah through, what seem to be, legal devices and loopholes?

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Vayeitzei 5781-2020

“The Role of Mother Rachel in Jewish History”
(updated and revised from Vayeitzei 2000-5761)

Mother Rachel is not only the great matriarch, she also is considered the great defender of her children--the Jewish people. It is Mother Rachel who watches over her children as they go out to exile and return, passing by her grave located on the road to Bethlehem. How fortunate are her progeny to have a mother who is always there for her children.

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Vayishlach 5781-2020

“The Proper and Improper use of Zealotry”
(updated and revised from Vayishlach 2000-5761)

We read of the very painful and distressing episode of the rape of Dinah, by the ruler of Shechem. Employing subterfuge in order to avenge the attack on their sister, Dinah's brothers, Simeon and Levi, demand that the men of the city be circumcised if they want to marry any Jewish women. While recovering from their circumcision, the men of Shechem are killed by Simeon and Levi, and the city is plundered by the remaining sons of Jacob. Jacob condemns Simeon and Levi for their violence and never seems to forgive them until the day of his death. However, the tribe of Simeon seems to bear that condemnation forever, whereas the tribe of Levi becomes the spiritual leader of Israel. Why their different fates?

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Eikev 5780-2020

“The Intermarriage Conundrum”
(updated and edited from parashat Eikev 5761-2001)

In Deuteronomy 7:3, the Jewish people are told not to give their daughters to the sons of the Canaanites or take their daughters for our sons. There really is no entirely compelling argument against intermarriage. It can only be appreciated by those who wish to play a role in the sacred mission of the Jewish people, to teach the world the idea of the sanctity of human life, and to work toward the perfection of the world under the rule of the Al-mighty.

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Va’etchanan 5780-2020

“The Mandate for Parental Involvement in Jewish Education”
(updated and revised from Va’etchanan 5761-2001)

The phrase “V’shee’nan’tahm l’vah’neh’chah” and you shall teach your children, found in the Shema prayer, underscores the Torah’s mandate requiring Jews to educate their children. There is no such thing as overdosing on Jewish education, or being too passionate or too extreme about the value of Jewish education. Parents must not compromise on Jewish education. The alternative is very much Jewish oblivion.

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Devarim 5780-2020

Eichah, The Annual Search for Meaning and Introspection”
(updated and revised from Parashat Devarim 5761-2001)

In order for the Fast of the 9th of Av to be meaningful, it is necessary to focus on the fast’s proper message. Eichah and Ah’yeka are two of the prominent themes of Tisha b’Av. G-d asks the Jews: “Where are you? What have you done with your lives? How could this tragedy have possibly happened?” We, of course, need to ask, how can we improve ourselves?

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Matot-Masei 5780-2020

“Setting Our Priorities Straight”
(updated and revised from Parashiot Matot-Masei 5761-2001)

In parashat Matot we learn that the tribes of Reuben and Gad, [later joined by half of Menashe], request to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan. Moses is concerned that these tribes will not join in the battle to conquer the Holy Land. Reuben and Gad respond, “We will build pens for our livestock and cities for our small children,” and, of course, they will send troops. Moses, however, corrects them, telling them that concern for their children should come before their livestock. The value of human life is infinite, and must always come first, even in a materialistic generation such as the one in which we live.

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Pinchas 5780-2020

“The Pain of Giving Reproof”
(Updated and revised from Parashat Pinchas 5761-2001)

The haftarah for parashat Pinchas, selected from the book of Jeremiah, opens with Jeremiah’s first two prophecies concerning an almond-wood staff that is shown to him by G-d, and the vision of the boiling cauldron that is bubbling over from the North. The boiling cauldron symbolizes that the evil that will come from the north–the Babylonian hoards, led by Nebuchadnetzer who will destroy the Temple. But, what is the symbol of the almond-wood staff? Could it be that G-d is trying to show the prophet that there should never be enthusiasm when delivering messages of reproof, no matter how deserving of reproof the people of Israel are? Conveying tragic messages should always be a painful experience for the prophet.

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Chukat-Balak 5780-2020

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose--History Repeats Itself!”
(Updated and revised from Parashiot Chukat-Balak 5760-2000)

According to tradition, the nations of Moab and Midian were mortal enemies. As usual, we see, once again in parashat Chukat, that the one thing that unites our enemies is their enmity of Israel, which is greater than their hatred for each other. That pattern has repeated itself throughout Jewish history. Indeed, the deeds of the fathers are the signposts for the children.

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Korach 5780-2020

“Achieving the Good Life by Picking the Right Mate”
(updated and revised from parashat Korach 5761-2001)

The Midrash highlights the roles that two women played in the rebellion of Korach. Mrs. Korach is depicted as having provoked her husband into rebellion, while the wife of On, the son of Pelet, is portrayed as having saved her husband from destruction, and preventing him from joining Korach’s rebels. By carefully choosing our friends and mates, we are often

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Shelach 5780-2020

“The Torah’s Definition of ‘Power”
(Revised and Updated from Parashat Shelach 5761-2001)

After the sin of the scouts, G-d wishes to destroy the Jewish people. Moses, however, argues with G-d that true “power” means not to destroy, but to forgive, to convert and to transfer from one strongly held attitude to another. G-d and Moses thus ascribe a new meaning to the concept of “power.”

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B’ha’a’lot’cha 5780-2020

The Torah’s Attitude toward Converts
(Revised and Updated from Parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha 5761-2001)

In parashat B’ha’alot’cha we learn that converts are required to participate in the Pascal offering even though they never experienced the exodus from Egypt. The Passover rituals teach that converts participate equally in the performance of all the commandments. Converts have played an illustrious role in Judaism. These “strangers” must be treated with great respect and sensitivity. In fact, perhaps, we are all descendants of converts, which is why the Torah bids us to conscientiously fulfill the very special mitzvah of loving the stranger.

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Naso 5780-2020

The Ordeal of the Sotah -- Barbaric or Enlightened?
(Revised and Updated from Parashat Naso 5761-2001)

To the contemporary mind, the Torah’s method of addressing the issue of a woman suspected of being unfaithful to her husband, the Sotah, and the ordeal to which she is subjected, is rather challenging. However, the ritual of the Sotah reveals many fascinating relational truths, and provides some important answers to questions we frequently face in our present-day marital relationships.

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Shavuot 5780-2020

“The Anonymous Holiday”
(updated and revised from Shavuot 5760-2000)

Despite the tradition that the Torah was given on the holiday of Shavuot, nowhere in the Torah is there any mention that the Torah was given on that particular date. Why then are the Jewish people so keen on observing this day as the holiday of the giving of the Torah?

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Bamidbar 5780-2020

"Jewish Continuity through Family Structure”
(Updated and revised from Bamidbar 5761-2001)

G-d’s profound love for the Jewish people impels Him to continually count them, as one who counts a prized possession or money. Since families are the glue, the cement, of society, G-d set the ancient Israelites in an exacting tribal and familial structure in the wilderness. However, as the contemporary nuclear family erodes, the devastating breakdown of society is not far behind. We pray that G-d will soon restore all people to their proper tents, and especially the Jews to their tribes and to their familial orderliness, so that we, and all of humankind, may be strengthened and soon redeemed.

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Behar-Bechukotai 5780-2020

“Setting a New Standard of Ethical Behavior”
(Updated and revised from Parashiot Behar-Bechukotai 5761-2001)

We’ve reached a point in society where even simple acts of kindness and honesty are considered “extraordinary.” As we learn in parashat Behar, the Torah’s goal is to transform such actions into ordinary actions. Judaism sets a very high standard–-it aims for Utopia.

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0 Comments7 Minutes