Vayeitzei 5783-2022

“The Transformation of Jacob”
(updated and revised from Vayeitzei 5763-2002)

At first glance, Jacob appears to be a congenital deceiver. He takes the birthright from his brother then steals Esau's blessing. Even Jacob’s father, Isaac describes the taking of the blessing by Jacob as an act of deception. Jacob however undergoes a transformation in which he realizes that evil cannot be deceived but must be confronted directly. For this reason, Jacob is to be regarded as a particularly exalted figure, for teaching humankind how one is to deal with one's own shortcomings.

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Toledot 5783-2022

“The Deeds of the Fathers are Signposts for the Children”
(updated and revised from Toledot 5763-2002)

In parashat Toledot we read, for the third time, the story of our patriarchs going to Egypt or to Gerar on account of famine. This time it's Isaac and Rebecca, rather than Abraham and Sarah, but the stories are virtually identical to the previous two. The famed Italian Bible scholar, Umberto Cassuto, suggests that this story is a paradigm, and its frequent repetition is predictive of what will happen to the Jewish people in the future. There will be a famine, and the families of the descendants of Abraham and Isaac will leave their homes and go into exile. The men will be threatened with death, but the women will be allowed to live. Eventually, the people will go out with great wealth.

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Chayei Sarah 5783-2022

“The Torah’s Recipe for Finding a Proper Mate”
(updated and revised from Chayei Sarah 5763-2002)

This week's parasha is a primary source from which we learn much about the qualities that one should look for when seeking a mate. The lessons that may be gleaned from our scriptures serve as a sound guide, even for contemporary times. They are not primitive. In fact, in many instances, they are light-years ahead of contemporary practices and understandings.

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Vayeira 5783-2022

“Sodom: The Home of Institutionalized Evil”
(updated and revised from Vayeira 5763-2002)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in Sodom? Both the biblical texts and the accompanying Midrashic literature vividly describe the extraordinary evil practiced by people of Sodom, where virtue was declared vice and vice--virtue. Unfortunately, there are elements of Sodom that are found in many aspects of our contemporary society as well. If we are to protect ourselves from these harmful influences, we need to be on the alert and learn to identify those evil aspects.

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Lech Lecha 5783-2022

“The Two Birds of Israel”
(updated and revised from Lech Lecha 5763-2002)

The "Covenant Between the Pieces" is full of symbolism regarding the future of the Jewish people. Three 3-year-old animals--a heifer, a goat and a ram--are slaughtered and cut in half. Two birds, a turtledove and a young pigeon, are not cut. The animals, say the rabbis, represent the nations of the world who seek to destroy the Jewish people. The birds, the turtledove and the young pigeon, on the other hand, symbolize the Jews. The animals are split in half, indicating that those nations who attack Israel will ultimately be destroyed. Scripture states that the "bird" is not cut, referring to only a single bird. Why are two birds necessary to represent the Jewish people? We are, after all, one people, not two. And why are the two birds referred to as a single bird?

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Noah 5783-2022

“The Story of Noah--Fact or Fantasy?”
(updated and revised from Noah 5763-2002)

It is not at all surprising that many of the ancient near-East documents contain parallel stories of the Great Flood. Perhaps the most famous is the Babylonian flood story known as the "Epic of Gilgamesh." And yet, despite the parallels, the stories are profoundly different. While the details regarding the flood are similar, the Bible introduces a profound and revolutionary moral element. In the Biblical version G-d does not simply decide to destroy the world on a whim, but rather does so because of the corruption of the world's inhabitants. The fact that the Biblical story of the flood is not simply about gods who entertain themselves at humankind's expense, is what makes the Biblical Noah story revolutionary and meaningful.

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0 Comments11 Minutes

Bereshith 5783-2022

“The Book of Humankind”
(updated and revised from Bereshith 5764-2003)

In an examination of a single verse in the first parasha of the Torah, a wealth of meaning is to be found. This "Book," which is in some ways the history of all human life, unites the Jewish people and humanity. Alongside the idea that all people stem from one source, there is an allusion to the “book” that every person writes during the collection of years that is called life. The offspring of the first human, and those of every subsequent human being, are not just his/her physical progeny, but the legacy that he/she leaves to humankind.

