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Sacrifice

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.

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). 

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.

Gifts That Bring Us Close to God

The Book of Leviticus opens with a detailed description of the sacrificial offerings brought by the ancient Israelites. One remnant of these practices is the importance of our intentions when we enter into prayer. Like the Israelite who brought an offering without blemish, we should strive to bring our prayers without blemish, too.

D'var Torah By: 
The Light to Repair What’s Broken
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Paul F. Cohen

Hands held up to catch the sunlight

Learning from the Imperfection of Religion

Parashat Mishpatim offers a myriad of rules to guide us in how to treat other individuals and nations. It makes us wonder: Why is it easier to think and behave humanely when we consider individuals rather than nations? 

D'var Torah By: 
The All-Encompassing Nature of Responsibility
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Megan Brudney

Some of our instincts will easily align with our sacred texts; some will (and indeed should) be in stark contrast with our canon. Yet beyond the wrestling, it is important to note that there is also a reckoning — a moment of accountability for the action we ultimately choose to take. A good example is offered in Parashat Mishpatim, in Exodus 21. Here, we find a section concerning damages incurred by both people and animals: what might happen, who is held responsible, and what restitution is owed.

Tear Down Their Altars

Parashat R’eih begins with a set of instructions for the Israelites to tear down the altars of other gods once they enter the Promised Land. By today’s standards, these instructions may appear to be harsh.

D'var Torah By: 
The Challenge of Growing Up
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis

By not destroying every instance of idolatry as commanded in Parashat R’eih, the people actually showed maturity and compassion.

Their Father’s Sin Is Not Their Own

In Parashat Pinchas, we learn the intriguing fact that “the sons of Korach did not die.” This conflicts with an account about Korach in an earlier chapter, which states that the ground opened up and swallowed him, his household and his followers. What does this discrepancy mean?

D'var Torah By: 
Extending Kindness to the Thousandth Generation
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jared H. Saks

The fact we are told in Parashat Pinchas that Korach’s family does not die tells us that we always have the opportunity to perform t’shuvah as described in Babylonian Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 17b.

From Blasphemy to Blasphemous: An Instructive Transition

In Parashat Emor, the Torah reports that a man born of mixed Israelite-Egyptian descent “blasphemed the Name [of God],” was placed on trial, and was stoned to death. A law was then enacted that anyone, Jewish or gentile, who blasphemes the name of God shall be put to death. Over time, in communities throughout the world, laws against blasphemy were put in place to address curses leveled at God as well as perceived slights against some religions. 

D'var Torah By: 
A Free People Receives Its First Holiday Calendar
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Emor, we receive a framework for what will become the Jewish calendar. The holidays identified there are still observed today: Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh HaShanah, and Yom Kippur. Each of these holidays, as described in Emor, brings the community together, allows us to remember important events, and creates the opportunity for communication with God.

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

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