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Mitzvah

On Adaptive Jewish Leadership and Embracing Change

The central leaders throughout the Bible share some important characteristics. While each one is appointed or finds him- or herself in positions of significant leadership in very different ancient contexts, each example models core elements of the complexity, potential, and importance of Jewish selecting and supporting of leaders today. A prime example of the multifaceted nature of selecting a new leader is best exhibited in Parashat Vayeilech by the appointment of Joshua as the leader of the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Land of Israel. 

D'var Torah By: 
Be Strong and Resolute: Believe that You Can Change
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Emily E. Segal

This brief and beautiful Torah portion, Vayeilech, is read this year on Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Return that falls between the High Holidays. Three times within this brief portion we find the words “Be strong and resolute,” as follows: Moses, standing on the cusp of his death, on the brink of ending his service to God and to the Israelites, lays the groundwork for his disciple and successor Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land. 

It’s Not All About Us: Redemption, Revelation, and the Land of Israel

Being human means dangling simultaneously between two core realities. At one and the same time, on one hand you matter a great deal – it’s all about us! -- and on the other hand, you’re not the only thing that matters.... This dialectic is especially emphasized in Parashat Eikev, in Deuteronomy, chapters 8-11, as the Israelites approach a climactic moment in human history. Will redemption and Revelation really allow for the possibility of creating an ideal society?

D'var Torah By: 
What It Means To Be a Mensch
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Shoshana Nyer

"And now, O Israel, what does the Eternal your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the Eternal your God, to walk only in divine paths, to love and to serve the Eternal your God with all your heart and soul, keeping the Eternal’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good” (Deut. 10:12-13). ... In remarking on Deut. 10:13 in Parashat Eikev, many commentators, including Rashi and Nachmanides, point out that God is not asking for reverence and love, or for us to follow the divine path for God’s sake, but rather for our own. It is for our good. It is not something God needs, but something we need.

Aiming Higher for a Life of Human Holiness

Today, we hear a lot about power: military power, corporate power, and political power. We don’t hear as much about personal power. But, in this week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot/K’doshim, a double portion, we learn about the potential for personal power. It follows Acharei Mot (“After the Death” of Aaron’s sons) and instructions about purity. In Acharei Mot, we follow the unfortunate outcome of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, who brought an alien fire into the Tent of Meeting, which was an affront to God and Moses. Personal power isn’t a sin, but the misapplication of it can lead to horrific outcomes. In K’doshim, we open with the Holiness Code and within it a credible means to personal power that also reflects God’s holiness. 

D'var Torah By: 
The Power of the Individual
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Diana Fersko

Individual power. In his commentary, Rabbi Lyon reminds us that Acharei Mot focuses on the immense power that individuals can possess. That emphasis could not be more timely. Day after day, we see teens, galvanized by the horrors of gun violence, raising their voices in rage and protest... While we don’t know their exact age, Nadab and Abihu were also young people. Like the victims of school shootings, their end was shockingly abrupt and profoundly tragic. They led lives cut too short without justification. Commentators have worked hard for centuries to create narratives of meaning around the deaths of these young people.

Finding Unique Blessings in Every One of Us

In the double portion, Tazria/M’tzora, we have the responsibility, even if it isn’t our pleasure, to investigate texts on birth and its aftermath, bodily afflictions and emissions, skin ailments, and leprosy. They were once taboos that raised fears in the community and turned priests of their day into guardians of purity.

D'var Torah By: 
Separation as a Path to Holiness
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Baht Weiss

A country road splits into two roadsRabbi Lyon begins

Commandments and Commander: How Do We Hear and Respond?

Parashat Tzav begins with God’s instructing Moses to command the priests, and by extension, us, regarding ritual sacrifice. With the Temple in Jerusalem long gone, Reform scholars discuss the meaning of this command for us today.

D'var Torah By: 
The Many and the One
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Matthew Berger

Parashat Tzav (meaning "command") discusses the sacrifices that the priests are commanded to bring in Temple sacrifice. When we think about how we relate to those mitzvot (commandments) today, it is no wonder there is such a multiplicity of opinions. Our relationship with God can change over time. Sometimes we may feel closer to God. At other times, God may seem distant. So, too, our relationship with individual mitzvot or sacred obligations can shift over time. A single mitzvah can speak to us in one moment but not in another.

Sealed for Life or Death?

The beautiful, melodious liturgy of Yom Kippur suggests a heavenly court in which God reviews each individual and decrees the destiny of each person for the coming year. This is powerful poetry that should make us stop and think about our lives and our behavior.

D'var Torah By: 
Un’taneh Tokef: Reflecting on Your Legacy
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi P.J. Schwartz

The Un’taneh Tokef prayer is undoubtedly one of the most challenging pieces of Jewish liturgy. It encompasses traditional messages of Yom Kippur and the High Holiday season that can prove to be theologically challenging: God is judge and arbiter; Our fate has been determined, and there is nothing that we can do but accept the decree. Regardless of the theological implications found in the text, the prayer does challenge us to confront our own mortality and reflect on how we want to be remembered.

Not by Bread Alone: Strange Food from the Sky

Parashat Eikev gives us the familiar phrase, “man does not by bread alone.” Does it mean that spiritual sustenance is more important than bread? Or was it meant to teach ancient Israelites to trust in God and not stores of food? It all depends on the context.

D'var Torah By: 
The Opportunity to Enjoy What We Have
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Marc Katz

Parashat Eikev tells us that manna was created to test the Israelites by hardships (Deuteronomy 8:16). What were the hardships? Was the manna too scarce to fully satisfy a person’s hunger? Or was the uncertainty of whether the manna would fall the next day the main hardship for the Israelites? Was the manna ugly or unpleasant to eat? Ancient Sages debate this question.

What Judaism Says About the Golden Rule

For the last few years, I have been a member of a local hospital’s ethics committee.

D'var Torah By: 
Working Toward a Shared Goal of Holiness
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Aimee Gerace

In these turbulent political times, it may sometimes feel easier to withdraw, to choose to not engage with our community members around difficult topics — particularly those community members who d

On Repentance and Seeking Peace Above and Below

"And Moses went (Vayeilech) and spoke these words to all Israel" (Deuteronomy 31:1). This opening marks the beginning, not only of the parashah, but also of the long death scene for Moses that will not be completed until the very end of the Torah two portions hence. Traditional commentators noticed an unusual locution. Usually the Torah reads "And Moses spoke … " Only here does it say "And Moses went and spoke … "

D'var Torah By: 
God Goes with Us On the Road to Repentance
Davar Acher By: 
Sarah Weissman

Dr. Firestone beautifully suggests that vayeilech Moshe, "Moses went," means that Moses went to the Israelites before his death and spoke words of t'shuvah, encouraging the people to repent, and to pursue peace between each other and between each of them and God. Just a few verses later, the word "to go" appears again, only this time it is God who "goes."

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