Re’eh 5781-2021

“The Elusive Blessing of ‘Peace’”
(updated and revised from Re’eh 5763-2003)

In parashat Re'eh, we read of the "simple" formula for bringing peace to the Jewish people: "hearken to the commands of the L-rd." Over 3,000 years of empirical evidence confirms the fact that there has never been a period of peace for the Jewish people without a concomitant return to G-d. The elusive blessing of peace will be ours if we only "hearken."

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Eikev 5781-2021

“Worshiping G-d with All One’s Heart”
(Updated and revised from Eikev 5762-2002)

In this week's parasha, we read the verse advising worshipers to pray to G-d with "all their heart." But, much of traditional Jewish prayer is fixed and rigid, and seems to be bound by so many rules and requirements that there is hardly an opportunity for worshipers to express their own personal feelings and needs. And, yet, it is the structure and the rigor of the traditional prayer formula that makes certain that our prayers not become self-centered and entirely focused on only our own needs and desires.

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Va’etchanan 5781-2021

“Loving the Land of Israel”
(Updated and revised from Va’etchanan 5762-2002)

One of the kinot, the liturgical poems that are read on Tisha b'Av, speaks of the calamity that befell the Jewish communities of the Rhineland, Germany--Worms, Speyer and Mainz (Mayence)--in the year 1096, during the First Crusade. The ArtScroll commentary on this poem throws out a profound challenge to the Jewish people today. Will we rise to the occasion and acknowledge the special gift of the land of Israel, or will we ignore it, and continue to compose elegies for the losses that we sustain?

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Devarim 5781-2021

“Judging Our People Favorably”
(Updated and revised from Devarim 5762-2002)

The powerful words of Isaiah in this week's Haftarah resound today with surprising relevance, as if they were pronounced only yesterday. Despite Isaiah's harsh assessment of the people, we, like the prophet of old, need to look upon the people of Israel and judge them favorably. After all, contemporary Jews face similar challenges to those of the ancients, and need to be judged favorably as well.

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Matot-Masei 5781-2021

“Does the Torah Allow Its Citizens to Take the Law Into Their Own Hands?”
(updated and revised from Matot-Masei 5762-2002) 

In parashat Masei, we encounter the fascinating and perplexing law known as Eir Miklat, the City of Refuge. It is to the City of Refuge that an accidental killer must run in order to escape the vengeance of the next of kin, who has the right to kill the perpetrator if he catches him before he enters the city. Does Judaism allow its citizens to take the law into their own hands?

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Pinchas 5781-2021

"Loving the Land of Israel”
(updated and revised from Pinchas 5762-2002)

In parashat Pinchas we read about the five trail-blazing daughters of Tzelafchad who approach Moses claiming legal rights to their deceased father's property in the land of Israel. The Al-mighty rewards the women's passionate commitment to Israel by declaring that the daughters shall inherit their father's land. How does Tzelafchad's daughters' great love of Zion compare with contemporary Jewry's, at best, casual commitment to the State of Israel?

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Balak 5781-2021

"Words of Eternal Truth from the Evil Prophet Bilaam”
(updated and revised from Balak 5761-2001)

Despite Bilaam's best efforts to curse the Jewish People, his prophecies turn into blessings. While Balak, the king of Moab, is terribly disappointed with Bilaam's words, Bilaam's prophecies actually contain amazing and enduring insights into the nature of the Jewish People.

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Chukat 5781-2021

“The Paradox of the Red Heifer”
(updated and revised from Chukat-Balak 5762-2002

In this week's parasha, parashat Chukat, we read of the paradox of the Red Heifer whose ashes were used to purify those who were ritually contaminated. The Red Heifer rendered those who were impure, pure, and those who were pure, impure. Perhaps it is teaching us that there is a significant price to pay for trying to improve others. But, we must be prepared to pay that price. It is, after all, the way to achieve ultimate perfection.

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Korach 5781-2021

“The Origin of the ‘Big Lie’”
(updated and revised from Korach 5762-2002)

According to the Midrash, Korach was a brilliant provocateur who was able to convince the hordes to believe that he was rebelling for the sake of the common good, instead of for his own personal benefit. By drawing a distorted caricature of the mitzvot of the Torah, Korach was able to convince the people that Moses and Aaron were personally benefitting from the mitzvot and observances that they were advocating.

