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Exodus 27:20 - 30:10; Maftir: Deuteronomy 25:17-19
BY: RABBI ANA BONNHEIM for ReformJudaism.org
Each of Us Can Kindle the Light Within
There’s something incredibly powerful about the ner tamid, usually translated as the “eternal light.” Most often, it hangs elegantly in a synagogue just before the ark, right at the front of the sanctuary. (As an interesting aside, the ner tamid was historically placed on the western wall of the synagogue as a reminder that the Holy of Holies was to its west.1) The constancy of the ner tamid was a source of great interest to me as a child. I don’t think I am unique in remembering sitting through services, gazing at the lamp, and wondering whether it really burned all the time, when was it lit for the first time, and who made sure it didn’t go out.
Exodus 25:1 - 27:19
D'VAR TORAH BY: RABBI ANA BONNHEIM for ReformJudaism.org
Giving Gifts of Free Will
As the Torah continues the Israelites’ dramatic, people-building saga, Parashat T’rumah approaches the story from a new angle. Instead of developing the literary adventures of a no-longer-nascent people or focusing on the striking events at Mt. Sinai, this week’s Torah portion is about the details. And these details are not the specifics of community-building or daily life. Rather, they concern, in painstaking minutiae, the construction of the Tabernacle. This is a parashah about holiness, and in the case of Parashat T’rumah, the holiness is in the details.
Exodus 21:1 - 24:18
Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky for myjewishlearning.com
Who’s In, Who’s Out
The ordinances in this portion emphasize issues relevant to society and the interactions among groups.
Rules. Parameters. Boundaries. That’s what this Torah portion is all about. It’s also about that which sets apart ancient Israel from its neighbors. It is infrequent that the text is so self-evident that the reader can clearly determine whether the various things listed in the Torah are designed to keep Israel in, or those who are not part of Israel out. It actually might be one of the reasons why even those inside the community have trouble determining the extent of their commitment to following these regulations.
These rules seem mundane, especially when compared to the grandeur of the previous week’s scene at Mount Sinai, until close to its completion where we read “And the people beheld the God of Israel….” (Ex. 24:10).
Exodus 18:1 - 20:23
Rabbi Michelle Missagieh for myjewishlearning.com
What actually happened at Mount Sinai?
This week’s portion, Yitro, contains a deep memory of our people: the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
How do we remember this event in our people’s memory? Perhaps it’s the same way we remember family stories – differently.
All of us have sat around a holiday table reminiscing of past times … when, according to Uncle Joe, he fell off his bike while trying to impress a girl … or maybe Aunt Margie’s version was more accurate: The girl he was trying to impress pushed him off the bike. Or possibly it was the memory of when cousin Lucy vomited all over the Thanksgiving table because she ate an entire watermelon … or was Grandma Ethel’s version accurate: that Lucy got sick because she had stayed up all night studying for an exam?
Exodus 13:17 - 17:16
BY RABBI DEBORAH JOSELOW for myjewishlearning.com
Singing On The Way
Despite the fear and exhaustion of journeying from a dark, narrow place, we must remember to accompany our arrivals with song and joy.
This week’s Torah portion is Beshalach. From the Hebrew root meaning “to send,” the name of the portion reflects Pharaoh’s decree that the Israelite people may finally leave the land of Egypt.
For over 400 years, our ancestors were physically and spiritually enslaved. Their release was not only cause for joy but, more importantly, the basis of a mandate that continues to inform all of Jewish life and activity. Then and now, freedom for every one of God’s children is our constant and ultimate pursuit.
Exodus 10:1 - 13:16
Rabbi Suzanne Singer for myjewishlearning.com
Does One Crime Justify Another?
Understanding why God hardens Pharaoh's heart.
God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 10:1 presents a theological problem on two levels. First, if God is the agent of Pharaoh’s behavior, what does that imply about Pharaoh’s free will? Second, if God hardens Pharaoh’s heart in order to demonstrate God’s power, we must ask: At what price the Israelites’ liberation? Indeed, the ultimate result of Pharaoh’s stubbornness is the murder of every first-born Egyptian male. Even if we consider this to be retributive justice, payback for Pharaoh’s earlier order to kill all newborn Hebrew males, we still must ponder: Does one heinous crime justify another? And how do we come to terms with killing innocent children?
