This Torah portion is bookended by conflict and its consequences. And it is a Torah portion sandwiched by difficult texts: on the one hand we have the problematic case of the captive woman and at the other we blot out the memory of Amalek.
For the past nine and half years, I have met weekly with a group dedicated Torah students to explore the parashat hashavua. Our group of dedicated students follow in the footsteps of generations before us who make the study of the weekly portion central to their Judaism. Of course, as a group of progressive Jews, the issue of morality and justice are always on our minds. Does the text offer us ethical guidance? Are there times when the text appears to fail in giving us the moral guidance that we seek?
At the beginning of the pandemic in the United States, procuring food was a challenge. Grocery shelves were bare, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) were overwhelmed, unable to accept new customers, and grocery deliveries were rarely complete. I remember one order I placed back in March: of twenty-seven items, only nine arrived. Maybe because we were home more or because we needed an outlet for our anxiety, cooking and baking became a focus and for a long period yeast was nowhere to be found.
In the pantheon of human body parts, the heel is one of the most maligned. Think about Greek mythology and the story of Achilles, who was dipped completely in the River Styx by his mother Thetis with the exception of one crucial body part in order to attain immortality, leaving him vulnerable to his eventual demise at the hands of Paris.
Parshat Vaetchanan begins: “And I pleaded with the Lord, saying…” This one word, vaetchanan, starts us on a journey of exploration of the power of prayer.
As an (amateur) historian of certain aspects of the Middle East I am frequently concerned and appalled at the widespread ignorance concerning even modern, not just ancient history. Political discussions and articles by two-dimensional journalists and biased punditry and hate-filled slogans work on the basis that whatever exists Now was always there, or that whoever wanted to establish a land in the 20th.
With these two Torah portions we finish the Book of Numbers and move on to Deuteronomy, Moses’s last testament to the people he has led for a generation. These last few chapters of Numbers are troubling for us today on many levels.
Pinchas, a Torah Portion that paradoxically begins with God countenancing violence with a “covenant of peace,” a brit shalom. Pinchas is a priest that alone should connote a non-violent, thoughtful, ritually driven sort of personality. His grandfather is Aaron, so he was afforded the best of everything during the circuitous Israelite journey to the promised land.
Have you ever ended up somewhere that you wish you had not? Sure there were signs along the way warning you that it was a mistake. But for some reason you didn’t see them, you didn’t recognize them, and you kept going down the wrong path.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States this year, Rabbi Carole Balin, Ph.D., is sharing eight chapters of an “alternative Book of Numbers” designed to tell the stories of Jewish women who combined civic engagement with Jewish values in a 40-year struggle “in the wilderness” to pass the 19th Amendment.