This week’s double Torah portion, Behar-Bechukotai, begins: “And the Lord spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai” (Leviticus 25:1). At the end of our reading, we conclude the Torah’s third book with: “These are the mitzvot that the Lord commanded Moshe for the children of Israel at Mount Sinai” (Leviticus 27:34).
This week’s parasha is one of the most central to the Jewish narrative. We read of the final plagues, the storm brought by God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm gathering on the border of Egypt, the Divine command to prepare for the Exodus by baking the matzot and eating the bitter herbs. It is the essence of the Passover story. Our greatest glory — Divine liberation — emanated from the nadir of our enslavement.
In this week’s parasha, Yaakov flees for his life, departing from Beersheva back to Charan — back to the beginning. How optimistic it had been when Avraham came to Israel two generations earlier, abandoning Charan presumably forever (Genesis 11:32-12:6). Avraham “went, took and passed.” He was journeying to a grand destiny on blessed land, where God promised he would become a great nation, blessed with wealth, with a name made great and famous.
This week’s portion bears one of the Torah’s great enigmas. What exactly did Moshe Rabbeinu do that prompted God to bar him from crossing the Jordan into Israel? What was the infraction?
We ended last week’s parasha with the Jewish nation crying as quasi-leaders sinned publicly with Midianite women, who had come into our camp at the Moabites’ behest.
In approximately 18 months Barack Obama may no longer be President, or just a lame duck limping to January 2013. At most, he would be President for another 5 and half years.
We are an American generation sadly marred by excess, addiction, and reduced public morals. On line at the supermarket we see magazines that headline Lindsay Lohan, Brittany Spears, and Charlie Sheen. Purim is around the corner, and the question arises: What’s the deal with getting drunk on Purim? So here’s the deal:
Parashat Terumah is the first of the weekly Torah portions with a narrative that fails to excite. We have been reading about the world’s creation, the Flood and its diluvial ramifications, the stories of our matriarchs and their husbands, the Great Exodus from Egypt that brought us — with no apparent exit strategy — to the Sea of Reeds, and then Mount Sinai, where God Almighty, amid thunder and lightning, revealed Himself to our nation of millions by declaring the Ten Pronouncements, which later would be engraved in stone as a memorial. One exciting event after another.
Two years have passed since the incarcerated Joseph correctly divined the wine steward’s dream in prison, predicting that Pharaoh would pardon the steward and return him to his station. All Joseph had asked, in return, was that this chief sommelier remember him to Pharaoh upon his release. The wine steward never made any promises to help Joseph, and when he was released, the Torah tells us, the wine steward not only failed to remember Joseph but actively forgot him. It’s only after Pharaoh becomes obsessed with two quirky dreams about thin and fat stalks and cows that the chief sommelier, perhaps seeking personal advantage, chimes in to recommend the incarcerated Hebrew dream-diviner.
Virginia Thomas and Anita Hill are at it. This is quite a story.
Justice Thomas's wife, Ginny, calls Prof. Anita Hill at her Brandeis University office and leaves a voice mail that apparently says, according to ABC News:
“Good morning, Anita Hill. It’s Ginny Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought, and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay have a good day.”
“And God said to Avram: ‘Go forth, for your [best interest], from your land and from the place of your birth and from the house of your father to the land I will show you’ ” (Genesis 12:1).
With approximately half of American marriages ending in divorce, the social crisis unfolding within the institution of the American family concerned me deeply as a congregational rabbi during the 1980s and ’90s, my first two decades in the pulpit. I spoke about it. I wrote about it.
After the Golden Calf, Moshe prays to God, begging forgiveness. In the course of his prophetic dialogue with the Creator, Moshe asks to see God’s glory. God responds that no person can see His face and live. However, He will allow Moshe to see His back (Exodus 33:17-23). Rashi, citing the Talmud, understands God’s offer literally. As we sing in the An’im Z’mirot hymn toward the end of Shabbat morning services: “He showed [Moshe] the humble one the [rear] knot of His [head] tefillin.”
Noah, the complete, righteous soul of his generation, gets himself good and drunk after the flood experience has passed. He has planted a vineyard, acted as his own vintner and sommelier, and become so inebriated — perhaps publicly in the open field, perhaps lying asleep in bed — that he is stark naked (Genesis 9:20-21).
This summer’s “cultural news” has been dominated by the deaths of several particularly prominent celebrities.
This week’s Torah portion lays out a comprehensive array of divinely ordained commandments that define the range of Judaism’s unique values.
Parshat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43) Certainly, ours is a history of being targeted by "them" for no reason other than our being "us." The Christian, en route to liberate the Holy Land from the infidel Muslim Saracens, stopped along watering holes throughout Europe to massacre whole Jewish bystander communities.
