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October 25, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman

Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 1:1-6:8 - Hertz, p. 2; Etz Hayim, p. 3

Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 5:1-6:8 - Hertz, p. 16; Etz Hayim, p. 30
Haftarah: (Mahar Hodesh) Samuel 20:17-42 - Hertz, p. 948; Etz Hayim, p. 1215

Discussion Theme: Temptation

“The Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan
devised by his mind was nothing but evil the entire day (all the time). And the
Lord regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened.
The Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created — men
together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I
made them.’ But Noah found favor with the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8)


A. Rav Yitzchak said: A person’s evil inclination renews itself against him
every day, as it says in Genesis 6:5, “only evil the entire day.” And Rabbi
Shimon ben Levi said: A person’s evil inclination threatens to overpower
him every day and seeks to kill him, as it is stated in Psalms 37:32, “The
wicked one watches for the righteous and seeks to slay him.” And if it
were not for God’s help, the person would be unable to withstand the evil
inclination, as it says in Psalms 37:33, “God will not leave him in his
hand.” (Talmud Kiddushin 30b)
B. The superfluous phrase “the entire day” teaches that at all hours of the
day the evil inclination renews its battle against a person. (Rashi on
Kiddushin 30b)
C. In Psalms 37:32 the “wicked one” refers to the evil inclination that
attempts to entice people to sin causing them to die. (Maharsha on
Kiddushin 30b)
D. The daily power of the evil inclination indicates that even if it failed to
convince a person to commit a particular sin the first time, it will make a
stronger attempt each succeeding time. (Vilna Gaon on Kiddushin 30b)
E. The Rabbis taught in a beraita “you shall place (‘v’sam-tem’) these words
on your heart” read as ‘sam-tam,’ a perfect elixir. Torah is compared to a
life-giving elixir. An analogy can be drawn to a man that dealt his son a
great blow and then places a bandage upon his wound saying to him:
‘My son, so long as this bandage remains on your wound, you may eat
whatever you desire, drink whatever you desire, and bathe in hot or cold
water, and you need not fear that any harm will come to you by these
actions. But if you remove this bandage, your wound will surely fester. So
too has the Holy Blessed One said to Israel, ‘my children, I have created
the evil inclination and I have created Torah as its antidote. If you involve
yourselves in Torah, you will not be delivered into its hand, as it says in
Genesis 4:7, “certainly if you correct yourself, you will prevail.” But if you
do not involve yourselves in Torah, you will be delivered into its hand, as
it says in Genesis 4:7, “it rests at the door.” And what is more, all the
pursuits of the evil inclination concern you, as it says there, “and you are
its desire.” But if you wish, you can master the evil inclination, as it says
there, “but you can conquer it.” (Talmud Kiddushin 30b)
F. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, “there is no free man except one who
occupies himself with the study of the Torah” (Ethics of the Fathers,
chapter 6)…. The man or woman who occupies themselves with Torah is
free because they are liberated from a suffocating selfishness. They do
not spend their days catering endlessly to the rapacious needs of their
insatiable ego…. This is what makes religion liberating. When one is
bound by the tenets of Jewish law that command sensitivity and love for
the orphan and the poor; when one is forced to feed the hungry and
clothe the naked; when one is enjoined into observing the Sabbath, thus
putting family and friends before going to the beach; when one is
commanded to start the day by praying to you wish, you can master the
evil inclination, as it says there, “but you can conquer it.” (Talmud
Kiddushin 30b)
G. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, “there is no free man except one who
occupies himself with the study of the Torah” (Ethics of the Fathers,
chapter 6)…. The man or woman who occupies themselves with Torah is
free because they areliberated from a suffocating selfishness. They do
not spend their days catering endlessly to the rapacious needs of their
insatiable ego…. This is what makes religion liberating. When one is
bound by the tenets of Jewish law that command sensitivity and love for
the orphan and the poor; when one is forced to feed the hungry and
clothe the naked; when one is enjoined into observing the Sabbath, thus
putting family and friends before going to the beach; when one is
commanded to start the day by praying to God in order to thank Him for
all that we possess and to beg from Him our daily bread; when one is
commanded to offer a blessing before and after every meal, thereby
showing gratitude and appreciation for all we possess, then we live in
accord with the desire of our irreducible essence, namely, to be good
and righteous individuals who enjoy unblemished relationships with God
and our fellow humans. (Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Judaism for Everyone)
H. Free will is bestowed on every human being. If one desires to turn toward
the good way and the righteous, he has the power to do so. If one wishes
to turn toward the evil way or be wicked, he is at liberty to do so…. Let
not the notion expressed by foolish Gentiles and most senseless folks
among Israelites passthrough your mind that at the beginning of a
person’s existence, the Almighty decrees that he is to be either righteous
or wicked; this is not so: Every human being may become righteous like
Moses, our teacher, or wicked like Jeroboam; wise or foolish, merciful or
cruel; niggardly or generous; and so with all other qualities. There is no
one that coerces him or decrees what he is to do or draws him to either
of the two ways; but every person turns to the ways which he desires,
spontaneously and of his own volition. (Maimonides, The Laws of
I. I can resist everything but temptation. (Oscar Wilde in Lady
Windermere’s Fan)


Genesis 6:5 presents a sober view of the human condition. The early chapters
of Genesis repeatedly reveal God’s disappointment in the evil nature of human
beings. Not only is “every plan devised by his mind nothing but evil the entire
day (all the time),” but “the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth”
(Gen. 8:21). Some religions might argue that we are by nature evil and there is
nothing one can do about it. According to this view, commandments remind us
of our shortcomings because we can never fulfill God’s will perfectly. Other
religions assert that evil is just a matter of constructs of right and wrong that we
create in our minds. Evil is an illusion. In what way does Judaism reject both of
these views?
November 1, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman

Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 6:9-11:32 - Hertz, p. 26; Etz Hayim, p. 41

Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 11:1-11:32 - Hertz, p. 38; Etz Hayim, p. 58
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-55:5 - Hertz, p. 41; Etz Hayim, p. 64

Discussion Theme: Community

“This is the line of Shem. Shem was 100 years old when he begot Arpachshad,
two years after the Flood. After the birth of Arpachshad, Shem lived 500 years
and begot sons and daughters. When Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he begot
Shelah. After the birth of Shelah, Arpachshad lived 403 years and begot sons
and daughters. When Shelah had lived 30 years…” (Genesis 11:10-14)


A. The Lord God said: “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a
fitting helper.” (Genesis 2:18)
B. This is the record of Adam’s line -- When Adam had lived 130 years, he
begot a son in his likeness after his image, and he named him Seth. After
the birth of Seth, Adam lived 800 years and begot sons and daughters.
All the days that Adam lived came to 930 years; then he died. When Seth
had lived 105 years, he begot Enosh. After the birth of Enosh, Seth lived
807 years and begot sons and daughters. All the days of Seth came to
912 years; then he died…. When Lamech had lived 182 years, he begot
a son. And he named him Noah…. (Genesis 5:1, 3-8, 28-29)
C. We have made the twentieth century the century of the individual. For
most of human history, a person was part of a family, part of a clan or
tribe or neighborhood. People defined themselves on the basis of their
relationships to other people, not on the basis of their individual
achievements. Think of all those pages the Bible devotes to genealogies,
lists of who descended from whom…. To be an American is to be raised
on the myth that a real American is ready to leave security behind and
set out on his own in search of fame and fortune. It has led to some very
impressive results, but it has also led to a lot of rootless, lonely, detached
people…. What does religion offer that we lonely human souls need? In
a word, it offers community. Our place of worship offers us a refuge, an
island of caring in the midst of a hostile, competitive world…. The word
“religion” comes from the same Latin root as the word “ligament.” It
means “to bind.” As Durkheim discovered, what it does best is bind us to
the people around us. Religion is not only a set of statements about God.
Religion is also the community, the family through which we learn what it
means to be human, and by which we are reinforced in our efforts to do
what we believe is right.” (Rabbi Harold Kushner, Who Needs God?)
D. It is written in Psalms 69:14, “but as for me, let my prayer be unto Thee,
O Lord, in an acceptable time.” When is an acceptable time? It is when
the congregation prays. (Talmud Berachot 7b-8a)
E. God’s presence is in the synagogue, as it is written in Psalms 82:1 “God
stands in the congregation of God.” (Talmud Berachot 6a)
F. Abaye said: One should always include himself with the community. He
should therefore say, “May it be Your will, O God our Lord, that You bring
us in peace….” (Talmud Berachot 29b-30a)
G. Between the year Lamech is born and Adam dies, all nine generations of
human beings are alive at the same time. Remarkably, Noah is the first
person born into the world after the death of Adam. Noah is the first to
live in a world that knows natural death. He is the first with no direct link
to Eden …. Genealogies are reminders of mortality, of the chain of
generations, of the importance of each individual life even in the grand
sweep of time. They connect one age to another, and give subtle clues
as to the fate of each. Ancestry exerts a powerful pull on later
generations; each name is a bulwark against the abyss. (Rabbi David
Wolpe based on Dr. Leon Kass’s The Beginning of Wisdom)
H. When we look at a soul, we always see a community rising behind it.
What it is, it is by virtue of others… it must live in community because it is
its nature to communicate itself to others, to share blessing with them.
(Johannes Pedersen in Israel, Its Life and Culture)
I. Though we will see that most Jewish rituals also have complex
symbolism, their most powerful quality may be the most obvious: They
create and invigorate connections and relationships. Jewish ritual is
about interrupting the pace of modern life to provide a chance to think
about and to celebrate that which is more enduring, more compelling,
and more important. Shabbat, births, weddings, funerals, holidays:
Beyond their individual significance, each helps to re-establish Jews’
connections to the people who give their lives context, joy, and meaning.
(Rabbi Daniel Gordis in God was not in the fire)


Usually we pay little attention to the genealogies in the Bible. Rabbi Kushner
makes a profound point that these genealogical lists indicate to the reader of
the Bible from the very start an emphasis on the importance of community. If
this can be seen as a mission statement, that Judaism is meant to create a
sense of family and community, where do we see signs of this in actual
practice? How do prayer, language, ritual, and mitzvot achieve that mission?
And how do we preserve the dignity of the individual in the midst of a religion
that places so much emphasis on the community?
November 8, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman

Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 12:1-17:27 - Hertz, p. 45; Etz Hayim, p. 69

Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 16:1-17:27 - Hertz, p. 56; Etz Hayim, p. 86
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27-41:16 - Hertz, p. 60; Etz Hayim, p. 94

Discussion Theme: The Purposes of Mitzvot

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said
to him, “I am Shaddai. Walk in My ways and be blameless. I will establish my
covenant between Me and you, and I will make you exceedingly numerous.”
(Genesis 17:1-2)


A. A pagan asked Rabbi Judah: “If circumcision is so beloved of God, why

was the mark of circumcision not given to Adam at his creation?” The
rabbi replied: “Almost everything that was created during the six days of
creation needs finishing — even man needs finishing.” (Pesachim
Rabbah 23:4)
B. Once the wicked Roman ruler Tinius Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva, “Whose
deeds are more perfect, God’s or man’s?” Rabbi Akiva responded:
“Man’s.” Tinius Rufus responded: “Can human beings make the heavens
and earth?” Rabbi Akiva responded: “Don’t pick an example that is
beyond a human being’s ability to create; take an example that relates
more directly to human beings.&rdquo Rufus asked: “So, why do you
circumcise boys?” … Rabbi Akiva brought Tinius Rufus stalks of wheat
and some flour and noted that the former are products of God’s doing
whereas the latter is a product of man’s. Rabbi Akiva asked: Is not the
flour more perfect than the stalks of wheat?” Tinius Rufus responded: “If
God wants Jewish men to be circumcised, why didn’t God make it so that
the infant emerged from his mother's body already circumcised?” Rabbi
Akiva responded: The reason is that God gave the Jewish people mitzvot
so that they can be perfected by them.” (Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat
C. What does God care whether a man kills an animal in the proper way
and eats it or whether he strangles the animal and eats it? Will the one
benefit God or the other injure God? Or what does God care whether a
man eats impure or pure animals? “If you are wise, you are wise for
yourself, but if you scorn, you alone shall bear it.” (Proverbs 9:12) So you
learn that the commandments were given only to refine God’s creatures,
as it says, “God’s word is refined, it is a protection to those who trust in
Him (II Samuel 22:31). (Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Shemini)
D. Rav said: The commandments were given to Israel only in order that
people should be purified through them. For what can it matter to God
whether a beast is slain at the throat or at the neck? (Genesis Rabbah,
Parashat Lech L’cha)
E. “Yet for all that, in spite of their sins, when they have been in the lands of
their enemies, I have not rejected them utterly” (Leviticus 26:44). All the
good gifts that were given them were taken from them. And if it had not
been for the Book of the Law (Sefer Torah) which was left to them, they
would not have differed at all from the nations of the world. (Midrash Sifra
F. If it were not for My law which you accepted, I should not recognize you,
and I should not regard you more than any of the idolatrous nations of
the world. (Exodus Rabbah, Ki-tisa, 47:3)
G. Rabbi Haninah said: Greater is the one who is commanded to perform a
deed and does so than one who is not commanded to perform that deed
but does it. (Talmud Kiddushin 31a)
H. It appears that this is the reason that someone who is commanded and
acts is preferable: For he is worried and preoccupied that he will
transgress more than someone who is not commanded, who is as if he
has all his yearnings and needs satisfied, and can ignore them whenever
he wishes. Tosefot Kiddushin 31a “Greater is the one”)
I. Judaism’s commandedness and the discipline it implies create a
constancy of awareness. Without commandments, we are like those who
have no needs. But with commandments, we become like those who are
hungry, constantly seeking sources of food, ways to satisfy our appetites.
People who are hungry are always aware of their need for food. Similarly,
Jews who feel commanded by mitzvot have a heightened spiritual
awareness. Ultimately, the discipline of mitzvah creates an appetite for
spiritual sensitivity that Judaism cannot otherwise provide… If Judaism’s
quest for spirituality is a process of working slowly toward a relationship
with God, then the daily content of Jewish life has to reflect that. With
other human beings, building and maintaining relationships requires the
commitment of regular behaviors. Though we rarely use such
terminology, maintaining human relationships involves commandedness.
Judaism suggests that relationship with God requires no less. (Rabbi
Daniel Gordis, God was not in the fire)
J. Mitzvot as a way of life, as a fixed and permanent form of human
existence, preserve religion as a goal in itself and prevent it from turning
into a means for attaining a goal. Indeed, most of the mitzvot have no
sense unless we regard them in this manner, as an expression of
selfless divine service. Most of the mitzvot have no instrumental or
utilitarian value and cannot be construed as helping a person fulfill his
earthly or spiritual needs. A person would not undertake this way of life
unless he sees divine service as a goal in itself, not as a means to
achieve any other purpose. Therefore, the halakhah directs its attention
to one’s duties and not to one’s feelings. If mitzvot are service to God
and not service to man, they do not have to be intended or directed to
man’s needs. (Yeshayahu Leibowitz, “Commandments,” in Cohen and
Mendes-Flohr’s Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought)

Genesis 17:1 asserts that one function of mitzvot is to perfect the human being,
“be blameless.” The midrashim cited as well as additional sources support that
notion that mitzvot help refine us as human beings. One could suggest a whole
range of rationales for following the mitzvot: They are inherently wise; they
define moral values and motivate us to be moral; they regulate a relationship
with God; they provide a means to attain holiness; they establish a separate
Jewish, national identity.

But Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a contemporary Jewish theologian who died this past
decade, argues that: “Every reason given for the mitzvot that bases itself on
human needs — be they intellectual, ethical, social or national — voids the
mitzvot of all religious meaning. For if the mitzvot are the expression of
philosophic knowledge, or if they have any ethical content, or if they are meant
to benefit society, or if they are meant to maintain the Jewish people, then he
who performs them serves not God but himself, his society, or his people. He
does not serve God but uses the Torah of God for human benefit and as a
means to satisfy human ends.”

Do you accept Leibowitz’s argument that being motivated by anything but pure
service to God is idolatry? Thinking personally, what underlies your motivation
to perform mitzvot?
November 15, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman

Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 18:1-22:24 - Hertz, p. 63; Etz Hayim, p. 99

Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 21:1-22:24 - Hertz, p. 71; Etz Hayim, p. 112
Haftarah: II Kings 4:1-37 - Hertz, p. 76; Etz Hayim, p. 123

Discussion Theme: Why such a test?

Some time afterward, God put Abraham to the test. He said to him, “Abraham,”
and he answered, “Here I am.” And He said, “Take your son, your favored one,
Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a
burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.” So early next
morning, Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and
his son Isaac. He split the wood for the burnt offering, and he set out for the
place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw
the place from afar… They arrived at the place of which God had told him.
Abraham built an altar there; he laid out the wood; he bound his son Isaac; he
laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to
slay his son. Then an angel of the Lord called to him from heaven: "Abraham!
Abraham!… Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For
now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your son, your
favored one from Me.” (Genesis 22:1-4, 9-12)


A. Since this trial was narrated in the Torah as testimony of the living God, it
is as if the trial took place in the presence of every Jew, past, present,
and future. No one has failed to witness, through this medium, the
greatness of this trial and the steadfastness of Abraham’s faith, which
became indelibly fixed in the hearts of all members of the human race.
(Isaac Arama in Akedat Yitzchak)
B. Should you ask, since the Almighty knew whether Abraham would
withstand his trial or not, what was the reason for imposing on him these
sufferings? The answer is that the reward for potential good is not the
same as that for actual good deeds. “Let not him that girdeth on his
armor boast himself as he that putteth it off” (I Kings 20:11). He who has
not performed deeds of valor, who is prepared for battle cannot be
compared to the one who has actually fought and performed these deeds
and already “putteth off” his armor. For this reason God often inflicts
suffering on the righteous in order to habituate them so that their outward
actions conform to their inner character. The deed will intensify love of
God since every action leaves its own indelible mark on the performer.
This practice in good actions is called “nisayon.” (Rabbi Josef Albo in
Sefer Ikarim)
C. “After these things”: After the troubled thoughts that ensued. Who was
troubled? Abraham was troubled; he thought, “I have rejoiced and I have
spread joy everywhere -- and yet I have never set aside a bullock or a
ram for God.” God replied, “In the end you will be told to sacrifice your
son and you will not refuse.” Another view: The ministering angels said,
“This Abraham has rejoiced and spread joy everywhere — and yet he
has never set aside a bullock or ram for God.” God replied, “In the end
he will be told to sacrifice his son and he will not refuse.” (Midrash
Bereishit Rabbah)
D. This soul-shattering event in the life of the patriarch comes at the climax
of his career. It is frequently explained as registering a new era in the
history of religion, marking the transition from one stage of religious
development to another; namely, the rejection of human sacrifice and the
substitution of an animal in its place… Rather, the first lesson of the
Akeidah episode is to be sought in the definition of the relationship
between man and God. Biblical faith is not a posture of passivity… Man’s
“emunah,” his steadfast loyalty to God, has meaning only when it reveals
itself as the well-spring of action, as being powerful enough to stand the
test of suffering and trial. The second lesson of the Akedah is to be found
in the divine verdict, “For now I know that you fear God” (22:12). That is
to say, the value of an act may lie as much in the inward intention of the
doer as in the final execution. God valued the readiness of Abraham to
make the extreme sacrifice even though it was not completed. (Nahum
Sarna in Understanding Genesis)
E. We are all like Abraham; so involved in our outside world — our careers,
interests, or principles — that we do not or cannot see that it is our child,
or spouse or parent that is bound on the altar. We are so adept at
sacrificing that which is truly important to us on the altars we have
erected that we may ask whether we are capable of hearing the cry of
the angel before it’s too late. (Rabbi Norman Cohen, Self, Struggle, and


Commentators have struggled, just as we have, to make sense of God’s test.

What was the purpose of the test? Why does Abraham, who protested when the
people of Sodom and Gemorrah were to be destroyed, remain silent? Did he
pass the test?
November 22, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman

Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 23:1-25:18 - Hertz, p. 80; Etz Hayim, p. 127

Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 24:53-25:18 - Hertz, p. 86; Etz Hayim, p. 137
Haftarah: I Kings 1:1-31 - Hertz, p. 90; Etz Hayim, p. 142

Discussion Theme: The enduring symbol of the veil

They called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man? And she said,
“I will.” So they sent off their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with
Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “O
sister! May you grow into thousands of myriads; may your offspring seize the
gates of their foes… Isaac had just come back from the vicinity of Beer-lahai-
roi… and Isaac went out walking in the field toward evening and, looking up, he
saw camels approaching. Raising her eyes, Rebekah saw Isaac. She alighted
from the camel and said to the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field
toward us?” And the servant said, “That is my master.” So she took her veil and
covered herself.” (Genesis 24:58-60, 62-65)


A. She receives the same kind of blessing that God bestowed on Abraham
after the Akedah. Israelite women normally were not veiled. In the
ancient Near East, the veiling of the bride was part of the marriage
ceremony, but wives generally went about unveiled. By veiling herself
now, as a sign of modesty, Rebekah signals Isaac that she is his bride.
(Nachum Sarna, JPS Commentary to Genesis 24:60 and 65)
B. In many circles the custom is that the rabbi or the parents veil the bride.
(Turey Zahav 65:2, Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 147:3)
C. After the veiling, it is customary to bless the bride with the blessing that
was first given to Rebekah. This blessing, given to the first Jewish bride,
is repeated for all her descendants. (Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 147:3)
D. Some say that veiling the bride at the wedding is a sign of modesty. The
bride is the center of attention at the ceremony; she covers her face so
that no one other than her husband will gaze at her beauty. On this day,
her beauty is for her husband alone. Some say that another reason the
groom covers the bride’s face is to indicate that he is not primarily
interested in her physical beauty. Beauty is something that will fade with
time, but if the groom is also attracted to the girl’s spiritual qualities, he is
attached to something that she will never lose… Moreover, Isaac’s
marriage to Rebekah marked the beginning of the Jewish people. The
bride emulates Rebekah in the hope that she will be equally worthy in her
marriage. (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Made in Heaven)
E. The veiling ceremony is held only for a bride’s first marriage. When the
two islands of activity for bride and groom are bridged by the procession
from the groom’s table to the bride’s throne, the merging signals the
beginning of the wedding celebration…. The groom places the veil over
the bride’s face and recites the blessing given to Rebekah by her mother
and brother before she left for her marriage to Isaac… The veil is a
symbol of the married woman. It expresses dignity, which Isaiah 3:18
calls “tiferet,” and which was reserved for women of station. Ezekiel
16:20 speaks of “covering with silk” the woman he loves. Interestingly,
Rebekah does not wear a veil while on the journey in the company of the
servant, Eliezer, but instinctively dons it when sighting Isaac. This may
account for the insistence of major authorities that the groom himself veil
the bride, and that it should never be done without him — it is only his
presence that makes her veil significant… The veil also conveys
psychological significance. Netziv notes that the instinctive action of
veiling at the sight of Isaac symbolized Rebekah’s married life with him.
There was none of the open husband-wife communication so
characteristic of Abraham with Sarah or Jacob with Rachel. Her veil
symbolized that she was a private person, vigorously self-confident and
not easily compromised. It was God’s way of assuring that the patriarchal
blessing would go to Jacob, despite Isaac’s intent to confer it upon Esau.
If she were less individualistic and self-assured, she might have been
swayed by her husband. Although anthropologists conjecture that veiling
indicates being possessed by someone else, here it implies self-
possession. Her veil was the symbol of her capacity to be both a wife,
sharing life goals and hopes with her husband, and a private person.
(Maurice Lamm, The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage)
F. When the borders of the world fall, when the walls of morality fall,
everything falls. To have no borders at all is to live with insecurity… The
loss of borders even threatens to destroy families. Family life used to be
a very strong border. A person’s family was like a little world unto itself.
There was a border that set the family territory apart from the non-family,
what was private from what was public. Family was family; home was
home… We’re left with no borders for ourselves as individuals, no
definitions, no sense of selfhood. If we allow people to take advantage of
us, if we allow people to hurt us, if we allow people to walk all over us, it’s
because we have no borders… When we have borders, we express our
feelings only when it’s appropriate and do not express them when it isn’t.
We do not impose ourselves on others… If we know what we may do
and what we may not do, then we have borders. Then we have a clear
idea of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate; what is allowed
and what is not allowed; whatis right and what is wrong. Morality is the
border that makes us who we are. It is theframework that gives us a
sense of self, a sense of separateness, and a sense of stability. (Manis
Friedman, Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore?)
G. When the borders of the world fall, when the walls of morality fall,
everything falls. To have no borders at all is to live with insecurity…. The
loss of borders even threatens to destroy families. Family life used to be
a very strong border. A person’s family was like a little world unto itself.
There was a border that set the family territory apart from the non-family,
what was private from what was public. Family was family; home was
home… We’re left with no borders for ourselves as individuals, no
definitions, no sense of selfhood. If we allow people to take advantage of
us, if we allow people to hurt us, if we allow people to walk all over us, it’s
because we have no borders… When we have borders, we express our
feelings only when it’s appropriate and do not express them when it isn’t.
We do not impose ourselves on others… If we know what we may do
and what we may not do, then we have borders. Then we have a clear
idea of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate; what is allowed
and what is not allowed; what is right and what is wrong. Morality is the
border that makes us who we are. It is the framework that gives us a
sense of self, a sense of separateness, and a sense of stability. (Manis
Friedman, Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore?)
H. We all have the power to redeem and save at least one life by choosing
him or her and making that person feel wanted and special throughout
life. This is the beauty of marriage and why it is so central to human life…
Irrespective of whatever sacrifices marriage entails — and it involves
many — marriage and the family are man and woman’s greatest source
of happiness. No one who marries will ever find someone perfect. In this
respect, marriage is a statement of deep-seated love for humanity,
whereby we love companionship more than we love perfection. (Shmuley
Boteach, Kosher Sex)


What values underlie the “bedeken” (veiling) ceremony that are relevant for
today’s marriages? Using a “midrashic” (interpretive) eye, what is the enduring
symbolism of the veil that Rebekah placed over her face? What can we learn
about the symbolism of the veil that can be applied to all relationships?
November 29, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman

Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 25:19-28:9 - Hertz, p. 93; Etz Hayim, p. 146

Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 27:28-28:9 - Hertz, p. 99; Etz Hayim, p. 157
Haftarah: Malakhi 1:1-2:7 - Hertz, p. 102; Etz Hayim, p. 162

Discussion Theme: Intermarriage

Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am disgusted with my life because of the Hittite

women. If Jacob marries a Hittite woman like these, from among the native
women, what good will life be to me?” (Genesis 27:46)


A. Her argument is decisive, because, as 26:34-35 have already informed

us, Esau’s union with the local women has become intolerable to his
parents. (Nahum Sarna, JPS Commentary to Genesis 27:46)
B. And Abraham said to the senior servant of his household, who had
charge of all that he owned, “Put your hand under my thigh and I will
make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the
earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the
Canaanites among whom I dwell, but will go to the land of my birth and
get a wife for my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:2-4)
C. This is the first indication of the Jewish norm of endogamy, of marrying
within the clan. Jewish law requires that Jews marry Jews (see Genesis
26:35, 28:1; Deut. 7:3) (Rabbis Elliot Dorff and Susan Grossman in Etz
Hayim, Genesis 24:3)
D. After all this (history of anti-Semitism), it is now, paradoxically, in the
modern world, where Jews are accepted as equals, that the Jews seem
in danger of annihilation. Although the Jews survived persecution and
hatred, the question today is whether they can survive acceptance and
success. Everywhere we turn, rampant assimilation and intermarriage
seem to engulf the Jewish people. Apathy and boredom among the
young have made synagogues empty and the Friday nightclubs full.
Secular culture seems to entice young Jews to abandon, or never
explore, their 3,500-year-old heritage. (Shmuley Boteach in Judaism for
E. American Jewry should take to heart the truth expressed in Exodus
13:17 “And it came to pass… that God led them not through the way of
the land of the Philistines although it was near.” The newly freed
Israelites needed to be shielded not so much from danger but from
temptation. Today American Jews find themselves remarkably free from
danger but in the midst of temptation, temptations of the most philistine
and the most sophisticated sorts. The future of American Jewry depends,
first, on a rejection of the false idols of our times; second, on a
willingness to “bend the knee and bow in worship” only to the Holy
Blessed One; and finally, on the ability to demonstrate and articulate
reasonably the nobility and profundity of the religion into which we have
had the good fortune to be born. (William Kristol “Reappropriate our
tradition,” in Moment Magazine, 1997)
F. Being a Jew is a verb. Jewish living means, how do you live? We must
develop a vibrant core of committed people who care about Judaism,
who learn, who are enthusiastic, and who let that radiate. We always try
to get the kid who doesn’t want to go to Jerusalem to go. We forget about
what to do with the kid who does go. We try to attract new people to join
a synagogue, but we don’t ask sufficiently what to do with the person
who is already there. Let’s enjoy our Judaism now and stop worrying so
much about what the future will be. Let’s not always talk about all those
Jews who are alienated; instead, let’s talk about the joys of Jews who
celebrate their Jewishness, who love to visit Israel, who commit
themselves to the UJA campaign, who want to line up with the Jewish
people. Let’s nurture them, and let those nurturers give light and fire to
the rest of the Jewish world. (Rabbi David Hartman in Moment Magazine
G. We either teach Torah or something else at every moment, “when we lie
down and when we rise up.” If we do not teach Torah enough of the time,
the opposite of Torah will prevail in the world. Arnold Eisen, Taking Hold
of Torah Being Jewish doesn’t get you influential friends but it sure gets
you a diverse bunch of enemies. But to join the Jewish people just to
avoid parentally inflicted guilt — why bother? That kind of Judaism
provides no incentive whatever for adult outsiders to join. What Jewish
people in cults seek are purpose, meaning, community, and
transcendence. Why have so many Jews felt the need for these things
and sought them elsewhere? Cultural Judaism transmits the need for
these values but can rarely fulfill those needs. For people, especially
young people, who are looking for guidance in personal, community, and
national ethics, who are looking for help in deciding what to do for a living,
how to treat family members and employees, how to alleviate poverty
and suffering around them, how to understand and respond to
disappointment and bereavement, and in general what to use for a moral
compass, neither cultural Judaism nor conventional Orthodoxy has much
to offer. Neither, for that matter, does cultural Christianity. If the Jewish
community takes on these areas of human existence and comes up with
some serious answers and meaningful demands, it will increase. (Marian
Neudel, “Are Bagels and Lox Worth Dying For?” Jewish Spectator, Fall


What insights do the above thinkers provide concerning the increasing rate of
intermarriage? Most Jewish people that marry out of Judaism do not do so
because they heard a bad sermon or had a bad experience in religious school.
They leave because Judaism is irrelevant. How do we build a Judaism that
speaks to us on a daily basis, not just a few times a year? How do we build a
Jewish life that contains moments of passion? How do we fashion aJewish life
that makes demands on us so that our children see that Judaism has
relevance? How do we build a Jewish identity that is so strong that our children
will deem it unthinkable to share their lives in marriage with someone who is not
December 6, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman

Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 28:10-32:3 - Hertz, p. 106; Etz Hayim, p. 166

Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 31:17-32:3 - Hertz, p. 114; Etz Hayim, p. 181
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13-14 - Hertz, p. 118; Etz Hayim, p. 188

Discussion Theme: Language and Jewish Survival

Then Laban spoke up and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the
children are my children…. Yet what can I do now about my daughters or the
children they have borne? Come, then, let us make a pact, you and I, that there
may be a witness between you and me.” Thereupon, Jacob took a stone and
set it up as a pillar. And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” So they
took stones and made a mound; and they partook of a meal there by the mound.
Laban named it Yegarsahadutha, but Jacob named it Gal-ed. Laban declared,
“This mound is a witness between you and me this day.” That is why it was
named Gal-ed. (Genesis 31:43-48)


A. This is the first appearance of Aramaic in the Bible. (Nahum Sarna, Etz
Hayim, on Genesis 31:47)
B. “But Jacob called it Gal-Ed.” Although both men gave the place the same
name, the Torah includes each to teach us that Jacob would not
abandon the holy language even though he lived with Laban for a
number of years. (Sforno on Genesis 31:47)
C. Also at that time, I saw that Jews had married Ashdodite, Ammonite, and
Moabite women; a good number of their children spoke the language of
Ashdod and the language of those various peoples, and did not know
how to speak Yehudit (Hebrew). (Nechemiah 13:24)
D. For three things the Israelites merited redemption from Egypt, that they
didn’t change their language… (Midrash Mechilta Bo #5)
E. Just as speech constitutes the form of Man, so language is considered
the form of nations; when it perishes, the nation has lost its form. (Rabbi
Judah Loew of Prague)
F. Just as the Torah was given in “leshon ha-kodesh” (the language of
holiness), so the world was created with “leshon ha-kodesh.” (Midrash
Genesis Rabbah 18:4)
G. One quickly senses, while listening outside, if someone is talking alone
with a woman or a man, and it is called the Holy Tongue because it
protects Jews from immorality. (Y. Eibeschutz, Yaarot Dvash 2)
H. The language (Hebrew) created by God, which he taught Adam and
placed on his tongue and in his heart, is without any doubt the most
perfect and most fitted to express the things specified. (Yehudah Halevi,
Kuzari 4:25)
I. From here it was said that when children learn to speak, the parent
should speak to the child in Hebrew and teach the child Torah. And if the
parent does not speak in Hebrew and does not teach the child Torah, it is
worthy for that parent to die, as it says, “You shall teach them to your
children to recite them… to the end that you and your children may
endure… (Deut. 11:19-21). From the obligation to teach and the
incumbent reward, one learns the consequences of not doing so. (Sifrei,
J. It is told that five elders wrote the Torah in Greek for King Ptolemy, and
that day was as hard for Israel as the day the golden calf was made, for
the Torah could not be adequately translated. (Tractate Soferim 1:7)
K. Hebrew language… is the vehicle of a sacred past, of eternal Jewish
values. At the same time, it is a major expression of contemporary
Jewish vitality… Many religious leaders vigorously combated efforts to
de-Hebraize Jewish life, to develop a Judaism in translation, to use the
languages of the lands of Jewish residence as the vehicles of Bible study
and Communion with the Almighty. These leaders helped transform
Hebrew into a religious-national value of Jewish life in exile. As such
Hebrew became the ethnic-national ingredient ingrained in the
consciousness of the Jewish people, a sustaining feature of a landless
nation. For the disappearance of the Jewish community of Alexandria, a
vibrant community of Jewish life several hundred thousand strong at the
turn of the first century, was ever in their minds. The basis for
Alexandrian Jewish culture was the Septuagint, the Greek translation of
the Bible. The Jews of Alexandria became fully Hellenized as they
studied the Bible and other Judaic sources in Greek translation. Philo,
the leading Jewish philosopher of the first century CE in Alexandria,
studied, wrote, and taught in Greek. It is doubtful whether he had a
working knowledge of Hebrew. And what happened to this formidable
Jewish community? Its decline began with the process of Hellenization
and de-Hebraization. Several centuries later, after other unfortunate
events, the Jewish remnants of Alexandria were absorbed into Islamic
culture… The combination of Jewish religion, literature, and language
has been the Jewish people’s portable property after the exile began with
the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. And when the Holy Land would
become once again the physical center of the Jewish people… the
Hebrew language would be the bridge between the Land and the
Diaspora… This means considering the use of Hebrew in the synagogue,
educational settings, the home, business, the arts, culture, professions,
and the street Hebrew’s multi-dimensionalism is its distinctiveness as a
survival mechanism. Indeed, it demonstrates clearly that the survival of
Hebrew as a Holy Tongue, the survival of the Jewish people in its
homeland and in the Diaspora, and the continuity of Jewish nationalism
are interdependent. (Dr. Alvin Schiff, the Journal of Jewish Communal
Service Winter/Spring 1999)

The 16th century commentator, Sforno, argues that one of Jacob’s virtues was
that he never ceased his hold on Hebrew. In many respects, Hebrew has been
key to our survival as Jews. How so? Consider the fact that most Jews
understand only a fraction of the Hebrew words in a prayerbook. Most non-
Israeli children read Hebrew more fluently than they speak it. Unlike instruction
in any other language, we consider Hebrew reading — even without
comprehension -- to be a defining characteristic of our identity as Jews. Why?
December 13, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman

Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 32:4-36:43 - Hertz, p. 122; Etz Hayim, p. 198

Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 35:16-36:43 - Hertz, p. 130; Etz Hayim, p. 214
Haftarah: Obadiah 1:1-21 - Hertz, p. 137; Etz Hayim, p. 221

Discussion Theme: Should we seek converts?

