Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5767-2007

"Beards and Payos"

In the second of this week's combined parashiot, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, we learn of the prohibition of rounding the hair below the temples by the ear and of shaving the beard with a razor. What are the reasons for these prohibitions, and what are their implications?

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Devarim-Tisha B’Av 5766-2006

"Isaiah's Message to Contemporary Jews"

The powerful message found in the first chapter of Isaiah is entirely appropriate for the Tisha B'Av period. The prophet exhorts the Jewish people to take the performance of their ritual mitzvot more seriously, to invest deeper meaning in their religious observance, and to enrich these spiritual practices with greater sincerity and passion.

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Chukat-Balak 5766-2006

"The Sanctity of Human Life"

The laws of the Red Heifer recorded in parashat Chukat seem archaic and antiquated. But, in truth, the ritual of the Red Heifer is an extraordinarily important ritual that drives home the invaluable life lesson regarding the principle of the sanctity of human life and the major role that this principle plays in every aspect of Jewish life and practice.

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Mishpatim 5766-2006

"We Will Do and We Will Obey"

Although most of parashat Mishpatim deals with the administration of civil justice, the end of the parasha returns to the theme of the Divine Revelation, where the people pronounce "Na'ah'seh v'nish'mah," we will do and we will obey. More than obey, "nishmah" means "we will understand." It is this struggle for understanding that is perhaps most relevant to Jewish observance in the 21st century.

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Va’etchanan 5763-2003

"Why the Sh'ma?"

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 seemingly overbearing? Another major question that is bothersome 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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Bo 5762-2002

"Rituals Work, Rituals Work"

The prodigal child of the Haggadah asks, "Why do we need all these mitzvot and all the rituals?" The rituals of Judaism are vitally important; they are the flesh that covers the bones and give substance and meaning to the words of our sacred texts. Without rituals we are practicing an eviscerated form of Judaism, "Play-Dough" or "Mother Goose" Judaism, if you will.

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Vayechi 5762-2001

"The Debate: Burial in the Land of Israel"

In parashat Vayechi, both Jacob and Joseph request to be buried in the land of Israel rather than in Egypt. The Midrash Rabbah records a major debate between the sages regarding whether being buried in the land of Israel for someone who lived in galut is good or bad. The Abarbanel seems to assert that only those people who lived righteous lives outside of Israel are entitled to be buried in Israel, otherwise their bodies defile the land.

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Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5761-2001

"Who is Truly Religious?"

People often define a traditional Jew as one who keeps the "Big Three:" Shabbat, Kashrut and the laws of Family Purity. From parashat Kedoshim we can learn that this definition needs to be revised and updated to include an ethical component--that one must behave and act morally, especially within the realm of business.

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Shelach 5760-2000

"Finding Meaning in the Rituals"

In parashat Shelach we read the well-known third paragraph of the Shema prayer concerning the tzitzit, the fringes. It is one thing to profess love of G-d and to accept responsibility and accountability. But the bottom line is: actions! By emphasizing the ritual of tzitzit, fringes, our sages tell us that the bottom line in our relationship with G-d is how we act toward Him. Professing our love for Him and accepting responsibility and accountability is simply not enough. This, once again, confirms that in Judaism, "rituals work"--they really do.

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Shavuot 5760-2000

"The Anonymous Holiday"

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 day. Why then are the Jewish people so keen on observing this day as the holiday of giving the Torah?

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