Monday, June 13, 2016

Naso - Reform

Numbers 4:21−7:89

D'var Torah By Rabbi Steven Kushner for

The Spirituality of Eye Contact

There are few texts from the Torah more ubiquitous, more universally invoked than Birkat Kohanim: the Priestly Benediction. We Jews use it all the time. At weddings. And bat mitzvahs. At preschool graduation ceremonies. At the Shabbat dinner table. Indeed, it has become an integral element of our liturgy incorporated into the conclusion of the Amidah as part of the Birkat Shalom, the prayer for peace. And within the non-Jewish world, the three-stanza blessing has come to be such a central part of the service that most worshipers presume it is indigenous to the Christian tradition. But it is not. It comes right from Parashat Naso (Numbers 6:24-26):

    May the Eternal bless you and protect you!

    May the Eternal's countenance shine upon you and be gracious unto you!

    May the face of the Eternal lift up before you and grant you peace!

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Monday, June 6, 2016

B'midbar - Reform

Numbers 1:1−4:20

D'var Torah By Rabbi Joseph A. Skloot for

Reduced to Numbers . . . Do We Count?

    Were they people? Not to the Principal. Not even employees? They were more like digits, widgets, sprockets, more cogs on the command chain. (Joshua Cohen, The Book of Numbers, Oxford, 2014, p. 1.87)

Incredulous. That's how I felt, after requesting and then learning my Uber passenger rating. You see, drivers get to rate and rank you too.

"4.8! That's it?" I thought. "I've never been impolite or unfriendly. I never cancel a request after submitting one. What reason could there be for denying me a full five stars?"

Once again, here was one small example of the many ways each of us is reduced to numbers as we go about our post-modern lives.

"Please enter your account number, followed by the pound sign."

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Monday, May 30, 2016

B’chukotai - Reform

Leviticus 26:3-27:34

D'var Torah By Robert Tornberg for

Reflection in Multiple Ways

Parashat B'chukotai is the final Torah portion in the Book of Leviticus. Here we have learned, perhaps more than we ever wanted to know about the statutes, rules, and details of the work of the kohanim, the priests, and the sacrificial system. In the midst of all this we were also presented with a whole series of inspiring laws in Parashat K'doshim about how we can bring a measure of holiness into our daily lives as we interact with others. In fact, the focus of the much of the Book of Leviticus is considered by commentators and scholars to be "holiness."

This week's portion seems qualitatively different than the rest of the book and is divided into two sections, basically by the two chapters. The first section (Leviticus 26:3-46) contains a series of blessings and curses, and is considered to be an epilogue to all of Leviticus. The second section, chapter 27, appears to be somewhat of an afterthought containing supplementary laws about vows, gifts, and dues that seem to have been left out previously. In our examination today, we will focus on the epilogue.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

B'har - Reform

Leviticus 25:1-26:2

D'var Torah By Rabbi Elyse Goldstein for

The Sound of Shofar: Leading Us to Revelation and Freedom

Count off seven sabbath years — seven times seven years — so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. (Leviticus 25:8-10)

In this week's portion, the Jubilee year is established. Called yovel, our parashah explains how every forty-nine years — seven weeks of seven years — in the seventh month, on Yom Kippur, the shofar of freedom is to be sounded throughout the land for all its inhabitants. This iconic verse to proclaim freedom throughout the land is inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Emor- Reform

Leviticus 21:1−24:23

D'var Torah By Rabbi Elyse Goldstein for

Is Time Ours or Is It God’s?

In Parashat Emor, the verses in Leviticus 23:1-44 name and describe the sacred times of the Jewish calendar: Shabbat, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and the Pilgrimage Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Time becomes a holy thing, and the "normalcy" of time — of one day being no different than any other — is forever differentiated by the weekly Sabbath and by these special festive days.

Though the festivals are appointed for God, they are not actually appointed by God. Leviticus 23:2 states, "The appointed seasons of the Eternal, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are My appointed seasons." In other words, once we as humans proclaim a day holy, it becomes holy to God.

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Monday, May 9, 2016

Kedoshim - Reform

Leviticus 19:1-20:27

D'var Torah By Rabbi Elyse Goldstein for
    The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:1-2)

Parashat K'doshim places before us one of the most difficult commandments in the whole Torah. It's not kashrut or Shabbat, or even the rules of sexual conduct, but rather, the admonition and the expectation to "be holy." Throughout the Torah, we are given rules and statues that tell us what to do. Here are we told what to be. A similar statement is found in Exodus 19:6, where we are commanded to be a "kingdom of priests and a holy people." But what does it mean to be holy? The parashah does not define what holiness is, nor does it tell us what it means to be holy. The guidance it gives us is in the specifics: the who, when, why, and how of the injunction.

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Acharei Mot II

Leviticus 18:1–30

D'var Torah By Rabbi Elyse Goldstein for

Blood and Sex: The Messy Stuff of Life

    For the life of all flesh — its blood is its life. Therefore I say to the Israelite people: You shall not partake of the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Anyone who partakes of it shall be cut off. (Leviticus 17:14)

The Book of Leviticus could be nicknamed "The Journal of Blood and Water." Throughout its chapters we find the words tamei — translated as "impure," and tahor — translated as "pure" — as markers of a system of taboos so strong, the penalty for daring to dismiss them is kareit, or "excommunication." The taboos for certain sexual practices are painstakingly outlined in chapter 18, the section of Acharei Mot that we read on this Shabbat.

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