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Purity

Inversion Tactics: Deciding How to Interpret Words and Actions

Elie Wiesel shared these words with the world for Holocaust Remembrance Day: “I still believe that one minute before one dies, there may be hope in his or her heart—one minute before one dies, he or she is still immortal... " Ours is a tradition that relishes in the inversion of the expected.

D'var Torah By: 
Moving Past Discomfort to Delve into Difficult Texts
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Daniel Utley

Rabbi Spratt makes a valuable point suggesting that we invert this text of illness and affliction and find instead lessons that help us recognize blessings, in his words, “to invert labels of disparagement into monikers of might.” His teaching about viewing differences in our abilities and identities as positive aspects of who we are as human beings is both timely and profound.

Power to the People: Relying on a Collective Authority

Priest as physician. Spiritual blight as medical malady. Simmering beneath the descriptions of scaly skin and malignant discolorations in Parashat Tazria is a mode of power that challenges the modern mindset. A dominant few of paternal priestly lineage hold the knowledge and authority to diagnose, isolate, and adjudicate regarding leprous eruptions. The fate of those afflicted rests solely in the proclamations of the priests, who deem whether people are labeled “clean” or “unclean.”

D'var Torah By: 
Grappling with the Differentiations Between Female and Male that Are Embedded in the Text
Davar Acher By: 
Judith R. Baskin, Ph.D.

It is difficult to enter the world of Leviticus. It is a realm preoccupied with ritual purity and impurity, and a priestly space sanctified through sacrificial offerings and atonements. This foreign domain is ordered by hierarchical dualities that separate the divine and the created, the holy and the unholy, the human and other created beings, the clean and the unclean, the Israelite and the non-Israelite, the priest and the ordinary Israelite, the able-bodied and the disabled, the free and the enslaved, the adult and the child, and the male and the female. We see this in Parashat Tazria.

A Higher Holiness Through Connection with a Collective

The poet, Elizabeth Alexander writes:"Poetry (here I hear myself loudest) is the human voice, and are we not of interest to each other?" ... The priestly purpose is to remain separate from the people while linking them to God.... We are left with a difficult duality, both in the nature of this flesh-focused practice and the priestly power paradigm: in word and in world, what is the primary purpose?

D'var Torah By: 
Letting the Shechinah in to Form a Relationship with God
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Feivel Strauss

In his commentary on Parashat Sh’mini, Rabbi Ben Spratt articulates a profound and nuanced understanding of two levels of holiness, and states that going to a higher form of holiness involves “moving from isolation to integration, from distinction to connection, [and as a result] God comes to dwell [among us].” It is in this space I wish to introduce into this conversation a davar acher (another word) based on the same section (Lev. 9:22-3) that shares another way to ensure God’s coming to dwell among us. 

Grappling with Death and the Need to Mourn

“The whole community knew that Aaron had breathed his last” (Numbers 20:29). ... Parashat Chukat is in the middle of the Book of Numbers, and its narrative spans 38 of the 40 years in the wilderness. It is also full of death, and the human struggle to comprehend it.

D'var Torah By: 
Evolving Traditions Around Death and Mourning
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Our emotional responses to death and loss, discussed so beautifully by Rabbi Grushcow in her d’var Torah on Parashat Chukat, are as varied as we are, and therefore evolve as sensibilities change. But not all changes truly meet our inner needs.

The Nazirite Vow: Connecting to a Higher Power

Jews are not ascetics – or at least, so we tend to think....  Parashat Naso gives us laws that lead us to focus on priestly rules and the purity of the Israelite camp. The adjacent appearance of laws on the sotah (adulteress) and the Nazirite invite us to consider the relationship between these two subjects.  

D'var Torah By: 
Balancing Joy and Suffering, Struggle and Peace to Find Holiness
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Michael Pincus

These words, ascribed to King David, reflect humanity's aspiration for holiness — k’dushah. 

When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and stars that You set in place,
what is man that You have been mindful of him,
mortal man that You have taken note of him,
that You have made him little less than divine,
and adorned him with glory and majesty. (Psalm 8:4-6 )

 

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

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). 

Living in the Golden Mean

Parashat Chukat opens with the law of the parah adumah — the red heifer. It is a classic example of a commandment for which the Torah offers no explanation. How are we to understand and grapple with laws such as this that we do not understand? Perhaps we need to start not with the question, why, but with the question, why not.

D'var Torah By: 
Empathy for the Refugee at Border Crossings
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ann Landowne

In Parashat Chukat we are reminded of the difficulties that our ancestors encountered during their passage through the wilderness. We learn that Miriam has died (Numbers 20:1) and Moses has little time to mourn. Immediately he must deal with the thirsty Israelites clamoring for water and complaining about their fate. In our tradition, the Exodus from Egypt has solidified our strong identification with the stranger and their need for protection. Here in Chukat, this story of wandering in the wilderness also increases our empathy for the refugee, separated from family, desperate and in need of assistance. It is hard for us to imagine what they have experienced on their journey but our Torah teaches us to let them in.

Judaism, Medical Science, and Spirituality: A Brief History

The double portion, Tazria/M'tzora, discusses the priests' treatment of various skin ailments. It demonstrates a positive relationship between Judaism and medicine that has developed throughout the centuries.

D'var Torah By: 
The Priest as a Social Worker
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Cookie Lea Olshein

While Tazria/M'tzora introduces the role of priests as medical healers, it also suggests that priests served as social workers and spiritual healers, helping make both human beings, and by extension, the community, whole again.

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