Jewish liturgy and ritual frequently remind us that the Israelites were scattered to the “four corners of the earth,” as symbolized by the four fringes of the tallit, or prayer shawl. The extent of the geographic dispersion of the Jews over millennia has been vast, ranging from Baghdad to Burma, Marrakesh to Melbourne, Jerusalem to Los Angeles.
Sarah Palin is saying more attention should be paid to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor. Democrats counter that they are ready to fight back with their own barrage of guilt-by-association attacks.
A pastor who blessed Sarah Palin's run for Alaska governor said Christians should emulate "Israelites" and run the economy
It's one of the great mysteries of the Jewish tradition. Every year, Jews around the world gather around a seder table to retell the story of our people's liberation from slavery. You can read a thousand articles, talk to a thousand rabbis, and they'll all say the same thing: At the Passover seder, we retell the story of the Exodus.
There's only one problem with this statement: It's not really true.
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."
God awarded the land of Israel to His chosen people, but He didn't just give it to us on a silver platter. He expected us to work for it by draining the swamps, working the soil, planting our crops and, yes, driving out the indigenous nations whose crimes against God and humanity no longer allowed them to remain in the Holy Land.
This is exactly the lesson the Torah wanted to teach us as well as the wandering Israelites. They had to realize that they stood to receive blessing or cursing, Divine abundance or wrath, not according to the prophetical prayers of Balaam but according to their conduct.
Some Torah portions lend themselves very easily to sermons. Yitro, which contains the giving of the Ten Commandments has lots of material about which to talk. Others are more challenging, like Tazria-Metzorah, which has extensive discussions about skin diseases, inflammations and rashes.
A Reason to Obey
This Shabbat we read the portion of Ki Tavo. In it, Moses tells the Israelites that if they obey all the commandments, they will be blessed with good food, good weather and a good life. But if they disobey the commandments, they will be cursed with misfortune.
Each night before retiring, the great Chasidic master Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav would make a list. At the end of a long day, he would write down all the wrongs he had committed -- against other people, against God, against himself. Nachman would read the list over and over again, with increasing levels of agitation and remorse, until he welled up with sorrow.
In this week's Torah portion, the Israelites are encouraged -- commanded really -- to write something down.
There is a remarkable place I go to, about once a year. It is a spot on the Oregon coast. And I mean, literally, a spot. When I stand on that spot,
I can see the whole world -- all of it.
Straight ahead, I see the Pacific Ocean, waves rhythmically approaching and departing, humming a calming melody. Far in the distance, the ocean meets the horizon, and they melt together into a line of perfect milky blue beauty. I turn slightly to the left, and take in the dark, 10-story-high jagged rocks, partially eroded by centuries of contact with the water. They are lifeless on their peaks but play host to starfish and sea anemones at their feet.
Directly behind me, a neighborhood of houses. In one of them, many loved ones are collected -- at this moment just waking up together, and discussing the swift recent departure of a flock of sea gulls and the possibility of locating crab shells on the beach. Behind the houses is a forest -- a deep, damp, evergreen Oregon corridor -- perched just above the sea line. And to my right -- really, at my feet -- I observe a small creek, originating from that perched forest, carrying its tiny stream from far away into the great, rushing ocean. Around the creek, and in it, are hundreds of smooth stones, created from years of weathering. The stones await the arrival of my young son, who will spend hours among them, touching them, moving them, tossing them back into the water.
From that spot I can see the whole world. I can see life and abandonment and flight. I see unspeakable beauty and I can see years of confrontation. I can see love, togetherness, petty arguments and laughter. I see things that never change and things that never stay the same. And I can see isolation and community, growth and stagnancy, big picture and tiny details.
And all from standing in one spot.
This week's Torah portion starts with a potent word: re'eh -- see. God says to the Israelites: You have the opportunity to experience the bounty of blessing, or to feel the burn of curse -- it is up to you, dependent on your behavior. And God begins this speech with the word re'eh. God says: See. Open your eyes! Take a look. Israelites, re'eh: For a moment, stop moving. Stop walking, stop running, stop eluding, stop covering, stop blocking. Plant your feet firmly on the ground. Just see. Look around. Stand in place and use your sight. There are visions to behold. Pictures to take in. Details to note.
With great sadness my friends decided to divorce in January 2001. They had given themselves one year into the new century to see if they could make it work, and it didn't seem as if they could. Then, in 2002, they happily reconciled. When asked why, they say Sept. 11 brought them back together; it helped them refocus their priorities.
I once counseled a young man through what he later understood to be the most profound and transformative moment of his life: He was abandoned, without explanation or apology, by his beloved fiancée. After a crushing year, he came back to tell me that he realized, in retrospect, that his heart had to be broken, shattered to pieces, in order for light to be able to come in. As he spoke, I envisioned a beautiful clay vase, intricately painted on the outside, but dark and empty inside. This man realized, through his suffering, that the life he had thought was whole had actually been hollow, a realization that opened up for him the possibility of healing, of growth, of new relationships -- both with future partners and with God.
