Torah Portion - Conservative

Bamidbar

Sun, 05/21/2017 - 11:00pm

NUMBERS 1:1−4:20 


BY RABBI IRWIN KULA for myjewishlearning.com 


Through The Wilderness


The stage of journeying through the wilderness is an essential part of the transformation from slavery to freedom.


The Book of Numbers, Bamidbar, describes the Israelites’ 40-year journey through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. Why devote an entire book to the desert experience?

Bamidbar represents an important stage in the journey of the people from slavery to freedom. The wilderness, far beyond its geographic or historic reality, enters the Jewish experience as a central metaphor for understanding who we are and what we must do.

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BeHAR - BeCHUKOTAI

Sun, 05/14/2017 - 11:00pm

Leviticus 25:1-26:2 / 26:3-27:34 


Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum, USCJ


Once they enter the Promised Land, the Israelites must allow the land to go untouched once every seven years, during which they eat what the earth naturally produces (God will provide enough crops to guarantee that the Israelites will eat well). Once every fifty years is the Jubilee year, in which all people are allowed to return to their land they originally held but later sold. The overriding idea is that the land belongs to God, and its residents must allow the land to be redeemed, even if that means allowing the original land-owner to pay a reduced rate to reclaim his/her land.

Additionally, a fellow Israelite with financial difficulties can be an indentured servant but not a slave. An Israelite who becomes indentured to a non-Israelite retains the right to redemption, and can certainly be emancipated during the Jubilee Year.

The portion ends with an exhortation to avoid idolatry and observe God’s Sabbaths.

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Emor

Sun, 05/07/2017 - 11:00pm

Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23 


BY RABBI BRADLEY ARTSON myjewishlearning.com


The Pursuit Of Happiness


As identified Jews, our speech and actions reflect on our families and the larger Jewish people.


American culture glories in individuality and autonomy. The foundation documents of the United States affirm the right of each individual to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Pilgrims fled England and Europe, so we are told, to practice religious liberty and to find individual freedom as well.

Justly proud of our national ideals of personal liberty and freedom, we cherish the ability to pursue happiness each in our own way. Even those Americans who came later came in search of economic freedom and personal expression. The ability to move wherever one chose, to work in any field one could, to rise as one’s talent could propel a career, speaks still to the core of our ideals as Americans.

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Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 7:58am

LEVITICUS 16:1-20:27 


By RABBI NEAL J. LOEVINGER, for MyJewishLearning.com


Reading The Prohibition Against Homosexuality In Context

 

The sexual relationships forbidden by the Torah are intended to prohibit non-Israelite religious practices and abuses of power.


Overview

In the beginning of this portion, the Torah notes that the following laws were given “after the death of Aaron’s two sons.” Then the Yom Kippur service is described, including ritual purifications and the sending of the “scapegoat” into the wilderness. Rules are given for separating meat from its blood, and other dietary laws. Finally, there is a list of forbidden sexual relationships, given in the context of a general prohibition against following the practices of other nations.

In Focus
“You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is abhorrent” (Leviticus 18:22).

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Tazria-Metzora

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 7:45am

Leviticus 12:1-15:33 


BY JULIA ANDELMAN, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT, JTS


The double parashah of Tazria-Metzora ranks at the top of the list of parshiyot to avoid for a bar or bat mitzvah. Its detailed lists of bodily ailments—rashes, colorations, emissions, and secretions—associated with ritual impurity are not the stuff of religious inspiration in contemporary times. I confess to having once colluded with congregants to subtly move the date of their daughter’s bat mitzvah celebration slightly further away from her Hebrew birthday, in order to provide her with a more palatable Torah reading  to chant and speak about than Tazria-Metzora. But this year—the year of #BlackLivesMatter—has caused me to read Tazria-Metzora through a new and painfully relevant lens. The parashah tells us over and over again of skin conditions and other physical states and symptoms that, while not represented by the majority, are, in fact, entirely normal within the varied spectrum of human experience—but that are nonetheless treated as problematic abnormalities, raising questions about who has a full place in the community and who must be marginalized, put outside of the camp, barred from the rites and rights of full citizenship. How sadly contemporary indeed, then, do our parashah’s central themes turn out to be.

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The Intermediate Shabbat of Passover

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 11:00pm

(Exodus 33:12-34:26) After Israel worshipped the golden calf, Moses shattered the first set of tablets. Now Moses again ascends Mount Sinai in order to receive the new set of tablets. Moses pleads for God’s assurance of support. God reassures Moses and also reveals His 13 divine attributes. Moses then brings down a new set of tablets with the Ten Commandments.

The Haftarah is taken from the Book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:1-14). The prophet finds himself in a valley of dry bones and, under the vivifying effect of God’s spirit, the bones knit together and become covered with flesh. Ezekiel understands this vision to mean that the people of Israel, having been exiled to Babylon, will again be reborn as a nation.

Both the fact that Passover, recalling past deliverances, looks forward to future redemption and an old tradition that the resurrection of the dead will take place during Passover determined the choice of this passage as the Haftarah for the Intermediate Sabbath of Passover.

The Song of Songs
It is customary to read the biblical book Song of Songs on the Intermediate Sabbath of Passover. Rabbinic tradition interprets the book as a love song, where the “beloved” is taken to mean God and “the bride” to mean the congregation of Israel. This tradition made the Song of Songs especially appropriate to Passover, because it marked, as it were, the beginning of the courtship of Israel and God before, metaphorically speaking, they became finally wedded at Mount Sinai by Israel’s acceptance of the Torah.

Another reason given for the reading of this book on Passover is that it is a song of the spring. To the poet and the singer, spring is synonymous with hope and happiness. A people’s hope lies in its freedom and its attachment to the law of God. This, too, is the lesson of Passover, for which the people of Israel have fought since they left Egyptian servitude, and this is the eternal message it wishes to convey to the whole of the human race.

Shabbat HaGadol - Parashat Tzav

Sun, 04/02/2017 - 11:00pm

Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36; HAFTARAH Malachi 3:4 - 3:24 

By Rabbi Bradley Artson, for MyJewishLearning.com


Ears, Thumbs And Toes


The ceremony installing the priests teaches the importance of consecrating the entire body for sacred service.


Traditionally, the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus) was known as Torat Kohanim, “the Teachings of the Priests.” Its contents are directed to people who would be ministering in the Temple in Jerusalem, and its topics pertain to priestly sacrifice, ritual and purity.

Yet, our tradition also holds that the eternal task of the Jewish People is to mold ourselves into a nation of priests, a holy people. In doing so, the standards that apply to a ‘kohen‘ (priest) in the Beit Ha-Mikdash (the Temple) are essential tools for elevating our own spiritual and ritual status as well. The same guidance that the Torah provided the ” at his task can ennoble and uplift the serious Jew of today as well.

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VAYIKRA

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

LEVITICUS 1:1−5:26 


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


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 MyJewishLearning.com


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 


BY EITAN FISHBANE, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF JEWISH THOUGHT; Jewish Theological Seminary


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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Terumah

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 MyJewishLearning.com


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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Yitro

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 MyJewishLearning.com


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 MyJewishLearning.com


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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