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Sukkot 5783-2022

“The Seven Protective Divine Clouds”
(updated and revised from Sukkot 5764-2003)

According to the Midrash, the Jewish people were protected in the wilderness from the elements and from enemy attack by seven clouds. Though it is often hard to believe, the Jewish people today are similarly cared for in their exile. G-d indeed shields them. But, it is also necessary for Jews must do all they can to look after their own well-being.

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0 Comments7 Minutes

Haazinu 5783-2022

“The Final Song”
(updated and revised from Haazinu 1999-5759)

The final song of Moses is intended to help the Jewish people remember the days of yore. The past is truly vital for Israel, as there is much to be learned from previous generations. Much pain and suffering can be avoided if only the future is approached through the wisdom of the past.

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0 Comments9 Minutes

Vayeilech/Yom Kippur 5783-2022

“Difficult Transitions”
(Updated and revised from Vayeilech/Yom Kippur 5769-2008)

Transitions are always difficult. In parashat Vayeilech, we learn of the transfer of leadership from Moses to Joshua. In a Chassidic tale we learn about a Jewish feudal lord who had converted to Christianity, returning to the Jewish faith only moments before his death.

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Rosh Hashana 5783-2022

“Making Each Day Count”
(updated and revised from Rosh Hashana 5764-2003)

The High Holidays are a time to rendezvous with our Maker, to own-up to the sins that we have committed during the previous year, and to emerge anew, ready to serve G-d with vitality, freshness, and enthusiasm. What is the secret to living a life full of life?

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Nitzavim 5782-2022

“The Hidden Things Belong to G-d”
(updated and revised from Nitzavim 5765-2005)

Parashat Nitzavim contains one of the most enigmatic verses of the Torah that states that the hidden things are for the L-rd our G-d, but the revealed things are for us and for our children forever, to carry out all the words of this Torah. In their efforts to clarify the meaning of this verse, our rabbis offer a number of cogent elucidations. One of the most moving explanations is that when the final redemption comes, the Jews who had become so assimilated (hidden) among other peoples that their origins have become forgotten, will be reunited (revealed) with the rest of the Jewish people, and restored to their status among the Jewish nation.

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Kee Tavo 5782-2022

“Watch Out for Laban, He’s More Dangerous than Pharaoh!”
(updated and revised from Kee Tavo 5763-2003)

As part of the Bikkurim declaration, the celebrants stated that, "An Aramean tried to destroy my father." The Torah thus sees the Aramean, Laban, as more dangerous than Pharaoh. The fact that Pharaoh wants to do us in, is well known, so we can be on our guard. Our brother Laban, however, the wily Aramean, is always out there waiting for us, feigning love, conspiring to defeat us. We need to always be on watch for him.

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Kee Teitzei 5782-2022

“The Torah’s Radical Approach to Child Rearing”
(updated and revised from Kee Teitzei 5763-2003)

In parashat Kee Teitzei, we learn of the law of the Ben Sorer u'Moreh, the wayward and rebellious son. The Code of Jewish Law sets out very precise guidelines for child rearing that, at first blush, appear to be extremely harsh. However, after careful analysis, we see that the Torah is basically establishing firm boundaries between parent and child, that leads to a healthy and loving parent-child relationship.

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Shoftim 5782-2022

“Astrology, Witchcraft and Spiritualism in Judaism”
(updated and revised from Shoftim 5763-2003)

In parashat Shoftim, the Torah declares, that when the Jewish people enter the land of Israel, they must not follow the abominable practices of the nations that reside there. It is strictly prohibited to cause a son or a daughter to pass through fire, to practice divination or astrology, or to visit one who reads omens. Patronizing a sorcerer, an animal charmer, inquiring of the Ov or Yidoni, or consulting the dead is forbidden. Jews are supposed to be wholehearted with G-d and not support the magic or spirituality of the ancients. The question remains, is there any efficacy to witchcraft or to the magic of the ancients?

