First of 5780-

As we approach Shabbat Shuva, we realize that there are many ways to improve ourselves if only we take the task seriously. I am always amazed when some of the most disabled or limited people at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) reach out to others even at times when it seems to be beyond their means! They clearly take tshuva very seriously...

Shabbat Shuva, VaYelech 5780; Returning; Deuteronomy 31; Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27


Returning a book, returning a soul,

Returning to mitzvot we should go.

As we start a New Year with hope,

We can stay on the Path and not stray

From Tikun Olam, World Repair,

From love your neighbor, feed the poor,

Care for strangers, All respect,

So long ourselves we don’t neglect.


Last of 5779 - Nitzavim:

I and we at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) pray: Holy Creator of All! I and we herewith forgive anyone who may have irritated, angered, or injured me/us –whether acting against my/our persons, my possessions, or my reputations. Let no-one be punished on my/our account, whether the wrong done to me/us was accidental or malicious, unwitting or purposeful, by word or by deed. May it be Your will, Our Holy One and Holy One of our ancestors, that we not repeat the wrongs we have committed, that we sin no more. May we never again anger You by doing that which is evil in Your sight. We pray that our sins will be wiped away not through sickness and suffering, but rather through mercy. Then we will be able to enter this Blessed New Year and go forward with hope. Our hope is that we will be forgiven for all our misdeeds and look forward to the best possible health, happiness, and enlightenment. As we embrace each other with these fervent prayers, let us all say: Amen & Shabbat Shalom & Shana Tova to come!

Nitzavim 5779; Choosing; Deuteronomy 29:9-30; Isaiah 61:10 - 63:9

Choosing Life

Days of Awe are near upon us.

Deep soul searching needs to be done

So amends offered can be made

To clear the air; atonement won-

As we reflect on all we’ve lost:

Teachers, parents, emotions’ costs...

We need to choose to heed mitzvot;

To forgive all; to live with love

Respecting life, the Earth, the Sea;

Repairing what we can, to be

In tune with Hashem’s endless caring…

With widespread mercy so we can see

There is still real hope for our future

If only we work to secure it

For our generations yet to come.

We must choose life for us, for all!


Once more it is the time of year

To reflect on all we have done,

To be forgiving of those near

Who have crossed us, or so we suss,

Although intent might not be there

Forgiveness heals both them and us.

Then, too, our actions we review.

To be forgiven we can ask.

To improve ourselves, start anew,

For this New Year ‘twill be our task!

Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat HaAzinu 5780; Listening; Deuteronomy 32; 2 Samuel

This week in the portion of Parashat HaAzinu we listen to Moshe’s farewell to the People. We hear his anguish that those People have difficulties following the Laws and Commandments. He reminds them of the natural consequences of their choices.

He knows they need to move on to prepare for battles under Joshua. That means they need to let go of him totally. He does not want them to worship him nor have a shrine to him for pilgrimages. So going up the mountain seemed to be a way of making a clean break. We read earlier in Torah that his attendants said he was buried on the way to Midian [in a place on the plains of Moab]. However Joshua could never find out where. It leaves us with the question of whether he actually made it to his family in Midian for a well earned retirement… He was probably not interested in leading another military campaign – especially since he had taught Joshua pretty much all he knew about military tactics [and many other things…]!

Jewish law required burial within 24 hours of death. Was there someone with Aaron to bury him within 24 hours on Mt. Hor? Why would the plains of Moab be within 24 hours if Moshe had died on Mt. Nebo? Does it matter if we know where Moshe died or was buried? SHABBAT SHALOM!

Sukkot A.Z.: Bees, Pollens, Breeze

Ah! The fresh air, cicadas’ sounds

as we shake lulav all around.

Noon time snoozing - A pollen sneeze!

Can you embrace that quite stiff breeze?

Still hanging walls flap quietly

while cool wind gusts discourage bees...

Love the chicken, squash and peas

with wind chimes, bright stars, shadow trees...

Challah, candles, read Torah too -

A week of Nature for me and you!


We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) welcome the new year of Torah with deeper conviction that we must strive to learn the facts of the world in order to properly understand Torah:

Bereishit 5780; Educated Interpretation; Genesis 1:1-6:8; Isaiah 42:5-43:10

We have learned over the years that Maimonides, the Rambam, was an unparalleled sage of great wisdom. Not everyone takes his teachings as a whole but rather pick and choose the parts they like, sometimes out of context. Therefor his teachings can thusly be misinterpreted. We see this often when people latch onto one statement or story in the liturgy. Without the context and without related passages or stories, the interpretation can be way off.

One of the teachings of the Rambam is that all should learn the facts of our generation in the modern world in order to properly understand and interpret Torah. [Everything else of the liturgy is history, commentary, and/or interpretation.] Hence when we come this week to Bereishit, the first portion / parashah of the first book of Torah, we realize that we are not talking about 24 hour “days” of creation but rather about periods of time or epochs. This stems from the inclusion of understandings from geology, paleontology, and even astronomy which have been learnt in recent times. The sequence of creation we read in Torah seems pretty consistent with the facts we have learned.

Similarly the word usually translated as waters would more accurately be translated as fluids. [There is no separate word in Hebrew or Aramaic for fluids.] While we might wonder whether or not plants developed before or after the consolidation of the heavenly bodies [sun, moon, stars, etc.], the progression of the fluids cooling and coalescing is consistent with the facts learned from the natural sciences.

Yet what is the context of this story of Genesis? Genesis stories abounded during the time of Moshe Rabeinu. Unlike most others, this one has only one deity, HaShem, who is responsible for all that happened. Where did this version of Genesis come from? It seems that it predates Moshe but it [among others] would assuredly have been included in his education in Egypt. Did Moshe or the compiler of the stories in Genesis use this story to introduce the history of the world in order to then lead into the history of the Children of Israel? How important is the story of the Genesis of the World and its life-forms to following the mitzvot and living ethical lives?

Then there is the conundrum of where is or was the Garden of Eden… May the Peacefulness of Eden be a blessing for this Shabbat! Shabbat Shalom!

Noach was the righteous man of his times. Does that mean that the standard for righteousness changes generation to generation? We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) seek to understand what it is that makes a person righteous even if we can not all be righteous [or can we?]:

Noach 5780; Rebirth; Genesis 6:9-11:32; Isaiah 54:1-55:5

Was Noach righteous to allow a rebirth of the earth? The key is that the need for rebirth came from HaShem. What we choose to do now in destroying the earth and the life therein, is not HaShem’s will. There is no guarantee of rebirth. There are only the consequences of our choices and actions… even so as Torah cautioned us. Can we become righteous if we save some of the Earth’s ecosystems and critters? Only time will tell. There are no rainbows of promise…

Afloat on a boat on waves unending -

How do forty days adrift passing feel?

A galley so large for to feed the crew

and varied critters to protect their weal…

Wind howling, G-d scowling with barf bags near…

Was there faith with trust – or perhaps just fear?

I think I would prefer a space ark rather than the sea

with cryogenic chambers of the critters yet to be.

Concentrated food and drink packs to feed those not asleep

As we all wait out the storms for the waters to recede...

Shabbat Shalom!

Now that we are getting into the Torah portions about the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs, we are reminded of how important family is. Beit Torah Jewish Congregation (www.onetorah.org) is for us like another family, one we choose. So if conditions change and we have to move elsewhere, we know we can still have family around us:

Lech Lecha 5780; Family; Genesis ch.12-17; Isaiah 40:27 - 41:16

In this week’s parasha of Lech Lecha, when Avram left the idolatry of Chauran with his wife Sarai and nephew Lot, he realized that Lot had matured and would soon need to leave the nest. So after they gained wealth during their sojourn in Egypt, Avram realized it was time to part. Yet they were still family. So when Lot and his family were taken into captivity by invaders, Avram put together an effective fighting force in order to repel the invaders and free the captives [slaves]. He did not want the booty, just his family.

It was a great risk for Avram to go to war. Did he have a choice about whether or not to go to war? How does family affect our choices? How does family affect our risk taking?

We will soon read that Avram valued every part of his extended family including wives, concubines, their children, and all those who followed him. He provided for all of them. Yet his favorites were clearly his wife Sarah and her son Yitzchak who received the most from him.

How do you define your family? What is your position in your family or families? How do you contribute to your families? What benefits do you get from them? How would you make it better?

Are we not all one large family upon this Earth?

Shabbat Shalom!

Due to major car wreck thanks to semi running red light, Rabbi has multiple injuries including broken collarbone. All activities are cancelled until further notice except phone consultations and discussions possible as needed/ desired [928-227-0582]. Newsletter will be sporadic and commentary below is this last week’s- mostly written before the crash. This week is about the life accomplishments of Sarah, Imeinu [e.g. her sons Ishmael [adoptive] and Isaac].

How can we avoid violating one another? Beit Torah Jewish Congregation (www.onetorah.org) works to respect everyone. So we try to be honorable to those in our families as well as those who are not:

VaYera 5780; Incest; Genesis ch.18-22; 2 Kings 4:1-37;  Chayei Sarah - Genesis ch.23-25:18; 1 Kings 1

Families we would all love to be perfect. However, as we see in our lives and read about in the lives of the ancestors, families seem packed with drama. We have had jealous wives, sister-wife deceptions, circumcisions in bulk, and so on. So we are not surprised that our second triennial portion of VaYera deals with, of all things, incest! Yet what is incest and is it ever permissible?

The definition of incest has apparently changed over the generations and from culture to culture. Some say there were no other people during the time of Adam and Eve. So incest was unavoidable. To keep the bloodlines pure, early Egyptian royalty had sister-brother marriages almost exclusively. In Abraham’s circles one could marry a half-sib if the couple were borne by different mothers.

Then there is the story of Lot… His daughters thought they were the last people on the planet. So they seduced their drunk father. None of these folk were punished for their relationships. Indeed the resultant grandsons of Lot later founded great nations.

So what is incest and when is it permissible? Come Shabbat: Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat Shalom!

Shavuah Tov!  

Due to major car wreck thanks to semi running red light, Rabbi has multiple injuries including broken collarbone. All activities are cancelled until further notice except phone consultations and discussions possible as needed/ desired [928-227-0582]. Newsletter will be sporadic and commentary below is this last week’s- mostly written before the crash. This week is about the life accomplishments of Sarah, Imeinu [e.g. her sons Ishmael [adoptive] and Isaac].

How can we avoid violating one another? Beit Torah Jewish Congregation (www.onetorah.org) works to respect everyone. So we try to be honorable to those in our families as well as those who are not:

A couple old commentaries:

Toldot 5777 Birthrights and Blessings; Bereishit,

Genesis 25:19 - 28:9; Malachi 1:1-2:7

For much of the past 2000 years, the word “birthright” meant the inheritance of a family would be expected to go to the firstborn male. Most often inheritance was defined as material wealth. If we apply the customs of our own times to the Torah stories, however, we warp the proper understanding of those times and ignore the context in which they occurred.

As noted in last week’s commentary, the women of the countries from which came Terach’s family, which included Avraham and Sarah, were far more independent than would be in tribal, patriarchal nomadic groups and Canaanites. The Semite, Hurite, and Hittite traditions not only allowed for far more egalitarian [men and women treated equally] standing of people, but also more flexibility in decisions regarding the continuity of the clan or tribal birthrights. We should note that the inheritance was not just material wealth. It encompassed the spiritual leadership role as well for the family, clan, or tribe. The blessing that accompanied the birthright was to be a kind of ethical teaching describing the strengths and weaknesses of the recipient as well as suggestions as to how best avoid the worst of the pitfalls.

So it is not surprising that in this week’s portion of Parashat Toldot [generations], the birthright and blessing were allotted to Yaacov in the format of Hurite tradition [as noted by Hertz]. Esau would probably have known only local patriarchal custom and been unaware that the Hurite tradition allowed for the choice of the most suitable child to inherit the clan leadership: spiritual and mundane. So the ruse of dressing Yaacov as though he were Esau would not only provide Esau an easily understood, plausible reason for his loss, but also a good cover story to the neighbors so that they would not make trouble for Yitzchak and Rivka when they [the neighbors] found out that the local birthright custom was not followed.

We again will see this kind of friction between local custom and family tradition such as when we read later stories about Reuven, Yaacov’s first born son. What is your custom regarding inheritance? Should daughters and sons inherit equally? If so, are you comfortable following a female head of the family, clan, tribe, or government? In view of the recent UN finding that women are not treated equally nor as well as men in the USA, why do you think so many people in the USA would not be comfortable with a female head of state? Shabbat Shalom!

Toldot 5775 Water Rights

During our reading so far in Bereishit [Genesis], we have learned that Avraham, Sarah, and their kin lived for some time in the cosmopolitan city of Ur. As camel route traders, they would have been highly educated. Certainly if Sarai was a princess priestess, as her name appears to indicate, she would need to have been well educated in royal priestess duties, herbology, etc. According to Josephus, Avraham was a superb teacher of math and astronomy. Early in their travels, when they fled to Egypt from the famine in Canaan, it is said that Avraham supported himself and those with him by teaching math and science.

So it would be no surprise if Avraham and Sarah kept records of everything they did even as royalty kept such records through the use of scribes. Of course such a record would likely include detailed stories about the use of the brother/ husband – sister/ wife escapades. However more mundane dealings would have been recorded such as when famines and droughts happened and where wells were dug and what became of them.

Hence it is no surprise that in the lives of Rifka and Yitzchak, as recorded in this week’s portion of Parashat Toldot, there are clear reminders that the family knew of all these exploits of Avraham and Sarah [ch.26-27]. For example, we read that Yitzchak and Rifka tried the sister/ wife ploy when sojourning in Gerar during a famine in Canaan. However Avimelech would have none of it. He told them plainly that he remembered well when Sarah and Avraham visited.

Further, Yitzchak tried to excavate the old wells his father had dug. As with Avraham before him, he met with opposition by the locals. Again Avimelech stepped in, broke up the row, and confirmed Yitzchak’s water rights to some of the wells.

Why was Avimelech so protective of Yitzchak? What other commonalities are there between the lives of Sarah and Avraham and of Rifka and Yitzchak? How did such commonalities affect their children? May we successfully explore the generational repetitions during this Shabbat’s discussion. Shabbat Shalom!


VaYetzei 5775 Wise Husbands and Husbandry [Bereishit 28:10 - 32:2]

As we continue the saga of Avraham’s family, we focus this week on the survival of Yaacov, Avraham’s grandson. In this Parasha of VaYetzei, Yaacov goes to relatives at the north end of the coastal camel route both to escape the wrath of his brother Esau and to search for a wife among the relatives.

Although tricked into marrying both twins Leah and Rachel, we learn that he was a good husband to both and included them in important family decisions [31:15-16]. Despite the rivalry between the two sisters as to who would bear more sons, it is clear that they worked together for the best welfare of the family.

We also learn that Yaacov had good powers of observation so that he could breed for strong speckled and striped ovines. However, like any company protecting trade secrets, he led others to believe that he achieved this by the magic of whittled rods.

Since Yaacov came from a family of well-educated people who passed on their education [at least in part] to their most promising offspring, it makes one wonder what [if any] education Laban passed on to his offspring. Clearly his daughters, Rachel and Leah, were no dummies, but did they learn that wisdom from Yaacov after they were married?

Apparently Laban’s sons were jealous bullies. This led to Yaacov and his wives deciding to flee the clutches of Laban and their brothers. So like his paternal grandparents in Egypt before him, Yaacov left an uncomfortable and perhaps dangerous situation with his entire family and much wealth in livestock and followers while being told not to come back ever.

Is making lemonade out of lemons a family tradition? How influential and important is parental education of offspring? How does that affect us now in modern times? This Shabbat, let us reflect on how parental influence and education affect us all in the paths of our lives. Shabbat Shalom!

another oldie:

VaYishlach 5776 Natural Consequences; Bereishit 32:4-36:43; Ovadia 1-20

This week’s portion of Parashat VaYishlach continues the saga of Yaacov’s family, both with his brother and with his offspring. Plotting and deception continue throughout these stories. Whether or not these plots are justified depends on the narrator or the context. What is clear is that plots and deceptions are not necessarily evil nor necessarily justified.

