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Blessing

Liberty and Freedom From Religion in America

This week's double portion, B''har/ B'chukotai includes this famous phrase that appears on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia: "Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof" (Leviticus 25:10). The bell holds specialy significance for Americans, especially American Jews.

D'var Torah By: 
Steadying the Hand of Our Neighbor
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Craig Axler

The phrase on the Liberty Bell is just one of the many maxims woven throughout B'har/B'chukotai that promote the establishment of a just society.Another, is Leviticus 25:35: "If your kin, being in straits, come under your authority, and are held by you as though resident aliens, let them live by your side." 

The Power and Protection of Angels

For as long as I can remember, I have believed in guardian angels.

D'var Torah By: 
Striving to Be More Like Angels
Davar Acher By: 
Daniel N. Geffen

For as long as I can remember, I have not believed in guardian angels. Whether it is the result of hyper-rationalism or simply a lack of imagination, I am sadly not a believer.

Family Discord and Distrust

Friendships among siblings can be close and long-lasting. Many times, however, they are difficult to achieve or sustain. This week's parashah provides insight into the latter.

D'var Torah By: 
A Struggle from Birth and Throughout a Lifetime
Davar Acher By: 
Lisa Kingston

In Parashat Tol'dot, Jacob certainly appears as if he is born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Being born into the prophecy that Dr.

Collective Responsibility, One for All and All for One

Nitzavim comes in the cycle of Torah readings just before Rosh HaShanah and is particularly appropriate for the High Holidays because it stresses the importance of repentance. The tone of the passage is at once both lofty and terrifying.

It begins with Moses' inspiring address to the entire people of Israel shortly before he is to die, "You stand this day (Atem nitzavim hayom), all of you, before the Eternal your God — you tribal heads, you elders, and you officials, all the men of Israel, you children, you women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer" (Deuteronomy 29:9-10).

D'var Torah By: 
The Whole of the Community Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
Davar Acher By: 
Daniel Septimus

And as we rapidly approach the High Holiday season, it is even more fitting that we evaluate what being in a community means to each one of us, just as Dr. Firestone so poignantly identifies in his well-articulated d'var Torah for this week.

Our Torah portion this week, Nitzavim, begins, atem nitzavim hayom, kul'chem. "You stand this day, all of you." Moses is speaking to the Israelite community one last time before they enter the Promised Land and before he dies. He is holding every member of the community accountable for their actions.

Torah and Taliban: Is There Something in Common?

In a particularly graphic moment, one of the instructions received in our weekly reading is "...to destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods, whether on lofty mountains and on hills or under any luxuriant tree. Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site" (Deuteronomy 12:2-3). This is a clear directive to destroy all the sites at which the native Canaanites worshipped throughout the sacred Land of Israel.

D'var Torah By: 
Following Difficult Instructions with a Goal to Pursue Peace
Davar Acher By: 
Suzy Stone

One of the most troubling aspects of this week's Torah portion is the commandment cited above in Deuteronomy 12:2-3, which requires the invading Israelites to destroy all forms, and places, of foreign worship.

As Rabbi Firestone notes, this commandment was limited to Land of Israel, which in turn limited the scope of this harsh decree. Additionally, I appreciate Rabbi Firestone's suggestion that this commandant was meant to mollify the temptation felt by a young nation coming into its own spiritual, and physical, home.

Love Yourself When Your Neighbors Won’t

This week's Torah reading, Parashat Balak, helps us consider the effects of persecution on our psyches. In it, we encounter Balaam, a prophet for hire, whom the Moabite king Balak enlists to curse the Israelites. Balaam, however, is unable to fulfill his commission. Balaam recounts:

From Aram has Balak brought me,
Moab's king from the hills of the East:
Come, curse me Jacob, Come, tell Israel's doom!
How can I damn whom God has not damned,
How doom when the Eternal has not doomed?
As I see them from the mountain tops,
Gaze on them from the heights,
There is a people that dwells apart,
Not reckoned among the nations, . . . (Numbers 23:7-9)

Balaam, looking down at the Children of Israel's camp from the heights of the surrounding peaks, sums up the people's history up to that point and well into the future: "There is a people that dwells apart, / Not reckoned among the nations," he sings.

