Commentaries for 5779
Shabbat Shuva 5779 VaYeilech; Are Services Spectator Sports?
Dvarim 31; Hoshea 14:2-10 & Yoel 2:15-27 & Micah 7:18-20
Here we are at the Shabbat of Return between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. It is a time when all Jews are encouraged to go to services to participate and not be spectators. This is said to be particularly important for this Shabbat of return for many reasons such as: to better the success of our atonement experience; to assure getting a minyan [quorum] when many are tired out by the Rosh HaShanah experience with lots of family and services; to encourage greater participation in synagogue events; etc. One reason spread by some Rabbis is that complete attendance by all Jews everywhere on Shabbat Shuva would bring the Moshiach!
Obviously any business adventure needs to find adequate funding in order to continue. Often a paid ticket is requested to attend either through regular dues or via ticket sales. [To a certain extent this is counter-productive as the process to get a financial exemption frequently is a demeaning and embarrassing experience.]
So how do the religious groups try to draw in attendance? One option is to make the event into a spectacle. Some use new music, songs, and jokes to make the service “different” and more “enjoyable”. Particularly disturbing in traditional views is when the congregation claps after each song and joke. Are they treating services like a movie or a theatre play? Have these services and others where there is little if any “audience” participation become like spectator sports?
Are there any discussions about the service contents afterwards? Do any reflections on repentance and amends occur in these folk during the Ten Days of Awe? Do older folk participate more than the youth? How do you plan to participate?
We are all connected. If our youth are brought up as spectators, who will be responsible for our communities in the future? May we all find our ways to repent, make amends, and return to the mitzvot! Shabbat Shalom!
Please submit this week the names of loved ones you want added to the memorial remembrance list for 5779!
Shabbat HaAzinu 5779 ; History in a Song; Dvarim 32; 2 Samuel 22
When you read a history book, how long does it take for your attention to wander and drift? If you read or heard the history as an ode or song, would you be able to be more attentive?
So, too, people of every generation seem to be able to retain information from poems and songs more easily than by rote story or prose. Is that why In Torah we get the third version of our history as a poetic song from Moshe? It summarizes our history for those people about to enter the Promised Land, about to be faced with the spectacle of twelve pillars.
What are the events that you remember most vividly in your life? Why do you think these events were most memorable?
We are now in a season of attempting redress of our past errors, of forgiving others for their past errors [if we do not, we give them power over us to hurt us], and of resolving to improve our adherence to the Law, the Mitzvot. What could happen to make this season most memorable for us?
As a parent lies on the cusp between life and death at this time, this season will certainly be a most memorable one… Yet is there a lesson of improvement that will come from this experience? Or just sorrow and grief?
May we all have a memorable season leading us onto a path toward betterment! Tzom kal… Gmar Chatima Tova… and then Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat Bereishit 5779 ; Beginning; Bereishit 1-6:8; Isaiah 42:5 - 43:10
Beginnings. Once more, Torah reading starts from creation, the beginning. A New Year, a New Beginning without our loved ones who passed from this plane of existence before the final securing of the gates for the year at the end of Sukkot after the last of sins were shed symbolically by the beating of the willow branches.
This year was so warm and dry that the willow branches quite easily lost their leaves representing the last of our sins. Did we feel purified and ready for a new beginning after we beat those willow branches on Hoshanah Rabah [seventh day of Sukkot]?
We will not be restarting Creation with this New Year of 5779. However we need to wonder if we will be unwinding creation this year. How will the creatures of the world fare? Will they be allowed a new beginning during this upcoming year? What devastation of plant life will occur? What will the world look like when we arrive at the beginning of 5780 in about a year?
In the meantime we have the opportunity now to begin again with ever improving approaches to tikun olam, repair of the world. Will you embrace that opportunity? If so, how? If not, why?
May we all begin along a path, embraced to lead us all to contributing to Tikun Olam!
Apologies for no commentary last week during Sukkot due to Rabbi Adele’s sitting with her failing and then deceased Mother in Tennessee. Baruch Dayan HaEmet! Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat Noach 5779 ; Drowning; Bereishit 6:9-11:32; Isaiah 54:1-55:5
Drowning. We all often say that we are drowning in debt, drowning in grief, drowning in obligations and responsibilities, drowning in politics, and so on. What are our feelings when we feel we are drowning? Do we feel fear, anger or loss? Do we feel guilt that maybe we made wrong choices which led us into such a drowning mess?
