When it Rains, it Pours: Parashat Behukotai

With Pesach the rain in Israel generally ends. But this past week we had quite a storm! The Hebrew language has multiple words for rain. Geshem is the most general word. Yoreh refers to the early rain. And malkosh the late rain. This week’s Torah portion, Behukotai, is one of many traditional Jewish sources that views rain as a reward to the Jewish people for obeying the commandments:

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Parashat Acharei Mot-K’doshim 5778

Virtually, the entire book of Leviticus imagines God speaking to Moses.  It is all instruction and no action.  One significant departure into narrative is a striking little tale begun in Chapters 9 and 10, the ordination of Aaron and his four sons as priests (kohanim) for the people Israel, and the disastrous action of two of the sons that lead to their fiery death. The story concludes six chapters later, with the Torah portion, Acharei Mot.  Depicted here—almost hidden among the thicket of priestly laws and regulations—is one of the most dramatic scenes in Torah: the first Day of Atonement.

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Thou Shalt Not Write People Off – Tazria Metzora 5778

The double-portion of Tazria-Metzora (Lev 12:1 – 15:33) presents a series of ritual purity instructions for Israelite priests, starting with procedures for women who have recently given birth, and shifting to the rules priests must follow to identify, quarantine, inspect, and ultimately, readmit to the community people with an ancient skin disease called tzara’at. In my first years working with b’nai mitzvah students, I repeatedly witnessed the disappointment of kids upon learning that Tazria-Metzora was their parashah. I would try to reassure them that, with help, they really would be able to find something relevant to their lives within these verses. The cultural distance, confusion, and even revulsion that many experience when encountering these parts of Leviticus are tough to overcome. And yet, with some cultural translation and an open mind, Leviticus can teach us a lot.

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Jews with Purpose and Direction

Sometimes change comes upon us in a flood without warning. On other occasions, we are warned beforehand, but often we don’t take heed of that inner voice giving us the preverbal heads-up. If we are to succeed in our endeavours and our future, we would do well to pay close attention to those little warnings (from that little voice within) that life provides us with.

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Let’s Clear Our Voices for Passover

Passover is on the way. Time to put away the hametz and get set for the “yumminess” provided by matzah. It’s not good enough to just avoid purchasing leavened goods; rather we must actively seek out any remnants of these items in the house and dispose of them. Or at the very least, loan them out. We engage our broomsticks and search for and sweep up those leftover crumbs. Just as important, we need to identify the metaphorical hametz that provides excuses for our inaction. This too ought to be a planned precise procedure. We know deep down in our hearts that in emerging from the winter months, we should gear ourselves up for renewal. Passover is a perfectly suited opportunity to inspire us to serve as advocates for a compassionate globe.

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Parashat Tzav

It’s wonderful having an office overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. When the weather is nice I sometimes skip lunch in favor of exploring the winding alleys of Jerusalem. It’s an opportunity for a bit of much needed exercise in addition to amazing people watching and window shopping. During one of these recent lunchtime outings […]

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Parashat Vayikra and Shabbat HaChodesh

This Shabbat has a special name. It is called Shabbat Ha-Chodesh, the Sabbath of The Month, the month being Nissan when we will celebrate the beginning of Jewish history, as we participate in the celebration of Passover, two weeks from now.  According to Tractate Rosh Hashanah of the Mishna Rosh Chodesh Nisan is one of […]

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Vayak’hel-Pikudey: We Have Been Refugees

There seems to be a growing gap between Israeli and Diaspora Jews – whether the issue is controversy over the egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, or over the attempts of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate to gain a monopoly over conversions, or over the growing racism among sectors of the population. Was there ever a time when our people enjoyed unity? And is there a way to achieve that state today? A commentary to our double Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pikudey, suggests that there was indeed such a time.

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Parashat Ki Tisa 5778

This Torah portion is known for its story of the Golden Calf, built when Moshe failed to return from the mountain on exactly the 40th day as expected. The people panicked, thought Moshe was dead, and that God had abandoned them. Aaron, ever the peace-lover, reasoned that the people needed a visible symbolic representation of God to reassure them.  The People were not denying the God of the first commandment, but rather broke the second commandment prohibiting the building of idols.  When Moshe returned with the tablets, he was indignant and smashed the tablets to show that the covenant between God and the Children of Israel had been shattered.

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Thoughts and Prayers: What’s In Those “Prayers,” Anyway?

[On February 14th] the town of Parkland, Florida made the news because of a school shooting that left 17 people dead—most of them teenagers. There are now about 5 such shootings each month in America. Since 20 first graders were killed in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, there have been some 239 school shootings, taking 138 innocent lives, injuring and traumatising countless more. That is, since I’ve been with you here in Sydney, 240 school shootings have taken place in America, and many more at large public venues, like music concerts and night clubs.

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