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A Higher Holiness Through Connection with a Collective

The poet, Elizabeth Alexander writes:"Poetry (here I hear myself loudest) is the human voice, and are we not of interest to each other?" ... The priestly purpose is to remain separate from the people while linking them to God.... We are left with a difficult duality, both in the nature of this flesh-focused practice and the priestly power paradigm: in word and in world, what is the primary purpose?

D'var Torah By: 
Letting the Shechinah in to Form a Relationship with God
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Feivel Strauss

In his commentary on Parashat Sh’mini, Rabbi Ben Spratt articulates a profound and nuanced understanding of two levels of holiness, and states that going to a higher form of holiness involves “moving from isolation to integration, from distinction to connection, [and as a result] God comes to dwell [among us].” It is in this space I wish to introduce into this conversation a davar acher (another word) based on the same section (Lev. 9:22-3) that shares another way to ensure God’s coming to dwell among us. 

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 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.

 

Finding Guidance and Direction from the Voice Within

Joseph, then viceroy of Egypt, decides to hold Benjamin to pressure his brothers to bring their father Jacob to Egypt. His true identity is still hidden from his brothers. But Judah steps forward to intervene (Gen. 44:1-14). As Vayigash opens, in an impassioned plea, Judah offers himself in place of Benjamin (Gen. 44:18-34). Where does Judah, who once lacked strength to protect Joseph, finally find the courage?

D'var Torah By: 
The Challenge to Find Meaning and Connection
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Zachary Shapiro

“You’re Zachary, right?” Grandma asked. “What do you do?” “I’m a rabbi,” I answered. “What do rabbis do?” ... Thirty seconds later, she asked, “What do you do?”  My grandma's repeated questions were difficult to understand and to respond to. In Parashat Vayigash, Joseph reaches out to his brothers, taking a chance to reconnect, even though theirt responses may have been difficults to understand and respond to.  I

Israel in Egypt: From Valued Subjects to Persecuted Minority

Parashat Mikeitz illuminates how the deep bond between Pharaoh and Joseph developed. How is it then that a new Pharaoh, who knew not Joseph, could suddenly enslave the whole Israelite people (Ex. 1:8)?

D'var Torah By: 
Paying Attention to the Afflicted Among Us
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Mark Miller

Some may be shocked to read the poem that opens the commentary by Rabbi Kipnes. Some may be surprised at the overt nature of the connection he makes between our Torah portion, Mikeitz, and current events in our country. Some may be disturbed by the political nature of a moment dedicated to Torah study.

Jacob Awakens to the Sexual Assaults Suffered by His Children

In Parashat Vayeishev, we read that Joseph suffers sexual harassment at the hands of Potiphar’s wife. Joseph is the patriarch Jacob’s second child to face sexual violence, after his daughter Dinah was raped (Gen. 34). In this midrashic monologue, we wonder how Jacob reacted to the news of what happened to Dinah:   

D'var Torah By: 
When Men Look At How They Treat the Women in Their Families
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi David S. Widzer

Through the gift of modern midrash, Rabbi Kipnes grants our ancestor, Jacob, the opportunity to teach an important lesson about Parashat Vayeishev. With regret at his previous failure to be truly present for his daughter in the face of sexual violence, Jacob voices the responses we hope we would give when confronted with such a terrible situation today. Jacob acknowledges, too late, the role he could have played as an ally and supporter. 

How Can We Avoid Conflict Among Siblings?

Have you ever wanted to kill (or seriously harm) your brother (or sister, or other relative)? The Book of Genesis is replete with enough examples of intended fratricide that we ought to take notice.

D'var Torah By: 
Listening Deeply for the Voices of Our Matriarchs
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Eleanor Steinman

Each year, as we reflect on the Torah, our understanding of it is influenced by the times in which we read it. This year, our society is attuned to #MeToo stories of horrific experiences that have come to light. These stories highlight the importance of listening deeply for the voices of victims, those who are not powerful, those who tell their stories, and those who may not yet be ready to share. With this in mind, I want to explore the introduction of two of our matriarchs, Leah and Rachel in Parashat Vayeitzei. 

Isaac Remembers When He Ended It with Abraham

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.

D'var Torah By: 
A Space for Presence and for Love: Be’er-Lachai-Roi
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ilene Harkavy Haigh

In our Torah portion this week, Tol’dot, we learn that “Isaac had grown old and his eyesight had dimmed” (Gen. 27:1) compromising his ability to differentiate between his two sons. Does this explain how he, “inadvertently” blesses Jacob instead of Esa

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.

Did God Create a World Before This One?

Is it possible that there were other worlds in existence before this one? Some of the Rabbis say yes!

D'var Torah By: 
With Another Quarter
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Billy Dreskin

“What's our Divine purpose then? To live, love, and learn. To repair brokenness and grow in goodness. To continually redefine what it means to live b'tzelem Elohim, ‘in God's image.’”

With these words, Rabbi Kipnes concludes his stirring, lyrical commentary on B’reishit, opening our eyes to the many avenues for interpreting and understanding our Torah’s story of Creation. Most importantly, he connects our own journeys—our own B’reishit moments—to the possibility of new beginnings.

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