PARASHAT BERESHIT - BIRKAT HAHODESH

October 9, 2004 - 24 Tishrei 5765 Annual: Genesis 1:1 - 6:8 (Etz Hayim, p. 3; Hertz p. 2) Triennial Cycle: Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 3; Hertz p. 2) Haftarah: Isaiah: 42:5 - 43:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 36; Hertz p. 21) Prepared by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary The Torah begins with God's work of creation. Chapter 1 describes a very orderly process. Cosmos, replete with earthly flora and fauna, replaces chaos in six days of divine effort. Humankind is the crowning achievement of God's creation, introduced on the sixth day. The goodness of the physical world is repeatedly asserted. This goodness seems to reach its peak only with the creation of humanity: "God saw all that He had made, and found it very good." The seventh day is blessed by God as a sacred time of rest. Chapter 2 recasts the creation narrative with conflicting (or complementary) details: Man is created first, later made complete through the creation of woman - all after a far less orderly divine process of trial and error. The moral education of humanity begins in the paradisiacal setting of the Garden of Eden. At the infamous urging of the snake, "shrewdest of all the wild beasts," the first humans consume forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowing Good and Evil, and are banished from the Garden. The second generation of humans, nevertheless, continues to interact with God: Cain and Abel each bring offerings as gestures of worship. Alas, they also introduce murder into human history, as Cain, whose offering is rejected, kills his brother Abel. In the generations that follow, descendants of the Eden's inhabitants initiate various areas of industry and creativity: agriculture, construction, metallurgy, music. By the time of Noah, introduced in the closing verses of the Parshah, God seems to have despaired of his human creatures, and the moral corruption that has come in their wake. Theme #1: "The Rest is Commentary" The six days of Creation are famously followed by a day of rest: the first "Sabbath." The opening verses of Chapter 2 provide a literary and theological bridge between the physical world, described in considerable detail in Chapter 1, and the spiritual purposes for which that world was brought into being. These familiar verses ("Vayechulu") are chanted as an introduction to the Friday evening Kiddush, and are a central element of the liturgy on Shabbat eve.

"God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done." (Genesis 2:3) Derash: Study

"Blessing signifies the bestowing of some additional good. The additional good bestowed on Shabbat regards the soul, which enjoys respite on this day from affairs of the temporal world, and is able to attend to wisdom and God's Word." (Radak) "God's creative activity was followed by the Sabbath, when He deliberately ceased from His creative work". The stars and the planets, having once started on their eternal rounds, go on blindly, ceaselessly, driven by nature's law of cause and effect. Man, however, by an act of faith, can put a limit to his labor, so that it will not degenerate into purposeless drudgery. By keeping the Sabbath the Jew becomes, as our Sages say, domeh l'yotzero - 'like God Himself.' He is, like God, work's master, not its slave." (Pinchas Peli, Shabbat Shalom) "The world in itself is not holy. Nature is desacrilized in the Bible. Only God and humanity made in His image are able to make it holy". The human person is capable of transcending the material world, while being in it and with it. To prove this, there is a 'holy' (i.e., 'special') day, hallowed by God." (Isadore Grunfeld, The Sabbath)

Questions for Study: 1. Shabbat presents a paradox. How does Shabbat insist that we emulate God, the Creator, while simultaneously reminding us of our humanity and creature-hood? 2. Traditional Shabbat observance is often maligned as archaic. How has observance of the Sabbath - especially principled disengagement from technology - become increasingly relevant and urgent in the modern period? 3. Why is Shabbat linked by the Torah to the primordial history of the universe, rather than to Israel's unique, national, historical experience? 4. What did Rabbi Pinchas Peli mean by describing Shabbat as "all of Judaism in one word?" In what ways is this assertion reflected in Jewish tradition and communal norms? 5. In what other ways does Jewish practice and Tradition invite us to "transcend the material world, while being in it?" Consider the realms of ritual, personal relationships, and public policy. In what ways does this distinguish Judaism from other religious disciplines? Theme #2: "Because I am involved in Mankinde"* (*This phrase is quoted, with original spelling, from John Donne's poem,"No Man is an Island") In the first of many incidents of sibling rivalry which constitute a major motif in the Torah, Cain and Abel each bring a sacrificial offering to God. Cain, who was a farmer, brought an offering "from the fruit of the soil." Abel, a shepherd, made

an offering described, significantly, as from "the choicest of the firstlings of his flock." Despite God's poetic admonition concerning man's ability to master his own urges and thus to avoid sin, a dejected and envious Cain murders his brother. "The Lord said to Cain, 'Where is your brother Abel?' And he said, 'I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?'" (Genesis 4:9) Derash: Study

"When the Holy One said, 'Where is your brother Abel,' Cain replied, 'I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper? You are the keeper of all creatures I killed him because You created the evil inclination in me. You are the keeper of all, yet you allowed me to kill him. It is You who killed him." (Tanchuma) "One more war. The last. They always say that. Let us fight so as to fightno more. Let us kill so as to conquer death. Who knows, perhaps Cain himself aspired to be not just the first murderer in history but the last as well." (Elie Weisel, A Beggar in Jerusalem) "The sevenfold stress in this chapter on the obvious fraternal relationship of Cain and Abel (the word 'ach' - brother - is used seven times) emphatically teaches that man is indeed his brother's keeper and that all homicide is fratricide." (Nahum Sarna, JPS Genesis) Cain's defiant response to God is among the Torah's best known and frequently quoted verses. His words, emblematic of the human moral load, have informed these studies and inspired their titles: "Am I My Brother's Keeper? The Ethical Frontiers of Biomedicine," by Arthur Caplan; "Am I My Brother's Keeper? The AIDS Crisis & the Church," by Michael Malloy; "The Ethics of Giving & Receiving: Am I My Foolish Brother's Keeper?" by William May; "Am I My Brother's Keeper? A Study of British Columbia's Labor and Oriental Problems," by Agnes Laut; and "I Am My Brother's Keeper: American Volunteers in Israel's War for Independence," by Craig Weiss. Note also Amitai Etzioni's "My Brother's Keeper: A Memoir and Message," envisioning a society which transcends selfish interests in favor of the common good.

Questions for Study: 1. By killing his brother, Cain ignores the most fundamental moral obligations of one human being to another. In the aftermath, seeming to acknowledge his wrong-doing, Cain is also dishonest with God. How are these two crimes related? 2. How is the "sevenfold stress" on brotherhood reinforced? What other sevens appear in Chapter 4? 3. Notwithstanding Elie Weisel's generalized lament regarding killing, what factors and considerations determine if a war is just? Is the decision to avoid war invariably preferable? How do Weisel's other writings contribute to this discussion? 4. "Where is your brother Abel?" Why must an omniscient God ask Cain about his brother's whereabouts. Compare to God's questions to Adam

and Eve in the preceding chapter: "Where are You?… Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree from which I had forbidden you to eat?" What is this you have done?" 5. In what ways can and should we be our brothers' keepers? In what situations have we missed the opportunity to "be involved in Mankinde" (as John Donne wrote)? How can a Congregation enhance the ability of its individual constituents to do so? 6. Prior to the first recorded homicide, we read: "Cain said to his brother Abel"." His words are not recorded (although some ancient versions add, "Come, let us go out to the field.") How can this "gap" in the text be viewed as artistic and meaningful? How does it affect our understanding of the incident? What might Cain have said in this situation? How might Abel have responded? Historical Note Shabbat Parshat Bereisheet 5765 falls on October 9, 2004. This day is the 650th anniversary of the charter issued by Casimir the Great to the Jews of Poland on October 9, 1354. Like the creation described in Parshat Bereisheet, this marked a hopeful beginning that culminated in catastrophe. Poland saw a vibrant Jewish civilization grow and flourish for many centuries, until its murderous ruin in the Holocaust.

PARASHAT NOAH - ROSH HODESH
October 16, 2004 - 1 Heshvan 5765 Annual: Genesis Genesis 6:9-11:32 (Etz Hayim, p. 41; Hertz p. 26) Triennial Cycle: Genesis 6:9 - 8:14 (Etz Hayim, p. 41; Hertz p. 26) Maftir: Numbers 28:9 - 15 (Etz Hayim, p. 930; Hertz p. 695) Haftarah: Isaiah: 66:1 - 24, 66:23 (Etz Hayim, p. 1219; Hertz p. 944) Prepared by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Parshat Noach represents a "watershed"(!) moment in the history of humanity's moral evolution. Individual human beings and society as a whole are subject to moral standards which represent God's will and expectations for the world. Loyalty to these standards determines whom God will favor and what nations God will choose to carry out the divine plan. Noah is a dramatic, founding example of this principle. Other ancient flood myths lack any similar moral framework. The destruction of humanity is a matter of capricious deities or a function of divine convenience. Surviving heroes are ascribed no particular merit. The Biblical text responded to the amoral worldview suggested by such legends. In the Torah, human society has grown so corrupt that God decrees its utter destruction by means of a Flood. Noah (deemed remarkable for his moral stature) together with his wife, sons and daughters-in-law are to be saved. They board the Ark, which Noah has constructed at God's behest, together with representatives of the various animal species, to facilitate post-diluvian repopulation. Humanity and animal life are destroyed by the Flood. The rain stops and, in time, the waters subside. The Ark's passengers ultimately disembark. God imposes basic moral obligations on humanity, reflecting a revised divine estimation of human potential. Noah offers sacrifices to God, Who vows never again to unleash such a universal destructive force. The rainbow is the sign of God's Covenantal promise. Subsequently, Noah plants a vineyard, cultivates its produce, and becomes intoxicated. Noah curses his son Ham, but blesses Shem and Japeth, for their respective responses to his drunken and vulnerable state. It should be noted that the Israelite Nation descends from Shem. That is, we are Shemites or, more familiarly, Semites. More specifically, we descend from Shem's great-grandson, Eber - perhaps the origin of the term Ivrit, Hebrew.

Theme #1: "Navigating an Immoral World" "This is the line of Noah. Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God." (Genesis 6:9) Derash: Study

"Rabbi Yochanan said: 'Noah was righteous only in his age, but in other ages he would not have been considered righteous.' But Resh Lakish said: 'He was righteous in his own age despite the prevalent evil. How much more so would he have been righteous in other ages." (Talmud, Sanhedrin 108A) "Noah saw that the deeds of mankind were corrupt, so he hid himself in order not to be caught up in their ways, and he engaged in the service of God." (Zohar 1:58) "The Bible leaves no doubt as to God's motivations. The choice of Noah is inspired solely by his righteousness; caprice or partiality play no role in the divine resolution". The story of the Flood, like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, presupposes the existence of a universal moral law governing the world for the infraction of which God, the Supreme Judge, brings men to account. It asserts "that man cannot undermine the moral basis of society without endangering the very existence of civilization." (Nahum Sarna, Understanding Genesis) "Rabbinic tradition is conflicted over what to do with Noah. On the one hand, the biblical text describes him as a tzaddik, a righteous man who walked with God. On the other, how righteous could a man be who watched the destruction of an entire generation in silence? Hasidic tradition disdainfully calls Noah a tzaddik im pelz, a righteous man in a fur coat, who, instead of helping others build a fire to warm themselves, just pulls his own coat tighter around himself." (Lawrence Kushner, Five Cities of Refuge)

Questions for Discussion: 1. The Torah - in both the narrator's voice and in an explicit statement by God (see Genesis 7:1) - describes Noah as righteous. Are we being just a bit too demanding by impugning Noah's character and qualifying his moral stature? Is the seeming human need to find fault with moral leaders itself a moral flaw? 2. The saga of the Flood makes it clear that some moral principles are absolute, the contrary behavior of the overwhelming majority of society notwithstanding. What moral absolutes do we recognize? Which are increasingly under siege? 3. To what extent is "walking with God" an indispensable ingredient of "righteousness" and "blamelessness?" 4. Does the Zohar commend the very insularity which (at least according to Kushner) 5. Hasidic tradition disdains in Noah. How do we strike a balance between personal spiritual development and social activism?

Theme #2: "The Tower Commission" Toward the conclusion of Parshat Noach, the Biblical narrative shifts its focus from primordial human history to the emergence of various particular nations. This transition is punctuated by the incident of the Tower of Babel. Humanity, still "of one language," attempts to construct a capital city-state, so as to preclude their own dispersion. God judges this enterprise ill-advised, and contrary to the divine plan for humanity, dispersing humanity into national and linguistic groupings. A genealogical table effects the final transition from universal origins to the particularist history of the Israelite nation. With the death of Terach,Abram becomes the central actor of the Biblical text - like Noah, chosen to advance God's moral plan and historic vision for humanity. Abram, Sarai, and Lot leave Ur of the Chaldees for Haran. The entire story of the Tower of Babel is told in nine short verses. It is important to note that the Tower does not reappear in Biblical narrative as a symbol or metaphor for human sinfulness, as Sodom and Gomorrah do frequently. Furthermore, despite the frustrated building plans, Babylonia (Babel) does in fact emerge as a major political entity in ancient history, with a dramatic impact on the development of the Jewish People. "And they said: 'Come let us build a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world." (Genesis 11:4) Derash: Study

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"It was the intention of that generation's leading members to declare Nimrod king over the entire human race. Further, they said: 'Let us make an idol and place it in the tower, so that the renown and stature of the city will spread to the entire human race, so that it will be believed to be the ultimate god by all humanity, and they will be drawn to it.'" (Sforno) "The tower had seven flights of stairs from the east and seven from the west. The bricks were hauled up on one side and the workers would descend on the other side. If a man fell down and died, no one paid any attention to him. But if a single brick fell down, theywould sit and weep and say: 'Woe is us! When will another brick be brought up to replace it?!'" (Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer) "One who seeks to make a name for himself destroys his name." (Pirkei Avot 1:13) "This desire to 'make a name' - to be a law unto themselves - aims at autonomy. What can be wrong with autonomy? Nothing except that it is illusory. Autonomy rests on the fiction of an independent will; it denies the mystery of the spirit it denies the power of something other and outside of the self. Autonomy is a conceit that buys us some measure of individuation but denies our messy interdependence, our ultimate subservience to an imagination beyond our control. The city and the

tower point an iconic finger to the sky, mocking God." (Peter Pitzele, Our Fathers' Wells) Questions for Discussion: 1. Based on the Biblical text alone, what precisely was the sin of those who built the Tower of Babel? What motivated God's dispersion of humanity, and confusion of human language? 2. To what events in modern history might we compare Sforno's idea of a single, autocratic leader, with imperial designs on world-wide rule, and a policy of suppressing religious diversity and "the mystery of the spirit?" To what extent have such regimes shared the fate of Babel? Is the devaluation of individual human life an inescapable concomitant of such political systems, as suggested by Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer? 3. How are personal ambition and the desire "to make a name" positive, even desirable human traits? Are these not basic and necessary elements of freedom? 4. What are some limitations to Dr. Pitzele's critique of personal autonomy? How is Jewish life enhanced or impeded by a society that values autonomy? Historical Note Shabbat Parshat Noach 5765 falls on October 16, 2004. This is the birthday of David Ben-Gurion, Zionist leader and first Prime Minister of the State of Israel, born on October 16, 1886. Like Noah, Ben-Gurion anticipated a cataclysm. By urging Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel, Ben-Gurion was instrumental in building a safe haven which could sustain Jewish life, and thus preserve a threatened civilization. Like Noah, Ben-Gurion the farmer saw swamp land restored to productivity, as survivors of a world-wide disaster built new lives.

PARASHAT LEKH LEKHA
October 23, 2004 - 8 Heshvan 5765 Annual: Genesis Genesis 12:1-17:27 (Etz Hayim, p. 69; Hertz p. 45) Triennial Cycle: Genesis 12:1 - 13:18 (Etz Hayim, p. 69; Hertz p. 45) Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27 - 41:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 95; Hertz p. 60) Prepared by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary With this Parshah, the Torah shifts from the primordial history of the world to the particular experience of Israel. Abram and his wife Sarai are now the focal characters of the Biblical text. God calls upon Abraham to leave the land of his origin, promising him a life of blessing and greatness. Abram and Sarai leave Haran for Canaan, where God appears again to the Patriarch, reaffirming their covenantal bond and promising him the Land as his own. Abram constructs an altar at Beth El - "calling on the Name of God." A famine in Canaan impels Abram, Sarai, and Lot to travel to Egypt. Sarai is taken into Pharaoh's household where, at Abram's express instructions, she identifies herself not as his wife, but as his sister. Abram benefits materially from this deception, although God afflicts Pharaoh and his household with plagues. A dismayed Pharaoh returns Sarai to her husband, with whom, along with Lot, he returns to Beth El. In time, a conflict develops between Lot and Abram and their respective shepherds. The two kinsmen go their separate ways at Abram's suggestion. God renews his Covenant with Abraham, promising him the Land in perpetuity and a legacy of innumerable descendants. Despite the earlier falling out with Lot, Abram goes to war (with an armed force of 318 troops at his command) to rescue Lot, who has been taken captive in a conflict pitting four kings (and their nation states) against five similar powers. Upon his victory and the safe return of Lot, Abram exchanged diplomatic pleasantries with Melchizedek, but refused material consideration or spoils of war - both to preclude political indebtedness and to emphasize the Providence of God in securing his success. God's repeated promises of blessing, land, and progeny are followed by a dramatic "Covenant between the Pieces." Abram's long-awaited offspring arrives with the birth of Ishmael, born by Hagar, Sarai's servant and "surrogate." The Covenant of circumcision is prescribed. God changes His covenant partners' names to Abraham and Sarah, signifying their elevated stature and choseness. When God assures him of the birth of a second son, to be named Isaac and to serve as heir to the Covenant, an aged Abraham laughs at the prospect of

further fertility. In response to Abraham's paternal concern - "Oh that Ishmael might live by Your favor!" - God bestows a blessing on Abraham's first-born: "He shall be the father of twelve chieftains, and I will make of him a great nation." Abram and Ishmael are circumcised, signifying their covenantal status and fealty, together with all the men (the servants) in Abram's household. Theme #1: "Prediction of Benediction" "The Lord said to Abram, 'Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to a land that I will show you. And 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. I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.'" (Genesis 12:1-3) Derash: Study

"When an ordinary man becomes rich and famous, he may become estranged from his less fortunate kinsmen and friends; he will keep aloof from them and make no effort to help them. As a result many will curse him and wish him ill. Therefore God reassured Abraham, saying: 'Even after I have made your name great' you will be a blessing. You will continue to do good and heretofore all will bless you.'" (Ha-Drash v'HaIyun) "The root barekh (blessing) occurs five times in the opening verses of the sidra… This abundance of blessing corresponds to the fivefold abundance of light created on the first day of Creation (where the word 'or - 'light' occurs five times). Here we have a second world created with the advent of Abraham, a world of blessing...." (Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Genesis) "The Avraham cycle begins decisively, with a command from God to leave the past behind and go to an unnamed land. Prominent in this speech, clearly, is the concept of blessing. The classic mythological motif of the journey, where the hero meets such dangers as monsters and giants, has here been avoided. All that the text wishes us to know about is God's speech and Avram's immediate obedience." (Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses) "After the string of curses that begins with Adam and Eve, human history reaches a turning point with Abraham, as blessings instead of curses are emphatically promised." (Robert Alter, Genesis)

Questions for Discussion: 1. While promising Abraham ample blessing, God makes it clear that securing his destiny requires severing past ties and moving away from a familiar past. Does this make Abraham an appealing model for Jews seeking spiritual fulfillment today? Is it necessary to leave behind "your native land, your father's house" in order more intimately to embrace God and God's plan? 2. Both Nehama Leibowitz and Robert Alter relate Abraham's call to the Creation narratives of Genesis. How else is Abraham similar to (or

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distinguished from) Adam? What do these parallels suggest about the People Israel, to whom Abraham will be progenitor? In what ways has the Jewish People fulfilled God's promise to Abraham to "be a blessing?" What moral obligations devolve on the Jewish People from the effusive divine blessings given Abraham? What does it mean for a person (or a nation, or a Congregation) to be a blessing? In what ways can we and our communities strive to be more effective sources of blessing? There are an abundance of individuals, organizations, and nations among Israel's detractors. God's call to Abraham seems to anticipate this reality without explaining its cause. Are the "curses" of mortal detractors the necessary concomitant of claims to divine blessing? How has God's promise to deal harshly with "him that curses you" been reflected in the historical record? What is the difference between "being a blessing" and others blessing themselves "by" us?

Theme #2: "The Catalytic Converter" "Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the wealth that they had amassed, and the souls they had acquired in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan." (Genesis 12:5) Derash: Study
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"Abraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women." (Rashi) "Whoever teaches someone else's child Torah, Scripture esteems him as if he actually created the child, as it is said: 'The souls they had acquired (asu, literally "made").'" (Talmud, Sanhedrin 99B) "It is a positive commandment to love God with all one's heart, with all one's soul, and with all one's might… Included in this Mitzvah is the obligation to attract human beings to the worship of God, and to make Him beloved among his creatures, as did our Father Abraham, peace be upon him, as it is said: 'The souls they had acquired (asu, literally "made") in Haran.'" (Rabbi Yisrael Mayer ha-Kohen Kagan, the Chafetz Chayim, Sefer ha-Mitzvot ha-Katzar) "Why not open our arms to those who seek a spiritual way of life? …The logic is clear and so is the theology. Judaism is not an exclusive club of born Jews. It is a universal faith with an ancient tradition that has deep resonance for people today… If Judaism is a world religion, then it has something valuable to offer the world." (Harold Schulweis)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Is religious faith an entirely private affair? Is a "believer" compelled to articulate his beliefs and values to others? How does one communicate matters of faith differently to fellow Jews (whether more or less committed than we)? To adherents of other faiths? To skeptics? To principled secularists? To our own families and loved ones?

2. Abraham and Sarah's first act following God's call is linked by the Midrash to their involvement in the process of proselytism. What programmatic and theological implications does this have for Jewish communities today? Discuss the Jewish People's historic reluctance proactively to "evangelize" among those not born to the Jewish tradition. 3. The Chafetz Chayim, a pre-eminent, twentieth century ethicist, lists the obligation "to attract human beings to the worship of God" as the third Positive Commandment, following only the religious obligations to believe in God's existence, and to accept monotheism (that God is One, unique). By citing Genesis 12:5 in this context, he frames this obligation in terms traditionally associated with conversion to Judaism. Why would this European rabbi, writing in the 1930's, codify such a system of spiritual priorities? How might this relate to his mission as an ethical guide? 4. How do Abraham and Sarah offer us a model of how to relate to newcomers to Judaism? To lifelong Jews seeking greater levels of knowledge and involvement? What special obligations do we, our congregations, and their own Jewish family members have to those who convert to Judaism? In what ways does the institution of conversion strengthen the Jewish community? Historical Note We read of Abraham's victory in the War of the Four Kings Against the Five on the anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein. On October 23, 1942, British forces under General Bernard Law Montgomery stopped the Nazi conquest of North Africa during World War II.

PARASHAT VAYERA
October 30, 2004 - 15 Heshvan 5765 Annual: Genesis Genesis 18:1 - 22:24 (Etz Hayim, p. 99; Hertz p. 63) Triennial Cycle: Genesis 18:1 - 18:33 (Etz Hayim, p. 99; Hertz p. 63) Haftarah: II Kings 4:1 - 37 (Etz Hayim, p. 124; Hertz p. 76) Prepared by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary In the guise of three angelic visitors, God appears to Abraham at his tent. The divine messengers, who are greeted with eager hospitality, foretell that a son, Isaac is to be born to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah laughs at the prospect of further fertility. Subsequently, God reluctantly informs Abraham of His intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, together with the cities' morally corrupt inhabitants. Abraham unsuccessfully intercedes with God, citing the just cause of any righteous citizens. Not even ten worthy individuals can be identified, however. The corruption of Sodom seems confirmed as the men of that city, with apparently salacious motives, surround Lot's house, demanding, to no avail, that he surrender his two angelic guests to them. Lot and his family are spared, escaping the destruction of the cities, although Lot's wife is turned into a pillar of salt when, contrary to God's instruction, she gazes back at the desolation. Seeking refuge in a cave, Lot's daughters induce their father's intoxication. Their subsequent incestuous unions produce Ammon and Moab, progenitors of morally suspect, historic foes of Israel. After immigrating to Gerar, Sarah is taken by Abimelech and ultimately restored to Abraham, in a literary reprise of the "wife-sister motif" of the previous Parsha. As promised, Isaac is born. He is circumcised and weaned. At Sarah's behest, Abraham banishes Hagar and Ishmael. Mother and son survive their wilderness exile, fortified by angelic guidance and a divine promise that Ishmael, too, will found a nation. Abraham effects a covenant with Abimelech. God "tests" Abraham, commanding him to offer his beloved son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Compliantly and all but silently taking his son to Mount Moriah, Abraham places him atop an altar, but an angel stays his hand as he raises the sacrificial knife. Abraham's reverence for God, and God's covenantal promise of blessing to Abraham are both confirmed with renewed vigor.

Theme #1: "The Just Goes to Show You" "Abraham came forward and said: 'Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? What if there should be fifty innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent fifty who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You. Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?'" (Genesis 18:23-25) Derash: Study

"This verse can be read as a declarative statement: 'The Judge of all the earth shall not deal justly.' If you want a world, there cannot be strict justice. If you want strict justice, there can be no world. You are trying to grasp the rope at both ends. You want the world and you want strict justice. If you do not let go of justice, there will be no world." (Genesis Rabbah 49:25) "Insofar as You are Judge of all the earth, if You judge the whole based on the majority, You will, no doubt, destroy them forever, for the majority of human beings are evil." (Sforno) "Abraham's struggle to apprehend the nature of God's purposes assumes that God must act according to a principle that man can try to understand. That principle is the passion for righteousness. 'Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?' he protests. It is this faith in God's justice that gives rise to the argument with God, whose intent to destroy Sodom appears to raise serious conflict with the patriarch's conviction about His moral governance of the world." (Nahum Sarna, JPS Genesis) "Abraham's argument with God raises one of the most troubling and recurring issues of theology. Can God's justice be judged by human beings according to standards of human justice? The alternative is to assume - tautologically - that whatever God does, regardless of how unjust it may seem to us, is by definition just. Whatever God commands must be done without question or challenge… Such an approach is the first step to fundamentalism. The Sodom narrative appears to reject the fundamentalist approach and to suggest that God has submitted Himself to at least some human judgment through the covenant." (Alan Dershowitz, The Genesis of Justice) "We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states." (U.S. Declaration of Independence)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Genesis Rabbah and Sforno seem to agree that true justice is at best elusive. What are the benefits and the challenges inherent in this view? 2. If non-fundamentalist religion means subjecting divine law to human standards of justice, on what basis are we to make such judgments?

How are we to distinguish between moral absolutes and transitory societal mores? 3. By referring to both "the Supreme Judge of the world" and "the good people of these colonies" the Declaration of Independence seems to echo Genesis 18. Why would the American Founding Fathers embrace this specific image of God? Note that the Declaration also refers to the "Creator" and "Providence." Theme #2: "In a Bind" "God tested Abraham." (Genesis 22:1) Derash: Study

"The only purpose for all the tests mentioned in Scripture is to teach man what he ought to do… Abraham did not hasten to kill Isaac out of fear that God might slay him or make him poor, but solely because it is man's duty to love and to fear God, even without hope of reward or fear of punishment. This idea is confirmed in Scripture, where it is distinctly stated that one thing alone, fear of God, is the object of the whole Torah with its positive and negative precepts, its promises and its historical examples." (Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed) "This trial was not a test developed by God to find out what He did not know. Rather, God made a demonstration - the root of the word (nisah) being from nes, meaning wonder or sign - which Abraham performed at God's direction, as an example and banner to all peoples, for them to follow." (Abarbanel) "Since man's actions are entirely in his own control - if he so wishes he will take an action, and if he does not so wish he will not take the action it is called a test from the perspective of the one being tested. But God, by imposing the test, commands him in order to transform his potential into action, so that he will earn the reward for a good deed, not merely for his good heart and intentions." (Nachmanides) "How else, then, can we read Genesis 22 except as Abraham's testing of the Lord, as well as the Lord's testing of Abraham?… If what the Lord has promised for Isaac is to happen, Isaac cannot die. If, on the other hand, Abraham has been mistaken, if his vision has been false, then his lord is a false god, a slayer of children, a breaker of covenants. The angel of the Lord, which interrupts Abraham as he raises the knife to slay Isaac, not only vindicates Abraham's vision and values, but also vindicates the Lord." (Kenneth Gros Louis, Literary Interpretations of Biblical Narratives) "As Abraham, in loyalty to God, was about to kill his son, God spared Yitzhak. Now God tests our faith even more terribly, for he has taken our Yitzhak. But Israel's covenant with God for freedom, for tolerance, for security, for peace - that covenant must hold. That covenant was Prime Minister Rabin's life work. Now we must make it his lasting legacy." (President Bill Clinton, eulogizing Yitzhak Rabin)

Questions for Discussion: 1. The reader of the Bible is told explicitly that God's command to Abraham is a "test." Does this necessarily mean that Isaac will be spared? Do we know exactly what is being tested? Abraham's willingness to sacrifice all? His willingness to stand up to God? His ability to trust God to spare Isaac? 2. How do you imagine Abraham's "test" affected his relationship to God? To Isaac? To Sarah? Isaac's relationship to God? 3. If Abraham was testing God and had faith in the outcome, how is our reading of the Akeidah affected? Was Abraham telling the truth or obfuscating when he said "God will provide the lamb" and "We will worship and we will return to you?" 4. In a free society where we openly identify and practice our tradition, and willing self-sacrifice for the faith is rarely demanded, how does the Akeidah continue to speak to contemporary Jews? 5. How similar is the "covenant" described by President Clinton to the Biblical model? How does a democratic State of Israel measure success in the "more terrible test of faith" it faces? How is God also tested in this context? Historical Note Parshat Vayera is read on October 30, 2004. On this date in 1735, John Adams, the second President of the United States and a major architect of the Declaration of Independence (cited above), was born. Like Isaac, Adams succeeded a beloved "Father of his Nation" to leadership. Perhaps Adams was thinking of the lessons of our Parsha when he wrote: "The Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations."

PARASHAT HAYE SARAH
November 6, 2004 - 22 Heshvan 5765 Annual: Genesis Genesis 23:1-25:18 (Etz Hayim, p. 127; Hertz p. 80) Triennial Cycle: Genesis 23:1 - 24:9 (Etz Hayim, p. 127; Hertz p. 80) Haftarah: I Kings 1:1 - 31 (Etz Hayim, p. 143; Hertz p. 90) Prepared by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Upon the death of Sarah at the age of 127, Abraham mourns his wife. He enters into protracted and formalized, public negotiations with the Children of Heth (Hittites) to secure a burial place for her, purchasing the Cave of Machpelah from Ephron at an apparently inflated price. Abraham subsequently dispatches his servant to Aram Naharaim (Mesopotamia) to find a suitable wife for Isaac, first administering an oath that he not select a Canaanite woman. Although traditional sources identify this servant as Eliezer, explicitly mentioned elsewhere, the marital emissary is not actually named in the Biblical text. He is properly referred to simply as "the servant of Abraham." The servant's prayer for guidance and a divine sign in identifying Isaac's future wife is immediately answered with the appearance of Rebekah. Beautiful and chaste, Rebekah approaches the well where the servant has stationed himself. In keeping with his prayer, she draws from the well, generously providing water to the servant and his ten camels. Rebekah is identified as the granddaughter of Nahor, Abraham's brother. The servant presents gifts to Rebekah and then her family, to whom he recounts the events that transpired at the well. Rebekah consents to marry Isaac and receives her family's blessing. Isaac and Rebekah meet. Rebekah covers herself with a veil, in a gesture of modesty still reenacted at traditional Jewish weddings (frequently accompanied by the recitation of a verse from this Parsha -- Genesis 24:60). Isaac takes his bride "into his mother's tent." The bereaved son finds comfort in his marriage. Abraham marries Keturah; the marriage produces six additional children. Upon Abraham's death, Isaac and Ishmael together bury their father in the Cave of Machpelah, which the patriarch had earlier purchased as a final resting place for Sarah. After Abraham's death, God renews His blessing of Isaac. Ishmael dies at the age of 137. The Parsha concludes by enumerating his many descendants, demonstrating fulfillment of God's earlier blessing of Ishmael as progenitor of a great nation and father of twelve chieftains.

Theme #1: "God Doesn't Play Dice with the Universe" "And he said, 'O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham.'" (Genesis 24:12) Derash: Study

• •

"Three petitioners were answered by God while the request was still in their mouths: Abraham's servant Eliezer, Moses, and Solomon: 'He had scarcely finished speaking when Rebekah came out.'" (Genesis Rabbah 60:4) "The shalshelet [a rare trope which appears only four times in the Torah JHP] is a quivering, hesitating kind of note that reflects some hesitation or ambivalence in the text. Abraham tells Eliezer to go back to Mesopotamia and find a wife for Isaac. It's an awesome responsibility. The future of the covenant rests with his choice of a bride for Isaac. He may fail. He may choose the wrong woman. Isaac is no Abraham. And Eliezer must find a strong enough and wise enough woman who can help carry on the legacy of Abraham. Eliezer prays to God for guidance and help in finding the right woman. And on the word for 'he prayed' [vayomar], there's a shalshelet. It is the tradition's way of expressing how apprehensive, how worried, how desperate Abraham's servant must have felt." (Rabbi Lee Buckman) "'Grant me good fortune.' The Hebrew verb here (hakrei) literally means 'make it occur.' What happens to be the result of chance (mikreh) may, in reality, be a deliberate determination of God. Nothing is more characteristic of the biblical outlook than the conviction about the role of divine providence in everyday human affairs." (Chumash Etz Hayim) "Chance - that's code for the divine." (Phyllis Trible) "Implicit in the servant's prayers is the need to see a manifest indication of God's hesed [kindness, love, grace] to Abraham. His main criterion for the rightness of Rebecca's election is that he will sense in her the hesed that, since the Akedah, has been lacking from his master's experience. He prays to know that hesed is being done to his master, not merely that God should be so kind as to make it happen that the girl he speaks to is the right one. The hesed he asks for, in other words, is not a means, but an end in itself." (Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Beginning of Desire)

Questions for Discussion: 1. How does Abraham's servant merit inclusion among such a rarefied company of Biblical heroes as Moses and Solomon? For what major achievement or defining characteristic is each remembered? 2. The unusual musical tradition (shalshelet) associated with this verse invites the reader/listener to take special "note." What historic, theological, literary, or narratological elements in the servants prayer demand such special treatment? Compare to the other shalshelet verses in Genesis - 19:16, regarding Lot; 39:8, regarding Joseph.

3. At what pivotal points in modern Jewish history might we perceive the divine in what appears to be chance or coincidence? At what other points in Biblical history? In our own lives and personal experience? 4. If we attribute chance and "good fortune" to the "deliberate determination of God," must ill fortune, adversity, and tragedy also be understood as part of a calculated divine plan? How do we know what eventsand experiences are the results of Providence? Theme #2: "Mourning has Broken" "And Abraham breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented; and he was gathered to his kin. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah." (Genesis 25:8-9) Derash: Study

"From this we learn that Ishmael repented, allowing Isaac to go before him. This is the 'good old age' mentioned in reference to Abraham." (Rashi, citing Genesis Rabbah 62:3) "The Qur'an tells us, 'Wherever you may be, God will bring you all together'… From the time of Isaac and Ishmael until today, we have fought over Abraham and his heritage. Perhaps we can find a way through dialogue and building relationships to bring reconciliation - even Isaac and Ishmael reconciled and came together to bury Abraham." (Sheila Musaji, "The Legacy of Abraham," in The American Muslim) "I was named 'Avraham Yitzchak' - 'Abraham Isaac.' On Rosh Hashanah, 1975, when we read in the Torah about the near-deaths of Abraham's two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, it came to me to add 'Yishmael' - Ishmael and thus to complete the troubled triangle. Ever since, when the children of Ishmael and the children of Isaac tear at each other, I feel myself being torn apart. So I take joy in the passage of Torah where these two come together to bury Abraham. For years, I have urged that we read it on Yom Kippur as a tikkun - a way of healing or making whole - a tshuvah, (repentance) for the deadly Rosh Hashanah stories." (Rabbi Arthur Waskow) "You want to hear some of the most beautiful words in the Torah? ' Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him' Here is Ishmael - the son exiled from the household, sent out into the barren desert to die; and here is Isaac the son he took to the mountain to offer as a sacrifice to God. The two, survivors of this man's religious passion, gathered together over Abraham's grave to bury him, in love and honor. Why did they come back? Because they forgave him. Avraham Avinu - the father of us all, the archetype, the model for all fathers." (Rabbi Edward Feinstein)

Questions for Discussion: 1. What motivated Isaac and Ishmael to come together for Abraham's burial? Reconciliation with each other? Their parallel, troubled childhoods? A sense of duty? Continuing competition? A final attempt to

stake independent claims to Abraham's legacy? Why did (or could) they not come together during their father's life? 2. Compare the "reunion" of Isaac and Ishmael to that of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 33). What do the two incidents have in common? Unlike Jacob and Esau, the Torah does not record any verbal exchange between Isaac and Ishmael. What might the brothers have said to each other? Does the silence of the text on this matter imply a similar silence or emotional distance between the bereaved sons? 3. Rashi/Genesis Rabbah evinces a hierarchical relationship and judgmental view of Ishmael even in describing the brothers' shared act of filial devotion. Does the text of Genesis justify the characterization of Ishmael as requiring repentance? How might Rashi's historical milieu Crusader France - have colored his reading of this verse? 4. What significance do we find in the fact that this single Parsha records the passing of Sarah, Abraham, and Ishmael? Historical Note Parshat Haye Sarah, recording the deaths of Sarah and Abraham, and describing their burial in detail, is read on November 6, 2004. On this date in 1995, assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was laid to rest at Mount Herzl National Cemetery in Jerusalem, eulogized by descendants of Isaac and Ishmael.

PARASHAT TOLDOT - BIRKAT HAHODESH
November 13, 2004 - 29 Heshvan 5765 Annual: Genesis Genesis 25:19-28:9 (Etz Hayim, p. 146; Hertz p. 93) Triennial Cycle: Genesis 25:19-26:22 (Etz Hayim, p. 146; Hertz p. 93) Haftarah: I Samuel 20:18 - 42 (Etz Hayim, p. 1215; Hertz p. 948) Prepared by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Isaac compassionately prays on behalf of his wife, Rebekah, who is childless. She conceives twins, whose rivalry begins in utero. The expectant matriarch is informed by God that the sons she is carrying are "two separate peoples, and the older will serve the younger." The firstborn, Esau, is born ruddy and hairy; his twin brother, Jacob, emerges from the womb with a firm grip on his brother's heel. The names Esau and Jacob, are linked to the words for "hair" and "heel," respectively. Esau is favored by his father, while Jacob enjoys a special bond with Rebekah. Years later, Esau, now an accomplished hunter, returns from a day's work famished. His more sedentary and mild-mannered brother Jacob sells him some stew in exchange for his birthright. A famine impels Isaac to move to Gerar, where God appears to him and renews the covenantal blessings first granted to Abraham. Repeating an unseemly experience of Abraham's, Isaac conceals his wife's identity, claiming she is his sister. Rebekah is taken by Abimelech, who returns her to her husband once their true relationship is revealed. Isaac is blessed with a hundred fold harvest (from which the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood, Meah She'arim, takes its name). Abimelech urges the now prosperous Isaac to leave Gerar. Isaac reclaims wells dug by Abraham and stopped up by Philistines. Continued conflict occasions Isaac's departure for Beer-sheba, where God renews His blessing, and Isaac effects a covenant with Abimelech. Esau marries two Hittite women, to the consternation of his parents. An aging Isaac, with failing vision, instructs Esau to bring him some meat in preparation for the Patriarch's formal blessing of his firstborn. Rebekah, however, contrives to secure the blessing for Jacob, instructing her beloved son to disguise himself in pelts and Esau's clothing, and to bring the visually impaired Isaac food which she prepares. The conspiracy succeeds. Jacob bestows his blessing and status as Patriarch and rightful heir to God's covenant on Jacob, whom he has ostensibly mistaken for Esau. When Esau returns, expecting his father's blessing, he learns of the

deception and is disconsolate. His father, at first resistant, grants Esau a secondary blessing, which reinforces Jacob's superior, if ill-gotten stature. Esau vows revenge on his brother, though, we learn only later, he never carries out his very understandable threat. Rebekah conspires to protect her favorite son by sending him to Paddan-Aram to find a wife, explaining to Isaac her disgust at Hittite women such as Esau's wives. Isaac blesses Jacob again (calling into question the extent of his anger at the deception earlier perpetrated against him), and dispatches his son in accordance with Rebekah's plan. The Parshah concludes with Esau, always the well-meaning and dutiful (if at times pathetic) son, attempting to please his parents by marrying Ishmael's daughter, Mahalath. His new wife is, of course, a granddaughter of Abraham, but, like Esau himself, from outside the "chosen" line. Theme #1: "A Walk on the Mild Side" "When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man, who stayed in camp. Isaac favored Esau, because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah favored Jacob." (Genesis 25:27-28) Derash: Study

"When the boys grew up Esau became a skillful hunter of fowl and game, a man well-suited to the outdoors, a killer, for he killed Nimrod and his son Enoch. But Jacob was a man of peaceful ways, who attended the Study House of Eber, seeking instruction from God." (Targum Yonatan) "'A skillful hunter - Always full of deception, for most animals are caught through trickery. But Jacob was the opposite of Esau, for he was ish tam ['a blameless, simple man']." (Ibn Ezra) "After the Roman conquest of Judea (first century BCE), 'Edom' [i.e., Esau - J.H.P.] came to signify Rome, oppression, and evil. Not only was this a case of prejudicial stereotyping, it was also a misreading of the biblical intent. For Esau emerges from the text as a generally admirable man." (W. Gunther Plaut) "When it comes to birth order, twins are in a special situation… In an effort to distinguish one from the other, parents and other relatives may focus on the differences between the twins and assign them niches in the family. One of them might become known as 'the athletic one,' for instance, while the other becomes 'our little actor.' On the plus side, this process of labeling may help each child carve out an individual identity and defuse sibling rivalry. But the labels can be confining. I sometimes wonder how history might have been altered if Jacob had not been so handy in the kitchen or Esau so hungry." (Laura Jana, MD, FAAP, www.drspock.com) "Life is full of hard choices between less than perfect alternatives… Jacob and Esau share both good and bad traits upon which to try to build leadership for the future. God is faced with having to choose between two combinations of traits and to select what would be better for leadership of his people… In essence, the Bible tells us that a bright,

calculating person who, at times, is less than honest, is preferable as a founder over a bluff, impulsive one who cannot make discriminating choices." (Daniel Elazar) Questions for Discussion: 1. How is the traditional vilification of Esau a "misreading of the biblical intent?" Why was a misreading necessary or desirable? Is it still desirable today? What are Esau's positive qualities? What are Jacob's shortcomings? How mightcontemporary Jewish answers to these questions differ from those of our recent and classical forbears? 2. There is considerable irony in Ibn Ezra's characterization of Esau as deceitful and Jacob as simple and uncomplicated. Shouldn't these descriptions be reversed? 3. The pre-eminence of younger brothers is a recurring biblical motif: Jacob supplants Esau, just as Isaac, not Ishmael became Patriarch of Israel. Moses was three years younger than Aaron, and King David was the youngest of eight brothers. What does this pattern say about Israel's selfperception? Perhaps Jacob had no "choice" but to secure both blessing and birthright, in order to perpetuate this biblical theme. How does this affect our understanding of Esau? Theme #2: "Was Blind, But Now I See" "When Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, he called his older son Esau." (Genesis 27:1) Derash: Study

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"When our Father Abraham bound his son on the altar, the ministering angels wept, and tears fell from their eyes and were absorbed into his eyes. When he grew old, his eyes were dimmed as a result." (Genesis Rabbah 65:10) "When our Father Abraham bound his son on the altar, Isaac cast his eyes on high and beheld God's Presence." (Genesis Rabbah 65:10) "His eyes were dimmed by the smoke and incense of the idolatrous offerings brought by Esau's wives." (Pesikta Rabbati 12:16) "His eyes were dimmed so that Jacob might secure the blessing." (Rashi) "Affection impairs one's power of judgment. Isaac's affection for Esau blinded him to his faults. His powers of judgment grew dim and he was not able to see reality." (Abarbanel) "Isaac could not see. This is nothing to be ashamed of unless, of course, physical defects signal underlying character weaknesses. As envisioned by the rabbis, Isaac's blindness becomes a metaphor through which we can consider why good people overlook evil staring them in the face. Sometimes we think it pays not to see evil. Looking the other way can simply become a habit; it may begin with overlooking aggravating sights and escalate to ignoring moral monstrosities." (Rabbi Baruch Feldstern)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Was Isaac actually blind? It would seem so. Did he manipulatively "turn a blind eye" to Jacob's deception, allowing him to receive the blessing while preserving his loving, paternal bond with Esau - using his physical blindness as a "cover" for his machinations? Or was Isaac, disabled in his blindness - and blind to Esau's faults - genuinely duped? 2. The Midrash about the angelic tears suggests that Isaac was "scarred" by his traumatic experience at Mount Moriah? How might this have affected his actions in bestowing the blessing on Jacob? 3. Similarly, how might Isaac's direct experience of the Shechina - God's Presence - have impacted his actions in blessing his sons? Was he being punished or acting prophetically? Was he perpetrating a fraud on behalf of a perceived divine plan? Was his own deception thereby justified? 4. If Isaac genuinely intended to bless Esau, does this necessarily mean his judgment was impaired, as Abarbanel posits? Was he simply following the expected protocol, declining unilaterally to overturn a sacred precedent. Did he feel that the covenant rightfully devolved on Esau, his alleged faults notwithstanding? 5. What moral wrongs have we grown accustomed to ignoring? How do we distinguish between merely "aggravating slights" and genuine evil? When is it our obligation to act or to speak out against moral lapses we see around us? Historical Note Parshat Toledot is read on November 13, 2004. On this date in 1856, Louis Brandeis, the first Jew appointed to the United States Supreme Court, and an active Zionist, was born. Reflecting the traditional, contrasting views of Jacob and Esau are these observations by Brandeis: "The Torah led the People of the Book to intellectual pursuits at times when most peoples were illiterate. Religion imposed the use of the mind upon the Jews, indirectly as well as directly. It demanded of the Jew not merely the love, but also the understanding of God."

PARASHAT VAYETZE
November 20, 2004 - 7 Kislev 5765 Annual: Genesis Genesis 28:10-32:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 166; Hertz p. 106) Triennial Cycle: Genesis 28:10-30:13 (Etz Hayim, p. 166; Hertz p. 106) Haftarah: Hosea 12:13 - 14:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 189; Hertz p. 118) Prepared by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Stopping for the night on his way from Beer-sheba to Haran, Jacob dreams of a staircase reaching to heaven. Angels ascend and descend the staircase (sometimes described as a ladder). In the dream, God "stands" nearby and repeats his covenantal blessings and promises to Jacob. Upon waking, a startled Jacob expresses awe at God's presence and at the holiness of the site, which he names Beth El - "the House of God." He erects and anoints a dedicatory pillar, using the stones on which he had slept and experienced his revelation. Jacob pronounces a seemingly conditional vow of devotion to God. Arriving in Haran, Jacob meets a number of shepherds at a well, who identify Rachel to him. He tearfully introduces himself and kisses Rachel, who informs her father of his kinsman's arrival. Jacob agrees to work for Laban for seven years, in exchange for his subsequent marriage to Rachel, whom he prefers over her elder sister, Leah. The years pass quickly, but following the marriage celebration, Laban substitutes Leah for the intended bride on the night of the wedding. Jacob, who has perpetrated his share of familial deceptions, is now the victim of deceit. An aggrieved Jacob is permitted to marry Rachel, as well, waiting for Leah's "wedding week" to conclude, and obligating himself to an additional seven years' servitude. The tension between the sisters and co-wives finds expression in the inequality of their childbearing. Leah gives birth to Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. An envious Rachel gives Jacob her servant Bilhah as a concubine and surrogate. She gives birth to Dan and Naphtali. Leah follows suit, giving Jacob her servant Zilpah, who gives birth to Gad and Asher. Rachel, still childless, buys mandrakes (an herbal sexual stimulant - evidently intending to enhance her own fertility) from Leah in exchange for transferring that night's conjugal rights to her elder sister. Leah goes on to bear Jacob three more children: Issachar, Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah. Each child's name reflects the ongoing desire of each sister to secure Jacob's love and marital validation. Following the birth of Leah's seventh child, Jacob's beloved Rachel finally gives birth to Joseph - whose name suggests both

"removal" of Rachel's sense of shame, and the prayerful hope for an "additional" son. Jacob secures his father-in-law's permission to return to Canaan with his wives and children, asking for any spotted and speckled sheep from among the flocks as payment for his labor. Jacob attempts to increase the number of such animals by manipulating the conditions under which the flocks breed. Jacob grows quite prosperous through this endeavor, and in so doing arouses the jealousy of Laban's sons. Jacob departs with his now sizeable family and flocks. He is pursued by Laban, who accuses him of unscrupulously fleeing with his daughters. Rachel steals household idols from her father; she successfully conceals them, despite her father's aggressive attempts at their recovery. Following an impassioned speech by Jacob in his own defense, he and Laban enter into a covenant, setting up a commemorative cairn. This marker is called Gal-ed by Jacob "Mound of Witness." Laban calls the mound "Yegar Sahaduta" - notably, the only non-Hebrew (Aramaic) words in the Torah. Angels appear to Jacob after Laban's departure. In a reprise of the opening scene of the Parshah, Jacob declares, "This is God's camp." He names the site Mahanaim ("Camp"). Theme #1: "Reverie, Reveille, and Revelation" "Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, 'Surely, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!' Shaken, he said, 'How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gateway to heaven.'" (Genesis 28:16-17) Derash: Study In addition to the sources that follow, see also Lawrence Kushner's book, "God Was in This Place and I Did Not Know: Finding Self, Spirituality, and Ultimate Meaning." A number of compelling religious responses to this verse are compiled in this modest volume.

