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Accepting Advice From Your Father-in-Law

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Yitrois remarkable. Only six Torah portions (out of a total of 54) are named for one of the individuals advancing the drama within its text. ...  And this portion is named for Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro) — a non-Israelite, Midianite priest. In the portion, Yitro offers sage advice and Moses accepts it.

D'var Torah By: 
The Notion of Being a Chosen People
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jenn Queen

“Oh my goodness, you’re Jewish? I love Jews. Y’all are God’s chosen people.” Spending my formative years in Texas, I often heard this from classmates, teachers, and others who happened to notice the colorful Star of David necklace I wore throughout high school. ... Growing up in Reform synagogues and summer camps, this notion of chosenness rarely came up. ... Yet, the notion of Jewish chosenness is there in its clearest iteration in Parashat Yitro. As the Israelites stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai, in the preamble to the smoke and fire and blaring of the shofar, the drama of Revelation, and of matan Torah, “the gift of Torah,” God speaks to the people through Moses, saying: 

Objects in Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear

My car is a philosopher; yours is too. I am certain I am not the first person to look into my passenger side-view mirror and ponder the existential meaning of the message inscribed at the bottom of the frame, “Objects in (the) mirror may be closer than they appear.” In this week’s Torah portion, Va-y’chi, Joseph does essentially the same thing. According to midrash, he revisits the site where his brothers betrayed him and instead of bitterness found blessing.

D'var Torah By: 
Breaking the Chain and Becoming a Blessing
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Kenneth Carr

In his teaching about Parashat Va-y’chi, Rabbi Moskovitz discusses the importance of remembering our history. The lessons of the past should inform our perspective on the present, shaping how we feel and how we act. By avoiding conflict, Joseph's sons model this behavior.

Can You Find the Good in a Catastrophe?

As we begin Parashat Vayigash, Joseph is seated as second in line to the pharaoh in Egypt. His brothers had come down to Egypt seeking food as there was a famine in the land of Canaan. Joseph concealed his identity from his brothers, and in last week’s portion, Mikeitz, he framed them for stealing and held his brother Simeon for ransom until they return with Benjamin.

D'var Torah By: 
How Many and Difficult Are the Years of Your Life?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Elana Nemitoff-Bresler, MAJE

In his commentary on Vayigash, Rabbi Moskovitz writes of Joseph and his brothers reconnecting. I’d like to discuss some other connections that take place in this parashah: the reunion of Joseph and his father Jacob, and Jacob’s introduction to Pharaoh, which reveals Jacob’s suffering. When Joseph brings his father to meet Pharaoh, his boss and CEO, Pharaoh asks Jacob a simple question, “How many years have you lived?” (Gen. 47:8). Jacob answers the question with an elaborate spin.

Dream a Little Dream, and Then Interpret It

The entire story of Joseph, which spans three parshiyot in the latter third of the Book of Genesis, centers around dreams: their interpretation and the actions that interpretation then inspires. This week, we read the second portion in that series, Mikeitz.

D'var Torah By: 
Recognizing the Dreams of the Powerless
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi, PhD

"Your sons and daughters shal prophesy; your elders shall dream dreams, and your youth shall see visions (Joel 3:1). ... According to Joel, dreams and visions will accompany a sudden transition our of hardship and oppression. In his day, the Jewish people were toggled between the rulership of societies more powerful than us. In Parashat Mikeitz, we imagine that Joseph feels a hopelessness brought about by a similar subjegation.

Who Is the Supporting Cast in the Story of Your Life?

I am a rabbi because of a game of catch I played at camp with a rabbi more than three times my age. ... Others people who have changed my direction are like supporting actors in my life. ... In Parashat Vayeishev, Joseph goes out searching for his brothers who are supposed to be in the field tending the flock. ... Along the way he meets a man whose name we never know: The Torah refers to him simply as ha-ish, ”the man” who saw Joseph wandering in the field (Gen. 37:15). 

D'var Torah By: 
Free Will and God's Control of Our Destiny
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser

As we read Parashat Vayeishev, Rabbi Dan Moskovitz challenges us to ask ourselves, “Who are the people past or present who at critical crossroads in your life’s journey gave you directions, held your hand, and walked a bit of the journey with you?” ... He recalls various influential people in his life. ... Rabbi Moskovitz compares such people to ha-ish, "the (unnamed) man" who guided Joseph to discover his destiny. I want to suggest, though, that ha-ish was not quite like the people that I can identify from my past. ... By contrast, ha-ish was just an anonymous stranger who told Joseph that he had seen his brothers ... head toward Dothan. 

