Torah Portion - Conservative


Sun, 09/16/2018 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 32:1–52 


Making Every Word Count

Ha’azinu is remarkable in two respects: what it says, and how it chooses to say it. My focus here will be the latter, but let’s note with regard to the former that in this, his final address to the Children of Israel before a set of farewell blessings, Moses reviews all of his people’s past, present, and future. He begins by calling on the God who had called Israel into being and called him to God’s service. He reminds Israel that God has chosen them and still cares for their well-being. He prophesies that despite all that God and Moses have said and done, Israel will abandon God, as they had in the past. God will punish them, as in the past, but never to the point of utter destruction. In the end, God and Israel will reconcile. Why, Moses pleads, can you not understand the simple truth that YHWH alone is God, YHWH and no other? If you accept that truth and act accordingly, God will save you from your enemies—and if not, not. Remember these words, he concludes, for they are your very life and the length of your days—whereupon, rather peremptorily, God tell Moses that his days are over. The time for his words is done. Moses must join the forebears who speak no more (Deut. 32:46-50).

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Sun, 09/09/2018 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 31:1–30  



Be Strong and Resolute, Be Courageous and Strong

In 1974, Bob Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman) released his now famous song "Forever Young." By that time Dylan was a father of four children and according to the lore of "Forever Young," he composed the lyrics as a blessing to his youngest son, Jakob. Despite the title, the song actually centers on Dylan's hopes for the kind of human being his son will grow up to become over time. In particular, he asks (prays?) as follows: “May you always be courageous / Stand upright and be strong.”

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Sun, 09/02/2018 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 29:9–30:20 


Returning with God

This week’s Torah Portion, Nitzavim, speaks profoundly about teshuvah, the literal and figurative struggle to return to God. When we turn back to God “with all [our] heart and soul,” the parashah tells us, then God “will bring you together again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you” (Deut 30:3). Being scattered is a state of disorientation and disconnection. Teshuvah represents a coming home. There’s an organic connection between the return to the Land of Israel—the land at the center of the Jewish soul, from which we have been banished—and the return that involves changing our ways and opening our hearts to God.

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Ki Tavo

Sun, 08/26/2018 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8 


What It Means to Enjoy

At one of our Shabbat afternoon Talmud classes some 50 years ago, after the usual bout of eating, drinking, and singing, the topic under discussion was what it means to “enjoy” Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and Festivals). We discussed Rabbi Eliezer’s statement that Festival “rejoicing” is obligatory,[1] as well as the two alternative ways he proffers for attaining pleasure: either by eating and drinking or by sitting and studying. Rabbi Joshua interjects that it should be half of one and half of the other (BT Pesahim 68b).

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Ki Teitzei

Sun, 08/19/2018 - 11:00pm

Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19 


Clothes That Make Us Human

Among the many joys of summertime in Manhattan is the chance to see a performance of Shakespeare in the Park. This year’s feast for eyes and ears was the magical romantic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One of the key turns of the plot involves the sprite Puck casting a spell on the wrong young lover, because his only instructions were to enchant one with “Athenian garb.” Judging on fashion alone, poor Puck thought he had discharged his duties. Puck’s comedic error is of course another instance of one of Shakespeare’s favorite themes, the way our clothing becomes synonymous with our identity. Most famously, in Hamlet Shakespeare has the Danish noble Polonius tell his son Laertes that “the apparel oft proclaims the man.”

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Sun, 08/12/2018 - 11:00pm

DEUTERONOMY 16:18–21:9 


The King’s Torah and the Torah’s King

This week’s Torah portion focuses on a wide array of topics, but underlying virtually everything we can see a thematic coherence well reflected in the parashah’s name (“judges”). The sidrah contains one of the most famous lines in the entire Bible, tzedek, tzedek tirdof: “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20). And throughout the parashah we see the Torah outlining various aspects of the pursuit of justice.


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Re'eh - Rosh Chodesh Elul

Mon, 08/06/2018 - 6:20am

DEUTERONOMY 11:26–16:17 


To Know or Not to Know

The centralization of cultic worship is one of the major themes in the book of Deuteronomy. However, the place of that worship, the Temple, is described as “the place that God will choose,” with no mention of where that place is to exist. This week’s parashah, parashat Re’eh, introduces the theme that once in the Land of Israel, the Israelites are to worship their God in “hamakom asher yivhar Hashem” (the place that God will choose). This vague phraseology, which only alludes to a specific place but does not specify where that place is, is repeated 21 times throughout the book of Deuteronomy, with 16 of those occurrences in our parashah alone.

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Sun, 07/29/2018 - 11:00pm

DEUTERONOMY 7:12–11:25 


Walking in God’s Paths

Walking at our own pace creates an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion. . . . When we choose a path through a city or forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, construct a mental map of the world, settle on a way forward, and translate that plan into a series of footsteps.
—Ferris Jabr, “Why Walking Helps Us Think,” The New Yorker (September 2014)

Three times in Parashat Eikev, we are instructed to walk in God’s paths (Deut. 8:6, 10:12, 11:22). The context clearly indicates the meaning of the phrase: the Torah is telling us to observe its laws. In fact, the same root as the verb walk, ה.ל.כ, is found in halakhah (הלכה), Jewish law. Perhaps, then, walking can teach us something about what following Jewish law might look like.

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