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Shelach 5781-2021

“What’s in a Name?”
(updated and revised from Shelach 5762-2002)

Unexpectedly, the Torah spells out the names of each of the twelve leaders who were sent to represent their tribes and scout out the land of Israel. However, when we compare the names of these individuals with the names of the princes who were selected in Numbers 1 to help Moses count the tribes, we see something rather startling. The names of the princes are far more complex, and contain many religious references. They are substantial names for substantial people. The names of the scouts, on the other hand, are very short, and have few references to G-d. What is the message that the names communicate?

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B’ha’a’lot’cha 5781-2021

“Is This What the Torah Predicted?”
(updated and revised from B’ha’a’lot’cha 5762-2002)

In parashat B'ha'a’lot'cha we find two extremely telling stories concerning two groups of ancient Israelites. The first, the "mixed multitude," cry out, "Our souls are dried up, there is nothing at all!" The second group protest to Moses that they do not wish to miss celebrating the ritual of the Pascal sacrifice together with their families and the entire people of Israel. These two groups may very well represent the millions of alienated contemporary Jews who have declared that their souls are dried up, as well as another growing number of contemporary Jews who love their Judaism and wish to engage and inspire their turned-off brothers and sisters who are ignorant of their heritage.

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Naso 5781-2021

“The Challenge of the Priestly Blessings”
(updated and revised from Naso 5762-2002)

The issue of whether human beings can “encourage” G-d to bless them, or if human beings can actually bless G-d, is not easily resolved. One thing we know for sure is that mortals certainly need G-d's blessings.

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Bamidbar 5781-2021

“Counting on the People of Israel"
(updated and revised from Bamidbar 5762-2002)

The excruciating detail that the Torah goes into when reporting on the census of the People of Israel, underscores the importance of the organizational structure of the Jewish people. The redundant counting of the Jewish people in the parasha may be a rabbi's nightmare, but the details underscore each individual Jew's preciousness.

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Behar-Bechukotai 5781-2021

“The Extraordinary Mitzvah of Tzedakah--Charity”
(updated and revised from Behar-Bechukotai 5762-2002)

The word tzedakah, does not mean charity, but rather justice and righteousness. It is not an act of charity to be generous, it is the correct thing to do.

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Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5781-2021

Shaatnez: Understanding ‘Irrational’ Decrees”
(updated and revised from Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5762-2002)

The laws of Shaatnezrecorded in parashat Kedoshim, of not wearing wool and linen together, fall under the category of laws that are known as chukim--decrees which are commands from G-d that have no apparent rational reason. The esoteric laws of Shaatnezthat appear so out of place with contemporary times, have much to teach us about developing sensitivity toward others, and that the great gift of having clothes to wear must never be taken for granted.

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Tazria-Metzorah 5781-2021

“Circumcision and Shabbat”
(updated and revised from Tazria-Metzorah 5764-2004)

When the prescribed day for a circumcision falls out on the Shabbat, which commandment takes precedence? In the Torah passages found in parashat Tazria, we discover the true essence of both these mitzvot, and how they each bind the Jewish people to G-d and to eternity

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Shemini 5781-2021

“Using, Not Abusing, a Sanctified Substance”
(updated and revised from Shemini 5763-2003)

The severe punishment meted out to the sons of Aaron is a powerful reason to carefully study the Jewish attitude toward intoxicants and drugs. Alcoholism and drug abuse is serious business, not something that can be ignored. Wine is a divine gift, and plays a key role in Judaism. Yet, we need to make certain that it is treated as a special gift and imbibed with respect.

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Passover 5781-2021

“The Final days of Pesach - Days of Unity”
(updated and revised from Passover 5761–2001)

For Jews who live in the Diaspora, the last day of Passover is meant to be a day of unity, הִתְחַבְּרוּת, hit’chab’rut, of coming together. Just as the ancient Children of Israel go down to Egypt as 70 souls, as members of 12 disparate tribes, and emerge as one united nation, so are contemporary Jews bidden to emphasize the many common bonds we have, rather than the differences. Passover, after all, is in the month of Nissan, the month of redemption. Only through unity, will the Jewish people be fortunate enough to achieve ultimate redemption.

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Tzav 5781-2021

Understanding Shabbat Hagadol
(updated and revised from Tzav 5762-2002)

Our commentators offer a host of reasons to explain why the Sabbath prior to Passover is called by the grand name "Shabbat Hagadol," the Great Sabbath. Whatever the reason for this Sabbath to be given such a distinguished name, it is always a very special Sabbath for the Jewish people.

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Vayikra 5781-2021

“The Lesson of the Mincha Offering--Giving with a Full Heart”
(updated and revised from Vayikra 5762-2002)

Among the many profound lessons that the Mincha offering conveys, is that Judaism is not the religion of the gifted or well endowed. In fact, Judaism provides venues of expression and worship for all the people of Israel, rich and poor, young and old, male and female alike. The lesson of the Mincha offering is that one must give with a full heart.

