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RABBI PROFESSOR MARC SAPERSTEIN for ReformJudaism.org
Set a King Over Yourself
Don Isaac Abravanel (1437–1508) was one of the towering figures of late medieval and early modern Jewry. He held ministerial-level positions in three different royal courts: Portugal, Spain, and the Kingdom of Naples, and he was recognized by contemporary Jews as one of their most important and influential leaders because of his access to the top levels of government. At the same time — and this is what makes him so different from modern Jews who have held important political positions — he was one of the most prolific Jewish writers in history. Especially impressive are his monumental commentaries in Hebrew on the Torah and early and later prophets, an encyclopedic exposition of Jewish thought, especially in the Sephardic ambience, produced at the historic moment when this great culture was experiencing a massive disruption. Because of their length, only a miniscule percentage of his commentaries have been translated.
Not surprising because of his professional career, Abravanel’s commentaries are filled with fascinating ventures into political theory. One of the most important is linked with the verse pertaining to the Israelite king in Parashat Shof’tim:
D'VAR TORAH BY: RABBI RACHEL SABATH BEIT-HALACHMI, PH.D.
Identity and Ethics: Knowing Who and Whose You Are
If someone tells you that Judaism is X or Y, you should never believe them. Judaism is such a complex civilization: it is made up of religion and culture, language and land, and a particular kind of peoplehood. In every context different aspects of Judaism have been lived out in countless different ways. Judaism is not only complex, but also filled with contradictory opinions, so that any single view will — by definition — fail to offer a full sense of all the possibilities. (This, I admit, is what I most love about being Jewish!)
By RABBI PROFESSOR MARC SAPERSTEIN for ReformJudaism.org
Not by Bread Alone: Strange Food from the Sky
Several years ago, I saw in London an extraordinary play entitled “Not by Bread Alone.” The eleven actors, from an Israeli company called Nalaga’at (meaning “please touch”), were all deaf and blind. As the audience entered, they were sitting at a long table on the stage, each one kneading dough that would be baked during the course of the performance. At the end, the audience was invited to come to the stage to taste the bread. But the main purpose was not for us to eat the delicious warm bread, but to communicate on some level, by touch, with the actors who could not hear our applause or see our smiles.
Deuteronomy 8:3, a long and rather complex verse near the beginning of our parashah, Eikev, contains one of the most familiar phrases of the Bible: “Lo al halechem l’vado yich’yeh ha-adam ... ”
BY: RABBI PROFESSOR MARC SAPERSTEIN for ReformJudaism.org
When Imploring Fails to Give Us What We Want
The verses at the very beginning of Parashat Va-et’cḥanan record a searingly poignant incident of hopes shattered and prayers denied.
Years before, Moses had heard the words that must have filled him with immeasurable sorrow. Because of a failing described by the Torah only as a vague sin of omission — that on one occasion he had failed to sanctify God in the presence of the Israelites — he was told that he would not be permitted to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land (Numbers 20:8–12).
D'VAR TORAH BY: RABBI PROFESSOR MARC SAPERSTEIN for ReformJudaism.org
Does God Command Going to War?
After a five-verse introduction, Parashat D’varim is presented as the beginning of the text of a speech by Moses addressed to the Israelite people not long before his death. The content of this oration is historical: an overview of events experienced by the listeners or their parents, beginning after the Revelation at Sinai and continuing to the present. The events have already been narrated in earlier books of the Torah, but there are subtle shifts that make this not just simple repetition. If the original narratives are a source for history, the Deuteronomy oration is evidence for historical memory. This may be illustrated by focusing on one passage, relating to Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon.
D'VAR TORAH BY: RABBI VERED L. HARRIS for ReformJudaism.org
Changing the Plan in a Holy Way
For the final parashah of the Book of Numbers, imagine we are with our ancestors on the east side of the Jordan River. This week is a double portion of Matot/Mas’ei. The episode we will explore begins in Numbers 32 in Matot.
The tribes of Reuben and Gad owned a lot of cattle. They saw the regions of Jazer and Gilad, outside of the Promised Land, were good for cattle. Representatives from Reuben and Gad went to Moses, Eleazer the priest, and the chieftains of the community to ask permission to settle outside of the Promised Land.
BY: RABBI VERED L. HARRIS for ReformJudaism.org
Their Father’s Sin Is Not Their Own
The popular use of ancestry websites speaks to our curiosity about where we come from and the history of our families. Some of us want genetic information for medical reasons. Others want a connection to the past: What did our ancestors do for a living? Where did they live? Is there anything in our lives that resembles those who came before us? Placing ourselves as a link in a chain of ancestors can both satisfy curiosities and add meaning to our lives. It may also remind us that we are a link in connecting the chain to the future.
RABBI VERED L. HARRIS for ReformJudaism.org
Distracted by Blessing
In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, the king of Moab, Balak, is afraid that the Israelites’ encampment will ravish his land. He sends emissaries to a diviner named Balaam with the intent of hiring him to stop the Israelites. A summary of their encounter demonstrates a classic misunderstanding:
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