Torah Portion - Conservative
Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies.
The gifts brought to the Temple for the pilgrimage festivals teach us the importance of preserving our unique identities.
Social pressure to conform is a steady and soul-deadening force. With relentless enticements, cultures seek ways to impose similarity of worldview, of behavior, even of thought upon their members. Even contemporary society, with its laudable commitment to individuality, imposes subtle mandates through the media, through the movies, through advertisements and in countless other ways.
Small wonder, then, that the truly free soul is rare. Indeed, for many who practice religion (and for many who flee religion), that conformity and habit are nowhere more imposing than in the realm of faith and ritual.
Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25
Rabbi Salomon Gruenwald has served as the Assistant Rabbi of Congregation HEA in Denver, CO since his ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles.
Helping a Stranger
Breaking down emotional barriers to empathy.
I participated in the AJWS Rabbinical Student Delegation to El Salvador because I thought I would find some answers to my questions about global poverty and development. Instead, I left with more questions.
I have held an ideological commitment to sustainable development, workers’ rights, and poverty reduction for a long time, but I have to admit that I have done relatively little to contribute to finding solutions. I give a modest amount annually to organizations like Oxfam and AJWS that work in the developing world. I vote in ways that I think will result in better policies for the world’s farmers and workers. I try to buy fair trade products. But, I have made few personal sacrifices.
Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11
Rabbi Dorothy A. Richman teaches Torah in the Bay Area and is Rabbi of Makor Or: Jewish Meditation Center. Rabbinic Ordination, JTS.
Hear & Act
Primo Levi's poem gives us new insights into the Shema:
You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider whether this is a man,
Who labors in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.
Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.
–Shema by Primo Levi
Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22
Rabbi Lewis Warshauer teaches topics in Judaism to adult study groups in a variety of venues. Among his interests are family dynamics in the Bible and art as interpretation of Jewish texts. He was ordained at JTS.
Attributes of a Leader
Moses shares his views on leadership.
Much of the Book of Deuteronomy is taken up with Moses‘ farewell address to the Israelite nation. He has served his people as their leader in every sphere: military, administrative, judicial and spiritual. Now, he reviews the events of the 40 wilderness years, and presents, from his own perspective, a report of how he has led the nation.
Moses does not offer a dispassionate review of the past; to the contrary, he rebukes the nation for its failings.
Numbers 30:2 - 36:13
BY RABBI DOROTHY A. RICHMAN, Rabbi Martin Ballonoff Memorial Rabbi-in-Residence at Berkeley Hillel, for myjewishlearning.com
Creating Sustainable Freedom
All people must know that they have value.
Parashat Masei, the portion of journeys, begins with a recounting of the Israelites’ travels from slavery in Egypt to the borders of Israel. Yet within this re-telling of the Israelites’ trek comes a different journey: the path of a man-slayer into exile.
Powerful Priest and Accidental Killer
An entire chapter of the portion addresses the process by which an unintentional murderer is sent out of the community for his own protection. A person convicted of accidentally taking a life is sent to one of six cities of refuge. He lives there, guarded from his victim’s avenging relatives, until the natural death of the high priest (Numbers 35). If an exiled murderer wants to return home, his only recourse is to pray for the High Priest’s death.
Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels teaches Jewish thought and mysticism at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
Heroic or Sinful?
Zealous acts are not always heroic.
Just before this Torah portion begins, Israelite men have begun sleeping with foreign women. These relations have brought the Israelites to worship foreign gods and have caused, in response, a Divine plague to break out in the Israelite camp. God and Moses then command the Israelites to slaughter the idol worshipers among the Israelites.
In the very next verse, we learn that Zimri ben Salu (an Israelite) and Kozbi bat Tzur (a Midianite) publicly display their relationship as Zimri takes Kozbi back to his tent to sleep with her. Our Torah portion opens with the conclusion of the bloody tale as Pinchas slaughters Zimri and Kozbi and ends the plague (Numbers 25).
Numbers 22:2 - 25:9
Judith Greenberg was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.
Saying No To Temptation
Not giving in to temptations helps us to clarify our values and stick to our convictions.
We are surrounded by things that tempt us. Unhealthy foods, video games, and gossip are just a few of the things enticing us. It’s hard to make the decision to eat healthily. Or to not play “just one more round!” Or to keep from spreading a juicy piece of news. When confronted with a temptation, we know what the right decision is, but in the moment, it can be so hard to stay connected to our values, be they healthful eating, productive use of time, or not engaging in lashon hara or gossip.
