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!