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Drops of Torah from our members (2022-23 / 5783)

We all have the capacity to share our wisdom and reflections about the Torah texts we read each week. The Congregation Beth Israel Drops of Torah project provides an opportunity for people to share a brief reflection or short insight about the week's Torah portion. These short pieces are written by our members with support from our rabbis (as needed). Our plan is to have members reflect on 1/9 of a Torah portion each week so that in nine years we will have commented on the whole Torah! Beth Israel follows the Israeli Torah reading calendar which sometimes differs from the Conservative and Orthodox Torah reading calendar outside of Israel but will always sync up before the end of the Torah reading year. Consider signing up for a drop of Torah. For more information, contact Rabbi Nathan Martin.

A New Focus this year for 5783: Friends, for our drop of Torah this year we are inviting contributors to share an intention, kavannah, or even a short prayer that they are pulling from the Torah we are reading. See the examples below. We hope that this more open form will invite even more contributors to our weekly member-to-member Torah share!

Drops of Torah from Prior Years

  1. Bereishit by Rabbi Nathan
  2. Noah by Rabbi Linda
  3. Lekh Lekha by Mark Rosenberg
  4. Vayera by Larry Hamermesh
  5. Hayei Sarah by Phyl Perry
  6. Toldot by Naomi Yates
  7. Vayetze by Lynn Cashell
  8. Vayishlach by Harry Chen
  9. Vayeshev by Amy Strauss
  10. Miketz by Rabbi Nathan
  11. Vayigash by Richard Remenick
  12. Vayehi by Rabbi Nathan
  13. Shemot by Kathy Trow
  14. Vaera by Rabbi Linda
  15. Bo by Abby Weinberg
  16. Beshallah by Sharon Kleban
  17. Yitro by Candy Berlin
  18. Mishpatim by Dan and Stacy Beller
  19. Terumah by Benjamin Alouf
  20. Ki Tissa by Reisa Mukamal
  21. Vayakhel/Pekudei by Sea Amundsen
  22. Vayikra by Sharon Boyd
  23. Tzav by Adva Chattler
  24. Shemini
  25. Tazria-Metzora by Me'ira Pitkapaasi
  26. Aharei Mot by Joyce Romoff
  27. Emor by Marion Hamermesh
  28. Behar/Behukotai by Miriam Sigler
  29. Bamidbar by Randi Raskin Nash
  30. Naso by Andy Coleman
  31. Beha'alotekha by Deb Erie
  32. Shelakh Lekha by Katie Sibley
  33. Chukat by Laura Lee and Randi
  34. Balak by Marion and Larry Hamermesh
  35. Mattot-Masaei by Rabbi Nathan
  36. Devarim by Hadassah Weinmartin
  37. Va'etchanan by Emma Lefkowitz
  38. Eikev by Carol Brisseli
  39. Re'eh by Debbie Wile
  40. Shofetim by Hannah Bowen
  41. Ki Tetze by Sarah Krakow and Kim Dumoff
  42. Ki Tavo by Rabbi Nathan
  43. Psalm 27 - Preparation for High Holidays
 
Bereishit (Genesis 1:14 - 31) by Rabbi Nathan  (Return to Top)

Intention
May we remember that "dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, animals, all the earth" really is another way of saying deep respect for our interconnectedness with all life to ensure our mutual survival and thriving.

Comment (optional)
This week's Torah reading includes the command by God to have humans rule over all forms of life, something that has justified our destructive environmental behavior in the past. My kavannah is an attempt to help us rebalance our perspective to one of respect and humility towards our created world.  (Return to Top)

Noah (Genesis 6:9 - 11:32) by Rabbi Linda

Intention
Noah was considered righteous in his generation but  not considered to be as righteous as Abraham, who lived ten generations later. Why?

While Noah was righteous in that he took care of his family and the animals in the ark, he did not attempt to help the others in his midst and didn't argue with God on their behalf. So the innocent perished along with the guilty. Abraham showed a love for humanity and fought on behalf of others.  

As we study this story, may we set an intention to look out for one another, especially the most vulnerable among us, in order to live a righteous life. (Return to Top)

Lekh Lekha (Genesis 12:1 - 17:27) by Mark Rosenberg

Intention
May we remember that Abram and Sarai needed to leave their country because of famine.  Many immigrants today have to get out of their countries due to problems.  Welcoming borders are required for those in need.  It is our responsibility to remember our ancestors needed this then and many others still do today.

Comment
This week’s Torah portion shows that immigration may be necessary for survival.  Abram used Sarai to get him him into Egypt alive.  Should we work to make the words of Emma Lazarus  (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) written in 1883 and inscribed on the Statue of Liberty twenty years later still be meaningful today?  Will we still make immigrants lie, cheat, or break national laws for their survival? (Return to Top)

Vayera (Genesis 18:1 - 22:24) by Larry Hamermesh

Intention
We have been endowed by G!d with an innate sense of what is just and right, and what is not. Let us use that sense, even - or especially - when it contradicts what others or even we ourselves are telling us is the will of G!d.

