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Showing posts from May, 2014

Naso, Buildings and Dreaming Big

There is a Jewish tradition that God never finished the creation of the world, leaving it purposefully incomplete. God allowed for human beings to continue the creation process, to use their hands, and their efforts, to complete the work of creation. The Midrash teaches: “A philosopher asks Rabbi Hoshaya, ‘If circumcision is so precious, why was Adam not born circumcised?’ Rabbi Hoshaya responds, ‘Whatever was created in the first six days of creation requires further preparation, e.g. mustard needs sweetening…wheat needs grinding, and so too man needs to be finished.’” (Genesis Rabbah 11:6) We are partners in creation. We read in this week’s portion that the Israelites completed the building of the Tabernacle. “On the day that Moses finished setting up the Tabernacle, he anointed and consecrated it and all its furnishings, as well as the altar and its utensils.” (Numbers 7) As in the creation story, the Hebrew suggests that the work continues, that it remains, like the world at l

Bamidbar, Wandering and the Book

What is the most important book of the Torah? Is it Genesis in which the world was created and Abraham first communes with God? Is it instead Exodus when God liberates the Jewish people from Egypt and reveals the Torah on Mount Sinai? Perhaps one could argue it is Leviticus in which a myriad of ritual laws are revealed, for example the basis for Jewish prayers, as well as the all important ethical commandments, in particular “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then again one could argue it is the concluding book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, in which the most of the commandments are elucidated and we near the realization of entering the Promised Land. One can of course make a compelling argument for each of these books. I would like instead to entertain the idea that it is the fourth book of the Torah, Numbers, which we begin reading on this Shabbat. In this book, called in Hebrew Bamidbar—in the wilderness—we become a people. In this book we become destined to forever wa

Behukkotai and Walking Tall

Why is it that religiosity is defined as sitting in services and reciting the prayers authored millennia ago? The Torah suggests a different ideal. “If you walk after My laws, and keep My commandments and do them, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit….” (Leviticus 26:3-4) The ideal is not then the recitation of prayers but walking. Our forefathers Abraham and Isaac are in fact praised not for their prayers but for walking with God: “The God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked…” (Genesis 48:15) Judaism is a religion of action, of movement. We follow a path. In fact the Hebrew word for Jewish law, halachah, comes from the word to walk. We are to walk; we are to do. Sitting and talking, even praying and singing, are not the ideals, but rather participating, engaging and moving. We are identified by our doing; we are judged by walking the path. Proper intent and feelings are secondary

Behar, Everest and Vistas

It is curious that the laws dealing with the land, namely the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, are introduced by the words. “The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai…” (Leviticus 25)   Why does the Torah emphasize “on Mount Sinai”? Why emphasize that these particular laws were given on Sinai? The commentaries offer different explanations. One suggests that because in the moment that the Torah was given, when the Jewish people stood as one, at Mount Sinai, no one owned any land. The laws that follow deal with a visionary system in which we are required to allow the land to rest on the seventh year and on the fiftieth year for all debts to be forgiven. Such demands necessitate ownership. The Torah therefore emphasizes that at one point we were without land and owned nothing. Another commentator suggests: “Just as Sinai was the smallest of the mountains but the words spoken there changed the world, so the people Israel, among the smallest of the nations, presents a vision of social

Yom Haatzmaut, Arguments and Celebrations

Recently Secretary of State John Kerry created an uproar when he spoke about the dangers of Israel’s continued rule over the West Bank and the potential of it becoming an apartheid state. While I bristled at his words, I recall the words of then Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who said in 2010. “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.” Or perhaps the Torah is more compelling: “There shall be one law for the citizen and for the stranger who dwells among you.” (Exodus 12:49) The word apartheid is of course charged and the Secretary of State should be far more diplomatic in his choice of laden words, yet the dangers facing Israel are real and the worries are great. Israel was founded as both a democratic and Jewish state. In order to continue to affirm both of these principles it must, for i