Was Yaacov’s ploy to divide up his family into two camps justified by his fear of Esau’s wrath? Was the slaughter by Shimon and Levi of the men of Shechem, recovering from circumcision, justified by the rape of their sister Dinah by the Prince of Shechem despite the peace treaty arranged by their father Yaacov and the King of Shechem? Was the flight of Yaacov and his host back to BethEl and Hevron justified by the fear of neighbors wanting to avenge the deaths at Shechem? Was Reuven justified in assuming the leadership when his father left the area?

Each of these scenarios had natural consequences resulting from the choices made to plot and/or deceive. Given that Esau had matured and grown wealthy while Yaacov had become more [perhaps overly-] cautious, the reunion of Esau with Yaacov avoided dangers to both tribes. It was perhaps a good natural consequence of further enriching and assuaging Esau by Yaacov.

On the other hand. Could anything ever justify the slaughter of the men of Shechem? Not only did the hot headed actions of Shimon and Levi get them to lose their birthright inheritances, but also there were further natural consequences for the rest of the family.

During the rush to leave the area, the strain was too difficult for both Devorah, Rachel’s nurse midwife, and for Rachel during childbirth. Both died. Was Yaacov’s fear of the neighbors justified? There is no way to know for sure from what we read in Torah. Could it have been from misinformation supplied by Reuven [and maybe his lover, Bilhah, the concubine?] to help set himself up as clan leader instead of his father?

As far as Reuven’s actions are concerned, we need to look at the contemporary context. It was common for the firstborn to take over all the duties of the father upon the father’s death. It was also common for the firstborn to take the father’s concubines as their own upon the death of the father. However, Yaacov was not dead. Neither had he assigned any inheritance to his sons like Yitzchak had to him years before. The natural consequences of Reuven’s trying to usurp his father’s position included his later loss of his anticipated inheritance and his birthright.

Each of these vignettes rely on choices, good and bad, by members of Yaacov’s family. Each of these might or might not be justified. Do what seem to be the natural consequences explain whether or not the choices were justified?

All this reminds that history is written by the victor. There is only one version presented to us. In contrast, we are given three versions of the genealogy of Esau, probably from multiple references used by the editor[s]/writer[s] of Bereishit, Genesis, during the reign of Solomon and his sons. Since this is the last mention of Esau in Torah, and since we have no corroborating documents, we may never resolve the discrepancies for this case of multiple accounts for the same event nor for the many other similar cases in Torah.

How can we wade through the layers of deceptions, confusions, and multiple versions in Torah episodes in order to find the truth? Do we need to? Shabbat Shalom!

How can we avoid violating one another? Beit Torah Jewish Congregation (www.onetorah.org) works to respect everyone. So we try to be honorable to those in our families as well as those who are not:

An old commentary:

VaYeishev 5775 Righteousness; Bereishit ch. 37-40; Amos 2:6-3:8

It is strange that when we read of the lineage of the righteous king Solomon, we usually find the emphasis on the male lineage. We hear of the house of Judah and of King David who was most challenged in the area of righteousness. We also hear of Boaz who was a decent man. However it was the righteousness of Naomi and especially of Rut that led eventually to the birth of Solomon. Yet even before those righteous women spun their tale, there was a first righteous woman during the time of the sons of Yaacov in Canaan.

As we read in this week’s portion of Parashat VaYeishev (Bereishit [Genesis] ch. 38), Judah married a local woman who bore him three sons. He married off the oldest to a woman called Tamar. However this son died before Tamar could bear him an heir. As was the custom, Judah then had Tamar marry his second son in a Levirate marriage so that she could bear a child on his older brother’s name. The second son, it is said, also displeased HaShem and died.

Judah told Tamar then to wait until his youngest son became old enough to marry. However he continued to procrastinate. Tamar feared she would become too old to bear children if she waited much more.

Now people back then were really not much different than people now. Some were observant and others walked around in a fog. We know Yaacov was observant as he figured out how to breed for spotted and striped livestock. Women were no less observant.

For thousands of years women had been tracking their cycles relative to lunar cycles. At least some of them figured out when during their cycles they would be most fertile. So when Judah became a widower and went to shear sheep, folk within his clan [unhappy with his procrastination] worked with Tamar to set her up to seem to be a harlot along the way to the sheep. Judah could not resist but had no payment. So he left tokens as an I.O.U: his signet and his staff as collateral. The then pregnant Tamar was vindicated by Judah when she presented his tokens of good faith. He called her righteous. One of the twins she bore was a paternal line ancestor to King Solomon.

Who are the righteous women you have known? Let us enjoy sharing our tales of righteous women this Shabbat!

 Shabbat Shalom!

Miketz 5780 Bereishit 41:1-44:17; Shabbat Chanukah1, Zechariah 2:14-4:7

Miracles and Miracles 5780 Chanukah1

It is a season of miracles,

Ones for which our gratitude continues

from millennia ago even

to technological present venues…

Whether lighting candles to restore joys

or living despite reckless boys with toys,

we embrace each other in celebration

with hopes we can heal this divided nation…

Shabbat Chanukah Shalom!

another oldie:

VaYigash 5777 Reunion in Exile. Bereishit [Genesis] 44:18-47:27; Ezekiel 37:15-28

As we finished our Torah reading last Shabbat, Binyamin had just been framed for a theft. The brothers could have panicked or begged. Instead, Judah pleaded to be allowed to take the place of Binyamin.

It was a very emotional scene. In fact it was so emotional that Yosef felt impelled to send the guards away and reveal himself to his brothers. Since the Pharaoh was willing to welcome all of Yosef’s family to settle in the Goshen area of Egypt, particularly given the long-term famine predicted, an invitation to do so was taken back to the elderly Yisrael.

However they needed to break the news gently to Yisrael that Yosef lived and wanted the whole family to come to live with him, to reunite in Egypt. So Asher’s young adopted daughter, Serah, sang to him and told him all. The whole family in Canaan went then to Egypt to be reunited in exile.

It seems to be a pattern we have seen before. Twice Avram and Sarai were reunited in exile after being separated by the sister/ wife ruse: first in Egypt and then in the court of Avimelech.

Since the Holocaust, there have been many anecdotal reunions, often unanticipated, in many places of the diaspora. Undoubtedly such reunions have occurred throughout the generations.

Are you familiar with a case of reunion in exile? Have you ever felt that you have been in exile? Is there someone you would like to be reunited with? If so, where would that reunion occur?

May we all have the pleasure of a joyful reunion wherever it might be! Shabbat Shalom!

another mostly oldie:

VaYechi combo 5775,77,80 Ethics & Origins,

Bereishit [Genesis Ch. 47:28-50:26]; 1 Kings 2:1-12

As we finish the first book of Torah [Bereishit] this week, we realize that it has shared with us stories of many origins such as: the origin of this planet, the origin of good and evil, the origin of plant and animal diversity, the origin of human diversity, the origins of some specific livelihoods and talents, and the origin of the Israelites. At the end of this book, each tribe receives blessings and ethical cautions as well as descriptions of their strengths in livelihoods.

Why is it important for a people to know about these various origins? What difference does it make to recall who developed tent dwelling or figured out how to make metal tools, who developed a system of music and musical instruments or organized a consistent method of singing?

How significant can any of this be when we only have names of inventors and no stories to fill in details of context or of how they achieved their inventions? Were they the first inventors or only the people who brought these inventions to a specific locale?

Perhaps today the only significance we can attach is that there was a logical, gradual progression along a path of advancement to civilization and urbanization, from nomadic hunting to raising livestock and then to agriculture! Yet the last of the origin stories in Bereishit are the ones which give us an identity of who we are and where we come from. They tell us of our imperfections and our potentials. They hint at how we can live ethical, righteous lives. Yaacov blessed his sons and predicted their ethical and livelihood pathways while gaining two more sons (Ephraim and Menashe) of his beloved wife, Rachel, when he adopted the two sons of Joseph and allows for even more new beginnings such as a later land of Ephraim. In the meantime, all of the children of Israel are in the process of starting new beginnings in Egypt.

Still, we will need to wait until the next books to learn about the origins of our laws and the ensuing battles we fought to encourage others to accept them [? impose them on others?] What interest do you have in the stories of our origins? How should we use them to guide and improve our lives? Do we need all of them? There is much to ponder and discuss this Shabbat… 

 Chazak, Chazak, v’Nitchazek! Be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened!

Shabbat Shalom!

another mostly oldie:

Shemot 5776, ‘77, ‘80 Beliefs, Logic, and Facts; Shemot [Exodus] 1-6:1; Jeremiah 1-2:3

This weekly Torah portion of Parashat Shemot continues relating more stories of our history. As always, these stories are believed to be cliff notes of actual events. We need to work to figure out what lessons we should draw out of these stories. The lessons considered important in any generation will vary according to the customs of the readers and their sensibilities. This is possible since the stories are not per se facts. Hence we have latitude in interpreting what they mean within the framework of known historical, archaeological, etc. facts. The pool of such facts is ever increasing given modern discoveries and improved investigative techniques.

So if these stories are not all facts, what are they? They are part of our belief system that they were inspired by HaShem to be written in their original form. We are not certain that the original form is the form they are presently in. For that matter, we are not certain for what purpose they were inspired to be written. So on faith we have accepted that they are an incomplete and/or approximate description of our history with emphasis on lessons we need to learn to live good, ethical lives.

That is consistent with the places where multiple and conflicting versions of an event are related in Torah. It could also be consistent with the known facts of editing and redacting by others across the generations. This actually leads to the interesting question: Were the editors and redactors also divinely inspired?

So religion is a system of beliefs. Chosen liturgy is accepted based on belief, not fact. Any related systems of interpretations, meditations, etc. are philosophies of how to answer questions unanswered in the liturgy. Each such philosophy is based on a core belief or beliefs from which a logical matrix of principles is constructed. As such, the philosophies must be considered as part of the body of commentaries. They are not part of the original liturgy.

We know that had Yosef not been trained in the ways of the Egyptian court, he would never have been able to save people from the prolonged famine. Had Moshe not been raised in the way of Egyptian nobility, diplomacy, and military strategy; then he would not have been able to lead the mixed multitude out of Egypt and through the wilderness and desert. He also would not have been able to train Joshua in military arts.

Of course, Moshe’s being taken in by the Midianite leadership as family helped with the later stages of desert wandering. Similarly, Yosef being oriented to Egyptian ways by the household of a Potiphar helped him to be ready to learn the ways of the Egyptian court.

Yosef had the concerns of many peoples beside his family to consider as did Moshe later with the expanded tribes and mixed multitude. The overall circumstances may have changed, but the challenges were very similar. In all, Egyptian education meshed with Israelite values was critical to the successes of both Yosef and Moshe. Many believe that the circumstances of their lives were guided by the Holy One. Are these beliefs in the five books of Moshe or other liturgy?

For instance Gematria, a Jewish form of numerology, has a core belief that the numeric values of the Hebrew letters are imbued with Holiness and special meanings. The larger the sum of the letters’ values in a word, the more relative importance is assigned to the word. Perhaps it stems from the ancient and widespread belief that if one knows the true name of an object, one can fully control that object. Gematria views Hebrew as the only Holy language, the only language in which “true” names can be found. These names would have been given by Adam during creation. Did Adam speak Hebrew and name HaShem’s creations in Hebrew in a time before the Tower of Babel?

Similarly the Mystical and Kabbalistic philosophies were highly influenced by earlier non-Jewish mystical practices. As in most surviving philosophies, the core logic matrix contains presumptions [i.e. beliefs] along with facts and/or observations. The logic matrix allows the philosophy to explain unfathomable observations and occurrences. Yet it can not ever make the philosophy into facts. There may be other ways to reach logical explanations that are not within any given philosophy. Even one assumption within the logic matrix results in the entire philosophy being a belief system, never a system of facts.

Nonetheless, so long as beliefs can not be disproven by facts, Judaism teaches us that one is welcome to embrace these beliefs. Simply put, if these beliefs make some people happy with their lives, then they are welcome to embrace those beliefs and be happy.

So when we come to our stories of Torah, we need to accept that we might be able to prove occasional factual details in the stories [as often are in good historical fiction] but that it is more important for us to ask: “What ethical lessons are there in these stories for us to live by?” !

What ethical lessons do you draw from the stories of the birth of Moshe, his exile, his marriage to Zipporah the Midianite princess, the birth of his son, and his return to Egypt to lead the Israelites to freedom? There is much to discuss, so much that it might occupy us for years! Shabbat Shalom!

VaEra 5777, ‘75. ‘80 Plagues; Shemot [Exodus] 6:2-9:35; Ezekiel 28:25-29:21; Isaiah 66:1-24

Would the plagues have happened had Pharaoh not been stubborn? Was Pharaoh stubborn (paranoid?) because adverse events were already happening [e.g. weird weather, strange animal behaviour, etc.] and he was desperately clinging on to the control and power he thought he had?

It is known that ill patients lose control over nearly all aspects of their lives. As a result they are particularly stubborn about controlling their meals and complain about every little thing that is not perfect in their minds.

Beyond that, this was a time period when worldwide cataclysms were occurring: increased volcanic activity in Arabia and some Mediterranean isles; earthquakes, release of noxious gases from both of these types of activity, unusual animal behaviour probably related to other odd events, peculiar weather patterns, etc. Included in the odd events were mass human migrations, no doubt to escape adverse conditions at wherever they started.

Yet as Rambam, Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, and some other wise folk have taught, events do not just happen. There is a combination of the physics of natural geological and meteorological flows along with the interacting choices of the creatures of the world. This combination of factors leads to the facts on the ground.

Did Moshe know of the aftereffects of volcanic activity and the presence of such in Arabia and around other parts of the Mediterranean? Probably he did given the many years he lived in Midian’s relative proximity to the most active Arabian volcanoes. Did he take advantage of the timing of the geological events to mesh with his planned revolutionary ideas? Maybe. It is not a stretch to think that when Moshe went into exile in Midian, he kept in touch with friends in many far away places. So when multiple natural disasters started in the Middle East, and particularly around the Mediterranean, Moshe heard rather quickly about all the bad news. Hence Moshe was able to choose to use these natural events to his benefit. Such would explain his rush from Midian to Egypt right after his son’s birth and despite being in poor health himself. Was he in poor health after exposure to pre-eruption activity?

Whatever the case, the weather and the geologic instabilities apparently lined up together to support opposition to the seemingly superstitious Pharaoh in the form of a variety of plagues – or at least that is what would have been presented and explained by Moshe, the well-educated Military Commander graduate from the Egyptian Royal University who had lived many years near the Arabian desert. There are investigators, as cited by Rabbi Reeve [Reuven] Brenner, who convincingly tie the second through ninth plagues to the effects of a series of massive volcanic eruptions on Santorini Island, some even the first as well.

The earlier plagues could be explained by volcanic explosions such as the two preceding the massive third volcanic explosion as well as that massive one and the after explosion which destroyed half of the island of Thera not even 500 miles from Egypt. Red metal poisoning of the water from falling volcanic residues would kill the fish and cause the frogs to flee the water. Ash in the air would irritate the skin and cause it to feel like lice or other skin ailments. Insects would feed on the dead fish and later flee before the ash laden air seeking food and shelter where-ever they could. Sufficient irritation of the skin from the ash would lead to scratching and infectious boils. Fiery hail sounds like brimstone from a massive volcanic eruption. So the vegetation and the livestock were debilitated and killed bringing wild beasts to feast on their carcasses. Moshe may well have known about these effects and used them to to his advantage in his dealings with Pharaoh. As for the last plague, that too can be explained by a natural event. However that is more complex an explanation and for further discussion next week.

Was this strange Pharaoh, who did not know Yosef, from a militaristic opposition group that was not highly educated? Were the court people around him sycophants who also were not highly educated?

Given this model, what does it say for modern times when government leadership is gained by people who display disdain for science and for the well-being of others? Will no storehouses of food be kept to answer to future famine, but rather more weapons and other tactics could be used to kill off masses of people and thereby reduce the need for foodstuffs? Are terrorism and wars not man-made plagues? Is increased poverty the imposition of a plague upon the weakest of a community by those who can meet their basic needs many fold over? We are in times of much uncertainty. How can we prevent plagues, natural or man-made? Shabbat Shalom!

