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!