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The Mitzvah of Lying

In my experience as a living, breathing human being, regardless of gender, age, or orientation there is only one correct answer to the question, “Honey, does this outfit look OK?” The answer comes from the Torah in this week’s portion Vayeira, and is attributed to no greater authority than God: it is to say whatever is necessary to make the person in the outfit feel good about themselves and supported by you. Even if that means you have to lie, it is a mitzvah!

D'var Torah By: 
Should We Value Truth More Than Kindness?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Mary L. Zamore

In B’reishit Rabbah 8:5, we learn this midrash, a sacred story in which angels lobby God regarding the creation of human beings. They voiced concerns for the ability of human beings to do acts of loving-kindness and justice, to avoid conflict, and to be truthful. Judaism provides beautiful, needed guidance on the ways we can temper truth with compassion in order to be kind, as illustrated in Parashat Vayeira. However, before we readily throw truth to the ground in an attempt to be kind, it is important to linger in the realm of truth to appreciate its primacy.

Another Brick in the Wall

W.C. Fields said, "Never work with animals or children, [they steal the spotlight]." Though no one ever accused him of being a Torah scholar, his insight was certainly applicable to this week's Torah portion. Parashat Noach, the second portion in the Book of Genesis (and my bar mitzvah portion) is perhaps the most universally known and, at least by children, most adored portion in the entire Torah. This is in part, no doubt, because it has not one animal, but all animals — and they come in pairs! Later, God teaches us to value one another in the incident of the Tower of Babel.

D'var Torah By: 
Restoring Communication With the "Babylonian Brick Song"
Davar Acher By: 
Cantor Barbara Ostfeld

In a tragedy, a decent person or an ordinary group makes a mistake. Then there are consequences and things don’t end well. This week’s Torah reading, Parashat Noach, brings us the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). This tale is clearly a tragedy. Earth people build a tower that breaches divine heights. God is threatened enough to mete out a group punishment. God knocks down the tower and scatters the builders. Then God scrambles their language. But what if the story had a different ending ... one involving a song?

From Collective Memory to National Identity

A litany of laws. A multitude of mitzvot. According to Maimonides, Ki Teitzei contains 72 of the 613 commandments in the Torah — the most commandments in any one Torah portion. As the time for the Israelites’ transition into the Land draws ever nearer, God and Moses continue to prepare the people for sovereignty and self-government. In addition to laws that cover rules and regulations within the Israelite community, this portion also includes two passages that dictate the relationship between the people of Israel and neighboring entities. 

D'var Torah By: 
Biblical Laws About the Treatment of Women
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Suzanne Singer

Parashat Ki Teitzei contains more mitzvot (commandments) than any other portion, and the emphasis is on justice and human dignity, especially for the most vulnerable in our society: the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger — and women. At first glance, it may not seem that protecting women is the Torah’s agenda. Rather, the text reveals how women are clearly treated as objects, as men’s possessions.

Naming Naamah, Noach’s Wife (and the Other Torah Women Too)

In this week’s parashah, Noach, we hear from Noah’s unnamed wife. She reminds us that it is not easy being one of the women in the Torah. Although these women ensured the future of humanity and of our people Israel, too often they are unnamed, demonized, silenced, or forgotten.

D'var Torah By: 
Equal Parts of the Puzzle
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Zoe Klein Miles

In addition to the beautiful and powerful redemption of voices in Rabbi Kipnes’ teaching, there is something else that makes his piece on Parashat Noach deeply moving: a modern male rabbi calling out the historical silencing of female voices. 

Ethical Existence Is in the Details

Through a web of seemingly disjointed scenarios, the Book of Deuteronomy is filled with large and small methodologies for preserving the possibility of ethical behavior even in the worst contexts.... Reading the Torah portion Ki Teitzei demands facing a battery of situations in which the average human being might not behave ethically, even in the smallest detail of life, and yet prescribes a way to be ethical nonetheless

D'var Torah By: 
Good Self-Care Makes for Good Fences
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ariel Naveh

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, Moses continues his final speech to the Israelites, laying out an ethical code for our relationships with each other, with the world around us, and with God. Essentially, Moses mandates us to be good to each other, and good to God’s Creation. 

