The Weekly Portion

Parashat Noach

The Torah portion this week is titled Noach. It covers from the time of Noach, through the narrative of the Tower of Babel and then it lists a series of names ending up with Abraham and Sarah. The greatest amount of space in this section, in fact several chapters are devoted to Noach and the Flood. I would suggest that there are two matters that are take home lessons in these multiple verses. The first point is that when Noach is introduced to us he is termed “a righteous man” – in Hebrew a tzadiq.  The Torah then says, he was blameless in his age. Hundreds of years later, after the close of the Bible’s covers, the early rabbis pondered what this meant. Yes, he was righteous. Yet, they ask, was he truly righteous, or was he righteous only in comparison to his age?  In short, would he be considered righteous today, or was he only the best example of a pretty miserable lot of people? Was the bar set so low that he looked good, or even very good, but his contemporaries were so awful that his righteousness did not set a very high standard?

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Torah
Parashat Noach

The Torah portion this week is titled Noach. It covers from the time of Noach, through the narrative of the Tower of Babel and then it lists a series of names ending up with Abraham and Sarah. The greatest amount of space in this section, in fact several chapters are devoted to Noach and the Flood. I would suggest that there are two matters that are take home lessons in these multiple verses.

The first point is that when Noach is introduced to us he is termed “a righteous man” – in Hebrew a tzadiq.  The Torah then says, he was blameless in his age.

Hundreds of years later, after the close of the Bible’s covers, the early rabbis pondered what this meant. Yes, he was righteous. Yet, they ask, was he truly righteous, or was he righteous only in comparison to his age?  In short, would he be considered righteous today, or was he only the best example of a pretty miserable lot of people? Was the bar set so low that he looked good, or even very good, but his contemporaries were so awful that his righteousness did not set a very high standard?

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Jewish Law
The Law of Return – is it time for the Return of the Law?

Issues facing the Law of Return almost 70 years after its enactment By Nicole Maor The Law of Return is one the shortest laws in Israel’s legislature – just over one page long.  It exemplifies the Zionist dream and the cornerstone of Israel’s right to exist. Its original version was simple: All Jews are eligible […]

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Torah
Genesis, Bereshit, or Creation in the Languages of Hebrew and English

One aspect of Torah study that I love is when our sages see something in the grammar of the Hebrew of the Torah itself that stands out to them as unusual. It might be a small and seemingly insignificant or trivial matter to the Hebrew reader like a vowel or letter that appears out of place in a sentence. It would not even get our attention in the English translation. Yet, for the rabbis who have laser-like focus on the Hebrew text, they immediately presume that there are no accidents of grammar. They always believe that there is a hidden meaning behind every letter and vowel in the Torah. The challenge is to figure out what is the hidden meaning.

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Torah
The Meaning of Creation (Bereshit)

The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day, God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation He had done. Such is the story of heaven and earth when they were all created. (Gen. 2:1-4)

Whenever I recite these verses as the prelude to the kiddush on Shabbat eve, I am reminded of the English poet John Keats’s famous final lines from his Ode on a Grecian Urn: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all we know on earth and all ye need to know.” The parallel is in the succinctness of these lines and the above quoted opening to the second chapter of the book of Genesis. While the former extols the eternality of aesthetic beauty, the latter champions the meaning of creation.

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Torah
Sukkot 5778

After the days of Awe – the days of judgment and blot, forgiveness and repentance – come the days of celebration, the days of joy and of praise. After fasting, we rejoice in Sukkot as the Torah instructs us in Deuteronomy 16:15:

Seven days shall you keep a feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord shall choose; because the Lord your God shall bless you in all you increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful…

The feast of Sukkot, of all our holidays, is the one is characterized by the idea of universalism.

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Torah
Return to the Rock of Israel – Parashat Ha’Azinu

“Tsur Yisrael, kumah be’ezrat Yisrael – Rock of Israel, rise in support of Israel…”. These are the words we sing on Shabbat mornings – and in that moment it is actually the congregation that rises for the recitation of the Amidah. We do so in awareness that God is the Rock of Israel and its […]

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Torah
Parashat Nitzavim-Vayeilech

Then the telephone rang, and I heard the most heart-breaking news: the night before receiving some important examination results, the child of an old school friend had just taken their own life. When disease or adversity threaten our lives, we humans fight with such fortitude and tenacity. How could life have become so dreadful that this young person felt that the only way to deal with the pain was to make a permanent exit? How could they feel so alone and unheard? How could they choose death?

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Torah
Parashat Ki Tavo

In Ki Tavo, we join the Israelites on a journey towards a special location, to be chosen by God, in the land in which they were going to settle.  They would bring a vat filled with the first fruits to the Cohen on that spot, to be laid before the altar of God, and recite a declaration, seen in verse 5 of our sidra, in words that might be familiar to you, “arami oved avi…a wandering Aramean was my father.” We also recite those words at the beginning of the maggid, the lengthy section of the haggadah, when we sort of tell the story of pesach.

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