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Showing posts from August, 2015

Ki Tetze, Good Deeds and Responsibilities

Many people think that a mitzvah is a good deed. Jewish tradition however understands this term to mean a God given commandment, a sacred responsibility. According to the tradition there are 613 mitzvot gleaned from the Torah. There is the familiar, “Be fruitful and multiply,” and the obscure, “You shall not wear a mixture of wool and linen.” There are ethical mitzvot and ritual. There are positive and negative. There are laws that are dependent on the ancient sacrificial cult and therefore no longer applicable and there are other laws that are only incumbent upon those living in the land of Israel. Genesis gives rise to only three commandments. Exodus provides us with the familiar commandments to observe Passover and Shabbat as well as the demand that we not oppress the stranger. Leviticus gives us the laws of keeping kosher and those surrounding the incomprehensible sacrifice of animals. Numbers commands us to wear a tallis and Deuteronomy to give tzedakah and recite the Sh

Shoftim, Justice and Peace

We live in a world where people often scream about injustice, but rarely take action to correct such failings. The injustices we most often speak about are those that involve people closest to us. We complain about this friend or that. We criticize this family member or another. Rarely do we seek to make amends and make peace. This week’s Torah portion focuses on justice. In addition to legislating how judges should be appointed, it contains the famous verse: “Justice, justice you shall pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20) We hear this call for justice, but too often we misapply its message to friends and family. Instead we need to spend more time pursuing justice for our society. Our country faces many problems. There is a growing inequity between rich and poor. We continue to witness simmering racial tensions explode into view. On our very own Long Island there are far too many homeless and hungry. The I

Elul and Preparing for Change

Saturday begins the Hebrew month of Elul and therefore the start of the High Holiday season. Below you will find my article, recently published by Reform Judaism, reflecting on this moment:  How the Torah Sets the Stage for Real-Life Struggle . Real Torah is about preparation. Take Moses' life as an example. First of all, Moses does not even begin his true calling until, at the age of 80, he leads the people from Egypt. We know incomparably little about his first 80 years. In fact, the majority of the Torah details his, and the people's, life from the Exodus forward. What little we do know about those years is more the stuff of legend than Torah. We do read there that Moses did not even want the job. The 40 years of wandering and struggle are a prelude to Moses' dream of leading the people into the Promised Land - and yet he is denied this dream. Moses, who fails to achieve his lifelong ambition and singular goal, is allowed only to stand on the other side of the Jor

Ekev and Feeding Compassion

The Talmud reports that Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: It is forbidden to eat before feeding one's animal. (Brachot 40a) What is the import of this ruling? It would be cruel to eat in front of our hungry animals and pets. Our concern for God’s creation extends to animals as well as to humans. Compassion is taught by caring for pets. Attending to their cries, and pangs of hunger, molds a caring heart. The rabbis derive this law from the following verse: "I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and then, you shall eat and be satisfied." (Deuteronomy 11:15) Because the Torah speaks first about cattle and then about human beings, the rabbis rule that we must feed our animals before satisfying our own hunger. It is fascinating that the ancient rabbis derive this teaching from the order of the verse’s words. Their reasoning reminds us that we live in a world not only where words matter but also the order of these words. They continue to teach us that co