This, then, is the line of Esau, the ancestor of the Edomites, in the hill country of
Seir. These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz, the son of Esau’s wife
Adah; Reuel, the son of Esau’s wife Ba’s’mat. The sons of Eliphaz were Teman,
Omar Tspho, Gatam, and Kenaz. Timna was a concubine of Esau’s son
Eliphaz; she bore Amalek to Eliphaz… (Genesis 36:9-12)


A. Why should the Torah trouble to tell us the name only of Eliphaz’s
concubine (the women in the lives of the other men are not mentioned)?
Why should Amalek, the archenemy of Israel have issued from that
union? Timna is noteworthy because she was a member of the
aristocracy, the sister of Lotan, a prince of the Horite nation (cf. Genesis
36:22). She was attracted to the faith of the Israelites and approached
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to convert. Each patriarch, however, rejected
her. In despair, she finally settled to serve as the concubine of Esau’s
son on the premise that it was preferable to be a maidservant in Israel
than a princess of another people. Amalek emerged as their offspring in
punishment for the patriarch’s unrelenting attitude. (Talmud Sanhedrin
B. God exiled the Jews from their homeland for one reason: To increase the
number of converts. (Talmud Pesachim 87b)
C. The change to a more restrictive view on entry to Judaism came about
when “it became increasingly dangerous to convert to Judaism” (due to
Roman and Christian legislation to curb Jewish growth); Jewish law
obliged by raising its own internal standards of admission. (Rabbi Ismar
D. Jews are urged to bring people beneath the wings of the divine presence
exactly as Abraham and Sarah had done. (Avot DeRebbe Nathan (2ba))
E. In a more vulgar fashion the idea of Jewish "carnal election" has filtered
down to Jews who have no theological beliefs at all. You hear it from
those biased against conversion "You cannot really convert a non-Jew to
a Jew because Jewishness comes with a mother's milk," because "A
Gentile remains a Gentile." In my judgment this bias is one of the blocks
in preventing a national or international Jewish movement to educate,
invite and embrace non-Jews into the fold. We are paying a terrible price
for that prejudice. The importance of conversion to Judaism is not simply
a matter of numbers, a strategy to stem the hemorrhage of intermarriage.
The biological view of Judaism that opposes conversion affects our own
Jewish thinking. It is important for Jewish self-understanding, pride and
dignity to regain the rabbinic idea of Jewish mission. If Judaism is a world
religion, as I believe it is, then it has something of invaluable import to
offer the world. If we could open our synagogues, our temples and our
universities to those non-Jews who seek knowledge and insight into
Judaism, it would affect not only the Jews by choice but also those who
are native born, Jews by birth alone. Attention to those potential converts
outside the Jewish circle will change the way in which the inner circle
thinks of itself. (Rabbi Harold Schulweiss)
F. By all means you should pray 'Our God and God of our fathers' for in no
respect is there a difference between you and us. Do not think little of
your origin. If we trace our descent from Abraham Isaac and Jacob, your
descent is from him by whose word the world was created. (Maimonides
in his letter to Obadiah, the convert)
G. Proactive conversion can revitalize the Jewish community… In order to
rebuild and revitalize Judaism in this country we must rethink our religion
as something both born Jews and converts must actively choose and
stop blaming intermarriage for Judaism's decline… We must abandon
the paradigm that our children and grandchildren may become Gentiles
and promote the thought that America is filled with millions of potential
Jews. However, the community does need to be clear that it strongly
prefers that spouses become Jews at some point. The message should
be, "We would like you to become Jewish because we would like to
share our beliefs and our community with you. We believe it would be
beneficial for you, your family, and the community to join and participate."
This is a different message from "We will reject you if you reject us. We
will condemn you if you say no; we consider you to be part of the
problem, the disease of the Jewish community, if you do not convert."
And we must mean what we say. We cannot be critical of those who
choose not to convert. (Dr. Gary Tobin in Open the Gates)
H. “Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the wealth
that they had amassed, and the souls (nefesh) that they had made in
Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan.” Genesis 12:5 Abraham
took them in under the wings of the Divine Presence. Abraham would
convert the men and [his wife] Sarah would convert the women. Scripture
thus considers it as if they 'made' them. (Genesis Rabbah 39:14)


Most Jews are uncomfortable with the idea of missionizing to non-Jews. The
question is why? If we truly believe the world would be a better place if more
people were to adopt the values and ethics of Judaism, why shouldn’t we
actively seek converts? The sources above clearly offer examples to support
the notion of proactive conversion.
December 20, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman

Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 37:1-40:23 - Hertz, p. 141; Etz Hayim, p. 226

Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 39:1-40:23 - Hertz, p. 147; Etz Hayim, p. 238
Maftir: Numbers 7:1-17 - Hertz, p. 596; Etz Hayim, p. 805
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7 - Hertz, p. 987; Etz Hayim, p. 1269

Discussion Theme: Self Discipline

After a time, his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph and said, “Lie with
me.” But he refused. He said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my
master gives no thought to anything in this house, and all that he owns he has
placed in my hands. He wields no more authority in this house than I, and he
has withheld nothing from me except yourself, since you are his wife. How then
could I do this most wicked thing, and sin before God?” And much as she
coaxed Joseph day after day, he did not yield to her request to lie beside her, to
be with her. (Genesis 39:7-10)

Commentary: Internal Conflict

A. Joseph was about to yield to the enticements of Potiphar’s wife when the
image of his father appeared to him and strengthened his resolve to say
no. (Talmud Sota 36b)
B. The Torah says that he "refused."(Genesis 38:8). With cantillation, it is
written with a note called a great shalshelet and a pesik. [Musically, the
shalshelet has a number of movements while the pesik is a stop.] She
made many movements to tempt him, but he put a stop to it and refused
to even look at her. (Gates to Jewish Heritage Website)
C. The cantillation note for the word va-y’ma-en (translated as “but he
refused”) is the rare note “shalshelet,” which appears only four times in
the Torah. It is a wavering, back-and-forth note, suggesting indecision
and ambivalence on Joseph’s part. Rabbi Harold Kushner, Etz Hayim,
Genesis 39:8)
D. Yosef’s sense of morality was so strong that he did not even consider her
advances. Netziv in Haamek Davar Genesis 39:8)
E. As dawn broke, the angels urged Lot on, saying, “Up, take your wife and
your two remaining daughters, lest you be swept away because of the
iniquity of your city.” Still he delayed (cantillation mark is “shalshelet”). So
the men seized his hand, and the hands of his wife and his two
daughters — in the Lord’s mercy on him — and brought him out and left
him outside the city. (Genesis 19:15-16)
F. Why did Lot hesitate to leave Sodom when he was warned that it was
about to be destroyed? He chose to salvage his wealth. (Rashi Genesis
G. Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and set out, taking with
him all the bounty of his master; and he made his way to Aram-naharaim,
to the city of Nahor. He made the camels kneel down by the well outside
the city, at evening time, the time when women come out to draw water.
And he said (cantillation mark is “shalshelet”), “O Lord, God of my master
Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my
master Abraham. Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the
townsmen come out to draw water; let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please,
lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also
water your camels’ — let her be the one whom You have decreed for
Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that you have dealt graciously
with my master.” (Genesis 24:10-14)
H. “Perhaps the woman will not go”— The word translated as “perhaps”
(u’lai) is spelled here like “ei-lai” which means “to me,” to allude to the
following: Eliezer (Abraham’s servant) had a daughter, and he was
searching to find a pretext so that Abraham would tell him to turn to
himself, to marry his daughter to Isaac, that is, Eliezer was torn by his
desire to have his own daughter become the bride of Isaac. Abraham
said to him, “My son is blessed and you are cursed, and one who is
cursed cannot cleave to one who is blessed.” (Rashi on Genesis 24:39)
I. “He brought forward the second ram, the ram of ordination. Aaron and
his sons laid their hands upon the ram’s head, and it was slaughtered
(cantillation mark is “shalshelet”). Moses took some of its blood and put it
on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand, and
on the big toe of his right foot. (Leviticus 8:22-23)


The “shaleshelet” trope appears only four times in the Torah, in each case, over
a verb that describes a moment of personal crisis; of deep soul-searching. Each
of these four individuals is filled with doubt, confused over what decision to
make; which path to follow. Look at each of the four instances. What was the
difficult decision that had to be made? How do they differ? How does the zigzag
form and staccato sound that goes back and forth and back and forth reflect the
inner emotion of the biblical figure? Are there times when we are like Lot
oscillating between our material and spiritual values; like Eliezer doubting our
own abilities; like Moses weighing our own self interest against God’s plan; or
like Joseph struggling to do what we know is right, and not what we know is
wrong? What helps us overcome these hesitations and doubts?
December 27, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman

Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 41:1-44:17 - Hertz, p. 155; Etz Hayim, p. 250

Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 43:16-44:17 - Hertz, p. 163; Etz Hayim, p. 265
Maftir: Numbers 7:54-8:4 - Hertz, p. 599; Etz Hayim, p. 809
Haftarah: I Kings 7:40-50 - Hertz, p. 990; Etz Hayim, p.1273

Discussion Theme: The Spiritual Journey

When Judah and his brothers re-entered the house of Joseph, who was still
there, they threw themselves on the ground before him. Joseph said to them,
“What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that a my lord? How
can we plead, how can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered the crime
of your servants. Here we are, then, slaves of my lord, the rest of us as much as
he in whose possession the goblet was found.” But he replied, “Far be it from
me to act thus! Only he in whose possession the goblet was found shall be my
slave; the rest of you go back in peace to your father.” (Genesis 44:14-17)


A. And God said to Abram, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers
in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four
hundred years; but I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve,
and in the end they shall go free with great wealth. As for you, you shall
go to your fathers in peace (b’shalom); you shall be buried at a ripe old
age. And they shall return here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of
the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:13-16)
B. Joseph really says, “Go back toward peace” (l’shalom) rather than “in
peace” (b’shalom). For to say l’shalom always means to go forward to a
peaceful life, while b’shalom is associated with eternal peace, i.e. death.
(Plaut Commentary to Genesis 44:17)
C. Rabbi Avin Halevi said: One who departs from a friend should not say go
in peace, “b’shalom,” but go to peace, “l’shalom.” For Yitro, who said to
Moses, “go to peace” (Ex. 4:18), went up and succeeded. David, who
said to Avshalom, “go in peace” (II Samuel 15:9), went and was hanged.
And Rabbi Avin Halevi said: One who departs from the dead should not
say to him, go to peace, “l’shalom,” but go in peace, “b’shalom,” as it
says in Genesis 15:15, “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace
(b’shalom); you shall be buried at a ripe old age.” (Talmud Berachot 64a)
D. Why is it preferable to bless the living with the word "l'shalom?" A living
person must never stay on the same spiritual level. He must always be
climbing and accomplishing. A dead person, on the other hand, has
already attained whatever spiritual level it is that he will reach. That is
why we wish the living to go "towards peace" ("l'shalom"), that is, towards
a greater and holier spiritual level, while we wish the not living to "rest in
peace" (b’shalom). This is why Jacob did not use the usual phraseology
in his prayer. Normally, we wish the other person that he may rise higher
and higher upon parting with us. Jacob, by saying "b'shalom," meant to
say "I will even be satisfied if I return from the house of Lavan on the
same spiritual level that I am at present [without being affected by the
wickedness of Lavan]." Megaleh Amukot in (Semichat Chachamim on
Berachot 64a)
E. When one says, "go in peace," it implies that only while traveling should
there be peace. It does not relate to what happens upon arrival at the
destination. That is why it is not an appropriate blessing to the living; one
should also bless the traveler to arrive at his destination in peace, by
saying, "go towards peace." B'shalom" is, however, an appropriate
blessing to the deceased, since his destination is certainly peaceful and it
is the road there, which is fearful. (Rita on Berachot 64a)
F. The Lord spoke to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your
father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great
nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be
a blessing. (Genesis 12:1-2)
G. Angels are called standing; human beings are described as walking.
H. Real Jewish life is a life of passionate struggle and honest searching.
The Torah’s clearest indication of this is that the story of the Jewish
people both begins and concludes outside the Promised Land. God’s
very first words to Abram, the first Jew, are a command to being an
odyssey: “Go forth” (Genesis 12:1). Thus the very first words God utters
to the very first Jew are lekh-lekha — get up and move. Abram — as he
was known before God changed his name to Abraham — begins life
outside the Promised Land. Before anything else transpires between him
and God, God communicates the most important message of all:
Abram’s life as a Jew and therefore ours as well needs to be a gradual
journey toward the Promised Land… There are several important
messages about our own spiritual journeys in these stories. First, God’s
relationship with Abram begins outside the Promised Land; each of us
begins our adult spiritual journeyunsatisfied, not where we ultimately
wish to be. Second, God instructs Abram to (take a) risk… None of us
should expect the search for spiritual fulfillment to be simple or
mechanical. We, too, will have to risk. Third, God requires the Jewish
people to wander for forty years after they leave Egypt; our spiritual
journeys are often not only difficult, but also lengthy. When we seek the
spiritual, we dare not expect instant gratification. Fourth… we should not
necessarily expect to feel, at any given moment, that we have “arrived.”
(Rabbi Daniel Gordis, God Was Not in the Fire)


In the simple greeting, “lech l’shalom,” go towards peace, our tradition, as

explained by Megaleh Amukot, expresses a wish — that we continue to seek
spiritual fulfillment. Incontrast to “lech b’shalom” which is what one wishes
someone who has no potential for growth, i.e. the dead, “lech l’shalom” is a
prayer that we continually expand our interests, enlarge our sympathies, widen
our intellectual horizons, and deepen our attachment to the holy. How does the
word “halakha,” Jewish law, which is derived from the verb “to walk or to go,”
reflect this same truth? What does it mean to say that halakha is a journey, not
a destination?
January 3, 2004 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman

Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 44:18-47:27 - Hertz, p. 169; Etz Hayim, p. 274|

Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 46:28-47:27 - Hertz, p. 174; Etz Hayim, p. 283
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28 - Hertz, p. 178; Etz Hayim, p. 290

Discussion Theme: The Blessings and Dangers of Change

Then Joseph came and reported to Pharaoh, saying, “My father and my
brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that is theirs, have come from the
land of Canaan and are now in the region of Goshen.” And selecting a few of
his brothers, he presented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to his brothers,
“What is your occupation?” They answered Pharaoh, “We your servants are
shepherds, as were also our fathers. We have come,” they told Pharaoh, “to
sojourn in this land, for there is no pasture for your servant’s flocks, the famine
being severe in the land of Canaan. Pray, then, let your servants stay in the
region of Goshen.” (Genesis 47:1-4)


A. Joseph had asked his brothers to stress that they were breeders of
livestock (46:33-34), because Egyptians held shepherds in low esteem.
When Pharaoh asks the brothers what are their occupation, they answer
that they are shepherds, like their fathers. Why did they ignore Joseph’s
request? At one level, we can speculate that Joseph was the first of
Abraham’s line to grow up outside the Land and be integrated into the
highest levels of foreign society. His brothers, by contrast, grew up in the
Land and see nothing embarrassing about being shepherds. (For that
matter, neither does Pharaoh, who responds to their professional pride
by putting them in charge of the royal flocks and herds.) We can see this
passage as reflecting the healthy self-esteem of a people raised in their
own land, in contrast to the concern of Diaspora Jews as to what their
neighbors think of them. Joseph, despite his prominence and power,
does not seem completely secure about his place in Egyptian society
and finds it necessary to conceal part of his identity. At the same time,
however, we can appreciate Joseph’s sensitivity to the feelings of his
Egyptian neighbors. Jewish law and custom legitimates adjusting our
behavior “for the sake of ways of peace” (mi-p’nei darkhei shalom),
furthering good relations with those around us by avoiding giving offense
to their values and sensibilities. (Rabbi Harold Kushner, Etz Hayim,
Genesis 47:3)
B. Rabbi Abaye raised the following question: Is an obligation deduced from
the principle mipnei darkhei shalom rabbinic in origin, or is it considered
d'oraita, from the Torah itself? Rabbi Yosef answered that not only is it
from the Torah, but that the entirety of the Torah is itself mipnei darkhei
shalom -- for the sake of peace. (Talmud Gittin 59a)
C. In former times, whoever could recite the prescribed words of the first
fruits ceremony recited them. Whoever could not recite them repeated
the words after the priest; but when people refrained from bringing their
fruits out of embarrassment, it was enacted that both those who could
recite them and those who could not should repeat the words after the
priest in order not to embarrass anyone. (Mishna Bikkurim 3:7)
D. Our Rabbis taught: In former times, they used to convey food to a house
of mourning, the rich in silver and gold baskets and the poor in wicker
baskets of peeled willow twigs, and the poor felt ashamed. They
therefore enacted that all should convey food in wicker baskets of peeled
willow twigs out of deference to the poor… In former times, they used to
bring out the rich for burial on an expensive couch and the poor on a
plain bier, and the poor felt ashamed. They therefore enacted that all
should be brought out on a plain bier, out of deference to the poor. In
former times, the expense of burial shrouds was more difficult for a
man’s relatives than his death so that the dead man’s relatives
abandoned him and fled. Until Rabban Gamliel came and, disregarding
his own dignity, was buried in plain white flaxen shrouds and thereafter
the people followed his lead. (Talmud Moed Katan 27a-b)
E. Our rabbis taught: In former times, the mourners used to stand still while
the people passed by to comfort them. But there were two families in
Jerusalem who quarreled with one another, each maintaining: “We shall
pass first.” So the Rabbis enacted that the public should remain standing,
while the mourners pass by. (Talmud Sanhedrin 19a)
F. The words of the Sages must be understood according to the time, the
place and the individual, for otherwise we will be denying their words just
as the Karaites deny the written Torah, since there is no end to the
number of things forbidden by the Sages which became permitted as the
time and place changed. (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Modena, 1571-1648)
G. Since the holy Torah was given to mortal men, who are liable to be
influenced by changes with the passage of time and the changing of
rulers and decrees, of nature and climate, of cities and countries. For this
reason, all the words of the Torah were given without clear definition,
with great wisdom, and can therefore receive every true interpretation at
all times. (Rabbi Eliyahu Hazan, Egypt, 1874)
January 10, 2004 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman

Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 47:28-50:26 - Hertz, p. 180; Etz Hayim, p. 293

Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 49:27-50:26 - Hertz, p. 187; Etz Hayim, p. 305
Haftarah: I Kings 2:1-12 - Hertz, p. 191; Etz Hayim, p. 312

Discussion Theme: What to say to the Mourner?

Joseph flung himself upon his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him.
Then Joseph ordered the physicians in his service to embalm his father, and the
physicians embalmed Israel… The Egyptians bewailed him seventy days; and
when the wailing period was over Joseph spoke to Pharaoh’s court saying, “My
father made me swear saying, ‘Be sure to bury me in the land of Canaan.’” And
Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you promise on oath.”
(Genesis 50:1-6)


A. “After Abraham died, God blessed Isaac his son” (Genesis 25:18). How
is Abraham’s death relevant to God’s blessing Isaac? When Isaac was
sitting shivah, God came and comforted him, and blessed him. (Talmud
Sotah 14a)
B. Before leaving a mourner, you say, in any language you prefer,
“Hamakom yinachem etchem b’toch sh’ar aveilei Tzion v’yerushalayim”
which means: “May God comfort you together with all the other mourners
of Zion and Jerusalem.” The mourners should answer “Amen.” (Prishah,
Yoreh Deah 393: #3 and Pnai Baruch 11:5)
C. Why should the bereaved be reminded of the troubles of Zion and
Jerusalem? Doesn't the mourner have enough troubles? These words
give us perspective. They serve as a reminder that we are part of a
community that needs us. We find comfort in knowing we are not the only
ones in mourning and in pain, and that we are needed to help assuage
the grief of others. (Rabbi Jack Riemer, Jewish Wisdom for the End of
Life, in Reform Judaism Magazine, 1997)
D. We call upon God to comfort the mourner, even though the person
visiting the mourner is supposed to be doing the comforting, because our
human capacity to empathize with the bereaved is limited. Only one who
truly understands and appreciates the person's loss can really offer
comfort… Only God, who knows the secrets of the heart, is truly capable
of fathoming such grief, and of providing comfort. When the person is
really dead. The decree did not take effect for Jacob because his son
was not dead… And we use the word "HaMakom" -- the Omnipresent
(literally, The Place) because a person who has lost a loved one often
feels that he has been abandoned by God; that there is no God where he
is. We say to the mourner, therefore, that HaMakom should comfort him:
We pray that he be blessed by a renewed awareness of God's presence,
even in the grief-stricken place in which he now finds himself -- for that
place, too, is HaMakom, the place of God. The latter half of the blessing -
- "among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem" -- also requires
explanation. (Based on Lekach Tov; Kli Yakar, and Rabbi Eliyahu
E. During Shivah, as Shabbat is welcomed, mourners attending services
are welcomed by the congregation, who offer these words of comfort:
“May God comfort you together with all the other mourners of Zion and
Jerusalem.” (Siddur Sim Shalom, Friday evening service)
F. Consoling mourners is a Biblical commandment since it is in the general
category of acts of loving-kindness, which are considered to be of Torah
status. (Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, Toafot Yom Tov to Mishna
Berachot 3:2)
G. Consoling mourners is a general rabbinic enactment. (Rashi on Talmud
Sanhedrin 70b)
H. Everyday within the seven days of mourning, people should come to
console the mourner. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Mourning,
I. There is no mourning on Shabbat except for those things, which are
private… But public acts are not followed. (Maimonides Mishneh Torah,
Laws of Mourning, 10:1)
J. Rabbi Haninah stated that reluctantly they permitted consolation on
Shabbat (reluctantly, because it would cause pain and thus minimize the
joy of Shabbat). (Talmud Shabbat 12b)
K. The matter is clear: it is permissible to console mourners on Shabbat…
and we do not worry that perhaps one will be caused pain or to cry out.
(Rabbi Tzemach Duran, Algeria, 15th century)
L. One may console mourners on Shabbat, but one should not do so in the
same way that consolation is offered during the week. (Rabbi Josef Karo,
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Hayim 287:1)
M. Visitors do not customarily pay condolence calls on the Sabbath or Holy
Days, as these are days when one should not mourn publicly. However,
the mourners may receive company and condolences on these days.
(Rabbi Maurice Lamm in The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning)
N. There is a noticeable shift from the initial stages of the rabbinic tradition
when a formulaic articulation was considered to be the act of consolation.
Now, the formulaic pronouncement is seen as a way of drawing public
recognition to those in mourning so that individuals in the community
may fulfill their personal obligations to offer consolation. (Rabbi Moshe
Feinstein, Igrot Moshe)
O. In modern congregations… many people are not in daily contactwith one
another. They see each other in synagogue on a weekly basis. A public
announcement that an individual is in mourning creates an awareness of
a personal loss. This enables other members of the community to seek
out the mourner to listen to his or her grief and to offer personal
condolence and support. Even the classical formula “May God comfort
you…” need not be considered public consolation on Shabbat, but simply
regarded as a statement that a person is in the week-long period of
mourning… Accordingly, we have decided that since the community is
obligated to offer comfort to mourners even on Shabbat, it is permissible
for individuals to greetand welcome mourners during late Friday night
services and during Shabbat morning services. As well, it is permissible
for individuals and the congregation as a whole to extend condolences to
mourners. The language of greeting may include the phrases “May God
comfort you…” since these are formulaic in nature. Such greetings and
condolences are not to be considered in violation of the sanctity of
Shabbat nor should they be thought to be sufficient to offer true personal
consolation…” (Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, “Welcoming Mourners on
Shabbat,”The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the
Conservative Movement)


When we visit a mourner, we are usually at a loss for words. It is for that reason
that our tradition provides for us a formula, “Hamakom…” We say, “May God
comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” Why is that
statement used? What comfort does it offer the mourner? How did the
Committee on Jewish Law and Standards come to understand this formula
when it is said on Shabbat? What other function does this statement serve?
January 17, 2004 — 23 Tevet 5764

Annual: Ex. 1:1 — 6:1 (Etz Hayim, p. 317; Hertz p. 206)

Triennial Cycle 3: Ex. 4:18 — 6:1 (Etz Hayim p. 335; Hertz p. 220)
Haftarah: (a) Isaiah 27:6 — 28:13; 29:22-23 (s) Jeremiah 1:1 — 2:3

Prepared by, Kenneth S. Goldrich, Esq.

Author of the USCJ/RA Luah and Yad LaTorah

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


1:1-14 — A list of the names (Hebrew, shemot) of 11 sons of Israel (Jacob) who
came to Egypt with their families (Joseph was already in Egypt). The beginning
of the enslavement and the affliction of the Israelites.

1:15-22 — Pharaoh’s plot to kill all Hebrew males at birth and the heroic
disobedience of the midwives.

2:1-10 — The birth of a son to a couple from the tribe of Levi. The baby was
hidden by his mother for 3 months then placed in a water-tight basket in the
river. He is watched by his sister until he is found by Pharaoh’s daughter who
raised him and, ultimately, named him Moses.

2:11-22 — Moses observed an Egyptian attacking a Hebrew slave and, seeing

no witnesses, Moses killed the Egyptian. The next day Moses observed two
Hebrews fighting and tried to intervene. Moses immediately recognized from the
reaction of the attacker that his murder of the Egyptian was known. Fearful of
Pharaoh’s retribution Moses fled to Midian where he became a shepherd,
married and had a son.

2:23-25 — The Israelites, suffering in their servitude, cried out. God heard them
and recalled the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

3:1-10 — Moses is serving as a shepherd for his father-in-law, the Midianite

priest, Jethro. An angel of God appears to Moses in a burning bush and God
speaks to Moses. In Moses’ first prophetic experience God tells Moses that he
will lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

3:11 — 4:17 — Moses expresses anxiety and doubt about his worthiness and
ability to accomplish the task that God has chosen him for. God encourages
and reassures Moses and gives Moses signs by which the Israelites will
recognize that Moses is, indeed, God’s messenger. Moses refuses God’s
assignment 5 times and God provides 5 counter arguments until Moses finally
accepts the task.
4:18-23 — Moses seeks and receives permission from his father-in-law to
return to Egypt to witness the condition of the Israelites. God advises Moses to
return and he does so along with his wife and family. God instructs Moses as to
how he is to act with Pharaoh.

4:24-31 — Tziporah, Moses wife, circumcises their son. God tells Aaron to meet
with Moses and Moses tells Aaron all that God had revealed. Moses and Aaron
assemble the elders of Israel and Aaron tells the elders what God had promised
and show them the signs and the elders are convinced.

5:1-6:1 — Moses and Aaron’s first confrontation with Pharaoh fails. Pharaoh
retaliates by oppressing Israelites even more harshly. The Israelites blame
Moses and Aaron for making their plight worse. Moses complains to God who
reassures him that he will see what God will do to Pharaoh.

Selected Text

Moses said to God: “When I come to B’nei Yisrael and I tell them Elohei (the
God of) your ancestors has sent me to you and they ask me ‘What is His
name?’ What do I tell them?” God said to Moses: “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, tell B’nei
Yisrael this, Ehyeh sent me to you” God then tells Moses to “say to B’nei Yisrael,
YHVH, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob sent me to
you, zeh sh’mi l’olam, this is My name forever.” (Ex. 3:13-15)

Discussion – A Rose by Any Other Name

Bemoaning their fate by reason of the fact that that their family names had
predetermined their destiny, Shakespeare has Juliet ask: “What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet” (Romeo and
Juliet II:1) While Shakespeare may have doubted that there is a connection
between the essence of a person and his/her name, Jewish tradition has a
different view.

“K’shmo ken hu, As one’s name so is the person.” (I Samuel 15:25). Our name
reflects both how others view us and how we view ourselves. A midrash
teaches that each of us has three distinct names: one that we are called by our
parents, one that we are called by others and ehad mah she’karu lo b’sefer
b’riyato, one that is a name of our own creation. (Kohelet Raba) Rabbi Yohanan
went further and claimed that a person’s name actually determines that
person’s destiny. (Berakhot 7b) Thus, in Jewish tradition, names are significant,
we have many names and our names are a reflection of our reputation and
character. Interestingly, we find that this is also true of God’s names.

Sefer Shemot (literally, names) reminds us of the importance of names: peoples

names, the names of places and even the name of God. In the famous story
comprising Moses’ first prophetic experience, the revelation at the burning bush
(Ex. Ch. 3), Moses expresses serious doubts about his ability to carry out the
task to which he has been assigned. Moses’ inquiry (above) of God is: What is
Your name? God’s response was a most enigmatic one; however a close look
may help provide an answer. “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh (I will be what I will be, or,
perhaps, I am what I am) … say to B’nei Yisrael, YHVH, the God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob sent me to you, this is My name
forever.” (Exodus 3:13-15).

In next week’s reading (Va’era) God tells Moses: “I appeared to Abraham, to

Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by my name YHVH I was not known to
them.” (Ex. 6:3) God’s unique name, YHVH was, however, made known to the
patriarchs (see Gen. 15:7, 28:13). What therefore does this statement mean?

Rashi notes that the verse (6:3) does not say that God did not make the name
YHVH known to them but, rather, that the patriarchs did not know (fully
understand and appreciate) the meaning of that name. God’s name, YHVH, the
name we never pronounce, refers to God’s faithfulness in fulfilling promises.
Thus, as Rashi notes, the patriarchs could not have appreciated this attribute
since God’s promiseshave not yet been fulfilled.

Additionally, the Tetragrammaton, YHVH, is known as the shem hovayah, the

name of existence, of being. YHVH is related to the verb “to be.” Thus, this
unique name gives us a sense of God’s essential nature: Gods eternal
existence. The patriarchs did not fully appreciate this aspect of God.

Sparks for Discussion

1. The names of Jacob’s sons who went down to Egypt are known to us
from Genesis. Why does the Torah repeat these names yet again, in the
opening verses of Exodus? For one possible explanation see Rashi on
Ex. 1:1.
2. What can we learn of Moses’ future role from the name he was given by
Pharaoh’s daughter? (See Ex. 2:10 for a derivation of Moses’ name).
Why does the Torah not tell us whether Moses parents had given him a
name in the first three months of his life?
3. There is a custom to change one’s name at a time of serious illness.
Others changed names upon immigrating. Israel required many of its
officials to Hebraicize their family names. Some have changed names for
professional purposes (e.g., movie stars). What other reasons do people
have for changing their names? What concerns do such changes reflect?
4. The midrash relates that one of the reasons that the Jews, after their
enslavement in Egypt, merited redemption was that they retained their
Jewish names. (Vayikra Raba 33). What purpose does a Jewish name
serve? How does such a name preserve our identity? Do you know the
meaning of your Hebrew name?
January 24, 2004 – 1 Shevat 5764

Annual: Ex. 6:2 – 9:35 (Etz Hayim, p. 351; Hertz p. 232)

Triennial Cycle 3: Ex. 8:16 – 9:35 (Etz Hayim p. 362; Hertz p. 240)
Maftir (2d scroll) Numbers 28:9-15 (Etz Hayim p. 930; Hertz p. 695)
Haftarah (Rosh Hodesh) Isaiah 66:1-24, 23 (Etz Hayim p. 1219; Hertz p. 944)

Prepared by, Kenneth S. Goldrich, Esq.

Author of the USCJ / RA Luah and Yad LaTorah

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


6:2-9 – God reminds Moses of the Covenant He made with the patriarchs and
announces to him the coming redemption of the Israelites from slavery. Moses
tells the Israelites, but they are too fearful to listen to him.

6:10-13 – Moses is disheartened and reluctant to go before Pharaoh.

6:14-27 – The genealogy of the tribe of Levi.

6:28-7-7 – God encourages Moses and Aaron by giving them a glimpse of the
successful future of their mission.

7:8-13 – Moses and Aaron demonstrate their miraculous sign before Pharaoh:
the staff that transforms into a serpent. Pharaoh's magicians duplicate this feat,
but then Aaron's "snake" swallows up theirs.

7:14-9:35 – Plagues 1-7 (1) blood, (2) frogs, (3) lice, (4) wild beasts, (5)
pestilence, (6) boils, (7) hail.

Selected Text

You shall say (to Pharaoh) everything that I command you, and your brother
Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to send the B’nei Yisrael out of his land. But I will
harden Pharaoh’s heart so that I can multiply my signs and wonders in the land
of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not heed you I will lay My hand on Egypt and
take out my legions – my people, B’nei Yisrael – from the land of Egypt with
great chastisements (i.e., the plagues). (Exodus 7:2-4)

Discussion – Free Will and a Hard Heart

Basic to Judaism is the concept of free will, behirat hofshi. The notion that
human beings have free choice is found both in the Torah and in rabbinic
We learn in the Torah that humans have choices: “See, I set before you today
life and good, death and evil. I command you today to love the Lord your God,
to walk in His ways, to observe His mitzvot, statutes and laws … I call the
heavens and the earth to witness against you today. I have placed before you
life and death, blessing and curse, choose life…” (Deut 30:15-19)

The Mishnah records Rabbi Akiva’s statement: “Everything is foreseen (by

God); however, man has the ability to choose freely.” (Pirke Avot 3:19) The
Talmud also relates: “Rabbi Hanina teaches: Everything is in the hands (control)
of Heaven except the fear of Heaven.” (Berakhot 33b)

A person should not think, as said by the ignorant … that the Holy One decreed
at the time of that person’s creation whether he would be tzadik (righteous) or
rasha (wicked). This is not accurate. Rather, each person can be either a tzadik
like Moses or a rasha like Jeroboam. A person can be wise or foolish, merciful
or cruel, stingy or generous and similarly with other traits. There is no one who
forces a person or decrees or leads a person to one of two paths; rather a
person follows the path of his own will and determination and is inclined to the
path he chooses … This is a fundamental principle and one on which the Torah
and mitzvot rely. (Maimonides sets as a proof text the above reference from
Deut. 30:15 as well as Deut. 11:26 and 5:26) The Creator does not compel
people and does not decree do good or bad, rather everything is left to them
(i.e., humans’ own choice). (Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuvah
(Laws of Repentance), 5:2-3)

It is not just our modern sense of justice and fairness that is offended by
Pharaoh’s punishment. Rather, the Rabbis, too, were troubled. The midrash
relates Rabbi Yohanan’s insight that God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart
“provides an opening for heretics to claim: ‘There was no opportunity for him
(Pharaoh) to do teshuvah.’”

How do we explain this obvious difficulty? One explanation is that stated by the
modern (d. 1951) Bible scholar Umberto Cassuto: “In early Hebrew idiom, it was
customary to attribute every phenomenon to the direct action of God … Every
happening has a number of causes, and these causes, in turn, have other
causes, and so on ad infinitum; according to the Israelite conception, the cause
of all causes was the will of God … This, now, is how the Torah, which employs
human idioms, expresses itself.” Thus, Cassuto suggests that the expression
may be understood as a mere idiom with no theological import.

It has also been pointed out by a number of commentators that despite God’s
warning that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart, this did not occur, at least not
immediately. “The first five plagues are accompanied by the passive formulation,
that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened [i.e., not that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart
– see 7:13; after (i) blood, 7:22; after (ii) frogs, 8:11; after (iii) vermin, 8:15; after
(iv) swarms of insects 8:28; and after (v) pestilence, 9:7]. Only then HaKadosh
Barukh Hu said: ‘Now, even if Pharaoh should want to let them go, I shall not let
him.’” With respect to the remaining plagues, the Torah states that God
hardened his heart. (Midrash Tanhuma 9:12)
The mishnah in Pirke Avot (4:2) teaches: mitzvah goreret mitzvah, aveirah
goreret aveirah. One mitzvah leads to another, (similarly) one transgression
leads to another. When one becomes accustomed to act in a certain manner,
that behavior becomes habitual and it can appear as if the person cannot help
but act in a consistent manner – as it is beyond that person’s control. Seen in
this light, Pharaoh – who was acting as he was accustomed to act, as was in his
character to do – although he had free will, appeared to have no control, as he
had traveled so far down the path of stubbornness and evil.

Sparks for Further Discussion

1. The plagues did not just affect Pharaoh or even his family and chief
advisors; rather, all Egyptians, collectively, suffered the punishment of
the plagues. Is there a basis for the imposition of this collective guilt? Did
the plagues differ from modern wars, which affect the lives of so many
innocents, wars which are often forced by the actions of a small group of
2. Another thought to consider is that -- had God not hardened Pharaoh’s
heart -- Pharaoh might have freed Bnei Yisrael as a direct result of, or in
fear of, the plagues. That is, the act of freeing the Israelites would itself
have been the result of compulsion, and not freely undertaken. By
hardening Pharaoh’s heart, God enabled him to act freely. Is this
explanation satisfactory? How does it impact upon the suffering of the
Egyptian people?
3. According to traditional Jewish law (halakhah), a get (a bill of divorce)
must be voluntarily given by a husband to a wife. A get that is forced, or
produced under duress (known as a get meusah), is invalid. Rabbinic
authorities, when faced with a recalcitrant husband (one who refused his
wife a get), would resort to various forms of compulsion until the husband
-- freed by this technique from the compulsion of the yetzer ha’ra – would
be “free” to give what the Rabbis deemed to be a valid get. How does
this technique relate to God’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart?
January 31, 2004 – 8 Sh’vat 5764

Annual: Ex. 10:1 – 13:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 374; Hertz p. 248)

Triennial Ex. 12:29 – 13:16 (Etz Hayim p. 387; Hertz p. 258)
Haftarah Jeremiah 46:13-28

Prepared by, Kenneth S. Goldrich, Esq.

Author of the USCJ/RA Luah and Yad LaTorah

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


10:1-20 – The eighth plague, locusts.

10:21-29 – The ninth plague, darkness.

11:1-3 – God announces to Moses the last and decisive plague and instructs
him to tell the people to prepare to leave by asking the Egyptians for jewels and
gold (which the Egyptians, overawed by events and by Moses' apparent power,
readily give).

11:4-10 – Moses announces the tenth plague, the slaying of the first-born, to
Pharaoh; but God hardens Pharaoh's heart and he does not respond to this
final ultimatum.

12:1-13 – Moses and Aaron are instructed concerning the new month (see
below, Selected Text) and Moses is commanded to tell the people about the
Passover sacrifice to be offered in Egypt. The Israelites are commanded to take
a lamb, slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan, at twilight, mark the doorposts of their
houses with its blood, and eat the lamb on the eve of the 15th. On that same
night, God strikes down all the first-born of Egypt. Israelites are commanded to
take a lamb, slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan, at twilight, mark the doorposts of
their houses with its blood, and eat the lamb on the eve of the 15th. On that
same night, God strikes down all the first-born of Egypt.

Selected Text

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt declaring: This month
shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first of the months of the
year. (Exodus 12:1-2)

Discussion – Let's Make a Date: The Jewish Calendar

Interestingly, Rashi’s first mention of the Selected Text is found in his

commentary on the first verse in the Torah. Rashi cites the Tanhuma and tells
us: “Rabbi Isaac said: ‘(God) did not have to begin the Torah other than with
‘This month shall be for you …’ (Ex. 12:2) because that is the first mitzvah
which was commanded to Israel.” (Rashi on Gen. 1:1)

What is the nature of the mitzvah that is incorporated in our verse? Let us look
at the explanation given in the 13th century Sefer HaHinukh (which gives an
explanation of each of the 613 mitzvot as they are recorded in the Torah). “The
mitzvah of kiddush ha’hodesh, sanctifying the new moon: To sanctify months
(i.e., declare the beginning of the new month) and intercalate years (i.e.,
determine when a leap year occurs) by the Bet Din (court) that is greatest in
wisdom in the Land of Israel and which has the authority to fix the festivals …”

As can be seen from a careful reading of the Sefer HaHinukh, there are two
components to the mitzvah in our Selected Text. Based on a seeming
redundancy in the language, the text was interpreted to mean both (1) that God
instructed Moses how -- and the court in each generation was empowered -- to
declare the beginning of each month, and (2) that the court was charged with
declaring when the first month (Nisan) would occur (i.e., whether there should
be an extra Adar so that Passover would not occur before the vernal equinox).