Certainly it would not be a surprise if people drowning in the Mabul, the Great Flood, experienced regret that they had not chosen to listen to Noach’s warnings. They would have blamed themselves for choosing to abuse Noach and for disregarding what he said. Would they have regretted the unethical paths they had chosen to follow during their lives? - or even realized the evils they had done?
So, too, in modern times we have many choices to make. If some of us choose to follow unethical paths, will it make a difference to the world? If some of us choose greed, power, profits, and selfishness will it adversely impact the future of the world?
This week a United Nations report came out that makes it clear that global warming and climate change are progressing faster than previously predicted. It points out that we have very little time, maybe 11 or 12 years, to counteract the effects before the warming becomes runaway and massive destructive forces will be released: irreversible destructive forces.
Can we make choices that will halt the runaway climate effects? If not us, who can? Will we be faced with another worldwide catastrophe due to our bad choices just like the people of the world faced when they chose not to believe Noach’s warnings?
It is a terrifying time. What can you choose to do to help stop such a catastrophe? An ark is not enough... Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat Lech Lecha 5779 ; Listening; Bereishit 12:1-17:27; Isaiah 40:27-41:16
We are often told to “go with the flow”. Is that another way of saying that we should listen to the world around us? Was that what Avram did when he decided to go west to Chauran? Ur had been taken over by Elamites who did not like Semites at all. Was that why one of Avram’s brothers “died”? The Elamite invasion was a good reason for camel caravan traders and Semites to settle elsewhere.
Yet trade does not stay around one city. It radiates east/west and north/south. The family however probably did not want to continue to trade given the Elamites’ nastiness to the East. So where was Avram to go? His brother went north to Padan-Aram and Haran for good grazing and water resources. Avram went south with his nephew, Lot, towards Canaan. He listened to the world around him. We are told that he listened to HaShem who guided him to make choices to be safe.
Still, Avram made choices of his own based on his self-confidence to use his resources according to what he felt was ethical. He saved peoples taken into slavery along with his nephew, Lot, and refused to take from the spoils of the conflict.
Avram listened to his ethical conscience. Do we listen to our ethical consciences? Do we act on what we hear in an ethical/ moral fashion? Are we in listening mode to the world around us and to HaShem? Should we be hearing the death cries of the animals and the forests, of the oceans and their denizens? Should we be listening?
Shavuah Tov! Repeating
Do we find ourselves repeating what our parents did when responding to certain situations? Do we repeat the actions we have seen or heard about in stories or liturgy? We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) pray that any repeats are done after careful consideration of whether they are ethically solid and consistent with the Mitzvot. Yet repeating seems to be a human way to respond to similar situations as we read in this week's portion:
Toldot 5779 ; Repeating; Bereishit 25:19-28:9; Malachai 1:1-2:7
We all approach life based on our experiences of what we have done and seen as well as the stories which have inspired us such as in family histories, movies, theatre, liturgy, etc. So, too, we read in this week’s portion of Parashat Toldot that such approach was the case of Yitzchak and Rivka who heard the stories about the successful sister-wife ploy used twice by Avraham and Sarah! What they didn’t count on was that family stories were also passed down in Abimelech’s family. So when they tried the sister-wife ploy again, Abimelech called them on it. Despite this, they updated the water strife agreements and parted amicably.
Similarly, they later repeated the practice of Avraham and Sarah in which the younger [more deserving] son received the physical and spiritual inheritance from their parents. Yitzchak received instead of Ishmael and Yaacov instead of Esau. So, too, King David’s son Solomon became King instead of his older brother, Adonijah.
In the Haftorah from last week about the last days of King David, Adonijah was trying to become King before David died. Was it general conduct among those who felt entitled to try to depose their fathers or was it a repeat recalling how Yaacov’s son Reuven tried to take over the tribe before Yaacov died?
Have you ever based your actions on family stories you have heard? Have you ever voted for or against what your parents would have voted without considering the issues at hand? Are stories in Torah to be emulated or should they be evaluated to decide if one should repeat them or not?
As we are often told, if we do not remember history, we are doomed to repeat it – be it for good or for ill. May we all be wise enough to figure out which stories of the past are worthy of being repeated!