A Divine Moment When Heaven and Earth Touch

This week's Torah portion, Vayeitzeidescribes the first part of the journey of the biblical Jacob. Fleeing the wrath of his brother, whose birthright he purchased and whose blessing he stole, Jacob is “heading for the exits.” Fleeing his home, along the way he stops and dreams of angels and God. Jacob awakens from his dream with a start and declares to no one in particular: Achein yeish Adonai bamakom hazeh v’anochi lo yadati, “Surely God is in this place and I [“I” is repeated] did not know it!” (Gen. 28:16).

D'var Torah By: 
Is Jacob’s Vow to God Conditional?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Marc Saperstein

Looking at Parashat Vayeitzei, I’d like to focus on an aspect of this intriguing narrative of Jacob’s dream and its immediate aftermath: the vow that Jacob articulates in response to the stunning encounter with the divine Presence. It is a bit disturbing that the vow Jacob articulates in response to this encounter is totally conditional: “If God is with me and watches over me on this path that I am taking and gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and if I return safely to my father’s house, then will the Eternal be my God” (Gen. 28:20-21). 

Teaching Children According to Their Own Way

My wife and I have three children, two boys and a girl. ... Each one argues that a certain rule may apply to the other two siblings, but it does not apply to him/her because he/she is our favorite. ... In this week’s Torah portion, Tol’dot, Isaac and Rebekah, the parents of twin boys Jacob and Esau  show favoritism to one child over the other. From the outset we are told that these two children are very different beings.

D'var Torah By: 
Great Growth Can Come From Great Struggle
Davar Acher By: 
Cantor Ellen Dreskin

Parashat Tol’dot rarely goes by without someone asking,“How can we receive our name (Yisrael) from someone as manipulative and easily sucked into deceit as Jacob appears to be in this week’s parashah?” And who is really to blame? In deceiving Isaac, was Rebekah only doing her part to manifest the prophecy that she heard from God? Was Isaac really deceived, or did he also knowingly give Jacob the blessing that was supposed to have been given to Esau, his firstborn? And why did Jacob, our “hero,” dive so willingly into his mother’s plan to lie to Isaac?

Traveling Down the Road That Helps You To Find Yourself

In The Fires of Spring, the late prolific American author, James Michener, wrote: “For this is the journey that humans make: to find themselves. ... " In this week’s parashahLech L’cha, we read a similar imperative to find purpose in life, to listen to and live — as your true self. 

D'var Torah By: 
Call and Response: The Hero’s Journey
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

In this week’s parashahLech L’cha, I have always been more mystified by the call and response rather than the journey itself. God says to Abram, in the imperative, “you go” (Gen. 12:1).

The Legacy of the Tree of All Knowledge

One Yom Kippur, a rabbi was warning his congregation about the fragility of life, and that everyone in the congregation will someday die. ... That is the great lesson and gift of this week’s parashah, B’reishit with its iconic tale of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

D'var Torah By: 
An Honest Person in the Garden?
Davar Acher By: 
Alden Solovy

It is a fearful thing, to love what death can touch … ” (Mishkan T’filah [NY: CCAR, 2007] p. 594). This poem by Chaim Stern is one of the “go-to” readings before Mourner’s Kaddish at my congregation. With that single line, I can be lost in thought. As Rabbi Dan Moskovitz discusses in his commentary about Parashat B'reishit, death creates an urgency for living. 

From Collective Memory to National Identity

A litany of laws. A multitude of mitzvot. According to Maimonides, Ki Teitzei contains 72 of the 613 commandments in the Torah — the most commandments in any one Torah portion. As the time for the Israelites’ transition into the Land draws ever nearer, God and Moses continue to prepare the people for sovereignty and self-government. In addition to laws that cover rules and regulations within the Israelite community, this portion also includes two passages that dictate the relationship between the people of Israel and neighboring entities. 

D'var Torah By: 
Biblical Laws About the Treatment of Women
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Suzanne Singer

Parashat Ki Teitzei contains more mitzvot (commandments) than any other portion, and the emphasis is on justice and human dignity, especially for the most vulnerable in our society: the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger — and women. At first glance, it may not seem that protecting women is the Torah’s agenda. Rather, the text reveals how women are clearly treated as objects, as men’s possessions.

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