An interesting mishnah: “Rabban Gamliel the nasi (patriarch) sent (a message)

to (Rabbi Joshua): ‘I order you to come to me with your staff and your money on
the day that Yom Kippur will fall according to your calculation.’ Rabbi Akiba
found (Rabbi Joshua) troubled (since he would have to violate the day he
understood to be Yom Kippur) and said to him, I can teach you that whatever
Rabban Gamliel does is determinative because it is said ‘These are the
appointed seasons (fixed holidays) of the Lord which are called holy and which
you shall proclaim (Lev. 23:4). (According to Rabbi Akiva, this means whether
you, i.e., the designated court, shall proclaim them) at their proper time or not at
their proper time ... Rabbi Dosa ben Hyrcanus said to (Rabbi Joshua), ‘If we
challenge the court of Rabban Gamliel, we must challenge every court from
Moses until now’ … (After Rabbi Joshua complied) Rabban Gamliel stood up
and kissed him on his head and said to him, ‘Come in peace my teacher and
my disciple. My teacher in wisdom, my disciple because you accepted my
words.’” (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 2:9)

Today we utilize a fixed calendar that was established almost 2000 years ago.
Although we no longer have a Bet Din to sanctify the new moon, we do have an
opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush ha’Hodesh through the ceremony of
Kiddush Levanah (sanctification of the moon). Generally recited in the evening
when the moon is visible from the third (or seventh) through the fourteenth of
the month, the ceremony includes selections from Psalms, several verses and a
brakhah which states, in part: “Blessed are You … Who with His word created
the heavens and with His breath everything they contain. (God) established a
schedule for them which they do not deviate from. (The heavenly bodies) are
joyous and happy to do the will of their Creator … Blessed are You … Who
renews the months.” (See Siddur Sim Shalom, p. 705)
Sparks for Discussion

1. Why is the fixing of a calendar important enough for that to have been
the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people?
2. How many calendars – school, fiscal, secular, Jewish, sports – affect
your life? Can you think of how any person or authority uses the ability to
fix a calendar to exercise power or establish priorities? Re-read the
selection from the Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 2:9, excerpted above. Was
Rabban Gamliel’s action in forcing Rabbi Joshua to act as he did (i.e.,
violating the day Rabbi Joshua calculated as Yom Kippur) inconsistent
with what we would today consider pluralism? Are there proper limits to
pluralism, e.g., to maintain the unity and integrity of the Jewish people?
How does Rabban Gamliel’s final comments to Rabbi Joshua serve to
modify the seeming harshness of his opinion?
3. Consider new commemorations – for example, Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israeli
Independence Day) or Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) –
which have been added to the Jewish calendar. Do those segments of
the Jewish community which refuse to acknowledge these risk splitting
the community?
4. What purposes can the continuation of traditions such as kiddush
levanah serve for us today?
February 7, 2004 – 15 Sh’vat 5764

Annual: Ex. 13:17 – 17:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 399; Hertz p. 265)

Triennial Cycle 3: Ex. 14:26 – 17:16 (Etz Hayim p. 405; Hertz p. 269)
Haftarah (a) Judges 4:4 – 5:31 (s) Judges 5:1-31

Prepared by, Kenneth S. Goldrich, Esq.

Author of the USCJ/RA Luah and Yad LaTorah

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


13:17-22 – The beginning of the Exodus, and the route through the desert.
Moses takes Joseph’s bones. The people are led by a pillar of cloud by day and
a pillar of fire by night.

14:1-14 – As the heart of Pharaoh changes, the Egyptians pursue the Israelites
and catch up to them at the Re(e)d Sea. The Israelites panic and Moses
reassures them.

14:15-18 – God tells Moses that He will save Israel; they will cross the sea on
dry land.

14:19-25 – The splitting of the sea. The Israelites pass through safely. The
Egyptians pursue them into the sea.

14:26-31 – At God's command, Moses stretches his hand forth over the sea; its
waters close up again, and the pursuing Egyptians are drowned.

15:1-21 – The "Song at the Sea" in praise and thanksgiving to God.

15:22-26 – The "bitter waters" at Marah.

15:27-16:36 – The encampment at Elim; God feeds the Israelites with manna
and quail.

17:1-7 – The miracle of the water from the rock.

17:8-16 – The war against Amalek, the archetype enemy of Israel.

Selected Text

Then Moses sang with the Bnei Yisrael this song to the Lord and said: I will sing
to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously the horse and its rider He hurled into
the sea. (Exodus 15:1)
Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the drum in her hand and all the
women went out with her with drums and dances. Miriam chanted for them:
Sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously, the horse and its rider He
hurled into the sea. (Exodus 15:20-21)

Discussion – Time for a Tune Up, Make a Note

There are few songs – text in poetic form, with a notable meter and rhyme – set
forth in the Torah. Even the word shir (in either its noun or verb form) is found
quite infrequently in the Torah – see for example Exodus 15, Numbers 21:17-20,
Deuteronomy 31:19 – 32:47. Our Selected Text is excerpted from Shirat
HaYam, Song of the Sea (Ex. 15:1-21), among the earliest – if not the first –
communal spontaneous prayers by the Jewish people recorded in our Torah.
Shirat Ha’Yam’s importance (historically and theologically) is highlighted by its
inclusion in the siddur, in the liturgy we recite every morning, and by the fact
that we stand when this portion is recited -- whether in our prayers or during the
Torah reading. The theological importance is based, in part, upon the inclusion
of one of the Torah’s few explicit statements of God’s monarchy: haShem
yimlokh l’olam va’ed, the Lord will reign forever. (15:18) The historical
importance of the Shirat HaYam is premised upon the song’s being the
spontaneous prayer that our ancestors sang some 3000 years ago at the most
important single event in the birth of the Jewish people.

Shabbat Shirah is called the Sabbath of Song because we read Shirat HaYam
in the Torah and the song of Deborah (Judges 5) in the haftarah. What is the
importance of song in Jewish tradition?

A Midrash Halakhah relates: “Ten songs are mentioned in the Bible: The first
was sung in Egypt … (Isaiah 30:29); the second was sung at the Re(e)d Sea …
(Exodus 15:1); the third was chanted at the well … (Numbers 21:17); the fourth
Moses sang near the end of his life … (Deut. 31:22); the fifth was recited by
Joshua … (Joshua 10:12); the sixth was that of Deborah and Barak … (Judges
5:1); the seventh was that of David … (II Samuel 22:1); the eighth was
Solomon’s … (II Chronicles 6:1); the ninth was uttered by Jehoshaphat … (II
Chronicles 20:21). The tenth song [referred to not as a shirah (feminine form)
but as a shir (masculine form) hadash], a new song, will be the song we sing in
olam ha’ba, the messianic age (Isaiah 42:10).” (Mekhilta on B’Shalah, 15:1)

While instrumental music may be rare in the modern synagogue (and,

according to many authorities, prohibited on Shabbat), such was not always the
case. This can be seen in Psalm 150, the last of the psalms which is included in
our daily morning service and which refers to no less than seven instruments
(including wind, string and percussion instruments) and dance as a component
of worship. The following excerpt from the Mishnah also evidences the rabbinic
sensitivity to music as a form of service to the divine:

“There are no less than twenty-one tekiot (blasts) in the Temple and there are
no more than forty-eight. There are not less than two lyres and not more than
six. There are not less than two flutes and not more than twelve. On twelve
days during the year, the flute is played before the altar: (i) when the first Pesah
offering is slaughtered, (ii) when the second Pesah offering is slaughtered, (iii)
on the first festival day of Pesah, (iv) on the festival of Shavuot, (v) on the eight
days of the Hag (Sukkot). They did not play on a brass flute but on a reed flute
because its sound is pleasant. They would only conclude with one flute because
it concludes (the music) beautifully.” (Arakhin 2:3)

A midrash relates: “The Holy One said: ‘I will open the mouth of mankind that
they may sing praises before Me every day and proclaim Me King throughout
the world. I would not have created My world except for the shirah, song, and
zimrah, music, presented for Me each day.” (Bet haMidrash 3:12-13, Alphabet
of Rabbi Akiva, as recorded in Sefer haAgadah, III, 8:118)

Another story: “Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi noticed an old man among his
listeners who obviously did not comprehend the meaning of his discourse. He
summoned him to his side and said: ‘I perceive that my sermon is unclear to
you. Listen to this melody, and it will teach you how to cleave unto the Lord.’
Rabbi Shneur Zalman began to sing a niggun (a song without words). It was a
song of Torah, of trust in God, of longing for the Lord, and of love for the Holy
One. ‘I understand now what you wish to teach,’ exclaimed the old man. ‘I feel
an intense longing to be united with the Holy One.’ The rebbe’s niggun became
part of every discourse he gave.” (B’Ohalei Habad as related in Hasidic
Anthology by Louis Newman)

Sparks for Further Discussion

1. In our Selected Text we find the song of Moses and the song of Miriam,
together comprising shirat ha’yam, the Song of the Sea. When Moses
leads the people (B’nei Yisrael – does it mean “men only” here?), the
grammar is in the masculine singular [Az yashir Moshe – “then Moses
sang,” followed by the first person Ashirah – I will sing. (Ex. 15:1)] When
Miriam leads the women, we find the plural form shiru, “they sang,” after
their cooperative effort in each taking a drum. (Ex. 15:20-21) How might
we account for the different approaches of Moses and Miriam?
2. Take a TaNaKh (a Bible) and review the ten songs that are enumerated
in the Mekhilta, above. What events and emotions result in song? What
expressions and manner of praise are expressed through song and
melody that a narrative cannot adequately relate?
3. How can a melody add to or modify the meaning of a text? How do
different forms of nusah, melodic themes, enhance our prayers?
February 14, 2004 – 22 Sh’vat 5764

Annual: Ex. 18:1 – 20:23 (Etz Hayim, p. 432 ; Hertz p. 288)

Triennial Cycle 3: Ex. 19:1 – 20:23 (Etz Hayim p. 436; Hertz p. 290)
Haftarah (a) Isaiah 6:1 – 7:6; 9:5-6 (s) Isaiah 6:1-13

Prepared by, Kenneth S. Goldrich, Esq.

Author of the USCJ/RA Luah and Yad LaTorah

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


18:1-12 – Moses' father-in-law Jethro (Hebrew, Yitro), the Midianite priest,

hears of the exodus and brings Moses' wife, Tsiporah, and their sons, Gershom
and Eliezer, to join Moses. After hearing all that God did for the Israelites,
Jethro blesses God.

18:13-27 – Jethro sees that Moses is overworked judging “from morning to

night.” He advises Moses to delegate certain responsibilities by appointing
officers and judges to help him, thus creating a workable leadership (judicial
and political) structure.

19:1-6 – In the third month after leaving Egypt (i.e., Sivan, the month of
Shavuot), the people prepare to accept the covenant and receive the Torah at
Mount Sinai, where they will become a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation."

19:7-15 – Moses tells the elders to prepare the people for the revelation. The
people prepare for three days.

19:16-25 – Dramatic phenomena accompany God's manifestation at Mount

Sinai. Moses ascends alone as the people remain at the base of the mountain.

20:1-14 – The Ten Commandments are given.

20:15-18 – The people are terrified by God's power, and they beg Moses to
mediate between them and God.

20:19-23 – Additional prohibitions on making idols, and commandments

regarding the construction of the mizbeah, or altar.

Selected Text

Remember the Sabbath day to make it kadosh (holy). Six days you shall labor
and do all of your work; but the seventh day shall be a day of shabbat
(rest/cessation) dedicated to the Lord your God. You shall not do any work, you
and your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, your beast, and
your stranger within your gates; because in six days the Lord made the heavens
and the earth, the sea and everything in them and He rested on the seventh day.
Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it kadosh. (The Fourth
Commandment - Exodus 20:8-11)

Discussion – Kiddush, I Won't Stand For It!

“As much as the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the
Jewish people.” So noted Ahad Ha’am (pen name of the author Asher
Ginzberg). The importance of Shabbat to Jews cannot be underestimated. An
entire tractate of the Talmud and volumes upon volumes of rabbinic literature,
both halakhah (law) and aggadah (lore), are devoted to the intricacies of
Shabbat observance. Perhaps, however, no single source is as well known as
the Fourth of the Aseret haDibrot (popularly referred to as the Ten

Jewish tradition teaches that the Torah has 613 mitzvot. How many of these
mitzvot are contained in what we refer to as the Fourth Commandment? One
would be excused for thinking that only one mitzvah is set forth – i.e.,
remembering the Sabbath by refraining from melakhah (work). Yet the rabbis
teach that there are two mitzvot contained within the Fourth Commandment, our
Selected Text. The second (which we will not be focusing on) is the mitzvat lo
ta’aseh, the negative mitzvah to refrain from melakahah on Shabbat. The first
mitzvah is zakhor et yom ha’Shabbat, to remember the Sabbath day. How do
we fulfill the mitzvah of remembering Shabbat? The Talmud (Pesahim 106a)
teaches that we remember Shabbat by making kiddush. Here is a summary of
the mitzvah from the Sefer ha’Hinukh:

“#31 (of 613) The Mitzvah to make Shabbat kadosh with words. To speak words
on the Sabbath day as it enters and as it ends, by which there is a
remembrance of the greatness of the day and its elevated status, and how it is
set apart for praise from the other days before and after, as it is said (in the
Torah) ‘Remember the Sabbath day to make it kadosh’ (Ex. 20:8), that is to say,
remember it by recalling its kedushah and greatness. The explanation given to
us by our sages is that we are commanded to say these words over wine …”
[Sefer ha’Hinkukh]

Thus, the seemingly simple act of making kiddush at our Friday evening meal,
as recited by Jews for thousands of years, is the fulfillment of one of the mitzvot
that was inscribed on one of the shnei luhot ha’brit, the two tablets Moses
brought down from Sinai. There is an interesting divergence of practice
regarding the recitation of Kiddush: do we sit or stand? The following is the
explanation provided by the Sefardic Rabbi Yosef Karo in the classic code, the
Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim, 271:10, with glosses reflecting Ashkenazic
practice by Rabbi Moses Isserles (“Rema”):

“(The paragraph beginning) Vayekhulu (Gen. 2:1-3) is said while standing and,
after, recite (the brakhah) borei pri ha’gafen and the kiddush (i.e., the paragraph
ending with m’kadesh ha’shabbat). [Rema: One can stand while making
kiddush but it is preferable to sit. The custom is to sit even while saying (the
introductory paragraph) vayekhulu, except that, at the very beginning we stand
very briefly in honor of the Name (of God), which appears as an acronym in the
initial letters (of the first four words) [Yom Hashishi Vayekhlul Hashamayim

The commentary of the Mishnah Berurah (Rabbi Israel Meir haCohen, a/k/a the
Hafetz Hayyim) explains that thosewho stand do so because the act of reciting
the introductory paragraph of Vayekhulu (Gen.2:1-3) is a form of giving
testimony to God’s creation of the heavens and the earth and the practice, in a
Jewish court, is for testimony to be given while standing. The Mishnah Berurah
also explains the custom of those who sit. They do so because (as it is set forth
in the Talmud, Pesahim 101a) we do not make kiddush except where the meal
is eaten and, since we eat our meal seated and kiddush is part of the meal, we
recite kiddush seated as well. The Vilna Gaon offers another reason for
remaining seated; since it is common practice for the head of the household to
make kiddush and recite on (be motzei) the others at the table who have fulfilled
their obligation (been yotzei) through the head of the household, this is only
possible when they are engaged in a common enterprise – i.e., the meal which
they eat seated.

Thus, whether our minhag, custom, is (i) to stand, or (ii) to sit, or (iii) to stand
briefly and then sit, there is not only a basis for each practice but real meaning.

Sparks for Further Discussion

1. In what ways does Shabbat “keep the Jewish people”? What impact
does the observance of Shabbat have on the Jewish family? The Jewish
community? How can we strengthen Shabbat observance in our families
and community?
2. The phrase Aseret ha’Dibrot, commonly referred to as the Ten
Commandments, is more accurately translated as the Ten Utterances or
Ten Sayings. How many of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot can you count in the
Aseret ha’Dibrot? Look at both Jewish and non-Jewish sources to see
how the identification of the so-called Ten Commandments differs.
3. The rabbis suggest that each of the commandments on the first tablet (1-
5) corresponds in some manner to the commandments on the second
tablet (6-10) such that #4, to remember Shabbat, is paired with #9, not to
give false testimony. How does this correspondence help explain the
importance of making kiddush? How does this relate to the issue of
sitting or standing during the kiddush?
4. Some sit, some stand. What other family customs do you have? Do you
know the basis for those customs?
February 21, 2004 – 29 Sh’vat 5764

Annual: Ex. 21:1 – 24:18 (Etz Hayim, p. 456; Hertz p. 306)

Triennial Cycle 3: Ex. 23:20 – 24:18 (Etz Hayim p. 474; Hertz p. 319)
Maftir: (2d Scroll) Exodus 30:11-16 (Etz Hayim p. 523; Hertz p. 350)
Haftarah: (a) II Kings 12:1-7 (s) II Kings 11:17 – 12:17 (Etz Hayim p. 1276;
Hertz p. 992)
[Many add the first and last verses of the haftarah for mahar hodesh - I Samuel
20:18 and 20:42]

Prepared by, Kenneth S. Goldrich, Esq.

Author of the USCJ/RA Luah and Yad LaTorah

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


Mishpatim is rich in mitzvot. Of the 613 mitzvot in the Torah, there are 53 in
Parashat Mishpatim – 23 positive and 30 negative.

21:1-11 – Laws regarding the male and female Hebrew slave.

21:12-17 – Capital crimes – penalties for intentional murder, unintentional

murder and kidnapping.

21:18-22:3 – Laws of personal injury, property damage, theft, and negligence,

including lex talionis, i.e., an eye for an eye.

22:4-14 – Laws governing different kinds of property custodians: unpaid, paid,

and borrowers.

22:15-26 – Laws against the seducer, occult practices (witchcraft), and

forbidding the oppression of the powerless and the weak, including the stranger,
the widow, the orphan, and the poor; also, lending without interest.

22:27-30 – Miscellaneous laws concerning respect for authority, gifts to the

priests, and the prohibition of eating torn flesh (trefah).

23:1-9 – Laws concerning righteous behavior toward others, including some

basics of the justice system.

23:10-19 – Laws concerning the Sabbatical year, Shabbat, and Festivals.

23:20-33 – An epilogue exhorting the Israelites to follow God's law,

emphasizing the rewards they will receive if they do so.
24:1-18 – The Covenant is ratified at a formal ceremony of acceptance. Moses
and the elders eat a meal and see a vision of God. Moses alone ascends the
mountain to receive the stone tablets, remaining there for forty days and nights.

Selected Text

Do not harass the ger and do not oppress him, because you were gerim (pl. of
ger) in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:20)

Discussion – So What If You Don't Look Jewish?

The term ger, which remains untranslated in the Selected Text, has several
meanings. While the word appears earlier in the Torah, Rashi defines the term
in his comment on this verse: “Ger refers to one who was not born in the same
country (he now resides in) but came from another country.” This explanation
corresponds to the usual translation of ger as “stranger.” This is clearly the plain
meaning of the term in our Selected Text. However, the Talmud interprets at
least the first instance of the term ger to refer to a convert (ger tzedek, as the
term later developed), i.e., one who converted to Judaism. Thus, our Selected
Text is understood to read: “Do not harass the convert (ger) and do not oppress
him, because you were strangers (gerim) in the land of Egypt.”

Based upon a discussion in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 59b), the Sefer ha’Hinukh
synthesizes a significant amount of rabbinic material and begins its explanation
of the mitzvah found in our Selected Text as follows:

“Not to oppress the convert with words. We are forbidden from harassing the
convert, even if only verbally. If one comes from among the nations and
converts by entering our faith (i.e., Judaism), it is forbidden for us to humiliate
him, even verbally. As it is said: ‘Do not harass the convert (ger).’ (Ex. 20:22)
Even though we were warned about this regarding a Jew (based on Lev. 19:18),
and since he (i.e., the convert) has entered our faith, he is (treated) as a Jew
(and thus the warning in our Selected Text would seem superfluous) the Torah
has provided this additional warning, a warning repeated again. (Lev. 19:33)
This is so because (the convert) is more likely (to be susceptible) to harassment
than the (born) Jew who (if he is harassed) will seek to avenge his disgrace.”
(Sefer ha’Hinukh, Mitzvah 63)

The ger – whether a stranger or a convert – is more susceptible to suffering

harm and requires from the law a high level of protection. As the Talmud notes,
the Torah repeats the variously worded warnings regarding treatment of a ger
no less that 36, and others say as many as 46, times. (Bava Metzia 59b)

Perhaps because of the difficulties the convert might face for his/her choice,
perhaps because of the difficulties the Jewish community might face (e.g., as a
minority in a predominantly non-Jewish culture), or perhaps for other reasons,
Judaism has, for much of its history, actively discouraged conversion. Based on
the example of Ruth (the most famous convert and ancestor of King David and,
ultimately, the messiah), converts were discouraged up to three times before
even being accepted for study in the first step leading to conversion. Yet, at the
same time, we find hints of, perhaps, a different approach: “According to Rabbi
Elazar, Israel was not sent into exile among the nations except for the purpose
of increasing the number of converts among them.” (Pesahim 87b)

However one viewed the possibility of non-Jews converting to Judaism, once a

convert joined the Jewish people, rabbinic literature tells us that efforts were to
be made to assist and encourage the full integration of the convert into the
Jewish community. Thus, for example, one is not permitted to remind the
convert of his past. Similarly, the ger is encouraged not to see herself as
different. Rambam was asked by the convert Ovadiah whether he could recite
the prayers which contain references like: “our God and God of our ancestors,”
“the mitzvot which we were commanded,” “You have chosen us from among the
nations,” or “the miracles You made for our ancestors.” In a famous response
addressed to “Ovadiah the wise and learned convert,” Maimonides instructed
him to “recite everything in the prescribed order without the slightest change. In
the same manner that every Jew by birth recites each berakhah and tefilah you
should recite them as well, whether you are alone or praying together with the
congregation.” Rambam instructed that “whoever adopts Judaism and
acknowledges the Unity of God (i.e., monotheism) as prescribed in the Torah, is
among the disciples of Abraham our father.” (Rambam, Letter to Ovadiah the
Proselyte) If nothing else, the Book of Ruth and rabbinic tradition teach that
destiny is not a matter of biological predetermination.

One hundred years ago, the Jewish Encyclopedia stated: “In modern times
conversions to Judaism are not very numerous.” Certainly, since the completion
of that Encyclopedia in 1906, the number of conversions has risen dramatically,
as has the presence of intermarried families in our community. Clearly we are
presented, perhaps with greater frequency than at any time in the past, with the
opportunity to treat the ger with the sensitivity that the Torah and rabbinic
tradition requires.

Sparks for Further Discussion

1. Several related terms include ger toshav (translated as “resident

stranger” and used to refer to one who lives among and according to the
traditions of a population) and ger tzedek (a “righteous convert”) or
“convert.” Can you sense a connection between these terms? How can
our Selected Text be understood if we assume that the term ger has two
meanings in the same verse, i.e., why should our experience as
oppressed strangers in Egypt make us more sensitive to the convert?
2. Several contrary statements (e.g., “converts are difficult for Israel” –
Talmud, Yevamot 109b) can be found in rabbinic literature discouraging
conversion and focusing on the challenges converts can present to the
Jewish community. What types of difficulties might the Jewish community
face in welcoming converts? How might such challenges be addressed?
3. How might the lessons our tradition teaches about how we are to treat
the ger also apply to those born Jews who are newly observant (hozrei /
ba’alei teshuvah) or to those who are new or less active members in our
February 28, 2004 – 7 Adar 5764

Annual: Ex. 25:1 – 27:19 (Etz Hayim p 485; Hertz p. 326)

Triennial Cycle 3: Ex. 26:31 – 27:19 (Etz Hayim p. 495; Hertz p. 333)
Haftarah: I Kings 5:26 – 6:13

Prepared by, Kenneth S. Goldrich, Esq.

Author of the USCJ/RA Luah and Yad LaTorah

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


25:1-9 - God commands that the Israelites be asked for gifts, terumah, for the
building of the tabernacle (mishkan).

25:10-40 - Instructions for making the ark (aron) and its covering, the Table
(shulhan) and its accessories, and the menorah.

26:1-30 - Detailed instructions for making the mishkan: the cloth covering, the
gold clasps, and the goat hair tent over the mishkan. Instructions regarding the
48 planks of the mishkan, and their joining above by means of the rings, and
inside by means of wooden bars.

26:31-35 - The curtain (parokhet) dividing the mishkan and screening the Holy
of Holies (Kodesh ha-Kodashim) where the aron was placed.

26:36 - 27:19 - The screen (masakh) for the entrance, the altar (mizbeah), and
the enclosure or courtyard (hatzer) of the mishkan.

Selected Text

[Mishpatim] Moses ascended the mountain and the cloud covered the mountain.
The Glory of the Lord dwelled on Mt. Sinai … the appearance of the Glory of the
Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain before the eyes of the
Israelites … Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights (Ex.

[Terumah] The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, speak to the Israelites and tell
them to bring me gifts, from every person whose heart moves him …. You shall
accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple and scarlet yarn; fine
linen and goat hairs; ram skins dyed red, dolphin skins and acacia wood; oil for
light, spices for anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; lapis lazuli and other
stones for the ephod and breast plate. (Ex. 25:1-9)
Discussion – Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Until this week, we have read in Sefer Shemot of the Israelites’ enslavement,
the plagues and exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the Re(e)d Sea, the
beginning of the travels in the desert, the Aseret ha’Dibrot (Ten
Commandments) and the numerous basic laws of civilization. The Torah’s text
changes radically as we end last week’s reading (Mishpatim) with Moses in
God’s presence on Mount Sinai and find ourselves (at the beginning of this
week’s portion, Terumah) presented with a list of materials and construction
details for the mishkan and its contents. This radical change of topics is jarring.
This week’s reading seems quite out of place. In such circumstances, we
inevitably turn to Rashi.

Yet when we look at Rashi on Parashat Terumah we do not find an answer to

our question. However, two weeks hence, in Parashat Ki Tisa, we find the
following comment by Rashi: “The Torah is not in chronological order. The
incident of the Golden Calf (Ex. 32) occurred many days before the command to
work on the mishkan. (Ex. 25) The tablets were broken (by Moses after the
Golden Calf) on the 17th of Tammuz. The Holy One was reconciled with the
Israelites on Yom Kippur, and it was on the following day that they gave gifts for
the mishkan which was constructed on the 1st of Nisan.” (Rashi on Ex. 31:18)
Rashi’s comment is based upon midrashim which state not only that the Golden
Calf preceded the commandment to build the mishkan but that the mishkan was
a direct result of the people’s sin (e.g. Shemot Raba 33:3, Tanhuma Terumah

How can Rashi and the midrashim state so boldly that the Torah is not in
chronological order? This concept is found in the Talmud based upon Numbers
1:1, which refers to “the second month of the second year” from the exodus and
Numbers 9:1, which refers to the first month of the second year. Since a later
verse refers to a period one month earlier, the conclusion is reached: eyn
mukdam u’meuhar ba’Torah – there is no earlier and later in the Torah (i.e., the
Torah is not in chronological order). (Pesahim 6b, 49b)

The Talmud itself recognizes that there are limitations to this principle. Ramban
(Nahmanides, 1194-1270), for one, is of the opinion that the Torah is generally
in chronological order (yesh mukdam u’meuhar baTorah) and that one should
not suggest an alternate chronology for the text except in unusual and quite
limited circumstances. Consistent with his approach, Ramban disagrees with
the midrashim and with Rashi and is of the opinion that after the grand
revelation at Sinai where the Israelites had their most direct encounter with God,
the Holy One commanded the building of the mishkan to provide a focus for the
people in which God’s glory (kavod) would dwell. (Ramban on Ex. 35:1 and

Both opinions have much to recommend them. Rashi, representing most

commentators, sees the construction of this temporary mishkan as an
atonement for the het ha’egel, the sin of the Golden Calf. Just as the people
gave their gold to build something tangible to worship, they now gave their gold
and valuables to create the mishkan, a tangible representation of God’s
presence. Ramban, representing a minority opinion (but one defending the
integrity and chronology of the Torah’s text), sees in the mishkan as a
continuation of the grand revelation at Sinai, with God’s kavod, glory, continuing
to dwell among the people (the mishkan was, in effect, a portable Sinai).
Ramban saw the mishkan not as a form of atonement but as a means of
avoiding (or at least minimizing) sin by keeping the people closer to God.

Thus, we have a philosophical question: Which came first, the chicken or the
egg? Or, to put the question in a Torah context: Which came first, the mishkan
or the egg-el? Concerning the chicken v. egg question, the first chapter of
Genesis would appear to confirm that, at least according to the Torah, poultry
(Gen. 1:20) as well as the other animal species were created by God fully
formed (see the creation account for the 5th and 6th days, Gen. 1:20-31). The
order of creation – which interestingly follows an evolutionary progressionfrom
simple to complex – is fixed. Chronology is important in the Genesis narrative.
Chronology is also important in fields as diverse as science and the setting of
economic policy. How else to differentiate between cause and effect? Yet, as
straightforward as the chronology appears in the early chapters of Genesis, it is
not always so simple to establish a timeline from the Torah’s text. And this
leaves us with the ability to interpret and learn.

Sparks for Further Discussion

1. If we accept the opinion that the mishkan was commanded in response

to the sin of the Golden Calf (het ha’egel) are we to conclude that, but for
this sin, the Jewish people would not have had a mishkan at all? The
mishkan was the forerunner of the Temple in Jerusalem (Bet
ha’Mikdash). How might this have influenced Ramban’s opinion?
2. Some three thousand people died in the aftermath of the Golden Calf (Ex.
32:28). Recognizing the inevitable shortcomings of humanity, are we
better advised to act in accordance with Ramban’s opinion, or is it more
appropriate to allow people to act and suffer the consequences and then
3. Rashi views the het ha’egel in accordance with the more common
understanding, i.e., that the people lost faith in God and were engaged in
idolatry. Ramban, again clearly in the minority, understands the incident
not as creating an alternate god but, rather, as a substitute for Moses,
who was, in their belief, missing. (See Rashi and Ramban on Ex. 32:1)
Which came first, the commentators’ views on the nature of the incident
with the Golden Calf or their belief as to the timing of the building of the
mishkan – i.e., what is the interplay between these concepts?
March 6, 2004 – 13 Adar 5764

Annual: Ex. 27:20 – 30:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 503; Hertz p. 339)

Triennial: Ex. 29:19 – 30:10 (Etz Hayim p. 513; Hertz p. 346)
Maftir: (2d Scroll) Deuteronomy 25:17-19 (Etz Hayim, p. 1135; Hertz p. 856)
Haftarah: (a) I Samuel 15:2-34 (s) I Samuel 15:1-34 (Etz Hayim, p. 1280; Hertz
p. 995)

Prepared by, Kenneth S. Goldrich, Esq.

Author of the USCJ/RA Luah and Yad LaTorah

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


27:20-28:43 - Instructions concerning the oil for the ner tamid; the fashioning of
garments for the kohen, including the ephod (a type of apron) and special

29:1-37 - Description of the consecration and inauguration of Aaron and his

sons as priests.

29:38-46 - The korban tamid, the daily sacrifice (two sheep: one in the morning,
one in the evening) offered each day, every day.

30:1-10 - Details for the construction and use of the incense altar.

Selected Text

You shall command the Bnei Yisrael to bring to you pure pressed olive oil for
lighting to kindle the ner tamid (continuously burning lamp). (Exodus 27:20)

Discussion – “Knock, Knock.” “Who’s there?” “Olive.” Olive Who?”

Two of the most important factors in effective marketing are getting one’s
product mentioned frequently and having it mentioned at particularly opportune
times. My hat is off to the marketing team responsible for launching the olive.
The olive tree and its byproducts are mentioned with incredible frequency
throughout the Bible and rabbinic literature, always at just the right time, when
and where everyone is paying attention. In our Selected Text, we find olive oil
designated as the “official fuel” for the menorah that would constantly illuminate
the Temple and all of Jerusalem. Following are a few of the many times the
olive’s PR firm managed to place its product:

• To Mark The End of the Flood - Our Selected Text is the second
reference to olives in the Torah. The first reference is in Parashat Noah.
After the flood and the cessation of the rain, Noah sent out a raven, then
a dove, without success. After another seven days, “and again he sent
the dove from the ark. The dove came back to him at evening time and
there was an olive branch, which it had plucked, in its mouth. Then Noah
knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.” (Genesis 8:10-11)
• To Anoint Kohanim Upon Their Appointment (And Later, Kings and
the Messiah) - After our Selected Text, the third reference in the Torah
to olives is found in next week’s portion, Ki Tisa: “The Lord spoke to
Moses saying, ‘Take choice spices [which are then specified] … and a
hin (a liquid measure, approximately 6 liters) of olive oil. Make this a holy
anointing oil, a compound expertly blended to serve as holy anointing oil.
With it anoint the ohel mo’ed (tent of meeting), the ark of the covenant
[the contents of the mishkan are specified] … Thus shall you consecrate
them so that they may be most holy; whatever touches them shall also
be holy. You shall also anoint Aaron and his sons, making them holy to
serve me as priests.’” (Ex. 30:22-30)
• One of the Seven Official Species of the Land of Israel - The special
relationship between olives and the Land of Israel (where the olive tree
was found in ancient times and continues to be found today) is evident in
the following description: “The Lord your God is bringing you to a good
land, a land with streams of water, springs and fountains, in the valley
and the mountain; a land of wheat and barley, (grape) vines and figs and
pomegranates, a land of oil-olives and honey.” (Deut. 8:7-8)
• As a Standard Measurement - A kezayit (zayit is an olive; kezayit is,
literally, the equivalent of an olive) is a standard measure for many
purposes within halakhah. As an example, eating is defined, in part, as
consuming the amount of a kezayit within a specified time frame. Thus, if
one consumes at least a kezayit, it carries with it certain obligations for
washing (in the case of bread) and the recitation of appropriate berakhot
before and after. At the Pesah seder, one must eat at least a kezayit of
matzah and a kezayit of maror to fulfill the obligation of eating these
foods. While the topic is subject to significant debate, a kezayit is
basically a measure in volume equal to either one-third or one-half of the
volume of an egg. Opinions vary from a volume of anywhere from around
25 cc to 50 cc, equivalent in weight to anywhere from 15 to 30 grams
(approx. 1/2 to 1 ounce).
• As a Construction Material in Paradise - Midrashic and kabbalistic
sources talk of the five chambers of paradise (i.e., olam ha’ba), each of
which is reserved for a designated class of the righteous. The first
chamber is made of cedar and crystal. The second of cedar and silver.
The third of silver, gold and pearls. The fifth of precious stones, gold and
silver surrounded by myrrh. “The fourth chamber is made of olive wood
and is inhabited by those who have suffered for the sake of their religion.
Olives typify bitterness in taste and brilliancy in light (through the pure
olive oil), symbolizing persecution and its reward.” [Midrash Konen as
found under “Paradise” in the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906)]
• In the Emblem of the State of Israel - In modern times the symbols of
the menorah and the olive branch found expression in the official
emblem of the State of Israel, adopted in Shevat 5709, February 1949.
The seven-branched menorah, “a primary symbol of the Temple,
appeared on coins, on decorated glass, in catacomb frescoes and on the
walls and mosaic floors of synagogues” forming the perfect symbol for
the modern state aswell. According to Gavreil Shamir, one of the
designers of Israel’s official emblem: “After we decided to use the
menorah, we looked for another element and concluded that olive
branches are the most beautiful expression of the Jewish people’s love
of peace.” One olive leaf was placed on each side of the menorah. “The
two olive branches evidently played an extremely important part in the
perception of the new state, in which ‘religion’ and ‘state’ (the ‘two
anointed dignitaries’ – the high priest and the governor) stand together to
realize the Zionist dream.” (Alec Mishory, “The Flag and the Emblem,”
from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Israel)

Sparks for Further Discussion

1. The very word mashiah, messiah, means “anointed.” Just as the

kohanim (priests) and kings were anointed with the holy olive-based
anointing oil in ancient times, so too will the messiah be anointed in the
future. What relationship is there between the olive branch in the Noah
story, the olive oil that lit the menorah, the holy anointing oil for priests
and kings, and the messianic age?
2. Understanding both the actual and symbolic importance of olives and
olive oil, reconsider the various levels of meaning of the miracle of
Hanukkah (one cruse of pure olive oil which was sufficient for one day
and lasted eight days). (Talmud, Shabbat 21b)
3. Many of us may remember having read the children’s book The Giving
Tree by Shel Silverstein. The book explores the many uses to which a
tree can be put through the tree’s relationship with a child from boyhood
to adulthood. How many uses do we find in Jewish tradition for the olive
tree and its byproducts? Consider the relationship of the olive tree to the
Jewish people, past, present and future.
4. Purim is on 14 Adar, Saturday evening (3/6) and Sunday (3/7). Once you
have heard the megillah, delivered mishloah manot to your friends,
provided matanot l’evyonim to the needy, and finished your purim
se’udah, consider the following: When the Romans destroyed the
Second Temple in 70 C.E., they carted off numerous treasures from the
Holy Temple, including containers of the pure extra virgin olive oil used to
light the ner tamid. Once they returned to Rome, since they had no
eternal light, the Romans used the pure extra virgin olive oil to saute
garlic and serve over al dente pasta. Consider how the destiny of Jewish
history and the nature of Italian cuisine would have been different had
the Romans not destroyed our Holy Temple and stolen our olive oil.
March 13, 2004 – 20 Adar 5764

Annual: Ex. 30:11 – 34:35 (Etz Hayim, p. 523; Hertz p. 350)

Triennial Cycle 3: Ex. 33:12 – 34:35 (Etz Hayim p. 538; Hertz p. 362)
Maftir: (2d Scroll) Numbers 19:1-22 (Etz Hayim, p. 880; Hertz p. 652)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38 (Etz Hayim, p. 1286; Hertz p. 999)

Prepared by, Kenneth S. Goldrich, Esq.