Bo 5777, 8, 80 More Plagues; Shemot [Exodus] 10:1-13:16; Jeremiah 46:13-28

As if we didn’t have our fill of plagues last week, they keep on coming this week too. So while poverty may have been the plague of our focus last week, a ban on entry to the country seems to be our plague for this week. According to Torah there was strife along the northern coastal route. Hence, the more southerly route of the Exodus was chosen to avoid the refugee immigration deluge causing strife along the coast, possibly escaping volcanic activity in the Mediterranean.

This week the locusts come first among the plagues. Why do locusts swarm? Their food source had become exhausted. Why? Were they fleeing the oncoming darkness of thick particulates as would happen following brimstone when a volcano like Santorini/Thera had a massive explosion that destroyed half the island? Was it the brimstone [fiery hail] that wiped out their resources? Certainly all plant life was severely impacted by fire and blunt trauma. Torah reports that the trees suffered greatly. So whatever remained, the locusts wanted to eat from the Mediterranean coast to inland as far as they could go. That left only stored food for the people and their remaining livestock.

The effects of intense volcanic activity can be experienced even 500 miles or more away from the explosion. Egypt is that close to both these areas of volcanic activity. Thera was active multiple times around 1600 B.C.E. give or take a century. The Harrat Rahat expanse has had at least thirteen major explosions during the last 4500 years [references available upon request]. Think Mt. St. Helens...

Egyptian history records two expulsions of Semitic peoples from lower Egypt. The first was when the lower Kingdom was re-absorbed during the 1700’s B.C.E. or so. The second was apparently during the reign of Ramses II. The Ipuwer papyrus describes some events including a time of nine days of palpable darkness during that earlier time period, possibly coinciding with the Thera massive explosion. There has been found in Egypt a layer of volcanic deposits identifiable as from Thera. So is the Exodus story an amalgam of multiple stories from the two expulsions?

After three days of darkness [although there were independent reports of nine days of darkness further west in Egypt], every surviving creature would be very hungry. Now the food stores were big pits in the ground covered by bitumen [tar], brimstone, and the thick, palpable, volcanic explosion polluted deposits. No doubt the top was quite toxic [i.e. an environmental pollution plague big time!]. It was the Egyptian custom when they went into the food stores to first feed the first born and strongest of the livestock and the firstborn of the family, especially important during lean times.

So after the darkness they were most hungry and went into the food stores to feed the firstborn from the stored grain that was likely most toxic at the top first portions than the deeper stored portions. Was this toxic first portion the source of the tenth plague? Moshe was probably aware of the toxicity effects from volcanic debris. He did warn the people. Did those who fled eat only lamb and not grain from the storage pits? Regardless of the source, plagues are plagues.

At this season when we recall the Exodus in our weekly portions, it is hard not to wonder if we are to be faced soon with a new onslaught of plagues. What do you view as a modern plague we need to contend with? Shabbat Shalom!

BeShallach 5775,80 Where is the Sea of Reeds? Exodus 13: 17-14: 9, 19-29; Shoftim [Judges] 4:4-5:31

Sephardim begin at 5:1

Throughout the ages our sages, such as Maimonides [the Rambam] and Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, have cautioned us repeatedly that HaShem does not suspend the laws of nature in order to perform “miracles”. So what does that mean during the chaos of the Exodus?

A huge number of people were suddenly refugees fleeing for their lives both from the devastations of the ‘plagues’ and from the excesses of Pharaoh. Although Moshe knew the Sinai routes well, having travelled widely and lived for years in Midian, the people could not travel as quickly as a small group of seasoned travelers. Neither could they stay at small way stops. They needed to go to camping grounds initially such as the one at Succot [Booths]. Further, once in wilderness, access to water was a huge problem.

We read in this week’s portion of Parashat B’Shallach [Shemot/ Exodus 13:20-21] that the people fled the first day from Pi-Ramses to Succot, a relatively short distance at an initial adrenalin-laced speed they could not maintain. Then they approached the northern Sinai wilderness beyond the eastern edge of Egypt. They travelled south of the coastal route and north of the northernmost Sinai mountains until they reached Eitham to the east [one-two days?], probably at the end of Wadi Tumilat south of Lake Timsah. According to Torah they were following a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud during the day. Sounds like a volcano, doesn’t it? Where were active volcanoes at that time?

Geological evidences show that the Sinai Peninsula has not had volcanic activity since around the time of the end of the second Ice Age. However there were active volcanoes in southern Arabia [SE of the people] and in some Mediterranean bordering areas such as Santorini Island to the NW. Accepting that the laws of nature do not change, then the people were heading towards a volcano in the south of Arabia [SSE of Midian].

Pharoah was known to be hot tempered and heart hardened. How long was he likely to wait before pursuing the escaping mixed multitude? One would expect it would only be long enough to gather his chariot forces together with provisions. If that would be two or three days with a fourth day for pursuit, then during that last day or so would have been the time used by Moshe to position the people at the edge of the Sea of Reeds, facing that Sea.

According to Byers [Bible and Spade, Winter 2006], that would mean that Moshe led the people NNW to the mouth of an elaborate irrigation system of canals [Pi-Hahirot] near a western part of the northernmost Ballah Lake [Baal Tzaphon] not far from the Mediterranean sea side fortress of Migdol. These places named in Torah are also named in Egyptian records [New Kingdom]. However in Torah we are told that Moshe was laying a trap for the Egyptians and following the changing omens where the pillars being followed were now to the NW and the cloud was so dark that it hid the Egyptians and the fleeing folk from each other at night [14:19-20]. So the pursuit resumed by day to the later destruction of the Egyptian host. Were the winds parting the Sea of Reeds from volcanic activity? Possibly.

Since laws of nature do not change, strong volcanic activity spews forth huge amounts of ash and debris such as fiery hail [brimstone] with very strong force. As the ash and debris fall along the plume closer to the eruption, only strong winds are left further away. This process forms a partial vacuum to build up over the explosion / eruption site. As a result, the winds will suddenly reverse direction to fill in the partial vacuum. Could this describe the parting of the Sea of Reeds and the drowning of the Pharaoh’s host?

Yet it was Moshe’s choices that led to using the forces of nature created by HaShem to perform what seemed to the mixed multitude to be miracles. What miracles have we seen in our lives and how did they happen? For instance: the trees are coming back into leafing in time for Tu B’Shvat observances Sun. night after Shabbat! A deep topic to ponder this Shabbat… Shabbat Shalom!

Yitro 57
77, 79, 80 ; Delegating; Shemot [Exodus] 18:1-20:23;

Isaiah 6:1 - 7:6; 9:5 - 9:6, Sephardim Isaiah 6:1-13

How could Moshe keep things under control when shepherding hundreds of thousands of refugees across a wilderness? He had traversed that route many times alone or with a few others [such as family]. From the Sea of Reeds to the pass into what is now Arabia was a trip that would take longer the more people there were travelling. Knowing this, it is no surprise that Moshe sent his wife and children on ahead to his father-in-law’s home in Midian not far from that pass. Did he also know there was increased danger for the weakest stragglers from Amalekite bandits? Was that another reason he sent his family on ahead?

So fearful hungry and disheartened people finally cleared the narrow pass where the Amalekite bandits attacked. Bickering and complaining, lamenting and weeping, they had no focus nor goal for the future. The locals [Edomites and Midianites] had no spare resources and did not want all those unruly refugees. They needed to find space further east and south to camp. What was Moshe to do?

First off then he needed to restore order and provide a framework for cooperation among the tribes and unaffiliated. How? That is when the Midianite Priest, Yitro, came on the scene. As Priest of the tribe, Yitro was de facto the father-in-law of anyone who married into the tribe and the decider of all the interactions in the tribe. [Similarly the people of the Dead Sea Scrolls called their top Priest “Father” of the whole community.] 

Bringing back Moshe’s family to Moshe allowed Yitro a chance to evaluate the mess his son-in-law had on his hands. Then he could share his knowledge of governing which basically was delegating. Different courts were to be set up within each tribe for different levels of complaints and crimes. The most difficult cases would be sent to a combined court. Only the absolutely worst or most complicated would be brought before Moshe. Delegation clearly worked.

Moshe was then able to focus on providing the laws by which the people would live and the goal for all to eventually go north and across the [Jordan] River to the ancestral homeland. This week’s portion of Parashat Yitro provides some details to the judicial system and the first version of the giving of the Law, in this case the Decalogue, ten terms to the contract [brit] with HaShem. When the ram’s horn sounded, the people gathered at the foot of the mountain in Sinai, the Sinai desert of Exodus times [probably in Arabia, S.S.E. of Midian]. Then from within a thick cloud, Hashem pronounced the ten terms of our covenant, the first Mitzvot of our Brit.

Perhaps they were just words whose meaning was yet to be digested. Perhaps the people were so fearful of the thunder, earthquaking, and lightning that they could not focus on the words. They gave a simple response while trying to understand: “na-aseh v’nishmah” - we will do as told while learning to understand. If they were so afraid, then it would explain why they asked not to hear HaShem directly but rather have Moshe relay Hashem’s words. Stay tuned for more versions of what happened at Mt. Sinai!

What laws do you abide by? Do your views of Jewish law sometimes conflict with U.S. law? If so, how? Which do you choose to follow?- or do you just delegate that choice to others?

Shabbat Shalom!

How can we avoid violating one another? Beit Torah Jewish Congregation (
www.onetorah.org) works to respect everyone. So we try to be honorable to those in our families as well as those who are not:

another mostly oldie:

Shekalim75, 77-80 / Mishpatim, Charity, Laws anf Community Support -

Shemot [Exodus] 21:1-24:18; II Kings 12:1-17

In last week’s Torah portion we read that Moshe delegated authority to leaders of the tribes thereby setting up a multi-tiered judicial system. It follows that we might be curious as to what guided such a system.

Further, last week we started to read about the basic guiding laws in the form of the ten terms to our brit, our covenant contract with HaShem [known by some as the “Ten Commandments”]. So it is no surprise that in this week’s portion of Parashat Mishpatim for Shabbat Shekalim we read about a variety of laws used to govern the interactions of the People and to guide the judges at the various levels of the system. Since the people did not want direct contact with HaShem, we are told that 70 elders, Moshe and other attendants went up the Mountain to see HaShem. Then in HaShem’s presence they shared a festive meal [24:9-14]. Did they agree then to all the laws to be held in common at this conference? Were there compromises among the leaders as to what were crimes and what punishments were appropriate? Then when Moshe repeated the Covenant [Brit] to the people, they replied that they would follow the laws and study them to understand where they come from and why [Na-aseh v’nishmah].

Twelve pillars containing the Laws were erected around the mishkan [24:4]. They were the precedent for the later setting up of twelve pillars of Law and their reading when the Israelites entered the Promised Land.

In this parashah, the Promised Land is again promised but only little by little to be taken as HaShem would spread plague before the people to clear the land [23:28-30,32-33]. There was not to be a war of conquest.

Some of these laws, Mitzvot, are still in use. Others are no longer easily understood such as the prohibition against cursing of a chieftain [Shemot (Exodus) 22:27] or the exhortation to not tolerate a sorceress [22:17]. At the time of this portion, the people were reminded to care compassionately for the needy including all strangers [23:9-11]. Gratitude and prayers were expressed through burnt offerings [24:5].

Yet this week also happens to be Shabbat Shekalim, the first of four special Haftorah readings before Pesach [this week from 2Kings 12:1-17]. It discusses primarily the need for monetary donations [e.g. with Shekalim coins] given for guilt or purification offerings or other sacrifices. The donations were to be used for the rebuilding of the second Temple desecrated and destroyed by worshippers of Baal. However, corruption prevented use of the building donations for 16 years. Then the King discovered the corruption and the Priests lost their salaries. It is also clear that in those times, sacrifices were done at shrines around the country while only monetary donations were given at the Temple site.

Today we have changed our practices to all monetary and goods [clothing, food, etc.] donations. At this season, we are about to celebrate Purim [March 5] and being saved from annihilation by Haman. It is custom during Purim to give donations of gratitude and mitzvot to maintain our facilities, of charity for the needy [esp. so that they can fully observe the upcoming Pesach (22:20-26)], and of trust for use in good works not specified. So Shabbat Shekalim is de facto a reminder to all to provide for the needs of the disadvantaged and to support the Jewish community. This is reinforced by the Haftorah for Shabbat Shekalim where funds were collected and then used for the repair and refurbishment of the Temple.

These practices of charity and community support are particularly important when we approach Holy Days observances such as for Pesach. Why? We are taught that we need to ensure that everyone will be able to fully observe and celebrate all the Holy Days.

 Especially Pesach comes to mind at this time. What do you think is the best way for you to give charity? What is the best way to support the Jewish community?... the world community? What will you, yourself, do to be charitable and supportive? Shabbat Shalom!

Terumah 5778 Things; Shemot 25:1-27:19; I Kings 5:26-6:13

Ancient people perceived the world through their senses. If something was not explainable through their senses, they made up stories to explain the unexplainable – usually invoking a deity in the process. These peoples also understood the concepts of basic necessities and needs. However once these needs are met, we tend to use the excess resources selfishly. Greed, ego, arrogance, boastfulness, materialism, bullying, and other evil inclinations all beckon to those who have resources beyond their needs. After all, one can never be sure that you will have what you need in the future… So then, even as now, accumulation of ‘things’ was common despite the damage it might do to others. For children it is understandable.

Children become quite attached to things: Linus blankets, stuffed toys, favorite shirts, best loved people, etc. These give them comfort and perhaps a feeling of safety, reassuring then that there is consistency in the world around them. We all hope that our children will mature and grow to realize that the most important things are those we hold dear in our hearts: compassion, respect, love… Yet we wonder if we all are not still children...

In this environment lived our ancestors. Therefor it is no wonder that they, too, were obsessed with ‘things’. An expression of this obsession is seen in the parashot of this week [Terumah] and of next week in which there are the specifics of building and adorning the mishkan [Tabernacle] as well as adorning of the Priests. In a sense, the mishkan and the Priests became ‘things’, prized possessions of the people to be used for spiritual enlightenment and satisfaction. To be sure, these things also gave a sense of security to the people in uncertain times. They felt connected as well since the mishkan was built with the free will offerings of the people. It was their possession.

Indeed the concept of the Temple evolved into a covetted ‘thing’. Since the destruction of the Temples, we have been taught that spiritual fulfillment comes from within ourselves through prayer and good deeds [mitzvot] done anywhere we may be. ‘Things’ can not substitute for individual devotions and acts.

Nonetheless, some people still strive for accumulation of wealth devoid of charity. Some people still lavishly adorn their places of worship when a more simple structure could suffice and the cost difference dedicated to charitable acts. Is such a place a simulacrum of what they imagined the Temple was like? Is it a structure competing with the churches of non-Jews? Then there is a truly American question: are dues equal to free-will offerings?

It is also important to note that resources are not just financial [e.g. money] and properties. They also include our productive skills and time. That is why so many codes of law and religion encourage contributing to the needy, encourage contributing to Tikun Olam, Repair of the World, in many fashions.

What ‘things’ do we truly need to provide an environment conducive to spiritual enrichment and fulfillment as well as Tikun Olam – repair of the world and all its ecosystems? Are we ourselves obsessed with ‘things’? What ‘things’ do you pursue?

Shabbat Shalom!

5777,78,80 Shabbat Zachor, Parashat Tetzaveh; Remembering Amalek

Shemot [Exodus] 27:20-30:10; Maftir, Devarim [Deuteronomy] 25:17-19; Samuel 15:1-34

We are often told the wisdom that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. When we read this week on Shabbat Zachor, the stern admonition to remember Amalek – and get rid of Amalek wherever we find it – reminds us of that wisdom. As we recall the difficulties of Esther and our people under the despotism of Haman who was advising the incompetent King [former good military leader], it is hard not to try to draw comparisons to modern governments.

Hitler, Mussolini, Assad, Stalin, Mao, Ghengis, and so many others seemed to be embodiments of Amalek. Apparently it takes a long time before people awaken to the danger and develop a way to successfully combat it. There also seems to be much concern that there are several countries today approaching the status of Amalek. For instance, North Korea continues ever more aggressive weapons testing while starving and otherwise abusing its own citizens.

What other countries do you think are being guided by Amalek? Explain. How would you approach fulfilling the mitzvah of “remembering Amalek” [Devarim 25:17-19] ? Have you ever observed or met any people who appeared to you to be embodiments of Amalek? What did you want to do when you observed or met them?