Shavuah Tov! Journeying
Shavuah Tov! Reconciling/ Protecting/ Sending
It seems to be a human thing that we do not listen carefully to others or that we presume things about them based on our biases or ... so that relationships with friends and particularly with family members often sour and seem irreparable. Yet we expect that family should be there for us... or do we? We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) try to be a family to all, a place to go to just in case... However Yaacov only had one brother to turn to as we read in this week's parashah of VaYishlach:
VaYishlach 5779 ; Reconciling/ Sending/ Protecting; Bereishit 32:4-36:43; Ovadia 1:1-21
We have all heard the wisdom that you can not pick your family though you can pick your friends. Yet if family relationships have gone sour, how does one determine if reconciliation is called for?
In Yaacov [Jacob]’s case, he needed desperately to make peace with his brother, Esau, as he could no longer stay in the lands of Uncle Laban without great risk to his and his families welfare. He had to return to the land of his parents.
Yet both he and his brother had fears of how meeting with each other would turn out. Both were ready for the worst case scenario: Yaacov by splitting his entourage into two camps, thereby protecting at least some of them while sending one camp to meet Esau while holding the other one back in safety; Esau by bringing a large number of troops with him. Were their intentions pure when trying to reconcile? We can not be sure about Esau who offered to accompany Yaacov’s folk to a distant location. Wisely, Yaacov refused and went to camp closer [Sukkot] where the young of the children and the flock could more easily and safely rest up from the arduous journey. Yet future interactions seemed amicable.
Have you ever had a falling out with a friend or family member? Did you ever wonder whether it was worthwhile to try to reconcile? If so, how did you try to reconcile? Did it work?
Every year we encourage people to make amends and reconcile between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that all year round?
In the present atmosphere of 'fake news' and deceptive announcements/ advertisements, where should we draw the line as to what is acceptable and what is not? If someone else is spreading lies, would that justify our getting down in the muck with them and spread lies as well? We at Beit Torah do not think so. What does Torah say? Perhaps we can get an idea from this week's parasha of VeYeshev:
VaYeshev 5779 ; Deceiving; Bereishit 37:1-40:23; Amos 2:6-3:8
Is deception always wrong? This week in the portion of Parashat VaYeshev, we have three stories with deception as a core element. When the brothers sent Yosef into slavery, they ended up deceiving their father, Yaakov, into thinking that Yosef had been killed by a wild beast.
When Yehudah denied Tamar, his widowed daughter-in-law, a Levirate marriage, Tamar ended up deceiving him into getting her pregnant by pretending to be a harlot. This deception is apparently universally accepted as a righteous deception used to correct a wrong.
Thirdly, when Potiphar’s wife had her sexual advances rejected by Yosef, she deceived the Pharaoh's staff into thinking that Yosef had tried to sexually assault her. Based on her high status, she was believed and Yosef was incarcerated.
We are told in our readings that had the brothers not deceived their father and had Potiphar’s wife not deceived the Pharaoh's staff, then Yosef would not have become Grain Vizier to Pharaoh and our People would have succumbed to the famine. So we are faced with trying to decide when deceiving others is acceptable behaviour.
What do you think are good reasons to act deceptively? Can living by mitzvot ever allow you to deceive others? Are we permitted to pursue justice or safety through deception? Lots to ponder.
the Light Grow 5779 Chanukah
Little candles added one by one
Let the light grow stronger like the sun,
Brighter and brighter for all week long,
Filled with love and almost joyous song.
Yes, we were all saved but at what price?
Our freedom to worship is quite nice…
Yet then we denied that to others,
Leading to Herod and false brothers…
Still at this moment we can rejoice
O’er the principle of freedom’s voice,
If only we can keep in view
That all deserve these freedoms too.
Miketz 5779 ; Dreaming; Bereishit 41:1-44:17; Zechariah 2:14-4:7
What do dreams mean? Modern psychology would have us believe that dreams are expressions of our deepest desires, hopes, and fears. More ancient beliefs view dreams as prescient, predicting the future if only they can be interpretted correctly.
Earlier in Torah we read about Abimelech having a dream that Sarah was Avraham’s wife. He was able to interpret his own dreams without a dream interpretter. Hence he was considered a prophet. Are there two kinds of dreams: dreams of our hopes and fears as one kind and prophetic dreams as the other? If so, do they feel the same when dreamt?
Since Joseph was a child when he first had prophetic dreams, perhaps he needed to mature before he became a prophet who could interpret his and others’ prophetic dreams. By the time he was an adult in Pharaoh’s prison, he was able to accurately interpret dreams.
