Torah Portion - Conservative


Tue, 03/28/2017 - 8:42am

LEVITICUS 1:1−5:26 

By Rabbi Ismar Schorsch. Reprinted with permission of the Jewish Theological Seminary for

Addressing Our Loved Ones

While God commands Moses, He also calls to him affectionately.

I never heard my parents address each other by their first names. They showed their mutual affection, which remained palpable till late in their lives, by using pet names. My father called my mother "Mutti"(from the German word for mother–Mutter) and my mother always called him "Schatzi" (from the German word for treasure–Schatz). As my father aged, he developed the habit of saying "Mutti" to himself audibly and often, without ever intending to attract her attention. Alone in his study, he would emit the sound of her name when he rose from his desk to get another book or just reclined to rest for a moment. She was clearly the anchor of his life.

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Shabbat HaChodesh - Vayak’heil/P’kudei

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 8:19am

EXODUS 35:1–40:38 

BY MATTHEW BERKOWITZ, Jewish Theological Seminary

Of Leadership and Investment: A People Engage

Parashat Va-yak·hel-Pekudei continues the building of the Tabernacle—detailing the materials, craftsmanship, appurtenances, and its completion. Far from being the domain of the elite, the building of this dwelling place for God represents an endeavor undertaken by the entire people. We read that

Moses then gathered the whole Israelite community and said to them: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do. On six days work may be done, but on the seventh you will have a Sabbath of complete rest . . . Moses said further: This is what the Lord has commanded: Take from among you gifts to the Lord; everyone whose heart so moves him will bring them . . . gold, silver, and copper, blue, purple and crimson yarns. (Exod. 35:1–4)
Why turn to the “whole Israelite community,” and not simply a cabal of leaders, contractors, and artisans to realize this vision? Such a strategy would have been far easier for Moses, limiting the scope of participation to the elites of the community.
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Shabbat Parah - Ki Tissa

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 7:53am

Exodus 30:11−34:35 and Numbers 19:1 - 19:22 

By Rabbi Bradley Artson, The following article is reprinted with permission from American Jewish University, for

Tzedakah And Jewish Education


Our communal responsibility to ensure the immortality of the Jewish people depends on our commitment to supporting Jewish education.

Jewish education forms the backbone of our communities. We assure the community of vitality and endurance through the Hebrew studies of our children, the outreach programs for those considering conversion, and the continuing education programs for other seeking adults. And those programs need our support.

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Shabbat Zachor - Tetzaveh

Sun, 03/05/2017 - 11:00pm

Exodus 27:20-30:10 


Written on the Heart

The mitzvot are a path of spiritual practice, a cultivation of religious awareness that may open us to the mystery and urgency of the divine voice. Not only legal obligation, mitzvah is a moment of encounter with the ever-renewing Divine Presence as it reverberates through the generations of the Jewish people.

As the hasidic mystics have taught, every person is a living Torah, an embodiment of the word and light of God. According to ancient rabbinic midrash, it was through the Torah that God created the world, and later mystics adapted this idea to suggest that the Torah is the very energy and life-force of Divinity as it fills the world and the human self. Each person is imbued with the divine spirit of Torah; the words that we speak and the actions we undertake are all manifestations of Torah, mitzvot in motion.

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Sun, 02/26/2017 - 11:00pm

Exodus 25:1 - 27:19 96 

By Rabbi Ismar Schorsch. Reprinted with permission of the Jewish Theological Seminary for

Creating Sacred Space

This week’s parashah and haftarah [reading from the Prophets] are an exercise in counterpoint. Superficially, the construction of sacred space joins them in a common theme. While the Torah portion takes up the erection of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, the narrative from the book of Kings recounts the building by Solomon of the First Temple in Jerusalem some 480 years later.

The move is from a mobile sanctuary to a permanent one, from wood to stone. Still, the basic design remains the same, an oblong structure with the Holy of Holies (devir) at the rear, farthest away from the entrance. Likewise, the content of the Holy of Holies is unaltered: an ark covered by two large cherubim with outstretched wings. The ark itself contained only the two tablets which attested to the covenant between God and Israel sealed at Mount Sinai.

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Shabbat Shekalim - Mishpatim

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 11:00pm

Exodus 21:1−24:18 

Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Haftarah Commentary: 2 Kings 12:1-17

Shabbat Shekalim is the first of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesah. In the Maftir Torah reading, we read a reminder of the half-shekel tax incumbent on every Jew as a means of support for the Temple, the sacred center of Jewish worship. In the haftarah, we read of an episode involving this tax during the rule of King Jehoash. Jehoash is described as a good king, but with a single flaw: “All his days Jehoash did what was pleasing to the Lord, as the priest Jehoiada instructed him. The shrines, however, were not removed; the people continued to sacrifice and offer at the shrines (bamot).” (12:3-4)  

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Sun, 02/12/2017 - 11:00pm

Exodus 18:1 - 20:26 75 

By Rabbi Ismar Schorsch. Reprinted with permission of the Jewish Theological Seminary for

The Word Made Animate

Seeking the living soul of our sacred texts.