"Jacob's flight from his home to an alien land presaged the exile of the Jewish people. Even as this heavenly vision went with him into a strange land, so the sanctity of the Holy Temple would accompany the Jewish people into exile and would be built into the synagogues and houses of study which they would set up in the lands of their dispersion." (Melo HaOmer) "Repetition of a term is usually a thematic marker in biblical narrative, and it is noteworthy that 'place' (maqom) occurs six times in this brief story. In part, this is the tale of the transformation of an anonymous place through vision into Bethel, a 'house of God.'" (Robert Alter, Genesis) "What is it about ordinary, waking consciousness that seems to filter out experiences of the sacred? We intuit that something more must be out there, but in order to see it, we have to close our eyes. Jacob's dream is probably the most powerful and transformative personal encounters with the divine in the entire Torah." (Lawrence Kushner, Five Cities of Refuge)

"Jacob's exceptional emotional response requires explanation. Undoubtedly it lies, at least partially, in his realization of the baseness of his behavior toward his father and brother. He must have been beset with feelings of complete and deserved abandonment by God and man. Having fallen prey to guilt and solitary despair, he is surprised that God is still concerned for him." (Nahum Sarna, JPS Genesis)

Questions for Discussion: 1. What measures, attitudes, and activities are necessary to transform a building into a "house of God" or to render it holy? What institutions other than synagogues and "houses of study" can attain this spiritual status, and how? 2. Is a building or physical edifice necessary to fully experience the presence of God? Is this the significance of the simple pillar erected and dedicated by Jacob? 3. How can we and our congregations enhance our ability to recognize the presence of God in our lives? How can we begin to redress the paradox of spiritual "sleeping" in our waking hours, even as we "dream" of a more direct experience of God? 4. How might the emphasis on place/maqom noted by Alter relate to the expression Ha-Maqom - "The Place" - as a traditional name for God? 5. How does Sarna's reading of Jacob, not merely as a spiritual seeker, but as a base sinner finding (and being transformed by) God, change our understanding of the chapter and, specifically, of Jacob's dream? Theme #2: "Time Flies" "So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her." (Genesis 29:20) Derash: Study
• •

"Love distorts perspective and reason." (Sforno) "With love based on physical desire, the lovers want the time of separation to pass quickly, so that each day they are apart seems to them like a year. But with spiritual love, devoid of self-serving desire, the lovers do not care whether the object of their affection is near or far away. The spiritual love between Jacob and Rachel had already found fulfillment, and therefore seven years seemed to Jacob only a few days." (Abraham Joshua Heschel of Opatov) "The love which Jacob bore for Rachel has been through all time the symbol of constancy. This love was the solace of Jacob's troubled life and remained unabated until Rachel died. It was no accident, but has a great significance, that this most ardent and faithful of Jewish lovers should have deeper spiritual experiences than any of his predecessors." (Clara Bewick Colby, The Woman's Bible) "An hour sitting with a pretty girl on a park bench passes like a minute, but a minute sitting on a hot stove seems like an hour." (Albert Einstein, on the Theory of Relativity)

Questions for Discussion: 1. His seven years of servitude represent but one of many obstacles to Jacob's loving relationship with Rachel, and to the couple's happiness. What other factors tested the "constancy" of their love? 2. In what other relationships in Jacob's life does love (or favoritism) "distort perspective and reason?" What significance does this recurring theme have for the Jewish people? 3. Do deep personal investment and loving ties enhance or impair our ability to understand and to appreciate the character of those who are close to us? 4. In what ways does "ardent" and "faithful" love prepare us - and, especially, religious leaders - for "deeper spiritual experiences" and lives? 5. Does Rabbi Heschel of Opatov underestimate the physical component of Jacob's desire for Rachel? "Give me my wife, that I may consort with her" (Gen. 29:21), Jacob says quite urgently. What does our tradition have to say about chaste, spiritual love - as opposed to sanctified, exclusive, and passionate love in all its physical expression and ardor? Historical Note Parshat Vayetze, in which we read of our Father Jacob's love, marriages, and dynastic heirs, is read on November 20, 2004 - the 57th wedding anniversary of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip Mountbatten. The treaty effected between Jacob and Laban - despite the mutual suspicions and treachery of the past - is also reminiscent of the historic visit of Anwar Sadat to Israel, and his address to the Knesset on this date - November 20, 1977.

PARASHAT VAYISHLAH
November 27, 2004 - 14 Kislev 5765 Annual: Genesis Genesis 32:4-36:43 (Etz Hayim, p. 198; Hertz p. 122) Triennial Cycle: Genesis 32:4-33:20 (Etz Hayim, p. 198; Hertz p. 122) Haftarah: Obadiah 1:1 - 21 (Etz Hayim, p. 222; Hertz p. 137) Prepared by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary In anticipation of a tense reunion with Esau, Jacob dispatches messengers to his brother. When the messengers return to report Esau's approach with a force of 400 men, Jacob assumes hostile intent. He strategically divides his family and flocks into two separate camps, hoping to effect the survival of half his entourage in case of attack. Following intense prayer and a tense night, Jacob sends his brother propitiatory gifts. Sending his wives and children to safety across the river Jabbok, Jacob spends the night alone. During the night he wrestles with a mysterious "man." (An angel? His conscience?) Jacob's hip is injured in the altercation - an event linked by the text to the prohibition against eating the sciatic nerve. Jacob demands a blessing from his opponent, who refuses to identify himself, but bestows a new name on the Patriarch: Israel. Jacob's reunion with Esau is without incident: they kiss and embrace, and Esau is introduced to his brother's family. Esau first declines, but finally accepts Jacob's substantial gifts only at his brother's insistence. The brothers part ways peacefully. Jacob arrives in Shechem, where he purchases land. Jacob's daughter Dinah is raped by Shechem. Dinah's rapist subsequently expresses the desire to marry his victim. Shechem and his father Hamor propose a diplomatic arrangement, whereby Jacob's clan and the Hivites will join together and intermarry, permitting the union of Shechem and Dinah, for whom they offer an exorbitant "bride price." Jacob's sons duplicitously consent to the arrangement, on the condition that the men of Shechem undergo circumcision. These terms are accepted. While the men of Shechem recover from the surgical procedure and are thus incapacitated, Simeon and Levi attacked the city, slaughtering all its men, including Shechem and Hamor. Jacob's other sons plunder the fallen men and city of their wealth. To Jacob's expression of dismay, Simeon and Levi respond indignantly: "Should our sister be treated like a whore?" Jacob travels to Beth-el, where he builds an altar and rids his entourage of idolatrous religious articles. Rebekah's

nurse, Deborah, dies and is buried. Jacob receives a divine revelation and blessing, during which his new identity as Israel is affirmed. Rachel dies in childbirth. She calls her son Ben-Oni ("Son of my Suffering"), but Jacob wisely and sensitively adjusts the name to Benjamin. Reuben consorts with his father's concubine, Bilhah. The unseemly, perhaps politically motivated liaison, is reported in a single verse. The traditional cantillation of the passage (Genesis 35:22) joins this verse to the one which immediately follows, so as to dispense with a salacious matter as delicately and expeditiously as possible! Jacob travels to Hebron. There Isaac dies at the age of 180, and is buried by Jacob and Esau - in a joint memorial tribute reminiscent of Isaac and Ishmael's funerary rites at Abraham's passing. The Parshah concludes with genealogical tables documenting the descendants of both Jacob and Esau. Theme #1: "Hero Israel" "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed." (Genesis 32:29) Derash: Study

"It will no longer be said that the blessing came to you through deceit and trickery (as implied by the name Yaakov), but through open and rightful authority (deriving Yisrael from sherarah - authority)." (Rashi) "Striven. Sarita, connected with the first part of Yisrael. But the word may at first have been Yashar-el, the one whom God makes straight, as opposed to Ya-akov-el, the one whom God makes to limp." (W. Gunther Plaut, citing J.L. Benor) "Israel. The name is best explained etymologically as 'May El persevere'. But both Jacob and Israel are treated here symbolically, to indicate the transformation of a man once devious (Jacob) into a forthright and resolute fighter." (E.A. Speiser, Anchor Bible Genesis) "Jacob after wrestling with the angel and receiving the name Israel, exclaims "I have seen God'. The etymology may derive either from reading Yisrael as a contraction of 'is raah 'el - 'a man who saw God' - or the equivalent of yasur 'el - 'he sees God.'" (David Winton, citing Philo, Philo of Alexandria) "Israel is not just Jacob's name but becomes the name of the people who trace their lineage back to him and to this moment. Israel is the Godwrestler, the brother-wrestler, the self-wrestler, who has known what it means to be alone… Israel is the paradigm for a soul that in its aloneness grapples with the most profound issues of its existence and wins a blessing that leaves it marked, infirm with a glorious infirmity." (Peter Pitzele, Our Fathers' Wells) "In names formed by a verb combined with 'el, the divine element is usually the subject of the action, not its indirect object. Yisra'el, therefore, should properly mean 'God strives,' not 'He strives with God.'" (Nahum Sarna, JPS Genesis)

"(Yisrael.) God-Fighter: The name may actually mean 'God fights.' Buber further conjectured that it means 'God rules,' containing the kernel of ancient Israel's concept of itself, but he retained 'Fighter of God' in the translation." (Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses)

Questions for Discussion: 1. The meaning of Yisrael is a question of considerable moment, since it is both the name of a nation and, in Rabbinic Hebrew, the technical term for "Jew." How do the various theories of etymology reflect the political aspirations and theological concerns of the Jewish People? 2. What elements inthe biblical account of Jacob's dream support Buber's "translation" of Israel as "God rules?" What other elements of Jacob's life lend credence to this theory? 3. How is Jacob's transformation from "Devious" to "Forthright" a spiritual model to be emulated? Was Jacob a willing, active participant in this change? Does viewing Jacob as a model imply that human beings are by nature duplicitous and flawed? 4. If, as Sarna states, Israel means "God strives," what divine goals, challenges, or obstacles are intended? What is the connection between "Yisrael," so understood, and "Yaakov?" How is a "striving" God appealing to the People Israel? Theme #2: "Violators and Vigilantes" "Simeon and Levi, two of Jacob's sons, brothers of Dinah, took each his sword, came upon the city unmolested, and slew all the males. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword, took Dinah out of Shechem's house, and went away. The other sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the town, because their sister had been defiled." (Genesis 34:25-27) Derash: Study

"Simeon and Levi are a pair; their weapons are tools of lawlessness. For when angry they slay men… Cursed be their anger so fierce." (Jacob's deathbed "blessing," Gen. 49:5-7) "All the citizens of Shechem were liable to death by the sword. For Shechem kidnapped Dinah, and they saw and knew what he did, yet they did not bring him to judgment." (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 9:14) "Each of the two brothers had a separate motive for setting this 'fire.' One came with the human emotion of avenging the family honor. Such a fire is to be considered a foreign fire (esh zarah - an unacceptable offering; compare Lev. 10:1). The other came with zeal for God and without any personal considerations, and this fire is the fire of the Lord. Nevertheless, even with such a fire, one must exercise extreme care in its use and timing. Otherwise it can do incalculable harm. (Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin) "Why should all the men of the city suffer for the misdeed of one of their number? The sons of Jacob certainly acted in a treacherous and godless manner. Jacob did not forgive them to his dying day." (Joseph H. Hertz)

"One cannot explain away the massacre with the simplistic claim that 'Simeon and Levi were barbarians.' Quite the contrary: they were religious, intelligent, and knowledgeable in the Torah. The lesson is that even such people are liable, by virtue of excuses… to sink to a level where they are capable of wiping out an entire city without sensing that they committed a moral crime of the worst order." (Shammai Leibowitz)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Were Jacob's objections to his sons' acts of mayhem based solely on moral grounds? If his negative reaction was merely self-interest - "You have brought trouble on me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land" - can it fairly be used as a moral indicator? 2. Dinah never says a word in this chapter or elsewhere in the Bible! She neither consents to, nor rejects Shechem's "proposal" - or her brothers' response. How does this affect the narrative and the attending moral questions? 3. After slaughtering the men of Shechem, her brothers remove Dinah from Shechem's house. Does this suggest she was being held captive? Would this justify her brothers' duplicity? Would it justify the killing of Shechem? Hamor? Their fellow citizens? 4. In his 1936 commentary, Hertz describes the behavior of Simeon and Levi as "godless." What contemporary realities might have influenced his perspective? How might his earliest readers have responded to this characterization of Jacob's sons? How does the assertion of "godlessness" compare to the reaction of Shammai Leibowitz (of Bar Ilan University) regarding moral crimes by religious believers, "knowledgeable in the Torah?" 5. How do this Parshah and its commentators speak to the issue of violence committed by religious fundamentalists of various persuasions? Historical Note In Parshat Vayishlach, read on November 27, 2004, we learn of critical events in the life of Jacob's family: the birth of his youngest child, Benjamin; the death of his beloved Rachel in childbirth; Simeon and Levi's response to an assault on their sister Dinah. On November 27, 1978, President Jimmy Carter, addressing a Mormon Church gathering, stated: "a family is a mutual improvement society."

PARASHAT VAYESHEV
December 4, 2004 - 21 Kislev 5765 Annual: Genesis Genesis 37:1-40:23 (Etz Hayim, p. 226; Hertz p. 141) Triennial Cycle: Genesis 37:1-37:36 (Etz Hayim, p. 226; Hertz p. 141) Haftarah: Amos 2:6 - 3:8 (Etz Hayim, p. 247; Hertz p. 152) Prepared by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Jacob shows marked favoritism toward his beloved son Joseph, provoking the bitter resentment and envy of his brothers. Their hate for Joseph is compounded by his habit of reporting unfavorably on their behavior to their father. Jacob presents Joseph with a "coat of many colors" (sometimes translated as "ornamented" or "ankle-length" tunic). Joseph describes his dreams to his brothers: their sheaves of grain bowing to his; the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing to him. The brothers' disdain for their privileged and ambitious brother is further inflamed. Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers, who are pasturing flocks at Shechem. Upon Joseph's approach, the resentful brothers conspire to kill him, but at Reuben's behest they modify their plan, agreeing to throw him into a pit. Reuben intends to return to the pit in order to rescue Joseph. Before he can effect Joseph's safe escape, however, the brothers further modify their conspiracy. They sell Joseph to a caravan of traders, variously identified as Ishmaelites and Midianites. The traders subsequently sell Joseph into Egyptian slavery. To conceal their crime, the brothers dip the tunic, the very symbol of Joseph's favored status, in animal blood, and show it to Jacob as "evidence" of his beloved son's "demise." Jacob mourns Joseph's violent death: "A savage beast has devoured him!" In Egypt, Joseph is sold to Potiphar, Pharaoh's chief steward. The Joseph narrative is interrupted by the story of Judah and Tamar. Judah's son, Er, dies after displeasing God through an unspecified offense. Judah instructs a second son, Onan, to effect a levirate marriage with his widowed sister-in-law Tamar. Under this arrangement, Onan's children by Tamar would be counted as Er's offspring. Onan impedes conception of an heir to his brother, giving rise to the term "onanism." Onan also dies for his sin. Judah procrastinates effecting a levirate union between Tamar and his youngest son, Shelah, fearing for his life. Some time later, Judah is widowed. He travels to Timnah, where Tamar contrives to meet him. Disguised as a prostitute, and veiled so as effectively to conceal her identity, Tamar arranges a liaison with her father-in-law Judah who does not recognize her. He leaves a staff and signet with her as promise of payment. Tamar, still incognito, disappears with Judah's "collateral" before

payment is made. Tamar conceives twins through her union with Judah. When her pregnancy becomes apparent, Judah assumes she has conducted an illicit affair and orders her killed. When she produces his staff and signet, he finally understands that he has been duped into effecting a levirate marriage of sorts: "She is more righteous than I!" Perez and Zerah are subsequently born of their union. The narrative returns to Joseph in Egypt, where he rises to high position as major domo in Potiphar's household. Joseph repeatedly repels sexual advances by Potiphar's wife. She claims Joseph has assaulted her, showing a garment she seized from him as "evidence" (in a striking parallel to the false evidence used by his brothers to document his alleged death). Joseph is imprisoned by a furious Potiphar. In prison, Joseph interprets dreams for two fellow inmates, the royal cupbearer and baker. He accurately foretells their restoration to office and execution, respectively - fates both meted out at a celebration of Pharaoh's birthday. Despite Joseph's pleas for his intervention and advocacy, the cupbearer, restored to his position, forgets Joseph's cause. Theme #1: "Cloak and Dagger" "Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he made him a coat of many colors. And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him." (Genesis 37:3-4) Derash: Study
• •

"Israel loved Joseph above all his sons, for he was a wise child." (Targum Onkelos) "This passage is paradigmatic of the People Israel's entire future. Joseph, the son loved by his father above all his brothers, was forced to leave his father and homeland in the prime of his life, and was cast into another land among a degenerate people. Every effort was expended to obliterate any trace of him. But what happened? Quite the opposite: all his experiences conspired to elevate him to the highest peak of success. He provided for the various nations during time of famine, and even his brothers themselves - who had heaped shame, pain, and suffering on Joseph - later bowed low to him. So it will be with our poor, persecuted People in the future, the anger and cruelty perpetrated against our People in the lands of our dispersion will all work toward our ascendancy and good fortune." (Chafetz Chaim) "for he was the child of his old age." The explanation is a little odd, both because the fact that Joseph is the son of the beloved Rachel is unmentioned and because it is the last-born Benjamin who is the real child of Jacob's old age." (Robert Alter, Genesis) "Hated: Such a violent emotion nevertheless has once before (with Lea in 29:31) led not to disaster but to the fulfillment of the divine plan." (Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses)

Questions for Discussion: 1. How does Joseph's status as his father's favorite relate to the history of Jewish suffering and Anti-Semitism, to which (according to the Chafetz Chaim) his life is so analogous? 2. What other details of Joseph's life find parallels in the historic experience of the Jewish People? 3. The Targum's characterization of Joseph as wise seems inconsistent with his ill-advised bravado and awkward alienation of his brothers. How would his perceived wisdom or intellect have occasioned his father's favoritism? His brothers' hatred? How does this relate to the statement of the Chafetz Chaim? 4. Fox notes that hate sometimes advances God's plan. Can hatred itself be an intrinsic part of the divine plan? Can hatred be God's will? Theme #2: "Foreign Trade Imbalance" "When Midianite traders passed by, they pulled Joseph up out of the pit. They sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who brought Joseph to Egypt." (Genesis 37:28) Derash: Study

• •

"They took him out of the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites, and the Ishmaelites to the Midianites, and the Midianites to the Egyptians." (Rashi) Midianites are called Ishmaelites." (Ibn Ezra) "While the brothers were discussing selling him to the Ishmaelites, but before the Ishmaelites arrived, Midianite merchants passed by, to whom the brothers sold him. The Midianites drew him out of the pit. While they were doing this, the Ishmaelites came along, and the Midianites sold him to the Ishmaelites, the Ishmaelites to the Medanites, and the Medanites (see verse 36 - JHP) to Pharaoh - a total of four sales." (Hizkuni) "This is the one single moment when the two literary strands out of which the story is woven seem awkwardly spliced. Up to this point, no Midianites have been mentioned." (Robert Alter, Genesis) "The story's ambiguity concerning the natural or human chain of events that led to Joseph's servitude in Egypt throws into bolder relief the actual 'cause' of Joseph's fate. By blurring the human factors leading to the enslavement of Joseph, the narrative sharpens our image of the divine factor in bringing it about.It is not crucial to our understanding of the story whether the brothers sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites or the Midianites stole him. It is important, rather, to perceive that the descent of Joseph to Egypt and his subsequent rise to power there reveal divine providence in history." (Edward Greenstein) "In everyday language chaos is synonymous with randomness, making people contrast it with ordered behavior, and thus think of some kind of precarious balance between opposites. But its scientific usage is quite different; there, the term masks the fact that chaotic dynamics is quite

exquisitely organized." (Peter Coveney, Roger Highfield, Frontiers of Complexity) Questions for Discussion: 1. According to Greenstein, confusing and conflicting narrative details shift our focus to the divine. To what other seemingly inconsistent biblical texts might this principle be applied? Compare, for example, the differing sequence of events in the Creation stories of the first and second chapters of Genesis. 2. Does Greenstein's reading assume an artful and purposeful author? Is it consistent with Alter's "awkwardly spliced" strands of conflicting literary sources? How does Ibn Ezra's (apparently apologetic) defense of the verse's literary integrity impact on these approaches to the text? 3. As in "the science of complexity," Genesis also describes beauty and order emerging from chaos. How is Joseph's descent into Egypt preparing the way for a new "Creation?" 4. What is the significance of Jacob's favorite son being sold into foreign servitude by descendants of Ishmael - a son who was himself rejected and exiled to likely death to protect the interests of a younger brother? Historical Note On December 4, 1783, George Washington delivered his famous farewell address to his officers in downtown New York: "With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable." Parshat Vayeshev, read on December 4, 2004, makes it clear that Joseph took leave of his brothers under very different circumstances! Persevering through further adversity yet to come, Joseph in time attains prosperity and happiness, glory and honor in Egypt, and "in the hearts of his countrymen."

PARASHAT MIKETZ - FIFTH HANUKKAH CANDLE - BIRKAT HAHODESH
December 11, 2004 - 28 Kislev 5765 Annual: Genesis Genesis 41:1-44:17 (Etz Hayim, p. 250; Hertz p. 155) Triennial Cycle: Genesis 41:1-41:52 (Etz Hayim, p. 250; Hertz p. 155) Maftir: Numbers 7:36 - 41 (Etz Hayim, p. 808; Hertz p. 598) Haftarah: Zehariah 2:14 - 4:7 (Etz Hayim, p. 1270; Hertz p. 987) Prepared by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Pharaoh is disturbed by dreams his advisors are unable to interpret: seven fat, healthy cows consumed by seven lean and sickly cows, with no affect on the latter; seven solid, wholesome ears of corn, consumed by seven wilted, malformed ears. Pharaoh's cupbearer remembers Joseph and his ability accurately to interpret dreams. Joseph, released from prison and brought before Pharaoh, insists the dreams are a divine portent of seven years of plenty, to be followed by seven years of famine. He advises Pharaoh to appoint "a man of discernment and wisdom" to oversee conservation of Egypt's resources in preparation for the coming famine. Pharaoh appoints Joseph, granting him all but unlimited power over Egypt. Joseph orders the collection of grain in vast quantities. During this period, he marries Asenath, daughter of Poti-phera, priest of On. Two sons are born: Manasseh and Ephraim. Their names reflect the dramatic changes of fortune in Joseph's life. Jacob instructs his sons to travel to Egypt to acquire provisions. Ten sons go to Egypt, leaving Benjamin with Jacob. Upon their arrival, the brothers are recognized by Joseph, though they do not recognize him. Joseph treats his brothers harshly, accusing them of being spies. Hearing them describe their family background, Joseph insists they bring their youngest brother to Egypt, to demonstrate the veracity of their defense. He imprisons the brothers, releasing all but Simeon on the condition that they return with Benjamin. Joseph orders that the brothers be given grain and provisions for their journey home. He also secretly has their money returned. Finding the money, they fear they will be accused of theft. Arriving home, the brothers recount their experiences to Jacob, explaining Simeon's predicament and the need to return to Egypt with Benjamin. Jacob laments the prospect of losing his youngest son. The continuing famine in time impels Jacob to send his sons back to Egypt. Judah takes personal responsibility for Benjamin's safety, and receives Jacob's blessing. The brothers

bring gifts and the mysteriously restored money back to Egypt, to be presented to Joseph, whose true identity remains concealed. Received generously, they are brought to Joseph's home for a feast. Joseph greets his "guests," asking about "their" father's well-being and greeting Benjamin. Joseph, overcome by emotion, briefly absents himself. Several hints as to Joseph's identity go unheeded: he is served food apart from other Egyptians, in keeping with particularistic Egyptian taboos; Benjamin is given especially generous portions; Joseph has his brothers seated in age order. The brothers depart with generous amounts of grain. In a final test, Joseph orders his silver goblet planted in Benjamin's sack. The departing brothers are "arrested" and returned to Egypt. The Parshah concludes with a "cliff-hanger." Judah and his brothers claim their innocence, but submit themselves to Joseph's judgment as his slaves. Joseph insists: "Only he in whose possession the goblet was found shall be my slave; the rest of you go back in peace to your father." Theme #1: "From Nice Boy to Viceroy" "And Pharaoh said to his courtiers, 'Could we find another like him, a man in whom is the spirit of God?'" (Genesis 41:38) Derash: Study
• • •

"The spirit of God: the divine gift of prophecy." (Targum Onkelos) "'In whom is the spirit of God' in the interpretation of dreams. All the more so as regards worldly affairs of state." (Rashbam) "This advice was prompted from beginning to end by the Holy Spirit. The prophet cannot restrain his prophecy and must unburden himself." (Abarbanel) "Joseph said all this so that Pharaoh would select him, for a wise man looks out for himself (literally, 'his eyes are in his head' - JHP)." (Nahmanides) "Joseph proclaims the omnipotence of God at all times, in the midst of an idolatrous world, emphasizing against Whom man sins, Who interprets dreams, Who foretells that which is to come and Who brings things to pass. All this Joseph achieves not by a lecture or a discourse but by the rhetoric device of repetition. In the end, even Pharaoh took the hint and thus he answered: 'Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the spirit of God is?'" (Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Genesis) "What makes Joseph a religious figure worthy of a quarter of Genesis? Who could be more religious? To the seductress, fellow prisoners, Pharaoh, he spoke of God. He regarded dreams as divine orders. He made sure all eleven brothers bowed to him, fulfilling his youthful vision, before revealing himself. He forgave them for selling him, because 'it was not you that sent me here, but God'. And that style of religiosity is what irks. Who needs this overweening talk of God before the unbelievers, this certainty he knows God's plan, this erasing of human responsibility? Who

needs a man willing to serve Pharaoh because he's sure he is serving God?" (Gershom Gorenberg, Seventy Facets) Questions for Discussion: 1. Is Joseph's advice to Pharaoh - which occasions his elevation to high office - a prophetic revelation he is compelled to deliver - or shameless self-promotion in the "spirit" of his boastful youth? Is his unbridled ambition merely an instrument of God's plan? 2. Gorenberg criticizes Joseph for forgiving his brothers. Was Joseph in moral error? For what sins should human forgiveness not be given? 3. Gorenberg also points out that Joseph waited to reveal his identity until after his brothers had fulfilled his vision by bowing down to him. Had he revealed his identity earlier and kept his brothers from bowing, would the divine quality of his dreams have been impugned? Did Joseph's delay demonstrate a lack of faith? 4. To what extent is it constructive or desirable to speak repeatedly of God to unbelievers? To skeptics? To fellow Jews? To our loved ones? 5. Through what qualities, actions, and attitudes do we perceive "the spirit of God" in the people we encounter? Theme #2: "Flooded by Memories or Swimming in Denial?" "Joseph became the father of two sons, whom Asenath daughter of Poti-phera, priest of On, bore to him. Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, meaning, 'God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home.' And the second he named Ephraim, meaning, 'God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction.'" (Genesis 41:50-52) Derash: Study

"Manasseh is named for forgetfulness. Joseph names his first-born son for the alienation that he experiences from his native culture. There is, of course, a brutal quality to situations in which sheer survival overrides all other considerations; the question of physical and cultural survival, with their implicit tensions, engages Joseph to the depths of his being. He names Manasseh for that tension. Ephraim, his second son, is also named out of Joseph's passionate concern with survival. The paradoxical thrust is palpable: fruitfulness and affliction are inseparable in Joseph's life." (Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Beginning of Desire) "His outer garb, his changed name, his marriage to a daughter of the High Priest of Re, and his mastery of the Egyptian language were all calculated to make him outwardly indistinguishable from his fellow Egyptians. Although they could not accept Joseph wholeheartedly as their equal, he was yet, apparently, so thoroughly satisfied with his situation that he preferred not to be reminded of his past. He expresses this most clearly in the names he gives to his two sons." (Nahum Sarna, Understanding Genesis) "'God has made me forget.' The forgetting, of course, was only on the surface, in his everyday existence. His past would not and could not go

away. He would have been more than human if he did not think how some day he would let his brothers know of his great position, put them to shame, and arouse their envy." (W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah) "Genesis makes it possible for us to be critical of Joseph even as it chronicles his career. In showing us his prominence, it also shows us his emptiness. In the names of his sons we hear his pain and his denial. He is a man who wills himself to forget his afflictions, but he cannot fail to remember his hardships each time he regards his sons. As readers we are privy to the loneliness that comes with his enormous temporal success." (Peter Pitzele, Our Fathers' Wells)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Both Joseph and Moses marry the daughters of foreign priests. What is significant about this fact? What else do Moses and Joseph have in common? 2. Compare the names Joseph gives his sons to the names Moses gives his sons - Gershom and Eliezer (See Exodus 18:3-4). 3. Is it accurate to describe Joseph as alienated from his native culture? How is Joseph true to the mission of the Patriarchs? 4. Joseph is an assimilated Jew, immersed in a non-Jewish (non-Israelite) culture, yet acts decisively to assure Jewish survival. Where else in Biblical and later Jewish history does this pattern recur? 5. Is Joseph in denial toward enduring disappointments in his life? Or do his sons' names suggest that he is fully cognizant of past adversity… and has assimilated these unhappy memories into his personality to become a productive, successful "survivor?" Historical Note Parshat Miketz, in which we read of Joseph's elevation to royal office, and of his marriage to Asenath, is read on December 11, 2004. On December 11, 1936, Edward VIII of Britain announced his abdication of the throne in order to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson. Just as Joseph's ascendancy was a providential step in the survival of his people during a time of national emergency, Edward's abdication fortuitously permitted his brother - widely recognized as more "a man of discernment and wisdom" than he - to guide Britain through World War II.

PARASHAT VAYIGASH
December 18, 2004 - 6 Tevet 5765 Annual: Genesis Genesis 44:18-47:27 (Etz Hayim, p. 274; Hertz p. 169) Triennial Cycle: Genesis 44:18-45:27 (Etz Hayim, p. 274; Hertz p. 169) Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15 - 28 (Etz Hayim, p. 291; Hertz p. 178) Prepared by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Judah delivers an impassioned appeal to Joseph on behalf of Benjamin, offering personally to submit to slavery in his youngest brother's stead. He does so, he says, both to spare Benjamin, for whom he has pledged his personal responsibility, and to spare his father further grief. Joseph is moved to tears by his brother's selfless and eloquent appeal. Dismissing all but his brothers from his presence, Joseph finally reveals his identity, immediately inquiring about his father's well-being. He attributes his sale into slavery at his brothers' hands to Providence. Embracing his brothers, he instructs them to return to Canaan and to return with Jacob, to settle in Egypt. News of Joseph's reunion with his brothers spreads to Pharaoh and his court. The brothers, supplied with wagons and provisions, return home and inform Jacob that his beloved son is still alive and has risen to high office in Egypt. On the return trip to Egypt, God appears to Jacob in a vision and assures him that descending to Egypt is the proper course, while not indicating the enslavement which is his nation's destiny. The seventy Israelites taking up residence in Egypt are enumerated. Joseph is tearfully reunited with Jacob. He reports his family's arrival to Pharaoh, to whom he introduces them. Jacob has a private audience with Pharaoh, to whom he articulates the personal adversity he has long endured. Joseph's brothers, against his express instructions, inform Pharaoh that they are shepherds. Joseph settles his families in Goshen - setting the stage for future events. Despite his generous treatment of his family, Joseph is ruthless in his economic administration of Egypt. After depleting the financial resources of Pharaoh's subjects through the sale of grain and food under his control, he proceeds to take their livestock in exchange for supplies, and finally usurps their only remaining material resource, their land. Joseph leaves privately owned land only in the possession of the priesthood. Having secured a royal monopoly on both Egypt's land and livestock for Pharaoh, Joseph imposed further economic duties on the populace: one fifth of each harvest is owed to Pharaoh. Deprived of private land and livestock, and impoverished through the sale of grain over which Joseph had exercised such visionary but shrewd control, the Egyptians are nevertheless thankful for

surviving the famine: "You have saved our lives! We are grateful to our lord, and we shall be serfs to Pharaoh." The Parshah concludes by contrasting an impoverished Egyptian populace under a despotic regime with the growing prosperity of Israel: "They acquired holdings in [Goshen], and were fertile and increased greatly." This description anticipates the opening of the Book of Exodus, and the ethnic tensions that occasioned Israelite enslavement. Theme #1: "Moving Magnanimity" "Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father unless the boy is with me? Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father!" (Genesis 44:33-34) Derash: Study

"What does this resemble? A deep pit into which no one could climb down. Then a clever person came and brought a long rope that reached down to the water within, so he could draw from it. So was Joseph deep, and Judah came to draw from him." (Tanhuma Yashan) "Everything Judah said in his brothers' presence brought comfort to Joseph, comfort to his brothers, and comfort to Benjamin." (Yalkut Shimoni) "The word eved, slave or bondman, occurs thirteen times in the oration, and twice in the above verse, underlining their humble posture in front of the powerful ruler." (Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Genesis) "The pathos and beauty of Judah's plea on behalf of Benjamin have retained their appeal to man's heart throughout the ages. Sir Walter Scott called it 'the most complete pattern of genuine natural eloquence extant in any language'. The spirit of self-sacrifice which Judah's speech reveals, offering to remain as a slave in Benjamin's place, has its parallel in the life-story of Moses, who besought God to blot out his name from the Book of Life, unless his people, Israel, is saved with him [Exodus xxxii:32]." (Joseph H. Hertz) "This offer marks Judah as a man of exceptional character. He speaks for himself and also for his brothers; he speaks in accents of love and not sibling hatred." (W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah) "This of course stands in stark contrast to his willingness years before to watch his father writhe in anguish over Joseph's supposed death. The entire speech is at once a moving piece of rhetoric and the expression of a profound inner change." (Robert Alter, Genesis) "What pours out in Judah's address to Joseph is a vein of such pure feeling - pure in its contrition, pure in its sense of filial respect and sibling responsibility, and pure in its selflessness - that it breaks down Joseph's theatrical spell and precipitates his own unmasking." (Peter Pitzele, Our Fathers' Wells)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Was Judah's speech actually necessary? What would Joseph have done had none of the brothers intervened on Benjamin's behalf? 2. What accounts for Judah's strength of character in this situation? Why is it significant that it was Judah, and not another brother, who acted so decisively? 3. What element in Judah's appeal was determinative in moving Joseph? Judah's manifest personal growth? Joseph's love for Benjamin? Jacob's pain? Joseph's own dramatic change in fortune? Sincere belief that all was part of a divine plan? Joseph's own need for "closure?" Remorse at his own youthful errors and at the fear he had again brought to his brothers? Grief at the sibling relationships of which he had so long been deprived? The newfound unity among his brothers? 4. Is the Tanhuma's comparison of Joseph to a deep pit of all but inaccessible water complimentary? Is it supported by the Biblical account? Theme #2: "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" "Pharaoh asked Jacob, 'How many are the years of your life?' And Jacob answered Pharaoh, 'The years of my sojourn [on earth] are one hundred and thirty. Few and hard have been the years of my life, nor do they come up to the life-spans of my fathers during their sojourn.'" (Genesis 47:8-9) Derash: Study

"Few and hard have been the years of my life, from my youth on the run from my brother Esau, and my settling in a land not my own, and now in my old age I have come down to settle here." (Targum Yerushalmi) "'Few and hard.' Since Jacob appeared older than his years to Pharaoh, when he asked him, 'How many are the years of your life,' Jacob answered him, 'They are few, but they have been difficult, and thus I appear older than I actually am.'" (Rashbam) "When Pharaoh shows a courteous interest in his visitor's venerable age, Jacob counters with a modest disclaimer: his stay on earth, on borrowed time, may appear to have been impressive in length, but it has really been brief and insubstantial." (A.E. Speiser, Anchor Bible Genesis) "Jacob answers Pharaoh's quantitative question qualitatively as well and speaks of the essential tragedy and transitoriness of his years." (W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah) "One measure of the profound moral realism of the story is that although [Jacob] gets everything he wanted, it is not in the way he would have wanted, and the consequence is far more pain than contentment. He displaces Esau, but only at the price of fear and lingering guilt and long exile. He gets Rachel, but only by having Leah imposed on him, with all the domestic strife that entails, and he loses Rachel early in childbirth. He is given a new name by his divine adversary, but comes away with a permanent wound. He gets twelve sons, but there is enmity among them, and he spends twenty-two years continually grieving over his favorite son,

who he believes is dead. This is, in sum, a story with a happy ending that withholds any simple feeling of happiness at the end." (Robert Alter, Genesis) Questions for Discussion: 1. What is the significance in the eponymic founder of Israel leading a life so filled with adversity? How might Jews seeking meaning outside the history of Jewish suffering view this Patriarch? 2. Why does Jacob choose to open himself up so emotionally to Pharaoh? How might he have expected the Egyptian ruler to have reacted? 3. For what misfortunes in Jacob's life does he bear a measure of personal responsibility? 4. Even at this stage of Biblical history, is it fair to term a life-span of 130 years (even if they are difficult) as "few?" What does this say about Jacob's inner life? (Note that Jacob lives to the age of 147) Historical Note Parshat Vayigash, in which Judah offers himself as a slave at the dramatic climax of a protracted conflict that has pitted brother against brother, is read on December 18, 2004. It was on December 18, 1865 that the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, prohibiting slavery, was adopted in the aftermath of the Civil War, a similarly fratricidal tragedy.

PARASHAT VAYEHI
December 25, 2004 - 13 Tevet 5765 Annual: Genesis Genesis 47:28-50:26 (Etz Hayim, p. 293; Hertz p. 180) Triennial Cycle: Genesis 47:28-48:22 (Etz Hayim, p. 293; Hertz p. 180) Haftarah: I Kings 2:1 - 12 (Etz Hayim, p. 313; Hertz p. 191) Prepared by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Parshat Vayehi marks the conclusion of the Book of Genesis - the "end of the beginning." We are informed that Jacob lives in Egypt for seventeen years, forming a symmetry in his life: he enjoyed seventeen years with his beloved son Joseph before the latter's "departure." As Jacob's life draws to a close, he secures a commitment from Joseph to bury him "with my ancestors" in Canaan. Joseph brings his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh to receive their grandfather's blessing. Though Joseph positions them carefully, so that the elder, Manasseh is at Jacob's right hand, Jacob crosses his arms, placing his right hand on the younger Ephraim and - despite Joseph's objections -- invoking his name before the first-born. Jacob blesses Joseph: "God will be with you and will bring you back to the land of your fathers." Apparently continuing the pattern of favoritism which lead to such adversity in both their lives, Jacob informs Joseph, "I give you one portion more than to your brothers." From his deathbed, Jacob recites poetic blessings and personalized messages of remonstrance to each of his sons. Before succumbing, Jacob repeats his instructions to bury him in his ancestral plot in the cave of Machpelah, purchased by Abraham. Joseph weeps bitterly at his father's passing, and instructs Egyptian physicians to embalm his body in preparation for its return to Canaan. Egypt observes seventy days of official mourning in deference to Joseph's father. Joseph secures Pharaoh's permission to accompany his father's remains to their final resting place. Jacob's sons carry him to Machpelah and observe a seven day period of mourning. With Jacob gone, Joseph's brothers fear he will seek revenge for their offenses against him. They inform him of Jacob's instructions that he forgive them - although the reader of the Bible has no corroboration that Jacob actually made such a statement! Joseph assures them that they need not fear: "Although you intended me harm, God intended it for good. Fear not. I will sustain you and your children." Joseph lives to see great-grandchildren. Before dying at the age of 110, Joseph

secures a promise from his brothers to "carry up my bones from here" when God, in time, returns their descendants to the Promised Land. Theme #1: "Grandfather Knows Best" "So he blessed them that day, saying, 'By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.' Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh." (Genesis 48:20) Derash: Study
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"In order to bless Joseph, out of his love for him, Jacob blessed his sons." (Ramban) "Even though Jacob had set Ephraim, the younger son, before Manasseh, the first-born, Ephraim did not become arrogant and Manasseh did not become jealous. Seeing this, Jacob expressed the hope that all the Children of Israel would be like Ephraim and Manasseh, free of arrogance and envy." (Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, Igra deKallah) "Jacob's blessing of Ephraim over Manasseh had nothing to do with their ages and everything to do with their names. Knowing that these were the first two children of his family to be born in exile, knowing too that the exile would be prolonged and at times difficult and dark, Jacob sought to signal to all future generations that there would be a constant tension between the desire to forget (to assimilate, acculturate, anaesthetize the hope of a return) and the promptings of memory (the knowledge that this is 'exile,' that we are part of another story, that ultimate home is somewhere else). The child of forgetting (Manasseh - see Genesis 41:51) may have blessings. But greater are the blessings of a child (Ephraim - see Genesis 41:52) who remembers the past and future of which he is a part." (Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of Great Britain) "Oddly, (in the traditional parental blessing) boys are not encouraged to be like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: "May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh' is our prayer for our sons. The people whose lives were touched directly by Abraham may not have felt so blessed. Sarah struggled during her life with Abraham. Hagar… was shunned by her mistress and exiled to the wilderness. Isaac was almost sacrificed by his own father. So was Abraham really such a blessing to those around him in his own generation? Perhaps the blessings Abraham brings are his gifts to future generations. Abraham's legacy is evident in the promise of his descendants Ephraim and Manasseh, two boys he never met. Their existence ensures the continuation of the covenant between Abraham and his God. When we bless our own children by asking God to make our children like Ephraim and Manasseh, we express the hope that our children will be allowed to grow into their own blessings." (Rabbi Sharon Forman)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Ephraim and Manasseh were Diaspora Jews, born to a profoundly assimilated father and a mother who had grown up as the daughter of an Egyptian priest! What did Jacob have in mind by initiating a pattern of Jewish blessing invoking their example? 2. Prior to Jacob's arrival in Egypt, Ephraim and Manasseh's maternal grandfather, Poti-phera, priest of On, may well have had a longer and more formative relationship with his grandsons! How might this have impacted Jacob's approach to them? 3. Is Jacob's prescribed form of Israelite blessing, as Rabbi Forman suggests, an indictment of Abraham - and perhaps even Isaac? What else might have motivated Jacob's choice? 4. Why are the Matriarchs - Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah - invoked in the traditional blessing of daughters? How does this liturgical practice relate to the interpretation of Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov (there was certainly envy between Rachel and Leah,and arguably, arrogance in Sarah's treatment of Hagar)? 5. In addition to the formulaic Shabbat blessing derived from this passage, parents are free to articulate their own personalized message. What blessings do we want for our children? Do we verbalize them adequately? What are the blessings that, as adults, we recognize as the legacy of our parents and grandparents? Were they articulated explicitly or systematically? How will our own legacy be perceived by future generations? 6. According to the Parshah, Joseph had a special relationship with greatgrandchildren - the grandchildren born to Ephraim. What is the role and responsibility of grandparents in the lives, education, and Jewish experiences of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Theme #2:"Listen my children and you shall hear" "And Jacob called his sons and said, 'Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come.'" (Genesis 49:1) Derash: Study

"Jacob called his sons and said to them, 'Cleanse yourselves of impurity and I will reveal to you hidden secrets, and the unknown future, the reward awaiting the righteous, and the torment awaiting the evil, and the delights of paradise." (Targum Yerushalmi) "Until Jacob, there was no illness. Jacob came and asked for mercy, and illness came into being: Thus, a man grows ill before his death, so that he might instruct his household." (Talmud, Baba Metzia 87-A; Rashi, ad loc.) "From the day the heavens and earth were created, no man was ever sick. Rather, one would be on the road or in the marketplace, and would sneeze, and his soul would depart through his nostrils. Until our Father Jacob came and asked God for mercy in this regard: Lord of the

Universe, do not take my soul from me until I am able to instruct my sons and the members of my household." (Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer, 52) "Jacob becomes conscious of approaching death, and communicates his final wishes to his children. In speaking to define a reality that he is about to leave, Jacob is unique among the patriarchs. His is, in fact, the only deathbed scene in Genesis, indeed in the whole Torah." (Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Beginning of Desire)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Jacob's blessings, admonitions, and instructions from his deathbed mark the beginning of the Jewish tradition of "ethical wills." Recognizing the fact of our own mortality, what values, goals, hopes, and guidance would we communicate to our loved ones and, in particular, our children and grandchildren? What is the most effective or meaningful way to communicate our message? 2. Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer describes Jacob's final illness as a welcome and merciful opportunity to gain new perspective and to pass on resulting wisdom. Is this a typical Jewish view of adversity? Why was physical decline necessary for Jacob to offer his "blessings?" 3. What is the significance of the "sneeze" which is purported by the Midrash to have marked departure of the soul? Does it represent the fragility of life? Our inability indefinitely to forestall death? What does Jacob do to modify or remedy this dramatic expression of our transitory existence? Historical Note Parshat Vayehi, comprising the final chapters of the Book of Genesis, is read on December 25, 2004. Our neighbors, celebrating the birth of the Christian savior on this date, Christmas, have traditionally traced his ancestry to King David, and through him to Judah. Christian faithful have, accordingly, linked their messianic belief in the "Prince of Peace" to Jacob's blessing in Genesis 49:10 -- "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, so that tribute shall come to him, and homage of peoples be his." A modern ruler of the Jewish State, Menachem Begin, met in Ismailia with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on this date, December 25, 1977, in hopes of bringing about a long awaited future of peace.