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Vayakhel-Pekudei 5781-2021

“The Original Jewish Renewal Movement”
(Updated and revised from Vayakhel-Pekudei 5762-2002)

On the Sabbath prior to the new month of Nissan, a portion known as Parashat Hachodesh is read, announcing the arrival of the new month of Nissan, the first month of the calendar year. Nissan is the month of redemption and salvation. It is a time when the Jewish people burst forth from darkness and despair to allow the glory of G-d to shine forth. This is the original Jewish renewal movement.

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Kee Tisah 5781-2021

“Reverence for Learning in Jewish Tradition”
(updated and revised from Kee Tisah 5763-2003)

Immediately after the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses distances himself from the sinful people. Moving his tent outside the camp, he proceeds to hold court from that location. Scripture tells us that, despite the peoples' rebelliousness, when Moses went out to his tent, the entire nation would stand at the entrance of their tents as a sign of respect. From this gesture of respect, an entireritual of behavior emerged that continues to this day, reflecting the uncompromising reverence for learning that is the very essence of Jewish educational success.

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Tetzaveh 5781-2021

“The Korban Tamid--a Lesson in Consistency”
(updated and revised from Tetzaveh 5762-2002)

The Tamid, the perpetual offering, was brought every morning and afternoon of every day of the year. Unfortunately, we no longer have a Temple and can no longer offer sacrifices. All we have is prayer. Now we must show our consistency and faithfulness to G-d through our prayers.

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Terumah 5781-2021

“The Mishkan and the Sanctity of the Jewish Home”
(updated and revised from Terumah 5763-2003)

The fact that the Mishkan--the Tabernacle--and its central furnishings so closely resemble the Jewish home, underscores the sanctity of the Jewish domicile. By analyzing each of the Tabernacle's furnishings, we uncover the invaluable symbolic meanings of these furnishings that deserve to be found in every Jewish home.

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Mishpatim 5781-2021

“‘An Eye for an Eye’ in Jewish Law”
(updated and revised from Mishpatim 5762-2002)

If an "eye for an eye" in the Bible does not literally mean an eye for an eye, but rather monetary compensation, why then does the Torah use this expression?

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Yitro 5781-2021

“Structural Secrets of the Decalogue”
(updated and revised from Yitro 5762-2002)

The Torah contains some very powerful subliminal messages that may not be articulated in the text itself, or written in the letters and the ink, but may be found instead in the white spaces. That is why there are many lessons to be learned from simply studying the structure of the Ten Commandments.

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B’shalach 5781-2021

“G-d: The Source of Sweetness”
(updated and revised from B’shalach 5762-2002)

Immediately after the great miracle of the parting of the seas, the Jews arrived at a place called Marah, where the water had turned bitter. G-d instructs Moses to throw a bitter branch into the water, and miraculously the waters become sweet. Our commentators suggest that the Torah wishes to convey the message to humankind that ultimately there is really no such thing as "bitter or sweet." Whatever we experience is merely a reflection of G-d's will.

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Bo 5781-2021

“The Slave Mentality”
(updated and revised from Bo 5761–2001)

The Mechilta tells us that what a simple maidservant saw at the Red Sea even the greatest prophets of the future were not to see. If G-d was so close and so palpable to the ancient Israelites, how then was it possible for the Jewish people to lose faith so quickly?

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Va’eira 5781-2021

“Mesmerized by the Subtle Slavery”
(updated and revised from Va’eira 5761-2001)

The Torah tells us that Pharaoh literally had to chase the Jews out of Egypt, not only because Egypt was the country that they knew as their home, but because Egypt embodied values from which they were not prepared to separate. It is this “subtle slavery,” reflected in our admiration for, and indeed worship of, “alien” cultures and values, that is a cause of concern for Jews, even today.

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Shemot 5781-2021

“The Not-So-Obvious Process of Hebrew Enslavement”
(revised and updated from parashat Shemot 5761-2001)

The message of parashat Shemot is that the Jewish people probably became slaves long before the Egyptians enforced slavery upon them. Long before the back-breaking labor, the Sons of Israel had probably become slaves to Egyptian culture, Egyptian fashion and Egyptian values. It was inevitable that these committed Jewish-Egyptian “patriots” would become so deeply dedicated to Egypt politically, civically and emotionally that they would ultimately be unable to extricate themselves.

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0 Comments7 Minutes