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Ethical Existence Is in the Details

Through a web of seemingly disjointed scenarios, the Book of Deuteronomy is filled with large and small methodologies for preserving the possibility of ethical behavior even in the worst contexts.... Reading the Torah portion Ki Teitzei demands facing a battery of situations in which the average human being might not behave ethically, even in the smallest detail of life, and yet prescribes a way to be ethical nonetheless

D'var Torah By: 
Good Self-Care Makes for Good Fences
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ariel Naveh

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, Moses continues his final speech to the Israelites, laying out an ethical code for our relationships with each other, with the world around us, and with God. Essentially, Moses mandates us to be good to each other, and good to God’s Creation. 

The Dietary Laws: Fitness for a Life Well-Lived

The dietary laws presented in the Book of Leviticus are intended to draw us closer to God. But even I, as a rabbi, sometimes have difficulty understanding how the Torah intends for this to happen.

The second part of Sh’mini (Leviticus 10:12-11:47) takes up the subject of food. Everything from taboos to general permissions are commanded forming the foundation of later, Talmudic, legal interpretations on what is kosher (fit for consumption) and what is t’reif (unfit). Reform Judaism has sought an authentic response to expectations for kashrut that would meet individual and contemporary norms.

D'var Torah By: 
Determining What Holiness Is in Our Lives
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Monica Kleinman

Reform Judaism's interpretation of dietary laws in Sh'mini has changed dramatically since the Movement's inception in the 19th century. We can see that contrast in the piece of the Pittsburgh Platform that Rabbi Lyons cites above regarding Mosaic laws and rituals: “They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.”

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.

The True Measure of Repentance

In Vayigash, Joseph now a powerful man in Egypt conceals his identity from the brothers who had sold him into slavery years ago. In so doing, he allows them to confront their past mistakes.

D'var Torah By: 
Taking a Step Toward Renewed Trust and Conflict Resolution
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ted Riter

What if Joseph, after so many years of separation from his brothers were to write a letter to communicate with his brothers in Parashat Vayigash. What would that letter say?

Jewish Self-Definition: One Size No Longer Fits All

Jewish assimilation — the loss of followers through attrition, absorption into other faiths, or the practice of no faith — harkens back to Joseph, the first Israelite to live in a diaspora. In Mikeitz, we read how Joseph adopted Egyptian customs and clothes, took an Egyptian wife, and was given the Egyptian name Zaphenath-paneah (Genesis 41:45), a sign of acceptance into Egyptian society. Joseph offers us a window into the broad spectrum of Jewish affiliation and practice that exists today.

D'var Torah By: 
Adapting to New Circumstances Without Abandoning One’s Beliefs
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Stacy Eskovitz Rigler

In Mikeitz we see that Joseph is not an example of assimilation, but rather an example of acculturation and adaption that defines modern Judaism. Joseph attributed his success to God. He navigated the intersection between Judaism and diaspora, overcoming the desire to focus on the supremacy of self and through him our people grew mighty and numerous.

Ensuring the Success or Failure of Dreams

Reading Parashat Vayeishev and other dream-filled portions in Genesis, we wonder if it’s possible to influence a dream’s prophecy rather than passively waiting for the outcome to unfold. The upcoming holiday, Hanukkah, provides a clue.

D'var Torah By: 
From Joseph’s Dreams to the Dreamers of Today
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Bonnie Margulis

The story of Joseph and his prophetic dreams in Parashat Vayeishev is familiar to us all, even iconic. It is the beginning of the foundational story of the Jewish people – the 430-year sojourn in Egyptian slavery leading to the Exodus and the coming together as God’s people at Mt. Sinai. Without Joseph and his dreams, the children of Israel would never had ended up in Egypt in the first place.

But Wait, There’s More!

In Vayeitzei, Jacob encounters God in a dream, thus advancing the biblical journey of our people learning from and following the instruction of God. After the biblical era, our Sages found a way to expand our understanding of the Torah and its teachings. 

D'var Torah By: 
The Awesome Presence of God
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz

In Vayeitzei, Jacob learns that he is not the center of his own universe when he encounters God in a dream. Jacob’s understanding of God in this moment is really an understanding of himself as inspirable from the divinity that is all around him and within him.

Genuine Forgiveness Despite a Grave Wrong

In Tol’dot we learn that Jacob, the homespun man, is wilier than his brother Esau, the skilled hunter. While Jewish commentators ascribed many negative traits and behaviors to Esau, a later portion reveals his positive ability to forgive.

D'var Torah By: 
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Judith L. Siegal

Jacob and Esau had different traits even in the womb. Jacob is the brother who gains the favor of the Rabbis ultimately, but in Tol’dot, he is conniving and conspiring. Esau is viewed by the biblical author as “impetuous and brash” and by later commentators as a “wild beast.” The words in Tol’dot imply that their character was inescapable.  

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