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Journey

Changing the Plan in a Holy Way

In the double portion, Matot/Mas’ei, we read how the tribes of Reuben and Gad asked Moses for permission to settle outside the Promised Land where the land was good for raising cattle. Moses is angry at their request to change direction. 

D'var Torah By: 
Finding God in a Quiet, Sacred Space
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr

In Matot, we read how the Gadites and Reubenites request to settle outsite the Promised Land in a place that is condusive to raising cattle. The noted commentator, Nehama Leibowitz, likens their request to a “dilemma between the choice of a career — personal advancement — or the fulfillment of a mission.” 

The Making of a Covenant with Men and Women

Almost 25 years after God calls Abram to leave his home in Mesopotamia and go to the land of Canaan, God formally establishes a covenant with him (Genesis 17:4ff.). Like that established with Noah, his descendants, and all living beings (9:8ff.), it is unconditional, everlasting, includes blessings and promises, and carries with it a sign decided upon by God. However, unlike the rainbow, placed in the clouds and passively received by humanity, the sign of God's covenant with Abraham — male circumcision — is something with which Abram and his descendants, not God, are entrusted. They are to circumcise their sons and other male children in their household on the eighth day after birth as a physical sign of the covenant. The punishment for failing to do so is severe. "An uncircumcised male who has not circumcised the flesh of his foreskin," says God, " … shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant" (17:14).

D'var Torah By: 
A Series of Tests that Lead to the Covenant
Davar Acher By: 
Bruce Kadden

The covenant God establishes with Abram in Genesis 17 originates in God's call to Abram at the beginning of Parashat Lech L'cha: "Go forth from your land, your birthplace, your father's house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and it shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will pronounce doom on those who curse you; through you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:1-3).

As enticing as these promises are, it must have taken significant courage for Abram to set out from Haran for an unspecified land. But without asking a single question, Abram went forth from Haran with Sarai, his nephew Lot and their possessions for the land of Canaan.

Victim and Perpetrator - Reflecting on Our Role

This week's Torah portion, D'varim, occurs this year as it often does, on Erev Tishah B'Av — the ninth day of the month of Av. While not observed in many Reform communities, it is a day on which Jews throughout the world commemorate collectively all the tragedies experienced by our people. It was on this day, according to tradition, that both of our ancient, sacred Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, the first by the Babylonian Empire in 586 BCE, the second by the Roman Empire in 70 CE. Many more horrific acts committed against Jews have been associated with this date as well.

D'var Torah By: 
What Is Hateful to You Do Not Do to Others
Davar Acher By: 
Charles A. Kroloff

As Rabbi Firestone notes, we Jews have a strong tradition of feeling victimized and with good reason. We've had a rough history, culminating with the Shoah, which decimated and devastated our people. Tishah B'Av captures that sense of victimhood and enshrines it in our Jewish psyches.

Now if we combine that with our D'varim text which — as Rabbi Firestone suggests — offers us divine permission "to commit genocide against our enemies," we do indeed appear to have license to behave as both victims and perpetrators.

The Promised Land: Not So Far Off

A synagogue is, at its best, a place where each of us can feel that sense of rootedness and connectedness, a place where despite differences of age and experience; regardless of cultural background or class or sexual orientation or physical ability; whether we are "regulars" or newcomers, all of us can feel known and appreciated.

As we complete the Book of Numbers this week, we find the Israelites yearning for just such a place. Over the last eight weeks, our Torah readings have recorded the events of their 40 turbulent years in the wilderness. As we come to the last two portions of the book, Matot and Mas'ei, the Israelites are looking to come home.

D'var Torah By: 
Making Newcomers Feel Welcome, Needed, and Wanted
Davar Acher By: 
Robert E. Tornberg

I agree with Rabbi Skloot that, "A synagogue is, at its best . . . a place where each of us can feel that sense of rootedness and connectedness, a place where despite differences . . . all of us can feel known and appreciated." This resonates with my childhood memories, and I have continued to feel that way as an adult.

But, as I read those words, I became all-too-aware of childhood friends and acquaintances for whom the synagogue did not feel like a place of "rootedness and connectedness." Further, as a Jewish professional I am aware of the growing number of Jews  — the Reubenites and Gadites we might call them — who feel disaffected, disconnected, and do not see themselves as part of "the community."

Moses and the Twice-Told Tale

For a guy who described himself to God at the Burning Bush as "slow of speech and slow of tongue" (Exodus 4:10), it seems that Moses now has an awful lot to say. Honestly, can you blame him?

D'var Torah By: 
Torah as Trial and Transformation
Davar Acher By: 
Geoffrey Dennis

Unlike Rabbi Korotkin, I am not surprised that Moses is more loquacious at the end of his term than at the beginning; after all, it is written, "the Tree of Life [Torah] heals the tongue" (Proverbs

Are We There Yet? The Journey from Egypt to Israel as a Metaphor for Our Lives

We now come to the end of the Book of Numbers. As this is a non-leap year, there are several portions throughout Torah that need to be paired.

D'var Torah By: 
The Significance of Forty-Two (and Other Things)
Davar Acher By: 
Kathy Barr

Forty-two, the number of places we camped in the B'midbar (the wilderness or the desert), has great significance in many aspects of our lives.

Why Abraham?

In this week's Torah portion, Parashat Lech L'cha, we begin to read the stories of our patriarchs and matriarchs.

D'var Torah By: 
Ethical Monotheism / Ethical Zionism
Davar Acher By: 
Yossi Afek

Zionismthe love of Eretz Yisrael and the desire to make it a Jewish homelanddid not begin in the nineteenth century, nor was it started by Pi

Abraham, the Rabbis, and Us

Why was Abram told to leave his home and family and go out into the wilderness?

D'var Torah By: 
Some Help Along the Way
Davar Acher By: 
Kathy Schwartz

In Parashat Lech L'cha, Abram accepts God's challenge to go forth from his home and family on a journey with an unclear end and destination.

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