Exodus 6:2 - 9:35
Dr. Sharon Koren for myjewishlearning.com
The Shechinah: A Supernal Mother
A Kabbalistic interpretation of the suffering of the Jews in Egypt and their ultimate redemption.
The signs and wonders (or “plagues”) described in Parashat Vaera must have been extremely frightening for both the Egyptians who suffered and the Israelites who bore witness to God’s might for the first time. Thirteenth-century Kabbalists believed that when the Children of Israel braved the agonies of slavery and the ten displays of divine might that devastated Egypt, they did not do so alone. Rather, the Israelites knew that the Shechinah, the pre-eminent feminine aspect of God, dwelled alongside them in Egypt. Medieval Kabbalists often portrayed the feminine Shechinah as a loving mother who suffers along with her children Israel in exile. She toils with her children while they are slaves in Egypt and protects them in the wilderness after they are liberated.
Rabbi Michelle Missagieh for myjewishlearning.com
Stop Making Excuses and Step Up to the Plate
Moses' excuses at the Burning Bush parallel three great human fears.
We often make excuses: “I’m too tired — I’ll just skip exercising this morning” … “It’s been a long week — maybe my co-worker won’t miss me at tonight’s shiva minyan for his father,” … or “It’s been months since I raised my voice to my child — she probably forgot, and I don’t need to apologize.”
Excuses often roll off the tip of our tongue. We’re too tired, frazzled, insecure, unsure, overwhelmed or distracted. Showing up emotionally and physically when we are called upon counts for a lot. Which is why it’s intriguing that Moses and God have such an intense connection at the Burning Bush, and then when God asks for Moses’ help in freeing the Israelites from slavery, the last thing Moses wants to do is show up and help God.
Genesis 47:28 - 50:26
Rabbi Laura Geller for myjewishlearning.com
Blessing Our Daughters
Why did Jacob not bless his daughters before he died?
Vayehi speaks of blessings, of a grandfather blessing his grandsons, a father blessing his sons. Imagine the scene at the end of the Torah portion: Jacob, whose name has been changed to Israel, calls his 12 sons to his deathbed and blesses each one of them. But his real concern, according to our rabbis, is that his sons will abandon his God after he has died. In the Midrash, his sons respond to this unstated fear with words that have become familiar to us: “Shema Yisrael (Listen, [Dad–whose name is] Israel!): Hashem is our God, only Hashem.” Hearing this, the dying patriarch sighs quietly: “Baruch shem k’vod malchuto I’olam va’ed (Blessed is the glorious Name whose kingdom is forever and ever)!” (Midrash B’reishii Rabbah 98-4).
Genesis 44:18 - 47:27
BY RABBI ANDREW BACHMAN for myjewishlearning.com
Achievement And Action
Joseph teaches us to use our material success in the service of those who are needy.
In this week’s Torah portion, we encounter Joseph, at the peak of his ascent in Egypt, long after having been left for dead by his brothers and ransomed by desert traders. Joseph’s purpose, as Judah approaches him, seems to be concerned with wringing repentance from the siblings who abandoned him.
Now a Man
This once-precocious lad was too much for his brothers to bear in their youth; and now, unrecognizable by his brothers, Joseph has come into his own and made himself a man. He is described in rabbinic midrash as wise, learned, as Joseph the Righteous, and indeed the power he has gained over Egypt is deserved. For our generation of readers, Joseph represents a type of materially and morally successful Diaspora Jew.
D'var Torah By: Edwin C. Goldberg for ReformJudaism.org
Joseph the Educator
In this week's Torah portion, Mikeitz, Joseph, now the viceroy of Egypt, receives a visit from his brothers who seek relief from the famine in Canaan. While Joseph recognizes them, they don't realize that he is the brother they kidnapped and sold into slavery. This makes sense. They expected him to have died as a poor slave in Egypt long before. There is no reason for them to suspect that the Egyptian VIP who confronts them, speaking through an interpreter, is long-lost Joseph.
Joseph could them kill when he recognizes them. He could embrace them, forgiving them and consoling them to feel no guilt. He does neither. Instead, anticipating King David,1 and later, Hamlet,2 he puts on an act. In his case, he pretends to suspect them of being spies. He imprisons them. Then, he lets them leave and return to Canaan, keeping Simeon as a hostage of sorts. He tells them not to come back without their youngest brother (Benjamin).
