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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rabbi Joan Glazer Farber | Derekh: A Pathway into Adult Jewish Learning, New Yok, USA God instructs Moses to speak to Aaron who is in isolation and mourning for his sons. Aaron performs the rites of atonement though his grief. The Israelites are warned not to follow the ways of the Egyptians or the Canaanites, […]
The parasha of Tazria-Metzora has generally been disliked by B’nei Mitzvah and drash-writers for its difficult subject matter that seems far away from contemporary life. However, this is now the second time that we have read the portion in the context of our own world-wide illness, and with regard to how communities are trying to control the spread of Covid-19.
Parashat Sh’mini contains the tragic and challenging story of the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. These priests took their firepans, put fire and incense on them and offered “alien fire which God had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:2). A fire immediately comes forth from Heaven and consumes them. The commentators struggle to determine precisely why their offering provokes such a swift and harsh punishment.
Rabbi Becky Hoffman | Temple Ahavat Shalom, California, USA Some might say that this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, is not the most interesting stuff we read in the Torah. As it is presented, it does not necessarily meet the sensibilities of modern progressive Jews. Sacrifice, as presented in this Torah portion, could be viewed as […]