In Parashat Tol’dot, Isaac is described as having “weak eyes,” which is considered a metaphor for his inability to see what his twin sons Jacob and Esau needed from him (Gen. 27:1). Why was he so poorly prepared to father his boys? In this midrashic monologue, Isaac gives us a clue as he reflects upon his relationship with his own father.
In this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, an aspect of the fundamental genius of Jewish existence is illuminated. In renewing the covenant God's intention is revealed: that human beings are intended to interpret and determine the meaning of Torah.
“I’m not a good Jew.” This is a phrase we hear far too often. But in Parashat Nitzavim, we learn that each and every Jew is valued as a part of the community.
Relationships—even sacred relationships—are not static. Even the most profound covenants and commitments sometimes need to be renewed or reestablished. But Parashat Ki Tavo asks, is this true even of our relationship with God?
As the summer comes to an end, our Torah reading cycle mirrors the sense of longing for more time while simultaneously preparing for what is to come. In Parashat Ki Tavo, Moses continues his last speech before the Israelites, instructing them in the laws of the bikurim, the “first fruits” (Deut. 26:1-11).
If someone tells you that Judaism is X or Y, you should never believe them. Judaism is such a complex civilization — it is made up of religion and culture, language and land, and a particular kind of peoplehood. ... The Israelites’ preparations both to enter the Land and to create an ideal society are central motifs of Deuteronomy, and a particular focus of the extensive Parashat R’eih.
This past spring, I along with many Reform Jews participated in the revival of the Poor People’s Campaign. We sought to address the growing wealth gap in our country and its associated effects. For me, participating in this campaign was a primary Jewish act, as we read in this week’s Torah Portion, R’eih, “There shall be no needy among you” (Deut. 15:4).
There is no doubt that the donkey is the star of Parashat Balak. In an episode that itself is unnecessary to the plot of the Book of Numbers, she is dispensable. And yet she leaps out of the text (as much as a donkey can leap) as one of the most unforgettable characters of the book.
Rabbi Grushcow’s insightful, multilayered analysis of this passage in Parashat Balak imparts newfound urgency to age-old questions. Like the women of the #MeToo movement, her writing has called out the behavior of a powerful and well-known man for what it is: abusive. So, too, she takes the victim of the abuse seriously, as someone possessing thought and feeling, instead of a prop of no real importance or value.
Freedom is an ideal for humanity that we constantly strive to reach.To be truly free is to possess the human power to choose to live by the rules that bind us. The rules that bind us should, at best, hold us fast to principles and ethics that lead us to our greatest human potential. In B’har, we find the famous verse, “You shall proclaim release (liberty) throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:10). For Jews, the rules that bind us are Torah.
Yasher koach to my colleague, Rabbi David Lyon, on his insightful comments on this week’s parashah, B’har/B’chukotai. I believe he begins to explore the distinction between the ideas of “freedom within” and “freedom from.” It is here where I believe that Judaism embraces the latter ethic as a driving force in making sacred and informed decisions. The great sage Maimonides taught that all is foreseen, yet freewill is given (see Mishneh Torah, Hilchot T’shuvah, chapter 5). Leviticus and especially the last few chapters, lays out for us the opportunities and challenges we have to choose to live a sacred life.
In Va-y’chi, we hear the final requests of Jacob, and then Joseph, to bring back their remains to be buried in the land God promised to their ancestors. In carrying Joseph’s bones, Moses moves draws closer to his progenitor, giving us the opportunity to reflect on our connections to our forebears.
In this week’s Torah portion, Va-y'chi, both Jacob and then Joseph ask the children of Israel to carry their bones back to be buried in Canaan. Both men teach us the value of planning and sharing our wished with the next generation.
In Tol’dot we learn that Jacob, the homespun man, is wilier than his brother Esau, the skilled hunter. While Jewish commentators ascribed many negative traits and behaviors to Esau, a later portion reveals his positive ability to forgive.
Jacob and Esau had different traits even in the womb. Jacob is the brother who gains the favor of the Rabbis ultimately, but in Tol’dot, he is conniving and conspiring. Esau is viewed by the biblical author as “impetuous and brash” and by later commentators as a “wild beast.” The words in Tol’dot imply that their character was inescapable.
The beautiful, melodious liturgy of Yom Kippur suggests a heavenly court in which God reviews each individual and decrees the destiny of each person for the coming year. This is powerful poetry that should make us stop and think about our lives and our behavior.
The Un’taneh Tokef prayer is undoubtedly one of the most challenging pieces of Jewish liturgy. It encompasses traditional messages of Yom Kippur and the High Holiday season that can prove to be theologically challenging: God is judge and arbiter; Our fate has been determined, and there is nothing that we can do but accept the decree. Regardless of the theological implications found in the text, the prayer does challenge us to confront our own mortality and reflect on how we want to be remembered.
On my first Shabbat in