Christianity turns on the doctrine of incarnation as formulated famously by the Gospel of John: "So the Word became flesh; he came to dwell among us, and we saw his glory, such glory as befits the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth" (1:14). It is a doctrine that Jews tend to identify as uniquely Christian. Whereas both Judaism and Christianity equally acknowledged that at creation "the Word dwelt with God" (1:1) as both wisdom and instrument, Judaism refrained from ever endowing it with human form. Though valid, the distinction does not preclude the appearance in Judaism of the doctrine. For Judaism, the Word became incarnate as book.

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Shabbat Shira and Tu B'Shevat B'Shalach

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 8:46am

EXODUS 13:17−17:16 

By Rabbi Bradley Artson, The following article is reprinted with permission from American Jewish University, for

When Miracles Are Not Enough

The transformation into a sacred people occurs not through miracles but rather through steady education, discipline and communal reinforcement.

Surely, this Torah reading contains some of the most dramatic and well-known scenes in all of written literature. The liberation of the Israelite slaves by God, the pursuit of the fleeing Hebrews by Pharaoh and his army, the splitting of the Red Sea, with Israel crossing safely beyond and Pharaoh’s forces drowning in the waters–these scenes indelibly shaped the consciousness of the Jewish people throughout our tumultuous history. We are who we are precisely because we recall our origins as a slave people, because so much of Jewish practice is designed to remind us that we owe our freedom to a God of love and justice.

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Mon, 01/30/2017 - 7:52am

EXODUS 10:1−13:16 

By Rabbi Bradley Artson, The following article is reprinted with permission from American Jewish University, for

Ready For Renewal


Like the Israelites who left Egypt and faced the terrifying choices of freedom, modern Jews face the challenge of responsibly establishing new guidelines and directions for the Jewish community.

Ours is an age of unparalleled uncertainty. While we ransack the past and its accumulated wisdom for guidance today, we also know that the degree of change in every aspect of our lives is without precedent. Groping in the dark, treading uncertainly down a path not previously taken, modern humanity doesn’t know its destination and isn’t even sure it is enjoying the trip. And we have good cause for our doubts.

Consider the degree of changes that this century alone has witnessed. At the turn of the century, a mere ninety years ago–a single lifetime really–wars were fought using foot soldiers, ships and bullets. Tanks, planes, missiles, nuclear bombs, space satellites, submarines, all of these techniques of killing are new to our time.

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Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Shevat - Vaera

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 8:11am

EXODUS 6:2−9:35 

By Rabbi Bradley Artson, The following article is reprinted with permission from American Jewish University, for

Bearing Fruit Even In Old Age

The Torah mentions the ages of Moses and Aaron to teach us that age is a source of pride and that by honoring the elderly we bring richness to our own lives.

Most of our lives are darkened by the shadow of aging. We mock the old, laughing at their physical condition, joking about being in wheelchairs, in old-age homes, in hospital beds. We associate the old with the incompetent, with a state of permanent boredom and irrelevance. By bleaching our hair, lifting our faces, breasts and calves, sucking off our fat, and dressing in the gaudiest apparel possible, we hope to “stay young” forever.

Our fear of age trails us everywhere, urging middle-aged women to undergo cosmetic surgery and middle-aged men to find a mistress. It whispers to us of “our last chance” — whatever the vice in question. There is a frenzied quality to our recreation, our relationships, and to our acquisition of property, since we expect all of them to ward off the inevitable — death.

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Mon, 01/16/2017 - 8:34am

EXODUS 1:1−6:1 

By Rabbi Bradley Artson, The following article is reprinted with permission from American Jewish University, for

These Are The Names–Where Is Yours?

By listing the names of Jacob's family members who went into Egypt the Torah reminds us of the number of people who affect our lives and our potential to affect the lives of numerous others.

In many ways, Sefer Sh’mot (the Book of Exodus) is the most Jewish book of the Torah. It begins with the origins of the Jewish People as a nation–newly liberated from Egyptian slavery by the God who created the Universe, led to Mt. Sinai, where that same God established an eternal covenant with the Jewish People.

The Mishkan
The remainder of Sefer Sh’mot details the content of that covenant in the many mitzvot (commandments) that comprise Jewish practice and then authorizes the building of a place of worship, the Mishkan (Tabernacle) so that God can dwell amidst the Jews.

