In this week’s parasha, Beha’alotecha, Moses faces the fragility of life as he watches his sister, Miriam, struggle with tzara’at, a dangerous skin disease. Overcome with anguish, Moses cries out to God. His five-word prayer, the shortest recorded in the Torah, beseeches the Holy One: El na r’fa na la (O God, please heal her). God hears, and miraculously Miriam is healed (Numbers 12:1-16). For some, this parasha provides comfort that, indeed, our prayers for healing work. And then there are people like Sarah.
Once, on a mission to Israel, we needed a minyan for a prayer service during the airplane flight. We were a total of six men in our group, so we began to scan the plane for the remaining four for the requisite 10 men.
As I am the father of twin sons, this parasha, where we learn of the birth of twins Jacob and Esau, has a special place in my soul. Esau sells his birthright, and Rivka helps her favored son, Jacob, “trick” Isaac into a blessing.
“Beware of being lured into their ways ... Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did those nations worship their gods? I too will follow the same practices!’” (Deuteronomy 12:30).
Every Passover, as I sit with my family at our seder, I inevitably think of my paternal grandfather, after whom I was named. I never met him. He died five years before I was born, and I was born on the anniversary of his burial. But from earliest childhood, I felt that my grandfather was present, teaching me the values that helped shape my life.
At the ripe age of 8, I learned the Peter Allen song “Everything Old Is New Again.” It may have been an unusual choice for an 8-year-old to crave hearing over and over. But for me, this song was synonymous with dance class, doing the soft shoe that landed me on stage for the annual spring recital: “Don’t throw the past away, you might need it some rainy day, dreams can come true again, when everything old is new again.”
Do you consider yourself an idolater? I ask the question in a serious manner, for one of the main aversions, according to the Torah, is the path of idolatry, a path we witness in our parasha this week, Ki Tisa, with the Golden Calf. Yet, in today’s modern world, what does it mean to be an idol worshiper? Where are we to find the idols of today that we are commanded to avoid?
As human beings, can we know precisely what God wants from us? It might seem, from the beginning of this week’s parasha, that we can: “Bring Me gifts. You shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is willing. And these are the gifts you shall accept from them” (Exodus 25:2). God then offers a specific list of valuable things: precious metals and stones, rich textiles, animal skins, wood, oils and spices. At the end of the list of contributions, God says, “They will make me a sanctuary, so that I will dwell among them. Exactly how I show you ... so shall you make it” (Exodus 25:8-9). What follows is a template — in unparalleled detail — for building this tabernacle. Why such specificity and detail?
This week I write to you from Jerusalem, inspired by the headline story from this past Tuesday ‘s Ha’aretz. On the first morning of my trip, here is the headline I woke up to: “New Orthodox Rabbinical Group Puts Israeli Women at Its Head – Hopes to Counter Creeping Religious Extremism.” The name of this new organization? Beit Hillel – an appropriate name for an organization that seeks to represent the moderate voice in Judaism.
A funeral director once said, “In all the funerals I’ve attended, I have yet to see a hearse with a U-Haul trailer attached.” But while it’s true that “you can’t take it with you,”meaning material possessions, I’m not so sure about emotional possessions. How many of us have walked behind a casket where lay the body of a relative or friend with whom we were still talking? Or, wrenchingly, with whom we never had the conversation we meant to have?
With a new school year upon us, I found the following story, “What Teachers Make,” revealing.
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.”
Spirituality, kabbalah and meditation are buzzwords in today’s religious lexicon. But do they really describe religion?
In 2008, the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed written by Marisol Leon, a young woman who graduated from Yale in 2007 and returned to teach in the same public middle school she had attended:
Author Hillel Halkin, reviewing the Koren Sacks Siddur in the spring 2010 Jewish Review of Books, recounts a charming story that he heard from his father:
The aphorism “you are what you eat” first appeared in French and then in German in the 1800s, and was then brought into English in the 1920s by nutritionist Victor Lindlahr, the inventor of the “catabolic diet.” Hippie foodies later adopted the phrase in the 1960s.
Parshat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9) Both the story of Bilaam and Targum Jonathan instruct us to see beyond the grand, deep, transformative moments of speech, and realize that each and every time we speak, we are taking advantage of a Divine gift.
The syllabus for my USC general education class includes both Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and chapters 37-50 of Genesis -- the Joseph story or "novella." These two narratives share themes that commend themselves: forgiveness and reconciliation. Both Prospero and Joseph were set upon by their own brothers and narrowly escaped death. Both protagonists contributed to their victim role -- Prospero through neglecting governance and Joseph by insensitive boasting. In the end, though, both forgive those who abused them -- enabling their family circle to be repaired and the next generation blessed. Just as Prospero realizes that "the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance," so too does the instinct for reconciliation surge through Joseph.
Deeply ingrained ideas die hard. This week's parasha,however, helps to ring the death knell for one such idea. Many of us have been trained to believe that the Torah's commandments can be broken down into two basic categories.