In this week’s Torah portion we have one of the most famous – and fateful – examples of someone giving in to a temptation. In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and bad. But the snake tempts Eve, and she eats from the tree. Eve was tempted because she forgot about consequences and saw that the tree was appetizing and a source of wisdom. Shortsighted, Eve fell to temptation because she thought only of immediate gratification.
Numbers 19:1 - 22:1
By Rabbi Bradley Artson, The following article is reprinted with permission from American Jewish University, for MyJewishLearning.com
Miriam: Water Under The Bridge?
Miriam's death should motivate us to recognize people today who provide nurture and support.
Careers of public figures take on a life of their own, ebbing and flowing with shifts in public opinion and the latest values. One Jewish figure whose popularity is at an all-time high is the prophet Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron.
While featured prominently in the Torah , Miriam’s claim to fame always paled in the face of her more visible brothers. After all, Aaron was the first Kohen Gadol (high priest), the link between the Jewish people and their religion, and Moses was the intimate friend of God, transmitting sacred teachings to the people.
Rabbi Marc Wolf is assistant vice-chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary
Jewish Texts: The Ultimate Self-Help Guide
Amidst seemingly mundane laws, valuable lessons emerge.
A colleague and friend who shares my fascination with golf as well as my plague of performing poorly, recently gifted me with a book entitled, Golf is Not a Game of Perfect.
It is another one of the ever-expanding genre of self-help books in sheep’s clothing in which the subject, in this case, golf, is viewed as a microcosm of life. Accordingly, the sport is given a philosophical reach that outdistances any drive from the tee. It is filled with pithy moral teachings such as “Golfers must learn to love the challenge when they hit a ball into the rough … the alternatives–anger, fear, whining, and cheating–do no good.” Through tangible advice on the game, it subtly links such challenges as hitting a 40-foot putt to reaching for personal and professional goals. Books like this one and others of this ilk by sports personalities like George Forman and Michael Jordan tend to see an ecumenical relevance in seemingly mundane activities.
Numbers 13:1 - 15:41
BY RABBI DIANNE COHLER-ESSES. Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today, in myjewishlearning.com
Self-Confidence Makes Courage Possible
Shlah: A resource for families.
Courage is necessary to get through certain moments in each of our lives. For some it takes courage to meet new people or walk alone into a party. For others it’s a job interview or moving to a new place. There are those who have an abundance of courage and those who have it in short supply. But what makes courage possible is self-confidence — a positive self-image and a belief that things will turn out all right.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses chooses twelve men to go to the Promised Land to see whether it is conquerable and inhabitable. Ten of the men come back saying that it’s not possible to conquer the land because they perceive that giants live there. Two of the men, Joshua and Caleb, come back saying, “We can do it”. They are ready to fight. The ten men who lack courage see themselves as very small, saying they are as “grasshoppers” in the eyes of the inhabitants of the land, and in their own eyes as well. They lack the self-confidence it takes to do what is required.
Numbers 8:1 - 12:16
By Rabbi Ismar Schorsch. Reprinted with permission of the Jewish Theological Seminary for MyJewishLearning.com
Sometimes, There Are Second Chances
Of "Second Passover," Rabbi Akiva, and adult bat mitzvahs
One of the most compelling new rituals in the Conservative synagogue is the adult bat-mitzvah. The impulse is egalitarian, the result religious empowerment. The women who participate enjoyed no bat-mitzvah ceremony in their youth. Years later they seek to fill the void. Usually in small groups of up to a dozen, they study with their rabbi and cantor for a period of at least two years.
BY RABBI NOAH ARNOW, JTS, for myjewishlearning.com
In the Priestly Blessing, Seeing Parenthood’s Trajectory
A prayer for yesterday, today and tomorrow — all in one.
The journey of parenthood is strange and winding. At first we are responsible for these tiny, precious bodies that rely on us completely. Then, they slowly grow, and become increasingly independent, and somehow don’t need us anymore. They become our peers, looking us eye to eye, borrowing clothes, debating us. And before we know it, they have surpassed us — in height and accomplishment. Eventually we find they are taking care of us..
I think of myself and my children in these three stages every time I bless them with the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) on Friday nights (well, every time I bless them and no one is crying, which, thankfully, is happening more frequently).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is abhorrent” (Leviticus 18:22).