Author of the USCJ/RA Luah and Yad LaTorah

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


30:11-16 - The requirement to give a half-shekel as a means of taking a census

of men fit for military service.

30:17-38 - Directions for the fabrication of the brass basin used by the kohanim
to wash before entering the Sanctuary; the manufacture of the anointing oil and
the holy incense.

31:1-11 - Bezalel and Oholiav are designated by God as the craftsmen

responsible for constructing the Tabernacle.

31:12-17 - A special warning regarding the sanctity of Shabbat.

31:18-32:6 - God gives Moses the two tablets of the Covenant. Meanwhile,
down in the Israelite camp, the people despair of Moses' return and demand of
Aaron that he make a "god" for them. The result is the Golden Calf.

32:7-35 - God tells Moses what the people are doing and threatens to destroy
them. Moses descends the mountain, sees the people dancing around the calf,
and in a fit of anger breaks the tablets. The actual worshipers of the calf, 3000
in number, are put to death. Moses intercedes for his people and ascends Mt.
Sinai once again. He pleads with God, who relents from destroying the entire
people, though he sends a plague as punishment.

33:1-11 - God tells Moses to lead the people toward the Promised Land and
says that He will no longer dwell in their midst. The people must stripoff their
finery as an act of contrition. God continues to speak to Moses directly.

33:12-23 - Moses pleads to be able to see God as a confirmation both of his

authority and his relationship with God, but that request is denied, "for a human
may not see Me and live." God does promise that Moses will be able to see His
"back," i.e., have an indirect manifestation of His presence.

34:1-9 - Moses returns to Mt. Sinai for the third time and receives the revelation
concerning God's Thirteen Attributes.
34:10-26 - The renewal of the covenant between God and Israel, with further
instruction concerning the keeping of the mitzvot.

34:27-35 - After forty days, Moses receives the second set of tablets. He comes
down from Sinai, his face shining with rays of light.

Selected Text

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: When you take a census of B’nei Yisrael
according to their count, they shall each give to the Lord an atonement for his
soul when they are counted, so there will not be a plague when they are
counted. This is what everyone who is entered in the census shall pay: mahatzit
ha’shekel (a half-shekel) by the shekel ha’kodesh (official Temple weight),
twenty gerah to the shekel, a half-shekel as an offering to the Lord. Everyone
who passes into the census, from the age of twenty years and up, shall give the
Lord's offering. The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than
the half-shekel when giving the Lord's offering to atone for your souls. You shall
take the atonement money from B’nei Yisrael and give it to the service of the
Tent of Meeting; it shall serve as a reminder for B’nei Yisrael before the Lord, to
atone for your souls. (Exodus 30:11-16)

Discussion – Half a Shekel is Better than None

The Census.

The Selected Text is difficult. What is the atonement being offered? What
plague is being avoided? What could possibly be the difficulty with a census, a
direct count of the military age men? If you have ever been to a weekday
minyan where there were not obviously ten people, you may have witnessed a
small remnant of one aspect of the unusual procedure described in our
Selected Text. Rather than count those present, someone may recite “Hoshia et
amekha, u’varekh et nahalatekha, ur’em v’nas’em ad ha’olam” [Save Your
nation and bless Your inheritance, tend to them and raise them up, forever –
Psalm 28:9].

This verse has ten words, one word corresponding to each person needed to
constitute a minyan. Why not just count, 1, 2, 3, 4 … 8, 9, 10? Let us ask Rashi.

“When you take a ‘census,’ the word (census) is translated (in the Aramaic
translation, Onkelos) as ‘taking’ – when you want to take the total of their
numbers, to know how many they are, do not take a head count (i.e., do not
count the people); rather let each give a half-shekel, then count the shekalim (pl.
of shekel) and you will know how many there are. [Then] there will not be a
plague among them for the evil eye can affect that which is counted and a
plague may come upon them as we found in the days of David.” (Rashi on Ex.

Does Rashi answer our question or raise more questions? What occurred
during David’s time? In II Samuel 24, David conducted a census by counting the
people. “David’s heart struck him after he counted the nation, and David said to
the Lord, I have sinned greatly by what I have done….” (II Sam. 24:10) Seventy
thousand people died. (24:15).

The Talmud asks and answers our question: “Why are people not counted
directly? … Rabbi Isaac says ‘It is forbidden to count Israel, even for the
performance of a mitzvah.’ … “The Talmudic discussion focuses on the verse:
“The number of B’nei Yisrael will be like the sands of the sea which cannot be
measured or counted …” (Hoshea 2:1). The only debate is the extent to which
counting Jews is a transgression. Rabbi Elazar claims that the act of counting
Jews violates one negative commandment while Rabbi Nahman bar Isaac
claims that the act violates two prohibitions, not to “count” or “measure.”
Counting Israel contradicts the very concept that Israel will be as numerous as
the “sands of the sea,” i.e., uncountable. (Yoma 22b)

Mahatzit ha’Shekel Before Purim.

The mitzvah to give a half-shekel is only in force and effect when the Bet
haMikdash (Temple) is in existence in Jerusalem. Today (and until the coming
of the Messiah and the rebuilding ofthe Temple) we substitute two practices to
keep alive (zekher - to remember) the giving of the half-shekel. First, since the
half-shekel was given in Adar, we read, on a specially designated Shabbat
(Shabbat Shekalim), our Selected Text as a maftir reading, from a second
Torah scroll. Second, at the minhah (afternoon) service on ta’anit esther (the
fast day preceding Purim) it is customary to give three half dollar coins (being
reminiscent of the half shekel) to tzedakah, charity. We give three of these to
reflect the three times the word terumah (offering gift) is used in Parashat Ki
Tissa (Ex. 30:13-15). Many synagogues will have three coins available and the
practice is for each individual to contribute and, essentially, buy the right
(through the contribution to charity) to use the coins.

Sparks for Further Discussion

1. There are rabbinic authorities in Israel who objected to (and advised their
adherents not to cooperate with) a modern census. There are other
modern democracies which will not, as a matter of principle, ask census
participants for their religious affiliation. What are the implications of the
various positions?
2. It has been suggested that by counting people we risk reducing them to
numbers and, in a sense, de-humanizing them. Today we have many
numbers that we use, that identify us, for a variety of purposes. Is it your
experience that the proliferation of numbers (passwords, ID’s etc.) have
in any way limited our individual identities, or are these merely matters of
3. What symbolic value may be found in the use of a half-shekel rather than
a full shekel? The half-shekel of our Selected Text was continued during
the period of both the First and Second Temples and was used
(beginning with the new fiscal year in Nissan) for the regular daily and
seasonal offerings. What importance can be found in having these
Temple offerings being supported equally by every Jew?
March 20, 2004 – 27 Adar 5764

Annual: Ex. 35:1 – 40:38 (Etz Hayim, p. 552; Hertz p. 373)

Triennial Cycle 3: Ex. 39:22 – 40:38 (Etz Hayim p.567; Hertz p. 387)
Maftir: (2d Scroll) Exodus12:1-20 (Etz Hayim, p. 380; Hertz p. 253)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16 – 46:18 (Etz Hayim, p. 1290; Hertz p. 1001)

Prepared by, Kenneth S. Goldrich, Esq.

Author of the USCJ/RA Luah and Yad LaTorah

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director



35:1-3 - An additional warning about observing Shabbat.

35:4-35:20 - God instructs Moses to collect all the contributions and prepare the
building of the mishkan (Tabernacle).

35:21-29 - The people of Israel bring their gifts in extravagant measure.

35:30-36:7 - Betzalel and Oholiav are appointed to supervise the making of the
mishkan. The Israelites cause a "problem:” “The people are bringing more than
is needed." Moses announces: No more, thank you.

36:8-37:16 - The making of the cloth walls, roof, planks and bars of the
mishkan; the making of the parokhet (cloth partition) and curtain for its doorway;
the construction of its various vessels; an accounting of the materials used in
building it; description of the ephod (priest's outer garment) and breastplate.

37:17 - 38:8 - The construction of the menorah, the incense altar, the sacrificial
altar, and the bronze basin.

38:9 - 20 - The construction of the enclosure of the mishkan.


38:21-39:32 - A description of the priestly garments.

39:33-43 - The mishkan and its vessels are brought to Moses. He sanctifies

40:1-16 - God commands Moses to set up the mishkan and to consecrate

Aaron and his sons as priests.
40:34-38 - God causes His Shekhinah (Holy Presence) to dwell in the Tent of

Selected Text

These are the accountings of the mishkan, the tabernacle of testimony, which
were counted as Moses requested … Betzalel – son of Uri, son of Hur, of the
tribe of Judah – did everything that the Lord commanded Moses. (Exodus
38:21-22) … All the gold that was used for the work … came to 29 talents and
730 shekel … The silver … came to 100 talents and 1775 shekel … The copper
came to 70 talents and 2400 shekel. (Exodus 38:24-29)

Discussion: In God We Trust – All Others Must Pay Cash

A central principle of traditional rabbinic interpretation of the Torah is that every

narrative, every verse, every word and every letter is there for a purpose. We
are therefore compelled to ask: What purpose is served by telling us that Moses
provided a detailed accounting – ounce-by-ounce, pound by-pound – of the
materials that were donated to the construction of the mishkan? If the Torah did
not tell us about Moses’ accounting, would anyone have suspected Moses of
keeping some of the gold and silver for his own use?

Jewish legal codes, beginning with the Talmud, have numerous laws
concerning the actions of those who collect charitable funds: “The rabbis taught
(in a mishnah, Peah 8:7) ‘Tzedakah funds are collected by two (people) and
divided (for distribution) by three.’ [The mishnah is then explained.] (Tzedakah)
‘is collected by two’ since we do not give authority over public matters to less
than two and ‘funds are divided (for distribution) by three’ since it is like a civil
case (i.e., a legal matter involving monetary damages which requires a court of
three).” (Bava Batra 8b) In our Selected Text, the accounting was not done by
Moses but “as Moses requested.” The rabbis teach that the accounting was
done by Itamar -- thus fulfilling the law later stated by the mishnah that at least
two people be involved in monitoring public funds.

What is the extent to which one should avoid the appearance of impropriety
when dealing with the public trust? The Talmud teaches: “The house of Garmu
were skilled at making the showbread (lehem panim used in theTemple), but
good bread was never found in their children’s hands. So that people should not
say that they benefited from the showbread … Our rabbis taught, the house of
Avitnas were skilled in making the incense (used in the Temple). But no bride in
their family ever went out with perfume. When they married a woman from
outside their family, they made it a condition that there be no perfume so that
people should not say they perfumed themselves from the incense.” (Yuma

“Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov says: ‘A person should not give even a perutah (a
single penny) to a communal charity unless it is supervised by (someone as
honest as) R’ Hananya ben Teradyon” (Talmud, Bava Batra 10b, Avodah Zarah
17b) When the funds of two different charities became co-mingled, Rabbi
Hananya ben Teradyon was known to have given money from his own pocket
to reconcile the two accounts.

In modern parlance, the above would be referred to as transparency in

leadership and governance. There is, however, another aspect which modernity
assigns to legitimate leadership, particularly in Western democracies -- that is,
leaders can only govern with the consent of the governed. This very principle is
found in the Talmud: “Rabbi Issac said: ‘We do not appoint a communal leader
unless the community is consulted,’ as it is said, ‘See the Lord has called by
name, Betzalel.’ (Ex. 35:30) The Holy One said to Moses: ‘Moses is Betzalel
acceptable to you?’ Moses said: ‘Master of the universe, if he is acceptable to
You, he is certainly acceptable to me.’ God said to Moses: ‘Even so, go and ask
them (i.e., Bnei Yisrael, … to get their consent)’ Moses went and asked them:
‘Is Betzalel acceptable to you?’ They said to him, ‘If he is acceptable to the Holy
One and to you, he is acceptable to us.’ (Berakhot 55a) Obviously, the people’s
consent, if it is to be meaningful, must be both voluntary and knowing. Both
Moses and Betzalel had to make full disclosure of their activities to obtain and
maintain the people’s consent – even the approval of God is not sufficient.

Sparks for Further Discussion

1. If every letter, word, and verse of the Torah serves a purpose, we are
faced with the inevitable questions: Why is so much of Sefer Shemot (the
book of Exodus) devoted to the details of the construction of the mishkan
and its accoutrements? Why is so much of the material in the portions of
Terumah, Tetzaveh and Ki Tissa repeated in this week’s double reading
of VaYakhel-Pekudei?
2. A midrash (Shemot Raba 40:4) relates that Betzalel was Miriam’s son,
i.e., Moses’ nephew. Nepotism is an issue that has been with us from
biblical times to our own day. To what extent might the relationship
between Moses and Betzalel have influenced Moses decision to give an
accounting related to the mishkan and God’s request to Moses to obtain
the people’s consent to Betzalel’s appointment?
3. When political and communal leaders are suspected of mismanagement
or wrongdoing, they and their supporters are often heard to state that
they are “innocent until proven guilty.” Is this consistent with the
standards nunciated by the rabbis?
4. How do modern conditions make the monitoring of the collection and
distribution of charitable and communal funds both more difficult and


March 27, 2004 - 5 Nisan 5764

Annual: Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26 (Etz Hayim, p. 585; Hertz p. 410)

Triennial Cycle: Leviticus 4:27 - 5:26 (Etz Hayim p. 599; Hertz p. 419)
Haftarah: Isaiah 43:21 - 44:23 (Etz Hayim p. 606; Hertz p. 424)

Prepared by Rabbi Jodie Futornick

McHenry County Jewish Congregation, Crystal Lake, IL

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


This portion contains the rules for the different types of sacrifices (Karbanot)
that God required of the Israelites under a variety of circumstances. After the
Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the sacrificial
system of worship ceased to exist for our ancestors. The implications of this
change were many. Animal sacrifice, also known as Avodah (Divine service)
was abandoned in favor of prayer (designated by the rabbis as Avodah
she'b'lev -- Service of the Heart) as the means to worship God. The Kohanim,
the priests whom God had appointed as the religious functionaries of the
community, no longer had an official role. Even though the karbanot no longer
exist, however, it is still instructive to read about the different categories of
offerings. A thorough study of this parshah helps us better to understand how
the Torah characterizes human behaviors and motivations.

Triennial I: Leviticus 1:1 - 2:16

1:1-17 - The Olah: Commonly translated as "burnt offering," the Olah was a
sacrifice consumed in its entirety on the altar, with no meat left over for the
kohanim and others to eat. The root of the Hebrew word Olah means ascension,
going up, because the entire sacrifice went up in the fire. Individuals brought the
Olah as a voluntary offering for a variety of circumstances; the Torah provides
no specific reason for it. People brought the best Olah they could afford. The
wealthiest worshippers brought the finest bulls from their flocks, while less
affluent people brought sheep, fowl, or even grain, according to their means.
This is the Biblical precedent for "sliding-scale" payment based on the economic
circumstances of the donor!

2:1-16 - The Minhah: This was a grain offering prepared with flour and oil and
topped with aromatic frankincense. The Minhah was also brought as a voluntary
offering. A piece of the dough was offered as a sacrifice, and the rest was eaten
by the kohanim.

Triennial II: Leviticus 3:1 - 4:26

3:1-17 - The Zevah Shlamim: This "sacrifice of well-being" was brought by an

individual as an act of gratitude in celebration of a happy occasion. It differs
from the Olah, which provides no leftover food for anyone, and the Minhah, of
which only the kohanim may partake, in that both the kohanim and the
worshipers may share the residual meat after the sacrifice.

4:1-25 - The Hatat: This was the "sin offering" required of a person who
unintentionally had committed a wrongdoing. (It was not intended to absolve
someone who had sinned intentionally, believing he could later make amends
by bringing a sacrifice.) The fat parts are burned on the altar, and the meat is
eaten by the kohanim.

Triennial III: Leviticus 4:27 - 5:26

4:27-35 - More laws for the Hatat.

5:1-13 - A delineation of four unique circumstances that require a Hatat. These

are: 1) Withholding testimony from the court in legal matters, 2) touching
something ritually impure (tamei), 3) touching a person in a state of ritual
impurity, and 4) uttering an oath.

5:14-26 - The Asham: This "guilt offering" was required for a person who had
misappropriated property. It differs from the Hatat in two significant ways: 1)
The Asham must be a ram (ayil), while the Hatat may be any of the other
kosher species (bull, sheep, goat, fowl, or even grain, according to what the
individual could afford. 2) In addition to bringing the sacrifice, the person
offering an Asham was also required to restore what he had taken and pay a
20% penalty in order to ensure forgiveness.

Topic 1: Wronging Our Neighbor is an Affront to God

When a person commits a trespass, being unwittingly remiss about any of the
Lord's sacred things, he shall bring as his penalty to the Lord a ram without
blemish from the flock, convertible into payment in silver by the sanctuary
weight, as a reparation offering. He shall make restitution for that wherein he
was remiss about the sacred things, and he shall add a fifth part to it and give it
to the kohayn. The kohayn shall make expiation on his behalf with the ram of
the reparation offering, and he shall be forgiven. (Leviticus 5: 15-16)

A. When the nations of the world heard this law, they said, "According to our
laws, one who takes so much as a hook belonging to Caesar is to be
lacerated with a plowshare, but this God is placated by a simple act of
restitution. Moreover, God is more lenient about the misappropriation on
what is God's [designating this as an "trespass" in verse 15] than about
robbing a human being. (Pesikta Rabbati 23, p. 121a)
B. God is more concerned about the wrong done by man to his fellow man
than about offenses directed at God alone. (Sifra, Midrash on the Book of
C. Let no person say, "I will go and do ugly and immoral things. Then I will
bring a bull with much meat and offer it as a sacrifice on the altar, and
God will forgive me." God will not have mercy on such a person."
(Leviticus Rabbah, 2:12)
Questions for Discussion:

1. In a similar vein, the rabbis taught that "Yom Kippur does not atone for
sins one has committed against other human beings." When we have
wronged another person, we need to make direct amends to him or her.
Divine forgiveness cannot take place until human beings have made
things right among themselves. These Midrashim take this teaching a
step farther, however, asserting that God actually cares more about sins
that people commit against each otherthansins committed directly
against God. What does this teach us about the Rabbinic conception of
God, and especially about the emphasis on ethical interpersonal conduct
in the Jewish tradition? How is hurting another person more offensive to
God than is sinning against God directly through ritual impropriety?

Topic 2: Teaching Us to Avoid Unintentional Wrongdoing

And when a person, without knowing it, sins in regard to any of God's
commandments about things not to be done, and then realizes his guilt, he shall
be subject to punishment. He shall bring to the kohayn a ram without blemish
from the flock, or the equivalent, as a reparation offering. The kohayn shall
make expiation on his behalf for the error that he committed unwillingly, and he
shall be forgiven. It is a reparation offering; he has incurred guilt before the Lord.
(Leviticus 5: 17-19)

A. Why should the "doubtful asham," brought when possibly no offense has
been committed, be the expensive ram, while for a certain transgression,
one may offer a ewe or even fowl or bags of flour? Because, a person
might not take seriously the mere possibility of having sinned, if the
Torah had not thus shown the seriousness of the matter. (Ramban,
Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, also known as Nachmanides, in "Perushai
B. The sinner through error is one who sins from carelessness. In other
words, at the moment of omission, that person did not take full care, with
whole heart and soul, that the act be in keeping with the Torah and
commandments, because the person was not, in the words of the
prophet Isaiah (66:2), "concerned about My word." (Rabbi Samson
Raphael Hirsch, pioneer of Modern Orthodoxy, in The Pentateuch, as
presented by Rabbi Harvey Fields, A Torah Commentary for Our Times,
Vol. 2, p. 102)
C. We may note that it is no excuse that the sinner had no evil intention and
that it was merely forgetfulness, just carelessness on his part. And since
the greater the person, the greater his responsibility, each negligence,
each slip of the mind, borders on willful transgression. (Nehama
Liebowitz, Studies in Vayikra, pp. 28-29)

Questions for Discussion:

1. The commentaries over the centuries have noticed that the penalties for
unintended wrongs are stiffer than those for known acts of sin, a
condition that seems counter-intuitive. Why is the Torah so concerned
that people take responsibility for unintentional mistakes? Can you think
of instances where you have hurt or been hurt by another person as a
result of careless words or behavior? Picking up on Nehama Liebowitz's
teaching, is it right and fair that we hold our leaders and teachers to a
higher standard of conduct than we do others? And, is it true that the
unintentional slight or slip on the part of an authority figure causes
greater harm than the careless mistakes of others? How have we seen
this played out in American public life in recent years?
April 3, 2004 - 12 Nisan 5764

Annual: Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36 (Etz Hayim, p. 613; Hertz p. 429)

Triennial Cycle: Leviticus 8:1 - 8:36 (Etz Hayim p. 621; Hertz p. 435)
Haftarah: Malakhi 3:4 - 24: 3:23 (Etz Hayim p. 1295; Hertz p. 1005)

Prepared by Rabbi Jodie Futornick

McHenry County Jewish Congregation, Crystal Lake, IL

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


A review of the laws of the karbanot (sacrifices) followed by intricate details of

the ordination of the Kohanim.

Triennial I: (Leviticus 6:1 - 7:10)

6:1-6 - The Olah: Commonly translated as "burnt offering," the Olah was a
sacrifice consumed in its entirety on the altar, with no meat left over for the
kohanim and others to eat. The root of the Hebrew word Olah means ascension,
going up, because the entire sacrifice went up in the fire.

6:7-17 - The Minhah: This was a grain offering prepared with flour and oil and
topped with aromatic frankincense. The Minhah was also brought as a voluntary
offering. A piece of the dough was offered as a sacrifice, and the rest was eaten
by the kohanim.

6:18-23 - The Hatat: This was the "sin offering" required of a person who
unintentionally had committed a wrongdoing.

7:1-10 - The Asham: This "Guilt Offering" was required for a person who had
misappropriated property. In addition to bringing the sacrifice, the person
offering an Asham was also required to restore what he had taken and pay a
20% penalty in order to ensure forgiveness.

Triennial II: (Leviticus 7:11- 7:38)

7:11-18 - The Zevah Shlamim: This "Sacrifice of Well-Being" was brought by an

individual as an act of gratitude in celebration of a happy occasion. It differs
from the Olah, which provides no leftover food for anyone, and the Minhah, of
which only the kohanim may partake, in that it both the kohanim and the
worshipers may share the residual meat after the sacrifice.

7:19-21 - Laws of Ritual Purity for those handling the sacrifices.

7:22-27 - Repetition of Prohibition of Blood and Fat.

7:28-34 - More laws about the Zevah Shlamim.

7:35-38 - Summaries of sacrificial laws.

Triennial III: (Leviticus 8:1 - 8:36)

8:1-5 - The dedication of the Mishkan in front of the entire congregation.

8:6-36 - Moses and Aaron themselves perform the ordination of the kohanim.
They are cleansed thoroughly with water, anointed with oil and then dressed in
ritual garments: a robe, a colorful band known as an ephod, a majestic
breastplate into which were placed the divine oracles of the Urim and Thumim.
The coup-de-grace was a headdress adorned by the Keter, the divine crown of

Following the dressing ceremony, Moses anointed himself, his brother Aaron,
and all of Aaron's sons, then girded them in tunics and sashes and turbans.

The remainder of the ordination ceremony involved the use of two rams. One
was slaughtered as an olah and, after the kohanim had dipped their hand in the
blood of its head, that blood was sprinkled on the altar. The blood of the second
ram, however, was physically applied to the ears, the thumbs and the toes of
the kohanim before the meat of the bull was offered as a celebratory meal. The
final ceremony of ordination involved dipping the ritual garments of the kohanim
in the blood of the sacrificed animals.

Topic I: Do we need to do teshuvah for doing the right thing with the
wrong intention?

"He led forward the bull of sin offering Aaron and their sons laid their hands
upon the head of the bull of sin offering, and it was slaughtered. Moses took the
blood and with his finger put some on each of the horns of the altar. Thus he
consecrated it and purged it [made expiation for it]." (Leviticus 8:14-15)

A. When offerings for the Tabernacle were being collected, some persons
may have contributed under pressure, or while they were carried away
by the general enthusiasm without really wanting to make such a gift, it
was necessary to make atonement for such possible deficiency, (Sifra
and Targum Yonathan on the verse)
B. Antigonos of Sokho received the tradition from Shimon HaTzaddik. Do
not be like servants who serve their master expecting to receive a
reward; be rather like students who serve their master unconditionally
with no thought of a reward. Also, let the reverence of God determine
your actions. (Ethics of the Fathers 1:3, located in the old Sim Shalom
page 603)
C. Getting Closer With Each Step: Moses said, "I will turn away and see this
great sight, why this bush is not consumed." It has been said that the
Baal Shem Tov derived a lesson in teshuvah from the Burning Bush, in
the text quoted above from Exodus, Moses says, "Ashurah, I will turn
away." Why would Moses have an audience with God and then turn
away? Ashurah is an unusual word. Rashi writes that it means "to go
away from here and come close there." This is what teshuvah is, says
the Baal Shem Tov "getting unstuck." It's about movement and
transformation. It's not about arriving but about approaching. (Meditation
by Rabbi James Stone Goodman for 24 November in Restful Reflections:
Nighttime Inspiration to Calm the Soul, Based on Jewish Wisdom, edited
by Rabbis Kerry Olitzky and Lori Forman, Jewish Lights Publishing,

Seeking to lead a spiritual Jewish life is often not an easy task. I have to
confess very honestly that when I first read the teaching of the Sifra, my first
reaction was one of deep discouragement. Here the day has finally come to
anoint the holiest men of the Jewish people and to charge them with their task,
and along come commentaries to say, "Be humble to the possibility you might
make a mistake and be prepared to make amends." They haven't even yet
begun to lead, and already there are those who will assume they will act
erroneously. The cynical take on this teaching as, "If Moses and Aaron, Miriam
and Rebecca, the members of the Great Sanhedrin, and all our great spiritual
role models can't get it right, what hope is there for the rest of us?

But there is another teaching here, one laden with the compassion of our
tradition. This is the essence of Jewish theology, which teaches two
fundamental facts about humanity's relationship with God: 1) No human being
ever has been or ever will be the personification of God. God alone is God, and
our task is to do our best to live in a way that is in accordance with God's
expectations of human behavior. 2) The other side of this equation is that when
we do fall short of perfection, as even Aharon Hakohen might have done on his
ordination day, we can turn back to God through the act of teshuvah and
receive forgiveness.

Questions for Discussion:

1. What are some appropriate ways for making amends for unintended
wrongs we commit so frequently and unconsciously: The grudging doing
of chores, the distracted reaction to exciting news? In other words, the
unintended slights we commit which can cause so many hurt feelings
when ignored, but can strengthen and heal relationships when teshuvah
is made.

Topic 2: Loving God with all our abilities' through action

"...and it [the ram] was slaughtered. Moses took some of its blood and put it on
the ridge of Aaron's right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand, and no the big
toe of his right foot." (Lev. 23)

A. In this figure, he indicated that the fully consecrated must be pure in

words and in actions and in his whole life; for words are judged by
hearing, the hand is the symbol of action, and the foot of the pilgrimage
of life. (Philo on the Life of Moses II: 130. on Leviticus 8:23)
B. And you shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all your soul
and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
C. Follow the Lord Your God (Deuteronomy 13:3). What does this mean? Is
it possible for a mortal to follow God's presence? The verse means to
teach us that we should follow the attributes of the Holy One, Praised be
God. As God clothed he naked, you should clothe the naked. The Torah
teaches that the Holy One visited he sick; you should visit the sick. The
Holy One comforted those who mourn; You should comfort those who
mourn. The Holy One buried the dead; you should bury the dead. (Sotah
14a, reproduced on page 19 of the old Sim Shalom Prayer book)

Questions for Discussion:

1. Other passages in the Tanakh and the rabbinic literature contain

metaphoric expressions of how we are to act "Betzelem Elohim," also
referred to in Latin as in "Imitateo Deo" - in the image of God. Yet this
passage in our parashah goes so far as to physically touch parts of the
kohanim's bodies as a reminder that blood is a symbol of life, ad we
affirm the centrality of life in all or deeds. While our sages frowned upon
attributing physical form to God, they were quite explicit about what it
meant to lead a divinely inspired life. In addition to the examples cited
above, can you think of other tangible ways we imitate the positive
aspects of God through our own actions?
April 17, 2004 - 26 Nisan 5764

Annual: Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47 (Etz Hayim, p. 630; Hertz p. 443)

Triennial Cycle: Leviticus 11:1 - 11:47 (Etz Hayim p. 636; Hertz p. 449)
Haftarah: II Samuel 6:1 - 7:17 (Etz Hayim p. 643; Hertz p. 454)

Prepared by Rabbi Jodie Futornick

McHenry County Jewish Congregation, Crystal Lake, IL

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Triennial I (Leviticus 9:1 - 10:11)

Shmini begins on the eighth day of the ordination ritual of the Kohanim. Moses
instructs the Kohanim to bring a variety of sacrifices, following which Moses and
Aaron bless the people and the Presence of God appears to all. Aaron's sons,
Nadav and Avihu, offer an alien fire to God, which causes God to strike them
dead. Moses' only explanation for the tragedy is that God exclusively accepts
specific sacrifices that God has commanded. Aaron's response is stunned
silence. God then commands Aaron that Kohanim are prohibited from drinking
intoxicating beverages while they are engaged in their sacred duties.

Triennial II (Leviticus 10:12 - 11:32)

Moses specifies to the surviving Kohanim where the offerings may be eaten.
Moses continues to instruct Aaron and his sons in the appropriate behavior of
the Kohanim, especially in the aftermath of the death of Nadav and Avihu.
Beginning with Chapter 11, God instructs the Israelites in the dietary laws of
kashrut, specifying the permitted and forbidden species of animals, birds, fish
and insects.

Triennial III (Leviticus11:1-11:47)

The first 32 verses of Chapter 11 are a repetition of the dietary restrictions in

Triennial section II. Four species of animals are forbidden by name: the pig,
camel, rabbit and hare. Permitted animals must have cloven hooves and chew
their cud. Fish must possess both fins and scales. Though it is not specifically
stated in the Torah, the rabbis concluded that the birds of prey are generally
prohibited, but that others are permitted. Certain insects are permitted as well.
The portion concludes with warnings against ritual defilement from contact with
animal carcasses, as well as a general warning to pay attention to laws of ritual

Topic I: The Morality Underlying the Laws of Kashrut

The swine, though it has true hooves, with the hooves cleft through, it does not
chew the cud. (Lev. 11:7)
A. When the pig is resting, he stretches out his legs in front of him,
displaying his cleft hooves. "How kosher I am," he seems to say, making
no mention of the fact that he does not chew the cud. He symbolizes the
hypocrite who parades his virtues and conceals his faults. (Leviticus
Rabbah, 13:5)
B. We would do well to bear in mind that the dietary laws are not, as some
have asserted, motivated by medical considerations. Were that so, the
Torah would be denigrated to the status of a minor medical study and
worse than that. (Isaac ben Moses Arama, 15th century author of the
commentary Akedat Yitzhak)
C. The Torah did not come to take the place of a medical handbook but to
protect our spiritual health. [Foods forbidden by the Torah] poison the
pure and intellectual soul, clogging the human temperament,
demoralizing the character, promoting an unclean spirit, defiling in
thought and deed, driving out the pure and holy spirit. (Don Isaac
Abavranel, 1437-1508, Spanish and Portuguese commentator)
D. Keeping kosher is a way of preparing oneself to receive the word of God.
It is a way of cultivating the bodily habits that will make one a fit
receptacle for the Divine Presence. (Rabbi David Blumenthal in God at
the Center, Harper and Row Publishers, 1987)

Questions for Discussion

1. The laws of kashrut, Jewish dietary laws, are listed among the "Hukim,"
non-rational laws which appear in the Torah with no apparent logic. Over
the centuries, such great scholars as Maimonides, who was himself a
physician, argued that the laws of kashrut were devised with purely
physical healing considerations. Other scholars, though, such as Arama
and Abavranel and many later commentators, take issue with this
position, and insist that the laws of kashrut are for moral instruction alone.
Do you agree with the adamancy of this moral position? What moral
and/or spiritual benefit do you derive from observing the laws of kashrut?
Identify other commandments in the Torah whose purpose is
spiritual/moral and not practical. Can you think of other ethical arguments
for the observance of the laws of kashrut?

Topic II: Kashrut As an Strengthener of Jewish Identity

This is the law of the beast, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that
moveth in the waters, and of every creature that swarmeth upon the earth; to
make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the living
thing that may be eaten and the living thing that may not be eaten. (Lev. 11:46-

A. Every Jew must be set apart in laws and ways of life from other nations
so as not to imitate their behavior... the laws we observe make us
remember at every moment the God who commanded them... the
numerous mitzvoth and laws of our Torah accustom human beings to
exercise self-control..." (Samuel David Luzzato)
B. Kashrut is particularly effective in lending Jewish atmosphere to the
home, which, in the Diaspora is our last-ditch defense against the
inroads of assimilation. (Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan)
C. [Kashrut has] high survival-value for the Jewish group, serving as a
reminder to Jews of their identity and as a deterrent to being swallowed
up by the non-Jewish world. Judaism, like all minority faiths, stands
constantly in the peril of being absorbed into oblivion. Only on a
foundation of preservative group practices can it persevere in its higher
aims. (From Rabbi Milton Steinberg, Basic Judaism, 1947)

Questions for Discussion

1. It has been said that "More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the
Sabbath has kept the Jews." Is this true of kashrut our dietary rules, as
well? In what ways have you felt that observance of the laws of kashrut
has strengthened your identity as a Jew, or our collective identity as a
Jewish community? What mitzvot and/or laws of the Torah aid you to
exercise self-control? Which are notable in the fight against assimilation?
April 24, 2004 - 3 Iyar 5764

Annual: Leviticus 12:1 - 15:33 (Etz Hayim, p. 649; Hertz p. 460)

Triennial Cycle: Leviticus 14:33 - 15:33 (Etz Hayim p. 663; Hertz p. 473)
Haftarah: II Kings 7:3 - 20 (Etz Hayim p. 671; Hertz p. 477)

Prepared by Rabbi Jodie Futornick

McHenry County Jewish Congregation, Crystal Lake, IL

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


Laws concerning impurity related to bodily fluids and to tzrara'at, a disease

resembling leprosy.

Triennial I (Leviticus 12:1 - 13:39)

This section covers: a) the laws about a woman's state of ritual impurity
following childbirth and b) laws concerning the diagnosis of "tzrara'at," a skin
disease resembling leprosy.

Triennial II (Leviticus 13:40 - 14:42)

Distinguishing tzrara'at related baldness to baldness from other varieties. If a

kohayn judged a person to suffer from a tzrara'at, that individual was separated
from the community until s/he was declared cured. The specifications of the
sacrifices a metzora (one suffering from tzrara'at) must bring in order to be
restored to purity, including instructions for "sliding scale" payments according
to people's abilities to afford their assessment.

Triennial III (Leviticus 14:33 - 15:33)

a) The laws of a "tzrara'at" on a house. b) laws concerning various discharges

of bodily fluids and their effect upon an individual's ritual purity.

Topic I: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor

When you enter the land of Canaan, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a
house in the land you possess, the owner of the house shall come and tell the
priest, saying, "Something like a plague has appeared on my house." (Leviticus
14: 34-35)

A. If a person is asked for the loan of some grain and replies meanly, "I
have none," the house of that person will be visited by tzrara'at. When
the dwelling is emptied, everyone will see what the miser owns and the
miser's stinginess will be publicly revealed. (Leviticus Rabbah, 17:2)
B. The poor are called the people of God, as the sages expounded: "If you
lend money to any of My people..." Who are "My people?" They are the
poor, as it is said, "For the Eternal has comforted the people and has
compassion upon the poor among them." At times, a person who has
riches does not pay attention to poor relatives. However, this is not so
with God... God cares for the poor. The proof of this is what Isaiah has
said: "The Eternal has founded the city of Zion, and in her the poor of
God's people take refuge" (Bachya ben Asher, Kad HaKemach, Charles
B. Chavel, translator, pp. 533-534)
C. The poverty-stricken and suffering people often presume that they have
been forsaken by God's care, abandoned by God... they abandon
themselves, give themselves up to despair... lose their self-respect...
They fall because they have given up all thoughts of betterment. In
commanding that the offerings be made affordable to the poor, the Torah
demonstrates that the poor are as important to God as the rich. They and
their offerings are equally sacred and acceptable. God has not forsaken
them. (Rabbi Samuel Raphael Hirsch on Leviticus 5:13ff.)

Questions for Discussion:

1. Here, we see commentaries on two separate yet closely related topics

teaching about the importance of giving to those in need. The
methodologies of the commentaries seem to contradict each other,
however: Clearly, the rabbis bend over backwards to create systems that
will enable the poor to give modestly with no fear of shame. At the same
time, however, there are those who would submit wealthy people to
public humiliation for not giving enough. (Have you ever heard the
expression, "A pox on your house?")? Are these two concepts inherently
contradictory? What are some more subtle and dignified ways of asking
people with means to donate so they are not shamed if others deem their
contributions to be inadequate? Can anyone judge whether someone
else gives enough? On the other hand, how much is enough; how much
is appropriate?