PARASHAT SHEMOT
January 1, 2005 - 20 Tevet 5765 Annual: Exodus 1:1-6:1 (Etz Hayim, p. 317; Hertz p. 206) Triennial Cycle: Exodus 1:1-2:25 (Etz Hayim, p. 317; Hertz p. 206) Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6 - 28:13; 29:22-23 (Etz Hayim, p. 343, 347; Hertz p. 225, 228) Prepared by Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Parshat Shemot sets the stage for the story of the Exodus. Having settled in Egypt, the Israelites become victims of Pharaoh's hatred. The king of Egypt oppresses the Israelites and sets task masters over them. When this does not stop their increase, he commands the midwives to kill the male Israelite children. But even this effort fails because we are told, the midwives "feared God" and refused to obey Pharaoh. In the end Pharaoh decrees that all the male children shall be drowned in the Nile. It is against this background that Moshe is born. No longer able to hide her new born baby, his mother places him in a basket in the river. Moshe is retrieved by Pharaoh's daughter who takes pity on the Hebrew child and saves him. Miriam, Moshe's older sister comes forward and offers to find a nursemaid for the infant - none other than Moshe's own mother! These courageous women serve to become role models for Moshe later in his life. Moshe grows up in the palace and as an adult he begins to realize his responsibility to his people. After killing an Egyptian who is beating an Israelite slave, Moshe flees from Egypt when he discovers that his secret is known. It is in Midian that he meets Jethro, marries his daughter Tzippora, and encounters the Burning Bush. Moshe is a reluctant leader as God tells him, "I will send you to Pharaoh and you shall free My people, the Israelites, from Egypt." Moshe is destined to be Israel's redeemer. Discussion Topic 1: What Does it Mean "To Fear God?" The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shifra and the other Puah, saying, "When you deliver the Hebrew women look at the birth stool. If it is a boy kill him; if it is a girl, let her live." The midwives, fearing God, did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live. (Exodus 1:15-16)

Derash: Study

"The praise of the midwives here goes beyond the praise given them in the first part of the verse. Not only did they not do what Pharaoh told them, but they even dared to do deeds of kindness for the children they saved. On behalf of poor mothers, the midwives would go to the houses of rich mothers and collect water and food, which they gave to the poor mothers and thus kept their children alive." (Exodus Rabbah) Shifrah - This is Yocheved (who is so called) because she made the children beautiful. (Shifra is similar to Mishaperet, to make beautiful. She cleaned up and made the children presentable after they were born). Puah - This is Miriam because she called aloud and spoke and murmured to the children who pacify the infant who cried. (Puah is similar to the word Pa'ah which means to cry aloud. (Rashi) "The phrase translated as "the fear of God" is closest the Torah comes to having a word for religion. The case of the midwives suggests that the essence of religion is not a belief in the existence of God or any other theological precept but a belief that certain things are wrong because God has built standards of moral behavior into the universe.The midwives not only believed in God but also understood that God demands a high level of moral behavior." (Etz Hayim Commentary Page 320)

Questions for Discussion: 1. When Pharaoh fails to reduce the Israelite population through oppression, he commands the midwives to kill the Israelite boys at the time of delivery. Why would the midwives' "fear of God" make them willing to save the Israelite boys despite Pharaoh's decree? Do you think they felt compelled (out of fear) or inspired (out of a sense of awe) to do so by their fear of God? 2. Fear of God does not necessarily mean to be afraid of God but to live in awe of God and therefore to obey him. What is the difference between fear and awe? What is the connection between awe and the expression, "Awesome?" 3. Rashi assumes that the midwives were actually Yocheved and Miriam, the mother and sister of Moshe. Some scholars believe that the midwives were not Jewish but righteous gentiles, similar to the non-Jews who risked their lives to hide and help Jews during the Holocaust. Which interpretation do you think is correct? Why? 4. Do you think that the righteous gentiles of the Holocaust were inspired by "fear of God?" If the midwives were Egyptian why were willing to risk their lives to save Jews? The Torah suggests that doing the right thing grows out of our belief and fear of God? Why else would someone act in a way which involves risk and maybe even some loss? 5. Have you ever experienced situations in which you felt compelled to act a certain way because you believed that there is "a higher authority?" Share such experiences with each other. What do you think about the idea that "God built certain standards of moral behavior in to the universe?" Discuss this and argue pro and con.

Discussion Theme 2: Accomplishing the Impossible The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe by the Nile while her servants walked along the Nile; she saw a basket among the reeds, and she sent forth her "Amah" and she took it. (Exodus 2:5) Derash: Study

The word Amata can be translated as, 1. her servant or 2. her arm. The sages explain Amah (an Amah is also a measure referred to as an arms length) as her arm; her amah stretched out from a single Amah to many "Amot," arms length in her effort to reach the basket. (In other words there was something miraculous in the way Pharaoh's daughter retrieved Moshe's Basket.) (Rashi) There are at least three different ways of translating the word Amah in this verse. Rashi is troubled not only by the use of this word, but also by the fact that the verse switches from Na'arot (plural word for servants) in the first half of the verse to Amata in the second half of the verse. Rashi's commentary is already reflected in the wall paintings in Dura Eropus in Syria, an ancient community in which a synagogue was excavated. On the walls of the synagogue a number of Biblical scenes are depicted. In one of them we see the daughter of Pharaoh reaching out with an abnormally long arm to reach baby Moshe. Pharaoh's daughter seems to have been unaware that something miraculous would happen when she reached out and her arm became extended. Why would she even try to reach the basket when it was so far away from her? We learn an important lesson from this: when a cry for help reaches a person, he should not stop to contemplate whether or not he can accomplish what needs to be done or whether he can reach his goal. First let him do whatever he can. If a person acts with a full heart and good intentions, God will help him and assist him to reach beyond his normal capabilities. It is not uncommon to hear people in synagogue life say, "We already tried that; it can't be done," or "We don't have the ability, resources, manpower to accomplish that?" What can we learn from the daughter of Pharaoh about reaching beyond our normal capacity? (Rabbi Isaac Kalisch of Worka) The sages said: The daughter of Pharaoh was stricken with leprosy; so she went down to the River. (She went down to the river to bathe because of the disease.) As soon as she touched the basket she was healed; therefore she took pity on Moshe and loved him even more. (Exodus Rabbah 1:27)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Why do you think the sages wished to depict Pharaoh's daughter as the subject of a miraculous act from God? What does this say about her behavior? To what extent is her decision her own and to what extent is she influenced by God's presence? 2. Can you think of situations in your own life when you were forced to stretch beyond your normal capacities? What doubts did you have? What

helped you overcome your own doubts? In what other situations do you think this might be true? 3. Does attitude really make such a big difference in how you act? What do you think motivated Pharaoh's daughter to retrieve Moshe's basket and to save him? Why do you think she and her servants were down by the river bank in the first place? 4. This Midrash suggests that touching Moshe's basket cured her disease. Instead of reading this Midrash literally, consider its message. What is the connection between helping and healing? How does serving others help us? How can it heal us when we are depressed or upset with life? Have you ever had this experience? Share examples with others of times when you have experienced this connection between helping and healing in your own life or in the life of other people you have known.

PARASHAT VAERA - BIRKAT HAHODESH
January 8, 2005 - 27 Tevet 5765 Annual: Ex. 6:2 - 9:35 (Etz Hayim, p. 351; Hertz p. 232) Triennial Cycle: Ex. 6:2 - 7:7 (Etz Hayim, p. 351; Hertz p. 232) Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25 - 29:21 (Etz Hayim, p. 369; Hertz p. 244) Prepared by Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary At the end of last week's Parshah Moshe is discouraged by his failed attempt to convince Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to take a brief holiday to worship the Lord. Not only does Pharaoh reject Moses' request, but he increases the work load which the Israelites must bear. Faced with Moshe's demands, Pharaoh asks, "Who is the Lord that I should heed him and let Israel go?" As this week's parshah opens, God brings a message of hope to Moshe and an answer to Pharaoh's question. As the Parshah continues we learn of the devastating plagues that God inflicts upon the Egyptians. Scholars have long analyzed the list of ten plagues to uncover hidden patterns and messages in their order. Maimonides and others point out that the plagues follow a definite pattern. There are three series of three plagues followed by the tenth and final plague, the death of the first born. In each series Pharaoh is warned of the plagues twice followed by the third plague which occurs without warning. This pattern suggests Pharaoh's free will as well as his accountability. Pharaoh refuses to heed God's warning during the first two plagues and is punished without warning during the third. As we read the plagues in synagogue what other patterns do you notice? Theme # 1: What's in a Name? God Spoke to Moses and Said to him: I am YHVH. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by my name YHVH. (Exodus 6:2-3) Derash: Study

The letters, YHVH, is an attempt to capture the four Hebrew letters of God's formal name, Yud-hay-vav-hay. We usually pronounce this name as Adonai or Hashem. This is based on using the Hebrew letters in conjunction with the vowels which vocalize the word "Elohim." We no longer know how the tetragrammaton, the four letter name of God, was originally pronounced by the high priest in the ancient Temple. The name "Jehovah," as in Jehovah's Witnesses is an attempt to transliterate this name of God.

'I did not make myself known' is not written here but 'I was not known;' (God says:) I was not recognized by the Patriarchs by My attribute of faithfulness because of which my name is called YHVH, denoting faithful to fulfill my words, for I have made promises to them and I have not yet fulfilled them. (Rashi) What, then, does the phrase "I did not make Myself known" mean? In the ancient world names in general and the name of god in particular, possessed dynamic quality and served to express character, attributes, and power. The names of gods were identified with their nature, status and function. Thus to say, "I did not make Myself known to them by My name," is to state that the Patriarchs did not experience the specific power that is associated with the name YHVH. That power - to be displayed in the coming power of redemption -- belongs to the future. (Etz Hayim Commentary on Exodus 6:3) There are dozens of different names for God in the Bible and the later Jewish tradition. Here are just a few of the many names which we find in our literature and prayers: o Elohaynu V'elohay Avotaynu - Our God and God of our ancestors o HaKadosh Baruch Hu - The Holy One blessed be He o HaRachaman - The Merciful One o Aveenu Shebashamayim - Our Father in Heaven o Oseh Shalom Bimormav - The One who makes peace in the heavens o Hashem - literally "The Name" The name used for God by many traditional Jews in order to avoid taking God's name in vain o Tzur Yisrael - Rock of Israel o Adon Olam - Master of the Universe or Master of the World or Eternal Master (depending on the translation) o Roi - My Shepherd o Shechina - The Indwelling Presence of God; in Jewish Mysticism this name is used to describe the 'feminine' aspect of God in contrast to the 'Holy One blessed be He,' the masculine aspect of God.

Questions for Discussion: 1. The opening section of Va-era has a great deal to say about the names of God. At first glance it would appear that Moses is learning something that the Patriarch's did not know. Yet the four letter name of God is used frequently in the earlier chapters of the Bible. So what has God revealed to Moses by telling him that his name is YHVH that the Patriarchs did not know? 2. How does Rashi understand this verse? What does he mean when he speaks of God's attribute of faithfulness? How is the God of Genesis different from the God of Exodus? 3. >Look at the list of names of God taken from the Bible, prayer book and our tradition. Which of these names appeals to you? Why? How do they reflect your personal beliefs about God? 4. All Hebrew words are either masculine or feminine. Should we refer to God with names that are masculine or feminine? How should a translator

of the prayer book deal with this problem today? If you were writing your own prayer what would you call God? Theme # 2: Showing Gratitude And the Lord said to Moses, "Say to Aaron: Take your rod and hold out your arm over the waters of Egypt - its rivers, its canals, its ponds, all its bodies of water - that they may turn to blood; there shall be blood throughout the land of Egypt, even in its vessels of wood and stone. (Exodus 7:19) Derash: Study

And the Lord said to Moses, "Say to Aaron: (Exodus 7:19) R. Tanchum taught: Why did not Moses smite the waters? Because God said: 'It is not proper that the waters which protected you when you were placed in the river should now be smitten by you. No, they shall be smitten by none but Aaron.' (Shemot Rabbah 9:10) Moses was protected by the waters of the Nile River when, as an infant, his mother put him in a wicker basket and placed him in the river in order to protect him from the Egyptian official who came to kill the Israelites male infants. It was inappropriate that the river that had protected Moses should now be punished by him. If it is wrong for us to show ingratitude to an inanimate object, how much more so when dealing with our fellow human beings! Why did God begin by bringing the plague of blood upon the Egyptians? Because Pharaoh and the Egyptians worshiped the Nile. Therefore the Holy One said to Moses, "Go, and in their very presence smite their gods," in accord with the saying "When idols are smashed, their priests are abashed." God will not punish a people until He first punishes its gods. "Over their rivers" (Exodus 7:19): wherever there was water, it turned into blood. "And over all its bodies of water" (ibid.): even water that was in a kettle turned into blood. Even what an Egyptian spit out of his mouth turned into blood, asis said, "And there shall be blood throughout all of Egypt" (ibid.). (Shemot Rabbah 9:10) Mankind will not perish for want of information, but only for want of appreciation. (Abraham Joshua Heschel)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Some of the plagues were carried out by Aaron, some by Moses, and some by God. According to the Midrash, why did Aaron and not Moses inflict the first plague upon the Egyptians? A similar comment to the Midrash above is made about the third plague, Kinnim or Lice. Moses causes lice by throwing a handful of "the dust of the earth" into the sky. How did the dust of the earth protect Moses earlier in his life? (Hint - See Exodus 2:12) Review all of the plagues and see which plagues were carried out by Aaron, which by Moses and which were a joint effort. Is there a pattern to the plagues? 2. What other reason may explain why God singled out the Nile River as the object of the first plague. What did the Nile symbolize to the people of

Egypt and how did this fit with the overall purpose of the plagues? The second Midrash above suggests that the first plague affected not only the Nile but every body of water in Egypt. What is it about the verse that led the sages to suggest this particular interpretation of the Biblical verse? 3. How does Judaism institutionalize the expression of gratitude? Look at the list of blessings called Birchot Hashachar with which we begin the daily service (Sim Shalom, Page 1). What type of things are we supposed to be grateful for? How do you express gratitude in your daily life? 4. Make a list of things for which you are grateful. Which of them already has a traditional Berachah? Make up a blessing for those for which there is no blessing. Glossary

Rashi -- Rabbi Shimon Yitzhaki, (1040-1105 CE) considered the greatest of the commentators on the Bible in the middle Ages.of the plagues and see which plagues were carried out by Aaron, which by Moses and which were a joint effort. Is there a pattern to the plagues? Shemot Rabbah - The second part of a ten volume collection of Midrashic homilies collected in the fifth and sixth centuries covering the five books of Moses and the five Megillot (scrolls).of the plagues and see which plagues were carried out by Aaron, which by Moses and which were a joint effort. Is there a pattern to the plagues? Birchot Hashachar - An opening passage made up of fifteen blessings which recite as part of the daily Shacharit Service. Originally these blessings were recited at home as part of the daily regimen (waking up, getting out of bed, stretching, putting on clothes, etc.)

PARASHAT BO
January 15, 2005 - 5 Shevat 5765 Annual: Ex. 10:1 - 13:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 374; Hertz p. 248) Triennial Cycle: Ex. 10:1 - 11:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 374; Hertz p. 248) Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13 - 28 (Etz Hayim, p. 395; Hertz p. 263) Prepared by Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary The devastation in Egypt was complete. Nothing like it had ever been seen before nor would the people of Egypt witness such suffering again. With each plague the Egyptians became convinced that the God of Israel was far more powerful than their gods. The courtiers of Egypt told Pharaoh, "How long shall this one be a snare to us? Let the men go and worship the Lord their God! Are you not aware that Egypt is lost?" Pharaoh's irrational obstinacy, however, has become absolute. It was as if God himself refused to let Pharaoh change his mind. As Parshat Bo opens we read about the final plagues: locust, darkness, and finally the Death of the First born of Egypt. There was not a home in Egypt that was not devastated by the loss of a loved one. Before the final plague, the Israelites are commanded to publicly prepare for their redemption. Parshat Bo contains the essentials of the first Passover. God commands the people to set aside a lamb and to prepare a special meal by roasting it and placing its blood on the door post of their homes. The lamb is to be eaten along with matzah and bitter herbs. Moses tells the people "This day shall be to you one of remembrance; you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord throughout the ages." Theme #1: Did the Israelites Plunder Egypt? "Please (Na) tell each person to borrow, each man from his neighbor and each woman from hers objects of silver and gold. The Lord disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people. The Israelites had done Moses' bidding and borrowed from the Egyptians objects of silver and gold and clothing. And the Lord had disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people and they let them have their request; thus they stripped the Egyptians." (Exodus 11:2-3 and 12:35-36) Derash: Study

The sages were deeply troubled by the idea that the Israelites either plundered the land of Egypt before they left, or that they borrowed the valuables of the Egyptians under false pretenses and never intended to return them. The word "Na" can only mean here "Please." "I beseech you

Moses, please instruct them about this (i.e. that the Israelites should take silver and gold vessels of the Egyptians), so that the righteous one, Abraham should not say, God fulfilled the promise, 'and they will enslave and inflict them.' But the promise, 'and afterwards they will go free with great wealth' God did not fulfill.'" (Rashi) Rashi's comment is based on a promise that God made to Abraham. "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." (Genesis 15:13-14) For the Israelite, the word Egyptian had the bitterest associations. It would not have been remarkable had the Jew hated the Egyptian as the enslaver of his ancestors and would have reserved the right not to accord him the generous treatment enjoined by the Torah with regard to the stranger… But the Torah records that the Egyptians and Jews parted friends, the former liberally furnishing them with gifts as the latter themselves had been bidden in the case of sending away their own Hebrew servants… Consequently, "You shall not hate the Egyptian for you were a stranger in his land." Since the Egyptians could not be expected to offer the gifts freely, Israel was bidden to spur them to do it…. (Benno Jacob) The Lord gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians and they let them have what they asked for - literally so. Before they could make their request the offer was forthcoming. (Mechilta 12:36)

Questions for Discussion: 1. According to Rashi, how does the word "Na," "Please," change the connotation of Israel's plundering of Egypt? Why is it important to draw a connection between this incident and the promise which God had made to Abraham many generations before? In "borrowing" from the Egyptians, were the Israelites acting out of their own volition or fulfilling a divine commandment? 2. Why did God consider it so important for the Israelites to leave Egypt "with great wealth?" According to Benno Jacob, what purpose did Israel accepting wealth from the Egyptians serve? How did this act allow the Israelites to live up to the commandment not to hate the Egyptians? 3. Was the silver and gold which the Israelites took from the Egyptians a form of reparations? Under what circumstances should one group of people give reparations to another? 4. Recently an Egyptian attorney threatened to bring a class action suit against the Jewish people for plundering Egypt thousands of years ago when they left Egypt. Setting aside the absurdity of this claim, how does the Torah respond to this claim? Did the Israelites really plunder Egypt? What claims might the Israelites have against the Egyptians? Theme #2: How Wicked is the Wicked Child? And when your child says to you, "What does this service mean to you?" you shall say, "It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord because He passed over the

houses of the Israelites in Egypt when he smote the Egyptians but saved our houses." The people then bowed low in homage. (Exodus 12:26-27) Derash: Study

What does the wicked child say? "What does this service mean to you?" The child emphasizes "You" and not himself. Since the child excludes himself from the community and rejects a major principle of faith "you should set his teeth on edge" and say to him: "It is because of this that the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt (Exodus 13:8) - "Me" and not him! Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed. (The Haggadah) In the Haggadah the wise child asks the question, "What are the testimonies and judgments which the Lord your God commanded you?" Scholars are troubled by the fact that he uses the word "You" just like the wicked child. His question appears to exclude him from the community just like the so called wicked child. So what makes the chacham, the wise child, better than the rasha, the Wicked Child? There are many attempts to answer this question. Here is one. When the wise child asks, "What is the meaning of these laws which the Lord commanded you," he does not exclude himself from the community. Rather, as one who was born after the events at Sinai, he did not experience the Revelation first hand. God did not directly command him to observe the commandments but he wants to know what God told his elders to do so that he can faithfully observe them. The Wicked Child, on the other hand, witnesses the celebration of Passover ("What is this service to you?"). Rather than joining in, he says, "What does this mean to you?" excluding himself from the celebration. The wise child's question is a response to the commandment while the wicked child's question is a response to the act. (Rabbi Jacob Lorberbaum, Ma'aseh Nissim) The Chassidic Seer of Lublin - In my judgment, it is better to be a wicked person who knows he is wicked than a righteous person who thinks that he is righteous. Worst of all is to be a wicked person who thinks he is righteous. (Menachem HaCohen Haggadah HaAm. Taken from: A Different Night: the Family Participation Haggadah)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Compare Exodus 12:26-27 with the passage in the Haggadah describing the rasha, the wicked child. Is there anything in the Torah passage that would lead you to conclude that the child who asks the question is so wicked? 2. What does the Haggadah mean when it says to "set his teeth on edge?" Do you think this is the best strategy for dealing with the wicked child? 3. Is the so called "wicked" child really so "wicked?" Can you think of a better way of describing him (or her?) What type of things can you say on behalf of the wicked child that might put him/her in a more favorable light?

4. The Torah offers a different answer to this child than the Haggadah. Why does the Haggadah ignore the answer which is given by the Torah to this child's question? 5. What is the "major principle of faith" which the wicked child rejects? What would you consider to be a Jewish belief or value so important that its rejection would be "unforgivable" or at least worthy of such condemnation? 6. What do you think the Seer of Lublin meant by saying that sometimes a wicked person can be better than the righteous person? 7. How do you think the family sitting around the seder table can make the wicked child feel more a part of this celebration? What would you say to him? What other children besides the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who does not know how to ask might be sitting at your seder table (or even at the Shabbat table?) Glossary
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Benno Jacob - German rabbi and Biblical scholar; born at Breslau in 1862. Rabbi Jacob Lorberbaum - Polish rabbi and halachist, 1760 - 1832, he is best known for his work in Jewish Law called Havat Da'at. He was also the author of the commentary on the Haggadah called Ma'aseh Nissim. Seer of Lublin - Rabbi Yitzhak Yaakov Horowtiz. Lived from 1745 - 1815. A Hasidic Rebbe, he was the successor of Rabbi Elimelekh of Lizensk. Rashi - Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki. He lived from 1040 - 1105 in Troyes, France. He is considered the outstanding Biblical commentator in the Middle Ages.

PARASHAT BESHALAH - SHABBAT SHIRAH
January 22, 2005 - 12 Shevat 5765 Annual: Ex. 13:17 - 17:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 399; Hertz p. 265) Triennial Cycle: Ex. 13:17 - 15:26 (Etz Hayim, p. 399; Hertz p. 265) Haftarah: Judges 4:4 - 5:31 (Etz Hayim, p. 424; Hertz p. 281) Prepared by Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Having fled from Egypt after the final plague, the Israelites found themselves trapped between the approaching Egyptian Army and the Red Sea. On what was the first of many such occasions, the Israelites panicked and expressed their desire to return to Egypt. "What have you done to us?" they asked Moses, "It is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." Moses calms the people and tells them, "Have no fear… witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you today… ." Raising his staff over the sea, a strong east wind drives back the sea and the people lurch forward "into the sea on dry ground." When they reach the other side of the sea and witness the drowning of the Pharaoh and his army, they join Moses in song. We continue to sing this song "Az Yashir Moshe" as well as "Mi Kamochah" as part of the daily liturgy. But the story does not end here. No sooner do they leave the sea, the people continue to complain about the lack of water and food. The miraculous events do not change the very nature of the people. It would take a full generation for them to become independent and free. Theme #1: Caring for the Dead Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, who had exacted an oath from the children of Israel, saying, "God will be sure take note of you; then carry up my bones from here with you." (Exodus 13:19) Derash: Study

Joseph earned merit by burying his father and there is none among his brothers greater than he... whom do we have greater than Joseph since Moses occupied himself with his burial? Moses earned merit through the bones of Joseph and there is none greater than he, as it is said, "And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him." Who have we greater than Moses since none other than God occupied himself with his burial? As it is said, "And He (God) buried him in the valley." Not only concerning Moses did the sages say this but concerning all the righteous, as it said, "And Your righteous shall go before You, the glory of God shall be Your reward." (Isaiah 58:8) (Sotah 9b)

"And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him" (Exod. 13:19). The sages taught: Pause and consider how beloved the commandments were to Moses, our teacher -- while the people of Israel, all of them, were occupied with spoils, he was occupied with performing commandments. (Sotah 13b)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Why wasn't Joseph buried in the land of Canaan at the time of his death just as his father Jacob was? Why do you think he exacted an oath from his family to make sure that they would take his bones with them back to the land of Canaan? 2. Do you think it is important to respect the final wishes of someone who is about to pass away concerning their burial? What happens if one's parents or loved ones ask you to do something that is against the Jewish religion (for instance they ask to be cremated) or they ask you not to do something that would be personally meaningful (they insist that you should not sit Shiva)? 3. Why does the Talmud suggest that God personally saw to the burial of Moses? How does seeing to a person's burial both confer honor on the one who is being buried and on the one who is doing the burial? 4. In what way do we honor the dead in the Jewish funeral service? How does the Jewish funeral service allow people to openly express their emotions and their sense of loss? 5. One of the things we do in a Jewish funeral service is to deliver a eulogy in which we speak about the most enduring values in the life of the deceased. Today relatives often choose to deliver the eulogy. How do you feel about this practice? What types of things are appropriate and inappropriate to speak about in a eulogy? Think of three things you would like people to be able to say about you in your eulogy (many years from now, of course!). 6. Should children attend funerals? At what age? Discuss with your children or grandchildren what happens at a Jewish funeral and why we do the things that we do. You may want to refer to other sources that are most helpful on this topic. Here are three sources: a. The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Maurice Lamm b. Mourning and Mitzvah by Anne Brener c. A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice by Isaac Klein (see chapters on funeral practices and bereavement) Theme #2: The Splitting of the Red Sea: What is a Miracle? When Israel saw the great hand which the Lord wrought against Egypt, they feared the Lord; they had faith in the Lord and in Moses His servant. (Exodus 14:31) Derash: Study

During all the ten plagues the Israelites had doubts whether these incidents were pure chance or acts of God. However, when they came

"to fear the Lord" and they trembled in the presence of God's exalted power, only then could they understand that these were all acts of God. One spark of awe or reverence in the presence of God was worth as much as all the wonders and miracles. (Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk) We are missing the point of these extraordinary events if we understand them as ancient superstitions. Instead the miracle is a symbol of spontaneity in history, a faith in the changeability of oppressive regimes. What appears as historical necessity, a small people subject to a great empire, is revealed as an illusion. God's miraculous intervention in Egypt presents history as an open text drama. There is an unpredictable Power present in the universe, a God of surprises. Belief in miracle is the basis of the hope model of Judaism. Exodus becomes a call to revolutionary hope regardlessof the conditions of history. (A Different Night: A Family Participation Haggadah) The concept of Miracle which is permissible from the historical approach can be defined as its starting point as an abiding astonishment. The real miracle means that in the astonishing experience of the event the current system of cause and effect becomes, as it were, transparent and permits a glimpse of the sphere of sole power, not restricted by any other, is at work. (Moses by Martin Buber) A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. (David Hume, Scottish Philosopher 1711 - 1776) The British war time prime minister, Winston Churchill invited the Hasidic Rabbi of Gur to come and see him and advise him on how to bring about Germany's downfall. The Rabbi gave the following reply: "There are two possible ways, one involving natural means and one involving supernatural. The natural means would be if a million angels with flaming swords were to descend on Germany and destroy it. The supernatural would be if a millionEnglishman parachuted down on Germany and destroyed it." (Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust by Yaffa Eliach)

Questions for Discussion: 1. How do the events at the Red Sea affect the people of Israel? What does the Torah tell us about their response to the splitting of the Red Sea? 2. According to David Hume, a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Does a miracle have to diverge from the laws of nature? Can you think of a modern day occurrence that you would consider a miracle? 3. What does Noam Zion mean by "Hope Model" of Judaism? How can we apply the lesson of the splitting of the Red Sea to contemporary events? What events in contemporary history portray God as the "God of surprises?" 4. If you had been at the Red Sea, how do you think you would have responded first on the Egyptian side of the sea and then on the far side of the sea? Would you have considered this to be a miracle?

5. According to Noam Zion and Martin Buber do miracles exist in the objective sense of the word? Have we lost the innocence to experience a miracle today? According to the Rabbi of Gur what makes a miracle a natural event or a supernatural event? According to the Rabbi what aspect of the splitting of the Red sea would have been most miraculous? Glossary

Mishnah - The Mishnah is the first codification of the oral law. Edited and published around the year 200 CE by Rabbi Judah the Prince, it is the basis of the Talmud and the foundation of Jewish law. Sotah - Is a section of the Mishnah which deals with the trial by ordeal of an unfaithful wife (see Numbers 5:12-31). While this practice no longer existed even in the time of the Mishnah, the Rabbis thought it important to discuss its implications and significance. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk - Lived from 1787 - 1859. He was a well known hasidic Rabbi in Poland. Unlike most hasidic leaders he was respected for his sometimes harsh and unrelenting teachings. His focus, his zeal, his goal was for truth. To achieve truth he was ready to sacrifice everything else. There is only one truth, stressed Menachem Mendel, and anything outside of this truth is false. Martin Buber - 1878 - 1965 A twentieth century theologian and scholar, he is best known for his famous work, "I and Thou." Buber was a pioneer in his study of hasidic thought and was a Zionist known for his unorthodox ideas.

PARASHAT YITRO
January 29, 2005 - 19 Shevat 5765 Annual: Ex. 18:1 - 20:23 (Etz Hayim, p. 432; Hertz p. 288) Triennial: Ex. 18:1 -18:27 (Etz Hayim, p. 432; Hertz p. 288) Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1 - 7:6:9:5-6 (Etz Hayim, p. 452; Hertz p. 302) Prepared by Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Not long after arriving in the wilderness Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, came to visit his now famous son-in-law and he brought Moses' family to join him on their journey to the Promised Land. While visiting, he saw how heavy the burden of leadership was for Moses and suggested that Moses choose worthy people to serve as judges for the community so that only the most difficult conflicts were brought to him. Jethro warns Moses that he can not carry the whole burden of communal leadership by himself, "You will surely wear yourself out!" Seven weeks after leaving Egypt the Israelites found themselves in the wilderness of Sinai at the base of a mighty mountain. Having accepted Gods challenge to become a nation of priests and a holy people, Moses instructed the people to prepare for a momentous day when they would witness the presence of God. The revelation at Mount Sinai would become a mount of transformation when Israel would become a covenanted nation, serving God. Isn't it fascinating that Parshat Yitro combines divine revelation with human insight. Israel learns important lessons from both God and the Midianite prophet, Jethro. Both are sources of truth, and both shape the destiny of the Jewish people. Theme #1: Only United Can Israel Answer God's Call Having journeyed from Riphidim, they entered the wilderness of Sinai and they encamped in the wilderness. Israel (He) encamped there in front of the mountain. (Exodus 19:2) And all the people answered as one, saying, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do!" (Exodus 19:8) Derash: Study

And Israel encamped there - As one man with one heart. But all the other encampments were done in a murmuring spirit and in dissension. (Rashi)

Notice that the first half of the Exodus 19:2 is plural: "…They entered…they encamped…." while the last phrase in is this verse is singular: "Israel (he) encamped in front of the Mountain." Rashi wonders why the switch in person from plural to singular in the middle of the verse. He concludes that something happened that transformed the quality of life when the people of Israel reached Mount Sinai. They became a people united by a common purpose. Moses spoke to the elders and the judges of the people. He presented all the commandments in the presence of the entire nation since all of them are commanded to observe them, as it says, "Speak to the house of Jacob and tell the people of Israel (Verse 19:3)." The people however did not wait for the advice or decision of the elders. "The people answered as one and said…" Everyone from the youngest to the oldest (answered Moses.) (Ramban on 19:8) Why does Scripture emphasize that all Israel answered "as one," that, "All that God has said we will do!" The Vilna Gaon said that the individual, no matter how righteous and pious he may be, cannot fulfill all the Mitzvot in the Torah by himself. Only when the entire Jewish people are united as one are they able to fulfill all the commandments. It is for this reason that the Torah emphasizes that just before the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the people stated, "All that the Lord has stated we will do." (Vilna Gaon)

Questions for Discussion: 1. What does Rashi mean when he says that the people camped at the foot of Mount Sinai as one person and with one heart? In your memory have there been times when the world-wide Jewish community have been "as one people with one heart?" How can we promote such unity in the Jewish world today? 2. How do Ramban and the Vilna Gaon carry the theme of the previous Rashi one step further? How do they understand the expression "Yachdav, as one?" Note that they seem to be saying something more than simply, "They answered God all together." What is the significance of answering God "as one?" 3. Consider the nature of Jewish life today. How might we view the Jewish community as a unit in which each group fulfills a different aspect of Jewish living so that together we are able to live by the whole Torah? What do Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, Reconstructionists, Zionists, secular, etc. each add to the fulfillment of Jewish life? 4. Why can't one person fulfill all the mitzvot of the Torah? Theme #2: The Ten Commandments in our Lives Today I am the Lord your God, who have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for you any engraved image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third

and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy to thousands of those who love me, and keep my commandments. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work; 10. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor the stranger that is within your gates, for six days God made theworks of the Heaven and the Earth, the seas and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy. Honor your father and your mother; that yourdays may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you. You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is your neighbor's stranger that is within your gates; 11. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea. (Exodus 20) Derash: Study

Why is the festival of Shavuot called, "the time of the giving of our Torah" and not "the time of the receiving of our Torah?" Because the giving of the Torah happened at one specified time but the giving of the Torah happens at every time and in every generation. (Rabbi Meir Alter of Ger) Each generation must make its own way back to Sinai, must stand under the mountain and re-appropriate the Revelation, in terms that are both classical and new. We recognize change as part of the continuing process of tradition itself. (Rabbi Gerson Cohen)

Questions for Discussion: Here are ten questions to think about concerning the Ten Commandments. I hope they will inspire some serious discussion in your home: 1. I am the Lord Your God: Must a person believe in God in order to be "a good Jew?" What are the most basic beliefs about God in Judaism beyond a belief in one God?

2. You shall have no other gods before me: Moses Maimonides suggested that anyone who attributed physical form or characteristics to God is guilty of idolatry. This would mean that we should not talk of God as a He or a She. How should we talk about God? 3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain: How do we misuse the name of God in contemporary society? Is this the same thing as making promises in the name of God that you can't keep? 4. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy: Come up with five things that you could do in your daily life to make the Sabbath feel special and holy. 5. Honor your father and mother: Argue the following issue: The Simpsons is a subversive show and a bad influence on kids because it encourages them to treat their parents with disrespect. 6. You shall not kill: What is the difference between murder and killing. Under what circumstances is killing justified. 7. You shall not commit adultery: To what extent do you think television, movies and the media encourage sexual immorality. How should we respond to these issues when we see them on television and what should we say to our children about these issues. 8. You shall not steal: How would you apply the prohibition against stealing to the following situations: cheating on your income tax, copying a DVD illegally for your own personal use, and lying about your age to get into a movie or a show for a less expensive ticket. 9. You shall not bear false witness: Is it ever appropriate to lie? If not why not? And if so under what circumstances? 10. You shall not covet: What is the difference between wanting something and coveting something? Do you think coveting should be included in the Ten Commandments? Glossary
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Rabbi Meir Alter of Ger - 1799 - 1866. He was the founding Hasidic teacher of the Gerer dynasty of the Hasidic movement. Rabbi Gerson Cohen - Leading modern scholar and Jewish Historian. He was the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary from 1972 until 1986. Rashi - 1040 - 1105. Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki lived in Troyes, France. He is considered the outstanding Biblical commentator in the Middle Ages. Ramban - 1194 - 1270. Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman Born in Gerona. He was one of the leading Talmud scholars and Kabbalists of his generation. His commentary on the Torah is considered one of the most important. Vilna Gaon - 1720 - 1795 Elijah ben Solomon Zalman He was a major scholar and intellectual leader. He was known as a staunch opponent of the Chasidic movement.

PARASHAT MISHPATIM - BIRKAT HAHODESH
February 5, 2005 - 26 Shevat 5765 Annual: Ex. 21:1 - 24:18 (Etz Hayim, p. 456; Hertz p. 306) Triennial: Ex. 21:1 - 22:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 456; Hertz p. 306) Haftarah: Jeremiah 34:8 - 22; 33:25-26 (Etz Hayim, p. 482; Hertz p. 323) Prepared by Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Possibly the most important thing about this week's Parshah is its opening word: "V'eleh," "And these are the statutes that you shall set before them." Mishpatim contains a variety of laws that define every aspect of life. They cover criminal actions (homicide and kidnapping), civil behavior (returning lost property and public nuisances), domestic standards (marriage and divorce) and our relationship to God (holidays and idolatry). These laws define our relationship to God as well as the essential laws that define a good society. The opening word of Parshat Mishpatim, "V'eleh," "AND these…" reminds us that the Ten Commandments which appear in the previous portion are the beginning but not the end of Jewish living. What follows in Mishpatim is a continuation of the Ten Commandments. Some of the laws in this week's portion may trouble us, particularly laws which appear to condone slavery. To understand these laws, we must seek to understand them within the context of the time in which they were composed. At the same time we have far reaching laws protecting people-in-need-ofprotection that are just as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago. Both remain part of our tradition so we continue to study them and explore them for deeper meaning. Theme #1: A Biblical Response to Slavery When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall go free without payment. If he came single, he shall leave single; if he had a wife his wife shall leave with him. If his master gave him a wife and she has borne him children, the wife and her children shall belong to the master and he shall leave alone. (Exodus 21:2-4) Derash: Study

If a fellow Hebrew, man or woman, is sold to you, he shall serve six years and in the seventh you shall set him free. When you set him free, do not let him go empty-handed: furnish him out of the flock, threshing floor, and vat with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember

that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I enjoin this commandment upon you today. (Deuteronomy 15:12- 15) Such male and female slaves as you have - it is from the nations round about you…. These shall become your property. You may keep them as a possession for your children after you for them to inherit for all time. For it is to Me that the Israelites are servants; they are My servants, whom I freed from the Land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 25: 44 - 46, 55) It is permissible to work the slave hard; but while this is the law, the ways of ethics and prudence are that the master should be just and merciful, not make the yoke too heavy on his slave, and not press him too hard; and that he should give him of all food and drink. And thus the early sages used to do - they gave their slaves of everything they ate and drank themselves, and had food served to their slaves even before partaking of it themselves.… Slaves may not be maltreated or offended the law destined them for service, not for humiliation. Do not shout at them or be angry with them, but hear them out... (Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Avadim 9:8)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Why would a fellow Israelite become a slave? This institution that troubles us; why do you think the Torah permits Jews to practice slavery after they were just freed from slavery? Does the Torah condone this practice or simply tell us what to do when it is practiced? 2. Read these three verses in the Torah dealing with slavery. What do they teach us about slavery in the ancient world? How are these passages different from one another? How do you account for these differences? 3. If we believe that the Torah is still relevant to our lives today, how should we interpret the troubling passages? Should we simply dismiss them as antiquated or are there other ways of interpreting this institution that might still be relevant for us today? What do you think the Torah is trying to accomplish by creating legislation that defines the treatment of the slave? 4. Can you think of other passages in the Torah that challenge our modern sense of morality? If one believes the Torah was divinely revealed how do we explain these seeming contradictions? 5. How does Maimonides who lived in the twelfth century go beyond the legislation of the Torah in his comments on slavery? What was his basis for instituting such changes? 6. Slavery still exists in some parts of the world today? What responsibilities do we have to fight against this practice? Theme #2: The Stranger In Our Midst You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan. If you do mistreat them I will hear their out-cry out to Me, and My anger shall blaze forth and I will

put you to the sword and your own wives shall become widows and your children orphans. (Exodus 22:20-23) You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9) Derash: Study

The memory of bondage and exile is regarded here (Exodus 23:9) as acting as a protective shield against the evil impulse of over-lordship and dominion, the temptation to exploit and oppress, on the part of the selfsupporting respectable citizen who himself was once a slave and in exile and now wishes to lord it over those who are now strangers in his land… Because of a history of alienation and slavery, the memory of your own humiliation is by itself no guarantee that you will not oppress the stranger in your own country once you gain independence. (Nechama Leibowitz, Studies in Sh'mot - 1976) Just as there is wronging (ona'ah)* in buying and selling, so there is wronging with words. One should not say to someone, "How much is this item," if he does not want to buy it. If someone is a Baal Teshuvah, a penitent, one should not say to him, "Remember your past deeds." If someone was descendent from a Ger, a convert, one should not say to him, "Remember the deeds of your forefathers." For it is stated, "You shall not wrong (toneh)* wrong or oppress a convert. (Mishnah, Baba Metziah, Chapter 4) *Note that the words ona'ah and toneh come from the same Hebrew root. The Mishnah concludes that wronging must be similar in these two cases.) What is the meaning of that which is written, "You shall not wrong the stranger (Ger) nor shall you oppress him; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." … Rabbi Natan says, "A blemish that you yourself have do not mention to your fellow." (Baba Metziah 59b) "You shall not wrong a Ger" - with words "nor shall you oppress him" with money. You are not to say to him, "Only yesterday you worshiped idols and up until just now swine's flesh was between your teeth." From where do we learn that if you wrong him so too will he wrong you? As it says: "For you were strangers (gerim)." (Mekhilta) "The stranger need not lodge outside" (Job 31:32). The Holy One declares no creature unfit -- He receives all. The gates [of repentance] are always open, and he who wishes to enter may enter. (Exodus Rabba 19:4)

Questions for Discussion: 1. In the Bible the word "ger" originally referred to "a foreign born resident whose status was intermediate between that of a native born citizen (ezrah) and a foreigner temporarily residing outside the community (nohri)." (Etz Hayim, Page 468) In later literature the word "ger" came to have the connotation of a convert or a proselyte. Is it pejorative to refer to

2.

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a convert as a Stranger? In what ways is the proselyte similar to and different from a stranger. According to the Talmud there are no less than 36 references in the Talmud to the protection of the "stranger." Why is this law mentioned so many times? What is the connection in Exodus between the stranger, the widow and the orphan? Have you ever found yourself in the position of being a stranger in unfamiliar surroundings? What was it like? How did the people around you help you and were there others who hurt you? What should our attitude and actions be in dealing with illegal immigrants and day laborers who are working in our communities? Do they fall into the category of "gerim," or strangers in our midst? What responsibilities does society have toward them and what responsibilities should we have? Look at the final passage from Exodus Rabbah. According to this passage who is the stranger? How is someone who sins or feels distant from his tradition a stranger? How can we make people who are strangers to the Jewish tradition feel comfortable when visiting the synagogue or participating in Jewish life?

Glossary
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Baba Metziah - A section of the Talmud in the Order of Nezikin, (Damages) which deals with civil and criminal laws. Exodus Rabbah - A popular Midrashic work on the book of Exodus. It was compiled in the sixth century, CE. Nechama Leibowitz - 1902-1997 An Israeli scholar of the Bible and its rabbinic interpretations. Moses Maimonides (a.k.a. Rambam) - 1135 - 1204 halachic codifier, philosopher and communal leader who lived in Spain and Egypt. Maimonides is best known for his magnum opus on Jewish law, the Mishnah Torah. Mishnah - The first written compilation of the orally transmitted teachings of Jewish law. It was edited by Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi around 200 CE. Mekhilta - A Midrashic work on the book of Exodus quoting early sages. It was compiled around 400 CE.

PARASHAT TERUMAH
February 12, 2005 - 3 Adar I 5765 Annual: Ex. 25:1 - 27:19 (Etz Hayim p 485; Hertz p. 326) Triennial: Ex. 25:1 - 25:40 (Etz Hayim p 485; Hertz p. 326) Haftarah: I Kings 5:26 - 6:13 (Etz Hayim, p. 500; Hertz p. 336) Prepared by Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary The Book of Exodus abruptly changes as we begin this week's Torah portion. It contains a minute description of the building of the Tabernacle, the materials needed for this project and its dimensions. Virtually the final fifteen chapters of Exodus focus on this important project. Yet why does the Torah devote so much space to this project? The Tabernacle was a portable house of worship which the Israelites built shortly after leaving Egypt. It served as the central place of worship up until the time of Solomon when the Temple was built in Jerusalem. Having served pharaoh for so many years, the people of Israel were excited to be called on to build a place of worship for the God who had redeemed them from the house of bondage. Every Israelite was invited to contribute the necessary resources for this monumental project. Each person is told to give "as his heart so moves him." The people were not forced to contribute their time and wealth. The right to choose to participate in this project was one of the first lessons in freedom the people would receive during their sojourn in the wilderness. The Torah goes on to describe the furnishings of the Tabernacle as well as the structure itself. We learn about the dimensions of the ark, the types of materials that would be used in weaving the coverings of the Tabernacle, and the various furnishings that would go into this structure. The people are told "Make me a Tabernacle that I might dwell among them." The tabernacle was not a house of God but a symbol of God's presence in the midst of the community. Theme #1: Building Synagogues and Temples Yesterday and Today Let them make me a Tabernacle that I might dwell among them. (Exodus 25:80) Derash: Study

Thus said the Lord: The heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool; Where could you build a house for Me, what place could serve as my abode? All this was made by My hand and thus it came into being - declares the Lord. Yet to such a one I look: To the poor and the broken hearted who is concerned about my word. (Isaiah 66:1-2)

(The building of the Tabernacle) can be compared to the only daughter of a king whom another king married. When he wished to return to his country and take his wife with him, the father said to him, "My daughter, whose hand I have given to you, is my only child. I cannot part with her, neither can I say to you, 'Do not take her,' for she is now your wife. This favor I would ask of you; wherever you go to live, have a chamber ready for me that I may dwell with you, for I cannot leave my daughter." Thus God said to Israel: "I have given you a Torah from which I cannot part, and I also cannot tell you not to take it; but this I would request: wherever you go make for Me a house wherein I may sojourn," as it says, And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. (Exodus Rabbah 33:1)

Questions for Discussion 1. In what sense does God dwell in the Tabernacle or in a synagogue? Do you experience God's presence in the synagogue? If so when and if not why do you think that is the case? 2. What do you think we could do to make synagogues more spiritual? Note that the verse concludes that I might "dwell among them." How does the Tabernacle give us a sense that God dwells among the people? 3. What is Isaiah's attitude toward the building of a Temple for God? What is the problem and what solution does he offer? Do you think this verse contradicts the sentiments expressed in Exodus? 4. Have there been other places or times in your life you have experienced the presence of God? What were they? How can the architecture of a synagogue reflect imminence (His closeness) or transcendence (His distance from us)? 5. According to this parable in Exodus Rabbah, what is the purpose in building of the Tabernacle? How does it depict the relationship between God and the Jewish people? Do you think it depicts God as needy? What does the parable suggest the relationship between the Jewish people and the Torah should be? Topic 2: The Ark as an Ideal and a Symbol They shall make an Ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold - overlay it inside and out and make it a gold molding round about… and deposit in the Ark the Tablets of the Pact which I give you. (Exodus 25:10) Derash: Study

"And they shall make an Ark:" Why is it that in reference to all the other vessels (in the tabernacle) we read, "And you shall make," (in the singular) but in reference to the Ark it says, "And they shall make?" Said R. Judah b. R. Shalom: The Holy One, blessed be He, said: "Let all come and occupy themselves with the Ark in order that they may all merit the Torah." (Exodus Rabbah 34:2)

The sages were keenly sensitive to the language of the Torah. They noticed that with regard to all the other objects that were made in conjunction with the building of the Tabernacle the command is expressed in singular language but with regard to the Ark, the Torah says, "They shall make" in the plural. They wondered why the difference in the language. (Rabbi Ya'akov Ben Asher) The dimensions of the ark which Israel was commanded to build are listed in half cubits (2.5 by 1.5 by 1.5 cubits). This is a reminder that in trying to achieve (an understanding of) Torah we are only half way there. We must make an even greater effort without stopping to reach a full understanding of Torah. With regard to the altar, on the other hand, the dimensions are whole numbers (5 by 5 by 3 cubits) as a way of reminding us that when we approach the altar with repentance in our heartswe must do so with a whole heart (we should never be "halfhearted"). (Parparaot Latorah by Rabbi Menachem Becker) Said Rava: Any student, whose outer manifestation is not as pure as his inner manifestation, is not truly a disciple of Torah. This is similar to the Ark that is made of acacia wood that is covered with gold on the outside and on the inside. (The true sign of a Torah scholar is not cleverness but purity of character that is manifest both within and to the outside world.) (Talmud Yoma 72b)

Questions for Discussion 1. The Rabbis seem to go to great trouble to find meaning in small insignificant details about the Ark. What details do they single out? Why do you think they choose to emphasize these aspects of the Ark? 2. Why was it important to emphasize that all of the people of Israel participated in the construction of the Ark unlike the other furnishings in the tabernacle? What can we do today in order to feel a sense of ownership and participation in the enrichment of Jewish life? 3. What aspect of Jewish spirituality do the Ark and the Altar each symbolize in the comment by Rabbi Ya'akov ben Asher? Why are their dimensions different from one another? How is a person's participation in Torah study different from their quest for a closer connection to God through Teshuvah? 4. What personal and intellectual qualities are necessary for a person to be an ideal disciple of Torah? How can we strive to acquire these qualities in our own personal lives? 5. If you were designing a new Ark for your congregation, how might you use these sources to design the ark? What should the ark say to us about the goals and aspirations that are essential to Jewish life? Glossary

Rabbi Ya'akov Ben Asher (1270-1340) - A German-born scholar who lived in Spain and is the author of an influential code of Jewish law called the Arba'ah Turim.