Finding Wholeheartedness in Your Life

In Parashat Noach, Noah is called an, ish tzaddik tamim, a “blameless” or “wholehearted person in his age.” But biblical commentators criticize his conduct, saying he lacked compassion for his fellow man and that he committed incest. What, then, is the meaning of the word tamim?

D'var Torah By: 
The Strength to Move Past Brokenness
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jeffrey J. Sirkman

Parashat Noach shows how life’s struggles and challenges and changes wear and tear at our spirits. We face disappointments — in others or ourselves; defeat makes us feel, at times, as if the weight of the world is on our shoulders. Inescapably, life takes its toll. Yet it is not a matter of being whole, but rather about how, in our brokenness, we respond. Noah was an ish tamim when the only compassionate reaction was to be broken.

When a Debtor Does Not Repay

Ki Teitzei has a treasury of Jewish legal and ethical literature, including a discussion of lenders and debtors. When a debt is not repaid, the lender is forbidden from entering the debtor's home without permission to retrieve the security. The rule poses challenges both for lenders and debtors.

D'var Torah By: 
Compassion and Communication
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Kim Ettlinger

Ki Teitzei urges us to consider the legal and ethical responsibilities of both lenders and debtors. Debtors need to take responsibility for their commitments and not borrow beyond their means. Lenders need to show compassion and refrain from shaming debtors. 

Learning Lessons From and With God

In many ways, Parashat Noach is filled with as many theological problems as answers. Chief among them is why after creating the world and all living things, God destroys "all that lives under the heavens" (Genesis 6:17). The reason that God gives is the "violence" or "lawlessness" (chamas) of humankind. Yet what about such godly virtues as patience, love, and forgiveness? Apparently, God possesses less of them than one might wish. Does saving Noah, his family, and a male and female of all living species in order to ensure continued reproduction make up for God's actions? Is saving them a sign of mercy or of pragmatism?

D'var Torah By: 
Learning Lessons From and With God
Davar Acher By: 
Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus

Most of us are introduced to the Noah story as a fable for children. The adorable images of animals two-by-two, the ark floating on the rising waters, the dove with the olive branch in her beak — all these lead up to the beautiful rainbow in the sky, and they all lived happily after. Would that it were so. In her insightful d'var Torah, Dr. Umansky ponders the theological problems we confront in Parashat Noach, much deeper than the pediatric version we are so often presented. 

The External War and the Internal War

This week's Torah portion is called Ki Teitzei — meaning literally, "When you go out." It is a reference to violence and war. "When you take the field [literally, "When you go out"] against your enemies, and the Eternal your God delivers them into your power and you take some of them captive ... " (Deuteronomy 21:10).

This sentence is but a tiny portion of more than a thousand verses in the Tanach that deal with war. Our Holy Scriptures came into history in a world in which fighting was a normal and often necessary activity. The ancient communities of the Middle East were governed according to tribal custom and law, and each ethnic community was in a combative relationship with its neighbor. There was no United Nations in those days, no European Union designed to administer diverse people according to collective rules and laws. Some tribal federations such as the twelve tribes of Israel pooled their resources, but that was for protection rather than for advancing peaceful relations with the rest of the world. The harsh social-economic and political reality of the ancient world often triggered violent and deadly conflicts between communities and peoples, and it is rare that we read a comment such as is found in Judges 3:11: " ... and the land had peace for forty years."

D'var Torah By: 
Understanding Ourselves as Part of the Ein Sof
Davar Acher By: 
Beni Wajnberg

In deciphering the meaning of our portion's call to violence and war (Deuteronomy 21:10), Rabbi Firestone cites the 19th century Chasidic teacher, the S'fat Emet, who understood the opening sentence of the parashah as referring to the daily struggles we face in life. He quotes the S'fat Emet's contention that, "In everything there is a point of divine life, but it is secret and hidden. Throughout the days of the week we are engaged in a battle and struggle to find that point ... "

What Was that Noah Movie About, Anyway?

The movie Noah, released in theaters across America last year, generated its share of controversy among religious reviewers and bloggers.

D'var Torah By: 
The Building Blocks of Compassion
Davar Acher By: 
Michal Shekel

In Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice (Act 4, scene 1) Portia argues:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven . . .

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