Topic II: A Warning Against Self-Incrimination

Something like a lesion became visible to me in the house. (Leviticus 14:35)

A. Even if a person is an expert in lesions, he should not make a definite

statement, "There is a lesion, but rather "something like a lesion." (Rashi
on Lev. 14:35)
B. A message conveyed by this particular syntax is that inasmuch as the
Talmud states that these lesions are Divine punishments for specific
transgressions, the statement that "there is an impure lesion in my
house" is essentially a self-incrimination, and the Talmud states that a
person may not incriminate himself (Ketubot 18b) [Editor's note: This is
an interesting Rabbinic precedent for the 5th Amendment to the United
States Constitution.]
C. The Chofetz Chayim [a renowned 19th-century teacher of Jewish ethics]
was once stopped by a stranger who asked directions to the home of the
great gaon [revered scholar] and tzaddik [righteous person], the Chofetz
Chayim. The Chofetz Chayim directed him to his house and said, "but he
is not such a great gaon and tzaddik." The stranger became irate and
slapped the Chofetz Chayim's face. "How dare you speak like that of the
greatest gaon and tzaddik of our time!" he said.

Later, the man discovered that the person he had struck was none other
than the Chofetz Chayim himself. He apologized profusely, but the
Chofetz Chayim said smilingly," There is no need for an apology. After all,
it was my honor you were defending. But this incident taught me
something. I have been stressing the prohibition of speaking
disparagingly about others. Now I know that one may not talk
disparagingly even about oneself."

While we must always engage in soul-searching and do teshuvah for the

wrongs we have done, it is important not to confer upon oneself the
status of being a sinner. The latter is fraught with the danger that one
may consider oneself beyond redemption and abandon the struggle to
observe Torah and mitzvot. (From Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D., Living
Each Week, Art Scroll Press, 1992)

Questions for Discussion:

1. In the midst of a section of the Torah that emphasizes heavily the themes
of sins and forgiveness, Rabbi Twerski brings an innovative perspective:
Sometimes, one can get so caught up in the act of self-flagellation for
misdeeds that it paradoxically causes one to abandon all hope of
redemption and continue to sin. What are other implications of too much
humility or self-examination? How can we strike a healthy spiritual
balance between the instruction to look back and accept responsibility for
wrongdoings and seeking forgiveness/forgiving ourselves and move on?
May 1, 2004 - 10 Iyar 5764

Annual: Leviticus 16:1 - 20:27 (Etz Hayim, p. 679; Hertz p. 480)

Triennial Cycle: Leviticus 19:15 - 20:27 (Etz Hayim p. 696; Hertz p. 500)
Haftarah: Amos 9:7 - 15 (Etz Hayim, p. 705; Hertz p. 509)

Prepared by Rabbi Jodie Futornick

McHenry County Jewish Congregation, Crystal Lake, IL

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


Additional laws for conduct of the kohanim, followed by the "Holiness Code,"
which deals with interpersonal ethical obligations.

Triennial I: (Leviticus 16:1 - 17:7)

Laws for the ancient observance of Yom HaKippurim, the Day of Atonement, on
which the kohayn seeks expiation for the sins of all Israelites. Included is the
ritual of the scapegoat, upon whose head the sins of the children of Israel are
symbolically placed. Laws and practices for the current-day observance of Yom
Kippur, including fasting. The prohibition of slaughtering animals anywhere
other than on the mizbeah (altar).

Triennial II: (Leviticus 17:8 - 19:14)

Review of the prohibitions against eating blood or animals that have either died
a natural death (nevelah) or been torn to pieces (trayfah). Laws against
prohibited sexual practices of local pagans. The beginning of the "Holiness
Code (Leviticus Chapter 19)," including the mitzvah to behave in a holy manner
representing the image of God, since "I, the Lord, am Holy."

Triennial III (Lev. 19:15 - 20:27)

Remainder of the Holiness Code, including the commandments to rebuke

someone who is doing wrong and to "Love Your Neighbor as Yourself." The
very end of parshat Kedoshim, Leviticus 20, includes miscellaneous prohibitions
and a final reminder of the centrality of holiness.

Topic 1: Ridding Ourselves of the Poison of Resentments

You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart. Reprove your neighbor, but incur
no guilt because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against
your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:17-
A. Rashi, quoting a midrash, explains the difference between vengeance
and a grudge: One says, "Lend me your ax," and the other says, No!"
The next day, the second one says, "Lend me your ax," and the first one
says, "You wouldn't lend to me, so I'm not going to lend to you." That is
vengeance. However, when the first person says, "Although you wouldn't
lend to me yesterday, I am not like you, so here it is," that is bearing a
grudge." (Rashi on the Torah)
B. In recovery from alcoholism, the futility of harboring resentments is
recognized. When you harbor resentments, you are the one who suffers
rather than the person you resent. It is an act of futility; a second aspect
of the futility of harboring resentments is the awareness that this is
unlikely to bring about any desired result. The recovering alcoholic
becomes keenly aware of how limited his control over events is, and that
in the final analysis, it is God and not he who will determine the outcome
of events. Recognition of these two points can help a person overcome
harboring resentments, and this is conveyed by the two verses cited
above. "Do not despise someone in your heart." How foolish to let
someone you dislike dwell within your heart! Furthermore, do not seek
revenge, for I am God. Do not waste your efforts in futile behavior. You
are not God, and you cannot control the outcome of your behavior.
Therefore, do that which is right, because it is only your actions over
which you have control, and not their consequences. (From Rabbi
Abraham Twerski, M.D., Living Each Week, Art Scroll Press, 1992, page

Questions for Discussion:

1. I have often heard it said that bearing resentment is like "taking poison
and waiting for the other guy to die," What guidance does the Torah and
Rabbi Twerski offer us to overcome resentments that can threaten to
seriously undermine our spiritual existence. Can you think of examples of
times you might use similar spiritual principles to detoxify a potentially
devastating situation? Identify examples of revenge and grudge that you
have witnessed/experienced. How do the Torah's comments influence
these highly personal/emotional circumstances.

Topic 2: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your
neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18)

A. Do not say, "Just as I have been humiliated, let my neighbor be

humiliated too; just as I have been cursed at, let my neighbor be cursed
at too. Said Rabbi ben Azzai, "If you act thus, know whom you are
humiliating - God made him in the likeness of God. [Genesis 5:1]
(Genesis Rabbah 24:7)
B. Loving your neighbor as yourself means visiting the sick, comforting
mourners, joining a funeral procession, celebrating the marriage
ceremony with bride and groom, offering hospitality, caring for the dead
or delivering a eulogy. All the things that you would want others to do for
you - do for your brothers and sisters. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah,
Hilchot Evel 14:1)
C. Even if a person wishes another well in everything, in wealth, honor,
learning and wisdom, he will want to be superior to him in some ways.
This is why the Torah condemns this form of selfishness, We are
commanded to "love your neighbor as yourself" so that we will "learn to
wish others success in all things, just as we wish well or ourselves, and
to do so without reservations." (Nachmanides, Commentary on the
D. A person should not just wish for his neighbor what he wants for himself,
namely advantage and protection from harm. He should endeavor to do
everything that is to the advantage of his neighbor, whether in terms of
bodily health or success in business… and it goes without saying that he
should not be responsible for doing anything to his neighbor that hewould
not wish to be done to him… (Malbim, 18th century commentator)
E. Out of the endless chaos of the world, one nighest [sic] thing, his
neighbor, is placed before his soul and concerning this one, he is told,
'He is like you!' 'Like you' and thus not "you." You remain You and are to
remain just that. But he is not to remain a He for you and, thus, a mere It
for your You. Rather, he is like You, like your You, a You like You and I -
a soul. (Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption, translated by W. W.
Hallo, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970, p. 240)
F. The Torah's command to "Love your neighbor as yourself" continues to
provoke significant questions about the meaning of love. Despite the
various opinions and definitions, however, it is clear that Jewish tradition
challenges us to love ourselves by striving for self-understanding,
respect and a sense of our powers for giving and to transform our love of
self into a generous love for others. (Harvey Fields, A Torah
Commentary for our Time, Volume 2 p. 137)

Questions for Discussion:

1. There is an enormous amount of commentary on the meaning of these

words, "Love your neighbor as yourself." The rabbis were clearly
intrigued when a Torah commandment mandated an emotion rather than
an action, and they went to great lengths to explain how to translate a
feeling such as love into practical, concrete actions. Which of the above
rabbis do you most agree or disagree with? How do you find yourself
putting love of God and other people into action in your own life? Can
love be commanded? For that matter can a human turn love on and off at
will? Is that a positive or a negative?
May 8, 2004 - 17 Iyar 5764

Annual: Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23 (Etz Hayim, p. 717; Hertz p. 513)

Triennial Cycle: Leviticus 23:23 - 24:23 (Etz Hayim p. 727; Hertz p. 522)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15 - 31 (Etz Hayim p. 734; Hertz p. 528)

Prepared by Rabbi Jodie Futornick

McHenry County Jewish Congregation, Crystal Lake, IL

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


Laws governing Priestly behavior and the observance of Holy Days.

Triennial I (Lev. 21:1 - 22: 16):

Kohanim must not come in contact with a corpse, or shave smooth any portion
of their heads, nor marry a divorced woman. A kohayn with a physical defect
may not offer sacrifices.

Triennial II (Lev. 22: 17 - 23:22):

No blemished animal may be offered on the altar. An animal must be at least

eight days old before it may be sacrificed. Also, a mother and her young may
both be sacrificed on the same day. The beginnings of the sacred calendar are
outlined: The weekly Shabbat day of rest, followed by the descriptions of
Passover, the seven-week counting of the Omer, and the first fruit harvest of

Triennial III (Lev. 23:23 - 24:23):

The festival calendar continues: The first day of the seventh month, which today
we observe as Rosh Hashanah, was to be a special day of convocation. The
tenth day of that month is Yom Kippur, followed soon after by Sukkot and
Shmini Atzeret, the eighth day of solemn assembly. Moses reminds the people
to bring oil to light the Menorah. The portion concludes with the stoning death of
a blasphemer, and the universal proclamation that the penalty for blasphemy
will be death by stoning.

Topic 1: The Timing of the Jewish New Year

The Lord spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the
seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a
sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts. Mark, the tenth day of the
seventh month is the Day of Atonement. (Leviticus 23:23-27)
A. In the commentary on Leviticus in The Torah: A Modern Commentary,
Bamberger speculates that the atonement rites of Rosh Hashanah and
Yom Kippur were originally part of the harvest festival of Sukkot and
marked the beginning of the economic year because this was when the
harvest was taken to be sold at market. Perhaps this is the reason the
Torah does not mention the name Rosh Hashanah (which means the
beginning of the year) for the new-year festival, but calls it simply Yom
Teruah - the Day of Sounding of the Shofar. The holiday is not called
Rosh Hashanah until Ezekiel 40:1, circa 593 B.C.E. As with many other
holidays mentioned in the Torah, Rosh Hashanah evolved from the
changing Jewish experience. It was not until the time of the Mishnah
(circa 200 C.E.) that one particular Rosh Hashanah assumed
prominence as the anniversary of the Creation and the onset of the Ten
Days of Repentance. (From Teaching Torah, by Sorel Goldberg Loeb
and Barbara Binder Kadden, p. 164)
B. Formulating and formalizing the Days of Awe took almost a millennium
and a half. In time, practices once connected only to the priests and the
Temple became part of the observance of the entire people. Specific
communal rituals and prayers centering on the synagogue supplanted
both individual observance and Temple ceremonials. Discrete days
originally important because of their attachment to the agricultural
festivals, to conception of God's enthronement, and to a ritual of
purification eventually became a constellation of days during which the
Jewish people prepared for judgment, prayed for forgiveness, and
purified themselves from sin and error. Thus the New Year became a
time for a new beginning. (From Rabbi Reuven Hammer, Entering the
High Holy Days, Jewish Publication Society 1998, page 20)

Questions for Discussion

1. What a wonderful testimony to the flexibility of Jewish law and tradition

that even our holiest days have adapted and evolved over time. Can you
think of some of our other holy seasons that have taken on multiple
significances over the course of Jewish history? As one example,
Shabbat has evolved into a day when we not only remember God's rest
on the seventh day of Creation we also use the occasion to celebrate the
Exodus from Egypt. There are many other examples of this expansive
nature of our ritual, as well as contemporary observances that have been
added to commemorate contemporary events (e.g. Yom Haatzmaut,
Israel Independence Day). The Jewish calendar provides an excellent
example of a piece of our culture that retains many ancient traditions
while remaining open to expansion and innovation. How does this type of
dynamic calendar contribute to the relevance of our ancient tradition?

Topic 2: How seriously should we take guilt?

Anyone who blasphemes God shall bear his guilt. (Leviticus 24:15)

A. It is difficult to be free of guilt. Perhaps we never should be completely

free of it, especially if it keeps us acting responsibly. We sinned. A lot.
And we are responsible for what we did. Don't let the guilt drag you down.
Let it be an impetus to raise you up. (From Renewed Each Day, Volume
2, by Rabbi Kerry Glitzy and Aaron Z. page 54)
B. For Ad-nai will not clear one who uses the name in vain. What sort of
penalty is this? Only this utterance and the one against idolatry mention
a punishment. Why? Because taking God's name in vain often escapes
the notice of humanity. You may think you are off the hook, but here is a
Judge you cannot deceive, and who believes that what you say matters.
(Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kremer, in Broken Tablets: Restoring the Ten
Commandments and Ourselves, edited by Rachel Mikveh, Jewish Lights
Publishing 1999, page 29)

Questions for Discussion

1. How ironic to be studying a section on guilt immediately following a

discussion of theobservance of the High Holy Days. Over the years, both
humorous and serious stories about Jewish guilt have become a
hallmark of our tradition. This verse and commentaries come to teach us
that guilt is not exclusively a negative quality. When people acknowledge
their wrongdoings publicly, before both humanity and God, it is actually a
liberating experience that frees us to put the guilty feelings behind us and
move forward. What has your guilt inspired/caused you to do? If these
verses teach us that guilt can indeed be positive and transformative is it
okay to make someone feel guilty? Does guilt operate similarly on a
community or historical level?
May 15, 2004 - 24 Iyar 5764

Annual: Leviticus 25:1 - 27:34 (Etz Hayim, p. 738; Hertz p. 531)

Triennial Cycle: Leviticus 27:1 - 27:34 (Etz Hayim p. 753; Hertz p. 547)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19 - 17:14 (Etz Hayim p. 762; Hertz p. 551)

Prepared by Rabbi Jodie Futornick

McHenry County Jewish Congregation, Crystal Lake, IL

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


Laws tying the Israelites to the land, and those emphasizing rewards and
punishments for their actions.

Triennial I (Lev. 25:1 - 25:38):

The law of the Sabbatical year: Just as people are to rest on the seventh day of
the week, the land is to lie fallow for one year every seven years. The Israelites
may not work the land during the Sabbatical year, but they may reap and enjoy
its produce. They are also commanded that the 50th year is to be a Jubilee
Year, a year of release for the land and all its inhabitants. Property is to be
returned to its original owner, and all the Hebrew slaves are to be freed. The
houses of the Levites are to be redeemable forever.

Triennial II (Lev. 25:39 - 26:46):

The Israelites are to show compassion by making a special effort to redeem

persons who have been forced to bind themselves into slavery. Non-Israelite
slaves are not beneficiaries of the emancipation of the Jubilee year. The end of
Parshat Behar warns people to avoid idolatry and to keep God's Sabbaths.
Pashat Behukotai contains the toh'hah, the first and shorter passage warning
the Israelites of the consequences of straying from God. The people are given a
choice to be obedient to God's laws, in which case they will prosper, but if they
go in a wayward direction, they will suffer gruesome punishments. The later
passage in Deuteronomy, in Parshat Kee Tavo, is much more detailed and

Triennial III (Lev. 27:1-27:34):

Following the toh'hah the dire warnings for misbehavior, the Book of Leviticus
concludes with a section describing three different kinds of gifts which may be
brought to the sanctuary as divine offerings. The final verses of the parshah and
the chapter describe a variety of commandments to bring tithes, concluding with
the statement, "These are the commandments that the Lord gave to Moses for
the Israelite people on Mount Sinai."

Topic 1: What virtues does God expect from the Israelite nation?

When I, in turn, have been hostile to them and have removed them into the land
of their enemies, then at last shall their obdurate heart humble itself, and they
shall atone for their iniquity, Then I will remember my covenant with Jacob; I will
remember also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham;
and I will remember the land. (Leviticus 26: 41-42)

A. The section in Behukotai describing the evils that will befall the Israelites
should they spurn God's rules ends with a passage allowing for their
atonement. God promises not to break the covenant with the people
even while they are enduring the punishment of exile. This passage,
containing as it does a reference to God's covenant with Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob, is bound up with the Talmudic idea of zchut Avot - the merit
of the ancestors. According to this concept, the merit of the patriarchs
and the great love which God had for them helped to "tip the balance" of
God's judgment in favor of the Israelites even at times when they err
severely. The fact that the patriarchs are mentioned in reverse order in
verse 26:42 is seen as a reflection of this. According to Leviticus Rabbah
36:25, "If there were no good deeds in Jacob's then Isaac's would
suffice, and if Isaac's deeds did not suffice, then Abraham's would
suffice; in fact, the deeds of each one alone would suffice for the whole
world to be kept suspended in it's position on account of their merit.
(Leviticus Rabbah 36:25 as quoted by the editors of Teaching Torah,
ARE, 1984)
B. Why are the Patriarchs mentioned in reverse order? It seems that God
stated three ways in which God's people might deserve geulah
(redemption). If they will emulate the virtues of Jacob, who in classical
literature was the symbol of Torah and kindness. Then comes the
second category - the quality of self-sacrifice that was demonstrated by
Isaac in the story of the Akedah. If that is not attainable, let them come
up to the standard of Abraham, who was the personification of hessed -
loving-kindness and generosity. Finally, God said, "I will remember the
land." If Jews will make the desert bloom, the wasteland into a Garden of
Eden and reclaim the land of their fathers, they deserve redemption. This
is our generation, a generation that now rebuilds. (By Dr. Ephraim
Shimoff, The Well of Living Waters: Thoughts on the weekly Torah
portion, from the MetroWest NJ Jewish News)

Questions for Discussion:

1. The bias of the Midrash is clear. No matter what dire punishment God
threatens upon the Israelites, they will ultimately redeem themselves
through the merits of their ancestors if not on their own, and they will
escape punishment. Do we have a concept in today's world of "Zchut
Avot?" Do any of us feel that we are specially blessed by the virtues of
those who preceded us? If so, how does this privilege manifest itself in
modern life? What have you done lately that will be a "zchut" to those
who follow you?

Topic 2: Ending on a High Note

The final chapter of Behukotai details gifts to the sanctuary. Some scholars
think that this chapter is a later addition to the Book of Leviticus for which the
tochechah seemed the logical conclusion. Rashbam explained the placement of
the tochechah before the final chapter because of its association with the
previous chapter, Behar. Both portions mention the Sabbatical year. According
to Hertz (The Pentateuch and Haftarahs, p. 547), however, the concluding
chapter of Leviticus serves to round out the entire book, which begins and ends
with laws pertainingto gifts given for the maintenance of the sanctuary. (From
Teaching Torah, page 173)

I find myself attracted to this latter explanation because it leaves me with a

feeling of Shalom, in the sense of shelaymut, or wholeness. This wonderful
community ofour ancestors undertook one of the most extraordinary building
projects of the age, a portable house of worship that would accompany them on
their journey through the Wilderness. I believe that the underlying message of
Dr. Hertz' commentary, however, is that though they might not always behave
agreeably or show each other prier respect, the underlying feelings of Shalom
would bring them full circle from the place where they began their project to
their final beautiful house of worship for God. (Editor)

Topic 3: These are the Commandments. ALL of them?

Emphasizing the word "these," Sifra declares, "Henceforth, no prophet may

introduce anything new."

Yet, fortunately, the men who were responsible for this statement found the
means, by interpretation and even by legislation, of developing law and thought
and to keep them responsive to the needs and circumstances of each
generation. (W. Gunther Plaut, in The Torah, a Modern Commentary, page 971,
commenting on Leviticus 27:34)

Fortunately, indeed! The Jewish religion is as rich and as deep as it is today

because of the wisdom of rabbis, teachers and students over the ages that God
intended Judaism as a living religion and the Torah as a flexible document open
to interpretation. Marshall Sklare, a Jewish sociologist of the 1950's, dubbed the
motto of the Conservative movement as, "Tradition and Change. "As
Conservative Jews, which of the Mitzvot of the Torah are we most obligated to
adhere to in order to love a committed Jewish life? What are areas where there
is room for more change and innovation.
May 22, 2004 – 2 Sivan 5764

Annual: Numbers 1:1 – 4:20 (Etz Hayim, p. 769; Hertz p. 568)

Triennial Cycle: Numbers 3:14-4:20 (Etz Hayim, p. 779; Hertz p. 576)
Haftarah: Hosea 2:1 – 22 (Etz Hayim, p. 787; Hertz p. 582)

Prepared by Rabbi Howard Buechler

Dix Hills Jewish Center, Dix Hills, NY

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

The Torah portion of B’midbar contains 159 verses. None of the 613 mitzvot are
found within this parasha.

Torah Topics

B’midbar, which means "in the wilderness" is the name of both this Torah
portion and the entire fourth book of the Torah. A census of all men eligible for
military service (ages twenty and above) is the point of departure for this
reading. Noteworthy, the Levites are not included in this census as they are
empowered and entrusted with the care of the Mishkan, the portable tabernacle.
Incorporated into this parasha is the actual organizational structure of the
Israelite encampment as they journey from oasis to oasis, with the Tabernacle
in the center surrounded by the Priestly families and then each tribal grouping.

A detailed lineage of Aaron and his Priestly descendants (Kohanim) as well as

the Levitical families are mentioned in relation to their role of attending to the
portable sanctuary as it is moved from one location to the next. A special
census is also enumerated of the first born males and the narrative concludes
with a description of many of the sacred objects found within the Mishkan.

Word of the Week

Mishkan is the term used for the portable tabernacle and is often referred to as
the Mishkan ha-edut, the tabernacle of testimony. Contained within this sacred
precinct are the Ten Commandments (as well as the shards of the set of tablets
which Moses had shattered), the candelabra/Menorah and other holy items.
The root of the word Mishkan literally means "to dwell" and is linked to the
Hebrew term, Shekhinah, the imminent Divine Presence (which dwells among
us). In the Book of Shemot (25:8), God articulates that the people of Israel "will
be for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell (shachanti) amongst them" - to
emphasize that the presence of God cannot be contained within any finite
space, but that the Presence of God dwells among all of us. Sanctuaries and
synagogues are holy and sacred, while the presence of God is also found in our
lives and in our deeds and Mitzvot.
Sedra Spark #1 - Roll Call

Why the emphasis on counting and numbering the Israelites, especially in light
of the earlier census taken in Exodus chapters 30 and 38? Why all the
statistics? And is there a unique Jewish fashion to count?

1. Rashi, the great French commentator states that counting is a sign of

Divine love. After the apostasy of the molten calf, God wants to lovingly
recount his precious people. Many of us take stock of our precious
physical belongings, an inventory of our assets and count our
collectables. God lovingly takes Divine time to count that, which is most
precious and dear, the people of Israel.
2. Nahmanides, a 13th century illustrious Spanish Rabbi, adds other moral
dimensions to the act of taking a census. He states referring to the text
"and you will number them by their generations of their families: "the Holy
One Blessed be God, ordered Moses to number them in a manner that
would bestow honor and greatness upon each one individually. Not that
you should say, how many are in your family or how many children do
you have. But rather all of them should pass before God in awe and with
honor due to each of them and they should be counted. Nahmanides is
instilling a Jewish value that our strength is not only in the aggregate sum
total of a community, but Jewish strength is also found within each
sacred, holy and unique human being. Our value and self-worth is not
only through our yichus, lineage, but also based upon our own
contributions, of how each person crafts and forges their own lives. That
is how God counts and relies upon each of us as sacred and gifted
human beings, each with our precious talents to share in mending our
3. Nahmanides also adds a strategic dimension to counting as he notes:
this was also the manner of kings going to war. Now the Israelites were
ready to enter the land and do battle… and Moses and the chieftains of
Israel needed to know the number of soldiers eligible (for military service).
For the Torah does NOT rely upon miracles that one should pursue a
thousand and this is the reason for the statement "all that are able to go
forth to war on behalf of Israel"
4. Nehama Leibowitz, a 20th century Biblical scholar adds to this
provocative insight from Nahmanides. Professor Leibowitz states that
"we must NOT rely upon miracles but make all the necessary
preparations… particularly with regard to the spies, the dispatch of which
into the Holy Land is regarded as the correct expedient adopted by all
conquerors, since the Torah would not advocate relying upon miracles.
"In that regard, we act as partners with the Almighty in making Jewish
dreams become a reality. The creation of the modern state of Israel is a
powerful paradigm of our faith in God and our faith in ourselves - that
God counts upon us to act in order to forge the future.
5. Additionally, there is a powerful custom rooted in this narrative and in the
Torah reading of Ki Tisa of not directly counting people, but counting
either the half shekel, which they contributed or counted, by their names
or pedigree. The custom is that one never directly counts people as is
expressed in the Yiddish folk tradition of counting, not one, not two, etc.
We count what people bring, we number their names or contributions,
but we can never humanly count a person, or reduce their significance to
a number. In the years of the Shoah, numbers were embedded in the
flesh of many of our brethren in attempts to degrade the self-worth of a
person into just being a number. Furthermore, there is the English
language phrase, when your number is up, which dovetails the
significance of this teaching, that human beings are never just numbers -
we count in a myriad of fashions with lives endowed with holiness and
wisdom. We can count our contributions, what we give and the kind acts
we perform, but we are never reduced to being a number on a tally sheet.

Sedra Spark #2 - Every Day is Flag Day

The tribes are encamped in a pattern with the Mishkan/tabernacle in the center,
and the presence of God as the focal point. The Torah specifically notes (1:52
and elsewhere) v'eish al deglo, that each person is under his own flag or banner.
Each of the Twelve Tribes has had specific insignia, or sign symbolizing their
tribe which unified their tribe. Each degel, flag or banner, became a sign of pride
and self-esteem for the uniqueness of each tribe. How does this verse relate to
the reality that the reading of the portion of B’midbar always precedes the
Festival of Shavuot, which celebrates the theophany, and revelation of Torah at
Mt. Sinai? Is there a link between the peak experience of Shavuot and this

The concept of each person according to their degel is a reminder that each
person has a place, their unique role and position in the world which God has
created. Though the Torah was given but once (mattan Torah), each Jew has
the enormous potential of receiving the Torah at every moment in the journey in
life. B’midbar celebrates the journeys of our people and offers profound insight
as to how we can best become better Jews, striving within our communities to
affirm our Conservative Judaism by deeds. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner offers a
mystical insight that similar to catching a connecting flight at an airport, we need
to be in the right place at the precise moment for our connections to be made
and reality actualized and activated. Rashi even notes that each tribal insignia
represented the precious gemstone corresponding to the tribe as found on the
breastplate of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). This indicates that each person
can shine in resplendent fashions in every facet of their lives. B’midbar reminds
us that in our journeys we need to be ourselves, true to our souls for if we are
not sincere, then Torah will elude us. Only once we are under our own degel,
can our individuality lead us into a community of Torah and inspiration.

Furthermore, in relationship to Shavuot, Torah is given in the wilderness so that

it can be accessible to all. B’midbar literally means in the wilderness and can
also be read as be-midaber: by the One who speaks. In the wilderness, Torah
was given by the One who speaks (and commands) us with Holiness. Though
we often speak of forlorn and God-forsaken wildernesses, the Torah provides
the framework to recognize that precisely where we had presumed would be
only a desert’s vast emptiness, that wilderness was filled with the presence of
God. When in our own lives, in the midst of feeling loss or abandonment, have
we opened our hearts and souls to the power of prayer and sensed the Divine
Presence? B’midbar is the template of being a portal of permitting the Divine
into the center of our lives.

Torah Q & A

1. Which tribe carried the Holy vessels?

2. At what age are the Levites numbered and why?
3. Why are the Levites not included in the primary census?

(1. The family of Kehat 2. One month and older as they are consecrated to God
to serve in the sacred precinct while others are counted upon for military service
at later ages 3. As the Levites are not involved in the molten calf incident, their
numbers have not been diminished due to the consequences of apostasy.)

Torah Table Talk

1. What emotions are evoked by flags and banners? How do we perceive

the role of powerful symbols in our lives?
2. We have been counting the days of the Omer (Sefirah) from Passover
until arriving at Shavuot. How do we make each day count and create
3. God lovingly counts the Jewish people in this Torah reading. How do we
count and rely upon God in our lives? How does God rely upon us as
partners in the ongoing role of mending our world?
4. With the celebration of Shavuot this week, what new mitzvah will we add
to our pattern of observances?
May 29, 2004 – 9 Sivan 5764

Annual: Numbers 4:21-7:89 (Etz Hayim, p. 791; Hertz p. 586)

Triennial Cycle: Numbers 7:1 – 7:89 (Etz Hayim, p. 805; Hertz p. 596)
Haftarah: Judges 13:2 – 25 (Etz Hayim, p. 813; Hertz p. 602)

Prepared by Rabbi Howard Buechler

Dix Hills Jewish Center, Dix Hills, NY

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Sedra Statistics

The Torah portion of Naso contains 176 verses and is also noteworthy as being
the longest single parasha of the Torah reading cycle. Chapter 7 of Naso also
has the distinction of being the longest chapter in the Torah with a total of 89

This portion contains 18 of the 613 mitzvot.

Torah Topics

The theme woven throughout this narrative is the individuals who create the
holiness within the sanctuary. The portion commences with a continuation of the
census of last week and the obligations of each Levitical tribe as the portable
Tabernacle (mishkan) is moved from oasis to oasis in the Wilderness of Sinai.
The entire Israelite encampment has the aura of holiness and the Torah reading
describes individuals who because of unique circumstances may cause a
diminution of that holiness due to ailments or contact with deceased.
Additionally, there is a remarkable text concerning an ordeal when infidelity is
suspected within marriage - and the stark rituals which are invoked in order to
either restore the trust and fidelity in that marriage, or dissolve the union.

Naso continues by detailing the laws of the Nazirite, an individual who

voluntarily takes a vow of abstinence from wine and intoxicants, does not cut his
hair and avoids all contact with the deceased. The Nazirite enters into this
stringent and self-imposed vow in order to further refine him or herself for a
limited period of time.

The Torah reading contains one of the most well known formulas in prayer, the
Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing. These are the words which to this day the
Kohanim, or Priests, use to channel the blessings of God to the people of Israel.

The final fashion in which this parasha weaves together the sanctity of
individuals within the sacred structure of the Tabernacle is the gifts brought by
the twelve tribal chieftains as the sanctuary is dedicated. Interestingly, the gifts
brought by each prince on a daily basis (representing each tribe uniquely in this
twelve-day ceremony) are identical - the gifts are exactly the same!
Word of the Week

B'racha or blessing is the root word found in the Priestly Blessing:

May the Lord bless (yevarekhaka) and protect you.

May the Lord deal kindly and graciously with you.

May the Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace.

The etymology of the word "blessing" is from the Hebrew word for knee - berakh.
It is precisely our knees, which propel us forward - similar to the sprinter who
before the race kneels on one knee in order to have the momentum to be
propelled forward. The role of a b'racha, a blessing, is to frame the moment with
words which awaken our awareness to the holiness of our deeds and actions.
Each b'racha provides the context in which we both perceive and create the
blessings in our lives which propel us forward as partners with God in mending
and tending our world.

The Priestly Blessings contain three lines consisting of three, five and seven
words, totaling fifteen words and fifteen is a gematria (numerical) equivalent for
the Divine Presence. Bahya, an 11th century philosopher and composer of
piyuttim (metered synagogue poems) who lived in Spain, stated that this
sequencing reminds us of the 3 Patriarchs, the 5 books of the Torah and the 7
days of the week (or seven dimensions of Heaven). The number of letters in
each of the three verses of the Priestly Blessing is also structured
mathematically in a sequence of 15, 20 and 25 words.

These words of blessings to be recited by the Priests are also the oldest Biblical
inscription ever found. Two silver scrolls in the form of an amulet containing the
exact 15 words of the Priestly blessing were discovered nearly 20 years ago by
Israeli archeologists in Jerusalem (in a cave located close to the King David
Hotel, of all places!). These scrolls date to the 7th century BCE and pre-date by
centuries the Dead Sea Scrolls and are by far the oldest extant words of a
Biblical text.

Sedra Spark #1 - Heroes & the Samson Syndrome

In the Haftarah of this Shabbat, we are introduced to Samson, a Nazirite from

birth. The theme of a Nazirite, one abstaining from alcohol, cutting their hair and
contact with the dead, is fully described in the Torah reading of Naso. Samson
is even by a cursory reading of the book of Judges, an anti-hero as he lives a
life filled with violence, has a fatal flaw with women, and in keeping with the
adage that loose lips sink ships, divulges the source of his strength to Delilah as
she then literally clips his hair and strength. Delilah, the nocturnal seductress
(her name is rooted in the word lila, evening) is able to eclipse the brawn and
might of Samson (and his name is rooted in the word shemesh, or sun).

The Torah describes that when a Nazirite completes his vows, he is to bring a
sin-offering (Numbers 6:13-14). What is the transgression and sin of the
Nazirite? Rabbi Shmeul responds in the Talmudic tractate of Ta'anit (11a)
"whoever indulges in fasting is referred to as a transgressor." Maimonides, the
great Rabbinic scholar and physician born in Spain who rose to extraordinary
leadership in Egypt penned, “If a man should debate: since envy, passion and
pride are evil, I shall divorce myself from them, and I shall eat no meat, nor
drink any wine, nor marry, nor wear fine clothes… this is also an evil path and it
is forbidden to walk therein as in the case of the Nazirite. Therefore our Sages
commanded man to deny himself ONLY the things denied to him in the Torah.
He should NOT inflict on himself vows of abstinence from things permitted to

Judaism is a faith not of asceticism, but one in which God teaches us to use,
not abuse the gifts in this world. We are encouraged to enjoy the permitted
pleasures in this world with gratitude to God. At the same time, Judaism
discourages 'other-worldly' views of those who seek to reject the blessings in
life. The sin offering of the Nazirite is a reminder that the Nazir has transgressed
precisely by not enjoying the blessings, which God has permitted.

Who are the heroes in our communities and in Jewish life and history? Samson
can be compared to the classic Samsonite luggage commercials, strong on the
outside, but hollow on the inside. What core internal values does a hero need to
possess. How do loyalty, charisma, strength of character and vision fit the
criteria of a hero? Is a hero defined by physical prowess or in other fashions?

Sedra Spark #2 - Our Prized Possessions

As noted before, the Priestly blessing found in Numbers chapter 6:24-26 is a

pivotal Biblical phrase. To this day, parents bless their children and
grandchildren each Friday night including these profoundly uplifting words. In
many synagogues, the Kohanim ascend the bimah to channel these Divine
words to the community on the Holy Days with hands uplifted and the tallit over
their heads. What precisely do the words"May the Lord bless and
protect/preserve/ keep you" mean?

Don Isaac Abravanel was born in Portugal in 1437 and eventually served as
finance minister to Kings in Spain and Italty and is renowned for his Torah
commentaries. He stated that "bless you" refers to God blessing us with
material possessions -- that we may be blessed richly with material wealth and
economic prosperity so that we can maintain economic security and provide a
future for our families. "Keep you" is the prayerful hope that God will protect us
from the inherent dangers of wealth and prosperity. All too often, when we are
blessed with riches, we loose sight of our values. The blessings of possessions
should keep them from possessing us. If our goal is simply to accumulate a
portfolio of wealth without a vision of how our assets can be used to assist
others through deeds of tzedakah, compassionate giving, then our values are
tarnished. The Jewish wisdom is to give until it feels good.

“May the Lord bless and protect us” -- becomes an anthem and hymn of praise
for us to be grateful for the gifts in life that enable us to share and in doing so,
keep blessing others. Spend some time this Shabbat and discuss with family
and friends how and why we give to philanthropic causes. Speak eloquently at
your Shabbat tables about the organizations we support and how the values of
those organizations are in consonance with our values as Conservative Jews.
“May the Lord bless us and protect us” is the watchword of God blessing us and
in turn sharing those blessings with institutions and organizations which protect
our values and cherished beliefs.

Torah Q & A

1. What is the final word of the Priestly blessing and why?

2. Which tribal prince brings the first offering to the Tabernacle dedication
service and why?

(1. The final word is shalom as all great blessings conclude with shalom, peace
2. Nahshon, the son of Amminadav, who is credited with being the first one to
enter the Sea of Reeds and due to his faith in God as he waded into the waters,
the Sea then parted which enabled the Israelites to escape from the pursuing
Egyptians, and Nahshon is thus accorded the great merit of bringing the first

Torah Table Talk

1. Every holy day and each Shabbat is an opportunity to give to tzedakah?

What choices of sharing and caring have we made?
2. What does it mean to create blessings for others? If we could gift this
world, or our family or community with a blessing, what blessing would it
3. Samson attempted to act in heroic fashions yet his moral foundation was
as quicksand. Who are our Jewish heroes today? What Jewish values
are the predicates of living a moral and heroic life?
4. What gifts do we bring to our sanctuaries? Reflect upon the gift of our
presence, prayers and participation in synagogue life? How would we
respond if we received identical gifts as the 12 princes brought identical
gifts to the Sanctuary? Focus upon the intent of each gift and the spirit of
the gift-giver?
June 5, 2004 – 16 Sivan 5764

Annual: Numbers 8:1 – 12:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 816; Hertz p. 605)

Triennial Cycle: Numbers 10:35 - 12:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 826; Hertz p. 613)
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 (Etz Hayim, p. 837; Hertz p. 620)

Prepared by Rabbi Howard Buechler

Dix Hills Jewish Center, Dix Hills, NY

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Sedra Statistics

The Torah reading of B’ha’alotekha contains 136 verses. This parasha is also
the foundation of 5 of the 613 mitzvot.

Torah Sparks

Lights, camera, action is a phrase commonly associated with a movie set. Yet
these words capture the themes of our Torah reading this Shabbat.

