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Posts Tagged parashat hashavua

Shabbat: the Secret Spice

Our ancient ancestors used to mark the beginning of Shabbat by adding aromatic spices (we’re not exactly sure which) to their home oil lamp. The special aroma made sundown on Friday into the day of rest. The Rabbis encoded the concept of rest as a universal right in halakhah, the path of Jewish observance – for all people and for all life on earth. Wandering stateless in Exile, our people held on to Shabbat ever more determinedly. We created a musical welcome of Shabbat, Kabbalat Shabbat, to sing and dance our way out of the week; and no matter the poverty, our erev Shabbat meal had to be the best we could manage. “More than Israel has preserved the Shabbat, the Shabbat has preserved Israel.” – Ahad Ha’Am   That erev Shabbat meal became the focal point for the ritual that allowed us the relief of week’s end: The blessings […]

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Shabbat Shelakh-L’kha: Why So Negative?

Shalom Shir Tikvah Learning Community, The parashat hashavua for this week is Shelakh-L’kha. It chronicles a significant debacle in the lives of our ancestors, the Generation of the Wilderness: it is during the events described in this parashah that they doom themselves to remaining the wanderers they’ve become. One year and some months after the Exodus from Egypt, with our new understanding of the divine and a new system for connecting with it constructed and up and running, we traveled across the Sinai wilderness (which is not that big) and arrived at the borders of the land that according to our people’s narrative was promised by G-d to our ancestors as their descendants’ home. And then the troubles began. While the rest of us waited, excited to be nearly there, at the border of the land, Moshe sent a representative from each tribe to scout it out. They returned with […]

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Shabbat shalom – Shabbat B’Haalot’kha: The Light That Reveals You

Shalom Shir Tikvah Learning Community, The parashat hashavua (Torah parashah for the week) begins with G-d’s command to the High Priest, Moshe’s brother Aharon: “When you raise [b’haalot’kha] light in the lamps, they shall be lit so as to illuminate the face of the menorah” (Numbers 8:2). If you remember that this was a menorah not of candles but of oil lamps, it becomes easier to understand this instruction. The menorah is standing against the wall of the Mishkan, and the oil lamp upon the top of each branch should be situated so that the wick end is toward the front of the menorah, away from the wall. This may simply be good fire-prevention advice, but of course our tradition sees the possibility of deeper meaning in these words. Consider: The Jewish creation story does not describe a conquering and destroying of darkness in order to create light; rather, light […]

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Shabbat Emor: Respect and Sefirat haOmer

Shalom Shir Tikvah Learning Community, Parashat Emor includes, coincidentally, the mitzvah (command) of Sefirat haOmer, of counting the omer (a sheaf of barley). The original idea is probably agricultural: during the ongoing barley harvest, bringing a sheaf from each day’s harvest for a formal count may have been some kind of ritual effort to keep the harvest abundant. It is true that we sometimes delight in counting out or otherwise measuring that which we are excited about, or care deeply about. Today, erev Shabbat, is the 34th day of the Omer; yesterday was the 33rd, which is a minor holy day known by a name derived from the count: Lag BaOmer literally means “33 of the omer”. (Every Hebrew letter has a numerical value, and so every Hebrew number can also be pronounced. Thus the names of the holy days Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av, and Tu b’Shevat, the […]

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Shabbat shalom – Shabbat Akharei Mot-Kedoshim 5775: The Goal of Learning Torah

Shalom Shir Tikvah Learning Community, This week’s parashah is once again a double: Akharei Mot, “after death” and Kedoshim, “set apart”, which is what “holy” means in Jewish religious culture. Because every couple of years these two parashot occur as a double (meaning that we read at least a third of them both), it was only natural that our inquisitive and creative Sages who comment upon and interpret every aspect of Torah should comment upon this too: what do we learn from the juxtaposition of these two parshas, and their names? Are we to understand that after death we are holy? what exactly would that mean? It’s not a stretch for us to accept the idea that the memory of our beloved dead is holy to us, that is, it is set apart in our hearts in a special place, so to speak. We might even set that memory apart […]

