Torah Portion - Conservative

Tzav - Shabbat Hagadol

Sun, 03/18/2018 - 11:00pm

Leviticus 6:1−8:36; Special Haftarah: Malachi 3:4 - 3:24  


Elijah—Families and the End of Days

Elijah is an enigmatic and beloved figure in the Passover seder, with a myriad of explanations for his appearance and role. It’s worth noting that Elijah appears first in our liturgical texts even before we sit down to begin the seder: the haftarah for Shabbat Hagadol (the Shabbat before Pesah) is from the end of Malachi, and concludes with the haunting words, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome Day of Adonai; and he will return the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents.” I always see this text as displaying the greatest insight into human nature. 

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Shabbat HaChodesh - Vayikra

Sun, 03/11/2018 - 11:00pm

Leviticus 1:1−5:26 


The Rituals that Make a Nation

I must confess that as someone who has spent most of my adult life studying and teaching modern history, Vayikra—both the parashah and the sefer—is not my favorite portion of the Torah or the Tanakh. We lovers of narrative are in for something of a letdown as we enter a biblical book that, aside from a few brief interludes, seems to be a long list of injunctions relating to priestly service and ritual purity. Indeed, there will be no more sea-splitting or plague-wreaking; the tablets have been given; the golden calf has been wrought and unwrought; and the Mishkan has been planned, plotted, and built. The fun is over, and now it’s time to talk about the particulars of sacrifice, ceremony, and the sacred.      
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Vayakhel-Pekudei / Shabbat Parah

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 11:00pm

Exodus 35:1–40:38 


The Sanctuary and the Bomb

The US gave the codename “Ivy Mike” to its first full-scale experimental thermonuclear device. Designed by two of the century’s most significant nuclear scientists, Stanisław Ulam and Edward Teller, Mike’s design was a strangely beautiful one. As historian Richard Rhodes wrote in Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb: “Steel, lead, waxy polyethylene, purple-black uranium, gold leaf, copper, stainless steel, plutonium, a breath of tritium, silvery deuterium effervescent as a sea wake: Mike was a temple, tragically solomonic, invoking the powers that fire the sun.”

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Ki Tisa

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 11:00pm

EXODUS 30:11−34:35 


Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular—but one must take it simply because it is right.
—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “A Proper Sense of Priorities”

In Dr. King’s speech, he took a firm stand against the Vietnam War, explaining, “I’m not a consensus leader. I don’t determine what is right and wrong by… taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion.” In Parashat Ki Tissa, Aaron unfortunately does exactly this. Caving to the pressures of the anxious Israelites awaiting Moses’s return, Aaron fashions the infamous golden calf for the Israelites to worship. Though Aaron must have known what was right, his pride or fear spurred him to do what was popular or safe. Regardless of his motivations, what is clear is that Aaron did not allow his conscience to ask what was right.

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Sun, 02/18/2018 - 11:00pm

Exodus 27:20 - 30:10; Maftir:  Deuteronomy 25:17-19 


By: Reb Mimi Feigelson, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies 

The Shabbat before Purim is most famous for its name - Shabbat Zachor - the Shabbat of remembering. A month before Nissan we begin to read four additional Torah sections to prepare us for Pesach and all that the festival entails (yes, once Purim is over, Pesach cleaning begins...). Till this day, even though we no longer observe the laws of ritual holiness, we still read the section regarding the red heifer in two weeks time. But this coming Shabbat stands out in its proximity to Purim - Shabbat Zachor will always be the Shabbat prior to Purim.

Tradition teaches us that Haman was an offspring of Amalek, and therefore, we are asked to remember - Zachor - that there is an ongoing force that pursues and challenges us as we journey through life.

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Sun, 02/11/2018 - 11:00pm

Exodus 25:1 - 27:19

Rabbi Brent C. Spodek for

In Forgiveness, Making Space for the Divine

To forgive is to hold on to the future more tightly than the past.

A dear friend recently got a letter that is rearranging her life.

Her childhood was difficult — screaming fights, police intervention when her father got violent, constant fear. Her body and soul were scarred by her father, and then one day she came home from middle school and her father was gone, never to be heard from again.


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Shabbat Shekalim - Mishpatim

Sun, 02/04/2018 - 11:00pm

Exodus 21:1 - 24:18

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg  for 

Ascending the Mountain

The work of covenant involves a lot less feeling and a lot more action.

All too often, we think about connection with the sacred — with the holy, with God — as being about warm, fuzzy feelings. Those profound moments in prayer and meditation when something feels like it’s opening up, even just a little.  And yet. Parashat Mishpatim makes it clear that even the most powerful theophany isn’t, in the scheme of things, all that important.

The work of covenant, this portion shows us, is sometimes daily and plodding — involving a lot less feeling and a lot more action. It’s not a coincidence that Mishpatim also includes the commandments neither to mistreat the stranger nor oppress the widow or the orphan. It also demands that we not charge interest in moneylending, not follow the masses in doing evil, not spread false rumors, not subvert the rights of the needy and that we rest on Shabbat.

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Sun, 01/28/2018 - 11:00pm

Exodus 18:1 - 20:23 

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels for 

Negative and Positive Freedom

We are called on daily to "proclaim liberty throughout the land."