In last week's Torah Portion, the Israelites sat back and watched as God brought seven plagues upon the Egyptians. This week, in Parshat Bo, we read of the last three plagues.
Happy New Year! It is back to school and back to lessons. In this week's parshah, Pharaoh learns a few lessons, too – seven, to be exact.
Imagine yourself forgotten, without anyone to protect you. Ruling powers are oppressing you and killing your children. The purported
"reason" is economic, but a deep hatred based on mere difference underlies this attempted genocide. Helpless, you cry out. Who, in heaven and on earth, will hear your cries and move to save you? Awaiting relief, what do you do?
Now, imagine that you are privileged -- a son or daughter of the ruling class. Your life is comfortable, even luxurious. You witness the sharp contrast between your situation and the suffering of the underclass. They are slated to die, and your cooperation, whether tacit or overt, will help make it happen. What do you do?
For The Kids
Our Torah portion devotes more than 60 verses to the census of the Israelites.
For The Kids
For The Kids
For The Kids
Last week's Torah portion ended with a dramatic cliffhanger. A plague was in progress, punishing the Israelites for worshipping the false gods. Despite earlier prohibitions and the snare of idolatry, an Israelite man openly brought a Midianite woman into the camp. (Commentators infer that the two had sex.) While others wept, Pinchas pierced the couple with a spear, and the plague was suddenly halted. Pinchas risked both his life and the priesthood. The families could have sought revenge, and priests who kill are normally ineligible for service.
For the Kids
"Shattered Dreams: The Failure of the Peace Process in the Middle East, 1995-2002," by Charles Enderlin (Other Press, 2003).
I once asked King Hussein of Jordan whether he considered Zionism legitimate. Did he accept that there was any historical basis to the Jews' claim to a portion of Palestine as their homeland? He looked at me as if I were from Mars and ducked the question. Later, he told a Jordanian colleague that only a Jew could have posed such a strange question. Perhaps by the time of his death in 1999 he had softened his view. But his reaction still exemplifies that of the vast majority of Arabs today.
"The ideals that form the moral compass of Western civilization, the belief that every human being has value, the belief that no one is above the law, the belief that how each of us treats our fellow human beings matters -- these were all the gifts of the Jews."
>This is what happens in this week's parsha. In Parshat Pekuday, Moses gives the Israelites an accounting of how much gold, silver and copper
was contributed to build the mishkan (the Tabernacle that held the Ten Commandments).
In Parshat Yitro, God gives the Israelites the Ten Commandments.
The Pilgrims of New Salem, Mass., were so moved by the stories of the ancient Israelites that they thought of America as their Zion and New Salem as their Jerusalem.
Even if the reader is a person who does not regularly attend Shabbat worship services when the Torah is read, the text of Nitzavim will be somewhat familiar, inasmuch as it is offered not only as a reading during the Sabbath we are about to observe, but it is also presented as the Torah text in the midst of the morning of Yom Kippur. So, even the least observant among us, when wending their way to a synagogue to observe the High Holidays, ought to find this material from Deuteronomy to be not at all strange.
In these parshot, Moses wraps up all he has to say to the Israelites. When he is done speaking, he will take leave of them and die. He says: "Please remember all I have instructed you to do, so that you will lead happy and fulfilled lives."
We are entering the homestretch. Aug. 9 is the first of Elul, the last month in the Jewish calendar.
Ack! Summer's halfway over. I hope you're having a great summer. Are you at camp? Did your parents take you on a fun trip? A cruise, perhaps?
Achrei Mot and Kedoshim
A Portion of Parshat Vayakel-Pekuday
Oh boy, do the Israelites slip up this week. They have just received the Ten Commandments, have heard God speak to them and have vowed to do all that God commands them, even if they do not fully understand why they must. Forty days later, they're dancing around a calf made of melted golden earrings and calling it a god! What happened?
A Portion of Parshat Bo.
A Portion of Parshat Va'yera
A Portion of Parshat Shmot
The eighth day of the holiday of Sukkot is actually a separate holiday called Shemini Atzeret. It means "the eighth day of the assembly."
In this portion, God tells us something so important that it is mentioned twice: Do not sacrifice anywhere but in the Temple.
Why are we the People of the Book? Why aren't we the People of the Question?
After all, before Moses receives the Torah on Mt. Sinai, like Abraham earlier, he answers God's call to service with a question. In Exodus 3:11, he says, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?"
At our Ski Passover, experience the thrill of the 2002 Winter Olympics ... Ski the mogul run and view the aerial jumping hill; ride the snowboard half-pipe and ski the giant slalom course ... take a bobsled or luge ride or even try Nordic jumping ...
When I was 16, I was elected president of my synagogue youth group. I will never forget that feeling of euphoria that accompanied the victory. But I also remember how I felt the very next day after the excitement and thrill of the victory had already started to wear off. I was suddenly struck by an overwhelming feeling of fear and near panic. "Oh my God," I remember thinking, "now I am the one responsible for whether this entire program and youth group is successful or not. How am I going to know what to do?"