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Covenant

Learning from the Imperfection of Religion

Parashat Mishpatim offers a myriad of rules to guide us in how to treat other individuals and nations. It makes us wonder: Why is it easier to think and behave humanely when we consider individuals rather than nations? 

D'var Torah By: 
The All-Encompassing Nature of Responsibility
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Megan Brudney

Some of our instincts will easily align with our sacred texts; some will (and indeed should) be in stark contrast with our canon. Yet beyond the wrestling, it is important to note that there is also a reckoning — a moment of accountability for the action we ultimately choose to take. A good example is offered in Parashat Mishpatim, in Exodus 21. Here, we find a section concerning damages incurred by both people and animals: what might happen, who is held responsible, and what restitution is owed.

Searching Oneself on the Way Forward

In Lech L’cha, God commands Abram and to travel on a physical journey “to the land that I will show you.” At the same time, God instructs Abram to look within, taking an inner spiritual journey within himself.

D'var Torah By: 
The Reward of a Journey
Davar Acher By: 
Zachary Herrmann

Looking at Parashat Lech L’cha, Rabbi Pearce analyzes Abraham’s departure and his difficult journeys: one a physical challenge, and the other a spiritual challenge. These journeys end with instant gratification: Abraham is given a new name by God for the spiritual journey and land for the physical journey. This inspires us to put our faith in God and be willing to leave everything we know for the greater good. The problem is that Abraham is rewarded at the end. With this example, are we learning that we should expect a tangible gift at the end of our efforts and journeys?

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.

Sealed for Life or Death?

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.

D'var Torah By: 
Un’taneh Tokef: Reflecting on Your Legacy
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi P.J. Schwartz

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.

When Imploring Fails to Give Us What We Want

In Parashat Va-et’chanan, Moses tells how he pleaded with God to let him enter the Promised Land and how that request was denied. In the passages that follow, Moses offers us an example of how to persevere despite the deep disappointment of not attaining one’s dreams.

D'var Torah By: 
Moses’ Final Lesson
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ruth A. Zlotnick

In Va-et'chanan, Moses gazes on the Promised Land and comes to grips with the fact that he will not enter it. He uses his remaining time to confer instruction and blessing on the Israelites who will carry his teachings forward after his passing.

The Moral Imperative of the Stranger

Man helps a stranger up the hill demonstrating tikkun olam

In Parashat Mishpatimwe find the Israelites in the midst of the Revelation at Sinai, experiencing the communal wonder and intensity of their encounter with God. Mishpatim, which means “laws,” dives into the details. The Revelations in Mishpatim are among the words Moses writes down on stone when he and Aaron ascend the mountain. Scholars call these laws the Book of the Covenant or Sefer HaB’rit. It’s the Torah’s first pass at the legal details that govern Jewish living.

D'var Torah By: 
Laws that Lead Us to Act with Compassion
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Matt Zerwekh

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Translated into English, the meaning of Parashat Mishpatim is “Laws,” but I would suggest we also refer to this Torah portion with the word rachmanut, “compassion.” The laws set forth in Parashat Mishpatim give us clear guidance as to our treatment of the segments of society to which we do not belong — the slave, the poor, the widow, the orphan. It point isn’t only that we should remember that we were once strangers in a strange land, for that only calls for empathy — an understanding of the other.

Radical Inclusion at Sinai

We have arrived. All of the stories; all the of the generations between Adam and Eve, and the matriarchs and patriarchs; and 400 years of slavery in Egypt now culminate in the Israelites’ triumphant redemption. They all lead to this singular moment: the Revelation at Sinai. In Parashat Yitro, Moses guides the Israelite people to Mt. Sinai where they encounter God, experiencing all the drama and glory of Revelation.

Biblical commentators consistently note that one of the exceptional aspects of the Revelation at Sinai is that it is a communal revelation. Every previous moment of revelation in the Torah consists of God speaking privately to an individual or two — Noah, Abraham, Moses, and so on. Private revelation is the most common in other religions as well: an individual experiences God and then shares that revelation more broadly.

D'var Torah By: 
Worthy Guardians for Years to Come
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Maurice A. Salth

At Mount Sinai God was pleased to hear the vast multitude of diverse Israelites say in one united voice: “All that the Eternal has spoken we will do!” (Exodus 19:8) and God wanted additional assurance that they would follow through on this commitment. God told them: “I require worthy guarantors that you will observe Torah.” And the people of Israel replied: “Sovereign of the Universe, our ancestors will be our guarantors.” God was unimpressed. “Your guarantors need guarantors themselves, for they have not been without fault,” said Adonai. And so they responded: “Our prophets will guarantee it.” God retorted: “I have found fault with them also.” Thus the people offered this pledge: “Let our children be our guarantors.” And with a smile God concurred: “These are excellent guarantors, because of them I will give it to you” (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:4). The b’rit, “covenant,” advances and Torah is revealed.

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