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we read of the revelation at Sinai that follows last week’s Exodus from Egypt. What is this relationship between freedom and revelation, between Exodus and Sinai?

The Hasidic master R. Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger explains that Sinai follows the Exodus because “the purpose of all the commandments…is so that every person of Israel be free (Sefat Emet, Language of Truth, pp. 319-320).” Revelation follows liberation because while freedom might have been initiated at the Exodus, it is only completed at Sinai.

Yet what kind of freedom is this? What kind of freedom is maintained by the revelation of laws and commandments which, on their surface, seem to limit freedom?

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Sun, 01/21/2018 - 11:00pm

Exodus 13:17 - 17:16

Rabbi Adam Greenwald for 

Children of Nachshon

Liberation comes only to the courageous.

Every year we tell this story:

Our ancestors left Egypt a teeming multitude, a ragtag crowd of former slaves in a great hurry for a long-awaited deliverance. They made their way toward freedom, only to find a great sea blocking their path. And God said to Moses: “Lift up your hands and the sea will split.” And Moses held his arm out over the sea and God drove back the sea with a mighty wind all that night. The water split and the children of Israel walked —”B’toch ha-yam b’yabasha” — in the midst of the sea on dry ground, waters forming a translucent wall on either side.

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Mon, 01/15/2018 - 7:56am

Exodus 10:1 - 13:16 


BY Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster for 

Return to the Homeland

In Parashat Bo, the Israelites are freed from Egypt.

One of my favorite U2 songs, “Walk On,” contains the lyrics: “You’re packing for a place none of us have been, a place that has to be believed to be seen.” The song describes the experience of abandoning all that one has known to embrace the promise of freedom and hope, much like the person who leaves exile after several generations to return to a homeland in which she has never lived.

The lyrics convey an understanding that sometimes home may not be the place where you live but where your roots are.  Even after generations, the connection remains, growing more mythic the longer the return is awaited. And slowly, each generation confronts the question of what it might be like to actually return home.

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Sun, 01/07/2018 - 11:00pm

Exodus 6:2 - 9:35

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg for 

Who Really Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart?

Was God responsible for the Egyptian leader's intransigence?

When people talk about great philosophical challenges in the Torah , they often cite a verse in Parshat Vaera. These chapters deal with Moses’ attempt to convince Pharaoh to free the Israelite slaves, Pharaoh’s refusal and the first seven plagues that rain down as part of this back and forth.

Towards the end of the portion, after the Egyptians suffer boils, the text says (Exodus 9:12), “And God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not hear them.” The plagues continue, but suddenly they seem much less fair. There are major challenges to the concept of free will here: Did Pharaoh choose to refuse Moses’ request to let the Israelites go, or did God make him do that? Would he have responded the same way had not God intervened? And how on Earth could God continue to punish Pharaoh, given that God Godself caused Pharaoh to refuse to free the Israelites from bondage?

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Sun, 12/31/2017 - 11:00pm

Exodus 1:1-6:1 


Rabbi Joshua Gutoff for 

The Life Of The Oppressed

The antidote to the terror of living in a dangerous world is to participate in the liberation of others.

Here’s part of the Exodus story they didn’t teach in Hebrew school:

Exodus, Chapter Four. Moses, in Midian, has encountered God at the burning bush, received his commission, and is on his way back to Egypt. Then this:

Now it was on the journey, at the night-camp, that God encountered him and sought to make him die. Tzippora took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, she touched it to his legs and said: Indeed, a bridegroom of blood are you to me! Thereupon he released him. Then she said, “a bridegroom of blood” because of the circumcision. (Exodus 4:24-26)

An amazing story. It reads like a passage from Genesis; it has that mythic, mysterious quality. I think of Isaac, meditating in the fields. This is the kind of story that could have happened to him.

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Sun, 12/24/2017 - 11:00pm

Genesis 47:28 - 50:26


Abundant Love: The Wisdom of Jacob

On his deathbed, Jacob finally sees his children stand together.

It finally happens. With Parashat Vayechi, the saga of Jacob’s tumultuous life comes to a close. This one-time-deceiver (Genesis 37), son of an almost sacrificed son and grandson of monotheism’s founding father, this transformed man closes his eyes for the last time.

Our question: What wisdom might modern Jews gain from studying the end of Jacob’s life?

First, a rapid review of Jacob’s journey.

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Sun, 12/17/2017 - 11:00pm

Genesis 44:18 - 47:27


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 - Shabbat Hanukkah

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 11:00pm

Genesis 41:1−44:17

By Rabbi Bradley Artson, provided by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, 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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Sun, 12/03/2017 - 11:00pm

Genesis 37:1−40:23

From Pride Comes Loneliness

Joseph's experience in prison teaches him, and us, that we succeed and flourish when we support those around us.

By Rabbi Bradley Artson, provided by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, for

In the development of Joseph’s character and the events of his life, the Torah portrays a bittersweet lesson about the loneliness of pride. On the surface, there is no reason for Joseph to be lonely. He is, after all, the favorite child of his father, surrounded by 11 brothers, in the midst of a bustling and energetic family.

Joseph has the potential to fill his life with friendship, family and love. Yet his need to be preeminent, his need to belittle the gifts and experiences of this family in order to glorify his own talents, isolate him from his own kin. We get a clue about the extent of Joseph’s pride from the very start.

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