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Balancing Between Anarchy and Self-Actualization

In the litany of rules and regulations found in Parashat R’eih, we read two commandments that at first glance seem to propose conflicting sentiments. The first is a reproach against personal anarchy. The second promotes the idea of self-actualization. How do we reconcile the two? 

D'var Torah By: 
The Tension Between Individualism and Community
Davar Acher By: 
Cantor David Frommer

Cantor Sacks beautifully outlines the tension in Parashat R’eih between collectivism and individuality, and urges us to balance the two. It’s no easy task, but we can aid ourselves by noticing the different cultural values around us and how they might affect these two divergent impulses.

It’s Time to Cultivate a Connection with the Earth

In Parashat Acharei Mot, we read: "You must keep My laws and My rules, you must not do any of those abhorrent things, neither the citizen nor the stranger who resides among you; for all those abhorrent things were done by the people who were in the land before and the land became defiled. So let not the land vomit you out for defiling it, as it spewed out the nation that came before you." (Lev. 18:26-28). ... In Torah, we see rain as relationship, an earth woven with ethic. Blessing is felt through pastoral plentitude, punishment through agricultural atrophy.

D'var Torah By: 
Guiding Us to Be in Relationship with God, Our World, and Each Other
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Amy Cohen

In the first two chapters of Acharei Mot, God gives Moses specific instructions to pass on to Aaron. These instructions clearly state that Aaron should not come, “at will, into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die;” (Lev. 16:2). 

Making a Way Out of No Way

In the Book of Isaiah, we read: “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19). And in Acharei Mot, we read:The Eternal One spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Eternal. The Eternal One said to Moses, ‘Tell your brother Aaron…’” (Lev.16:1-2). Our Torah portion opens in the wake of tragedy. Following the sudden death of Aaron’s children, we read of God’s commanded rites and rituals placed upon him in grief. 

D'var Torah By: 
The Power of Ritual to Transform Our World
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Adam Lutz

Who will live and who will die?

Who by fire and who by water?

Who by sword and who by beast?

Each year on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we chant the haunting melody of Un’taneh Tokef. Our tradition compels us to confront the uncertainty of our future and the randomness of horrific tragedy in our world. Our parashah, Acharei Mot I,  reminds us of this unsettling truth right before God instructs Moses to inform Aaron about the ritual of Yom Kippur:

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. 

Never Too Proud to Wield the Sacred Shovel

One of the delights of the Book of Leviticus is the constant barrage of sacrificial details....  the organizationally minded amongst us may wonder: at the end of a day of sacrifice, who was in charge of cleaning up? This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, gives us an answer: The charred remains of roasted animals and their entrails were left not to a sacrificial janitorial team, not to the Israelites or Levites, but to the priests themselves – even to Aaron the High Priest. 

D'var Torah By: 
Clearing Old Things Away to Make Sacred Space
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Nicole Berne

Rabbi Spratt focuses on the image of a priest clearing away ashes in Parashat Tzav as a reminder that this humble task is sacred too. Yet, by turning to consider the ashes themselves, the priest’s attention feels natural and appropriate, recognizing the ashes as holy in their own right.

Encountering God in the Sacred Silence

In Sh’mot Rabbah, we read: “Rabbi Abahu said, “When the Holy One gave the Torah, no bird cried out... ” Our lives today are so full of artificial sound, it makes it difficult for us to tune into silence. In Vayikra, God calls to Moses out of that silence.

D'var Torah By: 
Waiting for God to Call Out
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Juliana S. Karol

As we read Parashat Vayikra, the diminutive letter aleph at the end of the word vayikra (vav-yud-kuf-reish-aleph) epitomizes the idea that we can derive mountains of meaning from every jot and tittle in the Torah (Babylonian Talmud, M’nachot 29b). There is so much to say about that tiny aleph! 

A Continuity of Law that Values the Needs of the Community

The word for “and” in Hebrew is not a separate word: it is a one-letter prefix, the letter vav. Sometimes it is translated as and, other times it is best translated as “but”; sometimes, vav is a participle that doesn’t need to be translated. In the opening sentence of Parashat Mishpatimthe translation used in the Reform Movement’s Chumash discounts the vav that is attached to first word, v'eileh, "these" or "and these."

D'var Torah By: 
Laws that Unify the People
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Adam Bellows

As Rabbi Greenvald points out, the letter, vav, at the beginning of a Hebrew word can mean both “and” and “but.” It is astounding that one prefix can mean two disparate things. ...  The first word of Mishpatim is v'eileh, which can be translated as "these" or as "and these."

Identity and Ethics: Knowing Who and Whose You Are

If someone tells you that Judaism is X or Y, you should never believe them. Judaism is such a complex civilization — it is made up of religion and culture, language and land, and a particular kind of peoplehood. ...  The Israelites’ preparations both to enter the Land and to create an ideal society are central motifs of Deuteronomy, and a particular focus of the extensive Parashat R’eih

D'var Torah By: 
Ruined with Greed
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Brent Gutmann

This past spring, I along with many Reform Jews participated in the revival of the Poor People’s Campaign. We sought to address the growing wealth gap in our country and its associated effects. For me, participating in this campaign was a primary Jewish act, as we read in this week’s Torah Portion, R’eih, “There shall be no needy among you” (Deut. 15:4).

Determining Which Traits Are Important for Leadership

As we come towards the end of the Book of Numbers, Moses is constantly reminded that he will not be the one to lead his people into the Promised Land – along with the vast majority of the Israelites who left Egypt. In Parashat Pinchas, we find the second census of the people by the Jordan River before their crossing; those named in the first, at the beginning of the book, have almost all died in the wilderness. Joshua, one of two sole survivors, will be the one who leads them forward.

D'var Torah By: 
Lessons in Solidarity and Taking a Stand
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein

I offer this word of Torah in honor and memory of my teacher, Rabbi Dr. Aaron David Panken.... In the Talmud we read, “Know before whom you stand.” Standing before God and standing up as a leader call us to take risks. Parashat Pinchas provides us with the story of the daughters of Zelophehad, who also “stand” (ta-amodna) up....


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