Lighting the seven-branched candelabra (menorah) in the Tabernacle is the

Divine command given to Aharon, the High Priest. The lens of the narrative then
focuses on the purification rites by which the Levites prepare the sanctuary for
holy purposes. It is also noted that due to the extraordinarily intense physical
(and soulful) labors of the Levites that the years of their service in the portable
mishkan/tabernacle is from the age of 25, with early retirement at age 50 (a
conundrum is that in B’midbar the Levites are to work from the age of 30 until
50. Rashi explains this apparent discrepancy that at the age of 25, they
apprentice and learn their holy tasks so that by the age of 30, they are actually
performing their sacred work -- which brings new light to the concept of being
an apprentice!)

The actions of this reading segue into the concept of a Pesach Sheni, a second
Passover and the offerings brought to the altar for those who due to impurity or
distance were unable to participate in the Paschal offering at the right moment
on Passover. The theme of second chances in life is bound up in this narrative,
of opportunities lost and then recaptured.

The drama of the ancient Israelite life is seen in the description of the two silver
trumpets, which herald special moments and have designated soundings. The
clouds (of glory) which enveloped the sanctuary by day and the fiery radiance at
night are also described in chapter 9.

Word of the Week

The mitzvah of kindling the menorah (candelabra) illuminates the opening

verses of Beha'alotekha. The menorah as described in the Torah here (and in
greater detail in the Torah reading of Terumah) is exquisitely crafted of gold and
resplendent with ornate details. The menorah in the Torah is a seven-branched
candelabra mirroring the seven days of the week and that the Divine Presence
glows and sparkles at every moment. Scholars have examined ancient Judean
coins in an effort to see representations of what the menorah physically looked
like during the Second Temple period. The menorah is also pictured on the
monumental Arch of Titus in Rome, which commemorates the Roman
destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE and depicts in carved relief the
golden menorah and other items looted from the Temple in Jerusalem.

The menorah of Hanukkah fame is a nine-branched candelabrum and is more

accurately called a Hanukkiyah, or Hanukkah menorah (each branch
representing one of the eight days of Hanukkah and the shammash, or helper
candle being the ninth branch). Ramban, Rabbi Moses ben Nahman lived in
13th century Christian Spain and is famed for his powerful and masterful
representation of the Jews in the disputations in this period of persecutions,
including the Dispute in 1263 in Barcelona which by some accounts was even
attended by King James I of Aragon. In relation to the menorah in this Torah
reading, Ramban offers the insight that Aaron, the High Priest, and the entire
tribe of Levites are omitted in the 12 Princely offerings at the inauguration of the
Sanctuary read at the end of last week's Torah reading.

Here in B’ha’alotekha, Aaron, the Priests, and the Levitical tribe are singled out
for prominent mention in relationship to the consecration and the kindling of the
Menorah (used to illuminate the inner area of the sanctuary). The offerings of
the 12 Princes are a legacy and gift that only lasted while the Temple existed.
Ramban notes the Torah alludes that the Priestly role will be even greater in the
future. There would be a time when the Temple service no longer is held and
the Priests will enable the people of Israel to have hope and survive and flourish.
In fact, the Hasmonean revolt of Hanukkah was led by the Kohanim (Priests) as
the word Maccabi is an acronym for Mamlekhet Kohanim Goi Kadosh - the
kingdom of Priests, a holy nation.

Sedra Spark #1 - Suspense and Nun-sense?

The pivotal moment of suspense arrives as Moses and the 70 elders of Israel
are engaged in a revelatory moment with God outside the Israelite encampment.
Verses 10:24 and following speak of this indelible island in time when the
Presence of God is revealed to Moses and the 70 elders. At that very moment,
two men known as Eldad and Medad who had remained within the camp are
filled with the ruach (spirit and soulful) Divine energy and begin to prophesy.
Joshua, ever loyal to Moses, immediately breaks the news to Moses and asks
that they be incarcerated for speaking in the name of God, which Joshua
presumed to be an unauthorized prophesy. Moses responded in eloquent
words: "would that all the people be filled with such prophetic spirit!" Moses to
his everlasting credit welcomed those who could experience the Divine
Presence as a paradigm of how the entire People of Israel can be a vessel of
holiness. Joshua in his zealous guardianship of the unique status of Moses took
an opposing view which is tempered by Moses' own words welcoming those
who can be filled with devotion and fidelity to the Divine alongside the

This incident is related to a most remarkable and unique set of verses

bracketed by two-inverted letter "NUNS" (10"35-36). These verses also are the
literary and prayerful brackets of the Torah service.

The first verse "vayehi binsoa ha-aron" commences the opening of the Ark at
each Torah service while the second verse, "uvnucho yomar" commences the
prayer (also known as Etz Hayim Hee) which concludes the Torah service as
the Ark doors are closed after the Torah reading is completed.

In the Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 115 b) the Rabbis teach that these nuns are
placed here to teach us that these verses are out of context and not in their
proper places. They serve to separate the narrative, which speaks of three
discrete transgressions of the people. In order that the three moments when our
people strayed in the wilderness NOT be linked consecutively, these verses are
placed here so that we focus not on the journey of the people (which can be led
astray) but focus on the journey of the ark (and the tablets of the covenant) -- a
journey that when guided by the Torah, the Jewish people will never be led

There is also a teaching in the Mishnah Yadayim (redacted in the year 200 CE)
that these two verses which comprise 85 letters are the minimal amount of
letters to create a separate and unique holy book. This then becomes the
foundation for a medieval teaching that theseverses are excerpts from the Holy
Prophetic Teaching of the Books of Eldad and Medad, the two men who are
filled with ecstatic holiness noted in chapter 11.

Rabbi Saul Lieberman, a brilliant scholar at JTS who passed away in-flight to
Israel in 1983 (leading to the remark at his funeral, that the holy knowledge of
this Rabbi could only take leave of earthly existence when he was already in the
heavens in-flight) agreed that these verses are from the Prophecy of Eldad and
Medad. He considers the inverted nuns, which bracket the text to be the ancient
equivalent of quotation marks for the reader to recognize that even within the
Torah are quotes from other holy sources.

Torah Table Talk

1. How do we define a mentsch? What virtues and values does a person of

goodness, refinement and character exemplify?
2. Similar to the inverted nuns of the Torah, what events, emotions, realities
have bracketed these uplifting and soulful moments in our lives?
3. What are the boundaries of leadership then and now?

Sedra Spark #2 - Moses the Mentsch

Sibling rivalry surfaces at a tense moment as Miriam and Aaron speak against
Moses "on account of the Cushite woman he had married" (Numbers 12:1).
Tzipporah the wife of Moses is actually from Midian and there is a tradition that
the gematria (numerical value of Cushite/Ethiopian) is yefat mareh which
translates as beautiful appearance. Rashi, the great French Rabbinic
commentator notes that Tzipporah's physical beauty was only matched by the
beauty of her character.

Miriam and Aaron apparently are angered and challenge the uniqueness of their
brother Moses' relationship with God. God then chastises them (and punishes
Miriam with a temporary skin affliction) with Divine testimony that Moses does
have a unique and unparalleled connection with God. In a verse sublime with
meaning, the Torah notes that "the man Moses was exceedingly meek/humble"

Abraham Ibn Ezra, born in Spain in 1092 and who resided at various points in
his life in France, England, Egypt, Morocco, and Italy notes that the unique
humility of Moses was that he did not ask for fame and glory -- his leadership
was thrust upon him by Divine fiat. Moses would never have considered himself
to be better or superior to any other human -- though from the perspective of
God, Moses is truly unique.

Furthermore, due to his extreme meekness, Moses would have never defended
himself against the verbal abuse leveled by Miriam and Aaron. Therefore, God
needed to intervene on behalf of His faithful servant Moses in order to defend
his honor and the honor of Tziporah.

Part of this narrative includes the phrase 've-ha-eish Moshe' (12:3) and the man
Moses was exceedingly humble. The term "the man" seems to be superfluous
as the text could have simply been written Moses was exceedingly humble.
Moses' humility stemmed from his own nature of being in control of himself and
recognizing his boundaries as a person. Moses more than any other title, was a
man -- a mentsch of a human being who reveled in treating all with respect and
dignity, a gentle and caring person. Moses was not only Rabbeinu, our revered
Teacher, and a prophet and a leader -- he was above all a mentsch -- a
gentleman and a gentle man. That is why in the verse which describes his
humility and humble nature, Moses is first and foremost referred to as a man --
a true mentsch.
June 12, 2004 – 23 Sivan 5764

Annual: Numbers 13:1 – 15:41 (Etz Hayim, p. 840; Hertz p. 623)

Triennial Cycle: Numbers 15:8 – 15:41 (Etz Hayim, p. 851; Hertz p. 631)
Haftarah: Joshua 2:1 – 24 (Etz Hayim, p. 856; Hertz p. 635)

Prepared by Rabbi Howard Buechler

Dix Hills Jewish Center, Dix Hills, NY

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Sedra Statistics

The Torah reading of Shelakh contains 119 verses. It is also the basis of 3 of
the 613 mitzvot.

Torah Topics

The first spy thriller in all of literary history! Each tribe has a designated
representative sent to scout out and explore the Promised Land. Their forty day
mission: to boldly go and ascertain the nature of the land and her inhabitants.
The tribal representatives return and issue their report, and in a seemingly
classic sense, cannot agree on how to interpret what they have witnessed. They
provide both a majority and minority report to the assembled Israelites, anxious
to hear news of the Land that they are to enter.

The report of the Ten Spies is a most pessimistic assessment accentuating the
negative and creating fear and hysteria amongst the people as with this news,
they yearn to return to Egypt! The minority report of Joshua and Caleb
highlights the positive and affirms that it is the will of God that the people enter
the Land of Canaan.

The people of Israel do not react favorably to Joshua and Caleb's report as they
have been convinced of the veracity of the Ten Spies and their assessment that
entering the land is doomed to failure. God then threatens to obliterate the
entire people. Only with the active intervention of Moses is this devastation
averted. In powerful and dire terms, God relents of His initial intent and
determines that the generation that believed in the majority report will now die
(of natural causes) during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness.
Joshua and Caleb and the youth are not included in this decree -- and the forty
years of wandering corresponds to the forty days in which the spies framed their
impressions which led to this tragic outcome. In defiance, and in response, of
this decree, some Israelites attempt to enter the Promised Land but are
severely defeated by the Amalekites and the Canaanites (14:44-45).
The final segment of B’ha’alotekha is familiar to us from our prayers, the third
paragraph of the Shema which teaches us about the mitzvah of wearing the

Word of the Week

Tzitzit, or fringes and the mitzvah to wear them are expressed in this Torah
reading (15:37-40). The narrative speaks of these fringes as being a visible sign
to remind us of our covenantal relationship with God. In ancient days,
individuals wore four cornered garments and the fringes were twisted onto the
corners of the garments. Today, as garment styles have changed over the
millennia, this mitzvah is fulfilled as some wear a special garment under their
clothes which has the four fringes attached to them (arba kanfot) while others
wear a tallit during prayers to fulfill this mitzvah.

The fringes become an ultimate expression of remembering and observing all of

the precepts of the Torah. In fact the Hebrew word tzitzit has the numerical
equivalent in gematria (Jewish numerology) of 600. With the recognition that
each fringe has eight strands and five knots, we realize that 600 + 8 + 5 = 613
and the vehicle to remind us of all of the mitzvot! Similar to the proverbial saying
of tying a string around one's finger (to remember) -- we gather the fringes
together around a finger prior to the Shema Yisrael each morning to remember
the predicates of Jewish living. Each time we bring the fringes to our lips as we
recite the word tzitzit (fringe) we actualize our beliefs as we demonstrate to
ourselves, our community and in the presence of God that we strive to imbue
our lives with holiness by deed and action as the fringes exemplify the mitzvot
of Judaism.

Sedra Spark #1 - Majority Rules: Fact or Fiction

The Torah reading commences with a most unusual construct: God spoke to
Moses saying: shelakh lecha – “send for yourself” -- spies to scout out the land.
Implied by this artful use of language is that God gives permission to Moses to
send the spies -- that is the intent of the wording, for yourself (which sometimes
does not even appear in translations).

Therefore, this Torah reading is structured as a mission to explore the Land

precisely because the people desire to have an advance team reconnoiter the
land. It is as if there is a certain disbelief, or lack of faith, that the people do not
trust enough in the Divine Promise and need a tangible human report from the
scouts sent to the Land.

Furthermore, Rashi, the great Ashkenazi Torah scholar and Rabbi (born in 1040
in Troyes, France) connects this incident with the final theme in last week's
Torah reading which was the account of Miriam, and Aaron, speaking ill of
Moses. Rashi infers that as Miriam and Aaron spoke ill of their brother, here, the
spies are going to speak ill of the Land of Israel, as is evident in chapter 13:32.

The core question, amongst many unsettling aspects of this incident, is what
distinguishes the majority and minority reports? Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben
Nahman born in 1194 in Gerona, Spain) indicates that the tribal representatives
are listed in order of honored importance. In that respect, Caleb is mentioned
third and Joshua fifth to signify that there are even more distinguished leaders
who return with a negative report of the land. A question to focus upon this
Shabbat is the reality of people often interpreting and perceiving realities very
differently, and how this transpires.

Reflect upon chapter 13 and the reports brought back by all of the meraglim
(scouts/spies). Each group clearly advances that the land is heavily fortified and
also rich in natural blessings, a land flowing with milk and honey (13:27). Many
commentators react to the similarity of the reports and note that the pivotal
difference can be found in how each interpreted the facts.

Ten of the spies perceive that this is a mission impossible as "for it is too strong
for us" (13:31) and "we are like grasshoppers in their eyes" (13:33). Joshua and
Caleb counsel, affirming their optimism "we can surely do it" (13:30) and "if God
desires us, God will bring us to the Land and give it to us (14:8).”

The issue then becomes one of a critical failure in analysis - of failing to

synthesize the realities and then determine the right course of action. For the
first time in Jewish history, our ancestors were faced with a tangible obstacle
(conquering the Land) which they were supposed to achieve on their own.
Unlike the Sea of Reeds when God intervened and opened a passage to
freedom, the maturation of the Israelites was one in which God was trusting
them to become a more potent partner. God had hoped that the Israelites would
evaluate this physical challenge -- conquest -- and with faith in themselves and
in God, be able to overcome the obstacles and enter the Land. The Midrash
teaches that slanderers begin by speaking well and then speaking ill as the Ten
Spies spoke well of the land and then added the proverbial "but" we cannot
overcome those inhabitants living there. Was it a failure of faith, of nerve,of
confidence? The results of these events lead our people to wander for 40 years
in the Wilderness. Is the majority always right? Clearly the Torah is teaching
that morality and justice are the foundations in the decision making process and
peer pressure, even by leaders, can create havoc when facts are

Sedra Spark #2 - MTV Time

The Hebrew word for exploring or to spy out is la-tur. Moses sends the scouts
'la-tur' to “spy out the land” (13:17). In the concluding verses of the parasha,
which are also the words which comprise the final paragraph of the Shema, we
are told, v'lo taturu – “not to be led astray” (not to explore after our heart) in
Numbers 15:39. Both the incident with the spies and the role of the fringes
(tzitzit) are connected by the verb la-tur -- to be careful and not to be led astray
by what we see and perceive. Rashi makes this link explicit by noting that the
heart and the eyes are the spies of the body and (can be) the agents of
transgression when the eyes see and the heart desires, and then the body
commits the sin.
The role of the fringes and the centrality of rituals and mitzvot craft our souls in
moral and ethical (religious) fashions. Temptations abound in our world and we
can be led astray in a myriad of fashions. The spies were led astray by their
eyes and hearts. That is precisely why in verse 39 we are explicitly told to look
upon (the tzitzit) and remember all the commandments of God, and do
(observe) them. As the Talmud states in regards to the fringes, we are taught
that seeing ought to lead to remembering, and remembering to observing. The
fringes become a catalyst and witness for all of the mitzvot in order to maintain
our Jewish equilibrium of values and not be led astray.

A question to ponder: name a mitzvah or ritual and then discuss the moral
imperative that this mitzvah can teach. Or to borrow a phrase from our very
visual culture, MTV -- Mitzvot Teach Values. From keeping kosher to the
mitzvah of just weights and measures, each mitzvah teaches values which keep
us on the right path and prevent us (hopefully) from being led astray in the
seductions of our world.

Torah Q & A

1. We are told that the Land of Israel is a “land flowing with milk and honey”
(eretz zavat halav u'd'vash) -- what milk and honey is referred to in this
2. What bounty of the land did the spies return with -- and what does it
represent in modern Israel?

(1. The halav is goat milk -- as they are indigenous to the land of Israel while
cows are not. Devash is actually not honey, or the honey of bees, but rather
nectar, and in reality, the sweet nectar of the date palm trees, which grow in
abundance in Israel. 2. The spies returned with a cluster of grapes (carried on
double poles) along with pomegranates and figs (13:23). The Ministry of
Tourism in Israel uses the image of the grape clusters on poles as their emblem.
June 19, 2004 – 30 Sivan 5764

Annual: Numbers 16:1 – 18:32 (Etz Hayim, p. 860; Hertz p. 639)

Triennial Cycle: Numbers 17:25 - 18:32 (Etz Hayim, p. 869; Hertz p. 645)
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1 – 24, 66:23 (Etz Hayim, p. 1219; Hertz p. 944)
Maftir: Numbers 28:1 - 15 (Etz Hayim, p. 929; Hertz p. 694)

Prepared by Rabbi Howard Buechler

Dix Hills Jewish Center, Dix Hills, NY

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Sedra Statistics

The portion of Korach contains 95 verses. It is also the basis of 9 of the 613
mitzvot. There are six Torah portions (out of 54) that are named for individuals:
Noah, Hayyei Sarah, Yitro, Korach, Balak and Pinchas (what values are lived
and exemplified -- or not -- by each of these salient individuals?)

Torah Talk

As the Israelites begin to assimilate the knowledge that the generation that left
Egypt is going to die off in the wilderness due to events in last week's Torah
reading, events begin to swirl and storm around Moses. The adage that you can
take the Jews out of Egypt, but you cannot take Egypt out of the Jews seems to
assume new meaning in the portion of Korach.

Moses, a member of the tribe of Levi, is confronted by revolt and revolution as

two strands of rebellion coalesce in the narrative. Korach is also descended
from the tribe of Levi and he stokes up a religious revolt against the leadership
of Moses. Woven into this complex combustible confrontation is a civil uprising
led by the enigmatic leaders Dathan and Abiram. They are descendants of
Reuben, Jacob's firstborn, and claim their title of leadership based upon
primogeniture, first-born rank birth order. Two hundred fifty prominent leaders
also protest the leadership of Moses and join forces with Korach.

Moses accepts the gauntlet of challenge and speaks to Korach and his
company of revolutionaries and offers to engage them in a test of faith as to
whom God truly has chosen as a leader of the Israelites and through whom the
Divine message is channeled. A remarkable gathering of 250 men with Korach
and their incense pans (in a test of faith later paralleled and demonstrated on Mt.
Carmel by Elijah in his confrontation with the Priests of Ba'al) opposite Moses
and Aaron ends in a seismic denouncement – the earth itself opens up and the
revolutionaries and their possessions are swallowed alive.

Aaron's son Elazar then forges the charred remains of their incense pans into
the copper plating for the incense altar. This was meant to be a perpetual sign
and reminder of the perils of revolting against the divinely chosen leadership. In
addition, a plague then breaks out in the encampment and a significant number
of Israelites perish "on account of Korach" (17:14). This outbreak abruptly
ceases when Aaron offers atonement for their transgressions utilizing the
copper-plated incense altar made from the charred remains of Korach's revolt.

The elevated status of Aaron is also confirmed in a most unusual fashion.

Aaron's wooden staff and those of the 12 princes are gathered together. In a
remarkable phenomenon, Aaron's staff blossoms and is then preserved in the
Ark of the Covenant as a perpetual sign of his anointed Priestly leadership. The
Torah then describes the roles of the Aaron and his Priestly descendants
(Kohanes) and their role in leading the rituals in the Tabernacle and the
subordinate role and division of labor amongst the Levites. The responsibility of
the people to tithe and provide for the sanctuary and those who perform the
sacred roles there is delineated. For example, the Levites are to receive the
ma'aser rishon from the appropriate harvest, while the Kohanes receive the
terumah, the best portions of the crops.

Word of the Week

Levi is the tribe into which Moses and Aaron are born. As Aaron demonstrates
his loyalty to Moses and fidelity to God, he and his progeny are promoted to
become Kohane’s - the Priestly aristocracy, while all others of the tribe of Levi
remain as Levites. Over time, the Levitical role in the sanctuary was not only
subordinate to the Priests, but they were also responsible for transporting the
portable tabernacle, singing Psalms and functioning as intermediaries between
the Priests and the people.

Levi is also the proper name given to the third son of Jacob and Leah and the
root of Levi is related to the word "attach" as in the etymology given in Genesis
29:34 "my husband is attached to me and has given me this son, also". In this
parasha, there is a deliberate word pun on Levites and attachment to the
sanctuary in the word "yelavu" (18:2) which reads that the Levites will be
attached to you (Aaron) and serve you and your sons.

The term Levi is often identified in triads, arrangements of threes. Levi is the
third son of Jacob and is a three-letter name. Moses is the third child of Amram
and Yocheved and has a three-letter name. Furthermore, Moses, a Levite, is
hidden for three months in order to be spared potential destruction by Pharoah.
Moses also receives the Torah in the third month of the Exodus from Egypt.

Sedra Spark #1 - Sin City

The demagoguery of Korah, Datan and Aviram permeates this Torah reading.
Their rebellions and revolutionary posturing is alluded to in the very first phrase
of the Torah reading "Va-yikah Korah" which translates as "and Korah took.”
There is no modifier for what Korah took and Rashi (the classic interpreter of
Torah who lived in the 11th century in France and Germany) notes that Korach
took himself and placed himself at odds with the community, communal values
and communal leadership. He tried to seize the reins of leadership and grab
glory and grandeur for himself. His envy and jealously of his distant cousin
Moses sparked his fanatic passion to create the chaos revealed in this Torah

Pirkay Avot, the Ethics of the Sages teaches that controversy for the sake of
Heaven (as the invigorating discussions of Hillel and Shammai) will have lasting
value, while controversy NOT for a Heavenly cause will not endure (as in the
schism of Korah and his community). Hillel and Shammai disagreed on many
points of Jewish law, yet they never became disagreeable! Ideas to explore
include how can one convey an opinion or firmly held belief without resorting to
verbal pyrotechnics, degrading comments or poisonous rhetoric? What are the
techniques and values, which enable different viewpoints to be articulated
without generating controversy and arguments? What are the guidelines to use
our speech as a gift?

As Korach and his band of followers are dispatched in a seismic event of

tremendous magnitude, look carefully at the Biblical verses that capture this
moment. "They and all that was theirs descended alive to Sheol; the earth
covered them over, and they were lost from among the community (16:33).” The
Midrash speculates that Korach descended to Sheol, which is literally translated
as a shadow/netherworld. The term Sheol is in fact one of the rare Torah
allusions -- later amplified by Jewish theologians throughout history -- that life
transcends our physical world and part of our humanity/soul always survives.
The Midrash comments that Korach was kept alive forever in order to cry out:
Moses was right!

A cursory reading of the text would have one believe that Korah died along with
his family and the other households -- and this is in line with the thinking that the
rebellious nature of Korach contaminated all around him, and that he, his family
and all his followers were filled with evil and deserved punishment. Yet there is
a curious and compelling notation in Numbers 26:11 that succinctly states, "The
sons of Korach did not die.”

As Jews, we affirm that each person is responsible for their own actions and
deeds, and that the transgressions of past generations are not always an
indicator for the future generations. The apple does not fall far from the tree is a
nice aphorism, but not always good theology as God teaches that each person
is responsible for their own sins. There is a remarkable prayer recited in our
services, the Psalm for Monday, which commences with the phrase, “A song
composed by the sons of Korach” (and other psalms as well!). The paradox is
self-evident -- Korach is the paradigmatic demagogue and rebel leading people
astray and suffering punishment divinely ordained. Yet his sons survive and go
on to lead lives whereby they compose uplifting and inspiring poetry. This is a
startling realization in that a man, who led so many to revolt, is blessed with
children who lead us to piety. Korach the rebel provides faith in the future
through his righteous children. How can we apply this teaching to historical
figures? There are dynasties that seek to do evil, yet, at times, we must be
careful not to prejudge. How do you react to this idea? Does evil always
disappear and can goodness at times be filtered from horrific moments?
Torah Q & A

1. How many people gathered with Korah, Datan and Abiram in their
2. Why is there only one staff representing the Tribe of Levi?
3. This Shabbat commences Rosh Hodesh -- when one looks in the
nighttime sky, what does the moon look like at the beginning of the

(1. 250 men. 2. To symbolize the unity of Aaron (elevated to Priestly status),
Moses and other Levites served the people on behalf of God. 3. The new moon
which appears is a slender crescent that waxes from the right and then wanes
towards the left (the mnemonic device is that the moon progresses in the
evening sky in the same fashion by which we read Hebrew - from right to left.
The full or harvest moon is mid-month!
June 26, 2004 - 7 Tammuz 5764

Annual: Numbers 19:1 – 22:1 (Etz Hayim, p. 880; Hertz p. 652)

Triennial Cycle: Numbers 19:1 – 20:21 (Etz Hayim, p. 880; Hertz p. 652)
Haftarah: Judges 11:1 – 33 (Etz Hayim, p. 910; Hertz p. 664)

Prepared by Rabbi Howard Buechler

Dix Hills Jewish Center, Dix Hills, NY

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Sedra Statistics

The portion of Hukkat is comprised of 87 verses. It is also the basis of 3 of the

613 mitzvot.

Torah Talk

This portion is a watershed narrative with defining moments for our ancestors
and for Moses, Miriam and Aaron. As if the events of last Shabbat and the
demagoguery of Korah were not baffling enough, the reading commences with
the paradox of the red heifer. A mixture that includes ashes of the unblemished
and never yoked purely red heifer metaphysically cleanses those in need of
ritual purification. It is indeed ironic that those who prepare these ashes of
purification, they themselves become impure in this process.

In fact, Midrash Rabbah depicts the wise King Solomon lamenting that he is
able to comprehend all of the Torah "except for the ritual of the red heifer". This
rite is referred to as a hukkat ha-Torah (and hence the name for this portion).
Hukkat is a divinely given statute that defies rational explanation. It is simply a
given decree beyond our finite human range of knowledge, though each
generation adds wisdom in attempting to elucidate this statute as we plumb the
sublime mysteries of God.

Chapter 20 shifts our focus and is considered to be a pivotal shift in time. The
narrative leaps ahead thirty-eight years, as the Israelites will soon be poised to
enter the Land of Israel. To signify this shift in time and transitional period,
Miriam dies in this chapter and along with her physical absence there is also a
lack of life sustaining water as well. At Meriva (which literally means strife), the
people clamor for water, and Moses and Aaron are instructed by God to
produce water from a rock. In the flood of events that transpire, Moses and
Aaron release a floodgate of water for the people and receive a torrent of divine
criticism. It is precisely at this juncture that God informs Moses and Aaron that
they themselves will not merit entering the Promised Land.

The Amorites refuses to grant passage to the Israelites and engage our
ancestors in a battle, which they lost. The towns, which the Israelites win in
battle, become the first Israelite settlements, east of the Jordan River, in the
process of our return to the Promised Land of Israel. A similar scenario is
repeated with King Og of Bashan as he too is defeated by the Israelites
marching toward the Jordan River near Jericho.

Word of the Week

Miriam, the name of Aaron and Moses' sister literally means "bitter waters". A
Midrash ("The Five Books of Miriam" -- written by Ellen Frankel, published by
JPS) visions that on account of Miriam's nurturing prophetic presence, the
Israelites had a constant supply of fresh water throughout their journeys. In this
artful Midrash Miriam extols the deeds she has performed that correlate her
name with the presence of water as "my powers of prophecy, my protection of
my baby brother Moses (Nile River), my skillful midwifery among the Hebrew
slaves (amniotic fluids), and my victory at the Sea of Reeds" -- all linked to
water. The name of Miriam and her entire life is well connected to water. Even
the first letter of her name, similar to Moses, begins with the letter “mem” that in
the most ancient of Hebrew writings is a pictograph of water with waves.

Rashi, the 11th century Torah commentator, notes that as soon as this
righteous woman died, the water ceased with disastrous consequences for the
People of Israel. The Torah specifically states that when Aaron and Moses die,
the people of Israel weep and grieve his passing, but grieving is conspicuously
absent when Miriam dies. This leads one commentator to infer that because the
people did not shed tears at the passing of Miriam, the source of water
(Miriam's miraculous wellsprings of water) dry up. In the verse following her
death, the Torah notes that there is no water for the community. Miriam, the
source of sweet, fresh water dies and the irony of her name is that in her
passing, the waters are now absent and bitter.

What values did Miriam exemplify in her life? How is she a paradigm of
leadership and moral virtue?

Sedra Spark #1 - Hard Rock Café

Where do Moses and Aaron go astray? The Torah juxtaposes the death of their
sister Miriam, with the lack of water that leads to this turbulent scene. One can
imagine the emotional trauma of loss that impacts upon Mose and Aaron as the
text swiftly transports them from loss to communal anguish over the lack of

Re-examine the verses in chapter 20 and note the bitterness of the people as
they clamor against Moses and romanticize their memories of being in Egypt.
God specifically instructs Moses to take his staff and along with Aaron, “Speak
to the rock before their eyes that it shall give waters.” Moses, in front of the
people, strikes the rock twice with this staff. God states (20:12), “Because you
did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you
will not bring this congregation to the Land of Israel!"
How did Moses and Aaron sin?

1. Rashi states. “They sinned in striking the rock rather than speaking as
they had been commanded.
2. Rambam, Moses ben Maimon, in the 12th century, “His whole sin lay in
erring on the side of anger and deviating from the mean of patience
when he used the expression, 'Hear now, you rebels.'” God then
censured him for this that a man (Moses) of his stature should give vent
to anger where anger was not called for."
3. Nahmanides, 13th century, interprets the transgression "Moses made the
fatal mistake of saying, "shall we bring forth water" instead of saying
"shall God bring forth water.” The people might have been misled into
thinking that Moses and Aaron had extracted water for them by their own
skills. Thus they failed to "sanctify Me in the midst of the People".

Torah Table Talk

1. Can and how may a leader express anger or frustration with those whom
he/she leads?
2. Is it reasonable to expect that leaders have a higher level of self-control
than the rest of society?
3. Should leaders be on a higher moral plane than others?
4. Does the punishment of Moses and Aaron fit the "crime"?
5. What does it mean to sanctify God? How do we, by our deeds and
observances, elevate the presence of God in the public domain?

Sedra Spark #2 - Spy Kids II

Spying has led to monumental failure in the Torah reading of Shelakh, as the
people believe the inaccurate assessment of the majority report of ten spies. In
a verse often skimmed over, yet replete with meaning (21:32), “Then Moses
sent out to spy Yazer and they captured its dependencies and dispossessed the
Amorites who were there” Moses again sends out a group of spies.

Rashi immediately connects this episode with the past spy scenario and notes
"that the spies captured it -- they said we are NOT like the former spies, we are

On one level, the Midrash indicates that Moses sent Joshua and Caleb to spy
out this city. Moses, having seen earlier in the Torah the perils of spying
expeditions, is successful in this endeavor. How do leaders learn from failure?
What is the growth curve of Moses here?

Apparently these spies were armed with the courage of their conviction. Not
only were they exploring this city of Yazer, but also if needed, had the courage
and faith to proceed and capture the city. Their mission and leadership, it can
be inferred, were flexible so that a scouting mission, when presented with
opportunity, transformed itself into a military operation that succeeded.
Torah Table Talk

1. How do we learn from our mistakes?

2. Even though Moses knows that he will no longer enter the Land of Israel,
he is not paralyzed by this reality. He presses ahead with his vision and
continues the journey, not as a lame duck leader, but as a visionary.
What leadership values does Moses demonstrate here? Pirkay Avot, the
Ethics of the Sages states, “One is not obligated to finish the work, yet
neither can one desist from the task.” How does this teaching capture the
spirit and synergy of Moses?
3. What degree of self-confidence is exhibited by Joshua and Caleb as they
marshal their resources and with agility transform an espionage mission
into one of victory? What lessons, political, military and psychological are
embedded in this one verse of Torah as embellished by the Midrash?

Torah Q & A

1. What transpired shortly before the death of Aaron that helped ease the
transition of Priestly leadership?
2. Which ancient path were the Israelites following as they tried to traverse
the Amorite territory?

(1. Elazar has the Priestly vestments placed upon him (20:26) prior to Aaron's
death to signify that the traditions will continue uninterrupted and to assure his
father that Aaron's legacy will be maintained in his son(s). 2. The road is
referred to as the Kings Highway ( 21:22) -- major thoroughfare in each ancient
Near Eastern land.
July 2, 2004 – 14 Tammuz 5764

Annual: Numbers 22:2 – 25:9 (Etz Hayim, p. 894; Hertz p. 669)

Triennial Cycle: Numbers 22:39 – 25:9 (Etz Hayim, p. 899; Hertz p. 673)
Haftarah: Micah 5:6 – 6:8 (Etz Hayim, p. 915; Hertz p. 682)

Prepared by Rabbi Howard Buechler

Dix Hills Jewish Center, Dix Hills, NY

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Sedra Statistics

Balak contains 104 verses.

This Torah reading does not contain any of the 613 mitzvot.

As noted for Parashat Korah, there are a total of 6 Torah portions, which are
named for individuals. Can you name them and suggest any themes, which link
these named individuals as they have the honor of Torah portions bearing their

Torah Topics

The cast of characters in this narrative is evocative of great, provocative, and

dramatic moments in Jewish history. Balak is the King of Moab and he is
astounded at the Israelite victory over the neighboring Amorites. Balak is
determined not to have his people meet the same fate. Therefore he sends
messengers to engage the services of the well-known ancient oracle and
soothsayer Bilaam, the son of Beor. Intertwined into this text are both Moabite
and Midianite efforts to ward off the Israelites.

Bilaam is hired to curse the Israelites and bring imprecations of calamity upon
them. Bilaam in this narrative delivers four prophecies that instead of cursing
the Israelites, blesses them. In the first two oracles, Bilaam claims to speak in
the name of God as he bestows abundant praise upon the Israelite tribes. His
lavish praise of the unique status of the Israelites is gifted Biblical poetry and he
also notes the everlasting presence of God amongst our ancestors.
Furthermore, Bilaam is rebuked by Balak as he demands that the Israelites be
cursed, not praised. In powerful imagery, Bilaam utters the lofty words, "How
goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel." These words,
pronounced by a pagan sorcerer are the opening words of many synagogue
prayer services as they form the first line of the Mah Tovu prayer.

Finally, in a fourth oracle, Bilaam notes that he is a servant of the Lord and
cannot, for any wages, disobey the word of God. He continues in his poetry and
states, "a star rises from Jacob, a scepter comes forth from Osrae;" (24: 17).
Bilaam also pronounces that Moab is doomed and King Balak who had hired
Bilaam to curse the Israelites, he and his people are cursed instead! Balak, of
course then dismisses Bilaam from his duties and Bilaam then returns to his

Amidst the dramatic confrontations of Balak and Bilaam, a number of unusual

events transpire. Bilaam's donkey is apparently more aware of the Divine
Presence at certain moments and balks at progressing in a mission to curse the
Israelites. Eventually the donkey has a sarcastic conversation with his master
and the pun and double entendre of the speaking ass is a literary foil in this plot.
The Rabbis state that the talking donkey did not transcend the given laws of
physics, and Maimonides notes that this entire sequence of the speaking
donkey is actually a vision or dream, and not a discrete reality.

The concluding segment of the narrative occurs at the portal to the Promised
Land. The people are encamped at Shittim, on the eastern bank of the Jordan
River near Jericho. There they are lead astray by Moabite women. While the
imprecations of destruction, which Balak, King of Moab desired, could not be
invoked nor come to fruition, the people themselves are led astray into
theological and sexual apostasy by the seductions and enticements of the
Moabite women. This moment of tremendous degradation and wholesale
immorality reaches into the upper echelons of Israelite society. In a swift
reaction to the idolatrous backsliding of the Israelites, Pinchas, the grandson of
the High Priest Aaron, takes matters into his own hands and executes an
Israelite engaging in relations with a Midianite woman. The reactions to this act
of zealotry are quite complex and nuanced. In fact, this episode is bifurcated
into a narrative that begins in this portion and continues in the portion next week.
And in the ensuing licentiousness a great number of Israelites perish prior to the
forthright actions of Pinchas.

Archaelogical Gems

Bilaam is one of the rare Biblical figures for whom a non-Biblical source has
been found. Bilaam the son of Beor, the same sorcerer/prophet in our Biblical
narrative is described in very similar detail in inscriptions found in Deir 'Alla,
Jordan, dating to the year 800 BCE. The epigraphic evidence of writing on a
plaster wall speaks of Bilaam the son of Beor and records a prophetic text
which describes his vision of a divine punishment upon his people! This is a
sensational find and a fine example of scientific scholarship and archeology
deepening our knowledge of the Biblical text.

Sedra Spark #1 - Bilaam: The Right Stuff or the Wrong Stuff??

