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Miracle

What’s in a Name of God?

Several years ago, when the number of dogs in animal shelters was skyrocketing, someone hit upon a marketing strategy that increased pet adoption exponentially: Rather than names like Spot, Cuddles, or Fido, they gave them celebrity names like George Clooney, ... Never doubt for a moment the tremendous power of language! When it comes to establishing a connection, the names and images we use make a tremendous difference.We see this in our weekly Torah portion, B’shalach, where the imagery the Israelites use to describe God is striking. 

D'var Torah By: 
The God Strugglers: When Doubt Leads to Imagination
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Evan Sheinhait

We’re finally free! B’shalach details the crossing of the Sea of Reeds and the miraculous transition from slavery to freedom. Immediately upon their journey to freedom, the Israelites commence to complain repeatedly about food and water. By the third time, at Rephidim, the Israelites regret their decision to journey to the Promised Land. “But the people thirsted there for water; and the people grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’” (Ex. 17:3)  Here the Israelites begin to express doubt in God and their future. Doubt becomes one of the first realities of freedom.

What It Takes to Fulfill the Promise

There is a section of Parashat Va-eira that might sound familiar to those who have experienced a Passover seder: It's a list of five promises God makes to the Children of Israel: I will free you..., and deliver you...; I will redeem you...;  I will take you to be My people; and , I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob... (Ex. 6:6-8).

D'var Torah By: 
Why Were the Ten Plagues Necessary?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Dan Ross

This week, we have two prophets on our minds: on Monday, we celebrated the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and on Shabbat, we pick up with the second episode in the story of Moses in Parashat Va-eira. As we consider the legacy of these two giants of justice, a notable difference between them is their mode of freedom fighting. While Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for leading the nonviolent resistance that defined the Civil Rights Movement, Moses kissed his chances for a ticket to Oslo goodbye the moment he commanded Aaron to hold his staff over the Nile and it turned into a river of blood.

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.

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). 

How We Win Is Important

We read about Amalek in Parashat B’shalach. As the first to attack the Israelites once we are freed from Egypt and wandering through the desert, Amalek gains some level of notoriety. In M’chilta D’Rabbi Yishmael, Rabbi Eliezer of Modi’in suggests this is due to the tactics Amalek used in the attack. “Amalek ‘sneaked’ under the edges of the cloud and snatched the souls of Israel and killed them,” (as the Torah hints later in Deuteronomy) — “When you were weary and worn out, [Amalek’s army] met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God” (M’chilta D’Rabbi Yishmael, Amalek, on Exodus 17:8).

D'var Torah By: 
Overcoming Our Obsession with Amalek
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Stacy Schlein

In Parashat B’shalach we read that God instructs Moses to “Inscribe this in a document as a reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven!” Our fascination with Amalek reflects both the Torah’s and our own human desire to connect all of our enemies to one great, focused, overpowering source of evil.

Shortness of Breath, Shortness of Spirit

In Va-eira, Moses tries to speak with the Israelites, who cannot listen due to their kotzer ruach, which can mean “shortness of breath” or “crushed spirit.” Both are results of debilitating work that prevents the Israelites from looking up to see new possibilities. 

D'var Torah By: 
Suffering from the Plague of Spiritual Inertia
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jeffrey Ableser

In Va-eira, we learn that the Israelites suffer from spiritual inertia. They are not the only ones. Pharaoh, too, hardened his heart during the first five plagues, after which it became difficult for him  to change. We, too, can get stuck in a pattern of behavior that makes it hard to change. One small lie begets a second lie, and then a third and a fourth, until we’re no longer even sure where the truth lies.

First Steps on the Path to the Promised Land

Redemption! Parashat B’shalach is a Torah portion of glory — glory in the Song at the Sea, the poetic celebration of liberation from Egyptian bondage, and glory in the details of the Israelites’ first steps out of Egypt.

The parashah begins with the verse that sets the scene for the entire next thematic section of the Book of Exodus, the Israelites’ early adventures wandering in the desert. Exodus 13:17 reads, “Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, ‘The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.’ ”

D'var Torah By: 
And Now … What Next?
Davar Acher By: 
Cantor Jacqueline Rawiszer

Rabbi Bonnheim shows a particular, timely insight in her reference to the “Israelites’ anxiety about their new reality.” When we think of Parashat B’shalach, our first images often turn to the miracle at the Sea of Reeds, an explosion of rapturous song and joyful dance, and the celebration of the new-found state of freedom.

But not here.

This journey, with its dangling carrot of collective redemption, presents itself in alternating forms of paralytic panic, fear of the abyss, relentless struggle, and loss of control. A leave-taking moment, indeed.

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