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Death

The Blessing of Dinah

In Parashat Va-y’chi, Jacob blesses his sons as he lies on his deathbed. We note the absence of any blessing for - or mention of - his daughter Dinah. 

D'var Torah By: 
Many Character Traits, Good and Bad
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jocee Hudson

In Va-y’chi, Joseph learns that his father Jacob is sick before Jacob has the chance to call his 12 sons to his bedside (and, in Torah’s account, shockingly misses the opportunity to reconnect with his daughter Dinah). Without invitation, Joseph shows up to visit his dad with his sons Ephraim and Manasseh in tow. What follows are a series of blessings delivered by Jacob to his sons and grandsons that reveal the good points and the failings of these ancestors.

 

When Ben-Oni Becomes Benjamin: Rachel’s Midrashic Monologue

In Parashat Vayishlach, we read of the death of our matriarch, Rachel, who does not survive the birth of her second child, a boy whom she names Ben-oni. As she lay dying, the baby’s father, Jacob, renames him Benjamin (Gen. 35:16-18). The Torah does not tell us why this change is made. We imagine Rachel, in her final moments, whispering to her newborn:

D'var Torah By: 
What’s in a Name?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Rachel Kaplan Marks

Shakespeare asks rhetorically, “What’s in a name?" According to our biblical tradition there’s significant meaning in our names. In their commentary on Parashat Vayishlach, Rabbis Bearman and Kipnes present a beautiful midrash on Rachel’s thoughts and feelings about Jacob having changed their youngest son’s name (Gen. 35:18). 

Where Was Sarah During the Akeidah (the Binding of Isaac)?

In Parashat Chayei Sarah (the life of Sarah), we learn that our biblical matriarch Sarah lived 127 years, she died, and Abraham purchased her burial cave in Hebron (Gen. 23:1-20). Sadly, the only Torah portion named after a woman provides few hints about her life or final days.

D'var Torah By: 
How an Enduring Legacy Can Prolong Our Life From Generation to Generation
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Frederick Reeves

Rabbi Kipnes and Ms. November start their discussion of Parashat Chayei Sarah with Dr. Och’s observation that modern readers feel disappointment when a portion named “the life of Sarah” begins with her death. Commentators going back as far as Rashi have tried to expand on the details of her life. 

Grappling with Death and the Need to Mourn

“The whole community knew that Aaron had breathed his last” (Numbers 20:29). ... Parashat Chukat is in the middle of the Book of Numbers, and its narrative spans 38 of the 40 years in the wilderness. It is also full of death, and the human struggle to comprehend it.

D'var Torah By: 
Evolving Traditions Around Death and Mourning
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Our emotional responses to death and loss, discussed so beautifully by Rabbi Grushcow in her d’var Torah on Parashat Chukat, are as varied as we are, and therefore evolve as sensibilities change. But not all changes truly meet our inner needs.

When We Seek God as a Partner

In Parashat Sh’mini we read of the death of Aaron’s sons who offered “alien fire” to God and were consumed. While commentators throughout the ages have tried to make sense of this tragedy, the text also guides us to appreciate the power of the choices we make.

D'var Torah By: 
Heartbreaking Silence in Response to Tragic Loss
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Lisa Delson

In the aftermath of the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, Parashat Sh’mini offers us a glimpse into the humanity of Aaron. Our hearts break when we read that Aaron’s response to his sons’ death is silence (Leviticus 10:3). 

How the Living Serve the Dead

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. 

D'var Torah By: 
The Importance of Planning Ahead
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ethan Prosnit

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.

Struggling With a Deceitful Heart

The inner turmoil that marked Jacob’s life of deceitfulness as well as his struggle with his father, brother, and sons are exposed in Vayishlach. After many years of separation, Jacob, about to meet his estranged brother, Esau, slept in a dream-like state of wakefulness on the shore of the Jabbok River where a man wrestled with him until the rise of dawn. 

D'var Torah By: 
Confronting Mistakes in Order to Grow
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Sarah Mack

Growth often comes from the things we wish most to avoid. In Vayishlach, that is just what Jacob discovers on that dark night on the banks of the Jabbok river. He confronts his mistakes and in the process transforms from his former self, Ya-akov, which can mean “usurper” or “birthright stealer,” to Yisrael a name meaning “one who struggles with God.” 

Adding Life to Years

Chayei Sarah begins with the recording of Sarah’s death. But the fullness of Sarah’s and Abraham’s years and accomplishments leads us to appreciate the varied possibilities of living with purpose and dignitiy in old age.

D'var Torah By: 
Seasoning Wisdom with Reason and Good Sense
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jonathan Blake

As we contemplate the accomplishments of an aged Abraham and Sarah, we reflect on the words of a commentator to Pirkei Avot 5:21 who suggests that the word for "old," zakein, means a wise person who knows how to season wisdom with reason and good sense.

Living in the Golden Mean

Parashat Chukat opens with the law of the parah adumah — the red heifer. It is a classic example of a commandment for which the Torah offers no explanation. How are we to understand and grapple with laws such as this that we do not understand? Perhaps we need to start not with the question, why, but with the question, why not.

D'var Torah By: 
Empathy for the Refugee at Border Crossings
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ann Landowne

In Parashat Chukat we are reminded of the difficulties that our ancestors encountered during their passage through the wilderness. We learn that Miriam has died (Numbers 20:1) and Moses has little time to mourn. Immediately he must deal with the thirsty Israelites clamoring for water and complaining about their fate. In our tradition, the Exodus from Egypt has solidified our strong identification with the stranger and their need for protection. Here in Chukat, this story of wandering in the wilderness also increases our empathy for the refugee, separated from family, desperate and in need of assistance. It is hard for us to imagine what they have experienced on their journey but our Torah teaches us to let them in.

The Formation of a People

Parashat Vayak’heil/P’kudei is a double Torah portion that concludes the Book of Exodus. The paired Torah portions describe the building of the Tabernacle and the anointing of the priests. The parashiyot are primarily contain many verses of detailed plans and descriptions of rituals, some of which are hard to visualize sitting in such a different world today. 

D'var Torah By: 
Finding Humanity and Divinity in the Other
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Linda Bertenthal

Parashat Vayak'heil/P'kudei describes the process of building the Mishkan (Tabernacle), which serves as a model for building Jewish community. The cherubim on the kaporet (ark cover) of the Mishkan that faced each other remind us that we should face one another and listen. 

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