In this week’s portion of Parashat Miketz, Pharaoh had disturbing dreams. He sought a competent dream interpretter. At that point, Yoseph was remembered and came into the good graces of the Pharaoh for whom he interpretted dreams and accordingly built and managed storehouses of food for the eventual famine.
Did Yoseph realize at that point what his childhood dreams meant? Was that part of a plan to be there when the famine forced his brothers to ask to buy food in Egypt? Or- did it only occur to him when his brothers presented themselves for food?
Have you ever had a dream that seemed to predict an event that then happened? Did you take it as a prediction or recognize it only in hindsight? Do you even remember your dreams?
We all dream of a better tomorrow. What can we do better to achieve that desire?
Shavuah Tov! Blessings
How many versions of our Law are there? If we looks at the USA, each state has its own version and the Federal code is yet different as well. Local codes often expand upon or limit the codes of the county, state, or nation - sometimes for the betterment of the weal of folk and sometimes not so. Yet how did we get to such a multilayered pattern of government and jurisprudence? We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) suspect that a lot was taken from the stories of the Exodus and the advice Yitro gave his son-in-law, Moshe:
Yitro 5779 ; 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 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 his father-in-law, Yitro, came on the scene. 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. 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?
Mishpatim 5779 ; Judging; Shemot [Exodus] 21:1-24:18;
Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-6
Where do our laws come from? They just do not pop out of the air. There are earlier cultures, each with its own set of laws. We know that our ancestors were influenced early on by Hurrites, Hittites, Egyptians, Midianites, and others. Later on they will be influenced by Babylonian, Greek and Roman cultures as well as others. Each tribe has its own collection of laws.
So now that the People have heard [but not understood] the main terms of their covenant with HaShem, and now that a common judicial framework has been set up with the guidance of Yitro, Moshe needs to tailor all those past sets of laws into one common law consistent with the values and ethics that Moshe understood are desired by HaShem. These laws and a later addendum to the laws are found in this week’s portion of Parashat Mishpatim.
However the laws needed to be codified in writing. So we get a second account of how we received the law at Mt. Sinai. Moshe, Aaron and his two older sons, and seventy elders of the tribes went partly up the mountain to feast before HaShem. 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?
Torah is called a living document because the laws can be interpretted and updated with the times as new facts come to be understood. Are there laws in use today that you think are not consistent with Torah Law? If so, which and why? May our laws continually mature and become more rational and compassionate!
What do you do with your spare time? What do you do with your resources which are beyond your essential needs? Do you contribute to the betterment of the world around you? We at Beit Torah encourage all to contribute their utmost to the world around the: phone help lines; volunteer help for children, the disabled, the needy, or etc.; helping the environment; and so on... Free will offerings helped the Israelites get back on track with the building of the Tabernacle as we read in this week's portion of Parashat Terumah:
Terumah 5779 ; Contributing; Shemot [Exodus] 25:1-27:19; I Kings 5:26-6:13
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…
Yes, we all need ‘things’. Our minimal survival needs rank high on that list. 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. 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.
How can we repair the world? So we need to save the world ecosystem? Do we need to insure all people their minimal survival needs? So we need to beautify our environment? Do we need to encourage and teach others to embrace Tikun Olam?
A hint may be in this week’s portion of Parashat Terumah. In order to build the Tabernacle, terumot, free will offerings of gold, silver, etc. were collected. We read that these were the resources beyond their survival needs that people were contributing willingly. Hence the title of this week’s parashah.
Unfortunately the good teachings are often forgotten or ignored throughout the generations. So, for instance, taxes were levied for Temple maintenance and repair. What would you do with resources beyond what would cover your living essentials? Do you embrace Tikun Olam? Shouldn’t we all?
Shavuah Tov! Illuminating
I would hope that we all work towards being the good people we think we are. Yet what guidebook do we use to determine what a good person truly is? Which Laws are the ones we need to hold close and keep in the light of our minds and hearts? We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) look to Torah for guidance even as this week's parasha enjoins us to keep the Law continually in the light:
Tetzaveh 5779 ; Illuminating; Shemot [Exodus] 27:20-30:10; Ezekiel 43:10-27
Most of us all enjoy laser light shows, parades, beautiful art, and the like. They are a calming respite from the difficulties life dishes out to us. Yet they are just things, things we can survive well without if we have to, just like not having a Temple run by Cohanim, Priests.
As this week’s portion of Parashat Tetzaveh continues the description of the things in the Tabernacle and the attire of the Priests, it also describes how to sanctify them with blood and other practices. Much of what is described would nauseate the sensibilities of modern folk. The Health Departments would also be most displeased.