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Re’eh 5782-2022

“Identifying a True Prophet”
(updated and revised from Re’eh 5764-2004)

Identifying and distinguishing a true prophet from a false prophet is rather difficult. It is particularly complicated because the Torah maintains that the prophecies and predictions of false prophets may come true, and that the message of even a true prophet may, at times, not be fulfilled. The issue of identifying true prophecy has been fraught with danger for the Jews, especially during the last 2000 years of Christian history.

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Eikev 5782-2022

“Is There Truth to the Notion of Spiritual Accountability?”
(updated and revised from Eikev 5763-2003)

In the second paragraph of the Shema, we read of the Jew's relationship of responsibility and accountability toward G-d. Could it be that just as there is a physical accountability in the world, there is a spiritual accountability, as well? The Torah categorically affirms this notion.

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0 Comments9 Minutes

Va’etchanan 5782-2022

“Why the Sh’ma?”
(updated and revised from Va’etchanan 5763-2003)
The Sh'ma prayer is the central prayer that speaks of the acceptance of the dominion of G-d upon us. Two major questions come immediately to mind. Why do our rabbis speak of this text, calling it the acceptance of the "yoke of heaven," a phrase that is rather intimidating and daunting? Another significant troublesome question is the nature of the first line of the Shema. Why are we told to "love" the L-rd, with all our hearts, soul, and might? Shouldn't we be told to "believe" in the L-rd, our G-d, with all our heart, souls, and might?

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0 Comments6 Minutes

Devarim 5782-2022

“The Gentle Reproof”
(updated and revised from Devarim 5763-2003)

The book of Devarim records the words that were spoken by Moses in the last five weeks of his life, given as a last will and testament to his beloved people. In this parasha, Moses provides an example of how reproof should be given by alluding to the people indirectly, rather than announcing the exact sins that were committed. We may indeed learn from Moses how to give effective reproof with great gentleness.

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0 Comments15 Minutes

Matot-Masei 5782-2022

“The Massacre of the Midianites: Does Judaism Countenance Genocide?”
(Updated and revised from Matot-Masei 5763-2003)

In parashat Matot, G-d tells Moses to mobilize the army of Israel and exact vengeance on the Midianites. The rabbis of old are troubled by this call. They explain that “genocide” was never countenanced by Jewish law. In fact, it is mandated to always first sue the enemy for peace and give them opportunity to flee if they refused to live in a civilized manner and in peace. Nevertheless, Jewish tradition teaches that one should not be overly compassionate, otherwise one may wind up being cruel at a time when compassion is appropriate.

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0 Comments7 Minutes

Pinchas 5782-2022

“Can a Perfect G-d Sin?”
(Updated and revised from Pinchas 5763-2003)

In the long list of sacrifices that appears in parashat Pinchas, we learn of the sin offering that is brought on Rosh Chodesh, the new moon sacrifice. In Numbers 28:15, the Torah instructs the priest to bring one he-goat "for a sin offering unto the L-rd." However, the Hebrew “l’cha’taht la’Hashem” really means “a sin offering for G-d.” The Talmud in Chullin 60b, suggests that each month a sin offering is brought for G-d as atonement for G-d's “sin” of reducing the size of the moon. There is much to learn from G-d’s “sin offering.”

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Balak 5782-2022

“How Goodly Are Your Tents O’ Jacob”
(updated and revised from Balak 5764-2004)

Targum Jonathan, the Aramaic translation of the Torah, states that Balaam saw the schools of the Jewish people and was moved to say: "How goodly are your tents O' Jacob?" The "number one" priority in Jewish life is to ensure that committed Jews remain committed. There is no better way of ensuring that commitment, than by providing quality intensive Jewish education for our children. If we fail to do so, then our Jewish future is in jeopardy.