Sudden losses of things may hurt, but things are replaceable. Living creatures including people are not things. They all can never be replaced. Their sudden losses remind us that Amalek can rear up at any time, especially when we have grown lax in our watchfulness for our own security and safety. How can we shore up such oversights?

On this Shabbat Zachor [the Sabbath of remembering Amalek], we are told some ways by which we can fight Amalek, but only in very general terms. What does it mean to totally eliminate Amalek, those with evil inclinations? [The first Amalekites preyed on the defenseless, the weakest stragglers of the mixed multitude escaping Egypt…] Haman, Hitler, the Inquisition Inquisitors, Mussolini, pogroms, etc. each needed to be combatted in a different way. There is no one solution, no one magic curative pill.

So too with mass killings and other gun violence. A multi-pronged approach will be needed to address deficits in the mental health systems, the law enforcement systems, the political bribery systems, the gun [esp. assault weapons] access systems, etc. What part of fixing the problems and ‘eliminating’ Amalek are you willing to do?

Please share your thoughts in person or online/electronically. Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach!!!

 Parah last week included Purim:

Remembering Amalek, Purim 79

Purim reminds us Amalek must go.
Yet how do we catch them and where must they go?
Amalek’s all around us tolling evil.
Who are tools under their spell? Who's truly evil?
Still we go forward with faith and in hope.
We will stop Amalek; we can make them go!


Purim 5778 Courage

We so need now to open our eyes
To prevent another Amalek surprise.
We need, too, to be ready to act
When we let lethal, evil plots become fact.

The courage to stand up and fight,
As did Esther and Jews despite fright,
Is within our grasp even today -
Let us now be brave to find the way!!!


Amalek Awakened 5777

We have come so far towards the light.
We got lazy and forgot to fight
For the values we cherish as right,
For liberties we uphold at height...

So Amalek has blossomed now and here
Affecting adversely all we hold dear.
We need to do catch-up, despite our fear,
To abolish Amalek far and near!

Disguises, Purim 5773
Adele Jay

Gazing deeply into all sets of eyes,
Can we still see beyond each one’s disguise?
Disguise of vision, disguise of lies,
Disguise built high on diplomacies-
Disguise of purpose and what it buys:
Costumed, coifed, careful attempts to please-
Was Hadassah happy in her role
As wife to a finicky leader?
Did the family escape from death’s door
Reassure her that we’ll always need her?
We do. So too, as long as it is fun,
Against Amalek we’ll fight to heed her.
In the Courtyard- Purim 5769
Adele Jay

Queen Esther’s in the King’s courtyard,
Trembling in her tiny shoes.
Will the King reach out to comfort her?
Or will her sweet life she lose?
This sad scene comes back to haunt us
Every year at Purim time,
Reminding us how fragile lives are.
If only we were more kind…

Shabbat Parah, Ki Tisa; Shemot [Exodus] Ch. 32-34; Ezekiel 36:16-36

SOLIDIFYING THE CONTRACT Maftir extra reading: BaMidbar [Numbers] 19:1-22

People had heard the Covenant [Brit], but apparently did not absorb the meaning. Instead they had asked Moshe to relay all the words. So Moshe and Aaron reminded the People of the Law given them. Apparently that, too, did not stick in their minds and actions. The brit/ Covenant needed to be solidified by something tangible, by luchot HaBrit, the tablets of the Covenant. It seems that the people of that time were not mature enough to have a solely cerebral religion. They needed Holy accoutrements and beautified environs. They needed things to remind them of the Holy. SO they had a golden calf [oops!].  Then they needed the tablets in the ark along with the scrolls of Law enclosed in the Tabernacle to give the People a focus and solidified the Brit.  Are people now any much different?

Do we need these types of reminders today in order to do the mitzvot and follow the Law? Likewise will a tabernacle, tablets, an ark or a Temple make us any more pious?

With much of the world closed down, at least we still have the web, the phone, and snail mail. We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) are hunkering down to weather this newest plague. It challenges our sense of the seasons. It makes us wonder what the damages will be come the final tally even as we wonder how we can keep focussed on the mitzvot:

VaYechel, Pikudei, HaChodesh 5777, 80 ; Shemot 35:1-40:38; Ezekiel 45:16-46:18

As we enter the month of Nissan this coming week, we realize that all the instructions on how to build a Tabernacle, Mishkan, along with its accoutrements and contents are moot to us today. So how then can we build for modern times a meaningful Tabernacle, a resting place for the Shechinah, the Holy Spirit? Can a Torah ark be such a place?

This Shabbat comes with two Torah Portions and a special Haftorah to announce the coming of Nissan on Thursday the 26th so that all will know that Passover is two weeks thereafter. We even have an extra Torah portion to read that describes how Passover /Pesach should be observed. [Maftir of Exodus 12:1-20]

Oddly, last Shabbat we read that the Tablets of the Law include agricultural instructions to observe three Pilgrimage festivals. In fact, the instruction to keep the Sabbath also contains an agricultural reference [34:21]. Yet this is supposed to be during the interaction between Moses and the now nomadic livestock specialists in the desert! Some say that this second version was written down and added on after the Israelites were settled in the Promised Land. It should be noted that the only contents similar to those in the first version of the Brit Covenant deal with devotion to one god, HaShem; to the avoidance of idolatry; and to the keeping of the Sabbath which actually is repeated throughout the Torah more than for other Holy Days.

So our reading of the book of Exodus is completed. When the last verses [40:34-38] are read on Shabbat morning, we recite [as we do at the end of each of the five books of the Torah] the Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazek: Be Strong, Be Strong, and We should be Strengthened!

However what are we being strengthened for if not now to weather this latest plague? Is it retribution for not being good stewards of the Earth? Maybe it is a consequence of overpopulation being conducive to sharing diseases readily. The why though is really irrelevant. What is relevant is the need to shore up medical systems everywhere and to not neglect them in the future and let them decline. At this time approaching Pesach, we will be faced with many more people who have lost their incomes, can not pay their debts [such as water, electricity, mortgage, rent, etc.], have food insecurity [such as children who no longer have meals at school], and will be needy in so many other ways as well. How can all this be paid for? The damage to people can not at present be predicted. Time will tell.

That spiritual presence within each of us reminding us to do mitzvot at this time may well be our de facto Mishkan! In being reminded to do all of the mitzvot, we ask if have not been paying enough attention to what we need to do. Have we been mindful to observe Shabbat? Have we clung to only one Shechinah? Will we be denied our typical Pesach Seder this year and need to turn to Pesach Sheni? Will that even give us enough time to return to normal routines?

If we do, perhaps that is the evidence that we have constructed a modern Mishkan within ourselves. How can you build and improve your modern Mishkan? Shabbat will be a good time for these reflections. Shabbat Shalom!

another mostly oldie:

With much of the world closed down, at least we still have the web, the phone, and snail mail. We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) are hunkering down to weather this newest plague. It challenges our sense of the seasons. It makes us wonder what the damages will be come the final tally even as we wonder how we can keep focussed on the mitzvot:

We hunker down. We fret over finding what we need in the stores. We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) wonder: 'how the most needy will be able to get what they need and/or be cared for?' We wonder what toll isolation will take on us all. What would the world look like if everyone flocked to the Temple [were we to have one] for comfort during a pandemic?

VaYikra 5776, 77, 80 Sacrifices by Mitzvot and Helping;
VaYikra [Leviticus] 1:1-5:26; Isaiah 43:21-44:23

This week we start the Book of Leviticus [VaYikra]. We are told that this book effectively acts as a how-to book for the Temple Levites. What are we to make of it today given that the Levites no longer serve in the functions of yore? Do we really want to bring back a privileged class of Jews? Do we really want to encourage unequal birthright treatment for different groups [castes] of Jews as we have now [albeit not necessarily enforced] for Cohanim?

So let us delve more deeply into this week’s portion of Parashat VaYikra. A main topic covered deals with the different types of offerings such as those to expiate sins of various sorts. Well clearly we today are not going to bring physical sacrifices for use on the altar. In fact, the idea of doing so grosses out a lot of modern people. Perhaps we should feel sorry for those people who think it would be wonderful to kill animals on public display. Maybe then we could bring back public hangings?

The Rambam believed that HaShem did not enjoy nor prefer this manner of worship out of concern that some might harm themselves and/or others by dedicating to sacrifices food needed for survival. After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Rabbis did pronounce that prayer and mitzvot [good deeds] are better than sacrifices for atonement and worship.

Indeed Judaism teaches respect for all living beings! Death should not be a public or TV spectacle. In theory, we have matured beyond that stage [although some are pushing for murder of wolf and bear while in their nursing dens and while hibernating]. More importantly, we have moved on away from sacrifices towards prayer and charity with which to atone for our regrets, guilts, and sins. Are they not adequate to assuage our consciences?

Unfortunately we have not matured much over the generations. With this worldwide pandemic, death is again a public TV spectacle. People are panic buying multiple firearms. What are they thinking? Do they plan on killing people they fear may be carriers or infected? Do they envision people they do not know to be dangerous zombies that should be shot in the head?

Baruch HaShem there are some who do watch out for their neighbors. Yet for as many as there are trying to repair the world, we still have genocides, eco destructions, atrocities of rape and pillage, hate speech with resultant bigotry and violence, crumbling infrastructure, inadequately supported education and health systems, and so much more.

So it has become Russian roulette with no way to know if a gun carrier will take a shot at others or offer to help! May we all do our best to help through mitzvot! 

Shabbat Shalom!

How can we avoid violating one another? Beit Torah Jewish Congregation works to respect everyone. So we try to be honorable to those in our families as well as those who are not:

another mostly oldie:

Fear, frustration, and uncertainty fill our spirits at this precarious time. We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) try to focus on keeping in touch by phone and online/email so that we won't feel so isolated or enraged by the mishandling of our health care infrastructure by top government officials. How can we then fully embrace the observance of Pesach?:

Shabbat HaGadol, Tzav; Infrastructure needs to fight plagues

Leviticus 6:1-8:36; Malachi 3:4-24

This Shabbat HaGadol is the last Shabbat before the week of Pesach [Passover]. We have read a lot about the infrastructure of the Tabernacle in recent Torah portions. We also read of the Temple infrastructure in Haftorah. Now we read in Parashat Tzav of a number of Priestly duties, some of which were for the maintenance of the infrastructure, such as maintaining the eternal flame. It would have been considered to be the worst calamity had the eternal flame gone out. It would have been interpretted by some that the presence/spirit of HaShem was no longer among the People.

So, too, today. Infrastructure failure is a calamity for the pragmatic reason that such failure causes risks to life and, even at times, deaths – as we see now with this pandemic of COV-19. Consistent attention and efforts are needed to maintain infrastructure. We and the governments have failed miserably given political disagreements. The cost is in lives, many lives.

As we read that the Priests were directed to maintain the eternal flame, so too our leaders are obligated, at least in theory, to maintain the infrastructure of our country. To do so requires constant watchfulness, attention and efforts. These efforts require hands-on work which clearly needs to be funded. If we do not raise our voices, will our infrastructure be maintained? If we do not approve funding for infrastructure maintenance, will our infrastructure be maintained? Will our health systems be prepared for the pandemics here and yet to come?

Is there something that each of us individually can do to help maintain infrastructure? Are you educated about or dependent on the health of our infrastructure?

Are you willing to fund maintenance and improvement of our infrastructure? Does it matter if you get involved with the issue of deteriorating infrastructure? Is it not a part of Tikun Olam, Repair of the World? 

Shabbat Shalom and a Healthy Pesach to all!!!

Please sell your Chometz before Pesach by April 7. Forms available by email and digital signatures accepted. ansheitorah@cableone.net

Is selling chometz sufficient for us to feel purified enough for observing Pesach this year?

Shabbat Shalom!

The Present Pesach Plague 5780

Pesach has us count to ten plagues

but never says there are no more.

Now we come to our present days

with fears and woes upon our door.

Another plague has come to call,

terrifying us one and all.

How does it spread? Then who will fall?

Are we prepared? Who dropped the ball?

If we work very hard together,

surely some of us will survive this plague.

Then eleven plagues we’ll have weathered

to recall at Seders in future days.

Seders are for freedoms, democracies,

reminding us freedom is never free.

There’s a price to pay for every plague.

Will we become debtors? With time we’ll see…

May our Passover be Healthy and Happy!

We finish Pesach with Yiskor, something on our minds considerably of late. We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) try to keep our fears down by educating ourselves with the scientific medical facts of the pandemic. We know that it will be a long road to travel:

Shemini 5780 Yiskor Then and Now; VaYikra 9:1-11:47; II Samuel 6:1-7:17

Today we remembered those gone in our pasts and anticipated those soon to be gone. Those:

• on a boat decapitated by a bridge strut;
• with an aneurysm exploding during a football game;
• run down by a car passing a stopped school bus;
• protecting her mother from a knife slash;
• disappeared;
• in a car wreck;
• as a pedestrian run over;
• from AIDS complications;
• from breast cancer;
• from Hodgkin’s lymphoma;
• from pancreatic cancer;
• from heart disease;
• from leukemia;
• from radiation poisoning;
• from the Holocaust;
• from an aircraft crash;
• from loneliness and suicide;
• from epidemics;
• from a brain tumor;
• from old age;
• from a stroke; and
• from so many more causes… and
• now from this pandemic…

Let us resolve to embrace the cycle of life as we try to improve the quality of life for all!
Shabbat Shalom!

Are we more 'pure' if we follow pragmatic health protections? The Rambam would certainly approve. We at Beit Torah are focussed on keeping physically safe and spiritually sound. Were people of biblical times as aware of the prudent physical precautions?

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5780 Tazria/Metzora; VaYikra 12:1-15:33; Isaiah 66:1-24


In these days of pandemic we all are concerned about keeping ‘pure’. If we do not, if we become ‘impure’, we risk damage or death by SARS-COV-2. How terrifying these times are!

While our double Torah portion this Shabbat views purity and impurity related to a person’s state of spirituality, our present situation clearly involves physicality as well. If we choose to involve ourselves only with the spiritual, we open ourselves up to the dangers of the physical. If we do not support personal protective equipment, sheltering at home, testing for all, research for improved testing and vaccines; how can we feel spiritually well given the resultant injuries and deaths?

Why are we not concerned with better insuring that our agricultural products can all be harvested, processed, and delivered to all who need better food security? ...while making sure that all who work in the health and food industries have adequate protective equipment? 

What choices must we make to enable us to get through this time of crises?

May we all be blessed with the wisdom to help make the best choices for the welfare of ourselves and all others living on this planet!

Shabbat Shalom!

How can we do Community Service when sheltering at home? We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) are still pondering that critical question. How can we do Tikun Olam in these times?:

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5780 Community Responsibilities and Obligations

Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27 Amos 9:7-15 [ashkenaz]; Ezekiel 20:1-20 or 22:1-16 [sephard]

Given the extremely unusual state of the world today, one wonders what words of wisdom we can find in our weekly Torah readings. The double portion for this Shabbat of Parashot Acharei Mot [after death] and Kedoshim [righteousness] has led us in the past to many possibly pertinent discussion topics such as the value of blood and bleeding, focus, responsibility, civil rights, community, blessing and being blessed. In particular, these two parashot contain considerable lists of mitzvot [good deeds] that the Kohanim [Priests] needed to observe and teach.

The reasoning behind some is known to be faulty such as blood being the life source. However the removal of blood [Leviticus 19:26] from food meat would have health reasons as well. We of our time need to stop being arrogant and thinking of biblical people as stupid. Some had considerable powers of observation and deduction.

Jacob knew of spotted and speckled inheritance even if he had no knowledge of genes and recessives per se. Meat that still had blood in it would discolour and stink sooner than meat without. So, too, observers would note that children of close relatives would far more often be sickly. Such marriages also would have been seen as less fertile. Such might have been viewed as punishments for marriage between close relatives.

Plague handling and community protection were less described in our liturgy. However, surely some folk were observant enough to gain some insights. Hand washing and bathing are big deals in Judaism after all!

Indeed a focus on community is very much needed in these times. We have responsibilities to achieve best outcomes for all [19:18]. Be it pursuing equal rights to safe and quality healthcare [regardless of skin color, gender, national origin, religion, etc.; 19:33] or encouraging blood donations, it is clear that our actions should be for Tikun Olam [Repair of the World]. We need to take upon ourselves the responsibilities and obligations of caring for all in the community [world].