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Mon, 01/09/2017 - 8:06am

Genesis 47:28-50:26 

Prepared by Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum for Torah Sparks

Jacob, nearing death, asks Joseph to bury him in Canaan, then later adopts and blesses Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Jacob then offers final words to his sons -- some of them harsh, others filled with blessing. Jacob dies, and the brothers bury him in the Cave of Machpelah. The brothers fear once again that Joseph will take revenge on them for selling him into slavery years before, but Joseph reassures them that God meant for things to happen the way they did. Joseph dies and is embalmed, with his brothers promising that he, too, would be buried in Canaan.

Theme #1: Back to the Future

And Jacob called his sons and said, “Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come. Assemble and hearken, O sons of Jacob; hearken to Israel your father.” (Genesis 49:1-2)

After listening to God tell him the future at three separate occasions, it is Jacob's turn to reveal some of his visions for future times.


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Tue, 01/03/2017 - 7:50am

GENESIS 44:18−47:27 

By  Rabbi Charles Savenor. Reprinted with permission of the Jewish Theological Seminary for

Joseph’s Moment of Truth

Revealing his true identity, the viceroy cannot control his emotions.

The moment of truth has arrived. With Benjamin framed for stealing and sentenced to enslavement, Joseph waits to see how Jacob‘s other sons will respond. Joseph believes that his well-orchestrated ruse will finally expose his brothers’ true colors.

Judah’s Appeal

This week’s parsha opens with Judah appealing to his brother Joseph, the Egyptian viceroy, to free Benjamin and to enslave Judah in his place. Judah’s eloquent petition recounts his brothers’ interaction with this Egyptian official as well as the familial circumstances of Jacob’s household. Benjamin, the youngest son in the family, occupies a valued place in their father’s eyes, Judah says, because he is the last living remnant of Jacob’s deceased wife, Rachel. In conclusion, Judah asserts that if he were to return home to Canaan without Benjamin, he could not bear to see his father’s immediate and long-term pain and suffering.

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Mikeitz - Hanukkah

Sun, 12/25/2016 - 11:00pm

 GENESIS 41:1−44:17; Maftir: Numbers 7:54-8:4  

By Rabbi Bradley Artson, The following article is reprinted with permission from American Jewish University, for

Two Kinds Of Intelligence

To be fully educated and human we must study a range of disciplines--humanities and sciences, secular and Judaic.

Pharaoh has endured a night of terrible dreams. To make matters worse, neither he nor any of his ministers understood what the dreams were about. The only person able to interpret those dreams is a Hebrew prisoner in an Egyptian jail. That person is Joseph.

Seven Years & Seven Years
After hearing the dreams described, Joseph announced that Egypt would enjoy seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of universal famine. In advance, Joseph argues that Pharaoh should appoint someone "navon ve-hakham," discerning and sage, who will store enough food to ensure the survival of the population.

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Vayeishev - Shabbat Erev Hanukkah

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 7:52am

GENESIS 37:1−40:23 


The Land of Sojourning

After the relative insecurity and turbulence of Jacob’s life (masquerading as his brother Esau, taking flight to Laban’s home, becoming the victim of deception vis-à-vis a wife and his wages, and the wrestling match of last week), Parashat Vayeshev opens with the hope of the patriarch transitioning into a calmer stage of life. One of Rashi’s more famous comments is connected to the opening verse of the parashah: “Jacob was settled in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan” (Gen. 37:1): Jacob sought to live peacefully but the misery of the Joseph episode pounced on him.” But more than that, inherent in the opening verse is a contradiction of sorts. While va-yeishev (was settled) implies a sense of permanence and settlement, eretz m’gurei aviv (the land of his father’s sojourning) suggests fragility and temporality. Why does Torah refer to the land of Canaan, the territory promised to the descendants of Abraham as a gift and inheritance, as a land of “sojournings”? How could the patriarch be settled in a land that was one of merely “sojournings” and not stability?

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Sun, 12/11/2016 - 11:00pm

Genesis 32:4−36:43

By Rabbi Marc Wolf. Reprinted with permission of the Jewish Theological Seminary for

Silent Deliberations

We should learn to react with humanity.

“Too often the strong, silent man is silent only because he does not know what to say, and is reputed strong only because he remains silent.” This indictment, spoken by Winston Churchill, initially reminds me of our patriarch Jacob. We read this week one of the most disturbing stories contained in the Genesis narrative — the abduction of Dinah. As our Torah portion tells us, Dinah was the daughter of Leah and Jacob, sister to Shimon and Levi. When she went out one day to meet the other young women of the land, the local prince, Shekhem, abducted and raped her. Upon hearing the news of this violation, Jacob reacted as we never would have supposed a father would — with silence.

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