Shemot 5763-2002

"The Making of a Concerned Jewish Leader"

Who is the child Moses and how does he merit to become the "savior" of Israel? Both the biblical texts and the Midrashic elaborations give us hints to help us understand how a child who is raised in Pharaoh's court becomes a devoted and dynamic Jewish leader. The fact that he is raised by his biological mother, Yocheved, until he is weaned, is undoubtedly a critical factor. Although tradition is purposely ambiguous, Moses not only receives his rearing from his mother and his sister as a young child, but also from Bitya, the daughter of Pharaoh, who may very well be the secret heroine in Moses' life and consequently a key player in the destiny of the Jewish people.

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Va’eira 5762-2002

"Can We Question G-d and Get Away With It?"

Parashat Va'eira opens with G-d berating Moses for saying that things have only gotten worse for the people of Israel since Moses intervention. Strict interpretation holds Moses accountable for his presumptuousness, eventually resulting in his inability to enter the promised land. The more liberal interpretation implies that G-d desires to be challenged, hoping to find justification that would exonerate those guilty of improper acts.

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Shemot 5762-2001

"The Circumcision of Eliezar: A Message for Busy Parents"

Moses has been summoned by G-d at the burning bush to return to Egypt and lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Beginning his journey back to the land of Pharaoh, together with his wife and his sons, he stops at an inn where he is encountered by G-d, who seeks to kill him. Moses' wife immediately takes a flint stone and circumcises the youngest child. What is the message that is communicated by this strange and eerie encounter?

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Matot-Masei 5761-2001

"Setting Our Priorities Straight"

In parashat Matot we learn of the tribes of Reuben and Gad (later joined by half of Menashe) who choose to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan. Moses is concerned that they will not join in the battle to conquer the Holy Land. The tribes 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 their children should come before their livestock. The value of human life is infinite and must always come first, even in a thoroughly materialistic generation such as the one in which we live.

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Chukat 5761-2001

"Can Death Be Sweet?"

In parashat Chukat we learn of the death of Aaron, one of the Jewish people's most beloved figures. According to the midrash, Aaron had the privilege of leaving the physical world knowing that his children were following in his footsteps, and committed to serving the Jewish people. Aaron truly has a "sweet" death.

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Shelach 5761-2001

"The Torah's Definition of Power"

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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Vayikra 5761- 2001

"Moses, the Leader with a Calling"

Moses' commitment to serve as G-d's messenger was thorough and complete. It was therefore no accident that G-d spoke to him, or through him. It was not a happening and not a coincidence. It was the very essence of Moses' life and the ultimate purpose of his being. It was his calling.

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Kee Tisah 5761-2001

"The Levites and the Golden Calf: Transcending One's Own Nature"

Although there appear to be only 3000 "hard core" rebels among the people who worshiped the Golden Calf, only the tribe of Levi responded to Moses's cry of "Whoever is to G-d, come to me!" This was due to the fact that, among the people of Israel who did not worship the Golden Calf, only the Levites reached a level of personal self-abnegation. Consequently, only the Levites were singled out to become the servants of G-d for all time, who serve as the ministers in the Tabernacle and ultimately the Temple.

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B’shalach 5761-2001

"Where is Nachshon, the Son of Aminadav, When We Need Him?"

Nachson, the son of Aminadav, the prince of the tribe of Judah, was the first of the Israelites to enter the water and proceed to walk until the water reached his neck. It was only at that point that the sea split. If we are to change the "course of nature," we need to have the profound faith of Nachshon.

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Devarim 5760-2000

"Judaism's Unique Views on Justice and the Justice System"

In parashat Devarim, Moses gives his valedictory admonition to the Jewish people. Knowing that the entire nation's security rests on the efficacy of its legal system, Moses reminds the people again and again to be truthful in judgment. In this parasha, Moses lays out the foundation of Jewish jurisprudence, a legal system that was unparalleled in the ancient world. The prophet Isaiah sums it all up by saying that "Zion shall be redeemed in justice and those who return to her shall be redeemed through righteousness."

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Pinchas 5760-2000

"The Daughters of Tzelafchad: Legitimate Feminist Claims"

Distinguishing between legitimate and non-legitimate claims has become a fine art, especially when "political correctness" is mixed into the brew. In parashat Pinchas, we encounter the claim of the daughters of Tzelafchad who win the right to inherit their father's ancestral land in Israel. Along with other issues concerning women that are found in the Torah, the case of Tzelafchad's daughters underscores that Judaism is really light-years ahead of other civilizations in establishing fair and equitable parameters for Jewish women.

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Bamidbar 5760-2000

"The Risks of Being a Public Figure"

The Torah announces: "These are the offspring of Aaron and Moses," but only lists the offspring of Aaron. From this textual nuance we learn that those people who are not blessed with biological children can still be spiritual parents, like Moses was to Aaron's children. It also underscores the great challenge facing public figures to balance their own lives with the needs of the community.

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Kee Tisah 5760-2000

"The 'Vengeful' G-d"

The last of the so-called 13 attributes of G-d's mercy is that G-d does not entirely cleanse sinners and that He may be vengeful. If we are expected to imitate G-d, then perhaps we should be vengeful as well?

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Yitro 5760-2000

"An Encounter with Jethro and the Non-Jewish World"

3,300 years ago, when xenophobia reigned supreme throughout the ancient world, the Torah admonished Jews not to reject sage advice simply because it emanates from a non-Jewish source. In fact, Jews are encouraged to look for good and healthy ideas anywhere in the world, Jewish and secular, and embrace those ideas with open arms.

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Va’eira 5760-2000

"G-d Hardens Pharaoh's Heart: Reconciling Omniscience and Free Will"

Our commentators struggle over G-d's statement to Moses: "And I will harden Pharaoh's heart." Does this imply that G-d has taken away Pharaoh's free will? Among the host of responses offered by the commentators is that Pharaoh hardened his own heart during the first 5 plagues, and was punished by G-d hardening Pharaoh's heart during the last 5 plagues. Many of the responses given by the commentators to this issue are quite insightful and resourceful. They must be studied carefully in order to appreciate them fully.

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Shemot 5760-1999

"Commitment to Judaism: A lesson from Moshe"

"Give me four years to teach the children, and the seed I will have sown will never be uprooted." Thus spoke the communist leader, V.I. Lenin. Could it be that Moses's formative rearing at the hands of his mother Yocheved and sister Miriam made the difference? It is highly probable that his early childhood experience, supplemented by his stepmother Bitya's effective rearing, leads to Moses's exalted sense of Jewish identity and his emergence as a great Jewish leader.

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Haazinu 5760-1999

"The Final Song"

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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