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Showing posts from June, 2013


I am pleased to share that this week’s "Torah Thoughts" was published and distributed nationally by the Jewish Federations of North America.  It can be found at this link  and read below. The Talmud counsels: “Rabbi Hisda taught: 'If the zealot comes to seek counsel, we are never to instruct him to act.'" (Sanhedrin 81b) And yet the Torah reports that Pinhas was rewarded for his actions.  Here is his story. The people are gathered on the banks of the Jordan River, poised to enter the land of Israel.  They have become intoxicated with the religion of the Midianites, sacrificing to their god, Baal-Peor and participating in its festivals.  Moses tries to get the Israelites to stop, issuing laws forbidding such foreign practices, but they refuse to listen.  God becomes enraged.  "Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman over to his companions...  When Pinhas saw this he left the assembly and taking a spear in his hand he fo


Balak, the king of the Moabites, grew frightened by the growing numbers of Israelites, saying,  “Now this horde will lick clean all that is about us as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” (Numbers 22:4)  He sent for the prophet Balaam and commanded him to curse the Israelites.  Balaam saddled his donkey for the journey.  Lo and behold the donkey saw an angel of the Lord and spoke to Balaam preventing him from cursing the Israelites.  The animal helped to open the prophet’s eyes so that he might bless the people.  The story’s irony cannot be missed.  The prophet is blind.  The animal sees. A talking donkey?   The tradition of course views this as a miracle that we should not question.   The 20 th century Jewish philosopher, Franz Rosenzweig, suggests that he believes the story only when it is read in synagogue or perhaps it is better to say, at that moment he suspends disbelief and doubt.   He said, “On the Shabbos when they read it from the Torah, I believe it.” Rabbi Law


The Israelites are nearing the end of their wandering and will soon cross into the Promised Land. They will require new leadership. We see the beginnings of this transition in this week’s portion. We read of the deaths of Miriam and Aaron. We also learn that Moses will only be allowed to take the people to the edge of the land. He is punished for an incident that occurs in this Torah portion. The people were without water and again they complained against Moses and Aaron. God instructs these leaders to command a rock to provide water. Instead Moses hits the rock with his staff. He and his brother Aaron scream at the people, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you from this rock?” (Numbers 20:10) Water flows from the rock, but still God is disappointed and responds, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” (20:12) For millennia ra


This week’s Torah portion is about Korach and the rebellion he leads.  Korach and his followers rebel against Moses and his leadership, claiming: “You have gone too far!  For the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst.  Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3)  Korach is severely punished for questioning Moses. There is a debate regarding Korach’s sin.  What was his terrible wrong?  Most agree that he should not have questioned Moses during such a difficult period.  The people were wandering through the wilderness.  They required decisive leadership.  The community needed to be unified.  Korach sought to sow divisiveness when unity was demanded.  But there appears more to Korach’s words.  Yeshayahu Leibowitz, an Israeli scientist and Jewish philosopher, offers an intriguing interpretation.  Korach’s sin is revealed in his claim that “all the community are holy.”  Korach implies that the people have already achieve