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Facing Our Faults on the Other Side of the River

The stories in Genesis are heavy with human experience; they turn on every conceivable emotion, and life and relationship challenge. In this way, Torah in general, and the Book of Genesis in particular, provide a spiritual mirror that reflects back to us our best, and sometimes most disappointing selves. ...In Jacob, who, in this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, wrestled with the night messenger, we see ourselves struggling with great challenges that bring pain, but from which we might extract blessing.

D'var Torah By: 
Emerging from Our Struggles to Embrace Change
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Joseph R. Black

This week’s parashahVayishlach, so beautifully interpreted by my colleague, Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, teaches us about the necessity to embrace change – even when it is difficult. Jacob/Yaakov becomes Israel/Yisrael after wrestling with a mysterious stranger. He is both wounded and empowered by his mystical encounter. Our text provides us with a glimpse into our progenitor’s ability to look deep within himself and his soul, and to find the courage to adjust to the rapidly changing world around him.

Are We Capable of Evil?

Who distinguishes between Israel and other nations?

The enormous ethical mission that the Reform Movement has taken upon itself in the last generation is the spiritual and practical strengthening of the belief that all people are created in God's image. This week's double portion tells of a battle in which the Israelites viciously vanquished the forces of the Midianites. Does their behavior reflect the image of God? Does ours?

D'var Torah By: 
What Action Heroes Can Teach Us About Matot
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Sharon G. Forman

A few months ago, I reluctantly agreed to watch the last installment of the Marvel Comics “Avengers” movie with my sons. The story featured a dramatized apocalytic war between the citizens of Earth and a terrifying supernatural power. This week's double portion, Matot/Masei tells of another terrifying battle in which the Israelites vanquished the forces of the Midianites.

When Ben-Oni Becomes Benjamin: Rachel’s Midrashic Monologue

In Parashat Vayishlach, we read of the death of our matriarch, Rachel, who does not survive the birth of her second child, a boy whom she names Ben-oni. As she lay dying, the baby’s father, Jacob, renames him Benjamin (Gen. 35:16-18). The Torah does not tell us why this change is made. We imagine Rachel, in her final moments, whispering to her newborn:

D'var Torah By: 
What’s in a Name?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Rachel Kaplan Marks

Shakespeare asks rhetorically, “What’s in a name?" According to our biblical tradition there’s significant meaning in our names. In their commentary on Parashat Vayishlach, Rabbis Bearman and Kipnes present a beautiful midrash on Rachel’s thoughts and feelings about Jacob having changed their youngest son’s name (Gen. 35:18). 

The Shaping of a Nation in the Wilderness

Before setting off on a hike in the mountains of Montana, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner was unsettled by all the signs warning about bears. He peppered the National Park Service employee with questions about which trails might be bear-free. The employee pointed out that if it were bear-free, it would not be a wilderness. Over the course of the Book of Numbers, the Israelites encountered many trials in the wilderness. Now, this next generation of Israelites is ready to work together as a people.

D'var Torah By: 
A Lifetime of Connection to Judaism
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Michael S. Churgel

The Book of Numbers concludes with a recounting of the journey of B’nai Yisrael since leaving Egypt and instructions for the subsequent occupation of the Promised Land. As Rabbi Grushcow concludes, the central theme of this narrative is relationship. Every journey is enriched through meaningful relationships, with people, with God, and with tradition. 

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