Yoma - the Tractate of the Talmud that deals with the laws of Yom Kippur. It deals with this fast as it was observed in the ancient Temple as well as the laws of fasting. Exodus Rabbah - A sixth century collection of homiletical Midrashim and narrative material on the Book of Exodus.

PARASHAT TETZAVEH
February 19 2005 - 10 Adar I 5765 Annual: Ex. 27:20 - 30:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 503; Hertz p. 339) Triennial: Ex. 27:20 - 28:30 (Etz Hayim p. 503; Hertz p. 339) Haftarah: Ezekiel 43:10 - 27 (Etz Hayim, p. 520; Hertz p. 350) Prepared by Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Parshat Tetzaveh continues the description of the Tabernacle and all of the items associated with it. The people of Israel are commanded to prepare olive oil for the special lamp that was to stand in the Tabernacle. This oil would be used to kindle a "Ner Tamid," a regular lamp. The parshah continues with a description of the special garments that the Kohanim, the priests, were to wear when serving in the Tabernacle. They included a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a sash, a fringed tunic and a headdress, which conveyed a mood of "dignity and adornment," to the priests. Finally, the Parshah describes the installation of Aaron and his sons into the priesthood. What is most mysterious about Parshat Tetzaveh is what it fails to say. It is the only Torah portion from the beginning of Exodus until the end of the Torah that does not explicitly mention Moses by name. Why is Moses absent from this Parshah? Some sages suggest that when God threatened to destroy the Jewish people for worshipping the golden calf, Moses said, 'if so erase me from your book.' God doesn't take lightly to words spoken rashly - God removed Moses from one parshah! It seems especially appropriate that Moses' yahrtzeit (7th of Adar) always occurs in the week when we read the only Parshah from which he is absent! Theme #1: The Ner Tamid, Then and Now "You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly ("Ner Tamid"). Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain which is over the Ark of the Pact [to burn] from evening until morning before the Lord. It shall be a due from the Israelites for all time, throughout all the ages." (Exodus 27:20-21) Derash: Study

"The Lord called thy name a leafy olive tree" (Jeremiah 11:16). R. Joshua ben Levi taught: Why is Israel said to be like the olive tree? To tell you that even as the leaves of an olive tree fall neither during the

summer season nor during the rainy season, so Israel will never cease to be, neither in this world nor in the world-to-come. (Babylonian Talmud, Menachot 53b) Rabbi Aha said, Israel is likened to an olive tree: "A leafy olive tree fair with goodly fruit" (Jeremiah 11:16). And the Holy One is likened to a lamp: "The lamp of the Lord is the spirit of man" (Proverbs 20:27). What use is made of olive oil? It is put into a lamp, and then the two together give light as though they were one. Hence the Holy One will say to Israel: My children, since My light is your light and your light is My light, let us go together -- you and I -- and give light to Zion: "Arise, give light, for thy light has come" (Isaiah. 60:1). (Pesikta D'Rav Kahana 21:4) "Beaten for light" When a person crushes his evil inclination he becomes a fitting receptacle for light; He holds within himself the pure light of the divine presence. (Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov) Every Jew must light within his own heart a "Ner Tamid," a lamp to the Lord. But this light does not need to stand only in the Tent of Meeting - in the synagogue and the house of study - but even "Outside the curtain," in the streets of the city, in the work place and anyplace where people are concerned about interpersonal relations. (Pardes Yosef, Rabbi Joseph Patznovsky)

Questions for Discussion 1. Why does the Torah make a point of emphasizing the use of olive oil in kindling the Ner Tamid? When is this commandment supposed to be fulfilled? 2. Why do you think Parshat Tetzaveh opens with this short passage (it is made up of only two verses)? Parshat Terumah, the previous Torah portion, contains a description of the structure and the furnishings of the Tabernacle including the Menorah. Shouldn't the commandment to prepare oil for the Menorah have been included in the previous Torah portion? 3. We usually translate the Hebrew expression, "Ner Tamid," as the eternal light. Why? How is this understanding of the expression different from the description in the Torah? When does the Torah say the "Ner Tamid" should be lit? 4. How do the sages interpret the significance of olive oil? What does it symbolize? 5. We often talk about the Jewish people becoming a light unto the nations of the world. What can we learn from the olive oil about this special role that we are supposed to fulfill? 6. The evil inclination is the predatory and greedy aspect of human nature. The sages tell us that while the evil inclination can cause havoc and destruction in the world it is a necessary part of human nature. What happens to the evil inclination when we "crush it?" What is the connection between human physical instincts and spirituality? 7. How can we light a "Ner Tamid" within ourselves?

Theme #2: The Priestly Garments - Do Clothes Make the Man? Make holy vestments for your brother Aaron for dignity and adornment. (Exodus 28:2) Derash: Study

"Make holy vestments" - They are referred to this way because (those who wore them) served in a holy place. Also, because "the nation shall not sanctify itself with their garments." The garments of Aaron are all mentioned that he shall be adorned by them and no Israelite is allowed to wear garments such as these. (Abraham Ibn Ezra) "Make holy vestments for your brother Aaron for dignity and adornment." There are two ways in which garments set a person apart from others: (they affect ones attitude) toward oneself and toward others. Toward oneself - He wears these garments so that he should not forget his special position and so he should not mix with others and imitate their practices. This was Israel's unique merit in Egypt, that they did not change their clothing (to imitate the Egyptians.) As a result of this the people remained separate and apart from others and did not mix with the other nations. And toward others - By wearing unique garments others would recognize the special standing of the priests as well… (K'tav Sofer) For dignity and adornment as befits the exalted office. Maimonides points out that this attire was worn not for the self-glorification of the High Priest but solely because it was divinely commanded. (Nachum Sarna) In virtually all traditional religions such garments are of great importance, often signaling the status of the wearer as representative of the community (hence Aharon's breast plate in this chapter). An additional function stressed in our account is that the garments somehow reflect God himself, through the use of certain colors and/or materials. The term "glory" is used to indicate their function - a key term in the book, and always applied to God, never to Moshe, for instance- signals what is at stake. (Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses, A New Translation)

Questions for Discussion: 1. What does the Torah mean when it says that the priestly garments were for glory and adornment? How are these two terms different from one another? What types of garments do people wear today that is meant to create a certain impression on the people who see them? 2. What can a uniform or a particular kind of dress tell about a person? Do uniforms help you identify people and their occupations? What information tells us about the Kohanim and their role in society? 3. Ibn Ezra believes that the priestly garments serve a double purpose? How are they different from the explanation offered by the K'tav Sofer? What are they? Does dressing up affect your feelings about yourself and the people around you? 4. Do you think the priestly garments were meant to raise the status of the priest or to glorify God? Which? Why?

5. Should there be standards of dress for attending synagogue services? If so, what should they be? Write your own set of standards to be given out to Bar and Bat Mitzvah families prior to this event for them to share with their guests. How should the Bar or Bat Mitzvah dress? Should Rabbis dress in a unique fashion so that their dress creates a deeper impression on people? Glossary

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K'tav Sofer - 1815 - 1871 Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamim Sofer, the son of the Chatam Sofer, one of the great luminaries of Hungarian Jewry. His most important work is called the K'tav Sofer, a commentary on the Torah. Nachum Sarna - A leading twentieth century Bible scholar and author of The JPS Torah Commentary on Genesis and Exodus. Everett Fox - A translator of the Bible known for his unique approach to Biblical Hebrew based on the writings of Martin Buber and Franz Rosensweig. Abraham Ibn Ezra - 1089 - 1167 Spanish poet, grammarian and Biblical commentator. Rabbi Moshe Leib Sassov - 745 - 1807, a Hassidic rebbe, was a student of Shmuel Shmelke Horowitz, Dov Baer the Maggid of Mezhirech, and Elimelekh of Lyzhansk. He was known for his love of all Jews, and for his great acts of charity. Rabbi Joseph Patznovsky - A well known rabbinic scholar in the Polish city of Ludz just prior to World War ll and the Holocaust. Pesikta D'Rav Kahana - A fifth century collection of homilies on scriptural potions associated with special Sabbath and Holidays.

PARASHAT KI TISSA
February 26, 2005 - 17 Adar I 5765 Annual: Ex. 30:11 - 34:35 (Etz Hayim, p. 523; Hertz p. 350) Triennial: Ex. 30:11 - 31:17 (Etz Hayim, p. 523; Hertz p. 350) Haftarah: I Kings 18:1 - 39 (Etz Hayim, p. 548; Hertz p. 369) Prepared by Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary One of the most troubling figures in the book of Exodus is Aaron. While he served his brother Moses faithfully and was the first High Priest in the Tabernacle, he was also at least partially responsible for the worship of the golden calf in the wilderness. Less than six weeks after Israel received the Torah and heard the voice of God at Mount Sinai the people of Israel had a failure of faith. When Moses did not return promptly from his encounter with God on Mount Sinai, they thought he was dead. (According to the Midrash he was only six hours late in returning) The people came to Aaron and demanded that he make them "a god." With little argument Aaron acquiesced to their demands. Was Aaron wrong to give in to the people's demands? What might have motivated him to make the Golden Calf? Theme #1: The Two Faces of Aaron: Did He Compromise or Acquiesce? "The people gathered against Aaron and said to him, "Come make us a god who shall go before us for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt - we do not know what happened to him. Aaron said to them, "Take off your gold rings that are on your ears and the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters and bring them to me." (Exodus 32:1-2) Derash: Study

When Aaron saw how things stood, he was afraid and attempted to distract them with subterfuges. Thus he said, "Break off the golden rings, which are in the ears of your wives" (Exod. 32:2), a difficult request to execute, since the wives were likely to balk. Indeed, when the men went to their wives, they defied them, saying, "God forbid that we should make an idol and betray the Holy One, who wrought such miracles and mighty deeds in our behalf." So, since the wives refused, "all the [men among the] people broke off the golden rings which were in their ears (Exod. 32:3) -- their own ears. (Exodus Rabbah 41:7) Another explanation of "and he built an altar." They were desirous of building an altar with him, but he would not allow them, saying, "Allow me to build it by myself, for it is not befitting the respect due to the altar that another should build it." Aaron's intention in this was to delay matters; he

said to himself, "By the time I build it all by myself Moses will come down." (Exodus Rabbah 41:7) Hur (the husband of Miriam and Aaron's assistant while Moses was gone) stood up and rebuked them, "You stiff-necked people! Do you not remember how many miracles he performed in your behalf?" But the people rose up and slew him. Then they gathered against Aaron and said, "If you make a god for us, well and good; but if not, we will do to you what we did to Hur." When Aaron saw how things stood, he was afraid and attempted to distract them with subterfuges. (Sefer Aggadah, by Bialik and Ravinistzky) Aaron is consistently portrayed in Jewish lore as a peacemaker and conciliator. Moses was the lawgiver proclaiming standards and prohibitions, the prophet who denounced those who fell short of those standards. Aaron in his priestly aspect met and accepted people where they were . In this instance however, Aaron's inclination to accept rather than challenge popular will led to misfortune. (Etz Hayim Commentary, p. 530)

Questions for Discussion 1. Put yourself in Aaron's place. What would you have done? When faced with an angry mob, how do you think a leader should respond? What does the Torah actually say? 2. How do these texts portray Aaron? Which ones portray him favorably and which ones seem to criticize him for his decision? How are they different from one another? Do you find them convincing? Why or why not? 3. Do you think Aaron was wrong to acquiesce to the people's demand? When should a leader take a stand and when should he or she step aside even though the results of the person's actions may be disastrous? 4. What are the limits to compromise and conciliation for a Jewish leader in a congregation today? To what extent should he respect and be cognizant of the popular will of the people even when it is not consistent with Jewish law and values? 5. How else could Aaron have handled this explosive situation? Why not put him on trial. Try a role plan let one person play Aaron and two others serve as the prosecuting and the defense attorney. Let someone else play judge. How would you defend or accuse Aaron? Theme #2: Justice or Mercy: The Thirteen Attributes of God The Lord passed before him and proclaimed: The Lord, the Lord, a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He does not remit all punishment but visits iniquity of parents upon children and children's children, upon third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34: 6-7)

Derash: Study

"The Lord passed before him and proclaimed: The Lord, the Lord, a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and granting pardon." (The Thirteen Attributes as they are found in the Siddur) "The concluding words of the Biblical passage which comprise the Thirteen Attributes, "But that will by no means clear the guilty" (Exodus 34:7) are omitted to underscore the predominance of the quality of mercy (middat harahamim) over that of strict justice (middat hadin). (Justice and Mercy By Rabbi Max Arzt) "And the Lord passed before him and said, The Lord, the Lord, God merciful and gracious…" Rabbi Yohanan said: "Were it not so stated in the Torah, one could not (because of its bold anthropomorphism) say this: The Holy One, blessed be He, wrapped himself in a Tallit like one who leads the congregation in prayer, showed Moses this order of prayer and said to him: "Whenever Israel sins let them recite this same order of prayer and I will forgive them.'" (Rosh Hashanah 17b) According to our Selichot version of the Thirteen Attributes, the single word ve-nakeh ("and He acquits") represents the final attribute. However, if we compare this with the actual biblical source, we find rather surprisingly, that we have curtailed the full version of this attribute which in the original conveys the exact opposite sense... Abbreviating a biblical verse in this way does however, run counter to a Talmudic principle that "we may not stop in the middle of a verse (in order to create a separate verse) at a place where Moses did not stop. This prohibition was understood, however, to apply only when reading from the Torah. To employ a half verse in the context of prayer and petition was regarded as outside the scope of the prohibition. (Prayer and Penitence by Jeffery M. Cohen)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Why do you think God proclaims this list of attributes at this point in time following the sin of the Golden Calf? What is the connection between this proclamation and the command immediately before this in which God tells Moses to carve a new set of tablets "Which you shattered?" Who is God forgiving here? 2. Notice that the list of attributes end, "by no means clears the guilty" in the Bible but in the prayer, by leaving off the last word it says "He clears the guilty." What motivated the Rabbis to make such a radical change in the Biblical text? What were the Rabbis trying to say about our relationship to the text? 3. How do you feel about this verse? Why do you think the sages left this part of the verse out of the prayer book? Were they justified in doing this even though it completely changed the meaning of the verse? Do you think the sages rejected this idea that God punishes the guilty "unto the third and fourth generation"? If so how could they justify it appearing in the Bible in the first place?

4. What does it mean to say that God forgives? Do you believe that God forgives? Do you believe that God punishes? How is God's forgiveness different from human forgiveness? 5. The statement in the Talmud makes the proclamation of the Thirteen Attributes sound almost magical; the very recitation of them means that one will be forgiven for ones wrong doing. Think of how often we recite these verses in the Selichot service on Yom Kippur? How do you feel about this statement? What must we do to seek forgiveness from God?

PARASHAT VAYAKHEL - BIRKAT HAHODESH
March 5, 2005 - 24 Adar I 5765 Annual: Ex. 35:1 - 38:20 (Etz Hayim, p. 552; Hertz p. 373) Triennial: Ex. 35:1 - 37:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 552; Hertz p. 373) Haftarah: I Kings 7:40 - 50 (Etz Hayim, p. 573; Hertz p. 382) Prepared by Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Parshat Va-yakhel appears to be a repetition of material presented earlier in the book of Exodus. We find in this Parshah a presentation of the instructions for the building of the tabernacle, Israel's portable house of worship in the wilderness. Moses calls on the people to generously donate the necessary resources for the completion of this project. While the earlier presentation of this commandment came from God, in Parshat Va-yakhel, Moses calls the people together for this purpose. Va-yakhel then is an expression of the nation's own enthusiasm and excitement in participating in this important project. In the midst of telling us about the building of the Tabernacle, the Torah pauses several times to remind us about the observance of the Sabbath. The sages conclude from this that the prohibitions for the observance of the Sabbath are the same as the types of labor involved in the building and the maintenance of the Tabernacle. Theme #1: Topic One: How Essential to our Survival is Jewish Unity? Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them. (Exodus 35:1) Derash: Study

"Moses convoked." It was the day after Yom Kippur, right after he came down from Mount Sinai. (According to the Midrash Moses returned from Mount Sinai with the second set of Ten Commandments on Yom Kippur, affirming to the people that God had forgiven them for worshipping the golden calf.) (Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Ben Yitzhak, 1040 - 1105) Moses hinted to the people (by gathering them immediately after Yom Kippur) that we should not only be united in love, fellowship, forgiveness and reconciliation on Yom Kippur. Even on the days after Yom Kippur we need to continue to express these qualities. (Rabbi Moses of Kovrin) When the people of Israel stood at Mount Sinai the Torah says "And Israel dwelled there before the Mount" (the Hebrew verb "dwell" in singular expressing their unity). After worshipping the golden calf they became divided and separate from one another. The tabernacle came to

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atone for the sin of the golden calf. Moses therefore called on all of the people to come together in unity as they were at the time of the giving of the Torah. (Eretz Hemdah, the Malbim - Rabbi Meir Leibush Ben Michal, 1809-1879) Every Jew depends on fellow Jews for the energy, resources, and courage to be a Jew. (Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, 1881- 1993) Nowhere else do we find a similar commandment in the Torah in which Moses calls on "The entire community of the people of Israel". Since all of Israel was called upon to contribute to the building of this public institution, it was necessary to call on the entire people to be present for this commandment. In order for the Tabernacle to be a spiritual center for the whole Jewish people it was essential for there to be a sense of partnership in its building. (Parpiraot LaTorah, Rabbi Menachem Becker)

Questions for Discussion 1. What is so unique about the beginning of Parshat Va-yakhel is that it captured the attention of the sages over the ages? Mah Nishtana, How is the beginning of Parshat Va-yakhel different from most of the other weekly Torah portions? 2. In what ways did the building of the Tabernacle express the unity of the Jewish people? What other purpose did the building of the Tabernacle serve? 3. Do separate congregations promote or diminish the unity of the Jewish people today? How can congregations work together to create a greater sense of unity among the Jewish people? Are there other institutions today that might help to promote Jewish unity? 4. Too often we are overly critical of the other movements in the Jewish world today. Come up with a list of some of the positive contributions that the Reform, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist Movements have made to Jewish life. What contributions has Conservative Judaism made to Jewish life? Theme #2: The Prohibition Against Fire on Shabbat These are the things that the Lord commanded you to do: On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does work on it shall be put to death. You shall not kindle a fire throughout your settlements on the Sabbath day. (Exodus 35:1-3) Derash: Study
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Though you are engaged in work dedicated to the divine purposes, be on guard not to perform any work on the Sabbath. (Ibn Ezra: 1086- 1164) The prohibition highlights man's acknowledgment that his ability to master matter (represented by fire) is lent to him by God and is only used in His servant. (Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808 - 1888) Lighting, extinguishing, or transferring fire on the Sabbath is forbidden under Jewish law. Some scholars liken electricity to fire, therefore prohibiting turning on or off all electrical devices on Shabbat. Others in

the Conservative Movement maintain that electricity is not fire according to either science or Jewish law and that it does not violate the prohibition. Nevertheless, activities prohibited on other grounds - such as shaving, cooking and doing laundry - remain prohibited even if done electrically. (Etz Hayim Humash) (A Chasidic Insight) The rule applies figuratively as well. Do not add fire to your talk on the Sabbath by adding to dissent, gossip, and negative criticism. (The Torah: A Modern Commentary)

Questions for Discussion: 1. According to the biblical commentator, Ibn Ezra, what is the connection between the building of the Tabernacle and the prohibition against work on the Sabbath? 2. The threat of death if one works on the Sabbath seems very harsh. Why do you think the Torah decrees such a harsh penalty for someone who fails to observe the Sabbath? How should we respond to this penalty today? 3. The prohibition against kindling a fire is one of the few specific prohibitions singled out in the Torah though rabbinic literature derives many more. Why do you think the Torah mentions this one? Do you think electricity should be considered fire? Why or why not? 4. How might Rabbi Hirsch's point of view influence one's opinion on the status of electricity even if scientifically it can be shown that fire is different from electricity? How else can we express the idea of God's mastery of the world through the observance of the Sabbath? 5. How does this Chasidic insight understand the prohibition against "kindling fire in your dwelling places"? Is it really a good thing to avoid argument and dissent at the dinner table and in synagogue on the Sabbath? What type of dissent and debate do you think is acceptable on the Sabbath? What type of conversation should we avoid?

PARASHAT PIKUDEI - ROSH HODESH ADAR II SHABBAT SHEKALIM
March 12, 2005 - 1 Adar II 5765 Annual: Ex. 38:21 - 40:38 (Etz Hayim, p. 564; Hertz p. 385) Triennial: Ex. 38:21 - 39:21 (Etz Hayim, p. 564; Hertz p. 385) (2d Scroll) Numbers 28:9 -15 (Etz Hayim, p. 930; Hertz p. 695) Maftir Ex. 30:11 - 16 (Etz Hayim, p. 523; Hertz p. 352) Haftarah: II Kings 12:1 - 17 (Etz Hayim, p. 1277; Hertz p. 992) Prepared by Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Parshat Pekudei is an accounting of all the materials that were used in the building of the Tabernacle. In an effort to be an honest public servant, Moses insists on providing a full record of all the materials that were collected for the building of the tabernacle so that there would be no question of misappropriated funds or resources. The parshah concludes with a description of the completion of this project and the dramatic appearance of God in the Tabernacle. The building of the Tabernacle is as significant as the very creation of the universe. This Shabbat we also take a two more Torah scrolls from the ark, one in honor of Shabbat Shekalim and the second for Rosh Hodesh, the new month of Adar Bet. Shabbat Shekalim is the first of the four special Sabbaths which precede Passover. Celebrated on or immediately before the beginning of Adar, it is a reminder of the practice of having each male of drafting age pay a half shekel head tax each year. This money was used for the annual upkeep of the daily burnt offerings. Theme #1: Building the Tabernacle, Building the World Thus was finished all the work of the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting; and the children of Israel did so; just as the Lord commanded Moses, so did they. (Exodus 39:32) When Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks - as the Lord had commanded - Moses blessed them. (Exodus 39:43) When Moses finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. (Exodus 40:33-34)

Derash: Study

"And God saw all that He had made and found it very good. The Heaven and the earth were finished and all their array. On the seventh day God finished the work that He had been doing and He ceased in the seventh day from all the work that He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from the all the work of creating that He had done." (Genesis 1:31 - 2:3) "Moses Saw - and Moses blessed them." When a person completes a big project it (his work) needs a blessing. The Holy One after He created the world, the angels blessed God's world, and when Moses completed the Tabernacle blessed the work of the nation by saying "May the holy presence of God dwell in this tabernacle." Why did Moses do this? Did not the Holy One already promise, "I will dwell among them?" He did so because he was afraid that possibly either he or Bezalel (the master craftsman) tried to improve on what God had commanded them to do. (Yalkut Shimoni) From the first time Israel is commanded to build the tabernacle in Parshat Terumah until the end of the book of Exodus, the Hebrew verb "asah - to make" appears 248 times, similar to the number of positive commandments in the Torah. (According to tradition there are 248 positive commandments - Thou shalts - and 365 negative commandments - Thou shalt nots.) Building the tabernacle was similar to fulfilling all the other commandments in the Torah, and that is why the divine presence dwelled in the tabernacle. (Toldot Yitzhak, Rabbi Yitzhak Karo)

Questions for Discussion 1. How do the verses in Genesis quoted above and Exodus echo one another? What does this say about the Torah's perception of the building of the Tabernacle? In what way were the Israelites building a new world by constructing the Tabernacle and creating a place of worship for themselves? How did this work help them overcome their past as slaves? 2. What is the difference between the Tent of Meeting and the Tabernacle? What does each represent and how is it part of the modern day synagogue? 3. Why do Moses and God need a blessing upon completing their building projects? 4. What blessing does each one give? How does a blessing give one a sense of reassurance and purpose in the work that they do? Theme #2: Half Shekel - a Symbol of Equality When you take a census of the Israelite people according to their enrollment, each shall pay the Lord atonement for himself on being enrolled, that no plague may come upon them through their being enrolled. This is what everyone that is enrolled shall pay: a half shekel by the sanctuary weight. Everyone who is entered in the record from age twenty years up shall give the Lord's offering.

The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than a half a shekel when giving the Lord's offering as atonement for your person. (Exodus 30:1215) Derash: Study

The sages wonder why Moses commanded the Israelites to pay a half shekel and not a whole shekel as their yearly tax. This is how the Torah teaches us that no person can become complete in isolation; rather when he joins himself to others he becomes a whole person. Also we do not know who the other person is with whom we will become a complete person: the simplest Jew may be the one who completes the greatest person in Israel. (Parparaot Latorah Rabbi Menachem Becker) Why were they commanded to bring a half shekel? Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah: One said, "Since Israel sinned by worshipping an idol when Moses was six hours late, so they must bring a half a shekel worth six garmisin (a type of coin);" the other said, "since they worshipped the golden calf when Moseswas a half a day late (according to the Midrash Moses was six hours late returning from Mount Sinai) so they must now pay an atonement offering of a half a shekel." Rabbi Nehemiah said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai "since they broke the Ten Commandments by worshipping an idol, they must give a half a shekel which is equal to ten gera (a measure of weight.)" (Jerusalem Talmud Shekalim 2:3) This passage recognizes that census taking is a necessary administrative measure but regards it as fraught with danger to the public. The several such head counts in the bible are usually related to army service or warfare. In only one other instance is there any mention of payment of ransom money or ill consequences - the remarkable exception of the census ordered by David, which resulted in a visitation of pestilence, as told in the book of Samuel. (The JPS Torah Commentary, Exodus by Nachum Sarna, Page 195)

Questions for Discussion: 1. What are some of the reasons that the people were only commanded to bring a half a shekel as a head tax and not a full shekel? What other reasons can you think of for this practice? 2. The Torah refers to the half shekel as a "kofer," as an atonement. What were the people atoning for? Look in other translations of the Torah to see how this word is translated? How else is it understood? 3. The Torah emphasizes that the rich shall not pay more nor shall the poor pay less. Why? How does the annual half shekel tax emphasize the inherent equality of all the Israelite people? What happens if a person could not afford to pay the half shekel tax? 4. We continue to express a reluctance to count people directly. At the daily minyan it is customary to find some indirect means of counting people such as reciting a verse that has ten words in it ("hoshea et amecha."). Why is there such a reluctance to count people? Is this merely a superstition or the expression of some deeper idea? What do you think?

PARASHAT VAYIKRA - SHABBAT ZAKHOR
March 19, 2005 - 8 Adar II 5765 Annual: Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26 (Etz Hayim, p. 585; Hertz p. 410) Triennial: Leviticus 1:1 - 2:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 585; Hertz p. 410) Maftir: Deuteronomy 25:17 - 19 (Etz Hayim, p. 1135; Hertz p. 856) Haftarah: I Samuel 15:2 - 34 (Etz Hayim, p. 1281; Hertz p. 995) Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick Assistant Director, USCJ KOACH/College Outreach Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Vayikra opens one of the greatest theological challenges to confront the contemporary Jew. If we do not pray for the restoration of the sacrificial order, indeed we have already modified our liturgy to remove such references from the Musaf service, wherein lies the benefit to reading the gory and detailed material of the book which lies ahead? We read in order to remember and even if that reading does not imply a desire to return to that form of worship, we read in order to be challenged. We read in order to own our history, even if we cannot make peace with it. Parashat Vayikra looks at the five basic categories of sacrificial offerings and how those offerings are to be made. The olah (referred to in Chapter 1:1-17) is a burnt offering, totally consumed by flame and reduced to ashes. Male cattle and birds might be offered as an olah. That range (from grand beast to tiny bird) enabled individuals of varying economic status to participate in the offering. The next category is the minhah, a grain offering (Chapter 2:1-16). The grain was acceptable in a variety of forms: choice flour in its natural state, or choice flour prepared either in the oven, on a griddle or in a pan. No matter the form, only a portion of the minhah would be burnt upon the altar. The zevah shlamim, or offering of well-being, was the third category of sacrifice (Ch 3:1-17). This offering took the form of cattle, sheep or goat and needed to be free of blood before it was burnt. Unlike the olah, however, it was not burned in its entirety only the internal organs were reduced to smoke. The hattat and asham are the final categories of sacrifice and they are covered in Chapters 4 and 5. Though they are separate sacrifices, the hattat and the asham function in partnership - the first for purification from transgression and the second for repair following the transgression. The hattat and the asham are specifically designated for inadvertent transgression.

Discussion Topic 1: "Sacrifice as Drawing Near" "when any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock." (Leviticus 1:2) Derash: Study

The Hebrew root kof-resh-bet, of the word korban or sacrifice is the same as the root of the word karov or near. Thus, offering a sacrifice was a form of drawing near. "R. Isaac taught: Why is the meal offering distinguished in that the word "soul" is used in connection with it (Lev. 2:1)? Because the Holy One said: Who is it that usually brings a meal offering? It is the poor man. I account it for him as though he had offered his very soul to Me." (BT Menahot 104b) "Once, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was walking with his disciple, Rabbi Yehoshua, near Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Yehoshua looked at the Temple ruins and said: 'Alas for us! The place that atoned for the sins of the people Israel - through the ritual of animal sacrifice - lies in ruins.' Then Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: 'Be not grieved, my son. There is another equally meritorious way of gaining atonement even though the Temple is destroyed. We can still gain atonement through deeds of lovingkindness.' For it is written: 'Lovingkindness I desire, not sacrifice.'" (Avot d'Rabbi Natan 4:5) "Although the three daily recitations of the Amidah - evening, morning and afternoon - are connected with the three Patriarchs and the three natural divisions of the day, they were also seen as paralleling the offerings brought in the Temple. There, a morning and afternoon communal offering known as the tamid (continual offering) was brought. The evening service was connected to the burning of the residue of the sacrifices at night. On special days specified by the Torah - Shabbat, Festivals and Rosh Hodesh - however, an additional offering (Musaf) was brought (Numbers 28-29). Therefore, we recite and additional Amidah known as Musaf (literally, "additional") on those days." (Reuven Hammer, Or Hadash) "When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted. Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: 'Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.' And again, the miracle would be accomplished. Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: 'I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.' It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished. Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to

God: 'I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer. I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story, and this must be sufficient.' And it was." (retold in On Wings of Awe, the Hillel mahzor for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur) Questions for Discussion: 1. What makes the retelling of the precise details of the sacrificial order compelling in an era in which the rituals are extinct? Is our current model of communicating with the divine an evolution from these rituals? Should an era of a central Beit Mikdash return, would we opt to return to them in place of or in concert with prayer? 2. If, as the midrash describing the young Abraham destroying the idols in his father's workshop suggests, a true God does not eat the foods offered up as a sacrifice, what need is being satisfied through these rituals? Who needs sacrifice? Who needs prayer? Can we envision a reality in which God needs us? 3. While we live in a framework which commands prayer three times daily, we are not always able to live up to this standard. What does the presence of this requirement suggest about the role of prayer in our lives? What steps can we take to enhance the fulfillment of this obligation? 4. Avot D'Rabbi Natan suggests that not only prayer takes the place of sacrifice, but the quality of human interaction. This is a fascinating innovation, because it shifts our focus from a God-centered reality to a human-centered reality. Is this a theologically reasonable suggestion? How does it alter the framework of Jewish life? 5. The Hasidic tale referenced above (which has also been retold by Elie Wiesel and Gershom Scholem) references yet another bygone era. It makes a powerful case for our ability to maintain a relationship with the Divine even as our world goes through radical, and often incomprehensible, shift. And yet, it seems to part with the past with ease, albeit with sadness. Can we call our experience a continuation of a tradition with which it bears little resemblance? Ought we strive to preserve the models built by the past in order to fortify that connection? Does that cycle affect our level of investment in our own spiritual and educational constructs? Discussion Theme 2: "But I Didn't Mean It" "If any person from among the populace unwittingly incurs guilt by doing any of the things which by the Lord's commandments ought not to be done, and he realizes his guilt." (Leviticus 4:27) Derash: Study

"Have I not emphasized, time and again, that the inclinations of the heart depend on actions. Therefore, when a man sins, he cannot cleanse his heart merely by uttering, between himself and the wall, 'I have sinned and will never repeat it.' Only by doing an overt act to atone for his sin, by

taking rams from his enclosures and troubling himself to bring them to the Temple, give them to the priest, and perform the entire rite as prescribed for sin-offerings, only then, will he impress upon his soul, the extent of the evil of his sin, and will take measures to avoid it in the future." (Sefer HaHinukh) "The reason why it is necessary to bring a sacrifice for inadvertent offenses is because every iniquity gives rise to some spiritual blemish in the soul of the offender, which will only merit appearing before its Maker when it is free from all sin. For this reason, the soul of the inadvertent offender is required to offer a sacrifice, affording it the opportunity of drawing near to the God who gave it." (Ramban) "We are all failures. At least one day a year we should recognize it. I have failed so often; I am sure those present here have also failed. We have much to be contrite about; we have missed opportunities." (Abraham Joshua Heschel, "Yom Kippur," in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity) "In my heart I will build a sanctuary for God's glory and in the sanctuary I will place an altar for God's splendor. For the eternal flame I will take the flame of the Akedah (sacrifice of Isaac) and for the offering I will offer up my unique soul." (from the words of Bilvavi, a traditional song)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Why does an inadvertent sin, a mistake, require a ritual for repair? Can't we just let bygones be bygones? 2. Once we embrace the notion of ritual as a prerequisite to repentance, what is our analogous practice in the absence of sacrifice? How do we go about restoring ourselves to wholeness? Is this necessary when we have simply made a mistake? 3. Heschel's suggestion that we are all failures is painful to bear. Perhaps it even elevates sins of omission to a more significant level than sins of commission. What is the impact on our psyche of this approach? Does it create any limitations in our attempts to grow, both personally and spiritually? 4. Linking the words of the Ramban with the message of Bilvavi, we begin to see spiritual perfection as a goal in and of itself. What new heshbon hanefesh, or self-accounting, might we construct to help us in that quest? How do we focus in on missed opportunities and turn them into opportunities for meaning? 5. "You still feel guilty after all these years? You should be ashamed of yourself!" How do we strike a balance between taking responsibility for our actions (and inaction) and celebrating our accomplishments and our potential?

PARASHAT TZAV - SHUSHAN PURIM
March 26, 2005 - 15 Adar II 5765 Annual: Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36 (Etz Hayim, p. 613; Hertz p. 429) Triennial: Leviticus 6:1 - 7:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 613; Hertz p. 429) Haftarah: Jeremiah 7:21 - 8:3; 9:22 - 23 (Etz Hayim, p. 627; Hertz p. 439) Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick Assistant Director, USCJ KOACH/College Outreach Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary The description of the sacrificial system continues in Parashat Tzav. Where Parashat Vayikra gives us the reasoning behind the sacrifices, Tzav is our handbook for how those sacrifices are to be offered up. The olah, which is to be consumed entirely by flame, remains on the altar all night long. The priest changes his garments to remove the ashes in the morning and then returns to feed fresh wood to the fire. The fire burns continuously. The minhah, or grain offering, is divided into a smaller portion mixed with frankincense which is placed on the altar and burnt in its entirety, its fragrant smoke rising up. The remainder is formed into unleavened cakes and eaten by the priests in the confines of the sanctuary (in this case, the sacred domain of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary in the desert). A separate grain offering marks the anointing of the High Priest. In this case, the grain is a combination of choice flour and oil, baked in slices and then burnt in its entirety on the altar. The hattat (purification offering - Parashat Vayikra for the specifics of the individual offerings) has an elevated level of holiness. A portion of the offering is to be consumed by the priest there in the inner confines of the Mishkan and the rest is completely burned. The place at which the offering is slaughtered (the northern side of the altar) is sacred and that status is required of anything which comes in contact with either the flesh or the blood of the offering. The asham or reparation offering is prepared precisely as the hattat. The zevah hashelamim, by contrast, is offered in two ways. If the zevah is a thanksgiving offering, the animal sacrifice is accompanied by unleavened cakes, unleavened wafers and leavened loaves. The one who brings the zevah eats the sacrifice and must consume it on the day in which it is offered. On the other hand, if the zevah is offered in association with a vow, or simply as a voluntary contribution, it may be eaten over the course of two days (including the day of the sacrifice) and whatever remains is returned to the altar on the third day. Like the blood, the organ fat of sacrificial animals was considered holy and for God alone. The consumption of either was grounds for banishment.

While the zevah offerings could only be placed upon the altar by the priests (indeed, only the priests were even permitted to enter area in which the altar stood), the one who brought the sacrifice was required to present it directly to the priest. In this way, they were afforded nominal participation in the experience, rather than delegating Divine contact exclusively to the priestly class. Having presented Moses with the full set of sacrificial instructions to be shared with Aaron and his sons, the initiation of the system is ready to begin. Moses first prepares Aaron and his sons for priestly duty, purifying them with water and dressing them in priestly garments. Then the tabernacle and all of its accoutrements were sanctified, first through anointing with oil, then with the blood of a sacrificial animal. Even Aaron and his sons are anointed in this way. This joint consecration prepares the ritual structure through which the Children of Israel will communicate with God. Discussion Topic 1: "Can Separate Be Equal?" "All the males in the priestly line will eat of it; it shall be eaten in the sacred precinct: it is most holy." (Leviticus 7:6) Derash: Study

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The Etz Hayyim humash (along with most contemporary versions) translates this verse as "'Only the males….' The Korin Bible says "Every male." "The woman of valor - a priceless find, a treasure more precious than pearls." (Proverbs 31:1) "Our masters taught that women are said to have four traits; they are gluttonous, eavesdropping, slothful and envious. R. Judah son of R. Nehemiah said: They are also querulous and talkative. R. Levi said: They are also pilferers and gadabouts" (Bereshit Rabbah 45:5) "May it be your will that our dough be blessed through the work of our hands, just as blessings attended the handiwork of our mothers Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. May the words of Torah be true for us, as it is written: 'The finest of your baking will you give to the priest, so that your house may be blessed' (Ezekiel 44:30). Amen. So may it be your will" (prayer on taking hallah, excerpted from Out of the Depths I Call to You, edited by Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin) "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." (Eleanor Roosevelt, This is my Story)

Questions for Discussion: 1. The Hebrew term kol (as used above) is generally used as a term of inclusion. Here, however, it is being used to designate a single group to the exclusion of others. What is it about this verse that suggests such a translation? 2. The exclusion of women from this rite has many faces. They are absent from the priesthood to begin with and then prohibited from the

3. 4.

5.

6.

consumption of this particular sacrifice (in most cases, the priestly families derive their sustenance from the offerings of the people). What is lost through the exclusion of these voices? Who else is excluded by the design of the sacrificial system? We often jump to the conclusion that our tradition and heritage are not only patriarchal, but misogynistic. Yet the contrast of the verse from Proverbs with the text from Bereshit Rabbah demonstrates that there is a multiplicity of voices which reflect on women in Jewish tradition. What contemporary factors lead us to draw such conclusions? How do we make peace with a tradition which seems to record only part of the story? Can we own the tradition of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as our own even when Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah are not always named? In a Movement where egalitarianism is the dominant - though not exclusive - force, many congregations have eroded the boundaries not only between male and female religious access, but also the differentiations between Kohen, Levi, and Yisrael. What is gained through these innovations? What is lost? At the same time, many congregations have reinstituted the practice of of dukhenen, of inviting the Kohanim to bless the congregation on festivals. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly has recorded positions both favoring the inclusion of Bnot Kohanim (daughters of Kohanim) in this rite as well as maintaining the status quo in which only males offer the priestly blessing. How do we grow our tradition forward without losing our connection to the past? The quote from Eleanor Roosevelt is a reminder of the degree to which we control our own destiny. The prayer on taking hallah (removing a portion of the dough when baking bread, traditionally a woman's obligation) suggests that women played a significant role in the construct of Jewish life, even as their roles may have differed from their male counterparts. In a quest for equality, how do we protect and honor that which is unique? Might there be ways in which separate could actually be equal?

Discussion Theme 2: "A Holy Vessel Unto the Lord" "Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the Tabernacle and all that was in it, thus consecrating them. He poured some of the anointing oil upon Aaron's head and anointed him, to consecrate him." (Leviticus 8:10 and 8:12) Derash: Study

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"From the basket of unleavened bread that was before the Lord, he took one cake of unleavened bread, one cake of oil bread, and one wafer, and placed them on the fat parts and on the right thigh. He placed all these on the palms of Aaron and on the palms of his sons, and elevated them as an elevation offering before the Lord." (Leviticus 8:26-27) "Manifest Your holiness through those who hallow You." (from Birkhot HaShahar, the morning blessings) "To the people, religion was Temple, priesthood, incense: "This is the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord" (Jer.

7:4). Such piety Jeremiah brands as fraud and illusion." (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets) "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6)

Questions for Discussion: 1. The Torah sets up parallel phenomena in the preparation of the Tabernacle and the priests who will serve within. What can we learn about the priestly role from this juxtaposition? 2. The image of Aaron and his sons raising up the offering as part of their sanctification raises an important question about who and what are being offered up. While it is clear that the elevating of the sacrifice alone is insufficient, we do begin to sense the value of the individual in the sacred process. How do you contrast this role with the moment of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac? 3. Tradition suggests that there is significant partnership between humankind and God in bringing holiness into the world. Certainly the opening formula for each brakhah or blessing we recite seeks/uses us as a vehicle for transferring that sense of sanctity. How do we reconcile that earthly role with the elite selection of the priests? Are there other ways, both ritual and interpersonal, that we take on that mantle of holiness? Does the absence of the Beit HaMikdash(the Temple in Jerusalem) modify that role in any way? 4. Abraham Joshua Heschel suggests that the role of the prophet is to bring God's will to the people, while the role of the priest is to convey our hopes and aspirations to the Divine. Is there a hierarchy of holiness here? Who confers sanctity on the priest? On the prophet? Whose role is more significant? Whose presence would make a greater impact on the world today? In the same vein as the questions for Theme #1 above, what is the impact of the presence of a priestly class on Jewish tradition? In a world without a Temple, what lessons do we derive from Parashat Tzav that can help us to imbue our lives with holiness and draw God's presence into the world?

PARASHAT SHEMINI - SHABBAT PARAH
April 2, 2005 - 22 Adar II 5765 Annual: Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47 (Etz Hayim, p. 630; Hertz p. 443) Triennial: Leviticus 9:1 - 10:11 (Etz Hayim, p. 630; Hertz p. 443) Maftir: Numbers 19:1 - 22 (Etz Hayim, p. 880; Hertz p. 652) Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16 - 38 (Etz Hayim, p. 1287; Hertz p. 999) Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick Assistant Director, USCJ KOACH/College Outreach Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Parashat Shemini begins with the inauguration of the altar through the first implementation of one of the offerings about which we've been reading. Moses instructs Aaron in what is to be done and Aaron and his sons come forward to complete the task. Once the altar has been prepared through the offering of the hattat, it is now ready for the people's offering, after which Aaron blesses the people as part of the priestly ritual. Moses and Aaron enter the Tent of Meeting and when they return, they bless the people again and the altar is filled with miraculous fire. The next episode is both shocking and, perhaps, incomprehensible. Nadav and Avihu, two of Aaron's sons, bring fire to the altar unbidden. God's fire comes forth and consumes them, killing them instantly. Moses offers an oblique message about God's holiness being manifest through those who are near to God and Aaron is silent. Moses forbids Aaron and his remaining sons (Elazar and Itamar) from ritual mourning or even leaving the Tent of Meeting. Following a prohibition against alcohol consumption prior to entering the Tent of Meeting, Moses continues his guidelines for the sacrificial system. He explains that the grain offering must be eaten at the altar, but other offerings that are shared with the priestly families, can be consumed in any pure place. He inquires about the status of the purification offering and is angered to find out that it has been fully burned and not consumed, as he had instructed. Aaron defends himself by noting that it was not appropriate for him to complete the purification ritual on a day in which his family had sinned. Moses concurs. We shift now from the appropriate conduct of sacrificial ritual to instructions on what is appropriate for Israelite consumption (the laws of kashrut). God explains that cud-chewing animals with split hooves are permitted. A list of animals which have one but not the other - and are forbidden - follows as reinforcement of this point. Fish are permitted only with fins and scales - this rule applies to anything which dwells in the water. Birds are classified as permitted and forbidden, rather than according to particular characteristics. Among insects, those which have both wings and four legs are forbidden, unless the legs are jointed, for leaping (like several types of locusts).

Those animals and insects which are forbidden confer impurity when one comes in contact with their carcasses. This also applies to a permitted animal which has died of natural causes or in any way independent of preparation for consumption. Discussion Topic 1: "No Words for the Pain of Loss" "Then Moses said to Aaron, 'This is what the Lord meant when He said: Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, and gain glory before all the people.' And Aaron was silent." (Leviticus 10:3) Derash: Study

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"This implies patience and resignation as in the text: 'Resign (dom) thyself unto the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.' (Psalm 37:7) Aaron regained his peace of mind and his soul did cleave to God who is sanctified through His holy ones." (Biur, Naftali Hertz Weisel) "R. Yose said [to Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, on the death of his son], 'Aaron had two grown sons, both of whom died in one day, yet he was comforted for the loss of them, as it is said, 'And Aaron was silent' (Lev. 10:3) - his silence implies a willingness to be comforted. You, too, must be comforted." (Mekhilta, Yitro, Ba-hodesh) "The reason it says 'And Aaron was silent' is that he was crying loudly and at this [Moses' words], he fell silent.'" (Ramban on Vayikra 10:3) "The misfortunes of good people are not only a problem to the people who suffer and to their families. They are a problem to everyone who wants to believe in a just and fair and livable world. They inevitably raise questions about the goodness, the kindness, even the existence of God." (Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People) "When we lose someone, especially when we have had little if any time to prepare ourselves, we are enraged, angry, in despair; we should be allowed to express these feelings." (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death And Dying)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Moses' words of comfort to Aaron are puzzling. Is he implying that God has taken Nadav and Avihu because they are close to God? Have they violated some precept that required their punishment? (The text in Vayikra does suggest this possibility.) What would be just cause on God's part for meting out such a severe punishment? (Tradition offers, alternately, that they were not called upon to bring fire and that they entered the Tent of Meeting in a state of intoxication. This theory is derived from the injunctions which follow the story.) 2. Aaron's silence in the face of his immense loss is chilling. Without looking at the texts above, how do you understand his reaction? What are the possible explanations? What would be other possible responses? 3. What happens between the lines in this text is crucial to our understanding of Aaron as a person and to our own experience of loss. How do we read Aaron's continued dedication to his ritual responsibilities

in this light? As Harold Kushner queries, does this tragedy lead us to question God's beneficence? If it does, how do we move forward and rebuild our essential relationship with God? 4. The various explanations offered by the commentaries above lead us to believe that Aaron's silence was praiseworthy. Do you agree? Can they be reconciled with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' statement on grief? Discussion Theme 2: "Sanctifying Our Basic Needs: The Laws of Kashrut" "These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the land animals: any animal that has true hoofs, with clefts through the hoofs and that chews the cud - such may you eat." (Leviticus 11:23) Derash: Study

"I maintain that the food which is forbidden by the Torah is unwholesome. There is nothing among the forbidden kinds of food whose harmful character is doubted, except pork and fat." (Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed) "R. Eliezer b. Azariah said: Whence that a man should not say: I can't abide wearing shaatnez, I can't abide pork, it is impossible for me to commit incest, but rather, I can, but what shall I do when my Father in Heaven has declared such things out of bounds for me? - from the text: 'I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine.' He thus separates himself from transgression and accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven." (Sifra: Kedoshim) "A socioreligious intent clearly underlies the dietary classification system. Ideally, humankind should be sustained by the produce of the earth. When, instead, other living creatures are used as food, as is permitted,such use should be restricted to living creatures that sustain themselves with what grows on the earth and that do not prey on other living creatures or attack man." (Baruch Levine, Excursus to Leviticus) "Holiness means to hallow our lives, but it also means to be set apart for the Lord. Thus one of the primary functions of kashrut is to distinguish us from others, to separate us from the nations, to preserve us amidst the maelstroms of history." (Samuel Dresner, The Jewish Dietary Laws) "We can conclude that holiness is exemplified by completeness. Holiness requires that individuals shall conform to the class to which they belong. And holiness requires that different classes of things shall not be confused." (Mary Tew Douglas, Purity and Danger)

Questions for Discussion: 1. The laws of kashrut have no apparent reason. No reason is given and none is logically deduced. Prior to an attempt to understand, in what ways do they transform the everyday and the mundane and make them holy? In what ways are we changed by this focus on how and what we eat? Tradition tells us that the mitzvot (our obligations) come from both l'tzaref, to purify and uplift and litzrof, to bind together. How does kashrut serve these dual purposes?