These are the expectations of fulfilling mitzvot. Do we deserve rewards for following such mitzvot and our Brit [Covenant]? Does doing so make us righteous people? Do we accept responsibility for the damages we have caused to people, property, and the environment by ignoring mitzvot? What can we do to become more righteous? Does it matter?

For these mitzvot, other practical and ethical reasons/ interpretations have been added on. Today there is no reason we should not understand them in light of the now known facts of genetics and microbiology. So do we still need to follow the mitzvot? If they apply to the health of our everyday lives, absolutely! The healthier we are, the easier to fulfill mitzvot.

Shabbat Shalom!

Playing music, online meetings with others, daily chores, or overeating? Times are a challenging. Are we safe? Can we control our health future? We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) know that sometimes no matter how much we take care, crap sometimes hits the fan. Can our times for our observances help us steer a healthy course to the future?:

Emor 5780 What to Tell?; VaYikra 21:1- 24:23; Ezekiel 44:15-31 ;

While last week the Parasha left us a bit confused as to what we need to do to be righteous, this week’s portion of Parashat Emor only compounds the conundrum. Emor seems to be HaShem via Moshe telling the Cohanim [Priests] how they are to be different from everybody else.

At first the Parashah is telling about when the Cohanim are permitted to come into contact with the dead, e.g. to bury close relatives. The telling continues with restrictions on hair and skin care followed by with whom they [the men] can marry. Today everyone must take care when dealing with dying, death, funeral practices, and cemeteries given the widespread pandemic health precautions, precautions never anticipated by biblical folk.

A second of the two topics in this week’s portion of Parashat Emor is a reiteration of the times for the major Holy Days. Most start either at the start of the month like Rosh HaShanah or mid-month like the festivals of Sukkot and Pesach. However the time for the third festival, Shavuot, has to be counted from the second Seder of Pesach, seven weeks of the Omer.

We read in Torah that Sukkot is the Festival of Booths named after the booths in the fields that people lived in order to most efficiently harvest the produce of that season. Pesach is described as the first harvest of spring. The counting of the Omer of seven weeks counts the time between the first and second harvests [between the wheat and barley harvests] of the season, between Pesach and Shavuot. As a result, the Omer count tells us when the second harvest is coming. Counting time tells us how to best manage the food available and when the next source of food will come.

In modern times, how do we manage our logistics to maximize our access to necessities such as foods, hygiene products, medical needs, etc.? It certainly has become a lot more complicated in the age of SARS-COV-2. One hears of people needing to go to five different locations just to find toilet paper – and considered themselves blessed that they succeeded!

What other stories are we likely to hear in these times? It is likely that they will have a component of fear: fear over food security, fear over economic security, fears about housing, fears about employment, fears about continuing government mismanagement, etc.

On the other hand, joyous occasions still occur, albeit some needing to be modified. Births, marriages, and graduations have people developing new ways to share their simchas. A nationwide ZOOM graduation event is being held by President Obama. Marriages have been conducted by teleconferencing or by the officiant standing outside the porch or balcony of the couple or… ZOOM has also been a tool for Bar and Bat Mitzvot not to mention religious services as well. It may not be ideal, but ‘ideal’ can change with times. Still the spirit of the events can be maintained regardless… so ‘ideal’ may look very different in a year’s time.

How have you adapted your schedule and events to the recent new health standards? What other options might you explore? How do these activities compare with the way we used to do them? How do you envision the future for these activities? If you feel overwhelmed, do you have a way to get support to still move forward? Reminding ourselves to keep the Holy Day observances can give us a sense that not everything is out of control. Lighting Shabbat candles, counting the Omer, preparing for Shavuot… do you remember Lag B’Omer is coming Tuesday 5/12? Eat something special, play board or card games you enjoy, cut your hair, or find something else to do to observe this joyous day safely! May we all find ways to joyous activities regardless of the limitations of our times! Be safe!

Shabbat Shalom!

We contemplate our mortality in face of an invisible and unpredictable foe. At Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) the fears are expanded and complicated by all our pre-existing conditions. Yet we still need to do our surgeries, our well checks, our food runs, etc. Sometimes it is hard to recall that Pikuach Nefesh, the saving of souls, should be our primary motivation- not payments to compensate for needless deaths. Let all who need be able to access adequate protective gear. Let all the impoverished be able to access safely their basic needs including healthcare.

BeHar B’Chukotai 5780; Choices and Consequences;
VaYikra [Leviticus] 25:1-27:34; Jeremiah 16:19-17:14

This week we arrive at one of the Torah sections that spells out blessings and curses for the People. Yet, all are presented in a conditional format: you do such and such, then this will be the consequence. So if you follow specific mitzvot, then you will be blessed in this or that way. Further if you do not follow these mitzvot, then all these horrible things will happen to you such as plagues and discord!

Obviously only figures of authority, like Levites of that time, could get the general population to comply with agricultural and other mitzvot. Hence, it seems, this section is presented to Levites in Leviticus to do so.

There are people who ask why they do not get the expected blessings when they have adhered to the mitzvot. What they miss is that it is the accumulation of mitzvot by all the members of the population that determines whether the blessings or the curses are received.

Some people protest that HaShem knows all that will happen and if we damage the Earth irreparably, Hashem will miraculously repair it. Not so. HaShem is in the divine seventh period of creation, a period of rest. While knowing all that could happen depending on the choices we make, HaShem has us be the partners who choose the path of the world by our actions.

A few of our sages such as the Rambam and Levi Yitzchak taught that the laws of nature would never be broken in our world, not even by HaShem. Hence the blessings and the curses are the natural consequences of our choices.

Poverty has apparently always been with us. Judaism teaches us that we need to alleviate the suffering of the needy through gleanings and fallen fruit [Kedoshim, parasha from 2 weeks ago], inclusion in priestly meals, adequate healthcare, nice white frocks for the maidens, help to observe life cycle events and Holy Days, charity, etc. Our great sage and Rabbi, Maimonides [the Rambam] described the most honorable way of charity is to give livelihoods. What a challenge that will be when the pandemic woes lift!

How then can we now combat poverty? Is there dignity in food banks or refugee camps or in being homeless without adequate healthcare or food? What goals should we have for redeeming the impoverished so that they may live equally among us all with dignity and respect, contributing honorably to society?

Although it is a fitting way to close a book of instructions for the Priestly Class, the Levites and the Cohanim, with consequences to our choices, these are not the final words of the book. Instead, the final words concern the valuations of people from one month of age and up, and of properties for purposes of taxes, tithes, redeemings, and compensations in ancient Israel!

Nonetheless if we do not respect each other and watch out for everyone’s weal as well as for the environment, we know that there are natural adverse consequences to our actions. So it is obvious to ask: are the mitzvot to be done so that the world and all its occupants can get along safely? Are some mitzvot to be done to ensure smooth government? Will it ever be possible that all the world will respect all the living?

Be safe, strengthened and strong in these times! Shabbat Shalom!

We approach the last harvest festival before summer, Shavuot, Chag HaBikurim - the Festival of the First Fruits. Yet we hear about how so much of the produce and livestock now needs to be destroyed due to lack of handlers, processors, or transportation. How will that affect the food availability here? Around the world? We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) realize how important foods and, in particular, meeting the needs of medically needed special diets is to the most health challenged portions of the population. Will these needy folk be able to equally access the nutritional requirements they have as do wealthier or healthier folk? Equal does not mean the same food for everyone but rather, to be most efficient, the foods tailored to the needs of each individual. Do the mitzvot to make sure that all are able to observe the Holy Days fully take these different needs into account?:

BaMidbar 5780 Equality [BaMidbar (Numbers) 1:1-4:20; I Samuel 20:16-42 for Machar Rosh Chodesh; (Hosea 2:1-22)]

It has been a commonly held belief for centuries that the first born son has, for some not totally clear reason, the right to control the inheritance of the family upon the passing of his father. This was true for the biblical patriarchal town and nomadic tribes. However there were contemporary societies that were matriarchal such as Ethiopia before the invasion by Egypt during the time of Moshe Rabeinu [our Teacher]. Hence, so too the equality of women in societies has had its ups and downs.

Matriarchal rule tends to be more peaceful and egalitarian while Patriarchal more aggressive. Sometimes both tendencies appear in a single culture as we see even today in this country. So too was this seen in Ur under Semitic control before the Patriarchal Elamite takeover. Imeinu Sarah was educated under a tolerant, egalitarian system which included subgroups ranging from Matriarchal to Patriarchal with many flavors in between. That tolerance of diversity was lost when the Elamites invaded. No wonder Terach and all the family needed to flee west to Hauran!

In any case we can see the more egalitarian approach in all of the forefathers’ and foremothers’ marriages. Sarah advised Avraham. Rifka had to give consent before going to marry Yitzchak. Yaacov consulted with both his wives on how to handle the mischief of their father.

Sometimes the Matriarchs took matters into their own hands such as Rivka getting the inheritance for Yaacov or Rachel secreting away from Laban the family idols [which were de facto the deeds to the property]. We all know also the stories of Yocheved and Miriam saving Moshe to later become the leader of the people to freedom along with the leadership of Aaron and Miriam.

In that vein, our history describes that the first born son was not automatically the inheritor of the family wealth nor family Priest. Yitzchak [Isaac] inherited Abraham’s wealth and position, not his older and more incorrigible brother, Ishmael. Yaacov [Jacob] inherited Yitzchak’s legacy, not his “wild” older brother, Esau.

In this week’s portion of Parashat BaMidbar, HaShem says clearly [3:12-13] that the first born of Yisrael [Yaacov] would not inherit the Priesthood, that Levites would. Yisrael’s first born son, Reuven, tried to steal the leadership and concubine from still alive Yisrael. Both Shimon and Levi massacred the men of Shechem, ostensibly to protect the honor of their sister, Dina. SO why Levi? Was he unduly under the influence of his brother Shimon? Did the good work the Levites did in Egypt uplift their honor? Perhaps the choice was because Moshe was a Levite… politics?

Hence at this Shavuot season during Temple times, the Levite Priests received all types of first fruits [ e.g.wheat harvest] and the first born of the livestock. Today, other leaders receive such honors regardless of tribe. Shavuot starts about 7 pm this Thursday.
Shavuot is a special Festival during which women and children as well as men have a processional parade to bring the first fruits to Jerusalem both in Temple times as well as today. Also there is a custom by some for women and children to celebrate by decorating their homes with greenery. Perhaps most focused on is our reaffirmation of our commitment at Mt. Sinai to “Na-aseh v’nishmah” through hearing the Decalogue once again – to do the mitzvot [good deeds] and then to work on understanding them.

According to the Rambam, Maimonides, one of our greatest Sages, if one wants to be able to properly interpret Torah, one must first learn all the facts available during your modern times and not rely solely on commentaries of people of previous generations who did not have the same facts that are now available to us. Hence we should all study the sciences, medicine, agriculture, math, histories and their contexts, archaeology, etc. Indeed this view of studying Torah is the source of some political unrest in Israel where some ‘Orthodox’ yeshivot [schools] are fighting against inclusion of sciences, math, etc. for teaching.

Given all this it is good that Shavuot tradition provides for a full night of studying. The roles of women in our history, such as Dvora and Ruth, will be looked at more during Shavuot study and next Shabbat.

Until then,

Dear Friends and Family,

I enclose my Memorial Day/Shavuot [Thurs. eve through Shabbat] commentary and catch you up with lots of love as follows:

Tsuris and nachas continues. A couple months after Shiri got an infection on her side, I finally got a car and got her to the vet. Then Koffie the Siamese got the trots. She shared with Shiri who’s long hair got matted and I had to trim her whole rear. Clean now. Then a Sprite kitten adopted us – only she was a malnourished nearly one year old. Next Dati broke his leg outside somehow. Sprite went for her second vaccinations which were cancelled due to pregnancy. Dati has to have weekly bandage changes for a couple months and has been restricted to a kennel in the dining room. It feels like the vet’s is our second home!!! Now where should we put the box for the expected kittens? Blessings and Love, Rabbi Judi-Adele

Shavuot 5780

Festival of First Fruits, of Receiving Torah

and of Remembering: “Na-a-seh vNishmah” !

This past Memorial Day we also remembered and observed the Fiftieth Anniversary of the murders of four students at Kent State. Then, too, was a time of fake news and incitement to violence by the government leaders – especially by the then Ohio Republican governor. What are the facts?

The young reserve ‘guardsmen’ were falsely told that the students had weapons including a machine gun. No weapons were found. They also were told that there were outside agitators and communists inciting violence. No such people were found nor identified. So the ‘guard’ was fearful.

The peaceful protest of the Vietnam War on the campus at noon was about 15 minutes along when the ‘guard’ arrived and tear gassed them. The students scattered and fled. One turned to gesture at the ‘guard’. The ‘Commander’ gave the order to open fire. Among the witnesses who heard that order was a school custodian in a doorway near the ‘guard’ - a Republican who supported the war and the President.

Four students died, two just walking to class. The dead and the injured were well over 100 feet away from the ‘guard’, fleeing. There was no danger from the students, no attack to justify the ‘guard’s claim of self-defense.

There were many ensuing protests of these unnecessary deaths across the country. By chance I was caught up in one as related in one of my ‘Slice of Life’ poems from my ‘Second Sights’ chapbook:

At the Chicago Armory After Kent State

It was a bright sunny day. I was feeling laid back.

Kitty and I were playing in the yard by the gate

When the empty street came awash with clad feet

Of energetic young folk furious in a way

Over four dead colleagues killed at school by soldier boys

Under captains and colonels who played as with toys,

Under orders which cared not for the value of life...

The folk were angry, sad from the irrational strife...

So I grabbed my Kitty and joined in with the marchers

As if for a fun picnic on the field by the base.

We played in the shade of a green tree at the field’s edge

Not suspecting even a bit what then could take place.

There were speeches in that field by the armory fence

When a chant arose, repeated among attendees:

Take down the flag” and “Put it at half mast

To honor those wraiths who no longer breathe!”

With tension mounting as each word was said

A lone guardsman came to unlock the gate.

With purpose he walked to the flagpole that day

To draw down our flag, then take it away.

But the shouts grew louder. Some folk wanted to go in.

That guardsman surely felt fear as he walked through that din...

Yet he held his head up high, his posture was most sure...

In a flash I sensed a future with that soldier trampled by the crowd,

The armory invaded, soldiers shooting once more...

My heart’s depths knew such a tragedy certainly shouldn’t be allowed.

So I hugged my little kitten close to me, I stood up tall and straight,

I spoke my words out loudly, clearly, for what I said just could not wait:

A moment of silence for our fallen brothers” caught the crowd’s desire.

The tension was broken; rabble rousers quieted. Now no-one cared to fire.

Pikuach Nefesh. The saving of souls. Be they students or guardsmen, all souls are equal and should be valued – even that of the then Ohio governor…

However our agreement at Har [Mt.] Sinai to not murder has been forgotten by so many in response to fake news, false medical advice, bigotries, hatred, political incitements to harm others who do not agree with... We should be coming together to save souls rather than denying medical supplies from the National reserve or state and local assistance to those who disagree with the ruling politics. Just a two week earlier response could have avoided approximately 80% of the deaths to date; one week could have saved about half. Were these souls not worthy of our caring and compassion? Did Pikuach Nefesh not apply?

Maybe my past experience taught me caution in protest. Afterwards I never joined in except as medic, journalist, and/or lobbyist. Maybe that is why I taught CPR, First Aid, and Water Safety for decades thereafter. Pikuach Nefesh, part of what we promised at Har Sinai…

We remember this Shavuot all who need healing from illness or trauma, from the nightmares of that day among the survivors and maybe even the guardsmen… We remember this Shavuot all our dear ones who have passed as well as the needless deaths of the innocent in pogroms, in holocausts, in wars, on campuses, during protests, during pandemics… We should resolve, as the Rambam would have encouraged, to work together and to follow the facts, scientific and validated medical, in order to save lives. Rumors, unsubstantiated claims, and bigotries should have no part in our decisions.

May we be all wise enough to do so this Shavuot and in the future.