D'var Torah By: 
The Challenges of Being Both Modern and Jewish
Davar Acher By: 
Sarah Magida

"How can I be both modern and Jewish, simultaneously? This is the existential question." That's what Rabbi David Ellenson said to us on the very first day of his Modern Jewish Thought course at Hebrew Union College. This is also the question that Rabbi Skloot asks in his reading of Balak as well as the question that my students ask themselves on a regular basis.

Finding the Strength to Look Beyond the Horizon

Here's one of the few facts I remember from my high school physics class: Because the surface of the earth is curved, the farthest distance a person can see is about four or five miles. Everything beyond that, even with the best telescope, is obscured from view.

Four to five miles! For some people (not me) that's a short, early morning run. Our vision is so limited! Our perspective is so circumscribed. So much lies beyond our horizons at any given moment.

The same is true in our daily lives. So often we become accustomed repeated patterns and habits of mind that help us tread water, but move us no further. We tacitly accept the idea of inexorable fate — it's our lot to struggle, we can't change it. The weight of the present prevents us from imagining alternative futures. We lose sight of alternatives — of a different world beyond our present circumstances — a world just around the corner, beyond the horizon.

Moses appears to fall victim to the same trap in this week's Torah reading, Parashat B'haalot'cha.

D'var Torah By: 
How Can We Vanquish Fear to Make Way for Positive Emotions?
Davar Acher By: 
Geoff Mitelman

From an evolutionary perspective, fear makes a lot of sense. If you're not at least a little scared that a saber-tooth tiger might eat you, you're probably not going to survive long enough to pass on your genes. Aggression, too, is pretty obvious - we want to defend our territory and our precious resources from other people who might take them from us.

So negative emotions, which trigger the "fight or flight" response, are easy to understand. A harder question is why we have positive emotions. What's the role of happiness or play or joy?

Love Is Not Enough: The Demands of Relationship with God

Another name for this week's Torah portion is Parashat HaToch'chah — the portion of reproach. It contains a list of curses so terrible that traditionally the Torah reader chants them quickly and in a hushed tone so as not to call attention to them. And no one wants that aliyah! The curses are the punishment for disobedience, and they must have truly struck fear in the hearts of our ancestors.

The curses come just after the promise of blessing — if we follow God's ways. Rain in abundance, good crops, peace, victory, and fertility are all ours if, as the portion begins, ". . . you walk in my statutes and guard my commandments and do them" (Leviticus 26:3). We might mistakenly feel the parashah is about the classic "reward and punishment." But I see it differently. I see it as an apt closing for the Book of Leviticus, which began with a call to relationship — Vayikra — and ends again with a call to relationship. God's message can be interpreted as, "If you are a true partner with Me then our relationship will be healthy, but if you ignore Me, spite Me, hurt Me, and leave Me, how can we possibly go on together?"

D'var Torah By: 
Finding an Enduring and Absolute Relationship with God
Davar Acher By: 
P.J. Schwartz

The Book of Leviticus, the shortest Book of the Torah, comes to a close in this week's parashah, B'chukotai. While previous chapters in Leviticus painstakingly outline various laws and rituals that are essential to the newly formed Israelite community, the final chapters of Leviticus provide us insight into the relationship our ancestors had with God. As readers, we learn that following God's commandments would result in various blessings for our ancestors, while disobedience would result in harsh punishment. Biblical scholars describe this as retribution — obedience and faithfulness would lead to the promises of land, progeny, and wealth God established with Abraham, while straying away from God's commandments and being unfaithful would "wreak misery" upon the people (Leviticus 26:16).

In Place of God? In God’s Place?

After a natural calamity or terrorist attack an understandable question presents itself: Where is God in all this?

D'var Torah By: 
Be a Place Where God Is
Davar Acher By: 
Laura Geller

Joseph's response to his brothers seems to suggest that whatever happens is meant to happen: "Am I in place of God? Though you intended me harm, God intended it for good . .

What Would You Hold Onto – At Any Price?

The show, Pawn Stars, is a runaway hit on the History Channel. It tells the story of three generations of the Harrison family and their Las Vegas pawnshop.

D'var Torah By: 
Our Sacred Preservation Project
Davar Acher By: 
Shoshanah Conover

Not long ago, I heard Robert Krulwich of the podcast Radiolab1 reflect on his experiences at two different ancient temples—one in Kyoto and one in Athens.

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