2. Rambam suggests that the laws of kashrut stemmed from a concern with proper diet and health. Does this understanding make sense in a 21st century context? What is the impact of this view on how we value these regulations? What are its educational benefits and pitfalls? 3. Are any of the explanations above particularly salient for you? How would you explain and support the laws of kashrut to someone who didn't understand or rejected these practices? Might we weave together a combination of these answers, or might none of them be relevant at all? Is it possible to accept this system without justification? 4. The social and anthropological answers given by Levine and Douglas create a neat and orderly understanding of how these laws might have come to be. In particular, Mary Tew Douglas explains that the laws of kashrut stem from prohibitions on all those creatures which do not fit neatly into one category or another. In an academic context, these statements are quite compelling. Need we reject them in order to find a religious answer? How do we take scientific reality and reconcile it with a Divine context? Do we require a bridge from one to the other, and if so, what might that be? Ultimately, we must ask, what is the power of kashrut and what compels us to accept it?

PARASHAT TAZRIA - SHABBAT HAHODESH
April 9, 2005 - 29 Adar II 5765 Annual: Leviticus 12:1 - 13:59 (Etz Hayim, p. 649; Hertz p. 460) Triennial: Leviticus 12:1 - 13:39 (Etz Hayim, p. 649; Hertz p. 460) Maftir: Exodus 12:1 - 20 (Etz Hayim, p. 380; Hertz p. 253) Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16 - 46:18 (Etz Hayim, p. 1291; Hertz p. 1001) Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick Assistant Director, USCJ KOACH/College Outreach Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary From last week's regulations on food consumption, we turn to more personal aspects of ritual purity. Parashat Tazria opens with the rules of ritual impurity governing the birth of a baby. Following the birth of a male child, the mother is in a state of niddah, or separation, for seven days, continuing in a state of ritual impurity for a total of thirty-three days. Following the birth of a female child, the mother is in niddah for fourteen days and ritual impurity for a total of sixty-six days. In either case, she marks the conclusion of her ritual impurity with a purification offering. The next category of ritual purity addresses the phenomenon of leprosy. The appearance of a skin ailment must be reported to one of the priests, who must then examine the skin. Should the blemish in question be deep and the hair in it determined to be white, it is automatically ruled leprosy. If the area does not qualify as leprosy, the priest may isolate the person for seven to fourteen days to see if it becomes leprous. The priest also evaluates the color of the skin involved. Flesh that is not discolored is raw and ailing; white flesh is that which has healed. The presence of not-discolored flesh is the presence of leprosy and the priest must declare the person impure. Should a healed area develop streaks of red, the priest must determine if this represents scar or further infection. Skin which has been burned by fire requires similar examination, to establish whether the lesions have been compromised with leprosy. A different challenge is created by skin affliction intermingled with the hair of the head or beard. In this case the lesion is evaluated by both its depth and by the presence of thin, yellow hair rather than white. Loss of hair does not imply leprosy; the skin in the area which has become bald is to be examined for discolorations and those discolorations evaluated for color. White, consistently, is a sign that skin is not leprous. Note that non-leprous conditions are identified by name: where leprosy is referred to as tzara'at, sh'hin is a form of dermatitis, the affliction in the hair is known as netek (a condition of the hair follicle) and the streaking of the skin is known as bohak (which may be vitiligo).

Persons with symptoms of questionable status are quarantined and those with a clear diagnosis are declared pure. What of the leper? The leper must rend his clothes, bare his head and cover his upper lip and call out, "Impure, impure." The leper must dwell outside the camp. Leprosy can appear not only in skin, but in fabrics as well, including leather, wool and linen. Its appearance here is marked by streaks of red or green. The priest will review the fabric, placing it in isolation for seven days before reevaluating. Should the streaky patch expand in that time, the fabric must be burned because of its leprous impurity. If it has not spread, it is washed and quarantined for a further seven days. If the afflicted patch has not disappeared, the fabric is burned. If, on the other hand, it has faded, that section is removed and burned, with the remainder washed again and declared pure. Discussion Theme 1: "A Double Standard?" "When a woman at childbirth bears a male, she shall be impure seven days. If she bears a female, she shall be impure two weeks." (Leviticus 12:2-5) Derash: Study

"According to the rules of impurity regarding menstruation, so is she made impure by the impurity of childbirth, even if the womb opens without any blood." (Rashi on Leviticus 12:2) "R. Simeon ben Yohai was asked by his disciples: Why does the Torah ordain that after childbirth a woman must bring an offering? He replied: Because when she kneels to give birth, she impetuously swears that she will never again submit to her husband. And since she later violates this oath, the Torah says that she must bring an offering." (Babylonian Talmud, Niddah 31b) "Herein lies one explanation for the double period of impurity following the birth of a female child. The baby girl embodies the potential to one day bear another new life. Each life that is brought into the world will also bring another death. Therefore, the Torah marks the birth of a girl, a future holy vessel for the creation of life, as fraught with twice the amount 'death symbolism.'" (Lauren Berkun Eichler, JTSA D'var Torah Tazria 5763) "Our masters taught that women are said to have four traits; they are gluttonous, eavesdropping, slothful, and envious. R. Judah son of R. Nehemiah said: They are also querulous and talkative. R. Levi said: They are also pilferers and gadabouts." (Bereshit Rabbah 45:5) "She is robed in strength and dignity and cheerfully faces whatever may come. She opens her mouth with wisdom her tongue is guided by kindness. She tends to the affairs of her household and eats not the bread of idleness" (Proverbs 31:25-27)

Questions for Discussion: 1. From the outset, this discussion is both puzzling and challenging. The birth of a baby is accompanied by great joy and celebration. Indeed,

those who wish to have a child and are unable suffer greatly over their inability to do so. What type of response would seem more fitting than the purification offering required? 2. The rabbis clearly struggled with this question. Rabbi Simeon b. Yohai's answer is one approach. Still others reference the loss of blood associated with childbirth and consider the purification offering to be a response to the impurity of blood loss. How does this response fit in with our understanding of what is sacred, in both traditional and contemporary contexts? 3. The difference between the waiting time for a daughter and for a son raises still further questions. Rabbi Simeon b. Yohai goes on to say that there is greater joy over the birth of a son and that explains the shorter time period. Others follow the route described by Lauren Berkun Eichler and see in the daughter's arrival a continuation of the cycle. What other explanations are possible?Do you sense any hierarchy in this? 4. The final two passages show the tradition's split-brained attitude towards women. While it is easy to presume that our ancient system is antiquated and misogynistic, trying to understand the comprehensive context can make a difference. Can you reconcile the two views? Do you come away from this passage with any feelings about the tradition's attitude toward women? Do our 21st century sensibilities change our understanding? Discussion Theme 2: "Defining Purity" "As for the person with a leprous affection, his clothes shall be rent, his head shall be left bare, and he shall cover over his upper lip; and he shall call out, 'Impure, impure.'" (Leviticus 13:45) Derash: Study
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"And 'Impure, impure' he shall call out: to announce that he is impure,so that others will stay away from him." (Rashi, Leviticus 13:45) "And the following shall make you unclean - whoever touches their carcasses shall be unclean until evening." (Leviticus 11:24) Note that impure and pure are ritual categories. In most cases they yield restrictions on participation in Temple or sacrificial service, but have little impact on social behavior. "Whether they are rigorously observed or violated, there is nothing in our rules of cleanness to suggest any connection between dirt and sacredness. Therefore it is only mystifying to learn that primitives make little difference between sacredness and uncleanness." (Mary Tew Douglas, Purity and Danger) "Tumah is the result of our confrontation with the fact of our own mortality. It is the going down into darkness. Taharah is the result of our reaffirmation of our own immortality. It is the reentry into light." (The First Jewish Catalogue)

Questions for Discussion: 1. What is your initial reaction to the rules of the leper? Try to sense the experience from within: do the rules feel exclusionary? Protective? Is the leper's statement of "Impure" condemnatory? 2. Over time we have blended the line between unclean and impure. Though many of our translations suggest that tameh is unclean, as the Leviticus text on kashrut cited here, unclean does not refer to something which is dirty. How would you distinguish between unclean and impure? 3. Though we've indicated above that purity is a ritual category, the leper and the menstruant (or, in this parashah, the new mother) do experience some restrictions on social behavior. What do these texts tell us about the experience of the outsider? In an environment where the ritual aspects of purity are no longer relevant (no Beit HaMikdash or sacrificial system), what is to be learned from these passages, in both practical and historical terms? 4. The laws of the leper provide a detailed view into the biblical understanding of disease. The role of the priest was not to cure, or magically change the leper's state. Define how the priest fits in to this scenario. What does the priest's role tell us about how leprosy was viewed socially? Questions of holiness abound in the book of Leviticus. Now that we are four parshiyot into the book, what is your understanding of how the Bible defines holiness? How is that similar or different from contemporary views? What can we derive, particularly from the case of the leper which no longer applies, that can augment the sanctity of our daily lives?

PARASHAT METZORA
April 16, 2005 - 7 Nisan 5765 Annual: Leviticus 14:1 - 15:33 (Etz Hayim, p. 660; Hertz p. 470) Triennial: Leviticus 14:1 - 32 (Etz Hayim, p. 660; Hertz p. 470) Haftarah: II Kings 7:3 - 20 (Etz Hayim, p. 676; Hertz p. 477) Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick Assistant Director, USCJ KOACH/College Outreach Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary The leper is anointed with the blood of a purification offering, on the tip of the right ear, the right thumb and the right big toe. The priest then sprinkles him seven times with the oil he has brought for the offering, with the remainder poured on the leper's head. The then remainder of what the leper had brought is offered up as an asham or guilt offering. When the ritual is complete, the leper is declared pure. An alternate plan, using a lamb and doves or pigeons, is an option for the leper who cannot afford the animals described above. We have seen how leprosy can appear in human beings and in fabric. Parashat Metzora goes on to describe how leprosy can afflict houses. The house is emptied and the priest comes to evaluate it, considering it leprous if there are green and red streaks in the lower part of the walls. The house is quarantined for seven days; if the plague has not cleared, the affected stones are cast away and the house is thoroughly cleaned and scraped - with even the dust removed and disposed of. The wall is rebuilt and replastered. Should the leprosy recur, the house must be destroyed. Anyone who enters the house during this time contracts impurity. If the plague does not recur when the house has been partially rebuilt, the priest declares the house clean of infection, purifying it with running water and the blood of a bird slaughtered for this purpose. One bird is killed for this ritual; another is set free. The parashah takes notions of personal purity a step further now, addressing the emission of bodily fluids. The first case is that of the zav, a man with an abnormal seminal emission. Clothing and furnishings with which he has been in contact must be washed; anyone who comes in contact with those furnishings must bathe and remains in an impure state until evening. The zav waits seven days, bathes and brings an offering of atonement. A menstruating woman is in an impure state from the onset of bleeding and is in a state of niddah (separation) for seven days. Her clothing and furnishings contract impurity, as does anyone who comes in physical contact with her. The furnishings must be washed and anyone who has come in contact with them must bathe. If the bleeding should continue beyond the seven days of separation, the restrictions continue for the duration of the bleeding. In the case

of this abnormal bleeding, she must count seven blood-free days. On the eighth day she brings an offering to restore her state of purity. Discussion Theme 1: "The Power of Speech" "This shall be the ritual for the leper at the time that he is to be purified." (Leviticus 14:2) Derash: Study

Lost in the translation is Hebrew term for leper, or metzora. The rabbis saw an abbreviation, or, rashei teivot in the word metzora and divided its letters to represent motzi shem ra or "slander" (lit. bringing forth an evil name). "As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow white scales." (Numbers 12:10) "Blessed is the One who spoke and the world came into being..." (Barukh She'amar, the opening to Psukei D'Zimrah; see Siddur Sim Shalom p. 54/p. 83) "Rabbi Yohanan said in the name of R. Yose ben Zimra: 'The retelling of evil talk is as if he has denied God.' R. Yose further said: 'Whoever retells evil talk is visited by plagues…' Said Resh Lakish: 'What is the implication of the phrase, "This shall be the law of the leper" this shall be the law of he who spreads evil talk." (Babylonian Talmud Arakhin 15b) "It is forbidden to speak disparagingly of one's haver (friend). Even if the information is entirely truthful, it is called Lashon Hara. If the information also contains any fabrication, it is also called motzi shem ra (lit. putting out a bad name). The speaker of Lashon Hara violates the prohibition of "Lo telekh rakhil b'amekha (Do not spread gossip among your people) (Lev. 19:16)" (Israel Meir Kagan, the Hafetz Hayyim)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Both parashat Tazria and Parashat Metzora indicate that the leper (or one whose house or fabric are leprous) must bring some form of sin offering as part of the purification after healing. Why should this be necessary? Does it not seem that we are punishing the victim? Does it seem like this is an apologetic for why the ill suffer? 2. The rabbinic understanding of leprosy is that it comes as a punishment for Lashon Hara or evil speech. The story of Miriam's affliction in the Book of Numbers immediately follows her casting aspersions on her brother Moses' choice of a wife (interestingly, Aaron participates in the criticism, but he does not appear to be punished). That, combined with understanding metzora as an acronym, leads to the connection of these two phenomena. Of the myriad laws defined by the Bible, no other earns this much attention for our failure to fulfill. What is it about evil speech that generates this much discussion? And why does the Bible fail to reveal the connection in explicit terms? 3. Our tradition places a significant emphasis on the care to be given to what goes into our mouths. We often fail to notice, however, the similar emphasis on what comes out of our mouths. In looking at the words of

Barukh She'amar (again, Siddur Sim Shalom p. 54/p.83), what do we derive about one aspect of the sanctity of what crosses our lips? 4. In the absence of leprosy as a punishment for our sins of speech, what will motivate us to consider our words? Are there ways in which we are punished for failing to take care with what we say, even without leprosy? What steps ought we to take interpersonally to augment the holiness of what we say? In what ways do our leaders live up to or violate these principles? How do we model gentle speech for our children? Discussion Theme 2: "Family Purity" "When a woman has a discharge, her discharge being blood from her body, she shall remain in her impurity seven days..." (Leviticus 15:19) Derash: Study

"Rabbi Zeira said: 'The daughters of Israel imposed the stringency upon themselves that if they see a drop of blood the size of a mustard seed, they wait seven blood-free days.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Niddah 31b) "Undoubtedly the taboo is so common since many cultures share the same basic psychological components: fear of bleeding, discomfort with genital discharge, and bewilderment especially on the part of men, at the mysterious cycle of bleeding and its connection to conception and birth." (Rachel Biale, Women and Jewish Law) "People sometimes mistakenly think its purpose is to rid a woman of uncleanness or to wash away a convert's previous life… But immersion in the mikvah represents for all Jews, men and women, a symbolic rebirth into another levelof spirituality, a new beginning." (Simcha Kling, Embracing Judaism) "… these laws, in the eyes of some, degrade women, for they imply that women are periodically sullied by their menstrual functions and therefore need monthly cleansing, while men are not subject to such diminishment and do not require such repair." (Elliot Dorff, This is My Beloved, This is My Friend) Dov Zlotnick refers to the obligations of Family Purity as a met mitzvah a "dead commandment," because they have fallen into disuse. He suggests that the revitalization of the obligations because they are obligations is meritorious in and of itself. (See "Today's met mitzvah," in Total Immersion)

Questions for Discussion: 1. We learn from the tradition that during the time of niddah, a woman may not engage in sexual relations with her husband. At the conclusion of her niddah, she immerses in the mikvah and is restored to her prior state of purity. She may also return to intimacy with her husband. The biblical text suggests that niddah lasts only seven days. The talmudic text - which we note is descriptive, rather than prescriptive - is the basis for the normative practice of observing the rules of niddah for ten days to two weeks. If halakhic analysis deduces that a return to the biblical mandate

is permissible, what would the pros and cons of changing this practice be? 2. Dorff notes that there is much opposition to the practice of the laws of family purity because they appear to place women in a second class role. It is first important to note that these laws are not about being physically clean or unclean - the woman must be scrupulously clean, without even a stray hair, prior to immersing in the mikvah. With that understanding, what do these regulations tell us about the Biblical sense of holiness and purity? The anthropological phenomena which may have contributed to the evolution of the rules? And, perhaps most significantly, what do they tell us about our own potential to reclaim sanctity in a traditional context? 3. For some it is enough to say that these rules remain in force because they are commandments. They have not been legally abrogated, even if they may have fallen into disuse. What might be the reasons we would give someone who was not yet ready to commit to this practice? What is the impact on the relationship yielded by these rules? How do we move beyond a condemnatory approach to discover their redeeming merits? There are those who suggest that these laws are suitable for any woman who is sexually active, no matter the context. In what ways are they transferable? In what ways ought these laws remain the exclusive purview of the marital relationship? What are the benefits and shortcomings of extending these regulations to other situations? It is worth noting that the Bible condemns sexual relations with a woman in a state of niddah no matter her marital status. How might this affect our view? 4. Consider Dov Zlotnick's suggestion that the revitalization of a mitzvah is a goal in and of itself. In what ways have you watched Jewish law evolve in your lifetime? How should the Conservative Movement reconcile the voice of the people (as demonstrated by the absence of participation in a particular mitzvah) with its self-characterization as a halakhic movement? What are the criteria for change and who is responsible for those decisions? What does it mean to be commanded?

PARASHAT AHAREY MOT - SHABBAT HAGADOL - FIRST PESAH SEDER ANNIVERSARY WARSAW GHETTO UPRISING
April 23, 2005 - 14 Nisan 5765 Annual: Leviticus 16:1 - 18:30 (Etz Hayim, p. 679; Hertz p. 480) Triennial: Leviticus 16:1 - 17:7 (Etz Hayim, p. 679; Hertz p. 480) Haftarah: Malakhi 3:4 - 24; 3:23 (Etz Hayim, p. 1296; Hertz p. 1005) Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick Assistant Director, USCJ KOACH/College Outreach Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director Summary Tazria and Metzora seem to be an aside when we reach Parashat Aharei Mot. Aharei Mot offers a continuation - a brief coda, really - to the story of the deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu. The text refers to their death, almost in passing, before moving on with a discussion of priestly ritual. Moses is instructed to tell Aaron, the High Priest, that he may enter the Holy of Holies, God's dwelling place, only at a specific time. He must do so garbed in linen and after he has immersed in water. He then brings two goats as an offering, casting lots to select which will be sacrificed as a sin offering and which will be set free as the "goat for Azazel" in the wilderness. He first sacrifices a bull to atone for his own sins and the sins of his household. He sprinkles the blood of the bull, as well as of the sacrificial goat, in the Holy of Holies. No one else is permitted to enter. He then sprinkles the blood at the altar and the tabernacle. To set the second goat free in the wilderness, he lays his hands upon it and declares it to carry the sins of all Israel. Then it is led away and released. This ritual of atonement is to take place once a year. No sacrifices are to be offered anywhere else without bringing one portion to the Mishkan. And sacrifices are only to be offered to God. The punishment for violating these precepts is karet, being cut off from the community. No blood is to be eaten - blood is seen as the source of life. Even in nonsacrificial slaughter, the animal must be cleaned of all blood. As we move forward in our knowledge of ritual purity, the Torah now defines which sexual relationships are permissible and which are forbidden. Following an enjoinder to leave behind the ways and statutes of Egypt, the list of forbidden relationships begins, ranging from intimacy with parents and siblings to step-siblings, aunts and uncles. We are forbidden from relationships with those who are related to us by blood and from relationships with those who are married to others. We are forbidden from child sacrifice and from, it appears, male homosexuality and bestiality. These transgressions are seen to defile the

land; we are told the land will vomit out its inhabitants if the ordinances are not followed. Discussion Theme 1: "A Goat for Azazel" "Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man." (Leviticus 16:21) Derash: Study

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"After this confession, the goat designated for Azazel was given to the kohen assigned to lead it away into the wilderness. And when this kohen came to the designated ravine in the wilderness, he separated the thread of crimson wool which had been tied around the goat's horns. One half he tied to a rock there, and the other half he tied to the horns again. Then he pushed the goat into the ravine." (Mishnah Yoma 6:7, as quoted in Mahzor for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the Rabbinical Assembly) "[Azazel] is a strong and hard mountain with a high peak." (Rashi on Leviticus 16:8) "What purpose does Avodah serve? Perhaps it is intended to keep alive the ancient tradition in the most vivid way possible and to reassure us that what we are doing today can achieve the same result as the most sacred ancient rituals." (Reuven Hammer, Entering the High Holy Days) "The Avodah Service on Yom Kippur is a challenge to explore through words the dimensions of our people's ancient encounters with God. What was once a yearly experience of drama through detail is for us an outpouring of words in great detail, with the drama dependent on our own imaginations and our own ability to translate words into prayer." (Richard Levy, On Wings of Awe) "Cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:19)

Questions for Discussion: 1. It is intriguing, though not surprising in the larger context of Vayikra, that atonement is achieved through an almost magical ritual, rather than through repentance, prayer and charity as our liturgy directs. What is the resonance of the symbolism of this ritual? In what ways would the ancients have had their needs met by this experience? What are the strengths and drawbacks of this approach? 2. The term "scapegoat" has taken on additional significance over the course of history and few probably realize its origins. In what ways does contemporary usage reflect the original Biblical encounter? How might the original encounter influence our sensitivity to the practice of scapegoating? 3. The poetic structure upon which most mahzorim base their Seder Avodah is called the Amitz Koah. It begins with a recounting of creation and history from Adam through Jacob. In what way is the story enriched by this context? How is our understanding of the Seder Avodah affected

by it? On Rosh HaShanah we symbolically cast our sins into the sea. This Ashkenazi custom, originating in the fifteenth century (and adopted by Sephardim in the sixteenth century) stemmed from popular participation, rather than rabbinic direction. How is it similar to the scapegoat ritual? 4. What might we learn from its source as a people-driven custom? How might we synthesize the two to augment their power and sanctity? (Note that The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has prepared material to enhance the Tashlikh ceremony, available on their website.) Discussion Theme 2: "Choose Life" "You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which man shall live: I am the Lord.'" (Leviticus 18:5) Derash: Study
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"And you shall live through them: This refers to the world to come, for if you would say in this world, is not his end death?" (Rashi, Leviticus 18:5) "Rabbi Hiyya told the parable of a king who had an orchard, into which he brought workmen without revealing to them the wages for planting each of the several kinds of trees in the orchard. Had he revealed to them the reward for planting each kind of tree in the orchard, the workmen would have picked out the kind of tree for whose planting there was the greatest wage and would have planted it exclusively; as a result, the work of planting the orchard would have been neglected in one part and maintained in another part." (Midrash Tanhuma Ekev 2) "Those who leave the concerns of this world and do not consider them, as if they were not human beings, focusing all of their thoughts and intentions on their Creator alone… their bodies and their souls will live on." (Ramban, Leviticus 18:5) "How do we know that danger to life overrides the Sabbath? Said R. Yehudah in the name of Samuel: Since it is written: 'He shall live with them, and not die through them.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 88b) "Except for the prohibitions against murder, incest and adultery, and idolatry, any commandment must be set aside for pikkuah nefesh, to save a human life." (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 74a, as quoted in the Etz Hayyim humash)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Several different understandings of the phrase "v'hai bahem" ("he shall live through them" or "he shall live by them") are offered by traditional commentators. How do the texts listed above approach it? 2. "Life," in this context, can be seen either as an instruction or as a reward. Which do you find more plausible? Which fits best with the tradition as we understand it? 3. If we follow the perspective which says that life is not to be put in jeopardy by the fulfillment of these obligations, how do we reconcile this with the honor our tradition gives to martyrs? Thinking of Hannah and her

sons, as we retell at Hanukkah, or of the story of Masada, are there ways in which these are extenuating circumstances? 4. We might understand this verse to mean that the religious obligations which are incumbent upon us are a way of life, rather than simply something that we do. What steps might we take to further our journey to make Judaism integral to who we are, rather than something that we put on or take off as the moment requires? 5. The demands of Jewish life are myriad. The midrash quoted above from Tanhuma is just one source which suggests that we are expected to fulfill all of the obligations upon us, rather than pick and choose by reward or even preference. How do we create a workable model for daily life in the face of such high expectations? What resources can we use to figure out how to prioritize the performance of mitzvot? What might the Jew by choice have to teach those who are born Jewish about the process of building a Jewish life and developing a sense of commitment?

TORAH READING FOR SEVENTH DAY PESAH
April 30, 2005 - 21 Nisan 5765 Exodus 13:17 - 15:26 (Etz Hayim, p. 399; Hertz p. 265) Maftir: Numbers 28:19-25 (Etz Hayim, p. 932; Hertz p. 695) Haftarah: II Samuel: 22:1 - 51 (Etz Hayim, p. 1310; Hertz p. 1017) Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick Assistant Director, USCJ KOACH/College Outreach Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary The Torah reading for the seventh day of Passover takes us back in the cycle of Torah reading to Parashat Beshallach and the crossing of the Reed Sea. We read the magnificent poetry of the Song at the Sea and the dramatic retelling of the midnight escape from Pharoah's clutches. We begin with an explanation of the circuitous route taken by the Israelites on their journey - God ruminates on the idea that if the journey is challenging, they may seek to return to Egypt. Thus, they take a more indirect route, to make return to Egypt less likely. The Torah marks out for us the map of their encampments along the way and tells us that they are protected by God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God compels Pharoah to send his chariots to chase after them and the Israelites lose heart. They fear that they have been brought to the desert simply to die, trapped between the sea and the advancing army. Moses raises his arm above the sea and it parts before them. The pillar of cloud shifts to the back of the caravan to delay the Egyptian advancement as the Israelites begin to cross the sea on dry ground. When the Egyptians are able to pursue, the seas close back in upon them and they are drowned, even as the Israelites have successfully crossed to the opposite coast. Moses and the Israelites sing a song of gratitude for God's beneficence. They tell of God's might and majesty and refer to the experience of crossing the sea throughout the song. Miriam and the women follow with a song of their own, danced to the music of the timbrel. No sooner have the Israelites experienced this great miracle, they find themselves without water to drink and once again lose heart. God instructs Moses to throw a piece of wood into the bitter waters and they become potable. Discussion Theme 1:"The Fear of In Between" "...till Your people cross over, O Lord, till Your people cross whom You have ransomed." (Exodus 15:16)

Derash: Study
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"'Then:' When he saw the miracle, it arose in his heart to that he should sing a song..." (Rashi on Exodus 15:1) "One who sees the corridors of the Sea should give praise and gratitude to God, as it is written: 'And the Israelites came into the midst of the Sea, on dry land.'" (Babylonian Talmud Brakhot 54a) "Rabbi Yosi the Galilean expounded: When Israel came out of the sea, they gazed upward to chant their song." (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 30b) "...the right moment to praise and thank God is at the end of the story of salvation: when one has emerged from the protective but menacing corridor of massed waters, one blesses and sings in gratitude." (Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg in The Particulars of Rapture) "To stand on a threshold is to be in between, neither here nor there, and invariably to feel a certain tension. That is why many religious rituals are located precisely at threshold moments." (Neil Gillman in JTS Magazine, Fall 1996)

Questions for Discussion: 1. The repetition of the phrase "cross over" in the Song at the Sea is notable, as the repetition of any phrase in the Bible draws our attention to it. What is the significance of crossing over at this moment in Biblical time? What might the Israelites have felt as they said these words? 2. It is striking to note that this song appears to spring forth as a natural expression, despite its length and poesy. Some commentators suggest that Moses taught it to the Israelites at that very moment. Others suggest that it was done in antiphonic, or responsive, style. How do you imagine the song comes to them at this moment? Does a miraculous moment allow for other options? Are there practical explanations which maintain a sense of awe and even magic? 3. For many of us, the vision of the Israelites singing as they descend to and cross the Sea as portrayed by the film Prince of Egypt has become a powerful visual of the moment. When was the Song actually sung? When would it be appropriate to sing it? How does the timing of the Song influence our experience and memory of it? 4. Consider moments in Jewish time which, to use a Yiddish phrase, are nisht a heyn, nisht a heyr, neither here nor there. Many of these moments become ritualized and sacred (the mezuzah on the doorpost of the house and havdalah to mark the conclusion of Shabbat are two examples which come to mind). How does Jewish time handle those moments which are neither here nor there? How do we grapple with them in our daily lives? What are the emotional and practical differences between singing a song of praise in the midst of transition versus when the "cross over" is complete? Discussion Theme 2: "Sing a New Song" "Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels." (Exodus 15:20)

Derash: Study
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"They were certain that God would perform miracles and they brought their timbrels from Egypt." (Rashi on Exodus 15:20) "When the Israelite women came to give birth (in Egypt), they did so in the fields, and God sent one from the highest heavens to clean and tend to them, like a midwife. So when God appeared to them at the Sea, they recognized Him first, as it is said "This is my God." (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 11b) "'… among maidens, playing drums:' these are the women, who gave praise in the middle, as it is written, 'Then Miriam took the drum in her hand….'" (Shmot Rabbah 23:8) "The question of difference in the women's Song focuses on two things: the timbrels and the actually changed text: 'Sing to God…' instead of 'I will sing to God.…'" (Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg in The Particulars of Rapture) "In contrast to Moses' song, which expressed the strength of personality, prophecy, and poetic ability of this great leader, and which was addressed to God and perhaps to all those who would recite it in future generations, Miriam's song was addressed to her contemporaries, its strength stemming from its immediate expression of the event and the popular, rousing manner in which it was delivered." (Tovah Cohen, BarIlan Parashat HaShavua Study Center)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Moses and the children of Israel have already sung the Song at the Sea. Why does Miriam now lead the women in a separate song? 2. The Song at the Sea is a song alone. Miriam's chanting is accompanied by music and dance. In what way do these additions change our experience of the song? In what ways do we experience these differences in our own expressions of joy? 3. Miriam's song is far briefer and more direct than that of Moses. What is the impact of this brevity? Who and what are the focus of her words? Do we imagine them as consecutive or simultaneous with the Song at the Sea and how does that influence our understanding of the moment? 4. It is difficult, if not impossible, to know what is said by the voices which our text excludes. The midrash does its best to fill in the gaps, but the truth is that these voices remain out of our grasp. How does the illustration of this second song fill in that gap? What does it suggest about hearing the totality of voices? What steps do we take to foster inclusion, even when the need is not readily apparent? 5. The text and context of Miriam's and Moses' songs illustrate their different qualities and strengths. What characteristics can we derive from these retellings? Are there gender specificities to their behavior? What type of synthesis would be necessary to define ideal leadership? How do they influence the songs we sing with our own lives?

PARASHAT KEDOSHIM
May 7, 2005 - 28 Nisan 5765 Annual: Leviticus 19:1 - 20:27 (Etz Hayim, p. 693; Hertz p. 497) Triennial: Leviticus 19:1 - 37 (Etz Hayim, p. 693; Hertz p. 497) Haftarah: Amos 9:7 - 15 (Etz Hayim, p. 706; Hertz p. 509) Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick Assistant Director, USCJ KOACH/College Outreach Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary From ritual concepts of holiness, the requirements broaden in Parashat Kedoshim, which is also known as the "Holiness Code." We are enjoined to be holy because God is holy. We are not to worship idols. Shlamim, peace offerings, are to be offered freely and eaten within the first two days of the offering. In collecting the harvest, we are to leave the corners and the gleanings for the poor. We are not to steal or lie or take God's name in vain. We are to pay timely wages and care for the deaf and the blind. We are to judge justly and not gossip. We shall be forgiving, yet offer constructive criticism. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are not to hybridize cattle or seed or even linen and wool. When we plant fruit-bearing trees, we are to wait four years to harvest, with the fourth year harvest an offering to God, eating of the produce for the first time only in the fifth year. We are enjoined not to eat blood, practice magic, round the corners of our heads, cut marks in our flesh or receive tattoos. We are to honor the old and respect the stranger, the latter because of our own status as strangers in Egypt. We must have fair weights and measures and observe all of God's statutes. Child sacrifice is forbidden and punishable by stoning. Adultery and bestiality are punishable by death. Improper sexual relations are punishable by karet. We conclude with a summary return to the laws of kashrut and prohibitions against magic, coupled with a reminder that the reward for our obedience is a land flowing with milk and honey. Discussion Theme 1: "Holiness as a Mirror" "…You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy." (Leviticus 19:2) Derash: Study
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"And God said, 'Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness…." (Genesis 1:26) "In Our image: in Our imprint; Our likeness: to understand and to comprehend" (Rashi on Genesis 1:26) "You shall be holy: you shall be separate.'" (Rashi on Leviticus 19:2)

"To walk in all His ways' (Deuteronomy 11:22). There are the ways of the Holy One: 'gracious and compassionate, patient, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, assuring love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and granting pardon….' (Exodus 34:6). This means that just as God is gracious and compassionate, you too must be gracious and compassionate. 'The Lord is faithful in all His ways and loving in all His deeds' (Psalm 145:17). As the Holy One is faithful, you too must be faithful. As the Holy One is loving, you too must be loving.'" (Sifrei Deuteronomy: Ekev) "Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who made me in His image." (from the Birkhot HaShahar)

Questions for Discussion: 1. What other things in Jewish tradition are considered kadosh or holy? How do they become holy? 2. What is the distinction between being holy and being separate? What do they have in common? 3. To be created in God's image raises a myriad of questions. Take a few moments and consider how you imagine God. Draw a picture or put your image of God into words, but challenge yourself to create something tangible. What do you have in common with this God image? 4. The passage from Sifrei suggests that we are obligated to behave in God-like ways. What are some of the Bible's anecdotes which give us guidance? How do we grapple with the difficulty of emulating a God known to us only through history? What are we grateful for when we acknowledge being created in God's image? Discussion Theme 2: "Honor and Fear" "A man should fear his mother and father, and keep My Sabbaths: I the Lord am your God." (Leviticus 19:3) Derash: Study
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"Honor your father and your mother, that you may long endure on the land that the Lord your God is assigning to you." (Exodus 20:12) "Here, mother precedes father because it is well known that the son fears his father more than his mother and in honoring, the father precedes the mother because it is well known that the son honors his mother more than his father because she sways him with words." (Rashi on Leviticus 19:3) "The observance of Shabbat is juxtaposed with revering parents to say that even though you have been instructed to revere your parents, if they tell you to desecrate the Sabbath, you should not listen, and so too with the other commandments." (Rashi on Leviticus 19:3) "Our masters taught: What is 'fear,' and what is 'honor?' 'Fear' means that the son is not to stand in his father's place, nor to sit in his place; not to contradict him, nor to tip the scales against him. 'Honor' means that the son must supply his father with food and drink, provide him with

clothes and footwear, and assist his coming in or going out of the house." (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 31b) "Our masters taught: When a man, his father, and his teacher are in captivity, he has the first right to be ransomed before his teacher and his teacher before his father. But his mother has the first right to be ransomed before all of them." (Babylonian Talmud, Horayot 13a)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Yir'a is a term alternately used to indicate awe, reverence or fear. To translate the text here as an instruction to fear your mother and father is discomfiting. What might the Torah be directing us to? 2. We see that the Ten Commandments offer both a different order to the parents and a different verb to characterize the relationship. Using Rashi as a starting point, how do the two sets of instructions differ? Why direct us to reverence of the mother first and honor of the father first? 3. Both the Exodus and Leviticus texts append a seemingly unrelated clause to the relationship with parents. What is it about Shabbat and long life that make these logical connections? 4. There are moments in our lives where respect for our parents seems to be beyond comprehensible, when even parents fail to live up to their responsibilities. How do we reconcile these difficult relationships with the idea of honor and reverence? Can a parent do something which would obviate the requirement to offer respect? What constitute the minimum and maximum limitations for demonstrating this respect? 5. As parents, we strive to provide our children with not only their basic needs, but also their wants and desires. How do we inculcate in them a sense of respect, even as we nurture their growth and development? How do we teach them that respect for parents (and other adults) is an essential component of their lives? Do the traditional Talmudic exhortations speak to them, or can you offer an alternate model? 6. The text from BT Horayot sets up an interesting hierarchy. Why should the teacher be redeemed before the father? What does this tell us about the vision of Jewish tradition? What does it tell us about ourselves?

PARASHAT EMOR
May 14, 2005 - 5 Iyar 5765 Annual: Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23 (Etz Hayim, p. 717; Hertz p. 513) Triennial: Leviticus 21:1 - 22:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 717; Hertz p. 513) Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15 - 31 (Etz Hayim, p. 735; Hertz p. 528) Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick Assistant Director, USCJ KOACH/College Outreach Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary Parashat Emor opens with rules specific to maintaining the integrity of the holiness of the priestly class. The priest may not come in contact with a dead body (save that of an immediate relative), shave his head or the corners of his beard nor make cuttings in his flesh. He may not marry a divorcee or a widow. The priest may not participate in the sacrificial service if he is blind, disabled or has any type of bodily malformation. All those phenomena which we previously noted (particularly in Parashat Metzora) render an individual impure, will render the priest temporarily unfit for his duties. Only a member of the priest's household may partake in the food garnered from offerings: the stranger and the hired help are forbidden; the daughter is forbidden once she marries out of the priestly class (but regains her status if she moves back into her father's home single). Animals presented for sacrificial offering must be perfect and without blemish or damage. The animal should be presented no sooner than the eighth day of its life and an adult animal and its young may not be killed on the same day. The text shifts slightly to a discussion of the festivals, linked here by a description of their offerings. The seventh day, Shabbat, is the first of the feast to be mentioned, followed by Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and sukkot. Each is identified by its month and date, as well as the offerings it requires. The first and last days of Passover are set aside as holy; all the days are marked by the consumption of unleavened bread. The holiday is accompanied by a recognition of the first fruits of the wheat harvest. From Passover, seven Sabbaths are counted, a total of 50 days, before the next celebration and set of offerings is required. This, too, is marked as a harvest festival. The first day of what the Bible considers the seventh month is a day of the blowing of trumpets, known to us - but not to the Bible - as Rosh HaShanah. The tenth day of that selfsame month is a day of atonement, a day free from work and devoted to the affliction of the soul. Finally, the fifteenth day of that month marks a final harvest festival, with days one and eight marked by

elevated sanctity. Here we receive instruction on the need for and composition of the lulav, as well as the commandment to dwell in sukkot, or booths. We are next instructed in the requirement of an eternal flame and its maintenance, along with the requirement of twelve loaves for The Sabbath, both for the Tabernacle. Next we learn of the punishment for one who curses God. He is to be stoned to death by all those who heard the blasphemy. This is followed by a reminder that the penalty for taking a life is a life, and that similar parallels exist for loss of limb - an eye for an eye, etc. The same system of laws is to apply to both Israelite and stranger. Discussion Theme 1: "A Palace in Time" "On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion. You shall do no work; it shall be a Sabbath of the Lord throughout your settlements." (Leviticus 23:3) Derash: Study
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"Remember The Sabbath day and keep it holy…" (Exodus 20:8) "Observe The Sabbath day and keep it holy..." (Deuteronomy 5:12) "Throughout your settlements: In your land and outside your land; in the house and on the way." (Ibn Ezra on Leviticus 23:3) "'Remember' and 'observe' were said in a single utterance." (Babylonian Talmud 20b) "All week we struggle to make a living; we fight for our social and economic existence. There is war in every marketplace and every business is a battleground. On this day we declare an armistice." (Samuel H. Dresner in The Sabbath) "What is so luminous about a day? What is so precious to captivate the hearts? It is because the seventh day is a mine where spirit's precious metal can be found with which to construct the palace in time, a dimension in which the human is at home with the divine; a dimension in which man aspires to approach the likeness of the divine." (Abraham Joshua Heschel in The Sabbath)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Note the different language employed by the Ten Commandments in each of their iterations, in Exodus and in Deuteronomy. How are they alike? How are they different? Are there ways in which they conflict? 2. The rabbis note this conflict in the Talmud and many commentators address it. Imagine two words in a single utterance. What might that sound like? What would you take that phenomenon to mean? What do we learn about the rabbinic understanding of Shabbat from this particular resolution?

3. Ibn Ezra's comment on our passage in Leviticus implies a certain totality of Shabbat. He is focusing on the location of Sabbath observance. What question is he trying to answer with his comment? What is he troubled by? What are the implications of his interpretation in practical terms? Are there other interpretations which come to mind? 4. Reading Dresner and Heschel's comments together provides the synthesis implied by the single utterance. Are these approaches consecutive in any way? Do they suggest cause and effect to you? In what ways might you enhance your own Sabbath experience to be a reflection of the synthesis of "remember" and "observe?" Discussion Theme 2: : "Just a Little Off the Sides" "And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and stranger: I the Lord am your God." (Leviticus 23:22) Derash: Study

"… R. Avdimi said in the name of R. Yosef: Why did the text find it fitting to give these rules between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot on one side and Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot on the other side? To teach that one who gives his gleanings, forgotten fruits and corners [of the field] to the poor as expected is considered as if he has built the Holy Temple and offered his sacrifices within." (Rashi, Leviticus 23:22) "These are the deeds for which there is no prescribed measure: leaving crops at the corner of a field for the poor, offering first fruits as a gift to the Temple, bringing special offerings to the Temple on the three Festivals, doing deeds of lovingkindness, and studying the Torah." (Mishnah Peah 1:1) "… For four purposes the Torah ordered the corner crop to be left at the end of one's field: against robbing the poor, against wasting the time of the poor, against suspicion and against cheaters." (Babylonian Talmud 23a) "If we took these verses absolutely literally, we would learn a powerful moral teaching about setting aside some of our resources to help those in need. However, we can also infer that the creation of a caring, interdependent community is a greater priority than strict property rights - for ultimately, the land belongs to God, not its human steward." (Neal Loevinger, A New Look at Philanthropy, myjewishlearning.com) "The January 25, 1996 issue of Rolling Stone brought 100's of new volunteers to an already flourishing organization. Rock and Wrap it Up! has fed 600,000 people since its start in August, 1994. Organized through a volunteer food rescue force of 250 members, they offer all bands who tour the opportunity to make sure that the edible leftover food from their contract rider is designated to feed those who hunger in soup kitchens and shelters throughout the world." (from a press release by founder Syd Mandelbaum, with thanks to Danny Siegel)

Questions for Discussion: 1. If you were a farmer, deriving your livelihood from the produce of your fields, how would you react to this requirement? What is the justification for such a system in a social context? In a religious context? 2. Rashi notes the peculiar location of this particular set of rules. The interruption of the flow of the text's description of the holidays makes us sit up and take notice. Why does Rashi tell us the rabbis associated this obligation with the sacrifices in the Temple? What does this imply about their sanctity and importance? 3. The Talmud takes a slightly different approach in justifying the mandate. What is the motivation defined here? Do you think our system of laws is intended to be Hobbesian in nature, directing us against our likely intent, or more like John Locke, defining our natural moral instincts? 4. In an era in which the majority of the Jewish population no longer lives according to an agricultural system, and when so many of the agricultural laws are said to apply only in the land of Israel, what is the import of this set of laws for the North American city dweller? Are there lessons to be derived even for us? 5. Syd Mandelbaum's response to the deprivation of his Holocaust-era parents was to build an organization dedicated to eliminating hunger through the simple act of collecting leftovers. Are there institutions in our communities devoted to the distribution of excess resources? Are there steps that we can take as families and individuals which enable us to leave the corners of our "fields" for the poor?

PARASHAT BEHAR
May 21, 2005 - 12 Iyar 5765 Annual: Leviticus 25:1 - 26:2 (Etz Hayim, p. 738; Hertz p. 531) Triennial: Leviticus 25:1 - 25:38 (Etz Hayim, p. 738; Hertz p. 531) Haftarah: Jeremiah 32:6 - 27 (Etz Hayim, p. 759; Hertz p. 539) Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick Assistant Director, USCJ KOACH/College Outreach Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary The degree to which we began as an agricultural society is reflected in the opening focus of Parashat Behar. Here we are enjoined to observe a sabbatical year, offering a time of rest to our fields. This is specific to the land of Israel. In that year, nothing is to be planted, trimmed or harvested. The completion of a cycle of seven sabbatical phases marks a jubilee. The sounding of the shofar in the Jubilee Year represents a call to freedom, restoring all property to its original owner and requiring the manumission of slaves. The same agricultural rules apply as in the simple sabbatical; the pricing of the land in the years preceding the jubilee must take into account the length of time a purchaser can benefit from its yield. God promises that the yield in the sixth year will suffice for three years, compensating for lost harvest in the seventh year, as well as the failure to plant. The ownership of land is both temporary stewardship, since the only true Owner is God, and it is also an inheritance. Even if one should sell off land in time of need, in the jubilee it returns to familial ownership. The only exception to this rule is a house within a walled city. It may be redeemed during the first year following its sale, but ownership is permanently transferred after that time. The social ills of poverty find several forms of remediation. Each Israelite bears responsibility for the other and must relieve the other's burden. Loans are to be granted without interest. Should the individual need to hire himself out to repay the debt, he must be set free in the jubilee year. Should he hire himself out to a non-Israelite, we have an obligation to redeem him. This discussion concludes with a restatement of the prohibition against idolatry and a rejoinder to observe The Sabbath. Discussion Theme 1: "Universal Freedom" "… in the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, a Sabbath of the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard." (Leviticus 25:4)

Derash: Study

"'The might in strength that fulfill His word' (Psalm 103:20). To whom does Scripture refer? R. Isaac said: To those who are willing to observe the Year of Release (sabbatical). In the way of the world, a man may be willing to observe a commandment for a day, a week, a month, but is he likely to continue to do so through the remaining days of the year? But [throughout that year] this [mighty] man sees his field declared ownerless, his trees declared ownerless, his fences broken down and his produce consumed by others, yet he continues to give up his produce without saying a word. Can you conceive a person mightier than such as he?" (Leviticus Rabbah 1:1) "Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts. This shall be the nature of the remission: every creditor shall remit the due that he claims from his fellow; he shall not dun his fellow or kinsman, for the remission proclaimed is of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 15:1-3) "A classic illustration of how the Jewish community changed traditional Jewish law in order to accommodate its current needs is a ruling by the first-century C.E. sage Hillel, as recorded in Mishnah Shvi'it 10:3… To alleviate the plight of the poor, Hillel legislated that a debt could be transferred to the court, where it would be sheltered during the sabbatical year, and at the end of the year it would revert to the creditor and could be reclaimed. The declaration whereby the debt was transferred to the court was called prozbul (from the Greek for "before the assembly"). In effect, Hillel used a legal fiction to circumvent a biblical law that, because of changing economic conditions, had come to subvert the broader social vision of the Torah." (Neil Gillman, Conservative Judaism: The New Century) "The anonymous fourteenth-century author of Sefer Hahinukh(a compilation of the Torah's 613 commandments), in contrast, emphasized the personal import of the sabbatical year. The Torah's deeper intent is to disabuse us of the fallacious idea that the universe has existed for eternity. The belief in creation is the key to finding God, while the sabbatical year helps us realize the vital role God plays in all we do, from growing crops to baking bread. By renouncing some portion of our worldly goods, we assist others without any expectation of reward, even as we intensify our trust in God (commandment 84)." (Ismar Schorsch , JTSA D'var Torah Behar 5760) "The quality of life can only be improved through the affording of a breathing space from the bustle of everyday affairs. The individual recovers from the influence of the mundane at frequent intervals, every Sabbath day… What The Sabbath achieves regarding the individual, the sabbatical achieves with regard to the nation as a whole. The nation has a special need of expressing from time to time the revelation of its own divine light at its fullest brightness, not suppressed by the cares and toil of everyday life… The temporary periodical suspension of the normal social routine raises the nation spiritually and morally and crowns it with perfection." (Rav Kook, The Sabbath of the Land)

Questions for Discussion: 1. More and more we see the extent to which our ancestors were dependent upon an agricultural system - we were a people of the land as much as we were a people of the book. What do these rules suggest about ancient understanding of sustainable farming? How do they compare to contemporary guidelines for land use and protection? To what might we attribute both similarities and differences? 2. That the "rest" of the seventh year also applied to financial transactions suggests an overarching theme to this sabbatical experience. What do agricultural and economic practices have in common in this context? What is the ultimate impact of this social interruption? Social evolution often dictates a shift in observance, and the institution of the prozbul seeks to maintain the integrity behind the practice even as it modified the practice itself. In what other ways has change been manifest in the Jewish legal system over time? Do these examples support the intent, as Gillman suggests, of preventing the subversion of the "broader social vision of the Torah?" 3. In our discussion of Parashat Emor, we considered the impact and the benefits of Shabbat observance. Beyond the concept of seven, or perhaps beneath it, what do the observance of The Sabbath and the sabbatical have in common in social and spiritual terms? Discussion Theme 2: "We Bend the Knee and Bow" "You shall not make idols for yourselves, or set up for yourselves carved images or pillars, or place figured stones in your land to worship upon, for I the Lord am your God." (Leviticus 26:1) Derash: Study

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"Do not make for yourself idols: this is said for one who is sold to a nonJew, that he should not say, "Since my master engages in sexual transgression, so I will be like him. Since my master worships idols, so I will be like him. Since my master desecrates The Sabbath, so I will be like him…" (Rashi, Leviticus 26:1) "Exile comes into the world because of idolatry, incest and murder." (Pirkei Avot 5:9) "Roman pagan to a rabbi: 'Your God abominates idolatry; why then does he not destroy the idols?' 'Would you have God destroy the sun and moon because of the foolish people who worship them?'" (Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zarah 54b) "Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made." (Isaiah 2:8) "For where shall the likeness of God be found? There is no quality that space has in common with the essence of God. There is not enough freedom on the top of the mountain; there is not enough glory in the silence of the sea. Yet the likeness of God can be found in time, which is eternity in disguise." (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath)

Questions for Discussion: 1. The first of the Ten Commandments enjoins us to refrain from making graven images or worshipping any other god. What appears to be the purpose of this restatement?