Chag Shavuot Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

Shavuot 5780 Suggested study topics

Our Torah recounts that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs worked as husbands and wives equals with each other. We have Torah stories which proclaim certain women as more righteous than men such as Tamar standing up to Judah to claim her right to bear a child of his lineage. Yet as time went on past Torah times, the Children of Israel became ever more tainted with the practices of the goyim, the neighboring tribes and nations. Hence the status of women devolved. Let us take this opportunity during Shavuot to investigate further the contributions of women such as Ruth, Hulda and Devorah to the well-being of the Jewish People.

A- Devorah, A Leader for All of her Time:

The biblical Devorah is described as a prophetess, a wise judge, an excellent military strategist, and the leader of all her people – not just women. [Shoftim, Judges Ch. 4: 4-9]

When her military Commander, Barak refused to go to battle without her, she predicted that the glory of victory would go to a woman and not to him. This prediction later came to pass when the enemy leader, Sisera, fled the battle and tried to take refuge with the wife of one he believed to be an ally. She apparently did not agree as she hammered a tent peg through his brain. [4:17-21]

Still Devorah was not arrogant nor prideful about her success. She worked cooperatively with the military commander, Barak. When victory was achieved she shared the honor with Barak as seen in their shared song related in Ch. 5….

Yet some still have been derisive of her name and demeaned of her for holding court under a tree…

B- Women as Priests and Leaders

Before the Temples and the monarchies, towns were led by councils of elders, wise women. We had great leaders and strategists like Devorah. Before and during the times of Moshe, Ethiopia was ruled by a line of Queens. Further, there were Jewish Queens during second Temple times. The most beloved and well known was Alexandra, Shlomtzion [Hasmonean times]. Also the Talmud includes contributions by Bruria, daughter of two teachers of Torah who were killed by the Romans for teaching Torah. She was wife to a Rabbi and recognized as wise for her own merit. Also quoted is Ima Shalom, another very respected wise woman.

Women as priests has mostly been dismissed as fantasy by men over the centuries. Yet evidences have been present – and ignored. Even today with dozens of orthodox women Rabbis [not to mention the many non-orthodox], there are some orthodox groups who want to dismiss them as invalid and inappropriate. Yet, about 80 inscriptions found from Tel el.Yehudiyyeh [first to fourth centuries C. E.] mention three women Priests: Marin [50 y.o.], Guadentia [24 y.o], and possibly Maria. The last one was difficult to read. The language is parallel to the 4 or 5 male Priest inscriptions there found. So how are women of today allowed to be leaders? What equalities and inequalities do they have to deal with?

C- Women as Teachers and Rabbis

During the Renaissance, Pomona de Modena of Ferrara was reputed to be as adept in Talmud scholarship as the best of the male scholars. When Hasidism developed, they believed that all people should be able to study Torah and scriptures. Many women became Rabbaniot [or Rabbanot], that is to say female Rabbis.

For instance:

1. Sarah bat Joshua Haschel Teumim Frankel acted as Rebbe after the death of her husband. She was known for wise parables and consulted by many famous Rabbis.

2. Hannah Rachel Yerbermacher [Maid of Ludomir] used tzitzit, tallit, and tefillin [as did, it is reported, the daughters of Rashi]. She studied Torah and became a Rabbi whose sermons were well attended by many Rabbis.

D- Women as Writers and Historians

As in the non-Jewish world, women were disapproved of as writers. Yet there were Jewish women writers of note such as between the 16 th and 18 th century CE:

1. Hannah Ashkenazi of Cracow [1573] on moral topics.

2. Edel Mendels of Cracow [17 th century CE] who wrote a history book for women.

3. Bella Hurwitz, historian and printer [1700’s].

4. Eva [Hava] Bacharech of Prague was an expert in rabbinical and biblical writings. She was widely consulted especially about obscure passages [1580-1651].

5. Rebbetzin Rebbeca Tiktiner [a learned woman and preacher, mid-1500’s] wrote on poetry and moral teachings from Talmud and Mishna. The printer’s introduction to her posthumous book is: “This book is called Meneket Rivka [Genesis 35:8] in order to remember the name of the authoress and in honor of all women to prove that a woman can also compose a work of ethics and offer good interpretations as well as many a man.”

E- and then there is Ruth… The Book of Ruth is a typical study reading for discussion during Shavuot! - touching on topics such as acceptance of converts...

Undoubtedly, many Jewish women educators and role models remain forgotten in history. A great many more discovered are not addressed here. We women Rabbis in IFR, RSI, Aleph, etc. continue the ever present [albeit rarely taught] traditions of our foremothers. As leaders, educators, and role models despite the patronizing sexism, bullying, and other bigotries we all have had to face, it is our prayer that this piece can open the door to intellectual curiosity and greater respect for each other regardless of gender identification.

What further history in Jewish leadership can you uncover that will encourage better equality acceptance regardless of gender identification? Please share what you uncover! Chag Shavuot Tov!

The times are challenging. Sometimes deciding which way to go is difficult. Reminding ourselves of Torah teachings can often help. Treat all as you would want yourself to be treated. We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) recognize that we all must work for Pikuach Nefesh- the saving of souls, all souls. Our responses need to be proportional to the acts we are responding to. Defusing tensions should be our goal:

Naso 5780 Proportional Responses; BaMidbar 4:21-7:89; Shoftim [Judges] 13:2-25

It is interesting that this week in Parashat Naso, we once more read about Levites and Priestly obligations. In particular, Priests were called upon to divine whether accusations without evidence had any merit. As mentioned many times before, the Rambam taught that to properly understand our liturgy, we need to understand the facts of our world, past and present. To that end, archaeology finds us history. So when we read in this week’s portion of Parashat Naso about how various laws of interpersonal relationships were handled, we may well cringe at the irrational barbarianism of the time.

Hammurabi, a contemporary of Avram Avinu, called for a literal eye for an eye. Yet this was the best known to the people of that time. Although cited in Torah, it is understood that it is to mean for us that the value of an eye would be used to repay one for the loss of the eye and so on.

A focus in this portion seems to be on accusations by husbands of infidelity against their wives. The ritual ‘investigation’ involved an apparently non-lethal dosing with ‘bitter’ water. Unless the woman was overcome with guilt, she would be okay. Then the Priests had the job of trying to restore Shlom Bayit – Peace [and trust] in the Home. At this point though, how would the wife ever trust her husband again?

If the woman admitted her guilt, punishment could only be given by the husband and only if he could prove that he himself had not so sinned. This is perhaps the only negative reference to male infidelity other than the punishing of adultery caught in the act. Nonetheless we would never reinstitute the practice of sota [making a women accused of adultery to drink ash laden water]. There are many other practices described in Torah that modern people would be loathe to re-institute.

Was this a proportional response to the suspicions? Perhaps not, but most definitely better than previous standards of the times where death could be meted out just based on suspicions. Indeed Torah teaches that we must understand all the circumstances of a situation before deciding on a punishment if necessary – and not to bow to mob presumptions and violence.

How far away from Torah precepts has this last week or so taken us! Police killing unarmed civilians for an inaccurate warrant or for $20- or for standing in their place of work after curfew; peaceful protesters being tear gassed without warning; church personnel being forced from their building by uninvited invading troops; children pepper sprayed; pregnant woman shot in the stomach; white para-military folk fomenting violence, arson, looting, and more. Then there is the ‘leadership’ calling for more military violence to prevent freedom of speech and peaceful protests. Where is the proportionality of response? Why is their a focus on protesters and not the agitators who instigate violence? At least the FBI [who have not been on the ground] has called for citizen help to track down these violent agitators…

Nonetheless there are glimmers of decency and sanity acting more proportionally: Police Chiefs marching with protesters; officers taking a knee; bus drivers refusing to transport protesters to jail; locals providing food and drink to officers and protesters alike; high fives all around… If only there were more sanity spread through the police forces and the National Guardsmen… and flowers for firearms?

How will we recover? Can equality of proportional responses be achieved for all peoples? Do we need to train everyone on how to defuse tense situations so as to avoid violence by individuals or by groups? How much of a spike in coronavirus cases will we see in the wake of these protests where masks and physical distancing are rare? How many more lives will be lost to the violence and to the virus?

Shabbat Shalom!

Just so you do not think that civil rights e.g. disability rights activism is outside of my religious purview, please note its incorporation into this week's commentary. We at Beit Torah are acutely aware of these aspects of the abuse of the disabled and of the elderly given that nearly all of us fall into groups which often are discriminated against. If only we could all realize that violence is rarely needed and only in self-defense...:

B’ha-alotecha 5780 Expectations and Pigeonholes; Numbers 8:1-12:16; Zechariah 2:14-4:7

Judaism teaches that throughout our lives, we are always both students and teachers. Students of what? Teachers of what? When Yitro told Moshe to teach the law to the 70 elders and delegate judicial and governing duties, when in this week’s portion of parashat B’Ha-alotecha we read that Moshe delegated to 70 elders to teach and govern, the elders are designated to share and teach the Law to all [male and female] in order to promote the enforcement of the Law.

Part of the Law is of ethical behaviour expectations: Respect and love your neighbors [male and female], do unto others [male and female]… etc. Respect’s meaning is to accept that not everyone has the same world view and beliefs. That is okay. It also requires that one not claim another’s beliefs are invalid and therefor should be replaced with one’s own world view. In other words, no one has the right to impose one’s views and beliefs on others. Unfortunately, bigotry is an equal opportunity vice…

Police brutality is one of the vices trying to impose the will of a group on others regardless of whether there is any valid justification for it. The bigotry is systemic and not limited to any one group of the public. That is to say, police brutality is not limited to violence against people of color. It is violence against anyone who does not measure up to their standards, be they of color, of gender identification, of religion, or of DISABILITY. People with seizure disorders, mobility disorders, deafness, autism, some other mental disorders, etc. can not always respond to police orders as given due to their disability. As a result sometimes they are incarcerated, placed in mental institutions, otherwise abused, and even sometimes killed. Yet there is no major outcry. 

Can you imagine a large protest by a group of deaf people? How exactly would that occur and if it did, how would it affect public opinion? News articles on such are not in the main media usually. General protests with disability groups might get 250 people...

Disability law may be nice, but enforcement of it is very spotty. So it is no surprise that ‘professionals’ like law enforcement in some localities pay little attention to disability rights. In the mid-1990’s, the Police Executive Research Forum published training materials for police on dealing with seizure disorders, mental disorders, etc. Briefly the point was that if the person is not directly endangering your life, do not use force against that person! Use your brain to figure out why that person is different than the expected but remember you are not a doctor to diagnose them! Get them medical help if needed or leave them alone.

Unfortunately, these teaching materials were not widely embraced and are now out of print… This seems to coincide with the militarization of some police forces – perhaps by coincidence? Yet the lives of the disabled [better known as otherly abled] do matter! All lives matter not just black, white, yellow, brown, LGBTQ+, heterosexual, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Taoist, etc. but also the disabled who appear in all groups and often are discriminated against by their own ‘group[s]’!

Why do we pigeonhole people into groups? Is it to enable, justify, and even codify discrimination? People are people. We all bleed, are born, cry, laugh, love, and in the end, die. Yes, bigotry is an equal opportunity vice. So why do we stand by and let it be so?

For people of faith, It is a common goal to get closer to HaShem. Hence we try to adhere to the mitzvot. That is na-aseh. Rambam wrote about nishmah, trying to understand and properly interpret Torah. These tasks are for all people regardless of gender identification, disability, or skin color, even as the Rambam well knew. When questioned by some town leaders about what to do with Bat Yosef who had a considerable following of her teachings [even to some claiming her as the Moshiach] the Rambam said to just leave her alone and eventually her star would fade- as it did. No-one’s life was threatened by her gatherings and protests. So, he did not encourage violence against her and her followers. He did not teach imposing views on others through force and violence. He taught patience. Shabbat Shalom!

These are trying times. A pandemic had us suffering from cabin fever and spare time on our hands. Did that enable more people to go out for protests over police brutality and violence? We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) know that although our hearts and spirits are with the protesters we are too fragile to be able to participate physically in such protests. We must make our judgements from within our homes, considering all we see and hear and wondering what the extenuating circumstances for each tragedy are for victims and perpetrators:

Shlach Lecha 5780 Extenuating Circumstances;

Numbers ch. 13-15; Joshua 2:1-24

In this week’s portion of Parashat Shlach Lecha, we read of sleazy politics by ten of the twelve tribal representatives sent to evaluate the “Promised Land”. (Caleb and Joshua were the other two of the twelve.) The text uses a word rarely seen in Torah [dalet-bet-hey] which may be translated as evil reports [older Hertz] but more commonly now as calumnies [Etz Chaim etc.]. Calumnies are more severe and are defined as “false and malicious statements designed to injure the reputation of someone or something” [such as libel, vilification, derogation, etc. - Random House Unabridged]. In other words: Lashon HaRah! Fake news! As a result of these calumnies, the people wanted to stone Caleb and Joshua to death, but were stopped. There were circumstances which prevented such. Moshe understood that it came from lynch mob mentality engendered by the evil propaganda of the ten. The ten were then wiped out by a plague. Divine retribution for Lashon HaRah?

We then read about how to look for extenuating circumstances before rushing to judgement. We are encouraged to investigate as to whether a violation was done in error. Yet the people still rushed to judgement over the man collecting wood on Shabbat. They stoned him to death without being stopped like for Caleb and Joshua. We do not know if there were extenuating circumstances like dementia or an elderly or sick person at home. We do not know if they acted as a mob and stoned him on Shabbat. Certainly if they had, it would have been a far greater sin to thus violate Shabbat than collecting wood. Were calumnies involved in turning the community against the wood collector? Was this man even part of the mixed multitude under Moshe? Is this an example of what we should not emulate?

Is this parasha warning us, even as Rambam did so later, to get all the facts of an event and ignore any gossip about it before moving forward to judgement or decisions? Is that something you can do? How does that apply to the present unrest over police violence? Shabbat Shalom!

What is the difference between protests and rebellion?  Should they be handled differently from one another? Is death an appropriate response?  What is the place of dialogue?  We at Beit Torah feel that violence and death in our times can never be an appropriate response and ask: How can we observe our Independence Day and preserve our democracy?  Were biblical times so much different than now?  How and why?

Korach 5780; Protests v. Rebellion;

BaMidbar 16:1-18:32; I Samuel 11:14 - 12:22

Perhaps the best take-away from this week’s parasha of Korach comes from the teachings of Samuel in our Haftorah portion and of HaRav Kook: Samuel warned the People that having a King as their leader could likely lead to non-ethical behaviours and lack of adhering to the Mitzvot. This is so for other leaders who feel entitled, self-righteous, arrogant, etc. The temptations to corruption and deadly palace [government/political] intrigues might not be resisted as indeed we saw during the generations of the Temple Kings. Similarly Torah teaches that all Judges must be ethical, honest and fair beyond reproach.

HaRav Kook took this teaching to be for all leaders, including religious. All leaders need to keep honest and healthy in order to avoid corruption and complacency. Indeed he embraced the challenges such as from skeptics and agnostics as the means to help the leaders to monitor their actions in order to maintain staying honest and healthy. Further, he thought that all people have potential holiness within them if only they would oppose stagnation and complacency.

Unfortunately Korach, a cousin of Moshe’s, was just one of those egotist self-absorbed tribal leaders. Korach and his followers were unhappy with the insufficient food supply but more so with the leadership of Moshe and his family with their perceived benefits of power. So they supported rebelling. They jealously wanted for themselves the benefits of leadership that they thought Moshe and Aaron had. So they were totally convinced that they would do better under the leadership of Korach. Clearly a large element of politics and power struggle was involved.

Korach and his cohorts set up camp close to the foot of the mountain [Sinai]. Moshe warned them that it was a dangerous location. Korach thought that Moshe was just being bossy and refused to leave. Since HaShem has given us free will, our choices have natural consequences set up by HaShem through the laws of nature. So Korach, through his choices, brought about his group’s own destruction when he and the 250 followers were swallowed up by the earth and others killed by plague [e.g. toxic fumes of too many fire pans in one place?] or by the Levite sword.