We encounter the remarkable Bilaam (also spelled Balaam) and clearly can see
that he is a gifted orator and prophet. Yet how he uses, or abuses his gifts is
open for much debate. Is Bilaam a righteous man, as he bestows blessings
upon Israel, or is he a schemer and cunning man bent on seeking our
destruction? How do we reconcile these conflicting strands of his personality or
view Bilaam as a complex man with many complexities?
1. Numbers 31:16 directly states that Bilaam is responsible for betraying the
Israelites at Peor and causing our apostasy.
2. A Midrash states that "while none arose in Israel like Moses, among the
other nations, there did in others, and that was Bilaam, son of Beor."
Bilaam in this portrayal is God's prophet to the Gentile world. He
conveyed the word of God and though his level of righteousness was far
below Moses, he is nonetheless a prophet. Maimonides notes that this
statement is a polemic underscoring any attempt by the other nations of
the world to say that if God had only given them a Moses, the other
nations of the world would have been as blessed as Israel. The nations
of the world had Bilaam and even he led his own people astray.
3. Ibn Ezra, born in 1092 in Spain, declares that Bilaam is deceptive,
cunning, and a dangerous man. He supports this accusation by
reminding us that Bilaam never tells Balak's messengers that God will
not allow him to curse Israel. Bilaam withholds information and distorts
the truth in several episodes. He seeks to take advantage of Balak's
fears for his own economic gain.
4. Pinchas Peli, a modern Israeli Torah commentator notes that Bilaam is
responsible for helping to seduce the Israelites into sexual immorality
with the Moabites. Peli comments: "God grants human beings various
degrees of talent in different areas of creativity; it is they themselves who
are responsible, however, for putting this latent gift to the right use. Many
waste their gifts, others pervert their use. Balaam was among the latter
after uttering some of the most lofty songs of praise to Israel, Balaam
proceeds to offer their enemies some of the most sinister pieces of
advice on how to go about destroying Israel and it's 'goodly tents' behind
their backs, he plots their annihilation through the lure of fertility
5. One other possibility is that Bilaam is entirely a literary foil, an artifice
created for us to focus not on Bilaam, but on the role of God. Throughout
these chapters, the everlasting Divine love is apparent as is God's role
as a Shomer Yisrael -- a guardian of Israel. Therefore, the character of
Bilaam is incidental to the overarching theme of the Divine love, empathy
and passion for the People of Israel.

Torah Table Talk

1. Bilaam is a 'hired gun' to curse the Israelites. Are their people who spurn
morality and sell their souls to engage in unethical behavior like Bilaam?
How and why?
2. Bilaam praises the Israelites as a people that dwells separate (23:9) and
a myriad of blessings of the uniqueness of Israel. What is most distinctive
and kodesh, holy and special about Judaism and the Jewish people?
How do we manifest our unique roles and how are Jewish observances
3. Balak and Bilaam are part of an interesting alliance attempting to thwart
and destroy the Jewish people? How does this relate to realities in the
Middle East today?
Sedra Spark #2 - Modesty in Jewish Life

One of the reasons that Bilaam is unable to curse the Israelites is that when he
looked at their encampment, he realized that he saw Israel dwelling according
to each tribe. The Talmud elucidates upon this and notes that each tribal
encampment was established in such a fashion that no tent opening ever faced
another tent opening. No one could see into the tents of the others from their
tents. It is as if when building homes in a neighborhood, the builder insures that
the sight lines from window to window of opposing homes are not direct -- to
insure privacy and personal modesty. Bilaam is amazed at the degree of
personal modesty and dignity, which the Israelites displayed within their homes.
The Hebrew word for modesty is tzniyut and connotes that "human dignity
demands a certain measure of privacy in those moments that we share only
with God" (Rabbi Eugene Borowitz writing in The Jewish Moral Virtues).
Modesty is a Jewish value in terms of our relationship with God, with other
human beings, in our marital intimacy and in regarding our bodies and dress.
Even speech is to demonstrate modesty and dignity at all times.

Bilaam recognized that one aspect of Israelite uniqueness is the virtue of

modesty. How do we express modesty today? Has the pendulum swung too far
in terms of a lack of modesty in the public arena -- and how can we affirm
modesty in our lives?

Torah Q & A

1. How did Bilaam humiliate himself?

2. How many altars did Bilaam ask Balak to build?
3. Which global shipping corporation derives its' name from this portion?

(1. Bilaam is attempting to curse an entire nation while he cannot even have
power over his own donkey. He threatens to kill the donkey in a humiliating
recognition of his own lack of real power. The talking donkey speaks more
sense then Bilaam! 2. Seven altars. 3. The Israeli shipping company Tzim is
derived from Bilaam's parable (24:24) that large vessels -- the Hebrew word is
“Tzim" will come from afar.
July 10, 2004 – 21 Tammuz 5764

Annual: Numbers 25:10 – 30:1 (Etz Hayim, p. 918; Hertz p. 686)

Triennial Cycle: Numbers 28:16 – 30:1 (Etz Hayim, p. 931; Hertz p. 695)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 968; Hertz p. 710)

Prepared by Rabbi Howard Buechler

Dix Hills Jewish Center, Dix Hills, NY

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Sedra Statistics

Parshat Pinchas contains 168 verses.

It is the basis for 6 of the 613 mitzvot.

Six Torah readings of the annual cycle are named for individuals. Three of
these readings have been in recent weeks, Korach, Balak and Pinchas. How
are these three Biblical personalities linked? Do these men share any

Torah Topics

Pinchas is the son of Elazar and the grandson of Aaron, the High Priest. In a
swift and zealous display, he effectively ends a liaison between a Midianite
woman (Cozbi) and an Israelite chieftain (Zimri). For his quick response in
slaying this couple, Pinchas receives a Divine reward insuring that the
Priesthood will always remain within his family.

God informs Moses that the Land will be divided among the tribes according to
the census results with land allocation based upon tribal populations and
assigned by lot. The five daughters of Zelophad present a most unique petition
to Moses. In chapter 27, they note that their father had died in the wilderness for
his "own sin" (and was not a revolutionary along with Korach, etc). Furthermore,
as Zelophad left no sons, they inquire if they, as his daughters may inherit his
tribal allocation of Land. Moses, as in other very difficult situations,
demonstrates a remarkably gifted leadership quality. He seeks advice and in
fact, asks God for insight. God shares with Moses that the daughters of
Zelophad have a right and just cause to inherit their father's tribal territory
provided that the land always remain within the tribal boundaries.

God then instructs Moses to ascend Mt. Abiram and view the Land of Israel
from this vantage-point, as due to his transgressions he will not merit entering
the Land. Joshua is to be singled out and 'hands layed upon him' to indicate
that he will be commissioned as the next leader.
Word of the Week

Shalom is probably the most widely recognized Hebrew word. It means,

contingent upon usage, peace, and a greeting of hello or goodbye. The root of
the word shalom indicates wholeness and completeness. In the narrative of
Pinchas this Shabbat, God grants to Pinchas and his descendants a covenant
of eternal priesthood and a covenant of shalom. The phrase briti shalom (my
covenant of peace) found in Numbers 25:12 is written in every Torah scroll in a
most unusual fashion. The word shalom contains four Hebrew letters, shin
lamed vuv and (final) mem. The vuv in the word shalom is written as a broken
strophe -- a straight line broken in half, two discrete sections.

The Ba'alay Masorah, the Rabbis in the 8th and 9th centuries that standardized
the Biblical text that we recognize as written in every Torah scroll codified that
the letter vuv in the word shalom written here in the Torah must be written as
two half stokes, unconnected. In a very powerful and graphic sense, the
calligraphic style of the Torah then becomes a Midrash, a commentary on the
actions of Pinchas. The text unambiguously states that God rewarded Pinchas
for his zealous acts and granted him a covenant of peace, yet the style of
writing conveys a very different nuance. By writing the word shalom defective
(with a broken vuv), the message conveyed is that peace created by zealots
and acts of violence will never be whole and complete. That type of peace, as
represented by the broken vuv, is a broken and incomplete shalom. True peace,
ultimate shalom, is not created through violence and fanaticism -- and the
Masoretic text of the Torah implies a strenuous criticism of the actions of

Sedra Spark #1 - Holy Zeal or Fires of Fanaticism

The Torah speaks of the zeal of Pinchas and his passion to right injustice and
avert immoral calamity. Even God rewards Pinchas with his covenant of peace
and reassures him that the Priesthood will always emanate from the House of
Aaron. Pinchas is praised for his deeds and actions and rewarded for this
striking behavior. How do we understand zealots acting in the name of God and
how do our Rabbis filter this episode as they grapple with holy fanaticism.

1. Rashi notes that the Israelite leaders looked upon Pinchas derisively for
his unilateral actions. Yet Rashi understands Pinchas as not acting on
his own, but rather that he was zealous for the sake of God -- Pinchas
acted at this important moment on behalf of God (and his actions are
validated when the Torah states “he was zealous for MY sake.”
2. When Pinchas acts as judge and jury taking justice into his own hands,
the Rabbis in the Jerusalem Talmud state that his actions did not meet
with the approval of the leaders of his time and in fact he would have
been excommunicated had not God proclaimed that only for that specific
moment in time were his actions justified.
3. Maimonides states that Pinchas acted meritoriously only because he
punished the transgression in-flagrant, in the act. Had he waited, he
would have been liable for murder.
4. One Midrash suggest that the heroism of Pinchas is his willingness to
expose and deal with immorality at the highest levels of leadership -- this
couple was not above moral laws and consequences.
5. Ibn Ezra notes that the covenant of peace granted to Pinchas is not a
reward for his actions, but rather a grant of protection -- that no one is to
harm Pinchas for his zealous acts (which normally would be forbidden in
6. Rabbi Pinchas Peli states that though Pinchas "occupies a place of
honor in the pantheon of the Jewish people" his "personal example is to
be emulated with great caution…zealotry and strong passion are an
asset sometimes, but must not be permanent norms!"

Torah Table Talk

1. Clearly this text exposes raw sensitivities in regards to understanding the

actions of fanatics. Can there be too much zeal and too much passion?
Judaism is a religion of law, morality and standards. How do we
understand the actions of Pinchas?
2. When can zeal and passion be invoked, and when are those attributes
revoked and rebuked?
3. Judaism embraces holy living in our daily lives. Jewish sexual ethics is a
part of observing Judaism and seeing the world through Jewish eyes.
How do we impart and live a life of Jewish sexual ethics and morality?
4. In times of urgent, clear and present danger, what are the roles and limits
of leadership?

Sedra Spark #2 - Voices of Righteous Women

With the exception of Moses, Joshua and Caleb, many of the male models of
leadership in the Book of Numbers have shown deficits. The daughters of
Zelophad (chapter 27) have the courage to stand before Moses and Elazar and
the assembled leadership to press their cause and speak out. The issue is one
of inheritance, which becomes obvious as the Torah has described the
allocation of the land by a patrilineal model of inheritance. The five daughters
state that their father died of his own sin (and was not involved in any other
transgressions) and they too seek their rightful inheritance. Long before seeking
professional assistance became an accepted norm, Moses seeks the wisdom of
God to respond to this request.

1. Rashi is perplexed that the daughters of Zelophad are noted in a long

lineage going back to Joseph. He therefore infers that just as Joseph
loved the Land of Israel (and even made his family promise to eventually
bury him in Israel), so too the daughters of Zelophad cherish the Land of
Israel as well and each are as righteous as Joseph the Tzaddik.
2. When God responds that the daughters of Zelophad "speak properly"
and are justified in seeking to inherit their father's land, it is of ultimate
praise. Rashi states that they "saw what the eyes of Moses did not see,
and they spoke properly and beautifully. Furthermore, their demands to
be accorded justice met with praise from God -- which is the ultimate
vindication of their cause for themselves and the future.” The Sifre notes
that few honors can be as meritorious as the daughters of Zelophad for
their request brought about God revealing a new aspect of Jewish law,
forever codified to their credit.
3. In Ellen Frankel's The Five Books of Miriam, a Midrash is created that
one can "understand this story as a valuable lesson for all of us, teaching
us that Jewish law has the flexibility to expand and embrace women,
giving us increasingly more rights and fairer share of our common

Torah Table Talk

1. A predicate of Jewish life is to give voice to righteousness and justice.

How do the daughters of Zelophad fulfill this mandate of speaking boldly
and forthrightly in search of the truth and visioning a better future?
2. The daughters of Zelophad work within the framework of Judaism by
approaching Moses and the leadership to plead their cause. What salient
values are taught regarding both the dynamics of Judaism as an ever
evolving faith, and of a leadership that is also willing to grow (as Moses
evolves and learns in this narrative)?
3. The narrative speaks of inheritance of tangible property. Judaism also
speaks of "ethical wills" which is testimony bequeathing our values and
Jewish dreams for the future generations. What Jewish dreams do we
prepare as a legacy for our families and loved ones?

Torah Q & A

1. What woman is specifically noted as still living in this second census

(and remarkable considering that she went with Jacob to Egypt as well!)?
2. How many hands was Moses to place upon Joshua when transmitting
the mantle of leadership to him. And how many hands did he actually
place upon Joshua at that moment?

(1. Serah, the daughter of Asher (and the granddaughter of Jacob) is noted in
26:46. Some state that she is mentioned here as an allusion that women will
receive their just inheritance in the Land. Others note that her inclusion
underscores that the woman of the Wilderness generation were righteous and
not led astray -- and that the women did not necessarily perish in the wilderness
(as the men of that generation did). 2. God instructed Moses to place one hand
upon Joshua (27:18). He actually places both hands upon Joshua (27:23) as
Joshua is appointed as his successor. What can we learn from this?
July 17, 2004 – 28 Tammuz 5764

Annual: Numbers 30:2 – 36:13 (Etz Hayim, p. 941; Hertz p. 702)

Triennial Cycle: Numbers 33:50 – 36:13 (Etz Hayim, p. 957; Hertz p. 716)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4 – 28:3:4 (Etz Hayim, p. 973; Hertz p. 725)

Prepared by Rabbi Howard Buechler

Dix Hills Jewish Center, Dix Hills, NY

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Sedra Statistics

The Torah reading of Mattot contains 112 verses.

It is also the basis of 2 of the 613 mitzvot.

The second reading of Torah in this double parasha Shabbat is Maasey, which
contains 132 verses.

Maasey is the foundation for 6 of the mitzvot.

Torah Topics

Mattot is a term for “tribe” as Moses begins his oratory by speaking to the
assembled tribal leadership about the value of words. Oaths and vows are
sacred pledges, which involve status and obligation, and responsibilities, which
are to be maintained. The Torah reading then continues to fulfill a mission to
battle the Midianites who were responsible for massive Israelite transgressions
and immorality (Numbers 25). Military discipline and morality as well as ethics of
war are derived from these verses.

The tribes of Reuven and Gad seek to remain in the land east of the Jordan
River as their tribal inheritance. Moses reminds them of morale and the need for
unity in a time of conflict. Moses explores these issues and discerns a path by
which these tribes may settle in the areas that they seek to live in, as well as
contribute contingents to the forces that will conquer the Land of Israel. Half of
the tribe of Manashe also settles here as well.

Maasey means journeys and provides a detailed itinerary naming each of the
forty-two places where the Israelites sojourned during the wilderness
wanderings. A point of scribal tradition is derived from this Torah reading. It is
customary (though not obligatory) for a sofer -- Torah scribe -- to write a Torah
scroll in a fashion so that each column of the Sefer Torah scroll has 42 lines. In
this manner, each column of Torah becomes a Jewish journey linking the past
to the present and the Torah as our guide in visioning our own journeys into
enriching and engaging Jewish experiences.

The issue of the Daughters of Zelpohad is revisited. Their voices have been
heard and they clearly do inherit their fathers' territorial allotment. However the
land must remain within their tribal boundaries in order to maintain the tribal
territorial integrity.

The double feature of Mattot and Maasey concludes with the admonition that
these are the commandments, which God has decreed to Moses and the
Israelites in the steppes of Moab, at the Jordan, by Jericho. The final word of
the Book of Numbers is Jericho, which is the foreshadowing that Deuteronomy
will take place by this city as the Israelites prepare to enter the Promised Land.
Each book of the Torah is concluded with the congregation rising prior to the
final verse of Torah in anticipation of proclaiming, Hazzak, hazzak v'nithazzaik --
be strong, be strong and let us be strengthened (by the words and mitzvot of

Word of the Week

Halutz is used in contemporary Hebrew as a pioneer. The halutzim were Jews,

inspired by Zionism who made the return to the land possible in modern times.
The halutzim drained the swamps of the Galil region, settled the Negev and had
the daring courage and visionary creativity of rebuilding a Jewish presence in
the land from Rishon Le-Tziyyon to Sde Boker. The spirit of those original
pioneers to Israel in the late 1800's and early 1900's is found in the synergy of
modern Israel, in Israeli folk songs and kibbutzim and cultivated in youth
programs (USY) and summer camps (Ramah).

In the Numbers 32:21 the word halutz appears and conveys the meaning of
shock troops or warriors. The tribes of Reuven and Gad who seek to settle on
the Eastern side of the Jordan River are told to contribute fighting forces for the
conquest of the Land on the Western side of the Jordan. In this fashion, all of
the tribes will recognize that the conquest of the Promised Land is a shared
endeavor, and that each tribe is responsible for the other. Furthermore, the
tribes of Reuven and Gad, in exchange for residing on the Eastern banks of the
Jordan, are to contribute the halutzim -- the vanguard fighting forces which will
lead the way into the Promised Land.

Sedra Spark #1 - Jewish Neighborhoods

Chapter 32 presents a highly charged issue masked in diplomatic language.

The tribes of Reuven and Gad have a simple request as they herd cattle and
the lands east of the Jordan River are perfect pastureland. In making this
request, Moses fears that the sight of some tribes settling in homes before
entering the land would be interpreted as forsaking the entire mission of the gift
of the Land of Israel and demoralize the other tribes. Moses is able to deftly co-
opt the two tribes into not only contributing men for the conquest of the Land of
Israel, but their troops become the vanguard of the military operations as noted
with the word halutz.
Interestingly, the two tribes state, "pens for the flocks we will build here for our
livestock and cities for our children.” Moses, in response, after settling the fact
that they will contribute the leading shock troops for the conquest, offers a
subtle rebuke and states, “Build for yourselves cities for your children and pens
for your livestock."

Rashi states, “They evince more concern for their own money than their
children as they placed their cattle before their little ones. Moses said to them,
“Do not do this! Put first things first and second things second! Build first cities
for your little ones and afterwards, folds for your sheep!”

The Midrash adds that since Reuven and Gad mentioned their wealth and
possessions before their children, they would find no blessings in the wealth.

Nehama Leibowitz, agifted Biblical scholar who lived in Israel in the 20th
century, speaks of "two diametrically opposed points of view. There were those
whose interests revolved round material possessions, concern for the cattle,
who lived on bread alone and saw not the hand of God. In contrast to them,
stood the one who, never for a moment, forgot the Divine mission."

Torah Table Talk

1. Reuven and Gad focused on tangible wealth -- while Moses reminds

them of their true blessings as he re-arranges their priorities in the
precise choice of his word order -- which the children come first! What
are our priorities? How do we help someone, or a community reorient
and refocus on their core mission and central values?
2. The two and one-half tribes are given permission to reside in the Eastern
Jordan region. Can one help support and build Israel from the outside? If
so, how can this mission be accomplished? What are our obligations and
responsibilities towards Israel -- as advocates, supporters, donors and

Sedra Spark #2

The second part of our double feature of Torah commences with a detailed
itinerary listing each of the 42 places in our journey from Egypt to the Promised
Land. This appears to be redundant minutiae and numbingly focused on
obscure locales. Why does chapter 33 list each and every place on the journey?

Ibn Ezra, our 12th century Biblical sage and worldwide traveler as well, noted
that the Torah states in 33:2 that Moses wrote their goings forth according to
their journeys. This apparent redundant text is as if to say that each stage of the
journey was not happenstance or trivial travels. God, Ibn Ezra maintains,
scripted the journey to inculcate values at every stage of the journey.

Rashi, writing in the 11th century in France and Germany, notes that each
locale is listed "in order to publicize the loving acts of God". It is, in modern
parlance, when returning from a spectacular vacation, even the name of each
place visited lovingly conjures up brilliant images and indelible memories. Rashi
is demonstrating that these named sites as articulated give voice to the
everlasting love of God towards the Israelites at every moment and in every
place in their journeys.

Rashi also cites a Midrash from Rabbi Tanhuma in that this chapter can be
compared to a parable. To a king whose son was ill and whom he took to a
distant place to cure. As soon as they returned home, the father began to
enumerate all the stages, saying to him, here we slept, here we caught cold,
and here you were ill. So too, the Holy One said to him, Moses: enumerate all
the places where we have been…

A commentary on Rashi, the Be'er Heitev notes, “This was the lesson learned
from recounting: to know how many had survived… to take to heart the
kindness shown by the Holy One, and also the sufferings they endured for their
disobedience so that, in the future they would act in righteousness and not sin.

Torah Table Talk

1. How does recalling the past enable us to live now and influence our
2. What journeys in our life have forged our future? Reflect upon physical
journeys that can be measured in miles and upon soulful journeys that
are measured by intense meaning.
3. One place is missing from the 42 locales -- Mt. Sinai! Why the omission
of the moment of theophany when God revealed the Torah to our
people? Can Torah be given in only one place and one time? How do we
understand this revised itinerary?

Torah Q & A

1. Who is the Cohen Gadol (lead Cohen) in this narrative?

2. In the travelogue of Maasey, as our ancestors leave Raamses in Egypt,
what are the Egyptians doing?
3. The Sea of Galilee is located in the north of Israel with Tiberias as a
major city alongside that sea. What does the Torah call the Sea of
July 24, 2004 - 6 Av 5764

Annual: Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22 (Etz Hayim, p. 981; Hertz p. 736)

Triennial Cycle: Deuteronomy 2:31 - 3:22 (Etz Hayim, p. 994; Hertz p. 746)
Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1 - 27 (Etz Hayim, p. 1000; Hertz p. 750)

Prepared by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Author of To Begin Again and Talking to God

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Parasha Summary

This Shabbat we enter the fifth book of the Torah, Devarim, which means
"Words." Moshe calls the Children of Israel together to listen to him as he
prepares them for their entrance into the Promised Land. Before they can move
forward, Moshe asks them to look behind them and remember the critical
events that transpired during the journey through the wilderness. He reminds
them not only of their triumphs and their faith, but of their rebellions and their
transgressions. Moshe knows that he will no longer be able to physically lead
this people, so he offers them his teachings in the hopes that they will be
remembered and will be a source of strength and inspiration to them as they
proceed without him into the Land of Israel. Of course Moshe succeeded
beyond his wildest imagination. His words call out to us today, as they did to our
ancestors so long ago, and beckon us to listen.

Discussion Theme 1: Powerful Words

"These are the words which Moshe spoke to all of Israel" (Deut. 1:1)

Sefer Devarim, The Book of Words, forces us to contemplate the power of the
word. In the book of Bereshit, the Torah begins by introducing us to a God who
speaks and creates: "And God said Let there be light and there was light." And
now the Torah ends by revealing to us the indelible imprint of the human word:
"These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel."

Derash: Study

1. In the Midrash we are taught: (Deut. Rabbah 1:1) Moshe, before he was
privileged to receive the Torah said, "I am not a man of words;" but after
he had proved himself worthy of the Torah his tongue became cured and
he began to speak words: "These are the words which Moshe spoke."
When God first called out to Moshe at the burning bush and commanded
him to go to Pharaoh and say "Let My people Go," Moshe said to God,
Lo ish devarim anochi - "I'm not a man of words." Moshe was being
honest about himself. He wasn't a man of words, he was a man of action.
Perhaps that's what God saw in Moshe, he wasn't an orator he was a
leader, a doer. But his tendency to act rather than to speak is precisely
what led to Moshe's downfall. In the desert when the children of Israel
were tired and thirsty, God instructed Moshe to speak to the rock, but
instead he acted, he struck the rock. Now at the end of his career, Moshe
has come full circle. He has learned many invaluable lessons through the
years as he led his people across the wilderness and has at last become
precisely what he thought he could never be: a man of words.
2. In Pirkei Avot 1:17 we read: Shimon taught: Throughout my life I was
raised among the scholars, and I discovered that there is nothing more
becoming a person than silence…excess in speech leads to sin.
3. Maimonides, in the Mishneh Torah (Chapter 2:4), details how we ought
to guard our words: One must not make a habit of using flattering
speech…One must not say one thing and mean another, but like heart
face; we should express in words of mouth only what we have in mind.
We must not deceive people - One must not urge another to join him at a
meal though aware that the invitation will not be accepted. One must not
overwhelm his guest with offers, knowing that he will not accept. Even a
single word of deception is forbidden.
4. In chapter 4 of the Mishneh Torah Maimonides focuses on the dangers
of the negative use of words: gossip. Who is a talebearer? One who
carries gossip, going about from person to person and telling: "So and so
said this; I have heard so and so about so and so." Even though he tells
the truth, he ruins the world.

Questions for Discussion

1. In the book of Exodus (2:11-12) we read: Moshe saw an Egyptian

beating a Hebrew… He turned this way and that and, seeing no one
about, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. Most of the
time we read this scene as a positive event -- Moshe came to the
defense of a Hebrew slave. But can it be read another way? Notice that
this same verb (in Hebrew va-yach) is used when Moshe struck the rock.
Was Moshe too quick to act? Could he have first tried to confront the
Egyptian? Should he have used his words before he struck the Egyptian
2. How does this topic relate to the state of the world today? What are the
limits of diplomacy? When should we act and when should we speak?
3. In reviewing your own life, you can look back at times when you wished
that you would have talked things out before you reacted physically?
Alternately, are there words you have spoken that you wish you could
take back?
4. Maimonides speaks very adamantly against words of deception. Do you
agree? Have you ever made a false offer to pick up a check at a
restaurant knowing full well that the other party was going to pay?
5. Can you think of situations when it might be permissible to tell a white
6. How does gossip ruin the world? Can you think of examples from your
own family? Your synagogue? Your place of work?
Discussion Theme 2: Too Much of a Good Thing?

"The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb (Sinai), saying: You have stayed long
enough at this mountain." (Deut. 1:6) Sinai was such a pivotal place for the
Israelites. It's the location where they experienced God first hand and received
the words of the ten commandments. Why did God want us to move on from

Derash: Study

1. Rashi explains this verse in two ways. The first way is the peshat, the
plain meaning of the words: You've dwelt long enough in this mountain,
it's time to move on.
2. But there is an Aggadic explanation that Rashi brings from the Sifre: God
has given you much distinction and reward for your having dwelt in this
mountain - you made the Tabernacle, the candlestick, and the other
sacred articles, you received the Torah, you appointed a Sanhedrin for
yourselves…In other words, it's not "You've dwelled long enough at this
mountain," but rather, "You've been rewarded by staying at this
3. Rabbi Kalonymus Epstein, in his book of Chassidic thought, Meor
VaShamesh, understood these words differently. He explained the verse
this way: When you were on the mountain of Horeb, the Lord told you
that you are not to look upon every obstacle and hindrance as an
unconquerable mountain, but that you must surmount any obstacles that
might stand in the way… In other words, it's not "You've dwelled long
enough at this mountain," but rather, "Don't regard obstacles as
insurmountable mountains."

Questions for Discussion

1. Can you think of sacred, holy situations that we must move on from?
How do we know when we've stayed too long at the same place? When
is the time to make a change?>
2. What are the rewards your community has received by lingeringin a
place of holiness? Can you list them as Rashi did?
3. It's so important in life to know the difference between an insurmountable
mountain and a challenge we have the power to overcome. How can we
tell the difference between an impossible dream and holy opportunity?
Can you think of situations you gave up on that you now realize were in
your power to triumph over?
July 31, 2004 - 13 Av 5764

Annual: Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11 (Etz Hayim, p. 1005; Hertz p. 755)

Triennial Cycle: Deuteronomy 5:1 - 7:11 (Etz Hayim, p. 1015; Hertz p. 765)
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:1 - 26 (Etz Hayim, p. 1033; Hertz p. 776)

Prepared by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Author of To Begin Again and Talking to God

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Parasha Summary

In our portion this Shabbat Moshe tells the Children of Israel that he pleaded
with God to allow him to enter the Land of Israel, but God refused to let him in. It
takes a great deal of courage to stand before the people you have led and
admit to them that your prayers have no power to sway God. Moshe then
continues to recount the happenings in the desert and urges the people to listen,
to observe, and to follow God's law. In this portion we encounter two central
pillars of Judaism: the Ten Commandments and the Shema.

Discussion Theme 1: How to Pray, When to Pray

"And I pleaded with God at that time." (Deut 3:23)

Derash: Study

1. Rabbi Shmuel of Shinova taught: The first time I came to my rebbi, Rabbi
Simcha Bunim, I told him I was worried over the fact that when I prayed
my head hurt… because I tried so hard to pray with kavanah. My rebbi
said to me: what does a headache have to do with prayer? One's prayer
should be primarily from the heart." (Torah Gems, p185)
2. "And I pleaded with God at that time." When should we pray? The Torah
does not specify what time this is referring to. This is a hint that a person
should always be ready to pray to God, and should not say, "I don't have
the time or patience to pray right now." Rather, one should be willing to
pray in any place and at any time. (Rabbi Naftali of Rophshitz in Torah
Gems, p186)

Questions for Discussion

1. The rabbis tell us that prayer is the service of the heart, but how do we
learn to pray from our hearts? At synagogue on Shabbat where do your
prayers come from - head, heart, elsewhere? How could your
congregations help people have that kind of intense prayer experience?
2. Immediately after the revelation at Sinai God said to Moshe: "Go say to
them, 'Get into your tents again.'" God wanted to see if they could take
that heightened experience back into their daily lives. How does your
Shabbat experience at shul translate back into your daily lives? Where
and when do you pray? Do you pray at home? At work? In bed at night?
Can you describe your most intense experience of personal prayer -
where were you? How long ago was it? What led to the prayer? Were
you alone or with others? Has a place of natural beauty ever inspired
your prayer? Where were you? What did you say?

Discussion Theme 2: Mind and Heart

Moshe desperately tries to teach the people to have faith in God at all times. He
says: "Know this day, and lay it to your heart that the Lord is God." (Deut. 4:39)
Why does the Torah make a distinction between the mind and the heart? Why
must the knowledge of God enter our hearts?

Derash: Study

1. Rabbi Israel Salanter expounded these words in this way: It is not

sufficient merely to "know" it; this sublime knowledge must be taken into
your very heart… The space that separates "knowing" from "laying it to
your heart" is as great as that which stands between knowledge and
ignorance. In other words, knowledge alone does not constitute faith.
The intellect cannot grasp God. Faith requires a believing heart.
2. Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter of Ger offered a slightly different focus: If the main
concern is to "lay it to your heart," it follows that the heart must first be
cleansed in order to make room for all this knowledge so that it may take
root there. In other words, in order for faith in God to take root, we must
first cleanse our hearts of all impurity and distraction.
3. Rav Kook teaches that the intellectual knowledge of God must be
accompanied by an emotional acceptance of God.

Questions for Discussion

1. The Talmud tells us, "God wants the heart." Why is it so important to God
to have our hearts? Most of the time Judaism instructs us that it's our
actions that are central. What would make actions count more than our
hearts? What about the opposite?
2. "Know this day and lay it to your heart." The verse teaches us that
knowledge leads to emotion. What are we to do when we can't even take
the first step because so many of us have intellectual doubts about our
Torah and our faith? How can we possibly reach the level of emotion
when we live in a state of intellectual doubt? Is it possible to skip a step?
What do we do to suspend our disbelief? What does it take to journey
from doubt to love?
3. Onkelos commented that the great voice of God that called out to our
ancestors at Sinai never ceased. The Sefat Emet extended this point. He
said that the voice echoes to this very day, but in order to hear it we must
prepare ourselves just as our ancestors prepared themselves to receive
God's word at Sinai. How do we cleanse our hearts to make room for the
knowledge of God? Is your heart too crowded? What excess baggage
does it contain leaving no room for God? Are our hearts too broken to
receive God or to forgive God?

Discussion Theme 3: The Shema: Again the Heart!

"Listen Israel, Adonai, our God, is One. Love the Lord your God with all your
heart, with all your soul and with all your might." (Deut 6:4-5)

Derash: Study

1. Rashi brings a Midrash to teach us that the commandment to love God

means that we should observe God's commandments out of love. "For
one who acts out of love is on a higher plane than one who acts out of
2. "With all your heart." The Talmud (Ber 54a) instructs us that with all your
heart means: "with your two inclinations" (the evil inclination and the
good inclination).
3. Rashi: "With all your soul" -- even if God takes your soul, even if your
faith leads you to martyrdom, "With all your might"-- with all your property.
"These words which I command you this day"- they should not seem
antiquated or outdated in your eyes, but as words that are newly given
each day.
4. "These words that I command you this day shall be upon your heart."
They should not be only on your lips, but also in your heart…. The span
that separates lip-service from the service of the heart is as great as the
distance that parts heaven from earth." (Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of
Przysucha, Wellsprings of Torah, p 381)
5. Rabbi Israel Salanter taught: When we recite the Shema proclaiming
God's rule over the earth, we must not forget to allow God to reign also
over ourselves.
6. "Love the Lord your God" - The Sefat Emet asked: Love is a human
emotion, and how can a person be commanded to love? He answered:
Deep within every person there is embedded a love for God, but one's
challenge is to bring this emotion into the open.
7. "And these words which I command you this day shall be on your heart."
Why are we instructed to put the words on our hearts and not in our
hearts? Of course they should be in your heart, but that is not always
possible. At the very least you can put them on your heart and they may
just sit there for a very long time. Some day your heart will open and be
ready to receive those words, and if they are already on top of your heart,
they can slip right in." (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, Torah Gems,
p 203)

Questions for Discussion

1. How does a person serve God out of love? Fear? Do you agree that
serving God out of love is greater than serving out of fear? Why then do
so many of our prayers ask us to have "yir-ah" (fear, awe)? Do the high
holidays inspire love or fear in you? How does one move from fear to
2. Convince the person next to you that there are ways to serve God with
your evil inclination? Here's an example. The rabbis tell us that jealousy
between scholars leads to great learning. Think of three other examples?
3. Has this ever happened to you - someone offered some words of wisdom
or comfort that didn't really penetrate your being at the time your heard
them but at some later point the full impact of the person's words entered
your heart? Can you remember what the words were? What they meant
to you at that later point? Has this experience ever happened to you with
words of Torah or of prayer? What verse or prayer? When did it hit you?
August 7, 2004 - 20 Av 5764

Annual: Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25 (Etz Hayim, p. 1037; Hertz p. 780)

Triennial Cycle: Deuteronomy 10:12 - 11:25 (Etz Hayim, p. 1048; Hertz p. 789)
Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14 - 51:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 1056; Hertz p. 794)

Prepared by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Author of To Begin Again and Talking to God

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Parasha Summary

In our Torah portion this Shabbat we find Moshe again speaking to the Children
of Israel about their experience in the wilderness. Moshe reminds them about all
the gifts God has given them, how God has sustained them for forty years in the
desert and provided manna and water for them. He also reprimands them and
recounts their stubbornness and their betrayal of God with the golden calf.
Moshe pleads with the people to open their hearts and serve God with awe, to
recognize their humility and to realize that all their gifts come from God.

Discussion Theme 1: Respect for Animals

"And I will give plants in your field for your animals; and you will eat and be
satisfied." (Deut. 11:15). Notice God's concern here not only for human
wellbeing, but for the wellbeing of the animals.

Derash: Study

1. In the Talmud (Ber. 40) Rav noticed the order of the verse above and
derived a lesson from it. Rav taught: we are not allowed to eat before we
have fed our animals.
2. Review the interchange between Abraham's servant and Rebecca
(Genesis 24). How does that narrative pertain to Rav's teaching?
3. Read the words of Exodus 23:12: Six days you shall do your work, and
on the seventh day you shall rest; so that your ox and your ass may rest,
and the son of your maidservant, and the stranger, may be refreshed.

Questions for Discussion

1. Have you ever had a close relationship with an animal? Martin Buber
wrote that his first I-Thou relationship was actually with a horse.
2. The Zohar teaches us that animals actually have souls. Is it possible to
have a soul connection to an animal? Did it ever happen to you?
Describe what it was like.
3. How do you think Rav's teaching, that we are not allowed to eat before
our animals are fed, might apply to our lives today? Can you generalize
this principle beyond human-animal relationships? When you see a lost
dog or cat in the street do you usually stop to help it?

Discussion Theme 2: Eating, Satisfaction, Blessing

"You will eat and be satisfied and bless the Lord your God for the good land
God gave you." Rabbi Yehuda derives the necessity to say Birkat Hamazon
from this verse. (Ber 21a)

Derash: Study

1. Notice how the Children of Israel disparaged the manna that God fed
them from heaven: "But now our soul is dried up; there is nothing at all;
we have nothing except this manna to look to." (Num. 11:6)
2. Compare the attitude toward the manna to Moshe's instruction in our
Parasha: "The human being does not live by bread alone." The ARI
taught that we live by the spiritual essence that comes from God. That is
the food that nourishes our souls. (Wellsprings, p 387)
3. The Hatam Sofer remarked that we should not put ourselves in the
position of merely existing - eating in order to work, working in order to
eat. We were created to appreciate our gifts, to bless this world, and to
bless our God. (See Plout, A Torah Commentary, p 1392)
4. Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin explicated the verse in this way: By blessing God,
you will become full. (Torah Gems, p 210)
5. Ner La-Maor uncovers a different lesson for us: One should bless God
not only when one is hungry and in want (that is human nature - to turn to
God only when one is in need), but even when one is full and satisfied.
(Gems, p 210)
6. The Talmud insists that one who partakes of this world without offering a
blessing has stolen from God. (Talmud Berakhot 35a)
7. There is a lovely narrative in the Talmud where the angels wonder why
God cares so much for Israel. God responds: How can I not give
consideration to Israel? I commanded them to say a blessing after any
meal in which they ate enough to be satisfied, but they say a blessing
even after eating as little as the size of an olive or egg." (Berakhot 20a
translated in The Call of the Torah, Munk, p 93)

Questions for Discussion

1. It's so easy to take our blessings for granted. If the Children of Israel
could get bored of the manna that felt/tasted like a miracle from heaven,
how can we avoid taking the food that comes from the earth for granted?
2. What can we do to prevent ourselves from falling into the trap that the
Hatam Sofer describes: eating in order to work, working in order to eat?
3. How does blessing God make us full? Do you feel differently when you
make a blessing over your food? How does it alter the way you feel
about your food? Your life? Your relationship to God?
4. Our tradition asks us to bless only after we are satisfied. It's human
nature to pray to God when we are in need, how can we train ourselves
to turn to God when we feel complete?
5. Do you think it's a good thing that the rabbis added on to the Torah
(which only requires us to bless when we are full) and required that we
bless God even when we eat only an olive-sized piece of bread?

