To See Ourselves As Others See Us | Parashat Balak

This week’s Torah portion of Balak in the Book of Numbers includes some of the best words an outsider ever delivered about our people. Balak is one of just three portions in the entire Torah named after a non-Jew; the others, of course, are Noah—Judaism doesn’t begin until Abraham, so Noah wasn’t Jewish—and Yitro, Jethro, Moses’ Midianite father-in-law.

Finding Miriam’s Well | Parashat Chukat

Water is the most important substance for all life on Earth. It is also an important element in Judaism. Crossing a large body of water is a transformative step. Jacob encounters the angel of God at the Jabok cross of the Jordan River. This experience transformed him form the crooked Jacob to the one struggling with God – Israel.

Learning How to Go from Stress to Empowerment | Parashat Korach

In Parashat Korach, Moses’ cousin, Korach leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, demanding, “All the community are holy … Why then do you raise yourselves above the Eternal’s congregation?” (Numbers  16:3). Often, Korach’s actions are interpreted to be the jealous behavior of one who sees himself as entitled to power. But what if his behavior reflects something different — a feeling of helplessness and a fear of being disenfranchised?

Choose Hope: The Story of Coach Ted Lasso and the Biblical Caleb | Parashat Shelach Lechah

In the story of the spies from this week’s parashah, Sh’lach L’cha, we find the Torah’s version of Ted Lasso. Moses sends 12 men, one from each tribe, to scout the land of Canaan. They are tasked with finding out how many people live in the land, if the soil was rich for farming, and if their towns were fortified. After 40 days, the men return downtrodden.

Dual-Gendered God | Parashat Beha’alotcha

The four-Hebrew-letter name of God signifies a dual-gendered deity. That was Judaism’s best-kept secret until 1540, when kabbalists ruled that revealing esoteric lore was not only permissible but a mitzvah.

Lift up Your Heads | Parashat Naso

We have just celebrated the festival of Shavuot, which tradition tells us commemorates (in some ways re-enacts) the great event at Mt. Sinai. The Torah reading for Shavuot begins, Bayom hazeh (Ex. 19:1), on this day. Introducing the dramatic moment, the Torah declares that it is taking place not “on that day,” back then, a long time ago, but on this day, bayom hazeh — every day the Torah is being broadcast, waiting to be heard. An offering.

Welcome to the Wilderness | Parashat Bamidbar

A core teaching of Jewish spiritual practice is our readiness to read the Torah in many different ways. We find meaning and significance across entire books; or we zoom in, such that an individual letter or even an accent mark fills our field of vision and discloses sacred truth. The weekly parashah is, of course, the most common “unit” for informing our reading.

The Sound of a Driven Leaf | Parashat Behar-Bechukotai

My grandfather, Herman, zikhrono livrakhah, was born in Obodovka, a shtetl in western Ukraine, a little over a century ago. Stories of his youth there were bleak and often centred on Cossack or Russian government soldiers threatening the lives or livelihoods of relatives.

Scurvy, the Boughs of Leafy Trees, and Healing | Parashat Emor

If the portions in the Torah’s Book of Genesis spin timeless tales of complicated family dynamics, sibling rivalry, spousal jealousy, treachery, and reconciliation, Leviticus oozes with laws regarding sacrifices, priestly matters, and the festival calendar. Emor, this week’s portion, is a veritable kitchen sink (or perhaps more precisely, a tabernacle altar) of rules for the priests forbidding them from encountering dead bodies, offering guidance on beard trimming, and providing descriptions of appropriate life partners.