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Ten Commandments

Accepting Advice From Your Father-in-Law

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Yitrois remarkable. Only six Torah portions (out of a total of 54) are named for one of the individuals advancing the drama within its text. ...  And this portion is named for Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro) — a non-Israelite, Midianite priest. In the portion, Yitro offers sage advice and Moses accepts it.

D'var Torah By: 
The Notion of Being a Chosen People
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jenn Queen

“Oh my goodness, you’re Jewish? I love Jews. Y’all are God’s chosen people.” Spending my formative years in Texas, I often heard this from classmates, teachers, and others who happened to notice the colorful Star of David necklace I wore throughout high school. ... Growing up in Reform synagogues and summer camps, this notion of chosenness rarely came up. ... Yet, the notion of Jewish chosenness is there in its clearest iteration in Parashat Yitro. As the Israelites stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai, in the preamble to the smoke and fire and blaring of the shofar, the drama of Revelation, and of matan Torah, “the gift of Torah,” God speaks to the people through Moses, saying: 

A Time for Building Up

Each year on Sukkot, we read these famous words of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet): “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven. …a time for tearing down and a time for building up.” (Kohelet 3:1,3). To speak of building during a holiday dedicated to erecting a temporary structure seems fitting. And yet, the order the ideas in this verse is at odds with our Sukkot experience. Surely, “a time for building up and a time for tearing down” would align more closely with sequence of the holiday. So why this order? And what exactly are “we tearing down and building up”?

D'var Torah By: 
Impermanence: Everything in Its Time
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Callie Schulman

Every morning, my child and I go for a walk along the beach near our Seattle-area home. It was on our early morning walks that I noticed a stunning collection of stacked and balanced stone sculptures along the rocky shore — dozens of them. One morning we arrived to find that the entire field of rock statues had been leveled. My heart sunk and I let out an audible gasp as multiple thoughts and questions ran through my head once again. It was like the line in The Book of Ecclesiastes, Kohelet, which we read on Sukkot: “Utter futility! ... All is futile!” (Kohelet 1:2).

The Necessary Steps to Ready Ourselves for Repentance

In the realm of profound and fruitful parshiyot, Va-et’chanan looms large. In one stream of chapters, we both relive Revelation — the Ten Commandments — and receive the most succinct summary of our emerging theology — the Sh’ma. And yet, even before we reach these transformational texts, Va-et’chanan captures our attention.

D'var Torah By: 
Preparing Ourselves for Prayer
Davar Acher By: 
Cantor Lauren Phillips Fogelman

The arrival of Parashat Va-et’chanan on Shabbat Nachamu reminds us that effective prayer is best achieved when we take the time to focus and organize our thoughts. This advice serves us well as we approach the upcoming Yamim Nora-im, a period of preparation and sanctity that launches amidst a series of structured countdowns.

The Greatest of Gifts

In the heart of Parashat K’doshim, we find a recipe for holiness written into behavior. Love your neighbor as yourself, leave gleanings for the poor, care for the stranger, protect the disabled. Many of these ethical epithets form the backbone of moral society, and resonate across religious and national lines. But the above verse feels oddly off: I pause seeing a positive command to rebuke as somehow linked to an absence of heartfelt hate.

D'var Torah By: 
Learning to Deliver Criticism with Mindfulness
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Stephanie Crawley

One puppet rebukes another

The Challenge of Holding God Close While Keeping Fear at Bay

The poet Yehuda Amichai writes: I don’t want an invisible god...  I want a god who is seen... , so I can lead him around and tell him what he doesn’t see… ... In this week’s portion, Ki Tisa, we reconnect with this unfinished storyline at the beginning of Exodus 32. While Moses tarries atop Mount Sinai, the people down below are losing their patience:

D'var Torah By: 
Pray that I May Know Your Ways: From Anger to Intimacy
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Laura Rumpf

The divisive episode of the Golden Calf that erupts midway through Parashah Ki Tisa has God steamed! As Rabbi Greenvald illustrates above, a plurality of perspectives and confused motivations surround the construction of the Golden Calf. Common to each interpretation cited seems to be a misunderstanding of the ways in which the other, human or divine, needs to be acknowledged in order to trust in the covenantal relationship.

Learning How to Respect the Covenant and Our Fellow Worshippers

The slogan for the Torah portion known as Yitro  should be “we’ve arrived.” The theophany on Mount Sinai – God’s Revelation of the Ten Commandments – is arguably the climax of the Torah (Exodus 20). But the story doesn’t end here – it is the post-Sinai textual journey where we learn that we exist in a perpetual state of arrival, constantly figuring out how to hear Torah as we walk through our daily lives.

D'var Torah By: 
Choosing to Be in a Covenantal Community
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jade Sank Ross

Worrying that because of their similarities, Harry Potter might be destined for the same evil darkness as the villain, Voldemort, Harry Potter’s beloved mentor, Dumbledore, assures him, “It is our choices, Harry, that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. We are defined by our choices: This is the central theme of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. Choice is also a defining theme of the story of the Jewish people, as we see  in Parashat Yitro. 

The Climax of Sukkot and the Profound Joy of the Journey

More than any other Jewish holiday or ritual, I love the audacity of Sukkot. After the many profound words and seemingly endless prayers of the High Holidays, Sukkot offers a very different holiday mode. The main theme and ultimate goal of the holiday is to achieve climactic joy throughout the holiday, including the intermediate days, which are known as Chol HaMo-eid Sukkot.

D'var Torah By: 
How to Experience God’s Wonders Anew
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Benjamin David

On the Shabbat that falls amid the holiday of Sukkot (Chol HaMo-eid Sukkot) we turn our attention to two distinct sections of Torah.... In the Exodus reading, taken from Parashat Ki Tisa, Moses asks to see God’s face, saying: “Oh, let me behold Your Presence!” (Ex. 33:18). While Moses cannot see God’s face, God reminds Moses (and us) that God can be felt, if not seen, in the “wonders” that God enacts for us and those around us (Ex .34:10).

Learning About Life by Learning Torah

 “You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them ... ” (Deuteronomy 6:7). While we don’t agree on much, over time and space we religiously minded Jews do seem to agree on one central thing: the supreme importance of the study of Torah. As modern scientific fields of study and new Jewish movements have emerged, many ask, “Why study the Torah?’ I propose four answers to this question.

D'var Torah By: 
The Meaning of the Instruction, You Shall Teach Them to Your Children
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ahuva Zaches

Using Deuteronomy 6:7 from this week’s Torah portion, Va-et’chanan, as her springboard, Rabbi Dr. Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi explored the ultimate question of Torah study above: “Why study Torah?” Regarding potential motivations, she described four essentials that a student of Torah may be seeking....I would like to add to this list a fifth motivation for Torah study, namely the sharpening of one’s intellect.

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

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