D'var Torah By: Edwin C. Goldberg for ReformJudaism.org
Practice Positive Pessimism and Partner with God
Most of us have grown up with the power of positive thinking. We've been warned about negative outlooks and what popular psychologists call "catastrophizing." To have a successful outcome when facing a problem, we're told that we need to avoid the bad and focus on the good.
But there is another point of view. The leadership guidebook, Great by Choice,1 discusses the responsible need to practice "productive paranoia." In other words, worry a little bit because there are things that can hurt you. (The book, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, by Richard Carlson, is also useful in its own way, but sometimes the small stuff isn't so small.) Julie Norem, author of a highly counterintuitive book called The Positive Power of Negative Thinking2 suggests that upbeat strategies don't always work. In fact, they may make some people—those who are naturally anxious—more nervous than ever.
Genesis 32:4 - 36:43
BY RABBI LAURA GELLER for myjewishlearning.com
The Silence of Dinah and Other Rape Victims
The Bible focuses on Jacob's and his son's reactions, but not on those of the victim herself.
After 20 years, Jacob is coming home. Anticipating that the reunion with the brother he cheated all those years ago will be disastrous, he sends messengers laden with presents ahead to his brother.
But just to be on the safe side, he divides his camp in order to minimize the losses should he come under attack. The story continues: “That same night, he got up, took his two wives, his two maidservants, and his 11 children, and crossed at a ford of the Jabbok [river]. … Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him” (32:23-25). The nocturnal wrestler wounds and blesses him and gives him a new name–our name: Yisrael, one who wrestles with God. Jacob’s wrestling with God is a powerful image and legacy. We never know with whom Jacob is wrestling: is it himself, his conscience, his brother, God, or all of these parts of himself and of his life? Jacob names the place “Peniel,” meaning “Face of God,” for, as he states, “I have seen God face-to-face” (32:31). Somehow, alone, separated from his “two wives” and his “eleven children,” Jacob discovers the face of God in his adversary — and Jacob is blessed.
D'var Torah By Rabbi Edwin C. Goldberg for ReformJudaism.org
Wherever You Go, There God Will Surely Be
We live in a self-indulgent time. One of the best examples of our era's trend toward self-indulgence is the "Travel List Challenge's 100 Places to Visit Before You Die."1 On this Web page, users are asked to check off which of the 100 author-recommended places in the world they have visited. The places range from North American sites like the Smithsonian Museum, the Washington Monument, and the Empire State Building to exotic, faraway destinations like the Taj Mahal in India, Machu Pichu in Peru, and the Great Wall of China. It's an interesting exercise, allowing us to recall some great memories of places we've seen.
But like much of what we find on social media, it's also a way show that our life is OK—maybe even better than OK—in comparison to that of our friends.
D'var Torah By: Edwin C. Goldberg for ReformJudaism.org
What Would You Hold Onto - At Any Price?
The show, Pawn Stars, is a runaway hit on the History Channel. It tells the story of three generations of the Harrison family and their Las Vegas pawnshop. There's Richard, the patriarch (affectionately known as the "old man"); Rick, the son (who really runs the business); and Rick's adult son, Corey (who wants to become a tough businessman like his father and grandfather).
The setup is simple: Every customer who walks through the door, intending to pawn or sell some family heirloom, has a tale. Sometimes the item is worthless, other times priceless. Rick can always tell the difference.
When he does pronounce that the medieval knight's helmet is really a 19th-century reproduction, the item's owner must make a choice: Sell it for less than the asking price or call the whole deal off. Often, customers call off the deal because the item's sentimental value has just exceeded its actual value.
BY RABBI KERRY M. OLITZKY for myjewishlearning.com
Was Abraham’s Second Wife Really Hagar?
None of the commentaries questioned the legitimacy of the relationship between Abraham and Keturah.
Following the death of his beloved Sarah, Abraham wed a second time. The Torah records it this way, “Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah” (Gen. 25:1). It is the Torah’s style only to add detail when necessary. Otherwise, it is up to the reader to discern the import of the Torah’s cryptic statements. In this case, there is no extensive discussion or lengthy debate. There is no explanation of Keturah’s lineage. Some suggest that she was Hagar. Others say that she was a different woman entirely.
Taking his lead from a variety of rabbinic sources, the great commentator Rashi boldly suggests that Keturah is Hagar: “She was called Keturah because her deeds were as pleasing as incense and because she tied up her opening [explanations emerging from two rabbinic folk etymologies on her name]; from the day she left Abraham, she did not couple with any man.”
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