Discussion Theme 3: The Fear of God, Following God

"And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the
Lord your God, to walk in all God's ways and to love God, and to serve the Lord
your God with all your heart and soul." (Deut. 10:12)

Derash: Study

1. Rashi, commenting on this verse explains that the rabbis derive from this
that everything is in the hands of God except for the fear of God.
2. In the Talmud the rabbis explain that one who has knowledge but no fear
of God is like a treasurer who has no way of entering a palace. Even
though he has the keys to the inner chambers of the palace, the keys to
the outer gates are beyond his reach. (Talmud Shabbat 31) In other
words, learning on its own is not enough. Knowledge must be
accompanied by awe and reverence.
3. The Rif (Isaac Alfasi) comments that both love and fear are commanded.
To serve God completely one must offer up both emotions. (See Plout, A
Torah Commentary, p 1411)
4. Earlier in our Parasha (Deut 7:21) Moshe tells the Children of Israel: "Do
not be frightened of them (the other nations) for the Lord your God is in
your midst." Bahya ben Joseph Ibn Pakuda taught that it is permissible to
love another person, and to honor them. That would not infringe on our
obligation to love and honor God. But this does not hold true with fear. If
we truly fear and place our trust in God we should never have cause to
fear any person. (Wellsprings of Torah, p 385)
5. The Rabbis in the Talmud asked: How can one follow God? Is one
capable of following the Shekhina? It is a consuming fire. What the verse
means is that we should strive to emulate God. Just as God is merciful,
you too should be merciful. Just as God is forgiving, you too should be
forgiving. (Talmud Sotah 14)
6. Rabbi Meir deduces from this same verse that a Jew is required to recite
one hundred blessings each day.

Questions for Discussion

1. What does the fear of God mean to you?

2. How does the fear of God heal us from the affliction of fearing mortals?
3. Can you brainstorm a list of one hundred blessings to say over the
course of a single day?
August 14, 2004 - 27 Av 5764

Annual: Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17 (Etz Hayim, p. 1061; Hertz p. 799)

Triennial Cycle: Deuteronomy 15:1 - 16:17 (Etz Hayim, p. 1076; Hertz p. 811)
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:11 - 55:5 (Etz Hayim, p. 1085; Hertz p. 818)

Prepared by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Author of To Begin Again and Talking to God

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Parasha Summary

In our parasha this Shabbat God offers the people of Israel a choice between
blessing and curse. Blessings will come if we follow God, curses will surround
us if we reject God. Later in the portion Moshe sets forth a series of ritual, moral
and social laws for the Children of Israel to observe. At the end of the portion
Moshe teaches the people about the festivals.

Discussion Theme 1: Blessings and Curses

"See this day I set before you blessing and curse. Blessing if you obey the
commandments of the Lord your God which I enjoin upon you this day; and the
curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God" (Deut

Derash: Study

1. "See" is in the singular, but "before you" is in the plural. Why? The
commandments are given to all the people but each person must see
them and choose whether to follow God's law or not. Also, the Kotzker
Rebbe adds each person only beholds in the Torah that which he or she
is capable of seeing. (Bachya, see Plout, A Torah Commentary, p1418
and The Kotzker in Torah Gems, p 229)
2. The choice between blessing and curse leaves no room for compromise.
There is no middle ground, no grey area. They are opposites, right and
wrong, that one must choose between. (Sforno, quoted in Plout p 1418)
3. The Gaon of Vilna learns from the wording of this verse "See this day I
set before you blessing and curse" that a person should never say "Since
I once chose an evil path, there is no hope for me any longer." We
always have the opportunity to choose between good and evil -"Until the
day of his death you wait for him to repent, and if he repents you
immediately accept him." Should a person say," What hope is there for
me, for I am a sinner, and what about all my sins until now?" The Torah
states "This day"- that each day is a new opportunity for a fresh start.
Indeed a person who has repented is like a newborn child. (Torah Gems,
p 228)
4. Wealth and good fortune are not always a blessing, because these are
sometimes bad for a person. "A blessing when you obey" when you obey
the commandments and do good deeds with your money, that will be a
true blessing. However, if your wealth causes you to be conceited and
brings about jealousy and competition, the blessing itself will really be a
curse… . In general any blessing which is not based on appreciation of
God's role is not considered a blessing (Talmud Brachot 40). If a person
believes that "My power and the power of my hand has gotten me this
wealth" (Deut 8:17) it will eventually be a curse. (Vayedaber Moshe,
Torah Gems, p 230)

Questions for Discussion

1. It has been said that all Jews today are "Jews by Choice" because we
can so freely choose to assimilate and ignore our heritage. In your mind,
how is freedom a blessing? How is it a curse?
2. Tevyeh the Milkman was fond of saying, "There is always another hand."
But then even Tevyeh was pushed to a point (his daughter's desire to
intermarry) where he could no longer reach a compromise: "There is no
other hand! Tradition!" When is there room for compromise in our
tradition and when does the choice become a battle between blessing
and curse? Is there an aspect of our tradition on which you refuse to
3. The Vilna Gaon's teaching is quite timely with Rosh Hashanah and Yom
Kippur right around the corner. It's time for some serious soul searching.
Is there an aspect of your personality, a negative trait on which you have
given up? Do you believe that you are beyond repair in some area of
your life? A relationship? Your work situation? A self-destructive habit?
Meditate on the opening verse of our parasha. Reread the Vilna Gaon's
words. Remember that every single day is a new day, a new opportunity
to remake your life, to heal your soul, to be reborn.
4. Yes it is indeed possible to turn a blessing into a curse. Can you think of
anyone you know who has achieved this feat? People who use their
talents to hurt others. People who squander their gifts. People who have
been given so much, but have no ability to appreciate what they have -
who are constantly jealous of what others have. I believe the converse is
true as well. God has given us the capacity to turn our curses into
blessings. Have you ever met anyone who has turned a curse into a
blessing; someone who has turned their suffering into strength, their pain
into compassion, their disability into a badge of honor. What are the
factors that lead us to curse our lives? What steps can we take to turn
our lives into a blessing?

Discussion Theme 2: False Prophecy

"If there appears among you a prophet or a dream-diviner and he gives you a
sign or a portent, saying 'let us follow and worship another god' whom you have
not experienced, even if the sign or portent that he names to you comes true,
do not heed the words of that prophet or dream diviner. For the Lord your God
is testing you to see whether you really love the Lord your God with all your
heart and soul" (Deut 13:2-4)

1. If you then ask: Why does God give such a false prophet the power to
perform such a sign or wonder? It is because God is testing you. (Rashi
quoted in Torah Gems, p 324)
2. In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 90a) Rabbi Akiva explains that the prophet
who performed a true miracle was a true prophet, but at some later time
he became a false prophet and once becoming a false prophet he is no
longer able to perform miracles.
3. Rambam argues that a false prophet who performs "miracles" is nothing
more than a scam artist or a magician who is only tricking people by
making them believe a miracle has occurred when in reality nothing has
occurred. (Fundamentals of the Torah 8:3)
4. Ramban argues that it is possible for a false prophet to perform miracles.
He does not deny the fact that some people may have miraculous power.
Nevertheless, that person is considered a false prophet if his message is
false and unfaithful to the Torah. (Deut 18:9)
5. The Mishna states that a false prophet is a person who prophesies what
he has hasn't heard and what was never spoken to him. (San 11:5)

Questions for Discussion

1. Do you believe that there are people with supernatural power? Faith
healers? Witches? Psychics? Mediums? Or are all those who claim to
have these powers simply tricksters?
2. Have you ever gone to a psychic/faith healer/medium? What did they tell
you? How do they do what they do?
3. Note that the Torah itself does not deny the existence of people with
such powers. See the narrative of King Saul and the witch at En-dor
(ISam 28) The witch did work wonders, she could communicate with the
dead, and yet the practice of witchcraft was forbidden by God. Why do
you think God would give a person such powers and then forbid them
from exercising them?
4. "We don't rely on miracles," the rabbis instruct us. By what criteria are we
to judge if a religious leader is speaking in the name of God? How can
we differentiate between a true person of God and a con artist?
5. How would you define a true prophet?
6. Do you believe God tests us by sending people to tempt us away from
the right path? Have you ever felt tested by God? What was the test? Did
you succeed or fail?
August 21, 2004 - 4 Elul 5764

Annual: Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9 (Etz Hayim, p. 1088; Hertz p. 820)

Triennial Cycle: Deuteronomy 19:14 - 21:9 (Etz Hayim, p. 1099; Hertz p. 829)
Haftarah: Isaiah 51:12 - 52:12 (Etz Hayim, p. 1108; Hertz p. 835)

Prepared by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Author of To Begin Again and Talking to God

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Parasha Summary

Our Torah portion this Shabbat focuses on the administration of justice in Israel.
Judges and courts are to be set up to determine justice and to enforce it.
Judges and witnesses are warned against perverting justice in any way. Further
on in the portion we learn about the kingship and the limits of the king's power.
The rules of war are then delineated. At the end of our portion we learn about
the case of a murder where the identity of the slayer is unknown.

Discussion Theme 1: Justice Doesn't Come Easy

"You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements
that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due
justice... Justice, justice shall you pursue…" (Deut 16:18-20)

Derash: Study

1. Do not think: What difference does it make if we pervert justice to acquit

our friend or wrest the judgment of the poor or respect the person of the
rich…. Consider what you do, and conduct yourselves in every judgment
as if the Holy One were standing before you. (Rashi quoted in Plout, A
Torah Commentary p 1462)
2. Do not be lenient with your faults while judging harshly the same faults in
others; do not overlook sin in yourself while demanding perfection of
others. (Toledot Yaakov Yosef, Torah Gems p 252)
3. In our daily Amidah we pray: "Restore our judges as at first." What is
meant by "at first"? When a judge first takes the bench, he has the
highest ideals and intentions, and seeks to serve justice and his people.
However, as time passes, he often slackens in his concerns. We
therefore pray that our judges should remain as they are at first. (Rabbi
Shaul Yedidyah Eleazar Taub of Modzhitz, Gems p 253)
4. This command is intended for the officials and communal leaders who
are entrusted with the task of engaging rabbis. They must not believe
that because they have appointed the rabbi they are exempt from giving
him the respect and obedience due him. For the rabbi is appointed not
only for the congregation or the community but "for yourself," for every
individual, and you must heed his instructions, because only if you will
give him the respect due him will he be able to judge the people with
righteous judgment, only then will the people obey the rabbi and abide by
his judgment. (K'lei Hemda, Wellsprings of Torah p 397)
5. "Justice, justice" the double emphasis means: Justice under any
circumstance, whether to your profit or loss, whether in word or in action,
whether to Jew or non-Jew. It also means: Do not use unjust means to
secure justice. (Bachya ben Asher quoted in Plout p 1462)
6. This means that you must pursue justice with justice. The means by
which you seek to attain justice must be righteous also. You must not
allow yourself to be guided by the godless principle that the end justifies
the means. (Rabbi Yaakov Yitzhak of Przysucha, Wellsprings p 397)
7. The Hatam Sofer focuses on the verse in Hosea (2:21) "I will betroth you
to me in righteousness, and in justice, and in loving-kindness, and in
mercy." The Midrash states that God supplies the loving-kindness and
the mercy, while we must supply the righteousness and the justice.
(Torah Gems p 251)

Questions for Discussion

1. Try to describe a situation where it would be permissible for judges to

bend the law?
2. Do a life and time necessarily corrupt us? What measure can we take to
remain idealistic and upright always?
3. How does a synagogue board entrusted with the task of hiring a rabbi,
reviewing a rabbi's work, setting the rabbi's salary prevent itself from
viewing the rabbi as just one more employee to manage? Is it possible
for this same board to revere its rabbi? What measures should a
synagogue take to protect its rabbi's honor? Does your community worry
about the age of your rabbi? Do you think a rabbi at 59 is wiser than a
rabbi at 29? Or do you prefer a young rabbi who can attract young
4. n what ways is the administration of justice a partnership between
humanity and God?

Discussion Theme 2: Treasure Nature and Don't be Destructive

When in your war against a city… you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax
against them…. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the
besieged city? In the Talmud the rabbis extended this prohibition to a principle
called "Bal Tashchit" a prohibition against any senseless destruction.

Derash: Study

1. Read Genesis (1:28). God offered nature to humanity to master it.

However, the Torah does put limits on our treatment of the natural world.
2. Sforno explains that the prohibition itself is a verse of encouragement to
the Children of Israel as they face war: As a rule, when an army realizes
that it will not win the victory and may have to retreat, it destroys
whatever it finds in the enemy territory before retreating, in order to inflict
as much loss as possible on the enemy. But if the army is sure that it will
win and conquer the territory, it would not want to destroy any of the
property there, because it may make use of it at a later time. Intending to
assure the Jewish people of their ultimate victory, Scripture tells them not
to destroy the trees because the Lord has promised you the land and you
will be able to eat the fruit of these trees once you have settled the land.
Why then should you inflict loss on your own people by destroying the
vegetation of the country? (Wellsprings p 403)
3. Whoever breaks vessels, or tears garments, or destroys a building, or
clogs a well, or does away with food in a destructive manner violates the
negative mitzvah of bal tashchit. (Talmud Kiddushin 32a)
4. Rambam: It is forbidden to cut down fruit-bearing trees outside a
besieged city, nor may a water channel be deflected from them so that
they wither… Not only one who cuts down trees, but also one who
smashes household goods, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops
up a spring, or destroys articles of food with destructive intent
transgresses the command "you must not destroy." (Mishna Torah, Laws
of Kings and Wars 6:8,10)
5. The purpose of this mitzvah is to teach us to love that which is good and
worthwhile and to cling to it, so that good becomes a part of us and we
will avoid all that is evil and destructive. This is the way of the righteous
and those who improve society, who love peace and rejoice in the good
in people and bring them close to Torah: that nothing, not even a grain of
mustard, should be lost to the world, that they should regret any loss or
destruction that they see, and if possible they will prevent any destruction
that they can. Not so are the wicked, who are like demons, who rejoice in
destruction of the world, and they are destroying themselves. (Sefer
Hachinuch 529)

Questions for Discussion

1. How do we teach our children to treasure objects when they are

surrounded by such plenty? How do we teach them to value their food,
toys, and clothes? They watch us replace our cars, our computers, our
cell phones at a staggering pace. How do we learn to appreciate what we
have when we live in a disposable culture?
2. Do you think the US government was mistaken in its widespread use of
agent orange in Vietnam. Are you aware of human toll and the toll on the
3. Has your synagogue instituted a recycling policy? If not now, when?
August 28, 2004 - 11 Elul 5764

Annual: Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19 (Etz Hayim, p. 1112; Hertz p. 840)

Triennial Cycle: Deuteronomy 24:14 - 25:19 (Etz Hayim, p. 1130; Hertz p. 852)
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1 - 10:12 (Etz Hayim, p. 1138; Hertz p. 857)

Prepared by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Author of To Begin Again and Talking to God

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Parasha Summary

Our parasha this Shabbat focuses on moral values. We learn about the
treatment of captives, of the poor and helpless. We are enjoined to return lost
property, to be kind to animals, to be fair in business practices. It is in our
portion that we encounter the law of the stubborn and rebellious son, and the
famous pronouncement that we must never forget what Amalek did to us when
we left Egypt.

Discussion Theme 1: An Incorrigible Child

If a man has a wayward and defiant son, who does not heed his father or
mother and does not obey them even after they discipline him, his father and
mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the
public place of his community. They shall say to the elder of his town, "This son
of ours is disloyal and defiant; he does not heed us. He is a glutton and a
drunkard." Thereupon the men of his town shall stone him to death. Thus you
will sweep out evil from your midst: all Israel will hear and be afraid. (Deut

Derash: Study

1. Rashi: The stubborn and rebellious son is punished not for what he is,
but for what he will eventually become.
2. The sages in the Talmud obviously had difficulty with this law. Their
response was to legislate it out of existence: A minor cannot become a
rebellious son… It must be a son and not one old enough to be a
father… A son and not a daughter… He must be both a drunkard and a
glutton... If one of his parents had a severed hand, he does not become
a rebellious son… He is not liable unless he has a mother and a father…
If one of his parents were lame he does not become a rebellious son… If
one of them were mute he does not become a rebellious son… If one of
them were blind, he does not become a rebellious son… If one of them
were deaf he does not become a rebellious son… (Talmud Sanhedrin
3. After limiting the case out of existence the Talmud then proclaims that
such a case never occurred and never will occur. Why then was it
mentioned in the Torah? So that one can study and receive reward for
Torah study for its own sake.
4. Rabbi Salanter commented: This teaches us that the obligation to study
the Torah is not only so as to know what to do and how to fulfill the
commandments, but study for its own sake, even where one will never
practice this or that particular law. (Torah Gems p 272)
5. The stubborn and rebellious son is one who rebels himself and who
attempts to teach others (moreh) to follow his lead. That is the nature of
the wicked who are not content with sinning themselves but wish to teach
others to follow in their wicked path. (Gems p 273)

Questions for Discussion

1. Compare Rashi's comment on this verse to Rashi on Genesis 21:17:

There the opposite happens. God saves Ishmael because at the moment
he is still innocent. Should people be judged by what they may grow up
to become, or by who they are at this moment in time?
2. What should parents do if they have a stubborn and rebellious child?
What would you advise them to do?
3. Why do you think the Torah law here is so harsh? Why is the stubborn
and rebellious child such a threat to the social order?

Discussion Theme 2: Protect Animals or Protect Humans

If, along the road, you chance upon a bird's nest, in any tree or on the ground,
with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs,
do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go, and take
only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life. (Deut 22:6-

Derash: Study

1. Rambam's assumption is that animals share certain human emotions,

especially the mother's love for her children. "If the mother is let go or
escapes of her own accord she will not be pained by seeing that the
young are taken away. In most cases this will lead to people leaving
everything alone, for what may be taken is in most cases not fit to be
eaten." (Guide II 48 quoted in Plout, A Torah Commentary p 1488)
2. Ramban differed slightly and explained that the reason for the law was
not kindness to animals, but to tame humans and teach them
compassion. (Plout p 1488)
3. Midrash Rabbah further extends the reward promised by God for
observing this law: And what will be your reward? If you have no children,
I (the Lord) will give you children. By keeping this commandment you
hasten the coming of the Messiah… and the coming of the Prophet
4. A mystical commentary on this verse likens the mother bird to the
Shechina, the nest to the holy Temple, and the chicks to the Children of
Israel: The Shechina (divine presence) is like a bird that was twice sent
away from its nest (the destruction of both temples). That is why the
Torah repeats the word "send" twice in the expression "you shall surely
send away the mother." The mother, when chased away from her young,
wanders about not knowing where to go. But God is merciful and so
hears the pleading of the lost bird which has become identified with the
people of Israel, wandering among the nations, accompanied by the
Shechinah. (Zohar Chadash Midrash Ruth quoted in Munk, The Call of
the Torah)
5. This law calls into question the Torah's system of reward and punishment.
In the Talmud (Kiddushin 39b) Elisha ben Abuya witnessed a boy whose
father instructed him to climb up to a nest and send away the mother in
adherence to the biblical verse. The boy was obeying two verses that
promise a reward of long life - "honor your father and mother" and "send
away the mother bird" - but instead of receiving his reward, the boy fell
and died. In the face of this tragedy Elisha denied God's rule and
exclaimed: there is no justice and no Judge. From then on the rabbis
refrained from calling Elisha by his given name and referred to him
instead as Aher (other).

Questions for Discussion

1. What do you think the purpose of this law is? How does it fulfill that
2. Do you think animals have emotions? What experiences support your
answer? Do you think they feel love? maternal love? grief?
3. How do you make peace with the Torah's promises of reward and
punishment? Do you believe that those who observe God's
commandments receive special divine protection? If the rewards
promised for obedience to God's word are not provided in this world, do
you believe the rewards will be showered upon us in the world to come?
September 4, 2004 - 18 Elul 5764

Annual: Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8 (Etz Hayim, p. 1140; Hertz p. 859)

Triennial Cycle: Deuteronomy 27:11 - 29:8 (Etz Hayim, p. 1146; Hertz p. 864)
Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1 - 22 (Etz Hayim, p. 1161; Hertz p. 874)

Prepared by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Author of To Begin Again and Talking to God

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Parasha Summary

Our Torah portion this Shabbat begins with the laws of the bringing of the first
fruits and then the declaration of tithing. Then Moshe instructs the people that
when they enter the Promised Land they must enact a dramatic process of
reciting a series of blessings and curses from two opposing mountains. It is a
custom to read the section of curses in an undertone. The parasha ends on a
note of hope as Moshe tells the people that God will now give them a renewed
ability to know and appreciate God and all of God's blessings.

Discussion Theme 1: Study and Community

Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the
country…Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in your
goings. (Deut. 28:3, 6)

Derash: Study

1. Blessed in the city: one is blessed in the city when one becomes a
member of a community and lives close to a synagogue. (B.M. 107a
quoted in Plout, A Torah Commentary p 1530)
2. There are people whose behavior at home is far from their behavior in
the synagogue. In the synagogue they observe all the smallest details of
the law, but not so at home. Their homes are far from the synagogue,
and the synagogue has no influence on their lives at home. This is the
blessing that the spirit of the synagogue will saturate your home as well
(Meged Yerahim quoted in Torah Gems p 291)
3. In your comings and goings: May you leave this world as you entered it -
without sin. (Ibid)
4. In your goings: May your descendants not dishonor you. (Yalkut Yehuda
vol. 5, p526 quoted in Plout p 1530)
5. Give heed and listen, O Israel (Deut 27:9) The Talmud asks what is the
intent of the word "hasket" (give heed) The answer: make study groups
(kitot) and occupy yourselves with the study of Torah, for Torah is
acquired only by study with colleagues. Rabbi Yossi added: a scholar
who studies alone brings danger upon himself (Berachot 63b quoted in
Torah Temimah p 337)
6. Another interpretation: Crush yourself on behalf of the Torah. Recognize
that learning requires enormous sacrifice and effort. (Ibid)
7. Another interpretation: Listen and then digest. As Rava says: One should
first learn Torah and then analyze it. (Ibid)
8. This day: Now was it that day that Torah had been given? We are hereby
taught that Torah is to be beloved by its disciples each day as the day it
was given at Sinai. (Ibid)

Questions for Discussion

1. Has becoming a member of your synagogue blessed you? What

blessings has your community bestowed upon you?
2. In what ways has synagogue life influenced your home life? Are there
aspects of your private life that you'd like to align with your religious life at
synagogue? Can you articulate them?
3. Do you belong to a chevruta, or a study group? Would you like to? Why
do the sages insist that Torah can only be acquired by study with
colleagues? Why is it so bad to study alone?
4. Commenting on the verse: And you shall grope in mid-day, as the blind
person gropes in pitch darkness. (Deut 28:29) Rabbi Yossi taught: All my
days I was troubled by this verse. What difference does it make to the
blind man whether he walks in pitch darkness or in the light? Until, one
time when I was walking in the midst of the night and darkness, I noticed
a blind man walking with a torch in his hand, whereupon I asked him: My
son, why do you need this torch? And he answered: So long as this torch
is in my hand, people see me, and they rescue me from pits, thorns and
thistles. (Megillah 24b quoted in Torah Temimah p345) In other words,
when we are alone and in need and we refuse to let others know that we
need their help, if we refuse to ask for help, we will fall into further
darkness and trouble. As God said in the book of Genesis: It's not good
for people to be alone. In what ways are you blind? What is your torch?

Discussion Theme 2: Knowing God

But God did not give you a heart to know, or eyes to see, or ears to hear until
this day. (Deut 29:3)

Derash: Study

1. One should not be misled by this verse to assume that God directs our
hearts to fear and know God, for this quality is in our hands for as the
Talmud (Brachot 33b) says: Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except
the fear of Heaven. However, help from heaven, is surely provided by
God when we make the effort to fear God… In our verse Moshe criticizes
Israel for not taking advantage of this Heavenly help, which would have
benefited them throughout their forty years sojourn in the desert.
(Maharsha, Avodah Zarah 5b quoted in Munk, The Call of the Torah)
2. "Until this day" The Talmud (Avodah Zarah) states that a student does
not fully comprehend his teacher's lessons until forty years have passed.
So Moshe explainshere that up to this point God has been lenient with
the people, but now that forty years have passed, God would be more
demanding (Rashi) (Ibid)
3. During the forty years in the wilderness Israel lived on miracles, as the
Torah itself emphasizes in these verses. Such a supernatural way of life
makes faith in God relatively easy. The real challenge would come now
when there would no longer be a steady diet of miracles. Therefore
Moshe says, but God did not give you a heart to know until this day - so
strengthen yourselves to master the ability to follow and know God in a
world without obvious miracles. This new condition is underscored in the
next verse which states "So that you will know that I am the Lord your
God." The words "you will know" emphasizes the need for one to excel in
searching for the knowledge of God. (Meshech Chochma quoted in Munk,

Questions for Discussion

1. Do you believe God controls our thoughts and actions? What are the
limits of free will? How do we receive help from above when we make an
effort to achieve something?
2. Describe a teaching you learned in your youth that has taken forty years
for your mind or your heart or your soul to digest?
3. Do you think it was easier or more difficult to live with a God who
performed supernatural miracles before the eyes of the people on a daily
basis? Which kind of relationship with God do you prefer? Would you
prefer that God control when you move? When you stop? Where you go?
What you eat? Or do you prefer to determine the direction of your own
4. What are the burdens of living in a world where God's hand is hidden?
How do we have to incline our hearts, eyes, and ears to find God in the
world today? Where do you see God in your life? In our world?
September 11, 2004 - 25 Elul 5764

Annual: Deuteronomy 29:9 - 31:30 (Etz Hayim, p. 1165; Hertz p. 878)

Triennial Cycle: Deuteronomy 31:7 - 31:30 (Etz Hayim, p. 1174; Hertz p. 888)
Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10 - 63:9 (Etz Hayim, p. 1180; Hertz p. 883)

Prepared by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Author of To Begin Again and Talking to God

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Parasha Summary

In our Torah portion this Shabbat Moshe calls all of Israel together to hear his
final address: the leaders, the elders, men, women, infants, the stranger, and
every sort of menial laborer "from woodchopper to water drawer." Moshe
reminds the people of all that God has done for them and warns them to be
loyal to God. The Torah is given not just to the wealthy or the powerful - it is
accessible to all to study and observe. At the end of our portion Moshe prepares
to pass the mantle of leadership over to Joshua.

Discussion Theme 1: Not in Heaven

It is not in heaven that one should say: who will go up for us to heaven and take
it for us, and cause us to hear it, so that we might do it… For this thing is very
close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it. (Deut 30:12-14)

Derash: Study

1. What is the intent of "it is not in heaven?" Rava said: You will not find it
with those who are haughty over it, as the heavens. Rabbi Yochanan
said: You will not find it with the vain. (Eruvin 55a quoted in Torah
Temimah p 357)
2. In the Talmud we are told there was a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer
and the rabbis over the purity of a certain oven. Rabbi Eliezer declared it
clean, but the sages declared it unclean. It has been taught: On that day
Rabbi Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but they did
not accept them. He said to them: 'If the halachah agrees with me, let
this carob-tree prove it!' Thereupon the carob-tree was torn a hundred
cubits out of its place - others affirm, four hundred cubits. 'No proof can
be brought from a carob-tree,' they replied. Again he said to them: 'If the
halachah agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!' Whereupon
the stream of water flowed backwards - 'No proof can be brought from a
stream of water,' they rejoined. Again he urged: 'If the halachah agrees
with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse prove it,' whereupon the walls
inclined to fall. But Rabbi Joshua rebuked them, saying: 'When scholars
are engaged in a halachic dispute, why should you interfere?' So they did
not fall, in honor of Rabbi Joshua, nor did they resume the upright, in
honor of Rabbi Eliezer; and they are still standing inclined. Again he said
to them: 'If the halachah agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven!'
Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out: 'Why do you dispute with R.
Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halachah agrees with him!' But
Rabbi Joshua arose and exclaimed: 'It is not in heaven.' What did he
mean by this? - Rabbi Jeremiah said: That since the Torah had already
been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice,
because You have long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, We
must rule according to the majority. Rabbi Nathan met Elijah and asked
him: What did the Holy One do in that hour? Elijah replied: God laughed
with joy saying, 'My sons have defeated Me, My sons have defeated Me.'
(Talmud Bava Metziah 59b)
3. Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel: Three thousand halachot
were forgotten in the days of mourning over Moshe, whereupon they said
to Joshua: Inquire of the Lord as Moshe did. He answered: It is not in the
heavens. (Temurah 16a, quoted in Torah Temimah p 357)
4. "For this thing is very close to you," Rabbi Yitzchak said: When is the
Torah close to you? When it is in your mouth and your heart to do it.
(Eruvin 55a quoted in Torah Gems p 358)
5. "Great is learning for it leads to action" (Talmud Bava Kamah 17a)
6. This verse spells out the process of repentance. "In your mouth" refers to
viduy, confession of sin. "In your heart" refers to the heart's remorse. "To
do it" refers to the need to correct one's actions. (Tzror Hamor quoted in
Munk, The Call of the Torah p 333)

Questions for Discussion

1. Conservative rabbis often quote this Talmudic text as a support for the
orientation of the Conservative Movement toward Halacha. What is your
opinion? What do you believe to be the intent of this passage from the
2. What are the limits of rabbinic authority? How is each generation to
decide what laws are to be reinterpreted?
3. I'm sure you have heard that the Law Committee of the Conservative
Movement is discussing the ordination of gay rabbis. What is your
opinion on the issue of the ordination of gay rabbis?
4. It has been taught: If you want to know how well a Torah scholar has
learned, don't test his or her knowledge. Instead, observe his or her
actions. If the scholar has learned well it should be reflected in his or her
behavior. How does your learning impact your life? Can you name a few
ways that your studies have altered your behavior? Have your studies
led you to curtail certain behaviors? Have they induced certain actions?
5. The High Holidays are upon us. Have you taken the time to search your
soul? Have you offered words of contrition to those you have wronged?
Have you felt remorse in your heart? Have you changed? The time for
Teshuva is now.

Discussion Theme 2: Moshe's Legacy

"And Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Israel." (Deut 31:1)
Derash: Study

1. "And Moshe went" Where did he go? Why aren't we told where he went?
Because this verse implies that Moshe went into, yes he entered into the
heart of every Jew. Every Jew, in every generation, bears within his or
her heart a spark of the spirit of Moshe our teacher. Thus the answer to
our question is found at the end of the verse. Moshe, we are told, went
forth "to all of Israel." (Wellsprings of Torah p 425)
2. This too, is the reason why Scripture says of Moshe that "no man know
his burial place" (Deut 36:6). For Moshe is enshrined not in an ordinary
tomb but within the heart of every Jew. (Ibid)
3. The word for "he went" (vayelech) implies a rebuke. (Tanchuma) A
certain rabbi was removed from his position in Eastern Europe because
he had rebuked the people too often. He commented: Vayelech implies
rebuke. A rebuke, though, can also result in Vayelech! (Siftei Chachamim
quoted in Torah Gems p 310)
4. Moshe left his direct imprint on Joshua when he said "Be strong and of
good courage" (Deut 31:7) which means: be humble in your own heart,
but in the sight of all of Israel be strong and of good courage. In the sight
of the people of Israel, show not humility but only strength and high
resolve." (Meshech Chochma quoted in Wellsprings p 426)

Questions for Discussion

1. The rabbis call Moshe by the title Moshe Rabeynu even though Moshe
was never a rabbi. To the sages Moshe was the ultimate rabbi. How
does Moshe's legacy live on in you? What is your favorite teaching;
favorite story or Midrash about Moshe?
2. There is so much wisdom in our tradition. One piece of wisdom that I am
struck by when I think of Moshe's life and death is that our tradition found
a way to treasure Moshe without deifying him. He was a man, a great
prophet, an unparalleled leader. Yet he was human, fallible, mortal. Why
do you think the Torah goes to great lengths to describe Moshe's
frailties? How are Moshe's shortcomings a source of inspiration and
meaning to us?
3. Does your rabbi ever rebuke your community? What did your rabbi say?
Did the rebuke lead to change? How does it feel to be rebuked? Do you
think it's a rabbi's place to offer words of rebuke? Can you name a
situation where you rebuked someone: a child, a sibling, a colleague.
When should we speak up and when should we be silent?
September 18, 2004 - 25 Elul 5764

Annual: Deuteronomy 32:1 - 32:52 (Etz Hayim, p. 1185; Hertz p. 896)

Triennial Cycle: Deuteronomy 32:1 - 32:52 (Etz Hayim, p. 1185; Hertz p. 896)
Haftarah: Hosea 14:2 - 10 (Etz Hayim, p. 1235; Hertz p. 891); Joel 2:15 - 27;
[Micah 7:18-20]

Prepared by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Author of To Begin Again and Talking to God

Department of Congregational Services

Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Parasha Summary

In our Torah portion this Shabbat Moshe calls the Children of Israel together to
hear his song. The Torah contains two songs ascribed to Moshe that serve as
bookends to his life as the leader of Israel. The Song at the Sea occurs at the
beginning of Moshe's rise to leadership and Haazinu marks the end of his
period of leadership. The poem speaks about Israel's past, its present and its
future. It is a song of encouragement, of hope and of faith in the God who loves
them. After the recitation of this poem God instructs Moshe to ascend Mount
Nevo where he will be able to see the Promised Land from a distance and
where he will die.

Discussion Theme 1: Where Does Prayer Lead?

Listen, O heavens, and I shall speak, hear O earth, the words of my mouth. My
discourse shall come down as the rain… . For the name of the Lord shall I call;
give glory to our God… Understand the years of generation after generation.
Ask your father and he will tell you, question your elders and they will respond.
(Deut 32:1,2,3,7)

Derash: Study

1. "Listen O heavens"- It was taught: Why did Moshe call heaven and earth
to bear witness over Israel? Moshe said: I am flesh and blood. Tomorrow
I shall die. If they wish to say: We never received the Torah, who shall
refute them? Therefore, I shall call to bear witness over them two
witnesses that live forever. (Sifrei quoted in Torah Temimah p 367)
2. "As the rain"- The Torah is being compared to rain. Just as the rain is life
to the world, so words of Torah are life to the world (Ibid)
3. Just as the rain is one, and it descends on the tree and imparts to each a
distinct flavor: to the grapevine, in accordance with its nature; to the olive
tree in accordance with its nature; and to the fig tree in accordance with
its nature - so too, words of Torah are one and they impart to each a
distinct "flavor" (Ibid)
4. "For the name of the Lord shall I (singular) call; give (plural) glory to our
God." The rabbis derive many famous traditions of responsive prayer
from this verse because it begins in the singular and concludes in the
plural. Three who have eaten together must recite grace as a quorum.
(One begins "Rabotay nevarech," the others then must respond) From
where is this derived? "For the name of God shall I call; give glory to our
God. (Brachot 45a quoted in Torah Temimah p371)
5. From where is it derived that when one prays "Let us bless the blessed
Lord" (Barchu at Adonai Hamevorach) the others reply "Blessed is
Adonai who is blessed forever and ever?" (Baruch Adonai Hamevorach
Le-olam Va-ed) From "For the name of the Lord shall I call; give glory to
our God." (Sifrei, Ibid)
6. "Give greatness" - From here it is derived that for every blessing that one
hears, one must reply "Blessed is God and blessed is God's name."
(Baruch Hu Uvaruch Shemo) (Rosh Response, Ibid)
7. Understand the years of generation after generation: to each generation
and to each era there comes from Heaven a new understanding of the
Torah. It is revealed according to the nature of that time and place. The
righteous of each generation accept the Torah in the light of its
interpretation by the leaders and wise ones of their generation.
(Chidushei HaRim quoted in Munk, Call of the Torah p 358)
8. "Ask you father" -- This verse is used as a proof text to support mitzvot
ordained by the rabbis and to institute the formulation "who has
commanded us" for blessings which were never actually commanded by
God. How do we know that God commanded us to do this? Rabbi
Nechemiah said: From this verse, for your father will tell you of God's
miracles and thereby obligate you. (Shabbat 23a quoted in Plout p 1565)

Questions for Discussion

1. Have you written an ethical will? What words of wisdom would you like to
impart to the next generation?
2. The nature of responsive prayer implies that a single person's act of
devotion can lead others into the world of prayer. Have you had a
spiritual mentor? Can you describe the relationship and what you have
learned? Have you been a mentor to someone else? What have you
taught them?
3. Every generation brings with it a new understanding of Torah. What does
the motto of Conservative Judaism "Tradition and Change" mean to you?

Discussion Theme 2: Promises

See that I, I am the One, there is no God beside Me. I deal death and give life.
(Deut 32:39)

Derash: Study

1. When Moshe encountered God at the burning bush and asked for God's
name, God said: "I will be what I will be" which is a promise for the future.
Now in the sight of the Promised Land, God speaks in the present tense
as the God who has fulfilled a promise: "I, I am the One" (Chatam Sofer
quoted in Plout, p 1566)
2. The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 21:3) recounts that God's disposition to
hear us even before we call out to God is found whenever there is a
twofold mention of the divine name. This name emphasizes God's love,
the One who answers even our unspoken prayers. (Quoted in Munk,
3. I deal death and give life - These words affirm the principle of
resurrection of the dead. Rambam makes it the last of his thirteen
principles of faith. We affirm faith in resurrection every time we recite the
second blessing of the Amida.

Questions for Discussion

1. Do you think God's promises in the Torah have been fulfilled? Are they in
the process of being fulfilled? What part of the promise do you believe is
in God's hands? What part is in human hands?
2. Yom Kippur is almost upon us. What promises have you failed to fulfill?
What talents have you ignored? God is waiting for us to live up to the
potential that lies dormant within us.
3. o you sometimes feel lost at High Holiday services? If you find yourself
feeling lost, remember that we don't have to be on the right page -- God
hears even our silent longings.
4. Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead? Did you know that this
belief was a source of contention between the Pharisees and Saducees?
Did you know it was a core belief of the rabbis who instituted the second
blessing of the Amidah?