PARASHAT BEHUKOTAI
May 28, 2005 - 19 Iyar 5765 Annual: Leviticus 26:3 - 27:34 (Etz Hayim, p. 747; Hertz p. 542) Triennial: Leviticus 26:3 - 27:15 (Etz Hayim, p. 747; Hertz p. 542) Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19 - 17:14 (Etz Hayim, p. 763; Hertz p. 551) Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick Assistant Director, USCJ KOACH/College Outreach Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary Parashat Behukotai continues the quest for holiness through God's law, which is the hallmark of the Book of Leviticus of which it is the concluding parasha. Following the recitation of Leviticus 27:34, we will chant "Hazak, hazak, v'nithazek," "May we go from strength to strength." This traditional declaration marks the conclusion of reading each book of the Torah. Once an expression of support for the Torah reader himself at the end of each aliyah, it now marks our transition as we shift from the strength we derive from reading one book to the strength we will derive from the next. The rewards for following God's word, according to Parashat Behukotai, are myriad. The rains will come when needed, the harvest will be plentiful and the land will be safe and at peace. Both evil beasts and mortal enemies will cease to be a threat. The Israelites will grow in number and God's covenant will be maintained. God will walk among the people and continue the connection begun at Sinai. By contrast, failure to live up to our half of the covenant will result in terror and conquest, poverty and famine. Punishment will be sevenfold. God will destroy the cities and those who dwell within and those who remain will be consumed by fear. The few who survive and accept the consequences and repent will be restored by God, in acknowledgement of the covenants of the patriarchs. We shift now to a discussion of vows - including the donation to be made based on a priestly estimation of the person's relative value and the value of the animal brought to mark a vow. Similar rules apply to the use of a house or field as part of a vow. As in the sale of land, the value of the land is affected by the proximity of the jubilee year. In all of these cases, the assignment of ownership of person or property through a vow provides a valuable source of income for the sanctuary and those in its employ. In those cases where a recall of the property is permitted, an additional fifth of the value is added on as part of the redemption.

Discussion Theme 1: "God's Soul" "I will set my dwelling in your midst and my soul will not abhor you." (Leviticus 26:11) Derash: Study
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"And I will place my dwelling in your midst: This is the Holy Temple." (Rashi on Leviticus 26:11) "We have been taught that R. Yose said: The Presence never came down below, and Moses and Elijah never ascended on high, for Scripture says, 'The heavens are the heavens for the Lord; and it is the earth that He hath given to the children of men' (Psalm 115:16)." (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 5a) "R. Abin son of R. Ada in the name of R. Isaac says: How do you know that the Holy One, blessed be He, puts on tefillin? For it is said: The Lord has sworn by His right hand, and by the arm of His strength. 'By His right hand': this is the Torah; for it is said: At His right hand was a fiery law unto them. … R. Nahman b. Isaac said to R. Hiyya b. Abin: What is written in the tefillin of the Lord of the Universe? He replied to him:" And who is like your people Israel, a nation one on the earth..." (Babylonian Talmud, Brakhot 6a) "… For whoever pronounces the word God and really means You, addresses, no matter what his delusion, the true You of his life that cannot be restricted by any other and to whom he stands in a relationship that includes all others..." (Martin Buber, I and Thou) "It is a call that goes out again and again. It is a still small echo of a still, small voice, not uttered in words, not conveyed in categories of mind, but ineffable and mysterious as the glory that fills the whole world. It is wrapped in silence; concealed and subdued, yet it is as if all things were the frozen echo of the question: Where art thou?" (Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man)

Questions for Discussion: 1. This verse is sandwiched between the laws of the sabbatical and jubilee (in Parashat Behar) and the curse (tokhehah) which is to befall us if we fail to live up to not only those laws, but all the laws which have been given until this point. It is part of a brief section of blessings which pales in the shadow of the punishments which await our noncompliance. Yet, is it really a blessing to be told "you won't be hated"? What does this suggest to us about not only what we say, but the way in which we say it? 2. God's Soul? Do we actually think of God as having a soul? What would its nature/purpose be? Why is this the way God is referred to here? Can we use Buber's I-thou imagery as a window into the nature of both the human and the divine soul? 3. What does this verse and the commentaries which accompany it say about the manifestation of the Divine Presence? Can God be present if

there is no designated dwelling place? How do we draw in God's presence without a physical dwelling? 4. Consider here the idea of God's tefillin. Where our tefillin hold the words Shema Yisrael, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One," God's tefillin are home to a different verse: Umi-k'amkha Yisrael - "Who is like your people Israel, a singular nation in the land." Our deepest yearning and God's deepest yearning meet in the same place. What do we achieve by wearing tefillin? If God wears tefillin, what is its purpose? What does this midrash aim to teach us about God? About ourselves? 5. In his book God in Search of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel draws out the notion that from the time of Eden, God has sought us out. The question "Ayeka?'" "Where are you?," which God poses to Adam appears to be rhetorical. Can it truly be that God does not know where Adam is? Does God mean the words as they are being used? What is God searching for? Discussion Theme 2: "The Bitter End" "… I will wreak misery upon you…" (Leviticus 26:16) Derash: Study

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"The reason for this is that the soul of man is the lamp of the Lord, deriving its sustenance from on High and by its nature, it cannot die. It is not made of material, mortal substances. It is unnecessary there for the text to state, that as a reward for a good deed, the soul will live forever. It states, rather, that as a punishment for iniquities, the soul will become tarnished, defiled and cut off from its normal existence, just the same as a branch is cut off from the tree." (Ramban) "All the blessings and the curses enumerated in the Torah may then be explained in this manner. If you have served the Lord with joyfulness, He will send you the blessings and withhold the curses, giving you the opportunity to become versed in the Torah and preoccupied in its performance, in order to merit the Hereafter." (Rambam, Laws of Teshuvah) "The empty-headed have asserted that the curses exceed the blessings, but that is not true. The blessings were stated in a general fashion, the curses in detail in order to deter and frighten the hearers." (ibn Ezra) "Love him who reproves you, and hate him who praises you." (Avot d'Rabbi Natan 29) "Belief in retribution is an essential doctrine of every religion. It serves as an incentive to the worship and service of God." (Ephraim Rottenberg, "Reward and Punishment," in Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought)

Questions for Discussion: 1. The verse cited above is just the tip of the iceberg of the tokhekhah or reproof, stated here as well as in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. Why do the consequences of failure to meet the standards set by God come so late in the telling? Why aren't they interspersed more directly to establish

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cause and effect? What is the impact of offering these punishments as the response to not following in God's ways, rather than identifying them with particular offenses? Rambam seems to suggest that the lack of specificity is tied to the manner in which the obligations are fulfilled, rather than the fulfillment (or lack thereof) in and of itself. What justification could there be for punishment of this degree for deeds performed in the wrong spirit? How does this influence our understanding of God? Noting that there are 30 verses of curse and 13 of blessing, how can ibn Ezra say that there is more blessing present here than curse? Why should the balance be three-fold in favor of punishment? Linking the words of the Ramban with Ephraim Rottenberg's comment on the necessity of retribution (and Avot d'Rabbi Natan's praise of punishment), what are the redeeming elements of these 30 verses? How can we view the threat of consequence as an elevating experience? If we do not view them as elevating, are they compelling in any way other than instilling fear? When we chant this section of the Torah, it is meant to be done rapidly and in an undertone, a form-follows-function moment in which we seek not to hear that which we do not want to experience. Yet, we do not live in an era in which we believe that divine retribution is the response to our failure to fulfill mitzvot. If there is no consequence to our action, what gives the halakhic system its mandate? What compels us to follow the moral and ethical norms? And the ritual obligations? How do we rise above the expectation of consequence to cast our lot with our people?

PARASHAT BEMIDBAR - BIRKAT HAHODESH
June 4, 2005 - 26 Iyar 5765 Annual: Numbers 1:1 - 4:20 (Etz Hayim, p. 769; Hertz p. 568) Triennial: Numbers 1:1 - 1:54 (Etz Hayim, p. 769; Hertz p. 568) Haftarah: Hosea 2:1 - 22 (Etz Hayim, p. 787; Hertz p. 582) Prepared by David M. Eligberg Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen , Director Summary Sefer Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers, recounts the story of the Israelites' sojourn in the wilderness. Parshat Bamidbar begins with God's command to perform a census of the Israelite males over the age of twenty who are eligible for military service. The tribe by tribe enumeration is facilitated by designated representatives of each tribe. The Levites are excluded by God from the current census and are tasked with the responsibility of transporting the Tabernacle and defending its perimeter when it is set up. The layout of the Israelite camp places the Tabernacle at the center, the tribe of Levi on three sides of the Tabernacle with the area in front of the entrance designated for Aharon and his family. Surrounding this were the twelve tribes, grouped in threes, on each of the four sides of the camp. The order of march is detailed, and the Tabernacle is placed at the center of the column. The special status of the Levites, their responsibilities and prerogatives, is defined. A special census of the tribe of Levi is performed, followed by a census of the Israelite first born. God decrees that the Levites are to become substitutes for the first born claimed by the Holy One at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. The superfluity of first born over the number of Levites necessitates that the "extras" be redeemed from the service of the Tabernacle. This is the source of the ceremony of Pidyon Haben (Redeeming the Firstborn Son) that we still practice. The parsha concludes with the details of how the Kohathites are to transport the Tabernacle and the precautions to be taken by the Kohanim in preparation for that activity. Discussion Topic 1: "Found In the Wilderness of Sinai" "On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying:" (Numbers 1:1) Derash: Study

"The Torah was given in three venues: In fire, in water, and in the wilderness." (Midrash Rabba)

The three venues are symbols to all Jews about how one can acquire Torah. Fire represents a passion for God; the burning devotion and desire that burns within the heart of a Jew who is connected to his or her heavenly father. Water represents the cool, calm methodical thinking and balance, insight and wisdom that allows a Jew to think about the cost that needs to be paid for Torah. Wilderness represents the rejection of the multitude of distractions that are abundant in the world which preclude the individual from achieving wholeness. (Shem Shmuel) The three venues represent the teaching that the Torah was given to Israel so that they would uphold it at all times and in all conditions, whether as individuals or collectively. The history of our people from the appearance of the first Jew, Abraham our father, with Torah and faith in a living God and until today highlight this. In three venues the Torah was given: In fire - Abraham our father leapt into the fiery furnace for his faith, this represents the devotion of the individual. In water - Nachshon, followed by all the Israelites leapt into the Sea {of Reeds} and represents the commitment of the people. In the wilderness - Israel followed God through the wilderness for forty years; this is an example of ongoing faithfulness. (Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Basing themselves on Bamidbar Rabba, our sages of blessed memory, learned about the manner in which Torah is acquired. What are the actions or attributes necessary for the acquisition of Torah? 2. What are some of the contemporary challenges to acquiring Torah as reflected in the categories created by these texts? Discussion Theme 2: Counting, Being Counted, and Being Accountable "Take a census of the whole Israelite community by the clans of its ancestral houses, listing the names, every male, head by head." (Numbers 1:2) "All the Israelites, aged twenty years and over, enrolled by ancestral houses, all those in Israel who were able to bear arms-" (Numbers 1:45) "The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance. (Numbers 2:2) Derash: Study

I do not understand the nature of this commandment to enumerate the Israelites and to do it within their ancestral houses. Perhaps, it was to inform the Israelites of the kindness of the Holy One for they went to Egypt as one clan of seventy people and now they are as abundant as the sand. This is what our sages taught, that out of love, the Holy One counts them often. In Bamidbar Rabba I saw that the Holy One wanted each and every Israelite to be counted in honor and dignity and not to go to the head of the house and ask how many in your family? How many

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sons do you have? But rather each one must pass before you in awe and glory and you shall count each of them by name! (Ramban) Moshe was to mention every person by name. (Abarbanel) Here we see the importance of Israel; each one is a chief, an important individual. And since Torah obligates us, Jews must feel an urgent sense of responsibility for all their actions, since the individual can affect the balance between good and evil. (Sh'la) The Holy One commanded the Israelites {to count everyone} since the rule holds that a thing which has been counted as part of a quorum is never lost. The Holy One did not want the Israelites to become dissipated (lost) amongst thenations and therefore commanded that they be enumerated and included into a quorum that cannot be lost. (Hidushey HaRim) "The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house." Each Jew has to understand and think that he is unique in his nature and no one like him has existed every before; for if there had been exactly like him then there would be no purpose in him and in truth each person is something new in the world, and one must refine and repair one's characteristics and one's knowledge of Torah that are connected to his soul until such time as all the nations are refined by the people of Israel. (Beit Aharon) God commanded us to be counted because an entity which is quantified by counting does not lose its identity and impact even when outnumbered. (Yoreh Deah 110, Hagah 19) Man is NOT an innocent bystander in the cosmic drama. There is in us more kinship with the divine than we are able to believe. The souls of men are candles of the Lord, lit on the cosmic way, rather than fireworks produced by the combustion of nature's explosive compositions, and every soul is indispensable to Him. Man is needed, he is a need of God.

Questions for Discussion: 1. How do the commentators understand the Torah's desire to safeguard the dignity and integrity of every individual? 2. The Book of Numbers presents the sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness. What reasons are given for the census taking precedence over other events and episodes? 3. What does the Torah's requirement that the Israelites be counted by their ancestral houses teach us about the importance of family and community? 4. What effect does the act of counting, of being included personally, have on the Israelites? On us? 5. What does this teach us about our role in the world?

PARASHAT NASO
June 11, 2005 - 4 Sivan 5765 Annual: Numbers 4:21 - 7:89 (Etz Hayim, p. 791; Hertz p. 586) Triennial: Numbers 4:21 - 5:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 791; Hertz p. 586) Haftarah: Shoftim 13:2 - 25 (Etz Hayim, p. 813; Hertz p. 602) Prepared by David M. Eligberg Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary This parasha continues the assignment of responsibilities amongst the Levitical clans. The Gershonites will transport the Tabernacle, its hangings, tapestries and coverings. The Merarites will transport the pillars, beams, crossbars and supporting mechanisms of the Tabernacle and the enclosure. A census of these clans concludes the national census begun in the previous parasha. Maintaining the camp's ritual purity necessitates the exclusion of the impure to a designated area outside the camp. Correcting for fiscal wrongdoing against another person required three steps: confession before God; return of the principal plus 20%; and an atonement offering. An Israelite who suspects his wife of adultery must bring an offering containing neither oil nor frankincense - it is left bare to reflect the jealousies that motivated it. The woman suspected of adultery is put through a test of fealty which involved drinking a mixture of water, earth from the Tabernacle floor, and ink bled off a parchment on which a series of curses was written. The effects, or lack thereof, determined the woman's guilt or innocence. Taking the oath of a Nazirite was a commitment by an Israelite to refrain from consuming grapes in any form and allowing his or her hair to grow untouched. The parasha describes the anointing and sanctification of the Tabernacle and its contents. The dedication ceremony lasted for twelve days as each tribe, represented by it chieftain, brought an offering to the Tabernacle. Even though each gift was identical, the Torah enumerates every one individually helping to make this the longest parasha in the Torah. As the dedication of the Tabernacle concludes, the Divine Presence appears above it. God's blessing upon the Israelites was to be invoked by the Kohanim in the words of Birkat Kohanim, the priestly benediction.

Discussion Topic 1: Chain Reactions "He shall confess the wrong that he has done..." (Numbers 5:7) Derash: Study

The words "that he has done" appear extraneous. The intent is [to teach] that most sins a person commits are rooted and based in a previous sin. For example, before stealing, the thief violated "thou shall not covet." Therefore, the Torah states that one should confess not only for the current sin but for the sins of the past which set the stage for and led to this sin. (Mayana Shel Torah) Why is the mitzvah of confession, which is the basis of repentance for any sin, mentioned here specifically in connection with the sin of stealing? For every sin has an aspect of stealing in it. The Holy One gave the individual life and strength, to use them to do the Divine Will, and when a person uses that life and strength to violate a divine command then they are stealing a possession of God's, therefore, the root of confession and repentance are [stated] here. (Hidushey HaRim) Ben Azzai taught: Pursue even a minor mitzvah and flee from an aveirah (sin); for one mitzvah generates another and one aveirah generates another. Thus, the reward for a mitzvah is another mitzvah and the penalty for an aveirah is another aveirah. (Avot 4:2)

Questions for Discussion: 1. To what degree do you think present decisions are determined or constrained by past actions and choices? 2. Where does the concept of Teshuvah fit in to this model? Discussion Theme 2: Take it to the Limit... But No Farther "If anyone, man or woman, explicitly utters a Nazirite's vow, to set himself apart for the Lord..." (Numbers 6:2) Derash: Study

The Nazir was commanded about three things: wine, hair cutting and ritual purity. These correspond to three facets of human [behavior]: thought, speech, and action. Haircutting effects the hair on the head wherein lies the brain and is the source of human thought. Wine connects to speech as our sages of blessed memory taught "when wine enters secrets exit." Ritual purity reflects on actions. (Shem MeShmuel) This man sins against himself when he forsakes his vows of abstinence, when the days of his separation are fulfilled. He had separated himself to be holy unto the Lord and by rights he should always continue to live a life of holiness and separation to God. Now that he returns to defile himself with worldly passions, he requires atonement. (Ramban) Our Torah advocates no mortification. Its intention was that man should follow nature, taking the middle road. He should eat his fill in moderation,

drink in moderation. He should dwell amidst society in uprightness and faith and not in the deserts and mountains. He should not wear wool and hair nor afflict his body. On the contrary, the Torah explicitly warned us regarding the Nazirite. (Rambam, Intro to Pirke Avot (Sh'monah Perakim)) Questions for Discussion: 1. What do Ramban and Rambam see as the sin of the Nazir? 2. What can we infer about their views regarding the nature of human beings from their thoughts regarding the Nazir? 3. What would each suggest are appropriate expressions of religious fervor? Discussion Theme 3A: A Blessing On Your Head "Speak to Aharon and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel." "Thus they shall link my name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them." (Numbers 6:23, 27) Derash: Study

The matter is as follows: The basis of faith and belief is that the individual must know that all the blessings and successes as well as all the good and bad things that occur to the individual or the community come from the Holy One and there are no coincidences. Neither should one say: "This was achieved by my strength and effort alone." The Kohanim, who are emissaries of the Compassionate One must educate the people that everything derives from God,... "And all the blessings, beneficences, positives, and uplifts come from God." You shall place the seal of God upon the children of Israel on their young and old, their words and their actions, that they recognize that everything derives from My Name but that the essence of the blessing is from God. (Akedah) "Thus shall you bless the children of Israel." From the attributes of Aaron, to be a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace and "thus shall you bless" the priestly benediction ismeant to bless the people of Israel with Aaron's qualities, that they too will be pursuers of peace and love each other. (Rabbi Abraham Mordechai of Gur) The Priestly Blessing is said in the singular because the essential blessing that the Israelites need is unity, as they were at the time of the revelation at Sinai and it says in the singular "Israel camped at Sinai" and our sages of blessed memory learned from this that the Israelites were as one person with one heart (one intention). (The Seer of Lublin) Since it says "thus shall you bless" why does the text then continue saying "May Adonai bless you"? Rather this is the issue of a blessing -- a human being does not know what blessing to invoke nor which specific things will actually be best for the one being blessed. Therefore, the text invokes Adonai to do the actual blessing since the Holy One knows what would be good for the one being blessed. (K'tav Sofer)

Questions for Discussion: 1. What resonances do you hear when the Priestly Blessing is recited? 2. Rabbi Abraham Mordechai of Gur and The Seer of Lublin both see a specific blessing being emphasized. Why do you think they chose what they did? 3. If you were to invoke a blessing from God for the Jewish people, what would it be? Discussion Topic 3B: Walking the Talk Derash: Study

"... With the raising up of hands." Here the Torah says "thus shall you bless " and later it states that "Aaron raised up his hands and blessed them." (Sotah 35) The priestly blessing should not be "mere words in the world," rather it requires that it include the "lifting/raising up of hands" to combine the hands to the blessings of the mouth to accustom them to action and good deeds. Thus did Aharon act -- he did not rest with crossed arms nor did he suffice with uttering blessings; rather he loved peace and pursued peace between individuals and between husbands and wives. Only blessings like those with raised hands have real value. (Rabbi Yosef Hayyim Karo) Sacred work requires effort and singular diligence. Our sages understood the verse "Carrying the burden on their shoulder" (Numbers 7:9) to mean that all one's strength and energy must be committed to this work. One does not easily merit even a spark of holiness. (Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Why is it necessary to attach actions to the words of prayer and blessing?

PARASHAT BEHA'LOTEKHA
June 18, 2005 - 11 Sivan 5765 Annual: Numbers 8:1 - 12:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 816; Hertz p. 605) Triennial: Numbers 8:1 - 9:14 (Etz Hayim, p. 816; Hertz p. 605) Haftarah: Zekhariah 2:14 - 4:7 (Etz Hayim, p. 837; Hertz p. 620) Prepared by David M. Eligberg Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary The parasha begins with a description of the menorah and the correct procedure for lighting it. The Levites are purified, elevated and presented by the Israelites as a "wave" offering into the service of the Tabernacle. The Israelites prepare to celebrate their first anniversary of Passover in the wilderness. The observance of a second Passover is introduced for those who are in a state of ritual impurity at the time of celebration. The parasha describes the cloud and the fire-like apparition that rested above the Tent of Meeting, symbols of the Divine presence in the Israelite camp. The motion of these manifestations served as indicators for the Israelites to encamp and to march. The parasha sets forth the Israelite order of march. The Tabernacle both rested and traveled at the center of the Israelite camp. Moshe is unsuccessful in convincing his father-in-law to remain with the Israelites, to continue to share his knowledge with them and to share in God's blessings. Surrounded by a pair of inverted letter nuns are two famous phrases that were recited by our ancestors when the Ark was lifted and when the Ark came to rest. A continuing motif theme of the book of Bamidbar emerges. The people complain and God responds with a punishment, specifically here in this parasha, a fire that begins to consume the edge of the camp. The people turn to Moshe who prays on their behalf and God relents. The Israelites express their ennui with the manna that has sustained them and look back with longing to the array of foods they enjoyed in Egypt. Both God and Moshe are angered by their ingratitude. Recognizing Moshe's distress, God orders Moshe to gather seventy elders who will be empowered to assist him. The Israelites are promised a month's worth of meat but their gluttony leads to their demise.

Miriam and Aaron criticize Moshe and assert their own importance. God proclaims Moshe's unique status and we are given some insight into the nature of prophecy. Discussion Topic 1: Keeping the Fires Burning Speak to Aaron and say to him, "When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand. Aaron did so; he mounted the lamps at the front of the lampstand, as the Lord had commanded Moses. (Numbers 8:2-3) Derash: Study

Rambam ruled that according to the law the lighting of the menorah is permissible by an outsider but the preparation of the oil and wicks is prohibited to outsiders. This provides proof that the preparation for a mitzvah is greater than the mitzvah itself. (Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Peltz) One must light the wick until a flame burns by itself. (Rashi) A person must accustom him or herself to God's work through established times and perpetual care until it becomes part of his or her inner being that the repetition shall cause it to be part of one's nature and the inner flame shall burn by itself. (Korban HehAni) To tell us the praiseworthiness of Aaron who did not change (Rashi). Rabbi Menahem Mendl of Kotzk explained that Aaron changed nothing from the way he performed the mitzvah the first time -- not in his approach or his feelings --- that over the 39 years of lighting the menorah daily the task never became a tedious chore, a routine or an ennui rather the excitement and the passion of the first lighting was with him all the time, without change. (Emet v' Emunah)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Why do you think Rambam and Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Peltz place such emphasis on the preparations for a mitzvah? 2. How does our preparation to enhance our experience of performing a mitzvah? 3. What can we do to follow in Aaron's footsteps and keep our observance of Judaism enthusiastic and impassioned? Discussion Theme 2: On the Outside Looking In Speak to the Israelite people, saying: "When any of you or your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a Passover sacrifice to the Lord..." (Numbers 9:10) Derash: Study

The dots which appear above the words "are on a long journey" in the Torah are meant to indicate that this was not a real (geographic) distance

but that the individual was outside the gateway of the Temple courtyard (Rashi). This dot in the Torah teaches us that the distance from the Temple is not measured in thousands of miles; one can be at the gateway of the courtyard, literally on the doorstep, and even so be outside [and at a great distance from] the Temple. (HaRav M. Rottenberg) That it was within his power to observe Pesach (namely, to bring the pascal offering) but he did not (Pesachim 92). In truth such a person is not too distant from Torah and mitzvot since it is his desire to observe Pesach Sheni but he simply "does not do it" implying that his action is weak, without passion without enthusiasm. There is a barrier of some type that precludes him from doing this mitzvah for he could have done Pesach with the rest of the people of Israel but did not. (HaRav M. Rottenberg) The Torah alludes in various places to four types of children: one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who does not know how to ask... What does the wicked child say? "Whatever does this service mean to you?" The child emphasizes "you" and not himself! Since the child excludes himself from the community and rejects a major principle of faith, you should "set his teeth on edge" and say to him: "It is because of this that the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt" "Me" and not him! Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed. (The Passover Haggadah)

The "Wicked Child" -- An Unfair Description? The "wicked" child expresses a sense of alienation from our Jewish heritage. In this age of liberalism and democracy, of pluralistic tolerance for many cultural expressions, should a person who expresses such a feeling be condemned as "wicked" or evil"? Would a different characterization be more appropriate to our contemporary sensibilities? What of terms such as "the rebellious one," "the skeptic," "the arrogant -- chutzpadik?" Is "setting his teeth on edge" the best strategy to deal with such a person? (This Night Is Different Haggadah) Questions for Discussion: 1. How do we answer the issues of the alienated and disaffected members of our community such as those raisedabove? 2. Do those who feel alienated still have an obligation to seek a place for themselves at the table? Discussion Theme 3: With a Hope and a Prayer So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying: "O God, pray heal her!" (Numbers 12:13)

Derash: Study
• • • • • •

In my distress I called upon my Lord; to my God I cried for help. (Psalm 18:7) When you address the Holy One, let your words be few! (Berachot 61a) Prayer is the service of the heart. (Ta'anit 2a) Prayer is acceptable only if the soul is offered with it. (Ta'anit 8a) The prayer of the sick for himself will avail more than any other. (Genesis Rabbah 53) The gates of prayer are never closed. (D'varim Rabbah 2)

Me Sheberakh: May the One Who Blessed May the One who blessed our ancestors: Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah and; Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob Bless the one who is ill -May the Holy One, the fount of blessings, shower abundant mercies upon him/her, fulfilling his/her dreams of healing, strengthening him/her with the power of life. Merciful One: restore him/her, heal him/her, strengthen him/her, enliven him/her. Send him/her refuah sh'leimah, a complete healing, a healing of spirit and a healing of body -- together with all who are ill, among all the people of Israel and all humankind, soon, speedily, without delay, and let us say: Amen. We may wonder why prayer is paradoxical and unpredictable, but the most astonishing fact is that it simply works at all -- and not only in ways that can be tested in laboratory experiments, but in the most glorious and benevolent way imaginable -- as a reminder of our origin and destiny: the Absolute, the Universal, the Divine. (Dr. Larry Dossey, Healing Words: the Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine) Questions for Discussion: 1. What needs does reciting a Me Sheberach fill for the person who is ill? What about for the person who prays? 2. How do we deal with outcomes that are different than what we prayed for? 3. Is what we pray for always the best thing?

PARSHAT SHELAH-LEKHA
June 25, 2005 - 18 Sivan 5765 Annual: Numbers 13:1 - 15:41 (Etz Hayim, p. 840; Hertz p. 623) Triennial: Numbers: 13:1 - 14:7 (Etz Hayim, p. 840; Hertz p. 623) Haftarah: Joshua 2:1 - 24 (Etz Hayim, p. 857; Hertz p. 635) Prepared by David M. Eligberg Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary God commands Moshe to send a reconnaissance team, made up of one leader from each of the twelve tribes, to explore the strengths and weaknesses of the land of Israel. Upon their return, the scouts display samples of the land's bounty and praise its abundance. The majority of the scouts detail the strength of the inhabitants of the land and offer a negative assessment of the Israelites' prospects for success. Calev and Yehoshua interrupt the other scouts, reject the negative opinion and assert that the Israelites can be successful in claiming the land of Israel if they remain faithful to God. The Israelites refuse to listen and complain to Moshe, suggesting it would have been better had they died in Egypt or in the wilderness rather than in the upcoming battles. The scene is interrupted by the appearance of God who is angry that despite all the miracles the Israelites have witnessed they still doubt God. As punishment, the Israelites will wander in the wilderness one year for each day that the spies visited the Promised Land until the entire generation who had witnessed God's miraculous acts in Egypt die. The next day, many Israelites declare themselves ready to go to the Promised Land, and, without God's permission, attack the Amalekites and Canaanites in the region only to be utterly defeated. The parasha continues with instructions for the proper presentation of fire offerings whether in fulfillment of a pledge or in celebration of a festival. Proselytes are to act and be treated as full members of Israelite society. Inadvertent acts of idolatry committed by the entire nation are atoned for by the Kohen Gadol acting on behalf of the nation. Any individual's inadvertent acts of idolatry require a personal atonement sacrifice. Brazen and intentional acts of idolatry are considered blasphemy. The offending individual is cut off spiritually from the people. The parasha concludes with the mitzvah of placing a tsitsit with a blue strand on each of the four corners of a squared-off garment. This tsitsit was to serve as a mnemonic device reminding the wearer to perform God's commandments.

Discussion Topic 1: Living Up to Expectations "And you shall see them and remember all of God's mitzvot." (Numbers 15:39) Derash: Study
• •

This teaches us that seeing triggers memory remembrance and remembrance brings us to act. (Menahot 43) I am Adonai, Your God." At the beginning of Sh'ma we say "Hear Israel, Adonai our God" because we are honored that the Holy One is our God. However, after having accepted the rule of divine kingship over us, and loving God and performing the mitzvoth of t'fillin, tzitzit, and mezuzah, then the Holy One is honored by us and therefore the text states, "I am Adonai, Your God" in the sense of the verse "Israel, from whom I will be adorned" It is noteworthy that in the passage [about] tzitzit in the Torah the word "emet" (truth) is not written, just the phrase "I am Adonai, Your God" for it is not a given but a conditional statement if you become holy then "I am Adonai, Your God." During the recitation of the Sh'ma when we are wearing tzitzit, and wrapped in t'fillin, and have accepted the rule of divine kingship with love, then we add emet (truth) and "I am Adonai, Your God" becomes a statement of certitude. (Hatam Sofer) That is what is written in the books of pietistic literature, that it is preferred that a person create a sign, a reminder, for what s/he needs to do and not rely on memory alone. This is an obligation and a mitzvah in matters of heaven and in ordinary matters and this is the basis of the mitzvah of tzitzit, you see them, you remember, and you act. (Rabbi Baruch Epstein)

Questions for Discussion: 1. In what way(s) do we feel a sense of pride in our special connection with God? 2. What do we do in our lives that would be sources of pride for the Holy One? 3. What do we have in our day planners and Palm pilots that are Jewish mnemonic devices? Discussion Theme 2: Raising Children "From the first dough shall you give to God." (Numbers 15:21) Derash: Study

"From the first dough" means from the beginning, while the child is still young one should educate him/her in Torah and instruct them to be in awe of God. While the child is still young, one should plant in his/her heart a love for and commitment to all that is holy. (Tal Orot)

Questions for Discussion: 1. How can one teach these very complex concepts to young children? 2. Why does Tal Orot create a differentiation between "educate in Torah" and "instruct awe" on one hand and "love and commitment to holy" on the other? Discussion Theme 3: Community, Continuity and Change One law shall govern the whole community and the resident alien who dwells with you, a singular law forever, for future generations, a singular law forever, for future generations, the same [law] shall be for you and the resident alien before God (Numbers 15:15) Derash: Study

• •

This is the challenge today in the Jewish community. The Jewish community that was exiled from Spain and came to Italy; they pray using different prayers and practice different customs, to the point where it has brought enmity between them (the newcomers and the existing community). It is as if the holy community is not from one and the same trunk. And that is what the Torah is warning us about. The community should observe one practice, both residents and newcomers, and if you desire this then it will be "a law forever, for all generations" and for your descendants after you. Intermingle and draw closer to each other for "thus shall you and the resident alien be in the presence of Adonai," so that you do not pray different prayers before God. (M'lechet Mahshevet) This comes to warn us that the whole community should follow one minhag (custom) and should not become factionalized with everyone building a shul for themselves, as happens daily in our [day]. The author of Ohr HaMeir quoted the Maggid of Mezerich who said "Since the day that the kingdom of David was divided there is no one who can make a statement on Torah or on liturgy without having someone disagree with him." However, when God sends a spirit from the heavens, one shepherd will [lead] us all and then Adonai will be acknowledged as One and his Name as One. (Korban HeAni) True story: Many years ago I was invited to give a presentation to a class studying for conversion to Judaism. The topic was "The Four Religious Movements in the American Jewish Community." My talk highlighted the philosophical, theological, halachic and practical differences among the various movements. At the end of my talk, one of the students asked, "So what do they have in common that makes them one people?" Ever since than I always make sure to emphasize first what unifies us as Jews before calling attention to what distinguishes each movement. (Rabbi David M. Eligberg) The gravest sin for a Jew is to forget what he represents. (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel The Earth is the Lord's, p. 109) Judaism is not only the adherence to particular doctrines and observances, but primarily living in the spiritual order of the Jewish people, the living in the Jews of the past and with the Jews of the present.

It is not a doctrine, an idea, a faith, but the covenant between God and the people. Our share in holiness we acquire by living in the Jewish community. What we do as individuals is a trivial episode; what we attain as Israel causes us to become a part of eternity. (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel Quest For God, p. 100) Questions for Discussion: 1. Is uniformity the only way to ensure continuity? 2. Can there be a dynamic balance between tradition and change? Diversity and cohesion? 3. What role should creativity play in the community? 4. Why is there such strong resistance to change, halakhic or liturgical, in most communities?

PARASHAT KORAH - BIRKAT HAHODESH
July 2, 2005 - 25 Sivan 5765 Annual: Numbers 16:1 - 18:32 (Etz Hayim, p. 860; Hertz p. 639) Triennial: Numbers: 16:1 - 17:15 (Etz Hayim, p. 860; Hertz p. 639) Haftarah: 1 Samuel 11:14 - 12:22 (Etz Hayim, p. 877; Hertz p. 649) Prepared by David M. Eligberg Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary The parasha interweaves a series of rebellions challenging the authority of Moshe as leader, the status of Aaron and his sons as Kohanim, and the special standing of the tribe of Levi. Korach, a Levite, is jealous and resentful of the positions held by Moshe and Aharon and accuses them of aggrandizing themselves above the community. The Reubenites and the unnamed two hundred and fifty tribal leaders fall in step easily with the assertions made by Datan and Aviram, that Moshe and Aharon have not brought them to a land flowing with milk and honey but to a wilderness. Moshe responds, first, to the Levites by reminding them of their special status granted by God. He responds to the challenge of Aharon's role as Kohen Gadol by having Korach and his followers bring an offering to see God's response. Korach gathers the whole community to witness the event. Fulfilling Moshe's prophecy, God causes an earthquake which swallows up Datan, Aviram and their followers as a sign that they have rebelled against God. At the same moment, a fire from God consumes all those offering incense. Moshe orders Elazar to gather up the rebels' fire pans, which had become sacred, and fashion them into a cover for the altar as a perpetual reminder of these events. God is angered by the continued rebelliousness and strikes the community with a plague. Moshe instructs Aharon to make an atonement offering of incense and to stand in the midst of the community to stem the plague. God commands each tribe to place its tribal staff before the Ark. The staff representing Aharon and the tribe of Levi flowers overnight, affirming their chosenness. The staff is left next to the Ark as a mnemonic device. Aharon, his sons and the Levites are charged with the responsibility for the Tabernacle and the cultic rituals. The parasha concludes with the various rewards and gifts they will receive for their service. Discussion Topic 1: Hold Your Head High "... Now Datan and Aviram had come out and they stood at the entrance of their tents..." (Numbers 16:27)

Derash: Study

Standing -- with their backs straight (Rashi). All negative attributes can be harnessed and directed to [do] good, one needs only to know how and when to utilize them. Even the attribute of pridefulness has usefulness in the performance of a positive act or a mitzvah. The dicta "Be prideful as the tiger to do the will of your Heavenly Father" teaches that one should not be embarrassed in the presence of mockers but should perform the mitzvah with one's head held high and back straight. It saddens the heart that many people do exactly the opposite -- doing perverse things with heads held high and without any feelings of embarrassment or shame, but when it comes to the performance of good deeds and heavenly matters they become shy and reticent. (Rabbi Baruch of Mezibozh)

Questions for Discussion: 1. Are we, at times, embarrassed to be seen doing something Jewish for fear that we may be seen as "too Jewish"? 2. My grandmother (z"l) would describe certain types of behavior as either a "shanda" to be seen doing so by the non-Jewish world or simply that it was inappropriate for a Jew to act that way. Do those ideas still resonate with us? 3. How can we instill that sense of pridefulness in our youth especially those living in a community where their actions may be very different from their friends and neighbors? Discussion Theme 2: Follow the Leader? "...and not be like Korach and his followers." (Numbers 17:5) Derash: Study

A controversy for Heaven's sake will have lasting value, but a controversy not for heaven's sake will not endure. What is an example of a controversy for Heaven's sake? The debates of Hillel and Shammai. What is an example of a controversy not for Heaven's sake? The rebellion of Korach and his associates. (Pirkei Avot 5:17) There are two different types of participants in a conflict: (1) those whose intent is to injure and whose motivation is to benefit themselves and (2) those whose intentions are positive and are acting for the sake of heaven. In the controversy involving Korach and his followers, there were some of both types. Korach intended to benefit himself while Datan and Aviram were men who sought conflict and turmoil. However, included in their followers were those who were pure hearted, whose intentions were positive, about whom the text attests that they were "princes of the community, leaders of the people, men of renown." The Torah warns all about any controversy that is prohibited that "one should not be like Korach" who sought only to benefit himself, nor "like his followers," which

included pure souls who were led to believe that this was a controversy for the sake of heaven. (HaNatsiv) Our eyes bear witness that the chapter of controversy did not end; every generation has its controversies, factions and conflicts. The explanation [for this] is: A conflict such as this one which was between Moses and Korach will not happen again for in it all the truth was on the side of Moshe; all the deceptions and lies were on Korach's side. Controversies such as that are ended and finished, (taking literally the phrase) "and not be like Korach and his followers." For in all other conflicts each side has something to hold onto, there is some truth and justification to each side, the issue is who is more in the right. (HaRav Shmuel Brot) Once, my father, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman HaKohen Kook, traveled abroad from Israel as a messenger of the Yishuv. In one community (he) found a huge controversy going on between the worshippers and the leaders of a synagogue. When the aforementioned rabbi, who was a great scholar and an emissary from the Holy Land arrived, they received him with dignity and honor and asked that he become an angel messenger of peace. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman accepted the challenge and went up onto the bima. In his drasha to the congregation he referenced the controversy of Korach and his followers and asked, "Why did Aaron's rod flower with almond blossoms rather than some other flower?" From here he hinted to them what the outcome of a controversy can be. There are two types of almonds according to chapter one of the tractate of Ma'as'rot -- bitter and sweet. The first type is sweet at first but with a bad aftertaste. The second type is bitter at first but sweet in the end. So too matters of controversy and peace. The first type hints at controversy which seems sweet in the [moment of] conflict, in the clash of [opinions] and the success that comes with the small arguments, but its end is extremely bitter. The reverse is true of peace, in the beginning it is bitter. How difficult it is to end strife and conflict and one's passion burns and does not allow for resolution but in the end, when a person gives in to his inclination to good and is willing to give up a littleto achieve peace, how good and how sweet it is for all sides. The words that the rabbi spoke entered their hearts and he was able by his work to bring peace to the camp. (Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook) How should man, a being created in the likeness of God, live? What way of living is compatible with the grandeur and mystery of life?.... It is in deeds that man becomes aware of what his life really is, of his power to harm and to hurt, to wreck and to ruin, of his ability to derive joy and to bestow it on others. It is in the employment of his will, not intention, that he meets his own self as it is; not as he should like it to be. (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)

Questions for Discussion: 1. How do we handle conflicts in our own lives?

2. How can we learn to confront each other directly with respect? 3. How do we achieve a situation where all parties are willing to forgo short term victories in favor of long term resolution

PARASHAT HUKKAT
July 9, 2005 - 2 Tammuz 5765 Annual: Numbers 19:1 - 22:1 (Etz Hayim, p. 880; Hertz p. 652) Triennial: 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 David M. Eligberg Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary The parasha opens with a lengthy description of the ritual of purification. The Kohanim take an unblemished red cow and burn it along with cedar wood, hyssop and crimson stuff. The ashes are then gathered up and used to create the "water of lustration" which is sprinkled on individuals to ritually cleanse them. The parasha mentions, in brief, the death of Miriam as the people are encamped at Kadesh. A lack of water causes the Israelites to complain, suggesting they were better off in Egypt. Moshe and Aharon gather the people together as God directed. Moshe strikes the designated rock twice, instead of speaking to it. An abundance of water flows forth. God is displeased with Moshe and Aharon for not sanctifying the Divine Name in the presence of the people. Neither of them will lead the people into the Promised Land. Moshe sends messengers to the king of Edom requesting safe passage along the King's Highway for the Israelites and offers to pay for any water consumed along the way. Edom refuses to allow the Israelites passage and goes out to the borders heavily armed. The Israelites circumnavigate the land of Edom and arrive at Mount Hor. Moshe, Aharon and Elazar ascend the mountain. The High Priest's vestments are transferred by Aharon to Elazar, following that, Aharon dies. The Israelites are victorious in a series of battles against the king of Arad, Sihon, the king of Amorites and Og, the king of Basham. The travels of the Israelites through the wilderness continue to be punctuated by episodes of complaint. The affliction of serpents sent to punish the Israelites for their grumbling is stemmed by Aharon's placing a bronze serpent atop a tall staff which draws the people's focus upward. The Israelites now find themselves encamped across the Jordan River from the city of Jericho. Discussion Topic 1: "Most Illogical." Mr. Spock, First Officer, U.S.S. Enterprise "This is the ritual law that the Lord has commanded." (Numbers 19:2)

Derash: Study

For the honor of Torah it is preferable that a person accept upon themselves all of the Torah as a hok (law) and not investigate the underlying rationale of the mitzvot but accept them as if they were an edict of a king. (Rabbi Ze'ev Mastrikov) It is important to the Divine Presence that the observance of mitzvot be motivated by faith and purity of intent without any exploration [of reasons] and not as a reflection of logical conclusions and insight. (Dvash V'Halav) It is known that the reward for fulfilling non-rational mitzvot is greater than the reward for fulfilling the rational mitzvot, for what a person can apprehend is easy to fulfill but non-rational laws and edicts that are not understood are difficult for a person to observe. Observing the nonrational mitzvot demonstrates that observing the rational mitzvot is also being done as a response to the divine will. When a Jew wishes to perform a mitzvah, the evil inclination tries to dissuade him by asking, "What is this mitzvah? What value and importance does this mitzvah have? Are there not other more important and logical mitzvot?" And when the Jew does not heed the inclination and performs the mitzvah, the inclination returns afterwards and asks: "And what reason is there to this mitzvah? Do you know the nature and meaning of the mitzvah you performed? It is one of the greatest mitzvot that you performed!" (Sha'ar Bat Rabim)

The Basis for Obedience of the Law "The rabbis rooted themselves in the biblical tradition, restating almost all of its motivations for obedience in one form or another. They also added some considerations of their own: 1. People become purified by observing the commandments. This is similar to the biblical challenge to become holy like God... o 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, Lekh Lekha 44:1 and Leviticus Rabbah, Shemini, 13:3) 2. On the other hand, the rabbis asserted the exact opposite claim, too: You should obey the law as a favor to God, for He cares very much that you observe it. o God said, "If you read the Law, you do a kindness, for you help to preserve My world, since if it were not for the Law, the world would again become 'without form and void'." (Deuteronomy Rabbah, Nitzavim, 8:5) 3. Observing the law gives Israel a separate identity. This became an increasingly important function of the law from rabbinic times on, as significant numbers of Jews were scattered all over the globe and thus could not depend on a geographic center to unite them. o All the goodly gifts that were given them were taken from them. And if it had not been for the Book of the Law which was left to

them, they would not have differed at all from the nations of the world. (Sifra 112c) 4. The law makes Israel beautiful. o "You are beautiful, my love" (Song of Songs 1:15). You are beautiful through the commandments, both positive and negative, beautiful through loving deeds, beautiful in your house with the heave-offerings and the tithes, beautiful in the field by the commands about gleaning, the forgotten sheaf and the second tithe; beautiful in the law about mixed seeds and about fringes, and about first fruits, and the fourth year planting; beautiful in the law of circumcision; beautiful in prayer, in the reading of the shema, in the law of doorposts and the phylacteries, in the !aw of the Lulav and the Etrog; beautiful too, in repentance and in good works; beautiful in this world and beautiful in the world to come. (Songs Rabbah 1, 15 on Song of Songs 1:15) 5. God's children should see the law as a blessing, as an enrichment of life. o R. Jonathan said that the famous words in Joshua 1:8, "You shall meditate therein [the Law] day and night," were not a command or obligation, but a blessing. They meant that because Joshua loved the words of the Law so much, therefore they should never depart out of his mouth. In the school of R. Ishmael it was taught that the words of the law are not to be unto you a burden, but, on the other hand, you are not free to dispense yourself from them. (Menahot 99b) 6. But, as the last line of the previous excerpt indicates, the Jew is obligated to observe the law whether or not he understands the reasons why. o You shall observe my judgments and execute my statutes (Lev. 18:4). The Rabbis teach: "My judgments": these are the things which, if they had not been written, would have had to be written, such as idolatry, unchastity, bloodshed, robbery, blasphemy. "My statutes": these are the things to which Satan and the Gentiles raise objections, such as not eating pig meat, not wearing linen and wool together, the law of halizah (Deut. 25: 5-10), the scapegoat. Should you say, "These are empty things," the Scripture adds, "I am the Lord," i.e., "I have made decrees; you are not at liberty to criticize them. "Yoma 67b; cp. Sifra 86a" (Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff and Arthur Rosett, A Living Tree: The Roots and Growth of Jewish Law) o The desire to serve the Holy One is itself already to serve God. (Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav) Questions 1. Which reason or reasons do you find most compelling as a basis for observance? Why? 2. Which matters more, action or intent? 3. Is it easier to observe a commandment that we do not understand or one with which we disagree? 4. Why is it important that we maintain a separate identity through the performance of mitzvot?