Nonetheless, we hope that we would be less violent today in settling political disagreements within a country. Despite considerable modern political discord, and unlike terrorist organizations, some parts of modernity frown upon executions to resolve political animosities. The recent barrage of bigotry motivated attacks and murders are viewed as heinous by most folk. To wit: attacks on women and women’s healthcare facilities and providers; attacks against and murders of people of color, LGBTQ+, disabled, political opposition, religiously other, etc.; assassinations and assaults on Presidents, candidates, and other leaders from the Kennedy’s and MLK to Giffords and Scalise, etc.; attacks on, looting, and defacement of religious facilities and other properties; etc.

However jailing in terrible conditions and high health risks is far more prevalent. Is potentially lethal torture and suffering a better way to deal with the opposition? Is meeting peaceful protests with violence a form of attempted execution? Is ending habeus corpus for asylum seekers a form of attempted murder?  Protests are free speech, not rebellion! Is brutality and violence ever acceptable?   Shabbat Shalom!

We are inundated with calls to follow health guidelines, to protest unequal treatments by law enforcement and other officials, to support the medical system and the providers, to oppose vile foreign interferences, to support access for all to voting, and so on. We at Beit Torah feel there is so little we can do to answer all these calls. SO much death and so little water... :

Chukat/ Balak 5780 Water; BaMidbar 19:1-25:9; Micah 5:6-6:8; [Judges 11:1-33]

Human sacrifice is a touchy topic. Aztecs, Hawaiians, Romans, Greeks, Moabites, etc. considered it necessary in certain circumstances. However, regardless of the justifications, it was still murder. It was, in part, the low value of human life in many nations. Women [especially virgins], children, and slaves often had little or no status to preserve their own lives.

Noach, a righteous man of his generation, understood that murder of any sort was a sin. This was confirmed most explicitly when Avraham was stopped from sacrificing his son, Yitzchak. The definitive statement on this came when HaShem gave the Brit [Covenant] to the People with the clear statement that murder was unacceptable behavior… this includes unacceptable child sacrifice of any form - such as to Baal Peor.

So no mitzvot observant Jew, Priest, or Rabbi would ever suggest that there was any reason which could justify human, adult or child, sacrifice. It follows that consumption of the blood or flesh of a human sacrifice, even symbolically, would be considered the most heinous sin of cannibalism. [Torah is clear that consuming blood from any kind of sacrifice is never allowed.] Murder can never have any justification in Jewish sensibilities and teachings.

Yet when we read the Chukat related Haftorah [Judges 11], we read of a vow made in the heat of the moment, an unholy bargaining with HaShem. The vow maker, a maligned highwayman bastard son of a Jewish leader is pressed into service as military leader against invading enemies. In a moment of fervor, he made a rash promise to HaShem to sacrifice the first living thing that greeted him should he return victorious. So when threatened with invasion, he rashly vowed that if HaShem let him prevail over the enemies, then he would sacrifice the first creature who greeted him upon his return.

His only child, a daughter, greeted him. It is not clear whether the sacrifice took place or whether she was banished never to have children [the most common Rabbinic view]. However, for years thereafter, the women of the land set aside a day each year to mourn her loss. So we need to ask: What does scripture say about when vows can be annulled or modified?

We have promised to do no harm and provide the best health care possible to all. However, bigotries make some providers choose to neglect certain types of people. Further, an overloaded healthcare system forces triage choices of who will receive care and who won’t [and therefor be damned to a worse outcome]… Pikuach nefesh goes by the wayside when the times get more difficult and resources are scarce. We should feel enraged that steps have not been taken to shore up our healthcare system and protective gear for our providers. At this point, what more can we do to improve the situation? So prevention becomes even more important: wearing masks and washing hands frequently.

While we can all agree that washing ourselves and our clothes are good, many are perplexed by use of red heifer ash [Chukat]. For external use, does it act as a borax or pumice would? For internal use, does it act as a mineral supplement? Yet what purpose would it serve to require the heifer to be all red?

If we wish to be purified nowadays, how best can we achieve it? Mikvah ritual bath bathing? Symbolic or real hand washing? Soap and water washing? Yet soap was not around during biblical times! The Talmud notes that hand washing is critical for healthcare to prevent GI illnesses in a decision that allowed adults to wash their hands on Yom Kippur when they need to prepare food for others, particularly children. How much more important now during the present pandemic where many do not have access to a reliable water source!

Is water necessary for purification? What other uses of water are necessary? Which uses of water would you forego if you were trudging through a wilderness?

Do we need to carefully monitor our water sources so that all can access a clean, healthy supply of water? What would you do to maintain a reliable source of healthy water? Does the government have a role in maintaining safe water supplies for the populace and agriculture?

So many questions! Few answers. May we discover a way to find them… Shabbat Shalom!

The death toll rises. The infection rate soars. The testing kits and hospital spaces are becoming short in supply... We at Beit Torah think "How appropriate it is to discuss murderous leaders like Pinchas this week"...

Pinchas 5780 Murderous Leaders; BaMidbar 25:10-30:1; Jeremiah 1:1-2:3

There are some conflicting verses in this week’s portion of Parashat Pinchas. The Moabitess women were blamed for a plague in this parashah. Some blamed it on the men consorting with Midianite women and those women. Perhaps the gathering by the Tent of Meeting was a time when Pinchas was inciting the men there against the Midianite and Moabite women. Yet the plague was supposedly stopped by the murder by Pinchas of a Benjaminite prince, Zimri bar Shimon, and his Midianite princess wife, Cozbi [25:8,11-5]. Were the murders ‘during’ the plague [25:17, 26:1] or right at the end?

Now Cozbi and Zimri were an intermarried couple, Israelite leader and the outspoken daughter of a Midianite Priest [see also Ch. 25:14-15] . Did they speak out against the anti-Midianite mob mentality that same day that people realized there was a ‘plague’? Was that venom of incitement directed at them because they were high profile or because they were intermarried? Would such cause Pinchas to lead the mob by murdering Cozbi and Zimri as they lay in their marital bed in their tent [Ch. 25:6-8] ? According to Josephus [greatest Jewish historian of Roman times] and many Rabbis, the description of their skewering could only have been if they were laying flat, one atop the other. There is wide agreement they were in their own tent. Would we today want such a leader, impulsive in rage like Pinchas? Do we have one now?

Rabbi Dr. J. H. Hertz [late chief Rabbi of the U.K.] in the Soncino Chumash commented on this week’s portion of Parashat Pinchas [BaMidbar 25:10-30:1]. He explained the plague afflicting the people to be a spiritual plague of their souls brought on by exposure to the idolatrous influences of the Midianite women [women only as taken to wife given that an Israelite woman married to a Midianite would be viewed as lost to Israel and no longer Israelite.] Hence the murders would have strengthened the certainty that religious tainting was unacceptable and violence to preserve religious purity was acceptable.

Did Pinchas and his cohorts view Israelites tainted by idolatrous practices as no longer Israelites? Surely Avinu Yaakov would have been appalled even as he was appalled over the murder of the non-Israelite men of Shechem by hot-headed Shimon and Levi!

We note that in Torah if something bad happened, there was always someone to whom blame was attributed whether justly or not. Was Pinchas enraged by the joy of Cozbi and Zimri in each other [newlyweds?] when they passed by the mourners gathered by the Meeting Tent in the wake of a plague? [ch. 25:6-7] Did a Midianite woman try to comfort the mourners and share her wisdom with them, not realizing that women were not given a voice among the Israelites? Is there a parallel here with law enforcement murdering community members when their bigoted views of community members take hold? –or- is it a failure of education for these leaders?

Nonetheless, Moab and the confederation of diverse tribes known as Midian were very different ‘nations’. Yes, five Midianite tribe leaders were told the plans of Moab against Israelites. We do not know if they joined in on those plans. However, Midian was to the southeast of a narrow land bridge between the Gulf of Aqaba and the Dead Sea. To the north of Midian was Edom. To the north of Edom was Moab. The Parashah contains the instruction to wipe out the Midianites [25:17]. However we know from the book of Joshua that Joshua used Midianite guides. Further, it was Moab that was overcome and replaced by the Reubenites and Gadites with part of the tribe of Manasseh just north of them. Beyond that, it was not until Judges ch. 6 that the Midianites were wiped out.

We should note that the many diverse Midianite tribes had a variety of religions including among others: worship of Baal, Chemosh, Ashter [wife of] Chemosh; and HaShem. At times some, each independently, aligned themselves with Amalek. At other times some aligned with Moab. At yet other times they did whatever was politically convenient and/or desireable.

After the murder of Cozbi, many of the Midianite tribes became bitter enemies of the Israelites – understandably… Wars with them were hence very likely from their desire for revenge over Cozbi’s murder and not because HaShem told the Israelites to go to war. Indeed HaShem in Deuteronomy [7:2,17-24] cautioned Moshe to not start wars unless HaShem told them to after HaShem first cleared the way for victory. Yet Pinchas was hotheaded which certainly contributed to these later wars or skirmishes.

Are there modern parallels to this? May we all seek PEACE! Shabbat Shalom!

For what are we being admonished and on what should we focus in preparation for Tisha B'Av?

Mattot-Massei 5780 Emasculated Laws; BaMidbar 30:2-36:13;

Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4 or 4:1-2

Now that we approach our second Haftorah of Admonition and Desolation, it seems most appropriate as we reflect on the violent excesses of Biblical people and of us modern folk. They are certainly deserving of admonitions.

Given the tendency of people towards greedy worship of wealth, how did the Israelite tribes stay together? The tribes which did not want to cross the Jordan agreed to militarily support those which did. Hence all tribes would belong then equally to the confederation with special terms for the Levites. So, too, the greedy push for re-opening despite the pandemic. How can we manage to stay together?

We read strong condemnation of intermarriage to Midianite or Moabite women, repeated and emphasized even to the extent of lauding the murder of intermarried families. After the first exile, the Prophet Ezra exhorted the returning men to divorce their non-Jewish wives. This was despite the acceptance of the Moabitess Ruth as wife to Boaz and an ancestor of King David. Every minor fast day we read from Isaiah a passage where he teaches that anyone of non-Jewish background willing to observe Shabbat [and the mitzvot] should be embraced by the community.

Was murder of mixed families a biblical blip before the Israelites entered the Promised Land? With the continued in-fighting and violent disputes with neighboring nations, bloodshed often occurred. Even though rules of engagement were outlined, they were not always adhered to.

Much later during Hasmonean times, the Maccabees did exactly what they opposed during the Assyrian-Greek tyranny. They gave non-Jewish people the choices of convert, flee, or die. Herod was from a forcibly converted family. No wonder he joined the Romans against the Jewish leaders!

This pendulum of fortune for disadvantaged groups is seen even today as people now are not all equal. What good is the right for biblical women to inherit if it is so restricted that the women must remain spinsters to control that benefit? What good is the Roe v Wade right to have an abortion if it is so restricted that women de facto have no access to abortion providers - or to women's health care clinics at all or to affordable contraception not in the employer’s health plan? So today there are areas of the country where some women can not choose the medical care they want, often due to blockades set before them by nearly 100% male legislators. Is the right to religious convictions reserved for their bosses [usually male] but not female employees? Sexism! What other topics do these last two parashot portions of BaMidbar [Numbers] present for reflection?

Similarly with the rights of same sex couples and even, quite unbelievably, over transgender facilities or access to hospitals and medical care. The horrors of modern legislatures trying to allow bigotry and discrimination by the passing of laws is, for some, quite incredulous! Everyone’s religious views should be respected. Imposition of one non-universal view is religious discrimination!

Let us not forget, too, about disability discrimination despite the ADA. Deaf people, people with seizures, and mentally ill people get killed for not obeying verbal commands of police even though they posed no threat and could not know what they were being told and/or are unable to respond. The tragedy is that police forces rarely take responsibility for these murders. A very slow pendulum at work in these cases it seems. Then there is the discrimination against people of color

What issues are you familiar with where a pendulum seems to swing constantly between respect of all people including the disadvantaged [at least in theory] and blatant, vile discrimination against those disadvantaged folk? So do these three weeks of admonition admonish us against intermarriage? - against intolerance? – against disrespecting others? Should we be repenting for the beastly behaviours of those preceding us centuries ago? Or should we be moving forward with great efforts to avoid their misdeeds? What should these three weeks of admonition, desolation, and mourning be devoted to? Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat Shalom!

Devarim 5780 Desolation; Dvarim 1:1-3:22; Isaiah 1:1-27

We are coming up on the third week of desolation and admonition... During this time, desolation seems such an appropriate ambiance... We at Beit Torah encourage individuals to write their own Piyyut, lamentations over whatever in their hearts needs to be lamented… Such as:

Desolation and Admonition

Winds blow throughout the land, winds of fear and discord.

Thoughtful folk wish to talk, others wield their sharp sword…

Is life so meaningless that this sad cycle repeats

generation to generation, year after year?

People often put down by bigotted hatred they meet,

demeaned and diminished in a cloying air of fear…

Power, money and wealth dictate our health

Sleaze and lies creep upon us with such stealth

That before we can see our foundation’s struck down.

The truth is hidden under the whims of a clown…

Will HaShem save us or must we now save ourselves?

By choice, by courage can we Amalek overcome?

Or will we all fail, by history be forgotten,

While to the dark ages we return once more, undone?

* * * * *

With deep thoughts and reflections, Shabbat Shalom!

Seven weeks of comfort is what we now are supposed to have after this Thursday's Tisha B'Av in order to prepare for the High Holy Days. It seems like a tall order. We at Beit Torah are so distracted by our medical and everyday needs that preparing for Rosh HaShanah, let alone Yom Kippur, seems way down on our lists of things to do. Still, we will find a venue to observe our faith!

VaEtchanan 5780 Comfort in a Pandemic;
Dvarim/ Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11; Isaiah 40:1-26

Shabbat Nachamu, Comfort, is our upcoming Shabbat with Parashat VaEtchanan. It is supposed to help give us comfort and courage to approach the High Holy Days with a belief that we can successfully atone and repent our failings. Yet how can we be comforted during a plague? We are distracted by the pandemic and its mishandlings by certain government officials.

As numbers rise we wonder how safe we will be in the future despite any precautions we are taking, It is a challenge to figure out the best way to observe the High Holy Days. Zoom and Facebook have become major tools for maintaining community. Yet are we comforted by these alternatives? Are we counting our blessings? Can we focus on our misdeeds?

The Covenant [Brit], the Shema, and the VeAhavta appear in this week’s Torah portion. Do they provide comfort during the chaos of this time with divisions, discrimination, and death? What now does give us comfort?

Nachamu 5780

How do we get comfort during a plague?
We ask this question from the depths of our hearts.
There are no dear hugs at this time for our grief
While we have no clue how to reach for fresh starts.

Yet we must go forward as “normal” as can be,
Celebrating faith with new tools for to gather,
Recalling the seasons and cycles we’ve observed,
Making clear a good life for us all will surely matter.

Now where is the comfort in all that we do?
Amid fears and concerns uncertainty reigns.
There is no comfort if we’re lost in the streets.
May HaShem guide us all to comfort regained!

Shabbat Shalom!

Worldwide we see the corruption and negligence of governments which choices result in the inability or unwillingness to respond responsibly to pandemics, massive explosions, kidnappings, pogroms, other violent bigotries, etc. These choices to do evil should lead, according to our portion this week of Parashat Ekev, to being cursed... We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) wonder what we can do to help alleviate the horrors of these corruptions and negligence. Minimally we can try to do right and maybe be thereby blessed?

Ekev 5780; Do right to be blessed;
Dvarim [Deuteronomy] 7:12-11:25; Isaiah 49:14-51:3

Every reading of Lamentations [Eicha] for Tisha B’Av leads to new realizations about how the text can be applicable to today. So, too, this year! This year it has become apparent that there is no escaping some horrors be they natural disasters, some of which are caused by the choices of people [climate warming effects or quakes from fracking or etc.] or the brutalities of the adverse choices of others.

As if to punctuate this realization, the massive Beirut explosion in Lebanon happened due to the negligence and corruption of “officials”. It will be interesting and revealing what the investigations on the event will uncover.

Another pertinent thought popped up during the reading of Eicha: people needing to pay for their own water [5:4]. With Nestle’s and other companies taking vast volumes of local waters to bottle, one has to wonder if down the line the locals will no longer have water resources and hence need to buy their own water in bottles.

