Search URJ.org and the other Reform websites:

Covenant

Accepting Advice From Your Father-in-Law

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Yitrois remarkable. Only six Torah portions (out of a total of 54) are named for one of the individuals advancing the drama within its text. ...  And this portion is named for Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro) — a non-Israelite, Midianite priest. In the portion, Yitro offers sage advice and Moses accepts it.

D'var Torah By: 
The Notion of Being a Chosen People
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jenn Queen

“Oh my goodness, you’re Jewish? I love Jews. Y’all are God’s chosen people.” Spending my formative years in Texas, I often heard this from classmates, teachers, and others who happened to notice the colorful Star of David necklace I wore throughout high school. ... Growing up in Reform synagogues and summer camps, this notion of chosenness rarely came up. ... Yet, the notion of Jewish chosenness is there in its clearest iteration in Parashat Yitro. As the Israelites stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai, in the preamble to the smoke and fire and blaring of the shofar, the drama of Revelation, and of matan Torah, “the gift of Torah,” God speaks to the people through Moses, saying: 

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.

Traveling Down the Road That Helps You To Find Yourself

In The Fires of Spring, the late prolific American author, James Michener, wrote: “For this is the journey that humans make: to find themselves. ... " In this week’s parashahLech L’cha, we read a similar imperative to find purpose in life, to listen to and live — as your true self. 

D'var Torah By: 
Call and Response: The Hero’s Journey
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

In this week’s parashahLech L’cha, I have always been more mystified by the call and response rather than the journey itself. God says to Abram, in the imperative, “you go” (Gen. 12:1).

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?

The Dramatic Effects of Sound and Silence

In the story of Elijah, this classic text describes the prophet’s encounter with God: “... the Eternal was not in the fire. And after the fire—a soft murmuring sound [kol d’mamah dakah]” (I Kings 19:11-12). The sound of silence—or close to it. The power of the soft whisper, the energy of the absence of sound. Jewish tradition, and the Torah specifically, uses many examples of the drama that can be achieved with sound, 

D'var Torah By: 
The Call to Listen, the Gift to Hear

While the Sephardi Jewish community starts adding penitential prayers to services at the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul, the Askenazi Jewish community formally enters into High Holiday period as the sun sets on Saturday, September 21, 2019, with the recitation of Selichot poems and prayers for Divine forgiveness. For Ashkenazi Jews, the first night of Selichot holds immense spiritual power and weight. This period of time helps Jews enter the Yamim Nora-im, the Days of Awe, with a full heart and an open soul. This may also be the first time we hear the sounding of the shofar since the end of N’ilah last Yom Kippur. It is the wake-up call of our sidrah, Ki Tavo.

The Tension Between Hubris and Humility

In its brief 40 verses, Parashat Nitzavim immediately presents us with tensions between confidence and condemnation, promise and punishment, and ultimately, between humility and hubris. Throughout the text of these two compact chapters—Deuteronomy 29 and 30—Moses consistently oscillates between inspiring the Israelites toward their future and forewarning them about their inherent (and perhaps inevitable) flaws.

D'var Torah By: 
Insights Into the Needs and Fears of Baby Boomers
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Laura Geller
In the beginning of Parashat Nitzavim, we read: “You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God ... "(Deut. 29:9).  As Cantor Sacks notes, Moses’ language in this section, “rouses the people before him to confidence and promise, and to inspiration and importance.” 

The Necessary Steps to Ready Ourselves for Repentance

In the realm of profound and fruitful parshiyot, Va-et’chanan looms large. In one stream of chapters, we both relive Revelation — the Ten Commandments — and receive the most succinct summary of our emerging theology — the Sh’ma. And yet, even before we reach these transformational texts, Va-et’chanan captures our attention.

D'var Torah By: 
Preparing Ourselves for Prayer
Davar Acher By: 
Cantor Lauren Phillips Fogelman

The arrival of Parashat Va-et’chanan on Shabbat Nachamu reminds us that effective prayer is best achieved when we take the time to focus and organize our thoughts. This advice serves us well as we approach the upcoming Yamim Nora-im, a period of preparation and sanctity that launches amidst a series of structured countdowns.

A Continuity of Law that Values the Needs of the Community

The word for “and” in Hebrew is not a separate word: it is a one-letter prefix, the letter vav. Sometimes it is translated as and, other times it is best translated as “but”; sometimes, vav is a participle that doesn’t need to be translated. In the opening sentence of Parashat Mishpatimthe translation used in the Reform Movement’s Chumash discounts the vav that is attached to first word, v'eileh, "these" or "and these."

D'var Torah By: 
Laws that Unify the People
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Adam Bellows

As Rabbi Greenvald points out, the letter, vav, at the beginning of a Hebrew word can mean both “and” and “but.” It is astounding that one prefix can mean two disparate things. ...  The first word of Mishpatim is v'eileh, which can be translated as "these" or as "and these."

Learning How to Respect the Covenant and Our Fellow Worshippers

The slogan for the Torah portion known as Yitro  should be “we’ve arrived.” The theophany on Mount Sinai – God’s Revelation of the Ten Commandments – is arguably the climax of the Torah (Exodus 20). But the story doesn’t end here – it is the post-Sinai textual journey where we learn that we exist in a perpetual state of arrival, constantly figuring out how to hear Torah as we walk through our daily lives.

D'var Torah By: 
Choosing to Be in a Covenantal Community
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jade Sank Ross

Worrying that because of their similarities, Harry Potter might be destined for the same evil darkness as the villain, Voldemort, Harry Potter’s beloved mentor, Dumbledore, assures him, “It is our choices, Harry, that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. We are defined by our choices: This is the central theme of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. Choice is also a defining theme of the story of the Jewish people, as we see  in Parashat Yitro. 

The Challenge of Letting Go of Children

“Lech L’cha: Heartbreak and Hopefulness as Children Go Off and Move On,” is spoken-word poetry to dramatize the wide array of thoughts and feelings that occur to Abram's parents.

D'var Torah By: 
Can You Go Home Again?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Noam Katz

“Toil on, son, and do not lose heart or hope. ..." is a message in Thomas Wolfe's classic novel, You Can’t Go Home AgainThe same themes apply as Abram embarks on his own road to self-actualization in Lech L'cha.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Covenant