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0 Comments16 Minutes

Chukat 5782-2022

“A Tribute to Miriam, Our Sister”
(updated and revised from Chukat 5764-2004)

In parashat Chukat, we are informed of the death of Miriam. Who was Miriam, and why was she so special? From the scriptural texts and the Midrashic literature, we learn that, from the time Miriam was barely a child, she was already changing the course of Jewish history with her exceptional leadership abilities and wisdom.

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0 Comments9 Minutes

Korach 5782-2022

“Korach’s Rebellion: Why is the Jewish Community Losing So Many of its Best and Brightest?”
(updated and revised from Korach 5763-2003)

According to rabbinic tradition, Korach was a great Torah scholar who went astray because of jealousy. But Korach was only the first of many great Jewish minds and personages who walked away from Jewish tradition. Perhaps the story of Korach can help clarify for us some of the root causes of Jewish apostasy.

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0 Comments8 Minutes

Shelach 5782-2022

“Achieving Immortality”
(updated and revised from Shelach 5763-2003)

Immediately after being informed that they will not enter the land of Israel, G-d tells Moses to instruct the people that upon entering the Promised Land they are to bring sacrifices with special wheat, oil and wine offerings. It seems rather cruel of G-d to rub salt into the wounds of the people by giving them instructions that they will never be capable of fulfilling. Perhaps the Torah is teaching these very same individuals that they can achieve immortality. While the Al-mighty informs the generation of the wilderness that they will perish, they learn that they will live on through their children who will be loyal to the faith-system of Israel and will joyously celebrate and sacrifice in the land of Israel.

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0 Comments7 Minutes

B’ha’a’lot’cha 5782-2022

“The Message of the Manna”
(updated and revised from B’ha’a’lot’cha 5763-2003)

The Manna is the food from heaven that sustained the Israelites for forty years as they wandered in the wilderness. Manna, in effect, represents the heavenly means of support that is provided to each household. The Malbim, Rabbi Meir Yehudah Leibush, cites seven important lessons to be gleaned from Manna. Ultimately, the lesson is, that we must be the masters of our labors and our careers and not allow them to master us.

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0 Comments7 Minutes

Naso 5782-2022

“The Hypocrite as Exemplar”
(updated and revised from Naso 5763-2003)

Why is the Torah portion concerning the person who fails to fulfill his religious obligation juxtaposed with the portion of the woman who is suspected of being unfaithful to her husband? From this unusual textual positioning we learn much about human nature. Providing a favorable example is far more impressive and effective than preaching.

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Bamidbar 5782-2022

“The Role of the Levites, and the Service of Yeshiva Students in the Israeli Army.”
(updated and revised from Bamidbar 5763-2003)

The Tribe of Levi was not counted along with the men of the other tribes, since the Levites did not serve in the army of Israel. The Levites, instead, served in the army of G-d. The role of the ancient Levites seems to justify the exemption of yeshiva students from the Israeli army. Should this ancient exemption influence the contemporary laws practiced in Israel today?

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0 Comments11 Minutes

Bechukotai 5782-2022

“Ma’aser Shay’nee--The Second Tithe”
(updated and revised from Bechukotai 5763-2003)

From their earliest days of nationhood, the Jewish people understood that Jewish education was to be the peoples' foremost concern and must be their primary charitable priority. The donations of Ma’aser Shay’nee, the Second Tithe, were to be used or redeemed in Jerusalem, the spiritual center and educational hub of Israel—thus affirming the primacy of Jewish education.

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0 Comments6 Minutes

Behar 5782-2022

“Understanding Hebrew and Canaanite Servitude”
(updated and revised from Behar 5763-2003

Parashat Behar presents two most perplexing and challenging statutes: Hebrew and Canaanite servitude. What seems on the surface to be two very difficult and primitive concepts are, in reality, rather enlightened, and there is much that contemporary society can learn from them.

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0 Comments13 Minutes