A different link to Abraham | Vayera
If you were to inquire of one of the members of “my” synagogue about reflections on their rabbi, among those items likely would be something to the effect that Rabbi Zedek would regularly assert that such and such a Torah portion (whatever one it might be) is a favorite passage in our endlessly rich and rewarding tradition.
When I become old | Lech Lecha
Numbers in the Torah are an odd thing. We love that people lived such a long time in that world, but our rational selves don’t buy it because science tells us that, back then, folks probably only lived into their mid-30s. It’s reasonable then to assume that this age was ascribed to him either because Abraham looked older than he really was, or that he became quite renowned for his remarkable vigor and strength in old age.
Neither drowning nor reaching too high | Noach
Storytelling is an art. You know how you feel after hearing – or reading – a good story. You also know when a story strikes you as overly contrived or incomplete. The satisfaction felt upon receiving a well-crafted story does not require analysis, but you sense that there are some elements and qualities involved that made the story work.
And we begin again | Bereshit
Like all of us, we wish to know where we came from. Our portion begins in relationship, a sacred relationship between God and humanity. It is the complexity of relationships that, in many ways, is the motif that finds its way through the portion, and, as many of you know, in the Torah as a whole. Consider, if you will, the fact that the entire Torah can be viewed as examples of evolving types of relationships.
Celebrating the journey | Chol Hamoed
In retrospect, of course I became a rabbi; who else attends services voluntarily while a high school and college student? At the time though my entry into Hebrew Union College felt very coincidental. The school happened to be in Cincinnati, my parents happened to want me back at home for a while before I went off to law school in Israel, and various romantic entanglements of my then young life pushed and pulled.
A call to us to pay better attention | Parashat Ha’azinu
The Torah reading for this Shabbat, Haazinu, is a song with which Moses ends his final instructions to the Jewish People. (…) Haazinu is an unusual Hebrew term for the command Listen, which is usually expressed by the word Sh’ma. In the King James Bible, Haazinu is translated as “Give me your ear”, which Shakespeare appropriated in his play Julius Caesar. Both the Biblical term Haazinu and Shakespeare’s usage of it are literary ways to call upon the reader and listener to pay special attention to what is to follow.
A season of questions | Vayelech
At 30 verses, Vayeilech is the shortest Torah portion. In it, Moses delivers an encouraging message to the Israelites, while acknowledging he will be unable to join them in the Promised Land. He says in Deuteronomy 31:12, “I am now one hundred and twenty years old.” For many people, old age is the ideal time for retrospection.
Still standing | Nitzavim
As Deuteronomy winds down and we prepare for the New Year, 5783 the sacred pages of Torah Moses remind us that we are standing, still standing, before Adonai our God. This is no small accomplishment, to still be on our feet after all we have endured.
The ritual as a collective memory exercise | Ki Tavo
We are in days of self-assessment of how we conducted ourselves in the face of the challenges that the world has imposed on us in the last 12 months. We already experience teshuva days – not days of repentance, but of evaluating how we reacted to what we lived.
An abhorrent son or an abhorrent law? | Ki Tetze
Parsha Ki Teitze, embedded in the context of the final speeches of Moses, entreating the Children of Israel to follow the laws of the covenant when they enter Canaan, contains no less than 72 of those laws. It covers a wide array of topics, some of which resonate strongly with us today and others which might leave us scratching our heads quizzically.
The pursuit of justice | Shoftim
The Torah is an interesting and complex social, political and ethical document. Sometimes its demands (or rather God’s demands) seem downright mean-spirited, petty and incredibly chauvinistic. (…) Then seemingly in the very midst of our foundational struggles wandering in the desert as we wrestle with the challenges of fashioning ourselves into a spiritual civilization that will become “the Jewish people,” we come upon Torah portions like this one – Shoftim.
Be a blessing to yourself: the inner value of performing mitzvot | Re’e
God tell us in chapter seven verse six in Deuteronomy that we are an “AM Kadosh” and an “AM Segula” which means a holy people and a treasure to God. When I meditate on these two words Kadosh and Segula, I think more about the question of what does God want me to be like? How shall I feel about myself when I participate in the world of being holy and performing mitzvoth?