So as we now pass Tu B’Av, the fifteenth of Av, the Jewish ‘Sadie Hawkins’ day of love, we need to reach out to others with love and understanding so that maybe in the future they will be less tempted to make hurtful choices. Is this possible for all to do? Will, as we are encouraged to do in this week’s portion of Parashat Ekev, ‘do right and be blessed’ be applicable and work? Everyone should feel cared about and loved…

Shabbat Shalom!

When people have nostalgia for the 'old' times, they conveniently forget the difficulties and unpleasantness of many aspect of those times... the rose tinted glasses effect... So too often when people talk about the ideal biblical life of mitzvot while forgetting the golden calf, the stiff-necked arguments, the calumnies and other political strife, the use of killings rather than words to resolve differences, etc. We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) realize that every generation is made of imperfect people. Bigotry is an equal opportunity vice even among Israelites and Jews! This week's parasha of Re'eh exemplifies this well with a partial theme of do as I say or die:

Reeh 5780; Respect while avoiding idolatry;

Dvarim [Deuteronomy] 11:26-16:17; Isaiah 54:11-55:5;

We continue during our weeks of comfort leading up to the High Holy Days with more emphatic reminders that we need to respect everyone in all aspects of our lives [e.g. 14:1, 21, 29; 15:1-2,4-18; 16:11,14] , to eat with respect to the acceptable food sources [e.g. 12:2-3], and to avoid idolatry at all costs while observing the festivals at their appointed times. Our modern concept of respect for all would never tolerate the invasion and extermination of our enemies [e.g. 13:13-19] nor the execution of those promoting idolatry [e.g. 13:2-11,16]. So we have an uncomfortable conundrum with this week’s portion of Parashat Re’eh since all lives matter: black, brown, yellow, red, white, purple, even orange.

Apparently some biblical people extended respect only to those of their own communities whom thought as they do. Even later expulsions [ex-communication] from the community instead of death is distasteful to our sensibilities. Unfortunately it is evident that the solution to disagreements during biblical times included wiping out the ‘enemies’ such as those who encourage idolatry. What then should our modern standards in combat be? How then can we avoid the temptations of idolatry?

Examples of respect in our everyday lives today include needing to treat all people equally regardless of skin color, religion, ethnic background, gender identification, disability, etc. Yet such a goal seems so far away to attain. Further, the constant barrage of bullying to make everyone love the party line of right wing white men and embrace their religious beliefs is a big turn-off for many. What though are the viable alternatives?

How can we honestly attend the High Holy Days if we can not include all peoples as deserving of respect? If they try to impose their views on us, can we not use our words instead of violence? What if they then turn violent against us?

We are definitely living in interesting times. Can this Parasha of Re’eh help us navigate the challenges of these times successfully?

Shabbat Shalom!

While most of us have a general idea of what ethical behaviour is, and while we would dearly like all our leaders to act ethically, there really is no way to enforce ethical behaviour among those leaders. It is sort of a voluntary agreement arrangement. If there is a violation of ethical behaviour, there is almost no way to insure accountability. We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) also recognize that it is easy for some to confuse ethics with morality which is based on the popular beliefs of the people who think they have the right to judge others and force them to accept their own 'morality' beliefs. This week's portion of Parashat Shoftim also tries to establish standards of behaviour for judges, other leaders, and people in general:

Shoftim 5780; Accountability?; Dvarim 16:18-21:9; Isaiah 51:12-52:12

One of the themes we run into repeatedly is the caution that all leaders and judges need to be righteous, honorable people above reproach. We read in Exodus that when the father-in-law of Moses, Yitro, counselled Moshe to delegate judicial power to several levels of jurisdiction, it was made very clear that all people selected would be above reproach, financially secure so as not to accept bribes, unbiased towards any individuals or groups, and so forth.

This precept is reiterated in this week’s portion of Parashat Shoftim [Judges]. Ensuring Justice seems to be the primary focus of this portion. In verse 16:20 we read: “Justice, justice shall you pursue that you may thrive…”. Even in war and conflict it is instructed that the innocent and the environment be protected [20:14, 19, 20]. However the definition of innocent continuously changes over time due to political and other vagaries. Further in this portion, the concept is expanded to include leaders such as kings who should be judicious, not gluttonous nor corrupt, and above reproach in all things.

A primary teaching in Shoftim is to not harm the land [20:19-20] during conflicts. Also emphasized is that the judges are to teach the people about how to get along. Mediation!

Some of the laws about warfare and punishments may seem excessively violent to modern eyes [20:16-18]. However for the time of Moshe and Joshua, these laws were considered quite progressive. For instance, capital cases and other judgments would need at least two non-malicious witnesses [19:15-18]. Further, manslaughter was no longer punishable by death [19:5-7]. Indeed, the two un-invested witnesses needed for court cases to proceed are to be the first to cast the stones of death if the accused is found guilty. If they do not, a lesser penalty than death is administered.

As an example: To convict for sodomy, the act would need to be public or there could not be two witnesses. This is not surprising since the source of this restriction was, in part, a backlash against the common practice by Greeks, Romans, and some others to have public competitions of who had the most continuous sexual stamina with both male and female partners. Similarly the prohibition against male cross-dressing stemmed from abuses by men who cross-dressed in order to get into all female ‘religious gatherings’ and then take advantage of drunken or stoned females [Hertz]. As an aside, the Talmud recognized five gender orientations [similar to that of Native Americans], none of which were condemned in Talmud.

Hence respect for all and ethical behaviour are to be expected from all leaders at all levels of life, teaching and governing. How can we educate leaders of governments about what is ethical? If they are not honorable and ethical in behaviour, who can hold them accountable for their ethical violations? How can we apply modern sensibilities to such decision making? The Rambam would say that we should learn the facts of our generation and apply them to decision making. Can we? Can you? Who has the right to judge? Is not our judging of others something that we need to reflect on during selichot [forgiveness] prayers?… and something to atone for during Days of Atonement?

Often people say “People before power” or “People not profits” should be our goals. Are they ethical goals? If so, how can we get these quips to become realities?

Is imperfection built into our systems of government and justice? If so, do we need to revamp our systems? Is that even achievable? How can we improve justice for all? How can we learn to truly pursue justice without being judgmental? From one imperfect being to others,

Shabbat Shalom!

When we think of ethical behaviour, we think of acts of compassion and respect, of concern for the safety of all living creatures, of proactive protection of all not reactive. We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) realize that each of us individually can only do a small part of Tikun Olam, repair of the world. Nonetheless, lots of small parts can add up to an effect larger than the sum of the small parts. Perhaps that is why there is so much emphasis in Torah on following the Mitzvot [good deeds] as seen in this week's portion of Parashat Ki Tetzei:

Ki Tetzei 5780; Compassion; Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19;
Isaiah 54:1-10

This week’s portion of Parashat Ki Tetzei is full of do’s and do not’s: 74 of them! The most relevant of these appear to deal with respect and safety. A few are hard to classify such as using tzitzis. Some are irrelevant to modern times. There are no Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites to be excluded from our communities. There are no cult prostitutes despite plenty in the past from Ur to Rome and beyond – even on and off defiling the Second Temple. The focus is justice in acts by individuals.

Some of the 74 are regarded as disgusting or abhorrent by most, such as:
* exclusion of the children of adulterers from the community [note: such a practice is in opposition to another of the 74 where children are not to be punished for sins of parents];
* taking slaves and wives from war booty; * killing the unruly son [reportedly never carried out]; * killing non-virgin brides who claimed to be virgins; marrying victims of rape to their rapist with no divorce is allowed; a prohibition against transvestitism [22:5] which is actually a condemnation of cultic [e.g. Syrian heathenism] practices where cross-dressing was common and cross-dressers at times infiltrated single sex rituals in order to sexually take advantage of [possibly drug impaired] others; reducing the bride price for victims of rape; * excluding eunuchs and castrated from the community as was done in many nations from even before the Exodus – note that Isaiah taught, as read on fast day afternoons, that none should be excluded if they embrace following Shabbat; * following Levirate marriage or refusal rituals and practices; and * cutting off a wife’s hand for crushing an attacker’s genitals while she protected her husband [likely never enforced according to sages – instead they said the punishment was economic].

The compassionate safety concepts appear to be equally applicable to then and now: * helping others with stranded livestock; * ensuring roof safety e.g. by parapets; * punishing kidnappers [note that kidnapping (stealing of souls/spirits) is forbidden by the eighth term of the Brit [Decalog]; * not forcing repayment of loans with life essentials of debtors [presented twice in this Parashah]; * allowing eating grapes and gathering gleanings by needy[also twice presented e.g. 24:19-22]; and * not mixing seeds for planting. The Rambam said that if mixed, the plants would gain undesirable characteristics from each other. Native Americans would say this was desirable sometimes as tri-culture of maize, beans, and squash balanced their nutritional content and has been a mainstay of their culture for generations. Soil science shows that intercommunication and cross-feeding can occur among the plants.

Perhaps most important are teachings on respect, e.g.: * war captive wives are allowed to mourn their parents and may never be enslaved; * using honest weights; * keeping vows; * unloved wives need to receive equal treatment and benefit as loved ones; * executed criminals must be buried on the same day; * wayward livestock is to be returned to the owner; * no muzzling of a working ox; * a mother bird is not to be killed when her eggs or fledglings are taken; * no interest on loans to the needy; * newlyweds are not drafted the first year of marriage; * laborers are to be fairly treated and paid promptly; * punishments are not to exceed what was legally decided; * family members are not to be punished for the crimes of relatives; and perhaps most importantly * the needy must be cared for be they widows, orphans, strangers, impoverished, etc. [e.g. 24:17]. Does that mean that the teaching to provide sanctuary to [abused?] slaves upon request can now be understood as the need to provide sanctuary to refugees? [23:16-7] So too the Rambam and many other sages taught.

Even so, there seems to be an exception when the Parasha portion ends with a statement that we must remember Amalek who must be wiped out. Who defines ‘Amalek’? [Some might consider those of different religions as ‘Amalek’…] How must Amalek be ‘wiped out’? Is revenge the reason to rid ourselves of Amalek? Still, isn’t revenge unethical? Do we not atone for the sin of vengeance?

Which of these teachings will you reflect on while preparing for the Days of Awe and Yom Kippur? Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat Ki Tavo

We at Beit Torah know it is time to order lulav and etrog [one of the three big expenses we get every year]. High Holy Days and the Festival of Sukkot are approaching quickly. Where has the year gone? It is also a time to remember: remember beloved teachers no longer with us; remember those with whom we need to ask forgiveness and to forgive; remember for what we need to repent; remember to make amends where appropriate; remember the horrors of needless killings and so much more of the past and the present so that we can to work for Tikun Olam, Repair of the World; and always more to remember...

What awesome event would keep you dedicated to the religious dictates of mitzvot? How long would you remember it? Would surviving 10 plagues be enough? Would hearing the Law at Mt. Sinai be enough? What if you were too young to witness those events? Hence, Ki Tavo commentary is below:

Ki Tavo 5780; Awe; Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8; Isaiah 60:1-22

Much of this week’s portion of Parashat Ki Tavo [when you arrive] deals with what the People should do upon entering HaAretz [the “Promised” Land]. From how to give thanks for the first harvest fruits to greater detail about the reading of the Law in the valley between Mt. Gerrizim and Mt. Ebal, between the barren and the lush, the cursed and the blessed. Earlier the People were told to [12:3] “Tear down their pillars and altars [of the Canaanite nations when you take over the Land]…” and replace them with Moshe’s teachings [ch. 27] : “…coat them [the stones pillars of the Israelites] with plaster and inscribe upon them all the words of this Teaching.”… “…and on these stones you shall inscribe every word of this Teaching most exactly.” The parashah ending reiterates some post-Egypt history.

So in order to create that awesome event for the People who could not recall Mt. Sinai, they had a gala ritual observance of remembrance. All of the Law was to be inscribed on twelve pillars of stone, each one written by one of the twelve tribes. These pillars were to be set upon two mountains, six on each mountain: on Mt. Ebal, the tallest in the region, and on barren Mt. Gerazim. Each was to have, along with the pillars, six tribes standing upon it, listening to the Levites in the Valley with the Ark of the Covenant reciting the blessings and the curses which could befall the People depending on their choices of whether to abide by the Laws. With all gathered, the Kohanim in the valley between the mountains read all of the Law. What echoes there must have been! What a spectacle not to be forgottenAdditionally Mt. Ebal was to have an altar totally of stone to be the highest altar of the Land. 

Hence in the heights of lush Mt. Ebal, above the shore of the Jordan were displayed Laws of the Land of Yisrael so that all who entered the land could know those Laws of the Land. (Mt. Ebal is about [now] 30 miles away and goes up to 4000 feet above the Jordan, so the pillars would have to have been huge in order to be visible at that distance.

However while such pillars were long lived and resilient in the arid area of Egypt and Babylonia, they were not so resilient in the fertile crescent of the Promised Land… In drier climes, such as Egypt and Babylon, it was a practice to plaster a smooth face on a pillar and then record laws, contracts, etc. on the pillar. Indeed part of such a biblical contemporary Babylonian pillar has been found by archaeologists. Given biblical archaeological finds such as of such a pillar with the Hammurabian code, it is totally possible that twelve pillars contained all the teachings of Moshe, Rabbeinu. The Hammurabian pillar contained 232 paragraphs of about 8000 words! (Hertz, p. 862).Awesome!

The Pronouncements of the Priests were then apparently also recorded as an addendum to but not a replacement to the Brit [Covenant] made at the Holy Mountain, Mt. Horeb [28:69]. Was this a clear statement that nothing must ever supplant the Brit? Only interpretations and clarifications then could be permitted to be added. However this event did not provide the full understanding of the Laws. Hence, as promised at Mt. Sinai: Na-aseh v’nishmah – we will perform the mitzvot [good deeds] while constantly seeking to understand them and why we follow them. How can we then recapture the awe and find a path to compassionate understanding? 

Shabbat Shalom!

As always at this time of year, I reach out to all. Hence, I now ask all to forgive me for any perceived offenses against their persons. In turn, as always, I extend forgiveness to all. In short, I encourage all to make amends for their past misdeeds and start the New Year of 5781 with clean slates.

Shabbat Shalom!

Nitzavim/ VaYeilech 5780; Deuteronomy 29:9-30; Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9;

Pandemic Life

Will people who are evicted from their homes be able to vote? Will they be able to shelter in a safe place to avoid COVID infection and natural disasters? Are there any choices available to us to help them back on their feet? Are we captives of a non-functional government and thereby blocked from providing any effective help? We wonder: ‘Do we even have the resources to do so?’

Choosing Life During a Pandemic…

How can we choose life now amidst a pandemic?

Is choosing to atone for our faults quite enough?

Or must we be pro-active to fight for our lives,

With med science fully embraced along ev’ry path?

How then to achieve compassionate safety for all

When some folk are ornery and say ‘no’ to each call?

Do we plead for forgiveness on this Selichot night

For ourselves or for leaders who hold tight to their might?

Do we blow a loud shofar to alert all to pray

Whether in groups or at home on Rosh HaShanah Day?

Yet when Yom Kippur Day begs each of us to atone,

Will we pray as a community or each alone?

Will we then find a clear way to feel cleansed and most blessed

Or will fears and concerns put us to harrowing tests?

At least then there always will be one last chance to repent

As HoShanah Rabah Sukkot willow leaves are all spent!

Shabbat Shalom and a Healthy, Happy, Safe, High Holy Days Season!

Selichot is the evening of Sept. 12. For that:

I and we at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) pray: Holy Creator of All! I and we herewith forgive anyone who may have irritated, angered, or injured me/us –whether acting against my/our persons, my possessions, or my reputations. Let no-one be punished on my/our account, whether the wrong done to me/us was accidental or malicious, unwitting or purposeful, by word or by deed. May it be Your will, Our Holy One and Holy One of our ancestors, that we not repeat the wrongs we have committed, that we sin no more. May we never again anger You by doing that which is evil in Your sight. We pray that our sins will be wiped away not through sickness and suffering, but rather through mercy. Then we will be able to enter this Blessed New Year and go forward with hope. Our hope is that we will be forgiven for all our misdeeds and look forward to the best possible health, happiness, and enlightenment. As we embrace each other with these fervent prayers, let us all say: Amen & Shabbat Shalom & Shana Tova to come!