So what can we take to be a good modern teaching from this Parasha? It appears the first verse says it all. We need to have the Law continuously in the light. We need to keep the mitzvot illuminated and never let them recede into darkness. While there is some discussion as to whether the Ner Tamid, Eternal Light, being lit 24/7 is the right approach or whether illuminating the Law during the hours of darkness is sufficient, in both cases the Law will constantly be in the light and hopefully ever present in our minds and hearts.
Do we embrace the Mitzvot 24/7 and keep them ever in the light? Do you? Or do we hide some of the mitzvot in darkness as irrelevant, outdated, or not needed? How best can we manage Illuminating the Law at all times?
May we all learn to live continuously in the light!
VaYachel 5779 ; Shekalim; Building; Shemot [Exodus] 35:1-38:20;
II Kings 11:17 - 12:17 for Sephardim; Ashkenazim start at 12:1
So finally we get to read in this week’s portion of Parashat VaYachel about the actual building of the Mishkan [Tabernacle]]. Since we have an extra month this year, this short portion is read by itself instead of combined with next week’s portion of Pekudei. Also because of the leap year, this Shabbat is Shabbat Shekalim. Shekalim were the currency of Biblical times as noted in last weeks portion where a head tax of half a shekel was levied on the able-bodied men.
Today we symbolically contribute shekalim on Purim to maintain our congregations and other Jewish institutions as well as to help support the needy especially in order to enable them to fully participate in Pesach [Passover] observances. Obviously we also contribute modern currency to these causes!
Hence having the funds to pay the construction workers helped move forward the building of the Mishkan. The Mishkan was to be the resting place for the Shechina, the Holy Presence. Yet we are taught that HaShem is everywhere. Nonetheless, many feel that they need a dedicated place to retreat to when wanting to commune with HaShem.
What kind of Mishkan can be provided to modern folk? Is a temple or synagogue sufficient? - Or – Are there too many distractions in such places to allow for effective communing?
Can we each within ourselves find a quiet place to be a Mishkan where we can commune with HaShem? What other purposes could a modern Mishkan serve?
How do you define communing with HaShem? Where is your Mishkan? May we all succeed in building an effective Mishkan for ourselves!
What shines light upon our paths forward? How can we finish making plans without a guiding light? Does Torah play a part in providing that guiding light for you? We at Beit Torah (www.onetorah.org) try to help each other find our guiding lights in the presence of the Shechina, which the people in biblical times believed was centered in the Mishkan as described in the last portion of the Book of Exodus, Parashat Pekudei:
Pekudei 5779 ; Finishing; Shemot [Exodus] 38:21-40:38;
I Kings 7:40-50 for Sephardim; I Kings 7:51-8:21 for Ashkenazim
As we come this Shabbat to finishing the Book of Shemot [Exodus] with the portion of Parashat Pekudei, we read about the finishing of the Mishkan. What was so important about having a Mishkan [Tabernacle]? The People needed a tangible place to be the home for HaShem, so that they could feel close to and loved by HaShem. Much later, when the second Temple was in disrepair, the use of local shrines was approved by the King and the Priests. De facto, they were a forerunner of modern Temples and Synagogues.
What was in the Tabernacle of HaShem? Among other things there were the ark of the Covenant [brit], the scrolls of the laws, and the eternal flame [light] so that the laws would never be in the dark. In this enclosed place [likely with a ceiling vent], the eternal flame would have produced considerable smoke. When vented upward, it would seem like a cloud enveloping the Mishkan. At night, the flames probably would be visible for quite a distance: a cloud by day and a fire by night.
Today we have other places where we place the scrolls of Torah, most often in an ark within a synagogue [schul, temple]. A Ner Tamid [eternal light] is placed nearby [literally an eternal candle, oil or wax]. What we no longer have is the ark of the Covenant. Some claim it is in Ethiopia, as described in the book, ‘The Sign and the Seal’. Some claim it is beneath the Temple Mount. No one knows for sure.
Do we need that ark for a modern mishkan? Is it a modern mishkan where-ever there is a Torah scroll? Do we need a Torah scroll in a Tabernacle where it is believed that the Shechinah Holy Presence is?
May the Shechinah envelop us no matter where we are! Chazak, Chazak, VeNitchazek! May we each be strong and strengthen each other! Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat Zachor, Parashat VaYikra