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War

Set a King Over Yourself

In Parashat Shof'tim the people are told that they are free to set a king over themselves. But does the Torah command us to set over ourselves a king? And is a monarchy the best and most just form of government?

D'var Torah By: 
Rabbi Denise L. Eger
Davar Acher By: 
A Call to Do the Right Thing

Parashat Shof'tim gives the people the right to set a king over themselves. But their responsibility is to set up a just and righteous government, whether it is a monarchy or not. 

Does God Command Going to War?

In Parashat D’varim, Moses recalls that a military encounter with the Amorites was a response to a divine command. But in the Book of Numbers, a passage about the same encounter does not mention God. What accounts for this difference?

D'var Torah By: 
Telling and Retelling Our Stories
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Julie Wolkoff

In Parashat D'varim, Moses begins retelling the story of the Israelites' sojourn in the wilderness. Our stories, like our lives, are ever changing. Like Moses, retelling the experiences of the Israelites in the desert, we emphasize different facets, see patterns we didn’t see before, and create a narrative out of the disjointed jumble of everyday life.

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.” 

Their Father’s Sin Is Not Their Own

In Parashat Pinchas, we learn the intriguing fact that “the sons of Korach did not die.” This conflicts with an account about Korach in an earlier chapter, which states that the ground opened up and swallowed him, his household and his followers. What does this discrepancy mean?

D'var Torah By: 
Extending Kindness to the Thousandth Generation
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jared H. Saks

The fact we are told in Parashat Pinchas that Korach’s family does not die tells us that we always have the opportunity to perform t’shuvah as described in Babylonian Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 17b.

Living in the Golden Mean

Parashat Chukat opens with the law of the parah adumah — the red heifer. It is a classic example of a commandment for which the Torah offers no explanation. How are we to understand and grapple with laws such as this that we do not understand? Perhaps we need to start not with the question, why, but with the question, why not.

D'var Torah By: 
Empathy for the Refugee at Border Crossings
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ann Landowne

In Parashat Chukat we are reminded of the difficulties that our ancestors encountered during their passage through the wilderness. We learn that Miriam has died (Numbers 20:1) and Moses has little time to mourn. Immediately he must deal with the thirsty Israelites clamoring for water and complaining about their fate. In our tradition, the Exodus from Egypt has solidified our strong identification with the stranger and their need for protection. Here in Chukat, this story of wandering in the wilderness also increases our empathy for the refugee, separated from family, desperate and in need of assistance. It is hard for us to imagine what they have experienced on their journey but our Torah teaches us to let them in.

Listen to Your Prophets . . . But Don’t Be Deceived!

Our parashah this week raises a very interesting question about prophets and prophecy. It also raises an important issue about how to relate to other forms of monotheism. In Deuteronomy 18 God speaks to Moses about the people of Israel with these words: "I will raise up for them from among their own people a prophet like yourself, in whose mouth I will put My words and who will speak to them all that I command; and anybody who fails to heed the words [the prophet] speaks in My name, I Myself will call to account" (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).

D'var Torah By: 
Taking Messages of Justice to the Public Square
Davar Acher By: 
Mona Alfi

Rabbi Firestone speaks of the important role of the prophetic voice, then and now. However, American Jews often cringe when someone in the political arena claims to speak the word of God. We often have a visceral reaction against the mixing of religion and politics because we know the potential danger when there is no wall between the two.

But neither our ancient ancestors or our founding fathers (and mothers) envisioned a concrete wall between "church" and "state." For both, the understanding was that this "separation" is more of a permeable membrane. While the American government does not have the right to dictate what our religious practices should be, Judaism teaches us that our religious values should inform our political actions.

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."

Commissioning a New Leader on Inauguration Day

At this point in the Book of Numbers, we find Moses' term of service moving toward a conclusion and God begins planning for his succession. God tells Moses, "Single out Joshua son of Nun, an inspired individual, and lay your hand upon him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before the whole community, and commission him in their sight. Invest him with some of your authority, so that the whole Israelite community may obey" (Numbers 27:18-20).

Hearing these instructions could not have been anything but painful for Moses. The leader of the Israelites for so long, how could he imagine anyone else in his place? And yet, they were perhaps comforting too. There would be no power vacuum. God would not let the progress of the last forty years fade away. The political transition would be a smooth one, free of upheaval and discord.

D'var Torah By: 
Transitioning to New Leadership with Full and Honest Disclosure
Davar Acher By: 
Michael E. Harvey

There is, indeed, great comfort in Nachmanides' interpretation of Moses' commissioning of Joshua. Certainly, as Rabbi Skloot explains, when we "see with our own eyes, that our leaders respect the basic institutions of government," tomorrow doesn't seem so scary. But in times like ours, times Rabbi Skloot acknowledges are, at the very least, "cynical," there may in fact be greater comfort found in Rashi's interpretation of Parashat Pinchas.

The Jewish People Comes of Age

The author Anita Diamant boldly pronounced, "This is a generation who have no use for the closeted Jew; the polite, blandly American and only privately Jewish Jews. No more Seinfeld; this bunch is Jewish inside and out" ("Minhag America," HUC-JIR graduation ceremony, April 30, 2008). Her words have not lost any of their resonance in the intervening years.

Alongside her words, we might place those of Rashi, as our Torah commentator of record, on this week's Torah reading, Parashat ChukatChukat begins with an explanation of the parah adumah, "red heifer," ritual. In short, the Israelites are commanded to produce a "red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid" (Numbers 19:2), slaughter it, burn it, and transform the ashes into a special "water of lustration" (19:9), used to render what has become impure, pure again.

D'var Torah By: 
Growing Up Means Taking Responsibility for Our Mistakes
Davar Acher By: 
Amy Schwartzman

Rabbi Skloot's reflections on Parashat Chukat are wonderfully insightful and inspiring. Indeed, this is a great time to be Jewish in America. Yes, we have traveled a long path to find the sense of security and self-confidence that allows us as individuals and as communities to openly practice our tradition, express our beliefs and just be ourselves. The example of the parah adumah (red heifer), along with Rashi and Rabbi Skloot's comments, hit home the idea of the importance of "owning" who we are and what we stand for.

It Takes Two, Me and You

In many Jewish weddings I have officiated at over the years, the bride and groom have chosen to add to the traditional vows these words from the prophet Hosea: V’eirastich Li b’tzedek uv’mishpa

D'var Torah By: 
When Justice Trumps Mercy
Davar Acher By: 
Sarah Bassin

Rabbi Korotkin offers a perspective on Shof’tim in which God’s mercy compensates for the human need for justice—a need that can morph into an unholy vengeance.

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