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Showing posts from February, 2015

Tetzaveh, Candles and Emotions

Candles are important religious symbols. We kindle Shabbat lights on Friday evening and the multiple wick havdalah candle on Saturday evening. We light candles to mark the beginning of our holidays: on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Pesah and Shavuot. We light the menorah on each of the nights of Hanukkah. At each of these occasions we sanctify these holy days by reciting a blessing: “Blessed are You Adonai our God Ruler of the universe, who sanctifies us with mitzvot and commands us to kindle the lights of…” We elevate the day, we set it apart and call it holy by the lighting of candles and the reciting of these words. It is possible that our tradition mandated this candle lighting long ago at the approach of evening in order to illuminate the dark night. How else could we continue to enjoy the company of friends on Shabbat evening prior to the development of artificial illumination? And thus it is the blessing that sanctifies the day rather than the candle lighting. And

Crossing the Line

This is a sobering video about the increasing anti-Israel, and antisemitic, incidents at college campuses throughout the country.  Many of my students now confront this at their universities. Opposing Israel's specific policies or particular actions is not wrong.  Calling the Zionist project, the effort to build up Jewish sovereignty in the ancient land of Israel, racist or immoral is antisemitic.  All peoples, Jews and Palestinians in particular, have the right to self-determination.

Terumah and the Fiery Heart

The Hasidic rabbi, Menahem Mendl of Kotzk was by all accounts a firebrand. He served a community in Poland until 1839 when he retreated from public life and lived in seclusion for the last 20 years of his life. He never published. All that survives of his work is a small collection of sayings. In fact towards the end of his life he burned all of his writings. Everything that he ever wrote was destroyed save what his disciples remembered. He was singularly consumed with devotion to God. He railed against false piety. This week we read of the details for the construction of the tabernacle, the portable mishkan, around which the ancient Israelites focused their devotion. The Torah declares: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. Exactly as I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings—so shall you make it.” (Exodus 25:8-9) Can any building truly house God? Can any building other than the original mishkan be perfect? And

Mishpatim, Prayer Breakfasts and Moral Clarity

Mahatma Ghandi famously said: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Ghandi’s life was of course the living embodiment of the pacifist tradition. He preached against taking up arms and called others to turn away from seeking the revenge that the Torah’s words imply. Ghandi, and the vast majority of commentators, however misunderstand the Bible’s intent. This week’s portion states: “But if other damage ensues, the penalty shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Exodus 21:23) Scholars suggest that an eye for an eye is a poetic way of expressing the idea, also enshrined in American law, that the punishment must fit the crime.... This post continues on The Times of Israel.

Yitro and Calming Smiles

The Torah recounts the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai: All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance. (Exodus 20:15) The Talmud reimagines: When Moses ascended to heaven to receive the Torah he found the Holy One sitting and fashioning crowns upon certain letters. Moses said to God: "Master of the world, who requires you to do this?" God replied: "There is a person who will come to be after many generations, called Akiva ben Yosef; he will one day expound heaps upon heaps of laws from each and every crown." Moses said before God: "Master of the world, show him to me." God replied: "Turn around." He turned around and found himself behind the eighth row in the Talmudic academy—behind the regular students arranged in order of excellence in the first seven rows. Moses did not understand the discussion and was dazed. W