“If you should see your friend’s ox or sheep straying, don’t ignore them. Instead return them to your friend. But if your friend is not close by, or you don’t know the owner, bring it to your home and hold onto it until the owner finds you, and then return it to them” (Deuteronomy 22:1-2).
The Torah says that the laws of kashrut separate us from the nations and make us a holy people by precluding us from eating detestable things (Deuteronomy 14:2-3, 21).
Aware that he is about to die, Moses appoints Joshua as his successor in front of all the people. In a few short verses, he leads us on a journey through a plethora of emotions. Moses lets the people know that God is already aware of the many sins they will commit, but he is also aware that they will eventually arrive, succeed and triumph in Israel.
Dear Mom: It's been a long time coming, but I owe you an apology. There have been simply too many jokes at your expense, like the time you told your friends I was such a devoted son that I spend $150 on you every week — talking to my therapist.
“Remember the long way that YHVH your God made you travel in the wilderness these past 40 years, that he might test you, by hardships, to learn what is in your hearts: whether you would keep his commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2).
Having just come off Tisha B’Av, not only do we focus on the parasha, Va’etchanan, but this is also Shabbat Nachamu, the healing Shabbat of Comfort, so named because we read the words of Isaiah, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1).
My grandmother loved to tell family stories in which key details were changed. Sometimes she swapped out one time period or location for another. Sometimes key characters were replaced or motivations recast. More than slips of memory, these alterations were her way of putting the past into perspective, of teaching lessons and of casting a favorable light on the generations gone by. I lovingly called this trait “Nana’s revisionist history.”
On the New Year we learn to pay closer heed to the words we speak, their impact on others and the subtle messages our words convey. As we listen more acutely to the call for help from others, we also take upon ourselves the duty to respond in a timely manner and rally around those in need.
Why are children deaf to the advice parents offer, and why does it take so many years before we understand the true value of our parent's wisdom?
"Judges and officers shall you place at all your gates."
Thus begins our parsha, which is one of the richest in rulings, teachings and commandments, and which is therefore concerned about enforcement.
Blatant providence from God is so apparent that it's difficult to really see it, though we're looking at it always. The curses that God grants us are indeed an opportunity to partake far more deeply and actively in the experience of Him. They are gifts of discovery through adversity of the concealed beauty in all things.
The milchama with lechem stops when we can eat it proportionately and spiritually. When we enjoy our fill -- rather than demonizing, avoiding or sinfully binging on it -- we are redeemed. By the mouth of God, bread was created, as was light, as were we, in His image. Our purest source of nourishment is Divine love, manifest in our capacity to lift up the vital force in all foods through our own utterances of gratitude.
Yes, there is something natural, human and probably inevitable about complaining. As the people who raised murmuring to a high art during the desert trek with Moses, Jews may have more precedent to complain than others. I once invented a game called "alphabetical kvetch," and I have rarely had a problem getting Jews to play along.
Ask 10 Jews with a reasonable background in Torah the question, "Why did God not allow Moses to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land?" and nine of them would probably say: "Because Moses hit the rock instead of talking to it in order to bring forth water and failed to sanctify God, as God had commanded him."
Parshat Nitzavim-Vayeilech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)
The biological mystery of unlike offspring from the same parents is the challenge of parenting some children.
Many Reform Jews express their connection with the divine through social action and tikkun olam, fixing God's world. While all of these are also part of my own life as a Jew, it is study that nourishes my rationalist-traditionalist soul and links me to another realm.
If you are willing to inflict physical pain upon yourself as a service to your god, why not treat others to the same spiritual experience? Paradoxically, they will be killed or harmed because of your love for them.
"Therefore" connects all our fine sentiments and deep wisdom with the reality of the world. "Therefore" binds us to bring our values out of the vague realm of our subjectivity and into the hard objective world of work, family, politics and power. "Therefore" tests all our spiritual aspirations and visions against the limits of our courage, imagination and resolve. "Therefore" makes religion real. Every day, someone confesses, "Rabbi, I'm a deeply spiritual person."
Shavuot commemorates the Jewish people's grandest moment of revelation -- on a mountain, but definitely not in solitude. Absolutely personal, but not in the least private.
Amazingly, two-thirds of all the people who have ever lived past the age of 65 in the history of the world are alive today, according to Ken Dychtwald, author of "The Power Years: A User's Guide to the Rest of Your Life." This suggests that our way-beyond octogenarians in the Bible were the exception, not the rule.
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."
People always tell me that I am a downer, constantly talking about the world's problems here, genocide there; conflict here, poverty there. Nobody ever wants to talk to me at a party!
"You shall not eat anything abhorrent," the Torah (Deuteronomy 14:3) tells us. And while the Torah is referring to camels, rabbits, badgers and pigs, I would today include foods that that are high in fat and sugar and low in nutritional value. Foods that have been injected with hormones and antibiotics or treated with pesticides. Foods with a shelf life longer than the average life span.
The fact that Tisha B'Av falls in the summer is not just a stroke of bad luck. God deliberately destroyed the Temple in the summer. Summer, when the world is outside their closed homes and offices, taking vacations, having fun.
The very flatness and blandness of the matzah remind us of the empty and oppressed lives of the Israelite slaves -- and of downtrodden people in all places and in all times.
On the eve of Simchat Torah, many synagogues auction the three major honors of the day, with proceeds benefiting the synagogue or other Jewish institutions. Two honors, Hatan Torah (for the one called to the final reading in Deuteronomy) and Hatan Bereshit (for the one called to the first reading in Genesis), usually receive the highest bids. The third, Kol Hanearim -- supervising the blessing of all minor children as a tallit is held over their heads, while the honoree receives the next-to-last aliyah in Vezot Haberakha -- can be a close second.
A professor in seminary once asked us to find themost important section in all the Torah. We offered Creation, theShma, the Exodus, the revelation at Mount Sinai. No, he argued, it'ski teze l'milchama (Deuteronomy 21): "When you go out to war against yourenemies, and the Lord God delivers them into your power and you takesome of them captive, and you see among the captives a beautifulwoman, and you desire her, and would have her. You shall first bringher into your house, and she shall cut her hair and her nails, anddiscard her captive's garb. She shall spend a month's time in yourhouse, mourning her father and mother...and then you may come to her,and marry her, and she shall be your wife. And if not, you mustrelease her."
"So, tell me, what are you looking for in awoman?" I ask.
"Someone kind and gentle, intelligent, educated,cultured, witty, fun, a professional, independent, but interested intraditional things, Jewish, haimish, warm, family-oriented...andthin, tall, attractive, blond, well-dressed." He continues, but Irealize already that I know him. He's my 3-year old. The open mouthof the infant: "I want, I want, I want."
I know what he wants: a Playboy playmate who willadore him, cook like his mother but make no demands on hissoul.
He isn't alone. He belongs to a whole culture ofchildishness.