5. How does the observance of mitzvot beautify and enrich our lives?

PARASHAT BALAK
July 16, 2005 - 9 Tammuz 5765 Annual: Numbers 22:2 - 25:9 (Etz Hayim, p. 894; Hertz p. 669) Triennial: Numbers 22:2 - 22:38 (Etz Hayim, p. 894; Hertz p. 669) Haftarah: Micah 5:6 - 6:8 (Etz Hayim, p. 915; Hertz p. 682) Prepared by David M. Eligberg Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary Balak, fearful because of Israel's recent military successes, sends for Balaam, a prophet famous for his ability to invoke powerful curses. When first approached, Balaam declines. When Balak's messengers return, God, sensing Balaam's desire to go, permits him to do so with the caveat that he only speak God's words. During the journey, Balaam's ass sees an angel with its sword drawn standing in the path, causing it to veer off the path, press against the wall of a narrow passageway, and finally lie down. On each occasion, Balaam strikes the ass to get her to move. The ass speaks, challenging Balaam to explain his behavior. Only then is Balaam allowed to see the angel that stands in the path threatening him. God reiterates to Balaam that he must speak only what God communicates. Balak welcomes Balaam with great fanfare and brings him to a mountaintop where seven altars and offerings for each have been prepared. To Balak's great chagrin, Balaam asserts that he can only speak the words God commands. The same scene is played out two more times. While giving his third oracle, Balaam proclaims the famous verse, "How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel." Balak, enraged by Balaam's words, sends him away. Before his departure, Balaam offers one final oracle against Israel's enemies during which he curses Moab, the ultimate irony for Balak. The majestic depiction of the Israelite camp and its future is quickly negated. The Israelites, enticed by the sexual promiscuity of the Moabite women, participate in the worship of Ba'al Peor. God commands that those who led the community astray be impaled publicly and those who worshipped Ba'al Peor be purged from the community. Pinchas pursues and runs through an Israelite man and Moabite woman who enter the Tent of Meeting bringing the episode and the plague afflicting the Israelites to an end. Discussion Topic 1: Separate and Distinct "As I see them from the mountaintops, Gaze on them from the heights, There is a people that dwells apart, Not reckoned among the nations." (Numbers 23:9)

Derash: Study

All the early letters of the Hebrew alphabet partner up with each other to form the number ten: "Alef" (1) and "Tet" (9), "Bet" (2), and "Het" (8), "Gimel" (3) and "Zayin" (7), "Dalet" (4) and "Vav" (6). Only the letter "Hey" has no partner to form the number ten except another letter "Hey" like itself. Similarly, the letter "Nun" has no partner to add up to one hundred except for a second "Nun." This is hinted at the (Hebrew) "hen" (in our verse). Just as the letters "Hey" and "Nun" do not partner to form a base number with any other letters, so too a nation dwells alone. Israel cannot become friendly with any nation. (Midrash Rabbah, Sh'mot 15) Once, while the Ba'al Shem Tov was returning from the mikvah, he passed by a group of (local peasants) and was fearful that they would attack him. He overheard one (peasant) say to his friend, "Beware of this Jew that he not touch you and defile you." The Ba'al Shem Tov said, "This is the meaning of the verse, 'there is a people that dwells apart' -the people of Israel's ability to maintain its separateness, its uniqueness, its holiness, even while it is mixed amongst the nations -- and not reckoned among the nations,' for they do not consider us (worthy); they scorn us as if we were a lesser creation and do not wish for us to befriend them." (Degel Mahane Efrayim) They are witnessed in their uniqueness and that is their strength and grandeur 'among the nations' -- but when they intermingle amongst the nations and follow their patterns, customs and ideas they are "not reckoned" -- they are (worthy of) being reckoned as important. (The play on words reckoned/important gets lost in translation). "When they are happy, no other nation is happy along with them." (Rashi) (This interpretation takes) the word "hen" as deriving from the root meaning "pleasure/enjoyment" and the phrase should be understood as meaning: 'the joy of the nation and its pleasure' is when they dwell alone, separate and apart, and not mixed together with others, (and mixing them in) was how (the other nations) distracted Israel from joyfully serving God. (Hak'tav v'Hakabalah)

Questions 1. Is isolation a realistic approach to the challenges of assimilation? 2. How might this idea of separation be applied to the Israeli - Palestinian conflict? Discussion Topic 2: "Do You Think Anyone Saw Me?" "No harm is in sight for Jacob, No woe in view for Israel, The Lord their God is with them And their king's acclaim in their midst." (Numbers 23:21)

Derash: Study

• •

"No harm is in sight for Jacob..." Why? Because "Adonai, their God, is with them." There is always within the heart of every Jew a sense of awe for God even when he is sinning -- "the acclaim of God is within him (the Hebrew term used here teruah -- is understood as we do on Rosh Hashanah during shofar blowing -- "broken") the heart of the Jew is broken [from his actions]. A Jew performs a mitzvah with joy but does a Jew perform a sin with joy? No Jew expresses joyous intent before or during the performance of a sin. (Rabbi Hayyim of Tsantz) He who commits one sin acquires against him an accuser. (Avot 4:11) Rabbi Zusha from Anapoli said: I never saw a whole accusing angel created by a believing Jew who sinned. Such messengers are always missing a limb - a head, an arm, etc., for a Jew, even when he falls prey to sinful behavior, immediately regrets it, is troubled by it and sighs with a heavy and broken heart; such sighs that emerge from a broken heart, break and dismember these accusing angels. (Meyotsar Hehasidut) Even when a Jew sins, even in the depths of depravity -- there remains within him a spark of godliness; a speck of the light of t'shuvah still flickers in his heart -- even at a time of sin -- "Adonai, his God, is with him." (Rabbi Israel Rhizin) It states, "I see God before me always." Someone who knows in his thoughts that the Holy One is with him in every place will not turn quickly to sin and that is "no sin (Rashi) is in sight for Jacob" for "Adonai his God is with him" in every location and at all times, in his heart and in his thoughts. (Hatam Sofer) Onkelos translates the phrase "Adonai, his God is with him" as "the King dwells in their midst." Rashi states: "The Holy One does not see the sins of Jacob, - when they transgress His words, He does not investigate after them." These two interpretations are really saying the same thing [even though they appear to negate each other]. A person who goes through life with a commitment to the Godly, the Heavenly King resides with him; if he does act sinfully then the Holy One does not take a great note of it. (Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotsk) Adonai, his God, is with him." Therefore we need signs of holiness: circumcision, Shabbat, tzitzit and t'fillin because we are lost in this world, as David wrote; "I wandered like a lost sheep" (Ps.119) as a lost object that was being claimed. A lost object is returned [based on the] identification of distinctive signs, and these are Divinely [ordained] signs, for on the basis of distinctive signs objects are always the property of their owner, [and that is how] Adonai, his God is with him." (Rabbi Avraham of Sochtsov) A Jew is never alone: Every place he goes and everywhere he stops -Adonai, his God is with him. (Ba'al Shem Tov)

Questions 1. What if there are no longer any distinguishing signs between Jew and non-Jew?

2. Can we become unrecognizable to God and yet remain identifiable as a people? 3. How would our actions differ if we took seriously the idea that we are always accompanied by God? Discussion Topic 3: Home Is Where the Holiness Is "How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!" (Numbers 24:5) Derash: Study

Those who structured the prayer service placed these words at the beginning of the service. As soon as one enters the synagogue one realizes that the essence of the synagogue, praiseworthiness, is a reflection of the holiness that begins in the tent, the home. When your homes are good, O Jacob, then your dwelling places [your houses of worship, are too], O Israel. (Sh'ayreet Menahem) ...all of them reverted to curses except for synagogues and houses of study (Sanhedrin 105). Thus it was that when Israel sinned, all the things that Balaam spoke of were affected except for the synagogues and houses of study that will never cease from Israel. (Hatam Sofer)

Questions 1. What is the dynamic relationship between the home and the synagogue being expressed here? 2. Where does the locus of holiness ultimately reside? Does this accurately reflect the perspective of many contemporary Jews?

PARASHAT PINCHAS
July 23, 2005 - 16 Tammuz 5765 Annual: Numbers 25:10 - 30:1 (Etz Hayim, p. 918; Hertz p. 686) Triennial: Numbers 25:10 - 26:51 (Etz Hayim, p. 918; Hertz p. 686) Haftarah: I Kings 18:46 - 19:21 (Etz Hayim, p. 938; Hertz p. 699) Prepared by David M. Eligberg Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary God rewards Pinchas for his zeal for his actions against Zimri and Cozbi who were leading the Israelites astray and into immorality. In preparation for entering the Promised Land, the Israelites are directed to take a census. The results of the census are presented by tribe, listing the clans within each and giving the number of males above the age of twenty, able to bear arms. The relative size of each tribe was incorporated into the system of allocating land in Israel. General geography was determined by lottery and then specific area was adjusted for tribal size. The levitical clans are listed at the end since they will not share in the apportioning of land. The division of land provides the impetus for including here the rules of inheritance and addressing a unique situation raised by the five daughters of Tslofhad, a man who left no male heir. Moshe's not entering the Promised Land is repeated. In full view of the Israelites, Moshe is to place his hands on Yehoshua, imparting to him a measure of his authority to the next leader. The unique status of Moshe is also emphasized. Yehoshua will need to seek out the Kohen Gadol and seek answers from the Urim and Thumim to determine God's instructions. The religious calendar is established allowing for regular communion with God. The final chapters of the parasha list the appropriate daily, Shabbat and holiday offerings, along with the various mixtures and libations that were to accompany them. The Torah emphasizes that these sacrifices, offered on behalf of the entire nation, must be done at the correctly appointed time. The list of communal offerings concludes with a reminder that any Israelite could bring a personal offering. Discussion Topic 1: Covenant of Peace "Pinchas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people in My passion. Say, therefore, 'I grant him My covenant of peace. It shall be for him and his descendants after him a pact of priesthood for all time, because he took impassioned action for his God, thus making expiation for the Israelites." (Numbers 25:11-13)

Derash: Study "My covenant of peace"

Divine protection from the next-of-kin of the victim, Zimri, who was of a distinguished family, and who would, no doubt, wish to avenge his death. (Abravanel) The Divine promise of a "covenant of peace" is a guarantee of protection against the inner enemy lurking inside the zealous perpetrator of the sudden deed, against the demoralization that the act of killing another human being without due legal process is likely to cause. In reward for turning away the wrath of the Holy One, He blessed him with the attribute of peace, that he should not be quick-tempered or angry. Since it was only natural that such a deed as Pinchas' should leave in his heart an intense emotional unrest afterward, the Divine blessing was designed to cope with this situation and promised peace and tranquility of soul. (Naphtali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (Ha Netsiv)) After the great zeal expressed as passion for God and the prevention of the desecration of the Divine Name, the Holy One gives him a covenant of peace as a gift. The Torah alludes to the idea that the pathway of peace is preferable and has greater potential to influence (others) than the paths of zeal and conflict. (Rabbi B. Y. Nathan) The middle road and the golden path is the one that a person should take -- zeal and peace are two extreme qualities that contradict each other. Since Pinchas embraced the pole of zeal, it is only fitting that he be given the quality of peace to bring about a balance within him and to direct him to the middle of the road. (K'tav Sofer)

Question 1. Peace is seen here as a Divine gift. What can we do to help foster peace in our lives, community, and world? Discussion Topic 2: The Real Thing or Too Much of a Good Thing Derash: Study "displaying among them his passion for Me"

Why is the topic separated over two parshiyot, parshat Balak describing the action and Pinchas the reward? This is to teach that one must check carefully the purity of intention of those who are zealous [like Pinchas] and therefore one must pause in the middle to determine if they are truly worthy of reward. (Yosef Yafet) Such a deed must be animated by a genuine, unadulterated spirit of zeal to advance the glory of God. In the case, who can tell whether the perpetrator is not really prompted by some selfish motive, maintaining that he is doing it for the sake of God, when he has actually committed murder? That was why the sages wished to excommunicate Pinchas,

had not the Holy One testified that his zeal for God was genuine. (Rabbi Baruch Epstein, Torah Temimah) Pinchas' zeal was motivated purely for the sake of heaven without even a hint of a desire for revenge, just as the Holy One whose love is for all his creations and he disciplines those he loves. And that is what the expression here means. Pinchas's passion was like the Divine passion. (K'tav Sofer) The two parshiyot prior to Pinchas, Hukkat and Balak, and the two parshiyot afterwards, Mattot and Masaey, are often combined as double portions while parshsat Pinchas is always by itself. This is because Pinchas was zealous and all the zealous are loners. And if there are many who are zealous, they each go their own way and path. Woe to the generation where the zealous unite together. (Rabbi Yitzhak Eiger)

Questions 1. Is "pure" zeal truly attainable by human beings? 2. At what point does zeal become a detriment rather than an asset? 3. Rabbi Eiger's closing words seem particularly resonant given world events of the past few years. What can we do to change this frightening phenomenon? Discussion Topic 3: Individual Responsibility Derash: Study "for his God"

Why does the Torah say "his God" and not simply God? To teach that Pinchas's passion and zeal for God were a result of his insight and understanding of God and not based on the insights of others. (Rabbi Yehezkel of Shinava) It is the way of a sinner to point out others and say: "So and so is doing the same thing." Therefore, the Ten Commandments are written in the singular, so that every one should think that to him alone the Torah was given and to him alone are things addressed and reflect on his actions of others. Pinchas could have thought that since Moshe, Aharon and the seventy elders are not acting on God's behalf, I too will stand by, but he did not do so but was "impassioned for his God." It does not say "for God" but "for his God"; Pinchas saw this as a personal responsibility, that it was his personal obligation to sanctify God, even though others greater than him stood by. (Hohmat Aish) Wherein is the principle of measure for measure to be seen applied here? In truth, there were many amongst the Israelites who were embarrassed by the actions of Zimri and were deeply troubled by them as it says "they stood weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting" (Numbers 25:6). Pinchas transformed thought and feeling into action and this is akin to the work of the kohanim, for the kohanim are messengers of the people, who transform the people's service of the heart into concrete reality [through the sacrificial system], and thus the reward of

• •

priesthood is a measure for measure response to his actions. (S'fat Emet) Do not separate yourself from the community. (Avot 2:5) The Torah describes Pinchas as praiseworthy, for his passion was "within them," namely in all of Israel. His service was done in the midst of the people and he did not separate himself from the community to build a private sanctuary for himself. (Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz) Even though [Pinchas] was impassioned by God's passion he still remained in their midst, he was involved with everything and did not separate himself from the community. (Rabbi Yitzkak of Vareka)

Questions 1. Do we feel addressed personally by God and Torah? How do we respond? 2. Rabbi Yehezkel emphasizes Pinchas' developing a personal understanding of and relationship with God. How can we go about creating that for ourselves? 3. How can we translate our good intentions into communal blessings?

PARASHAT MATTOT - BIRKAT HAHODESH
July 30, 2005 - 23 Tammuz 5765 Annual: Numbers 30:2 - 32:42 (Etz Hayim, p. 941; Hertz p. 702) Triennial: Numbers 30:2 - 31:54 (Etz Hayim, p. 941; Hertz p. 702) Haftarah: Jeremiah 1:1 - 2:23 (Etz Hayim, p. 968; Hertz p. 710) Prepared by David M. Eligberg Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary The parasha begins with the rules governing vows and oaths. Any vow made by a man must be fulfilled completely. The Torah emphasizes the power of words. Any vow taken by a woman is subject to the acquiescence of either her father or husband at the time they learn of it. If either of them wishes, they may annul the vow and the woman is not held accountable. If no objection is raised at that moment the vow remains in force. Widows and divorced women can make vows that are binding upon themselves. The Israelites go to war and defeat the Midianites, slaying their kings and adult males, destroying their towns and settlements, seizing their herds and wealth, and capturing all the women and children. Moshe is angry that the Israelite army spared all the woman because it was the Midianite women who were responsible for leading the Israelites into sin by worshipping Ba'al Peor. Moshe orders that all remaining males and all females who have had sexual relations be slain. The soldiers, captives and all booty are to remain outside the Israelite camp for seven days and go through the ritual of purification. The spoils of war are divided equally, half to those who fought in battle and half to the community. From the community's portion, Moshe gives a share to the Levites for their service in the Tabernacle. The commanders of the army bring an offering before God in appreciation that none of their soldiers had fallen in battle and seeking atonement for having killed others in battle. After initial reluctance, Moshe, Elazar and the elders of Israel agree to the proposal put forth by the leaders of Reuven and Gad. The two tribes will go into battle as the vanguard of the Israelite forces in return for receiving their inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Discussion Topic 1: This Land Is Our Land The Reubenites and the Gadites owned cattle in very great numbers. Noting that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were a region suitable for cattle, the Gadites and the Reubenites came to Moses..., and said... "the land that the Lord has conquered for the community of Israel is cattle country, and your servants have cattle. It would be a favor to us, "they continued, "if this land were given to your

servants as a holding; do not move us across the Jordan." Moshe replied to the Gadites and Reubenites, "Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?" (Numbers 32:1-6) Derash: Study

They showed more concern for their own money than their sons and daughters, as they placed their cattle before their little ones. Said Moses to them, "Do not do so!" Put first things first and secondary things second! First build cities for your little ones and afterwards, pens for your sheep." (Rashi) Our Rabbis taught: In the case of the Reubenites and Gadites, you find that they were rich, possessing large numbers of cattle, but they loved their money and settled outside the land of Israel. Consequently, they were the first of all the tribes to go into exile as we read (I Chronicles 5:26), "And he carried them away even the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half tribe of Menassheh." What brought it on them? The fact that they separated themselves from their brethren because of their possessions. From where can we infer this? From what is written in the Torah, "Now the children of Reuben had much cattle." (Abravanel) (At the end of Deuteronomy we will learn that Moshe's burial place will be in the area now being requested by the tribe of Gad. See Deuteronomy 33:21) They had a special connection to Horeb, and to our teacher Moshe, and they could not separate from him and therefore they wished to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan. (The Seer of Lublin) The intention of the Gadites and the Reubenites was to receive the lands of Sihon and Og as the portion due them in the land of Israel and by doing so sanctify the land of Sihon and Og with the sanctity of the land of Israel and as a result, that the edict that Moshe not enter the promised land be void for he would in the land of Sihon be in area now considered to be the land of Israel. (Hayyei HaRim)

Questions 1. The commentators disagree about the motivation of the Gadites. With whom do you agree with and why? 2. The interpretation offered in Hayyei HaRim suggests that the Gadites and Reubenites could by their actions redefine and extend the sacred area of the holy land. Are there implications of this view on the debate currently going on in Israel? 3. Wealth and possessions are seen as having the potential to distort our sense of priorities. Is this an absolute? Or are there ways to insure we keep our true priorities straight? Discussion Topic 2: Sacred Speech "If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips." (Numbers 30:3)

Derash: Study

• •

How is it that a person has the power to sanctify an object simply by speaking; to impart a fundamental change to its subject and new content simply by the utterance of the mouth? This can be explained following [the view] of Rabbi Yonah: "A person who guards his mouth, his mouth becomes a serving vessel and just as serving vessels impart sanctity similarly the words that leave his mouth sanctify [things]. (Rabbi Avraham of Sochsov) "He shall not break his pledge" -- His wordswill not be made ordinary (Rashi following the Tosefta). This is [based on] the principle that the speech of a Jew is holy, as the prophet Isaiah (43:21) said, "The people I formed for myself that they might declare my praise." (Rabbi Avraham of Sochsov) "He shall not break his pledge" -- He shall not make his words ordinary (Rashi). The principal is that the power of speech is holy and the children of Israel merited it on the strength of Torah. The entire forty years that Moshe dealt with them he inculcated them the power of speech and the sacred language and therefore commanded them regarding "guarding their words." (S'fat Emet) The section about not secularizing one's speech is placed immediately following the perpetual and additional sacrifices of last week's parasha for prayers replace sacrifices as it says, "Our lips shall fill the place of offerings." And with regard to Torah our sages taught (Menahot 110): "This is the Torah of the Olah (offering)... one who engages in Torah it is as if he brought an offering." And the verse, "the voice is the voice of Jacob" implies the voice of Torah and the voice of prayers. (S'fat Emet) Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul, and health to the body. (Proverbs 16:24) Words should be weighed, not counted. (Yiddish Proverb)

Questions 1. Realizing the potency of our words, how might we change our patterns of speech? 2. It is easy to perceive the sanctity of words when studying Torah or engaged in prayer. How do we insure that we do not make sacred text trivial and liturgy rote? 3. How do we elevate and ennoble our daily vocabulary? Discussion Topic 3: Do It Yourself "Then they stepped up to him and said, 'We will build here sheepfolds for our flocks and towns for our children. And we will hasten as shock-troops in the van of the Israelites.'" (Numbers 32:16) Derash: Study

There are those who think to themselves, "We are all descended from one and the same righteous individual. So despite the fact that we do not

preoccupy ourselves with the Torah and we do not accumulate to our credit good deeds or fulfilled mitzvot, we will nonetheless merit all good things on account of that righteous man." To disabuse them of this sentiment, the Torah says, "We will hasten as shock-troops in the van of the Israelites and before God." In other words, "We will labor at the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot and not rely on the Torah study and mitzvot performed by our ancestors." (Abravanel) The meaning of the text is simple: Do you think that in the hour when "your brothers go to war," when enemies attack Israel, that you will sit here, that you will sit on the sidelines in tranquility and quiet? Do not even imagine such a thought, the war to defend Israel is a battle for survival that involves the entire nation, even those on the fringe. (Tiferet Y'honatan)

Questions 1. Each commentary understands the battle to be fought differently. What role can we play in each of them? 2. One text expects our participation while the other demands that we be leaders. How can we determine when we are needed to be leaders and when simply to follow the lead of others?

PARASHAT MASEY - ROSH HODESH AV
August 6, 2005 - 1 Av 5765 Annual: Numbers 33:1-36 - 13 (Etz Hayim, p. 954; Hertz p. 702) Triennial: Numbers 33:1 - 49 (Etz Hayim, p. 954; Hertz p. 702) Maftir: Numbers 28:9 - 15 (Etz Hayim, p. 930; Hertz p. 695) Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4 - 28, 4:1 - 2 (Etz Hayim, p. 972; Hertz p. 725) Isaiah 66:1 & 23) (Etz Hayim, p. 1219; Hertz p. 944) Prepared by David M. Eligberg Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Summary Moshe lists all the places where the Israelites encamped on their journey through the wilderness. The Israelites are commanded to remove both the people and the cultic places that are in the land of Israel when they arrive there lest any remnant of them become either a temptation to sin or a source of trouble in the future. The Torah delineates the boundaries of the Promised Land and the assignment of heredity territories for Reuven, Gad and the half-tribe of Menasheh on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The parasha designates a leader from each tribe to work with Yehoshua and Elazar in the apportionment of land to the remaining nine and one half tribes. Each of the tribes is required to set aside towns, as well as fields around them, for the Levites. Six of the forty-eight towns established for the Levites are to be designated as cities of refuge, three on each side of the Jordan River. Cities of refuge were havens for individuals who killed unintentionally, offering protection from the avenging kinsmen of the deceased until the case went to trial. Premeditated or deliberate murder was punishable by death. Involuntary homicides were adjudicated by the courts and those found guilty would remain in a city of refuge until the death of the serving Kohen Gadol. The Torah requires a minimum of two witnesses for anyone to be convicted of a capital offense. The Torah also rejects a practice prevalent in the ancient Near East wherein a murderer or a manslayer could pay a ransom in lieu of their penalty. The parasha, and thus the book of Numbers, concludes by reiterating the geographic location of the Israelites - on the steppes of Moab, at the Jordan River, across from the city of Jericho. Discussion Topic 1: Learning From the Journey "These were the marches of the Israelites who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moshe and Aharon. Moshe recorded the

rest stations of their various marches as directed by the Lord. Their marches, by rest stations, were as follows..." (Numbers 33:1-2) Derash: Study

Why are these rest stations recorded? To demonstrate the loving kindness of the Omnipresent; even though He decreed that they wander in the wilderness, one should not say that they wandered continually, moving from place to place the whole forty years and that they had no rest, for we see that there are only forty two rest stations. Deduct from this fourteen which occurred in the first year prior to the edict [of wandering] from the time they left Rameses until they arrived in Rithma from where they sent out the scouts.... Deduct another eight stations that took place after the death of Aharon as they traveled from Mt. Hor to the Plains of Moab in the fortieth year. Thus in the thirty-eight years in between they only moved twenty times. (Rashi, quoting Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan) It was important to record the stages of the wandering, for miracles convince only those who witnessed them. To future generations they will be only distant echoes or figments of the imagination. The greatest of all the miracles in the Torah is the sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years with a daily supply of manna. In order to remove all doubts and to establish the accuracy of the account of these miracles, the Torah enumerates all the rest stations, so that future generations can visit them and learn the greatness of the miracle which enabled people to survive in those places for forty years. (Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed 3:50, Quoted by Ramban on the verse) From the time the Holy One brought [the Israelites] out of Egypt until they arrived at the gates of the promised land much befell them, both positive and negative. The brief listing of the stations of the wandering was meant for the Israelites to read after they settled in their homeland. Reading about each station would enable them to recall what happened to them there. They would be able to take to heart the kindness shown them by God and the suffering they endured for their disobedience, so that they would act properly in the future and avoid sin. (Be'er Yitzhak) We are under an obligation to acknowledge these miracles, for they are miracles that were performed for our benefit as well, otherwise we would not be here. (Toldot Yitzhak) The Holy One desired that the stations of the Israelites' journey be recorded to make known their merit in following God into a wilderness, into a place that was waste, to show that they were worthy to enter the [promised] land eventually. (S'forno) Our teacher Moshe wrote down all the stations where Israel sojourned and they were an entire Torah. Now Elijah writes down all the sojourns, the wanderings and difficulties of Israel. In the days of the messiah it will be a book from which all can learn. (Rabbi David of Leelob) This world is called "The World of Repair" and a person must fix each day what he did yesterday. This is what 'they encamped and they traveled' means, that they always go from level to level. (Siftey Tsadikkim)

"Moses recorded their stops along the way" pertains to the forward advance of the Israelites and then "along the way, those were their stops," which relates to their backtracking. (Kli Yakar) I do not gain by having reached my destination; I gain in the process of traveling towards my destination. (Yiddish Proverb)

Questions 1. What can we learn from looking back atthe wanderings of our ancestors in the wilderness and throughout the ages? 2. Some commentators saw the experience of the nation as a paradigm for the experience of the individual. How can we learn and grow along our life journey? Discussion Topic 2: Make Yourself At Home "You shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; you shall destroy their figured objects; you shall destroy all their molten images, and you shall demolish all their cult places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have assigned the land to you to possess." (Numbers 33:52-53) Derash: Study

• • • • • • •

"You shall possess the land," take possession of it from its inhabitants, and then "you may dwell therein," meaning, safely exist there. Otherwise you will not be able to exist there. (Rashi) In my opinion, this constitutes a positive command of the Torah wherein God commanded (the Israelites) to settle in the land and inherit it; for God gave it to them; and they should not reject the heritage of the Holy One! (Ramban) "Return to the land of your fathers, and to your kindred; and I will be with you" (Genesis 31:3) -- Your father is waiting for you, your mother is waiting for you -- I myself am waiting for you. (Bershit Rabbah 77) We should not leave it in thehands of others or allow it to remain desolate. (Ramban) Bring us safely from the four corners of the earth, and lead us in dignity to our holy land. (The Siddur) No spot in the Land of Israel is empty of God's Presence. (Numbers Rabbah 12) The Land of Israel is called life. (Avot D'Rabbi Natan 34) A land whose every stone symbolizes past effort and future hope. (Max Nordau) This land made us a people. (David Ben-Gurion) The future of the Jewish people as a creative and self-respecting member of the human family is inconceivable without the rebuilding of the security and peace in the land of Israel, which has already brought home to its borders the scattered remnants of Oriental and European Jewry. Hence the support of the State of Israel and of its progress as a democratic Jewish commonwealth built upon the foundation of justice and equality, in which the body of the Jew will be safe and his spirit

unshackled, is a cardinal mitzvah of Judaism in our day. (Rabbi Robert Gordis, Understanding Conservative Judaism.) Questions 1. How does Zionism find expression in our lives today? 2. What role does the Diaspora have in the model suggested above? 3. Can a purely secular State of Israel fulfill the aspirations expressed by Jews over the centuries?

PARASHAT DEVARIM - SHABBAT HAZON
August 13, 2005 - 8 Av 5765 Annual: Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22 (Etz Hayim, p. 981; Hertz p. 736) Triennial: Deuteronomy 1:1 - 2:1 (Etz Hayim, p. 981; Hertz p. 736) Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1 - 27 (Etz Hayim, p. 1000; Hertz p. 750) Prepared by Rabbi Daniel A. Ornstein Congregation Ohav Shalom, Albany, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Where We Are in the Torah This Shabbat we begin Sefer Devarim, the Book of Deuteronomy. This first Torah portion includes Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22, and it always coincides with the Shabbat before the fast of Tisha B'Av. Summary Moshe begins his first speech to the Israelites before his death. (1:1-5) In this portion he reviews events which happened in the past: Moshe sets up a judicial system to handle the pressing needs of the people. (1:6-18) Scouts check out the land of Canaan for Moshe and the Israelites; the people complain about leaving Egypt and going up into the land; God angrily vows that the generation that left Egypt will never see Canaan, (including Moshe!); the people, without God's consent, seek to make up for their rebelliousness by prematurely entering the land, and they are roundly defeated by the local population at Hormah. (1:19-45) God warns Moshe and the Israelites that they may not conquer or take possession of the land belonging to the people of Esau, Moav and Ammon. Their land is assigned to them by God. (2:1-25) Moshe seeks passage for the people through the land of Heshbon, but Sihon their king forbids this, goes to war with the Israelites and is defeated by the Israelites at the hand of God. The Israelites destroy that kingdom (2:26-37) God delivers Bashan and its king, Og, into Israelite hands. The Israelites destroy that kingdom, and they take over all of the land of both kings. (3:1-11). All of that land, which is on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, is given to the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and the half tribe of Menashe. They are commanded to assist the other tribes with conquering the land of Canaan on the western bank of the river. (3:12-20) Joshua, who has been previously named as Moshe's successor, is charged by him not to fear the nations of Canaan when he enters the Promised Land. (3:21-22)

The First Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries "And I, (Moshe), said to you, (the Israelites) the following at that time, (when we left Mt. Horev): 'I cannot bear the burden of you by myself.'" (1:9)

From Rashi, (Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, France and Germany 10401104) - Is it possible that Moshe, the man who led the Israelites out of Egypt, split the Sea of Reeds for them, and fed them manna and quail in the desert, was unable to be their judge? This is really what Moshe meant, (when he said to them that he could not bear their burden): THE LORD YOUR GOD HAS MADE YOU SO NUMEROUS, (1:10). God has caused you to overwhelm your judges by transferring liability for punishment for your wrongdoing onto their shoulders. From Otzar Midrashim, (Digest of Minor MidRashic Works Compiled With Comments By J.D. Eisenstein, 1915), p. 12 - When Miriam, (Moshe and Aharon's sister) died, the well that accompanied the Israelites and gave them water in the desert dried up… Moshe and Aharon were weeping over her death within the tent of meeting while the Israelites wept outside. Moshe didn't realize that six hours had passed until the people came in and asked him, "How long will you sit there and weep? He replied, "Should I not weep for my sister who died?" They said back to him, "If you're going to weep for one person then weep for all of us!" "Why?" he asked. They answered, "We have no more water!" Moshe went outside, saw that not a drop of water was left in the well, and he began to fight with them: "Didn't I tell you that I can't bear the burden of you by myself?! You've got all sorts of leaders and elders, (that I set up for you), who will deal with you!" They replied, "All of this is your responsibility because you're the one who brought us out of Egypt into this evil place. If you give us water, great. If not, we'll stone you." From Mei Hashiloach, (Hasidic Commentary On The Torah by Rabbi Mordechai Leiner of Ishbitz, Died 1854.) - When the Israelites were about to enter the land (of Canaan), Moshe our teacher, of blessed memory, sensed that God wanted to put Joshua, (Moshe's assistant), in charge of the conquest. Moshe wanted the people to pray to God that they didn't want any leader other than Moshe. He hinted at this to them when he said, "I can't bear the burden of you by myself!" (That is, I am going to need others to assist me when I take you into the land: RDO) Later, (3:23-25), Moshe even begged this of God explicitly.

Questions for Discussion: 1. Rashi teaches that Moshe's real concern was the existential, not the physical, burden of being a leader and a judge. In what sense can or should leaders and judges be liable for the culpability of the people they lead? 2. Otzar Midrashim teaches that Moshe's real concern at that moment in his life was the emotional burden of leading the people in the midst of his grief. How much can or should a leader set aside personal needs to in order to lead effectively?

3. Rabbi Leiner teaches that Moshe's real concern was his struggle with letting go of his role as leader and accepting his impending death without the fulfillment of entering the land. How, in our personal and professional lives, do we know that it is time to make painful transitions happen or to allow them to happen? 4. Each of these commentators uses verse 1:9 to paint a different image of Moshe the leader, one image larger than life and two images all-toohuman. What might the Torah and our teachers be telling us about the true nature of inspired leadership? 5. What excesses might result from the power and burdens of leadership? What can communities do to control them? The Second Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries You shall not be partial in judgment: hear out low and high alike. Fear no man, for judgment is God's. And any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me and I will hear it. (1:17)

From Sifre Devarim on Deuteronomy 1:17, (a work of legal Midrash on Deuteronomy attributed to the School Of Rabbi Akiva, 2nd Century C.E.) - YOU SHALL NOT BE PARTIAL IN JUDGMENT: This is actually addressed to the person in charge of appointing judges to the bench. That person might think, "So-and-so is a nice person, I'll appoint him. So-and-so is valiant, knows languages well, etc., I'll appoint him." The result would be that they condemn the innocent and exonerate the guilty, not because any of these judges you appointed are bad people but because they lack requisite knowledge to be judges. Scripture would account them, (i.e., these perfectly nice but incompetent judges), as if they had been partial in judgment. From Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, France and Germany 10401104) - HEAR OUT LOW AND HIGH ALIKE: You should be as concerned about a case that involves a small amount of money as you are about a case that involves a great amount of money. If the former case came to you first, you shouldn't push it off to be the last case. Also, HEAR OUT LOW AND HIGH ALIKE means that you should not say, "This litigant is poor, while his opponent is rich and is obligated to support him. I'll rule in favor of the poor man so that he can receive assistance under the presumption of innocence." It also means that you should not say, "How can I dishonor this wealthy and prominent man over a trifling amount of money? I'll rule in his favor now, then when we leave the courtroom I'll tell him to pay back his opponent who should rightfully have won the case." From Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Spain, 1194-1270) - The meaning of FOR JUDGMENT IS GOD'S is this: Your work as a judge isn't to serve people, it is for the purposes of serving God who is with you in the midst of judging cases. It's God's job to execute justice between His human creations, whom He created to behave with integrity and justice, and to rescue the oppressed from the oppressor. God placed you, the judges, in God's stead. If you fear the power of human litigants

and thus miscarry justice, you will have sinned against God by having violated your role as God's agent. Questions for Discussion: 1. What is judicial competence? Should a judge's political views or judicial ideology be a factor in determining his or her fitness to serve on the bench? 2. Other passages in Jewish tradition assert that a person who wants to be a judge must be compassionate. If justice is supposed to be blind, allowing no consideration of circumstances beyond the facts and determining innocence or guilt, what role does compassion play in making judicial decisions? 3. Note the way in which Rashi uses earlier rabbinic sources to emphasize that the judicial process should not be influenced by societal factors such as concern for the poor or the honor of a prominent person. Is this a realistic way of thinking about judicial process? Do goals such as preventing humiliation or helping the disadvantaged ever factor legitimately into a judge's decisions? 4. As complex as the judicial process is, there are clear boundaries. Accepting a bribe, ruling in favor of a friend unfairly, making judgments on the basis of politics, or ruling in someone's favor because you fear his threats are all clear examples of miscarriages of justice. How can the judicial system foster a "fear of God," a sense of unwavering moral rectitude, in its judges?

PARASHAT VA'ETHANAN
August 20, 2005 - 15 Av 5765 Annual: Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11 (Etz Hayim, p. 1005; Hertz p. 755) Triennial: Deuteronomy 3:23 - 5:18 (Etz Hayim, p. 1005; Hertz p. 755) Haftarah: Isaiah 40:1 - 26 (Etz Hayim, p. 1033; Hertz p. 776) Prepared by Rabbi Daniel A. Ornstein Congregation Ohav Shalom, Albany, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Where We Are in the Torah This week's portion is Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11, the second in the book. It always coincides with Shabbat Nachamu, the first of seven Shabbatot of Consolation that follow Tisha B'Av and precede Rosh Hashanah. Summary Moshe continues his first speech and begins his second speech to the Israelites. He reminds them of how God has forbidden him from entering Canaan with them. He admonishes the people to remember everything that they saw with their own eyes in Egypt and when they received the Torah. They are wise enough to understand that all of their redemption and wise laws come from the one God. He warns the people to stay away from idol worship and from the worship of anything in nature. God alone is to be obeyed. He warns the people that they will be exiled if they fail to follow God's covenant, but that God will not abandon them even in their exile. Mention is made of the three cities of refuge that Moshe established as sanctuaries for those who kill someone by accident. Moshe reminds the people about the revelation of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Horev, (Sinai.) He includes a detailed reading of the Ten Commandments. Through the words of the Sh'ma, he tells the people that God is one and that they must love God. The people are admonished to remember God and follow God when they inherit the land of Canaan. Moshe ends with more admonitions about following God alone, following God's Torah and maintaining distinctiveness among the nations. The First Text From our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries Know therefore this day and keep (it) in mind: that the Lord alone is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other. (4:39)

From The Prayer, Aleinu. (Attributed to the house of the 3rd century sage, Rav, though possibly much older) - It is our duty to praise the Master of everything, to declare the greatness of the Creator of the cosmos, who has not made us like the other nations nor created us like

the other families of the earth… He is our God, there is no other. In truth He is our King, nothing compares with Him. As it is written in His Torah, "Know therefore this day and keep in mind that the Lord alone is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other." (Placed originally in the "Malchuyot-Kingship" section of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf service, and now found at the end of each daily service.) From Or Ha-Chayyim, (Torah Commentary of Rabbi and Kabbalist, Chayyim ben Moshe Attar, Morocco, 1696-1743) - (When Moshe says, "Know therefore this day and keep [it] in mind"), what made that specific day different from all other days for the Israelites? What about that day would the individual have to keep in mind? Based upon traditions in the Talmud we learn that the day being referred to by Moshe is the day of one's death. Moshe is telling the people that a person should develop humility by "knowing this day," that is, recognizing the day of one's death, (i.e. that we are all mortal). Keeping this reality in mind is what brings us back to the straight and narrow path of good living, and prevents us from succumbing to the evil inclination, (presumably because we contrast our frailty and mortality with God's Oneness and infinite power in heaven and on earth). From Mei Hashiloach, (Hasidic Commentary on the Torah by Rabbi Mordechai Leiner of Ishbitz, Died 1854) - Our verse is juxtaposed with the passage about the cities of refuge for those who commit murder accidentally. This is because Moshe our teacher of blessed memory recognized that God reigns over everything, even in empty space, (lit. "mere air"). Nothing happens except as a result of God's will. Moshe therefore created a means of protection for those who kill without intention; for how else would the axe that slipped out of a person's hands, flew through the air and killed someone have done this if not because God wanted it to happen? In fact, even everything that happens unintentionally happens because God wanted it to be so.

Questions for Discussion: 1. Discuss the following: Aleinu uses our verse to teach us that we must praise God for making us Jews special among all the nations because we recognize God as the sole Creator of everyone and everything. Does a tension exist between God as Creator of the universe and God as the One who relates to Jews in a particular and privileged way? Is this a contradiction? How can (or do) Jews live as a part of the world while also living apart from it? 2. Rabbi Attar asks us to read our verse slightly out of context as a humbling reminder that we are all mortal, and that therefore we must bear in mind our servitude to the one God of heaven and earth. Do you agree with his assertion? Can the fact that we only live once and that we won't live forever make us better, more humble people? 3. Food for thought: Rabbi Leiner's reading of our verse is based upon a highly deterministic view of the world found in many Hasidic sources. Drawing on earlier Hasidic interpretations, he reads the words, "there is no other, (God)" literally, as "There is nothing but God, even in the empty spaces of the world." Since everything in our endless universe is really

just a part of God, everything that is or that happens is the result of God's will and initiative, even accidents. Free will and choosing to do God's will are crucial, but are mere illusions covering God's bigger reality. How much free will do we really have? Do you believe that anything in life is determined by God, by fate, by genetics,environment, etc? The Second Text From our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. (6:5)

From the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma 86a - LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD: This means that through your actions you should cause others to love God. (That is, you should be a role model for the imitation and service of God) You should learn Torah and serve teachers of Torah, as well as engage in honest business practices and speak kindly to others. Then other people will say about you that you are a student of (God's) Torah who behaves pleasantly and with integrity. (By loving and respecting you, they will come to love and respect God.) From the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brakhot 54a - WITH ALL YOUR HEART: This means that you should love God with both your good and evil impulses. WITH ALL YOUR SOUL: This means that you should love God even if God takes your soul away, (that is, takes your life). Based upon this verse, the sages taught that a person should bless God for the evil things that happen to him as much as for the good things. WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT: This means that you should love God using all of your financial means. From Sefer Oheiv Yisrael, (Hasidic Torah commentary of Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, Poland, died 1825). Comment On Genesis 24:62 - Love of one's fellow Jew is connected with love of God: the two are really one. A person who loves God should also love Israel, His people. This is demonstrated in the holy Torah through the verses: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF (Leviticus 19:18) and LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Questions for Discussion: 1. The passage from Tractate Brakhot alludes to our role as God's agents in bringing others close to God. Discuss the idea that we find and reveal God through how we interact with and model living for each other. 2. How do we love with our "dark sides" as well as with our "nicer sides"? Think about the Talmud's idea that we serve God with all of our wholeness and brokenness. 3. Discuss the Talmud's teaching that love of God includes praising God for everything that happens to us - good and evil -- as being part of God's will and plan. Is this idea a radical insight into the unitary nature of life or a simplistic statement of faith that, whatever happens, it's all part of God's plan? 4. Is God responsible for the bad things that happen to good people?

5. How do we serve God with our money? Can our wealth be made holy? Though materialism and the excesses of wealth are condemned by Judaism, the above comment on our verse is making an important point about the way that the blessings of wealth can be employed for loving God through how wealth is used. Discuss this. 6. Rabbi Heschel is using a time-honored tool of Torah interpretation to make his point: the word LOVE shows up in both verses that he mentions. Therefore, the two verses can be compared and connected. 7. Rabbi Heschel reads the verse in Leviticus narrowly, as referring exclusively to fellow Jews. We would read it more broadly today, as including all of one's fellow human beings. Why should/can love of God lead to love for one's fellow Jews or one's fellow human beings? Can a person who loves God still be a misanthrope? Can an atheist still love humanity? What is it about our love for God that can motivate us to love God's creations?

PARASHAT EKEV
August 27, 2005 - 22 Av 5765 Annual: Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25 (Etz Hayim, p. 1037; Hertz p. 780) Triennial: Deuteronomy 7:12 - 9:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 1037; Hertz p. 780) Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14 - 51:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 1056; Hertz p. 794) Prepared by Rabbi Daniel A. Ornstein Congregation Ohav Shalom, Albany, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Where We Are in the Torah This week's portion is Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25, the third in the book. It is the second of seven Shabbatot of Consolation that follow Tisha B'Av and precede Rosh Hashanah. Summary Moshe continues his second speech to the people, which includes the following themes: 1. In return for their following the covenant, God will protect the people and defeat all of their enemies when they enter the land of Canaan to conquer it; 2. The people will be destroyed or exiled if they fail to follow God's covenant and worship other gods; 3. The Israelites should not arrogantly assume that their future successes are the result of their own initiative or that God favors them; 4. There were numerous times -especially the golden calf incident- when the people made God furious with them; 5. A call to the people to circumcise their hearts, renounce their stiff-necked ways, follow God and God's commandments, and possess the good land awaiting them; 6. The second paragraph of the Sh'ma known as "V-Hayah Im Shamoa " is found in the portion. Its major theme is the traditional concept of reward and punishment. The First Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries Therefore impress these My (God's) words upon your very heart; bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol between your eyes. (11:18)

From The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin 30b - Our rabbis have taught that the Hebrew word, (ve)samtem, "therefore impress," can be read as two (similar sounding) Hebrew words: sam tam, "the perfect cure." (This explanation reminds us that) God's words found in the Torah are like a cure that can save life. God told the children of Israel, "My

children, I created the evil inclination within you, but I created the Torah as its antidote. If you preoccupy yourselves with Torah, the evil inclination will not conquer you." From Sifre Devarim, (A work of legal Midrash on Deuteronomy attributed to the School of Rabbi Akiva, 2nd Century C.E.) - (The sages note that prior to this verse, Deuteronomy 11:17 warns the people that God will exile them from the Promised Land if they fail to follow God's word. They explain why these two ideas, the threat of exile as punishment and the charge to impress God's words upon our hearts, are juxtaposed). (Here) God is saying to the children of Israel, "Even though I am going to exile you from the land of Israel to the Diaspora, mark yourselves prominently with the performance of mitzvot when you are in exile. That way when you return to the Promised Land the mitzvot will not be unfamiliar to you." From Hafetz Hayyim Al Ha-Torah, (Torah commentary of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Ha-Cohen, 1838-1933.) - How awesome is this idea (mentioned in Sifrei Devarim)! For a person's spiritual food -Torah and mitzvot -- can be compared to his physical sustenance. If a person fasts for several days, his desire for food diminishes so that all he feels is faint. It is exactly the same with the soul. If a person doesn't engage in Torah study, but distances himself from fulfilling the mitzvot and the Torah's dictates for a long time, his soul loses its natural desire for spiritual matters. This happens whether a person freely chooses to go far away from spiritual matters or is forced to do so… God wants us to be diligent in getting the soul used to serving God, (hence God tells us in the Torah that even when we are far away from the holy land in exile we are to keep practicing Judaism.)

Questions for Discussion: 1. The Talmud teaches us that Torah and its mitzvot are the "cure" for the ills brought upon us by our evil inclinations, with which God has created all humans. What is the evil inclination? (Hint: it is not the same thing as the Christian notion of original sin. The closest analogy might be Freud's concepts of libido and id, our most primitive impulses that need to be civilized.) Why would God create us with this inclination only to give us its antidote? Why not simply create us without impulses that, left unchecked, could lead us to destructive behavior? What does the Talmud mean when it says that this inclination or impulse is created by God? If it is God's handiwork, can it truly be an evil thing? 2. The Sifre implies that life outside of the Land of Israel is life in physical and spiritual exile where we need Jewish practice even more than usual. How/did the Torah and mitzvot keep the Jewish people alive as a people during the millennia of Diaspora life before the founding of the State of Israel? 3. Some Zionist thinkers have argued that Jewish law and practice served us well in exile, but that with the advent of an entirely Jewish society in

Israel, Torah, Jewish law and mitzvot are not necessary anymore. What is your opinion? 4. Rabbi Ha-Cohen "spiritualizes" the text of the Sifre by focusing on exile as a spiritual condition, rather than the physical condition mentioned in the Torah prior to our verse. He argues that in the realm of religious life absence does NOT make the heart grow fonder, but, in fact, less needy of spiritual fulfillment. Do you agree with his statement? What is the purpose of cultivating spiritual longing and service in our souls: to "help" andserve God or to help ourselves through that service? The Second Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries You shall eat, you shall be sated, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. (8:10)

From Maimonides, (Spain, Egypt, and Morocco 1138-1204), The Book of Commandments, #19 - The Torah records a positive commandment to bless God after eating food. As we learn: YOU SHALL EAT, YOU SHALL BE SATED, AND YOU SHALL BLESS… According to the laws of the Torah you do not have to thank God for your food unless you are sated, (that is, you had a filling meal). However, the rabbinic sages expanded this law to include giving thanks to God even if we have only eaten an amount of food the size of an olive. From the Torah commentary of Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno, (Italy 14701550) - AND YOU SHALL BLESS THE LORD YOUR GOD: So that you can remember that these blessings (of food and the good land) have been given to you by God. From the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brakhot, 20b - God's ministering angels complained: "Master of the universe, it is written in Your Torah that You do not play favorites. (See Deuteronomy 10;17) But don't You play favorites with the Jewish people? It's written, (Numbers 6:26), "May God lift up God's face to you!" (The phrase "lifting up the face" is used in the Hebrew of both verses, and can mean unfairly favoring someone or simply showing favor to a loved one). God replied, "Shouldn't I show favor to the Jewish people? In the Torah I commanded them, YOU SHALL EAT, YOU SHALL BE SATED, (AND THEN) YOU SHALL BLESS THE LORD YOUR GOD. But they've decided to be so exacting with themselves that they even give thanks for the smallest amounts of food that they eat."