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Shabbat Tazria/Metzora: Time Out (and rare footage taken on the eve of the Holocaust)

Shalom Shir Tikvah Learning Community, This week’s double parashah reflects a fundamental understanding of ancient Israelite religion – and we are not sure that we know what it is. Between parashat Tazria and parashat Metzora, we are presented for four solid chapters of VaYikra (Leviticus) with rules of what anthropologist Mary Douglas called “purity and danger” in her book of the same name. The guidance presented by Torah in these verses (12.1-15.33) separates the tamey from the tahor, two categories that are unhelpfully translated as “pure” and “impure” when in truth the situation is more complicated than that. In her examination of the religious laws which include this as well that other famous duality of Jewish law (kosher or not), Douglas insists that we regard these ideas not with the dismissive superiority of moderns but with what I like to think of as a post-modern curiosity about that which is […]

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Shabbat Hayye Sarah: Is the Torah Misogynistic?

This week’s parashah is called Hayye Sarah, “Life of Sarah”. The name is derived from the first verse of the parashah:     וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה, מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים–שְׁנֵי, חַיֵּי שָׂרָה.  “Sarah’s life was 127 years; these were the years of Sarah’s life.” (Gen. 23.1) This, however, is the beginning of what we would call Sarah’s epitath. In the next verse we are told of her death. In the parashat hashavua called by her name, Sarah does not appear as a living, acting person. She is, however, a powerful memory which shapes the ensuing acts of her husband and son. Sarah is mourned in this parashah, and in this third year of the Triennial Cycle, Abraham’s most trusted servant has gone back to the home country to find the proper wife for their son, Isaac. It sounds like a typical male-centered text, and the story of finding Rebekah is told with, sure enough, permission being granted […]

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Shabbat VaYera: How Are Jews To Be in the World?

How are Jews meant to be in the world? The answer suggested by Jewish ethics is that with every step and with every word, we are to seek the presence of G-d. That does not mean that we are to treat the world as a game of hide-and-seek, but rather that we are to consider the impact of every word and act. Will this thing that I am about to say, that I am burning to say, bring the Presence more fully into being? Will this act that I plan to undertake bring more wholeness into my life and that of my family, my friends, my companions in community? This week we are given a clear message about the intersection of ethical behavior and the Presence of G-d, as our ancestors struggled to understand it. We have arrived, this week, at the parashat hashavua called VaYera, “[G-d] appeared”. In this […]

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Shabbat Nitzavim-VaYelekh: Where Do You Stand?

Where do you stand as a Jew? On this Shabbat we are called upon to focus upon this question. Nitzavim means “to stand firm” and in these days, as we count down the final hours until Rosh HaShanah, this Shabbat is a moment of welcome quiet. Even as the students among us have just begun their new Academic Year, Rosh HaShanah is the beginning of our Spiritual Year, and it’s time to consider where you stand – not where you find yourself, but where you stand, firmly and clear-eyed, aware of what your stance means in the world. The most well-known text within this week’s parashah is probably Devarim 30.10 and following: י כִּי תִשְׁמַע, בְּקוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לִשְׁמֹר מִצְו‍ֹתָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו, הַכְּתוּבָה בְּסֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה: כִּי תָשׁוּב אֶל-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשֶׁךָ. {ס} 10 if You will listen to the voice of G-d, to keep G-d’s commandments and statutes which are […]

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Shabbat Ki Tavo: What Kind of Jew Are You?

This week’s parashah begins with a rare example of actual prayer formula in ancient Israel. Most of the time, “prayer”, that is, seeking to communicate with G-d, was expressed in a non-verbal form, that of sacrifice. A close look at the book VaYikra (Leviticus) will demonstrate the truth my former teacher taught in his book The Sanctuary of Silence: the kohanim did not recite words when they brought the prescribed sacrifices, and neither did the Israelites who brought them. This is different, and it’s worth considering why. Here’s how the parashat hashavua starts: It shall be that when you come into the land which G-d is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell there, you shall take the first of all your fruit of the earth that you have been given by G-d, and you shall put it in a basket. Bring it to the place that G-d […]

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