Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Divrei Torah

Shavuot: Two Very Different Texts

The Ten Commandments and the Book of Ruth are two very different biblical texts, yet they both will be read on the upcoming festival of Shavuot. In Israel, where Shavuot is celebrated for just one day, they are even read on the very same day. Outside of Israel, we read the Ten Commandments in synagogue on the first day of our two-day

Experiencing Torah on Shavuot

There is a custom to stay up all night on Shavuot in anticipation of the acceptance of the Torah in the morning. The logic of this particular practice seems weaker to me every year. By about three a.m. I have a lot of difficulty rationalizing my absence from a comfy bed. However, the continued popularity of this custom for the last 500

Five Rashis, Bamidbar: Creating a Camp and a People

A project in memory of Baruch Leib HaKohen b. Mordechai Yidel ve-Dobba Chaya.


The Roots of Punishment

The book of Bamidbar opens with a count of the Jewish people, first by tribe and then by tribe within encampments. This is part of

Hashem’s Great Gift

In a few short days we will be celebrating the holiday of Shavuos when Hashem gave us His great gift, the Torah. It was not a free gift. Hashem required guarantors. Klal Yisroel suggested Heaven and Earth, the Avos, and the Nevi’im; all were  unacceptable. It was only when Klal Yisroel offered their children as guarantors that Hashem was

Remembering Uncle Si and His Gifts

WNET (Channel 13) received considerable media coverage recently when it announced that it had received the largest gift in its 53-year history: a $20 million bequest from the estate of Dr. Simon and Sylvia Poyta to create a series of programs on anti-Semitism. The Jewish Week wrote about the gift last week and quoted WNET’s CEO as saying

Ben Kepecs, SAR HS Junior, Scores Sixth Place in International Chidon HaTanach

Ben Kepecs of Riverdale, a junior at SAR High School, placed sixth out of 70 finalists in the International Chidon HaTanach (Bible Quiz), held on Yom Ha’atzmaut in Jerusalem. He earned a spot in the international competition as the US representative by winning the regional contest held in New York last year. Ben’s father, Gil

Emor: Unholy Behavior

Each of the five books in our Torah has a different style and character. The book of Genesis is entirely narrative or stories, and even the couple of mitzvoth mixed in have a story attached to them. Exodus, on the other hand, is essentially all narrative until half way through when we switch to all legal material. Then we have Leviticus,

Five Rashis, Emor: Shaping Our Experience of Hashem

The Blemish of Blemishes

Late in the first chapter of Parashat Emor, the Torah lists mumim, commonly translated as defects or blemishes, preventing a kohen from offering sacrifices. Some mistakenly assume they are excluded from the priesthood generally—in fact, such a kohen partakes of

Five Rashis, Tazria: It’s Mostly About Tsara’at

Parashat Tazria deals with fairly technical issues, the rituals around a woman’s recovery from childbirth, and tsara’at, is commonly (and, likely, inaccurately) translated as leprosy. I tried for Rashis that wouldn’t be too detail-oriented, but that also wouldn’t misrepresent the parsha. I hope you find them productive.

The Suffering of the Righteous

Not unlike stock market analysts trying to explain the reasons behind the recent volatility, Chazal posits at least six suggestions for why tzaraas manifests itself (Arakhin 16a). Whenever multiple reasons are given for a phenomenon it’s a good indicator that no single reason is entirely satisfactory. (See, for example, chazal’s attempt

Getting Out of Egypt: What It Would Have Taken

I start here with a dark side tradition saw in the Exodus story. By investing a little time and discomfort, I believe we can find our way to a relevant and uplifting message, a comforting way forward fully within our reach, if we choose to take advantage of it.

He Wouldn’t Have Gotten

Why Ask Why?

Pesach (Passover) is filled with the ponderous joys of ancient rituals. After the initial Kiddush follows the ritual of washing our hands, cutting Matzah, having it stolen by kids, having them hold us hostage, refusing to return it until they get what they want. Somewhere in all of this is also dipping a vegetable in salt water, uncovering

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