Questions for Discussion: 1. Why would our sages have expanded the law concerning thanking God for food? Why should we thank God even for the smallest amounts that we eat, instead of making our thanks contingent upon a truly filling meal? 2. A project for you: Ask your rabbi, cantor, or educational director to teach you Birkat Hamazon, Grace After Meals. Make it part of your daily spiritual discipline. 3. According to Rabbi Sforno, blessing God for our food is a memory device: it helps us to remember or be conscious of the fact that our food

did not come out of nowhere. It was given to us by God. Discuss other ways in which Jewish rituals deepen our consciousness of God's presence in our lives. 4. What is the passage from Tractate Brachot teaching us about the dynamic relationship between God and the Jewish people? (Hint: think about how God praises the Jewish people for actively going beyond the minima of God's law, thus expanding the law.)

PARASHAT RE'EH - BIRKAT HAHODESH
September 3, 2005 - 29 Av 5765 Annual: Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17 (Etz Hayim, p.1061; Hertz p.799) Triennial: Deuteronomy 11:26-12:28 (Etz Hayim, p.1061; Hertz p.799) Haftarah: Isaiah 54:11-55:5 (Etz Hayim, p.1085; Hertz p.818) Prepared by Rabbi Daniel A. Ornstein Congregation Ohav Shalom, Albany, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Where We Are in the Torah This week's portion is Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17, the fourth in the book. It coincides with the third of seven Shabbatotof Consolation that follow Tisha B'Av and precede Rosh Hashanah. Summary Re'eh begins Moshe's review of the laws given by God to the Israelites in preparation for their entering the Promised Land. After commanding them to perform the ritual of calling out blessings and curses after they enter the land, Moshe teaches them the following laws: 1) To destroy all pagan places and objects of worship, to worship God at one central cultic place, to follow only the true prophets of God, and to destroy all individuals and communities that seek to serve other gods. 2) The laws of keeping kosher and levitical tithes. 3) The laws concerning sabbatical years, supporting the poor, indentured servants, and offering firstborn animals to God. 4) The yearly holiday cycle. The First Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries If… there is a needy person among you… within one of your gates… do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, open, you must open your hand and lend him enough for whatever he needs. Beware lest there be the base thought in your heart: "The seventh year of debt forgiveness is approaching," so that you are mean to your needy kinsman and give him nothing. He will cry out to the Lord against you, and you will incur guilt. (15:7-9; Based upon translations by Jewish Publication Society and Professor Everett Fox)

From Sifre Devarim, (A work of legal Midrash on Deuteronomy attributed to the School of Rabbi Akiva, 2nd Century C.E.) - The words, "WITHIN ONE OF YOUR GATES" teach us that the poor of one's community take priority over the poor of another community. From The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Metzia, 31b - I only know that the Torah commands me to assist the poor of my own community. From where in the Torah do I derive the obligation to assist the poor of other communities as well? From the words, OPEN, YOU

MUST OPEN YOUR HAND. The apparently superfluous use of the verb OPEN a second time teaches us that we open our hands to the poor of our community and to the poor of other communities (when we are able to assist both. For the Talmud, no word of the Torah is actually superfluous. What appears to be an unnecessary word is actually there to teach us something new.) From The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ketubot 68a - THE BASE THOUGHT IN YOUR HEART: Earlier on, the Torah referred to people who seduce others into idol worship as base people. (Deut. 13:14) (Comparing the use of the word BASE in both places) we conclude that just as those who lead others into idolatry are called base people, so too a person who harbors the base thought that he can get away with being stingy towards the poor is similar to an idol worshipper. From Torah Temimah (Torah anthology and a commentary of Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein, 1860-1942) - These verses of the Torah concerning not being stingy (prior to the seventh year of debt forgiveness) also teach us about the general rule of being generous to the poor in all circumstances. This comparison between stinginess and idol worship is based upon the idea that everything we own is only ours as a result of God's help. We give to others as a sign of our faith in this religious precept. The person who refuses to help the poor is like one who (arrogantly) rejects the belief in divine providence and assistance because he thinks that all he possesses he has gotten on his own. This is a form of idolatry.

Questions for Discussion: 1. Why does the Sifre teach us to care for the poor of our own community first? What limits of social welfare might it be hinting at? 2. Why not make magnitude of poverty the criterion for who gets help first rather than geographic proximity of the poor? 3. In our global village, the crises of the world's poorest people can be witnessed on TV or the internet anytime. The needy people in our gates are now, potentially, everyone. How, then, do we determine who gets helps, how they get it and when they get it? 4. The Talmud and Rabbi Epstein assert that stinginess towards the poor is a kind of idolatry. Jewish rules of philanthropy are based upon the idea that all we own really belongs to God, and it is God's sole prerogative to determine when we should give it away to others. What if a person does not believe in God? Why would or should that person still give to the poor? If God is so concerned that we help the poor, then why did God create the circumstances of poverty in the first place? 5. Try this: on the basis of the passages we have studied, create a religiously based program for fighting poverty in your community. (Look at all of Deuteronomy 15 for more information!)

The Second Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries (Connect these verses to part one of the Torah portion section.) Give, you shall surely give to him(the poor person in need of your loans) and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the Lord your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings. For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land. (15:10-11; Based Upon The Translations By JPS And Professor Everret Fox)

From Sifre Devarim (a work of Legal Midrash on Deuteronomy attributed to The School of Rabbi Akiva, 2nd Century C.E.) - GIVE, YOU SHALL SURELY GIVE: What is the proof from the Torah that if you support a poor person once you must even support him a hundred times? The words, GIVE, YOU SHALL SURELY GIVE. (You must give once, and you must give over and over) in whatever situation you find that person. From Torah Temimah, (Torah anthology and commentary of Rabbi Barukh HaLevi Epstein, 1860-1942). Comment on Sifre Devarim This matter (that Sifre Devarim is explaining) is simple: tzedakah is an endless mitzvah, one that lasts a person's entire life, just like the other mitzvot. From The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 151b - The sage Samuel taught that the only difference between our age and the messianic age is that in the latter the Jewish people will no longer be persecuted by other nations. Otherwise, reality will remain as it is.) We know this from the verse, FOR THERE WILL NEVER CEASE TO BE NEEDY ONES IN YOUR LAND.

Questions for Discussion: 1. Think about this: given the fact that our taxes are, in effect, a tzedakah obligation incumbent upon the community, Jews are even more duly obligated to devote their discretionary income to Jewish causes. This is especially the case in our country where separation of church and state forbids religious groups from taking public money for their communities' needs. 2. Note that the sage Samuel was not only making a textual observation. He was also asserting that poverty is so ingrained in the dynamics of human social life that even the Messiah's redemptive presence will not do away with it. Human beings have to accept poverty as an ongoing human challenge. 3. Sifre Devarim views philanthropy as a lifetime obligation and discipline. How do we inculcate the value of giving tzedakah in young people and general society, especially in an age of rampant materialism and voluntarism? 4. Some have suggested that paying one's taxes is as close as we will come to the original concept of tzedakah as a communal obligation. Imagine that you are a public relations official for the IRS. How would you

teach the taxation system as a moral/legal obligation? What are the political and moral challenges you would have to deal with in making your argument?

PARASHAT SHOFTIM September 10, 2005 - 6 Elul 5765 Annual: Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9 (Etz Hayim, p. 1088; Hertz p. 820) Triennial: Deuteronomy 16:18 - 18:5 (Etz Hayim, p. 1088; Hertz p. 820) Haftarah: Isaiah 51:12 - 52:12 (Etz Hayim, p. 1108; Hertz p. 835) Prepared by Rabbi Daniel A. Ornstein Congregation Ohav Shalom, Albany, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Where We Are in the Torah This week's portion is Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9, the fifth in the book. It coincides with the fourth of seven Shabbatot of Consolation that follow Tisha B'Av and precedes Rosh Hashanah. Summary Shoftim continues Moshe's review of the laws given by God to the Israelites in preparation for their entering the Promised Land: 1) Judges, the judicial system, and rules of testimony in capital cases; 2) How a king is to behave; 3) Gifts to the priests and the levites; 4) Prohibitions against sorcerers and diviners, and rules concerning true and false prophets; 5) The cities of refuge for those who kill accidentally; 6) Respect for others' property boundaries; 7) False witnesses; 8) Preparations for battle and treatment of enemies who have been conquered; 9) Treatment of natural resources, especially trees, during battle and siege; 10) What happens when someone is found murdered in a field by an unknown assailant: the ritual of the broken neck heifer. Tbe First Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries (Concerning your appearance before the judges of your generation who preside in your community): You shall act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down to you; you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left. (17:11)

From Sifre Devarim, (A work of legal Midrash on Deuteronomy attributed to the School of Rabbi Akiva, 2nd Century C.E.) - The words, "WITHIN ONE OF YOUR GATES" teach us that the poor of one's community take priority over the poor of another community. From The Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Brachot, 1:4 - YOU SHALL ACT IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN YOU: To what are a prophet and a sage to be compared? To a king who sent his two ambassadors to a state. For one of them he wrote (to the leaders of that state), "If he does not show you my seal, do not believe him, (that is, anything that he claims to represent about the king). For the other he wrote, "Even if he does not show you my seal, believe him. Similarly,

concerning the prophet, (God our King writes in the Torah), "IF HE GIVES YOU A SIGN OR A PORTENT." (Deuteronomy 13:2) But here, (in Deuteronomy 17:11, concerning judges and sages, God our King writes), YOU SHALL ACT IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN YOU. (That is, even without a sign. Translation by Rabbi Ellliot Dorff.) From Sifre Devarim, (A work of legal Midrash on Deuteronomy attributed to the School Of Rabbi Akiva, 2nd Century C.E.) - YOU MUST NOT DEVIATE… EITHER TO THE RIGHT OR TO THE LEFT: Even if it appears that the judges have taught you that left is right and that right is left, you must still listen to them. From The Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Horayot, 1:5 - You might think that if the judges teach you that right is left and that left is right, you should listen to them. Therefore the Torah teaches: TO THE RIGHT OR TO THE LEFT. When they teach you that right is right and that left is left, (then you should listen to them and not any other time.)

Questions for Discussion: 1. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, who has more religious authority to determine God's will, the Talmudic sage or one who claims to be a prophet? What are the differences between the approach of the prophet and the approach of the sage to determining God's will? Why would the Talmud have been concerned with showing that interpretation had superseded prophetic revelation? 2. Sifre Devarim gives a tremendous amount of authority to the sages and judges of each generation to interpret and teach the Torah. How do we square this authority with the authority of God's explicit word in the Torah? 3. The source from Sifre is often quoted in Conservative Movement sources to point to the power of ongoing halachic (legal) interpretation that is built into the Torah: we are not simply passive recipients of the tradition but active interpreters of that tradition, through the authoritative efforts of our religious leaders. 4. Note the tension between the teaching from Sifre and the opposite teaching from the Talmud: there are limits on how far the sages can go in determining that right is left and vice versa. What are those limits within Jewish law? Who determines them? 5. It is quite interesting that the Jerusalem Talmud places great emphasis on rabbinic authority to make decisions for the community, while also placing in the hands of the individual the responsibility to decide if that very same authority has violated its bounds by distorting the Torah with incorrect interpretations. Is this an internal contradiction? The Second Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries (Connect these verses to part one of the Torah portion section.) When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time to capture, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of

them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siegeworks against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced. (20:19-20)

From Maimonides, (1138-1204, Spain, Morocco, and Egypt): Mishneh Torah, Laws Concerning Kings, 6:10 - Trees are not the only things included in this prohibition against wanton destruction. In fact, any person who breaks utensils, rips up clothing, tears downs a building, stops up a spring, or destroys food unnecessarily, is in violation of Deuteronomy's prohibition of "Do not destroy." From Rashi, (Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, France and Germany 10401104) - ARE TREES OF THE FIELD HUMAN: The grammatical sense of this verse in the Hebrew is a rhetorical question: Is it perhaps the case that a tree of the field is like a person, able to retreat into a fortified city from before you…? (Of course a tree on a field of battle cannot do this like people could!) Therefore, why would you wantonly cut it down? From Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra, (Spain, North Africa, and Europe 1089-1164) - ARE TREES OF THE FIELD HUMAN: The common reading of the Hebrew grammar of this verse turns it into a rhetorical question. In my opinion, this is incorrect, for what does it mean to say that we should not unnecessarily destroy fruit trees because they are not like people who can defend themselves from us by running away? (Ibn Ezra seems to be pointing out the illogical nature of such a statement. In the end, we might chase down and kill a human enemy running away from us anyway. RDO) In my opinion there is no need for such an explanation. When the text says, "YOU MAY EAT OF THEM BUT YOU MAY NOT CUT THEM DOWN"the next statement should be read as a kind of shorthand: FOR (the life of) HUMANS (is dependent upon) TREES OF THE FIELD.

Questions for Discussion: 1. Note the Torah's insistence that we preserve living things even as we are engaged in war and killing. Apart from rules about conserving resources, what rules about the conventions of warfare could be derived from these laws? 2. Bal tashchit is the prohibition against wasting resources and destroying things for no reason. It is one of the world's earliest laws about protecting the environment. How do we distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate destruction of resources in our daily lives? 3. Look carefully at Rashi's and Ibn Ezra's interpretations. What is the difference between them? 4. Discuss: Rashi's and Ibn Ezra's comments together offer us a comprehensive Jewish approach to environmental ethics. Protection of the environment is done out of compassion for all living things and out of specific concern for human beings and our needs. 5. The Torah recognizes that there are times when even trees need to be torn down for the sake of building siege works. Preservation at times yields to "progress." In our time the fierce debate continues about

balancing human progress with environmental protection. What might the Torah and its interpreters have to say about this balance?

PARASHAT KI TETZE
September 17, 2005 - 13 Elul 5765 Annual: Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19 (Etz Hayim, p. 1112; Hertz p. 840) Triennial: Deuteronomy 21:10 - 23:7 (Etz Hayim, p. 1112; Hertz p. 840) Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1 - 10 (Etz Hayim, p. 1138; Hertz p. 857) Prepared by Rabbi Daniel A. Ornstein Congregation Ohav Shalom, Albany, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Where We Are in the Torah This week's portion is Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19, the sixth in the book. It coincides with the fifth of seven Shabbatot of Consolation that follow Tisha B'Av and precede Rosh Hashanah. Summary Ki Tetze continues Moshe's review of the laws given by God to the Israelites in preparation for their entering the Promised Land. It contains one of the largest, most diverse collections of laws, including some found nowhere else in the Torah. (For example, the law concerning making a protective railing around one's roof to avoid falls, found in 22:8. See below!). The groups of laws found here include family laws, laws concerning executed criminals, domestic laws, laws about marital and sexual misconduct, forbidden relationships, as well as a lot of other social, cultic, poverty, and family legislation. The First Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone, (lit. "the one who falls"), should fall from it. (22:8)

From The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ketubot 41b - Rabbi Nathan taught, "From what biblical text do we learn that a person should not raise a bad tempered dog or use a rickety ladder in his home? From the following: SO THAT YOU DO NOT BRING BLOODGUILT UPON YOUR HOUSE. From Maimonides, (Spain and Egypt, 1135-1204) Mishneh Torah: Laws Concerning Murderers And Physical Protection, 11:4-5) - Not only must a roof be secured (to keep people from falling off of it) but in fact one is commanded to secure anything which could potentially endanger a person's life… We are commanded to take precautions with anything that could cause danger to life… One who is negligent about removing anything that could endanger the safety of others violates a positive commandment to protect life as well as the prohibition, DO NOT BRING BLOODGUILT UPON YOUR HOUSE.

From The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 32a - (Preface: Why would the Torah describe a person falling from a roof as "the one who falls"? He has not yet fallen, so describing him this way is very strange. The school of Rabbi Yishmael will explain this anomalous verse in the following way.) The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught: IF "THE ONE WHO FALLS" SHOULD FALL FROM IT means that this individual had already been destined by God to fall from your roof since the creation of the world (for his sins). For, he has not yet fallen, yet the text refers to him as if he already had done so. (Even so, if you the owner of the house do not put a parapet around your roof, you will still be held liable for his death, because we can read our verse to mean: "THE ONE WHO FALLS" WILL FALL MIMENU - "ON ACCOUNT OF HIM, THE OWNER" NOT "FROM IT, THE ROOF".) And we learn that merit comes about through meritorious people, (i.e., those who follow the law of rooftop fences), while punishment comes about through those deserving of punishment, (i.e., those who fail to follow the law).

Questions for Discussion: 1. This rule about a rooftop fence to prevent people from falling off is found in the Torah in this one place only. In the ancient Middle East roofs were flat, not slanted, and people often slept, ate and socialized on rooftops. If you go to Israel today you will see that much roofing is flat. 2. Jewish law is very strict about preservation of life, even to the point of punishing a person who fails to protect himself from danger on the grounds that his safety is his business. How do we draw the legal and moral line between the individual's right to privacy and society's compelling interest in preserving that person's life? (Think about the debate concerning physician assisted suicide and the recent Terry Schiavo case.) 3. Emerging from the Tractate Shabbat passage is the very interesting tension between "fatalism" and freedom. On the one hand, a person destined by God to fall from your roof is in God's hands, not yours. On the other hand, you still have to guard him from falling, on the chance that you can overturn his destiny and save his life; otherwise, his preordained falling becomes your responsibility for your negligence. 4. Thinking about this passage, we are led to ask: is anything really preordained by God in human affairs, especially given our capacity to repent? What does Jewish tradition mean when it asserts that everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven? (See the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot 33b.) 5. What are the legal and social policy implications of this teaching of the House of Rabbi Yishmael? (Hint: think about some peoples' arguments that the poor are poor because they deserve to be poor, and therefore the state, its resources and tax dollars, are not responsible for them.)

The Second Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries (Connect these verses to part one of the Torah portion section.) Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt - how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (25:17-19)

From Maimonides, (1138-1204, Spain, Morocco, and Egypt): Mishneh Torah, Laws Concerning Kings, 5:5 and 6:4 - Obliterating the memory of the Amalekites is a positive commandment, as it is written in the Torah, "YOU SHALL BLOT OUT THE MEMORY OF Amalek FROM UNDER HEAVEN. "… Remembering the Amalekites' evil behavior… is also a positive commandment, as it is written, "REMEMBER WHAT Amalek DID TO YOU…" Rabbinic tradition teaches us that we should remember Amalek through recitation of these words of the Torah aloud, and that we should never forget Amalek in our hearts. We are forbidden to forget Amalek's hatred for us. This commandment (to obliterate the Amalekites) only applies to those who refuse to surrender to us in battle and to accept the seven Noachide laws of universal moral conduct. From Rashi, (Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, France and Germany 10401104) - REMEMBER WHAT Amalek DID TO YOU: (This passage about Amalek comes right after the law about using just weights and measures in your business dealings to teach you that) if you act deceptively by using unjust weights and measures, then you must be prepared to be provoked by your enemies. From Sefer Oheiv Yisrael, (The Hasidic Torah commentary of Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, Poland, died 1825) - The deeper meaning of remembering Amalek is this. Even if a person's clinging to God is so great, and his heart burns like fire to serve God, he should be extremely careful to give no room for the evil "Amalek" that lurks within. The spark of the evil inclination is buried in every human heart. No matter how high a level of spirituality a person thinks(s) he has attained, our lustful urges can be awakened suddenly by that inclination. We must be extremely careful at all times to blot out the memory of this "inner Amalek" from our hearts.

Questions for Discussion: (You can review the story about Amalek's attack against the Israelites in Exodus 17:8-16.) 1. We are commanded to remember Amalek in two different ways and to blot out Amalek's memory. What psychological and moral wisdom might

the Torah be offering to us here about how we deal with the traumas of evil doing after the fact? 2. There are no more Amalekites today, the tribe having been lost in history millennia ago. We fulfill these commandments of remembering and blotting out the memory of Amalek by reading this passage from Deuteronomy on the Shabbat before Purim and by making noise over the name of Haman during the reading of the Megillah on that holiday. What is Haman's connection to Amalek? (Hint: See 1st Samuel, ch. 15 and Esther, ch. 3 - Who is Haman descended from?) Note how Maimonides qualifies the obligation to destroy the Amalekites by giving these long lost enemies of ours a theoretical "out" that would spare them. What moral or theological problems might he have had with this Torah passage that motivated him to interpret it in this way? 3. Rashi sees a moral lesson in the juxtaposition of the Amalek passage with the commandment about just business dealings, (25:13-16). God will punish us for injustice by sending our enemies against us. Discuss your opinions about this idea. 4. Rabbi Heschel relocates Amalek to within each of us: our potential to do evil is the inner Amalek, and we must blot out "the memory" of that inner demon. Is this possible? Isn't Rabbi Heschel calling for a level of spiritual and moral attainment that no one could achieve? Is the inner Amalek ever a good thing? 7. Many Jews find the Amalek passage very disturbing because, despite the fact that Amalek no longer exists, it calls for an eternal, genocidal vendetta against our enemy, instead of forgiveness. Given what you know about history, Jewish values, and the sources we have learned, how would you respond to this concern?

PARASHAT KI TAVO - SELIHOT
September 24, 2005 - 20 Elul 5765 Annual: Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8 (Etz Hayim, p. 1140; Hertz p. 859) Triennial: Deuteronomy 26:1 - 27:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 1140; Hertz p. 859) Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1 - 22 (Etz Hayim, p. 1161; Hertz p. 874) Prepared by Rabbi Daniel A. Ornstein Congregation Ohav Shalom, Albany, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Where We Are in the Torah This week's portion is Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8, the seventh in the book. It coincides with the sixth of seven Shabbatot of Consolation that follow Tisha B'Av and precede Rosh Hashanah. Summary In Ki Tavo, Moshe commands the Israelites to offer their first fruits to God in the presence of the priests, out of gratitude. A special liturgy is noted for the first fruits offering. Moshe also commands them to recite a special declaration following the removal of all tithes from each household at the end of each three year time period within the seven year sabbatical cycle. Most of the portion contains a list of rewards and punishments the Israelites will receive for following or violating the covenant with God. This long passage is one of two versions of the Tochecha, verses of reproof that come at the end of the law codes of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. The First Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries When you have set aside in full the tenth part of your yield in the third year, the year of the tithe, and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat their fill within your gates, you shall declare before the Lord your God: "I have cleared out the consecrated portion from the house; and I have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, just as You commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor neglected any of Your commandments… I have done just as You commanded me. Look down from Your holy abode, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the soil You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, (as You swore to our fathers.)" (26:12-13, 15)

From The Mishnah, (Jewish Oral Tradition), Tractate Maaser Sheni, 5:12-5:13 - I HAVE DONE JUST AS YOU HAVE COMMANDED ME: I have rejoiced and have caused others to rejoice therewith. (End of 5:12) LOOK DOWN FROM YOU HOLY ABODE, FROM HEAVEN: We have done what You, God, decreed for us. Now, You also do what you have promised us. LOOK DOWN FROM YOUR HOLY ABODE, FROM

HEAVEN, AND BLESS YOUR PEOPLE ISRAEL: With sons and daughters. AND THE SOIL YOU HAVE GIVEN TO US: With dew, with rain, and with the young of cattle. From The Commentary of Rashi, (Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, France and Germany 1040-1104), To Deuteronomy, 26:12 - THAT THEY MAY eat their fill WITHIN YOUR GATES: Give them, (the above groups of disadvantaged people), enough to satisfy them. (Rashi then teaches the law about the minimum amount of grain to be left for the poor on the threshing floor.) From Sefer Oheiv Yisrael, (The Hasidic Torah Commentary of Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, Poland, died 1825) - THAT THEY MAY eat their fill WITHIN YOUR GATES: The term WITHIN YOUR GATES seems superfluous. (We already know that these disadvantaged people are eating within the gates of their neighbors.) This additional phrase teaches us the following. The essence of giving to the poor is not to satisfy their hunger completely, because this kind of satisfaction can only be accomplished by God. As with every matter, divine compassion must first be awakened from below (through the conscious human action of giving to the poor). Then God willingly opens the gates of flowing divine blessing and abundance (that fully satisfies the poor). This then is the meaning of the term WITHIN YOUR GATES. If, when you give to the poor, your spiritual intention in doing so is to open the gates of divine blessing on their behalf, then they will eat their fill. They will be completely satisfied.

Questions for Discussion: 1. For more information about the three year tithing cycle read Deuteronomy 14:22-29. What were the social and moral goals of tithing legislation? 2. The Mishnah emphasizes the importance of causing others to rejoice when you are doing so. Why help others in need as part of your joy and celebration? Read on line about the philosophy of a group like Mazon which asks everyone having a simcha to make a donation that will help others in need. (such as mazon.org) 3. One commentator, (The Sefer HaChinuch) taught that the above tithing declaration is founded upon the uniqueness of human speech. Because speech makes us distinct from other animals, God commands us to use it to insure that what we say will facilitate the fulfillment of what God asks us to do. How/does speech influence our actions? When does talk become cheap? 4. Explain the different approaches of Rashi and Rabbi Heschel to feeding the poor to the point of satisfaction. 5. Is society required only to provide minimal levels of support for the poor, or is it duty bound to follow Rashi and satisfy each poor person per his or her needs? 6. Rabbi Heschel's idea about awakening the flow of divine blessing through earthly human action is an ancient notion found in Jewish mysticism: Only God can do certain things, but only the actions of each person can "awaken" that divine power and blessing. Do you believe that

individuals have this kind of power and partnership with God? Even if we do not accept this idea literally how can we adapt it seriously as a philosophy of life and human initiative for healing the world? 7. Note how the Mishnah focuses on the tithe declaration as a "reminder toGod" of the mutuality of our relationship with God: "We did our part -You do Yours." Is this expectation of divine reward a good or sufficient reason for our doing right? The Second Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries You have affirmed this day that the Lord is your God, that you will walk in His ways, that you will observe His laws and commandments and rules, and that you will obey Him. And the Lord has affirmed this day that you are, as He promised you, His treasured people who shall observe all His commandments. (26:17-18)

From The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot, 6a - YOU HAVE AFFIRMED THIS DAY THAT THE LORD IS YOUR GOD… AND THE LORD HAS AFFIRMED THIS DAY THAT YOU ARE… HIS TREASURED PEOPLE. The Holy One, Blessed Be He said to the Jewish people, "You did Me a good turn in this world, as it is written, HEAR O ISRAEL, THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE. (Deuteronomy 6:4) Therefore, I will do you a good turn in this world, as it is written, AND (GOD), WHO IS LIKE YOUR PEOPLE ISRAEL, A NATION SINGLED OUT UPON THE EARTH? (I Chronicles 17:21) From Or Hachayyim (Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chayyim ben Attar, Morocco, 1696-1743) - AND THE LORD HAS AFFIRMED THIS DAY: That we are to be God's chosen people. Even if another nation should come along that does good and strives to cling to God, that nation would never reach the spiritual level of the Jewish people. This is what being chosen is all about, and this is what constitutes the greatness of the Jewish people. This passage also means that even during a time when the Jewish people angers God, God will not exchange them for a relationship with another people.

Questions for Discussion: 1. What is the Jewish concept of being chosen? 2. Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist Movement, felt that the concept of being chosen was supremacist and impeded Jews from a more universal, humanistic perspective on the world. How do or can we understand being chosen in a way that affirms Jewish uniqueness without promoting bigotry? 3. If we are not engaged in a special relationship with the choosing God, does Jewish identity lose its meaning and distinctiveness? 4. As a 17th century Moroccan Kabbalist, Rabbi ben Attar was probably not inclined towards a more universalist approach to other nations' relationships with God. However, what, if any, more universalistic or humanistic possibilities does his comment open up for modern readers?

5. Leaders of our Conservative Movement have often taught the idea of multiple covenants: our covenant with God never ends, but this does not preclude God from relating to others at the same time. Discuss this idea. 6. The Talmudic passage reminds us that our relationship with God was as much about us doing the choosing as about God doing the choosing. What does it mean for us, as individuals and as the Jewish people, to choose God? What, if anything, does Jewish history teach us about the meaning and results of our relationship with God?

PARASHAT NITZAVIM
October 1, 2005 - 27 Elul 5765 Annual: Deuteronomy 29:9 - 31:30 (Etz Hayim, p. 1165; Hertz p. 878) Triennial: Deuteronomy 29:9 - 30:20 (Etz Hayim, p. 1165; Hertz p. 878) Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10 - 63:9 (Etz Hayim, p. 1180; Hertz p. 883) Prepared by Rabbi Daniel A. Ornstein Congregation Ohav Shalom, Albany, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Where We Are in the Torah This week's portion is Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20, the eighth in the book. It coincides with the seventh and last Shabbat of Consolation that follows Tisha B'Av and precedes Rosh Hashanah. Because 5765 is a leap year, and there are more weeks during which Torah portions are read, this portion is read separately from torah portion VaYelekh which will be read next Shabbat. Summary Nitzavim is one of Moses' narrative summaries of the major themes of Deuteronomy: 1. The Israelites are called to enter the covenant formally with God and are reminded that God knows the deepest thoughts of the individual who might decide to break the covenant; 2. Failure to follow the covenant will end in disaster, with all the nations and future generations as witnesses to the downfall of the Israelites as a result of their violation of the covenant; 3. The people always have the opportunity to repent, to return to God, and to be redeemed from exile in the future; 4. The people are admonished to choose life and good rather than death and evil, by choosing to love God and to follow in God's path through the observance of all of God's laws and statutes. The First Text from Our Torah Portion with Commentaries Concealed acts concern the Lord our God; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children to always apply all of this teaching, (i.e., the Torah and its laws). (29:28)

From Rashi, (Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, France and Germany, 10401105) - And should you, the Jewish people, complain to God, "What can we do? You're going to punish everyone for the nefarious intentions of individuals who wish to rebel against You… and how can anyone know the hidden thoughts of a person?" Know that I, God, will not punish you for concealed things, for they belong to the Lord, and God will punish that

individual. However, concerning revealed sins against God, it is up to the community to root out the evil from its midst. If the community fails to do this, then everyone will be punished for the individual's sins. From Or HaChayyim, (Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chayyim ben Attar, Morocco, 1696-1743) - My explanation of this passage is that it is the words which the Israelites spoke in response to Moses' previous warning. They affirmed that they would not be held liable for the hidden sins of individuals, but they agreed to accept responsibility for each others' public wrongdoing. Also, in this verse, the Israelites accepted this covenantal responsibility as an eternal one binding on all generations, in response to Moses' assertion that God made this covenant with them and their future generations. (See the beginning of the Torah portion, 29:13-14.)

Questions for Discussion: 1. How/could this verse be used as the moral and spiritual basis for the legal distinction between public standards and people's private behavior? 2. Even if we do not take literally the idea that God will search and root out people who plan to do evil in secret, what does this idea teach us about God's presence in our lives? From the Torah's perspective, are we ever really alone, shielded from God? How/do you think God watches our actions and thoughts? 3. The philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel once taught that in any society few are guilty yet all are responsible. Discuss this idea. 4. How would you respond to someone who says, "Why should I accept the laws and responsibilities of Judaism? Just because I was born Jewish, no one asked me if I wanted to take all of this upon myself!" (Hint: you might use the analogy of American citizenship requiring that we accept the constitution, even though we were not part of the founding fathers' initial debates.) 5. For fun and edification: over the Hebrew words for US AND OUR CHILDREN TO ALWAYS, lanu u-l'vaneinu a(d), in the Torah scroll you will find what scholars call diacritical marks, little markings that are used by ancient traditions to indicate an important explanation of or insight about those words. Ask your rabbi, cantor, ritual director, or educational director to show you these marks in the Torah. What are they there for? (Tradition says they indicate that the Israelites' responsibility for revealed, public sins did not commence until they entered the land of Canaan and became fully a people.) The Second Text from Our Torah Portion with Commentaries See I set before you this day life and good, death and evil. For I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His laws, and His rules, that you may thrive and increase, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land that you are about to enter and possess… I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life - so that you and

your offspring may live -- by loving the Lord your God, heeding His commands, and holding fast to Him… (30:15-16, 19-20a)

From Rashi, (Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, France and Germany 10401105), To Deuteronomy - SEE I SET BEFORE YOU THIS DAY LIFE AND GOOD, DEATH AND EVIL: One is dependent upon the other. If you do good you will receive life, and if you do evil you will receive death. After this warning, Scripture continues with the details of how this will happen. From Sefer Kli Yakar, (Torah commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntschitz, 1550-1619) - SEE I SET BEFORE YOU THIS DAY LIFE AND GOOD, DEATH AND EVIL: Should you ask why the Torah did not place the word "good" before the word "life," given that doing good leads to more life, the answer is this. (By placing those two words in that order, Moses) admonishes us that we should not try to do good so that we can receive life as our reward. We are alive so that we can do good. From The Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin 1:7 - CHOOSE LIFE: Rabbi Yishmael taught that "life" means livelihood. On the basis of this interpretation, our sages taught that a person must teach his child a livelihood. If the parent doesn't teach the child, then the child must teach himself. Why? To fulfill the words that follow: SO THAT YOU (AND YOUR OFFSPRING) MAY LIVE. CHOOSE LIFE: Rabbi Akiva interpreted these words to refer to the obligation of a parent to teach his child to swim. If the parent fails to teach him, the child must teach himself. Why? To fulfill the words that follow: SO THAT YOU (AND YOUR OFFSPRING) MAY LIVE.

Questions for Discussion: 1. Commentators before and after Rashi deal with the problem of why bad things happen to good people by deferring the divine rewards of life and blessing to the afterlife. If we do good we can be assured of joyous eternal life even if our lives on earth are miserable. What/do you believe about an afterlife? Do you see it as a legitimate and comforting aspect of Jewish faith or asa way of avoiding the problems of evil and suffering? 2. Rashi follows in the great tradition of Deuteronomy which emphasizes keeping the covenant in order to receive God's reward. How else can we understand the connection between doing good and being rewarded with life? 3. The Kli Yakar's insight about the order of the words "life" and good" seems to reverse the Torah's initial teaching: we don't do good in order to receive the rewards of a good life from God, we live so that we can do good. This interpretation echoes an earlier rabbinic teaching that the reward of doing one mitzvah is the opportunity to do another one. Is it better for religion to emphasize disinterested piety, doing what is right with no expectation of getting anything in return? Is the whole point of religion to hold out promise and hope that human action will lead to blessing and long life? 4. Think about who or what in his society Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim may have been addressing with his comment. (Hint: his sermons were famous for

attacking wealthy people who believed they were superior as a result of their financial power.) 5. Rabbis Yishmael and Akiva were friends and contemporaries. Note how they bring our words about choosing life down to a very practical level: we physically choose life for ourselves and our children by giving them and ourselves the tools for survival. Our sages mention livelihood and swimming as two tools of survival. Given the challenges of today's world, what other tools of survival are we obligated as families and as a society to give to our children? Where are we succeeding and where are we failing in our obligations?

PARASHAT VAYELEKH - SHABBAT SHUVAH
October 8, 2005 - 5 Tishrei 5766 Annual: Deuteronomy 31:1 - 30 (Etz Hayim, p. 1173; Hertz p. 887) Triennial: Deuteronomy 31:1 - 31:30 (Etz Hayim, p. 1173; Hertz p. 887) Haftarah: Hoseah 14:2 - 10; Micah 7:18 - 20; Joel 2:15 - 27 (Etz Hayim, p. 1234; Hertz p. 891) Prepared by Rabbi Daniel A. Ornstein Congregation Ohav Shalom, Albany, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Where We Are in the Torah This week's portion is Deuteronomy, chapter 31, the ninth in the book. It coincides in 5766 with Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Because 5766 is a leap year, and there are more weeks during which Torah portions are read, this portion is read separately from Torah portion Niztvaim, which was read last Shabbat. Summary Moses declares to the people that he is nearing the end of his life and his career, and that his assistant Joshua will lead them into the land of Canaan to conquer it and its peoples. He commands Joshua and the people to be strong and resolute in taking the land and following God's word. Moses writes down God's teaching, has the priests place it in the Ark of The Covenant, and commands them to read it aloud to the people during Sukkot at the close of each seventh, or sabbatical, year. That way all generations will learn to revere God. God calls Moses and Joshua to the Tent of Meeting, where God warns them that after Moses' death the people will stray from God, for God knows their nature. God gives to Moses a song that he is to teach the people. It will be a witness against the people, a reminder throughout the generations to them of what God expects of them. Moses commands the priests to place the song in the Ark, echoing God's lament that after Moses' death the people will turn away from the path enjoined upon them by God. Moses then sings this song/poem of testimony against the Israelites. The First Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries Gather the people - men, women, and children, and the strangers in your communities -- that they may hear and so learn to revere the Lord your God and to observe faithfully the every word of this Teaching. (31:12)

From The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Chagigah 3a - Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariyah taught the following: Men, women and children were brought together for the public reading of the Torah at the end of the sabbatical year for different reasons. The men came to study Torah; the

women came to listen to it, (so that they would understand the mitzvot); and the children came in order to confer the benefit of divine reward upon their parents for bringing them. From Maimonides, (Spain, Egypt, Morocco, 1138-1204.) The Book of The Commandments, Positive Commandment #16 - It is a positive commandment to gather the entire Jewish people, men, women, and children at the close of each sabbatical year when they are on pilgrimage (for the Sukkot festival); to read to them aloud passages of the Torah that would enliven them in their performance of mitzvot and strengthen their faith. From The Torah commentary of Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra, (Spain, North Africa, And Europe, 1089-1164) - AND THE STRANGERS IN YOUR COMMUNITIES: (They were also included in the hope) that they would convert. When all those assembled would hear the Torah being read aloud they would ask questions. Thus all those who were without knowledge and all the young children would learn.

Questions for Discussion: The name for the sabbatical year public Torah reading is HAKHEL, from the command form of the word, "to assemble" which is found in our verse. It is still done every seven years during Sukkot in Israel. 1. Rabbi Eleazar follows the tradition that women are not allowed to learn Torah, one that has largely been discarded by Jews, including and especially orthodox Jews. Discuss the development of Jewish women's participation in Jewish learning and ritual over the centuries. What caused these changes? Feminism? A desire to give Jewish women tools for remaining Jewishly observant? 2. If young children don't understand Jewish prayer and Torah study, and in fact, can't sit through it, why make them do so? What is a modern version of this idea that bringing kids to hear words of Torah confers reward for their parents? 3. Contrast God's reassurances to Moses and the people of their success in Canaan under Joshua's leadership with God's assertion that they will stray religiously after Moses dies. Contrast these dire predictions with Maimonides' optimistic teaching about the purpose of the HAKHEL gathering. 4. Ibn Ezra explains the word "stranger" as one who is in the community but who is not Jewish. What can his comment teach us about the influence of Jewish education on non-Jewish spouses in intermarried families? Why/is Jewish education the solution to the challenge of intermarriage? (Note that Ibn Ezra seems to assume a rather inclusive biblical community.) The Second Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries Yet I will keep My countenance hidden on that day, because of all the evil they, (the Israelites), have done in turning to other gods. (31:18)

From The Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 10:2 - Rabbi Yaacov taught in the name of Rabbi Acha the following: "What is the meaning of this (seemingly contradictory) verse in the Book of Isaiah, 'So I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding His face from the House of Jacob, and I will trust in Him'? (Isaiah 8:17) There was nomore difficult time in the world than the one when God said to Moses, 'I will keep My countenance hidden on that day.' (Isaiah alludes to this in the first part of the verse, but he then concludes), 'I will trust in Him.' This alludes to God's promise that Moses' song would never depart from the mouths of the Israelites throughout the generations even in the midst of suffering." (See our Torah portion, verse 21.) From The Torah Commentary of Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno, (Italy, 1470-1550) - This verse contrasts with the verse that came before it: ("… I will abandon them and hide My countenance from them…. And they shall say on that day, 'Surely it is because our God is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.'") Their punishment will not be what they thought it was when they said that God is not in their midst. For, on the contrary, wherever they will be, Shekhinah, God's immanent presence, will be with them, as we learn in the Talmud, "Wherever the Israelites are exiled to, Shekhinah is with them in their exile." However, God will still hide His countenance from them.

Questions for Discussion: 1. What is the hiding of God's countenance? Is it an actual spiritual state of God's alienation from people, the psychological experience of feeling cut off from God, or both? 2. Discuss a time in your life when you have felt close to God or cut off from God's presence. 3. How do we/can we continue to hope in God when we feel distant from God or when we are in crisis? How have the Jewish people done this throughout the ages? How can we do this in our personal lives? 4. Think about Moses' song/poem in terms of all Jewish sacred literature: even and especially in the absence of direct communication with God, we have Torah in all of its forms as a way of reminding ourselves about who we are, what we believe, and our relationship with God. 5. Apart from trying to resolve a textual problem, what point is Rabbi Seforno making about God's presence in our lives being constant even when God is hiding God's countenance? Have there been times when God was still with the Jewish people even though God did not redeem us? (Think about the Holocaust: was God with us even though we suffered so terribly? Was the founding of the State of Israel an example of God's redemption?)

PARASHAT HA'AZINU
October 15, 2005 - 12 Tishrei 5766 Annual: Deuteronomy 32:1 - 32:52 (Etz Hayim, p. 1185; Hertz p. 896) Triennial: Deuteronomy 32:1 - 32:52 (Etz Hayim, p. 1185; Hertz p. 896) Haftarah: II Samuel 22 (Etz Hayim, p. 1197; Hertz p. 904) Prepared by Rabbi Daniel A. Ornstein Congregation Ohav Shalom, Albany, NY Department of Congregational Services Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director Where We Are in the Torah This week's portion is Deuteronomy, chapter 32, the tenth in the book. In 5766 Haazinu is read on the Shabbat preceding Sukkot. Summary Most of Haazinu is the song/poem that God commands Moses to teach the people so that future generations in exile will remember the covenant with God and repent of their sins. In the poem, Moses calls heaven and earth as his witnesses against the Israelites for their backsliding tendencies and their rejection of God's goodness. He praises God for perfect justice. God created the world, setting the Israelites apart from all other nations as a special nation upon whom God doted. Israel's special status made her "grow fat and kick" in rebellion against God with idolatrous practice and neglect of God. God punished the people by hiding God's countenance and exiling them, yet God did not destroy them so the nations exiling them could not say that Israel's demise was their doing. In the end, God is storing up vengeance for these same nations who have arrogantly oppressed Israel and God will deliver God's people. Moses then admonishes the people to take the words of the poem to heart for all generations, for this teaching is what will give them life. God tells Moses to ascend Mount Nevo on the steppes of Moav, (modern day Jordan), as he prepares to die. Moses may look at the Promised Land from the mountaintop but he may not enter the land with the people. The First Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries So YESHURUN grew fat and kicked/You grew fat and gross and coarse/He forsook the God who made him/And spurned the Rock of his support. (32:15)

From The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot 32a - There is a parable about a man who spoiled his son, then put a purse of money around his neck and sent him off to a brothel. Is there anything that that boy could do at that point to prevent himself from sinning?... It's just like people say: a full belly makes people do sleazy things!... As we learn (concerning the Israelites): SO YESHURUN GREW FAT AND KICKED.

From The Torah Commentary of Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra, (Spain, North Africa, and Europe, 1089-1164) - It is a positive commandment to gather the entire Jewish people, men, women, and children at the close of each sabbatical year when they are on pilgrimage (for the Sukkot festival); to read to them aloud passages of the Torah that would enliven them in their performance of mitzvot and strengthen their faith. From The Torah Commentary of Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra (Spain, North Africa, and Europe, 1089-1164) - The name YESHURUN refers to the people of Israel. It comes from the Hebrew word, YASHAR, which means "straight, upright." The meaning of the verse is, "This fat one, (i.e., spoiled and rebellious), used to be straight and upright." Others say that YESHURUN comes from the Hebrew word SHUR, "to gaze, to be gazed upon," just as Balaam the prophet declared about the Israelites: AS I SEE THEM FROM THE MOUNTAINTOPS/GAZE ON THEM (ASHUREINU) FROM THE HEIGHTS/THERE IS A PEOPLE THAT DWELLS APART/NOT RECKONED AMONG THE NATIONS. (Numbers 23:9)

Questions for Discussion: 1. The passage from the Talmud is part of a larger Talmudic discussion about God's role in human evil through God's creation of the evil impulse. If our behavior is the result of God given impulses that we act upon, are we really culpable for our wrongdoing? 2. The Talmud is also talking about the deleterious effects of material blessing upon human behavior: the more we have the more spoiled we become and the worse we behave. Compare and contrast this idea with the insight that poverty and deprivation lead to antisocial and criminal behavior. 3. Ibn Ezra points out two possible sources for the Hebrew name YESHURUN: to be upright and to be gazed upon. Ultimately, what motivates us to be upright: the inherent goodness of being righteous, or the fear of being watched and punished for how we behave? Do people ever act out of purely altruistic motives? 4. Think about Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of development of moral reasoning. He claims that we start out as children doing good solely to avoid punishment. If we truly grow up, we can reach the highest level of moral reasoning: doing right based upon an internalized set of abstract moral principles that are right in and of themselves. (His theories have been sharply criticized on many grounds over the years.) The Second Text from Our Torah Portion for Study with Commentaries And when Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them: "Take to heart all the words with which I have warned you this day. Enjoin them upon your children, that they may observe faithfully all the words of this Teaching. For this is not a trifling thing for you: it is your very life; through it you shall long endure on the land that you are to possess upon crossing the Jordan." (32:45-47)

From The Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Peah, 5:1 - These are the commandments for whose performance a person enjoys "interest income" in this life, and whose principle a person is rewarded with in the next life: honoring parents, acts of kindness, and promoting peace between people in conflict. Yetthe study of Torah is equal to them all. Rabbi Mana derived this list of commandments from our verse in the Torah, (Deuteronomy 32:47): 1. THIS IS NOT A TRIFLING THING FOR YOU: refers to Torah study. 2. IT IS YOUR VERY LIFE: refers to honoring parents. 3. THROUGH IT YOU SHALL LONG ENDURE: refers to acts of kindness. 4. ON THE LAND: refers to promoting peace between people in conflict From Torah Temimah, (Torah anthology and commentary of Rabbi Barukh Ha-Levi Epstein, Russia, 1860-1942) 1. Tradition teaches elsewhere that if Torah becomes trifling to you it is because you don't give it the necessary attention to understand it. 2. In the Ten Commandments we are told that honoring parents brings us long life. 3. Proverbs 21 teaches that a person who pursues acts of tzedakah and kindness will long endure. 4. Tradition teaches elsewhere that the temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled from the land ofIsrael because of baseless hatred that should have been prevented.

Questions for Discussion: 1. There are a number of parallels to this statement of the Jerusalem Talmud that are found throughout rabbinic literature. Discuss this traditional rabbinic promise of even greater reward in the afterlife to the person who performs these particular commandments. 2. Do you believe in an afterlife? Why would the Torah and the Talmud want to focus on performing the commandments for the sake of receiving a reward? Is it better to do God's will even with the wrong motivation, or to refrain from doing right until we are sincere in our motivations? 3. Why are these specific commandments singled out as offering great reward in this life and even greater reward in the world to come for their fulfillment? 4. Generally, the Torah portion Haazinu is read on Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This year we read it just before Sukkot. Discuss the possible connections between this Torah portion's promises of reward for observing the commandments and the themes of Sukkot. 5. Concerning Torah study being equal to all of these commandments, there is a famous debate found in the Talmud. Which is greater, Torah study or action? The rabbis concluded that study is more important because it leads to action, (which we can assume is truly more important!) Discuss the underlying ideas in this teaching.

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