Parshat Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22) In Parshat Devarim we begin a new book, Deuteronomy, the fifth and final volume of the Five Books of Moses, or the Pentateuch. In Hebrew, we call it the Chumash, or the Torah. Christians call it the Old Testament. Each of these names implicitly perceives the Book of Devarim as part and parcel of an integrated package
Parshat Beha'alotecha (Numbers 8:1-12:16)
When prayer is not answered, sometimes -- as the country singer Garth Brooks poetically has observed -- one reflects, stunned, and suddenly realizes that some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.
Parshat Acharey Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30)
The traditional English translation for the disease tzora'at that is eponymous with this week's Torah portion, Metzora, is "leprosy." However, as our commentators explain, biblical leprosy was something very different from the bacterial leprosy of modern times that is attributed to the bacillus Mycobacterium leprae. Biblical leprosy traces to a different kind of disease, an infection permeating the spirit and the soul, the disease of lashon hara (or its Ashkenazic variant spelling, lashon hara): evil talk, tale bearing and gossip.
In the course of a lifetime, we encounter any number of friends.
Some are friends by happenstance -- friends who happen to attend school with us, happen to work where we do or reside near us. When we graduate from school, change careers or relocate, most such friends slowly disappear from our lives -- and we from theirs.
It happens to all of us. You are with friends, engaged in small talk, and then someone makes a disparaging comment about a common acquaintance. You didn't see the insult coming, but there it is. It's entered the conversation.
What should you do? Should you challenge the slight or let it go by unaddressed?
Rabbi Dov Fischer responds to Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky's invitation to have a conversation about Jerusalem.
Today, the symbols of hospitality more typically are the bedroom at the end of the hall, the face and bath towels, and an old blanket with pillowcases that don't match. But that's OK. Because if it is part of their childhood, your children will continue this wonderful tradition of hachnasat orchim when they have homes and households. They are watching you and learning. Just as you do what your parents did when you grew up. Just as Joseph. Just as Rivkah. Just as Lot. All continuing this remarkable tradition, so strangely unique in society, of housing unknown sleepovers, feeding them and footing the bill with joy.
Feed a person manna from heaven, and he wants quail. Give him the Torah, give him a Promised Land, lead him through battle without a defeat - and he wants to turn back at the first intimation of challenge and risk.
Not all of us realize it, but Parshat Emor is one of the most frequently read Torah portions we encounter. We typically read it in May, and again on Passover's second day and on the first two days of Sukkot. It is read on these two festivals because, like D'varim (Deuteronomy) chapter 16 in Parshat Re'eh, it sets forth critical details that define the Torah observances' unique requirements for us.
In Parshat Toldot, we encounter the remarkable event described in Genesis 27, as Yitzhak prepares in blindness to confer an eternal blessing on one of his twin sons.He wants to extend that blessing to the viscerally evil Esav, who nevertheless always has acted with the utmost respect for his father. Esav has Yitzhak figured out, and Yitzhak really loves him. By contrast, Rivkah is devoted uniquely to the simpler, gentler, less charismatic Yaakov.Why the dichotomy?
Your child comes home and says she wants to be a doctor someday. Your spouse or serious beau tells you he or she dreams of being something greater. And you douse the dream with a comment: "You aren't smart enough," "You don't have the skills needed to do that" or "No one will take you seriously."
When I was a kid, I was a very important person in shul. My dad was not at all prominent in the greater society -- he merely worked for his brother, selling toys and stationery as a wholesaler in Manhattan's Lower East Side, starting his workday at 7 a.m. and working through 7 p.m. every day, including Sunday. (Sabbath-observant, he got to leave midafternoon on Fridays.) But at shul, he was well liked, even loved, and was the vice president of the local Young Israel. He was very important there, and I got treated great.
Then he died -- cut down by leukemia at age 45. At his funeral, everyone from shul attended and promised to love our family, to remain close. In time, though, the bonds loosened. There were fewer visits on Shabbat to our home; fewer invitations to others' homes. And then it happened. One Shabbat, amid 20 talking boys, I was singled out to be chastised -- to be quiet. That had never before happened to me.
In this week's Torah Portion, Shelach Lecha, Moshe Rabbeinu designates an advance party of 12 scouts to survey the Promised Land. The Jews are approaching their destination and the fulfillment of their destiny, and Moshe opts to have a team of prominent Jewish leaders, comprised of one delegate from each of the 12 tribes, investigate and report back.
It is now two years since I moved to Calabasas to become the rabbi of a new Orthodox congregation. And there is no time like the eve of the Jewish New Year to take stock.
