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Curse

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.” 

Balancing Between Anarchy and Self-Actualization

In the litany of rules and regulations found in Parashat R’eih, we read two commandments that at first glance seem to propose conflicting sentiments. The first is a reproach against personal anarchy. The second promotes the idea of self-actualization. How do we reconcile the two? 

D'var Torah By: 
The Tension Between Individualism and Community
Davar Acher By: 
Cantor David Frommer

Cantor Sacks beautifully outlines the tension in Parashat R’eih between collectivism and individuality, and urges us to balance the two. It’s no easy task, but we can aid ourselves by noticing the different cultural values around us and how they might affect these two divergent impulses.

How to Avoid Getting Stuck in Balak’s Trap

In Parashat Balak, King Balak and the people of Moab, central characters in the weekly Torah portion, are afraid of the Children of Israel. Balak tries to recruit the prophet Balaam to curse the Children of Israel in order to weaken them and save Moab from impending defeat. King Balak sends for his prophet twice and Balaam barely responds. Three times Balak attempts to force a curse on Israel out of Balaam's mouth and three times he fails. It is fascinating to try to understand what causes a king to attempt the same solution, and fail again and again, and despite this, to not change his strategy.

D'var Torah By: 
When We Fail to Learn from Our Mistakes
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ben Zeidman

As I reflect on Dr. Ruhama Weiss’s words about Parashat Balak, I can’t help but think of this quote from Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World: “Flexibility is the ability to bend when we find ourselves in unworkable positions. A universal characteristic of insanity is inflexibly doing the same thing over and over while hoping for different results. ... “

The Depths of Human Agency and God’s Surprising Laughter

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.

D'var Torah By: 
Yes, You Are a Good Jew
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jeremy Gimbel

“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.

Why the Past Isn’t Enough: The Need for a New Covenant

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? 

D'var Torah By: 
A Message of Hope in the First Fruits
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Karen R. Perolman

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). 

Identity and Ethics: Knowing Who and Whose You Are

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

D'var Torah By: 
Ruined with Greed
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Brent Gutmann

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).

Learning Wisdom from a Beast of Burden

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.

D'var Torah By: 
Facing and Confronting Private Failings in Public Figures
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

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.

Finding the Richness and the Glory in God’s Ways

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.

D'var Torah By: 
Freedom Within and Freedom From
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi David A. Lipper

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.

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