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Posts Tagged Shabbat Message

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 Shuva 5775: Only Uncertainty Leads to Truth

During these ten Days of Awe in which we now find ourselves, we are challenged to really try to change from the ingrained habits that define us. It is easy in the first moments after Rosh HaShanah to experience a setback. In that moment, according to Jewish tradition, the yetzer hara’ will appear to you as a sense of despair, or, at least, resignation: you can’t possibly really change in that way. This is, after all, who you are. It’s who and what your life experience has made you. Watch out for it. The yetzer hara’, the “evil impulse”, works within us with great subtlety; in this Age of Reason, often it masquerades as the reasonable voice within us. Have you heard it already? “Things will never change. Well, maybe a little, but not really.” That’s your yetzer talking. It’s tempting to go with the reasonable voice, if only because […]

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Shabbat Hukkat 5774: Where Anger Will Get You

Shalom Shir Tikvah Learning Community, This week we read beginning from Numbers 20 verse 7, in parashat Hukkat, as we continue in this second year of our Triennial Cycle to start not at the beginning of each parashah, but at the beginning of the middle third of it. We begin with a simple story, nothing out of the ordinary: the Israelites are complaining and G-d commands Moshe to act in response to the complaint. (One thing worth noting about our ancestors’ concept of G-d: complaints did not fall on deaf Divine ears.) The people complain that there is no water. In the second verse of this year’s reading of Hukkat, G-d commands: Take your rod, assemble the congregation with Aaron your brother, and speak to the rock in front of their eyes; tell the rock to bring forth water, so that the people and their flocks may drink. (Numbers 20.8) […]

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Shabbat Shelakh Lekha 5774: Giants Like The NRA

Shalom Shir Tikvah Learning Community, This Shabbat we read of a terrifying challenge to the Israelite community, and learn about the ultimate consequences of cynicism and despair. This parashah describes for us the very short distance between heaven and hell, between hope and its loss. There is a disconcerting relevance in the parashat hashavua to the horrifying news from Reynolds High School in Troutdale this week, and to our need to face, once again, the short distance between joy and despair. Once again a school shooting; once again we are left to wonder why, and to share a sense of sad helplessness. The Torah can speak to us here, now: By this time in the Torah narrative, our ancestors the Israelites have spent a bit over a year since the great Exodus from Egypt camped at the foot of Mt Sinai. All is in readiness – the holy Mishkan is […]

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Shabbat BeHa’alot’kha: G-d Is My GPS

Shalom Shir Tikvah Learning Community, In this third parashah of the Book BaMidbar, we are finally on the move; after over a year camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai, after receiving the Torah, constructing the Mishkan, organizing the priestly sacrificial system, and learning a lot of halakhah on how to maintain the appropriate atmosphere for the Mishkan in our midst, this week we read of the Israelites actually picking up and starting out on their way to the Land promised in our Covenant. BaMidbar means “in the wilderness”, and this book describes the preponderance of our ancestors’ adventures as they journey through it. Imagine yourself in their place on the first morning that they began to move, with their families, their herds, and their flocks. If you have never explored the Sinai wilderness, here is an indication of what surrounds you: Sinai. You may have many questions about the […]

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Shabbat Naso 5774: G-d is in the Annoying Details Too

Shalom Shir Tikvah Learning Community, This week the parashat hashavua (“text of the week”) is called Naso, a word related to the Hebrew idiom for counting. It literally means “lift up the head”, and underscores the importance of truly seeing each person whom one is counting. This is different from the Western idea of “counting heads”, which only tells you how many bodies are in the room; to lift up the head is to look in the face, to take account of (“a count of”) each person in their personhood. It’s an interesting counter (sorry) to the prevailing communal idea: here we note each precious, unique and irreplaceable individual who makes up our community. That is the catch: a community is, after all, made up of individuals. There’s an old joke: “I love the Jewish people, it’s just Jews I can’t stand.” More accurately, for all of us the ideal […]

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Shabbat BeHar 5774: Between Valley and Peak

Mah inyan shemitta eytzel har Sinai?  This is the classic Jewish form of the question you might recognize as “What does that have to do with all the tea in China?” or “What’s Hecuba to you, or you to Hecuba?” “What does shemitta have to do with Mt. Sinai?” This week’s parashat hashavua is named Behar, for “on the mountain”, i.e. Mt. Sinai. The first topic mentioned among the many mitzvot of this parashah is shemitta, a seven-year cycle of Shabbat rest for the agricultural land, the fruitfulness of which the ancient Israelites depend for their very lives. The shemitta command teaches that everything needs a Shabbat, not only the people and animals mentioned in the Shabbat mitzvah we repeat in our prayers every week on that day, but also the land itself. Here we are, deep in the details of the Book called VaYikra (Leviticus), learning law after law, […]

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Shabbat Emor 5774: Acting Our Age

Shalom Shir Tikvah Learning Community, In parashat Emor, the first words describe G-d speaking to Moshe – not unusual. But then G-d goes on to tell Moshe to speak to Aharon, who in turn is to instruct the priests, his sons and their descendants.  The parashah later will turn to the rest of us, the b’nei Yisrael, often translated “children of Israel”. It is interesting to consider in what way we are children from the perspective of Leviticus. We might see in this wording a hint of the appropriate roles of priests, and also of children (and the adults who care for them). This week’s parashah is full of rules – some only for priests, and most of them regarding priestly things such as proper ritual. In this week’s parashah as well as some others we’ve seen in this book of Leviticus (which means “of the priests”, after all), it’s […]

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Shabbat Kedoshim 5774: The Other Side of Fear

As this Shabbat approaches I am thinking a lot about the Jews of Ukraine, especially my friends of Kyiv Congregation HaTikvah, where I served as Rabbi in 1993-1994. The words of this week’s parashat hashavua will be read in Kyiv as in Paris as in New York as in Portland, Oregon. We all read the same Torah, but we come to it from many different places. We read it religiously every year; what that means is that we approach the text willing to grant in advance that there is some relevance that we will find in it. This year, I am blessed to read parashat Kedoshim from a place of personal security; I am not worried about civil war breaking out around me. I am not concerned about my physical safety when I go out on the street, and I do not expect a knock at my door. From this safe place, you and […]

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Shabbat Metzora: Take a Breath Before You Commit

Ever since just before Purim we’ve been encountering a series of special Shabbatot which are meant to get our attention and focus us upon the fact that Pesakh is coming. There is much to do to greet the Festival appropriately: house cleaning, Seder planning, tzedakah giving…. there are so many details and such a rush (and sometimes, such family dynamics) that it might remind you of the preparation before a wedding day. And that, of course, leads to a midrash offered by the Rabbi Leibele Eiger, a disciple of the Ishbitzer Rabbi (who wrote the popular Torah commentary Mei Shiloakh). He writes that this Shabbat, unlike last week and unlike next week, is not one of the Arba Parshiyot, the weeks of the special “four Parshas” that we read in the run-up to Pesakh. This Shabbat has no special extra designation; it is Shabbat Metzora, a regular Torah reading. For […]

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