People said it couldn't be done. Some believed there was not much hope for an Orthodox synagogue in this community bordering the San Fernando and Conejo valleys, where expensive homes pepper the steep hills, because members would have to walk to services, and outsiders would be deterred from moving here because of the high price of housing.
I have tried explaining it to friends outside Los Angeles. But the Los Angles Times of Sunday, Aug. 3, cannot be explained in words alone. One must have held the paper in hand to appreciate what appeared that day.
Why is the United Nations running refugee camps like Jenin, for people who claim to be living in their own land?
The recent landslide vote of the Israeli Likud Party, utterly rejecting an Arab country west of the Jordan River, reflects the evolving mindset of the largest political party in Israel.
In October 1999, I went through the personal tragedy of a divorce. I felt personally lost, very much alone. A lady in my congregational community, Lilly Kahn-Rose, approached me one Shabbat soon after, offering to help me in some way. I responded: "Please invite me and my children for some Shabbat meals, and please help me get some Shabbat meal invitations from others in the community. I can buy cold cuts, side dishes, and challah, can recite kiddush and lead z'mirot melodies, but it is going to be so lonely and feel so minimalist in our apartment. Please help me get me some Shabbat invitations."
Either the authoritarians of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority have the power to direct, control, intercept and stymie Arab terrorist attacks against Israel, or they do not. If this year's proliferation of Arab mass murder has been within the Palestinian Authority's power to control, then those events confirm that the Palestinian Authority has no right to exist as a polity. On the other hand, if the Palestinian Authority cannot control the anti-Israel terror emanating from within its borders, then it also has no right to exist as a polity.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) plans to construct a grotesquely invasive "Bus Rapid Transit" corridor (the term is MTA's) along Chandler Boulevard in the East San Fernando Valley, and MTA's 300-page-plus environmental impact report (EIR) deceives the public in its effort to whitewash the plan. As one salient example of deceit, the EIR disingenuously tries to hide the rapid- transit's impact on community safety, conceding the possibility of increased "pedestrian/bus conflicts."
To facilitate pidyon shvuyim (redeeming captive Jews from secular prisons) we are commanded to go so far as to sell a community's Torah scroll. Yet it is hard to rejoice that Bill Clinton pardoned four chassidim from the village of New Square, N.Y., along with an alleged tax evader who donated megabucks to Israel. In contrast to the complex moral and ethical questions that grated pro-and-con during discussions over the possible pardons of Michael Milken and Jonathan Jay Pollard, there is something unequivocally outrageous in Clinton's decisions to pardon the four Squarer chassidim and the international oil merchant whose dealings prompted the Justice Department to allege, among other things, tax evasion and trading illegally with Iran.
Santa Clauses and tannenbaums and songs of a virgin mother and her infant. The songs are ubiquitous and cannot be escaped, whether at the malls or in the movie theaters or at the supermarket. The television programs all have special Christmas episodes. It really is quite everywhere.
How could I consider marrying a non-Jewish woman? Couldn't.
Initially, one cannot help but think that the surge of retired, elderly Jews to Florida, augmented by this year's Lieberman Factor, has redefined Florida politics into an Israel-style method of governance. While the rest of America was voting and deciding on Tues., Nov. 7, Florida was telling us - just as Israel runs under Barak - "Wait 48 hours, and then we'll decide." Two days later, as the last recount came in from Seminole County with Bush a nose ahead, Florida essentially told us, "Well, wait 48 more hours, and then we'll really decide." Even today, Nov. 17, with all the incoming mail ballots from those Floridian voters stationed out-of-state in the military and on campuses tallied, we still have the proverbial 48 hours and more. Recounts. Manual recounts. Just like Barak's Israel.
So it turns out that the Arabs of Judea and Samaria really hate the guts out of us Jews.
Is there any hope for bringing Abu-Hanud to justice?
As a centrist observant Jew working in the secular professions, I am particularly struck by Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's selection of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman as his vice-presidential running mate for the November 2000 elections.
Several years ago, before I became an attorney, the news of Iran's star-chamber proceedings and convictions of Jews would have sent me protesting in the streets.
Fortunately, California Civil Code section 2225 forbids convicted felons from reaping such profits. Our state's law is based on New York's "Son of Sam" law, enacted to prevent David Berkowitz, a social miscreant, from selling a book and movie rights about his 1977 New York City murder spree.
Last week marked the sixth yahrzeit of Yitzhak Weinstock, a young American-Israeli who was murdered in a Palestinian Arab terrorist attack near Jerusalem. Hundreds of Jews have been murdered by Arab terrorists in Israel in the six years since the Oslo accords were signed, so perhaps it is no surprise that Yitzhak's name is not familiar to most Jews in Southern California.