Comment
In this parsha, immediately after G!d recognizes that G!d has singled out Abraham “to keep the way of יְהֹוָה֙ by doing what is just and right,” Abraham’s first act is to rely on his own endowed sense of right and wrong to question G!d persistently to account for what may be arbitrary and excessive punishment of innocent people for the sins of others. Abraham’s conduct is a model of holiness to anyone who claims to hear the word of G!d and adhere to it unquestioningly. (Return to Top)

Hayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 - 25:18) by Phyl Perry

Intention
May we remember the importance of taking a moment from our busy lives to connect with the bereaved in a loving and compassionate manner, regardless of how well we know them or any disagreements we may have had in the past. 

Comment
This week’s story is about how Abraham negotiates with the Hittites for a burial plot for his spouse Sarah who passed away. My kavannah is a reminder that so many people are suffering because they miss a loved one. A smile, kind word, hug or text from a friend or acquaintance can mean a lot! (Return to Top)

Toldot (Genesis 25:19 - 28:9) by Naomi Yates

Intention
May we remember as parents to try to treat our children equally and with respect, honoring their unique contributions, so that we do not repeat the missteps of Jacob and Esau's parents.

Comment
Rebecca favored Jacob, the studious one, and Isaac favored Esau, the hunter. Their parents did not try to hide their favoritism at all, which made the relationship between the brothers that much worse. If Isaac and Rebecca had treated their children with the same kindness, many problems might have been avoided. This was an episode I felt we can still continue to learn from today. (Return to Top)

Vayetze (Genesis 28:10 - 32:3) by Lynn Cashell

Intention
May we always try to move from a stance of judgment to one of understanding when it comes to evaluating the actions of family and loved ones.

Comment
Growing up as the youngest and only girl in my family, there was a bit of a double standard. My brothers mowed the lawn and took out the trash, I helped with the cooking and cleaning. The same was true of Jewish rituals. My brothers both had a bris, were given godfathers, Hebrew names, and became Bar Mitzvah. I did not have a Bat Mitzvah or a Hebrew name, but recalled asking my father if I had one, what it would have been. He responded, "Leah," I think because it was close to my own name, Lynn. When I had an adult Bat Mitzvah, I remembered this conversation, so I took the name Leah. 

At that time, I was not as familiar with the Torah as I am now, so when I learned that Laban deceived Jacob by offering Leah and not Jacob's beloved, Rachel, I was not as enamored with my Hebrew name. The text indicates that while Laban was the one who sent Leah in place of Rachel, it feels that Leah was a willing participant in the ruse, and continued to compete with Rachel throughout their relationship.

While there have been times in my life when I was disappointed by the outcome of an event when it was not clear, or the players changed the rules midstride, I have always tried to understand the motivation and find a positive consequence. So I decided to embrace my Hebrew name and the woman who it represents. Leah is a matriarch and the mother of 6 of Jacob's sons. That definitely warrants merit to be raised up. (Return to Top)

Vayishlach by Harry Chen

Intention
In the midst of conflicts in our family may we hold out for, like Jacob and Esau, the possibility for resolution with time and healing. 

Comment
In this week's Torah portion, Jacob felt fear and guilt returning to his family in Canaan. He had deceived Esau to give up his birthright and blessing (Gen 25, 27) leading him to flee his brother's wrath. Expecting the worst, Jacob even divided his family and herds into 2 equal groups, to preserve the greatest chance for one group to survive if the other was attacked. In actuality, Esau embraced Jacob when they met.

Why did that happen? Maybe Esau didn't enjoy the responsibility of leading in Jacob's absence? Maybe Esau felt guilty for driving his only brother away? A guilt that could only have been intensified by his parent’s displeasure that Jacob left when it was discovered that Esau had planned to take revenge on him. Or it could have been forgiveness by Esau, that Isaac, Rebekah and perhaps God may have directed Esau to avoid taking revenge on the future ruler of Israel based on God's prophetic words to Rebekkah when Esau was in-utero. Perhaps the message here is that while family dynamics a conflictual and convoluted - there is still the possibility of harmony emerging. (Return to Top)

Vayeshev by Amy Strauss 

Intention
As we take on the challenges of leadership in our lives may we remember that it is not always our job to complete the task but may we also hold the importance of our ability to make a difference.

Comment
In this Torah portion, Jacob favors Joseph and this angers Joseph's brothers. Joseph dreams that he is reigning over his brothers. The story of Joseph is the story of a solitary man driven by vision, dreaming, ambition and is the object of disdain.  It is the story of a leader who is heroic and  tenacious. Many contemporary leaders can relate to this. Leadership by its very nature is a battle between one's desire to make a difference in history and to meet the immediate needs of the people they serve. Most leaders feel that they are called to achieve something important. To be driven by this need, it can be very lonely.  

The Torah teaches us that we are taught to say “Hineni”, (here I am). We are called upon to answer God's call by obeying Torah, serving God and acting with loving kindness. This can be a difficult and solitary task.  But, we must remember that our job is not to complete the task of making a better world, but do our part.  If you keep this mind, it can be very rewarding. (Return to Top)

 Miketz by Rabbi Nathan

Intention
In the face of difficult predictions of the future may we remember our agency and creativity, and ground ourselves in faith. 

Comment
In this week's Torah portion, Miketz, Pharoah's dreams and Joseph's confirmation of them portend an apocalyptic future. We too face dire predictions today - pandemic, climate change, war - which can feel overwhelming. Joseph not only affirms the prediction but is also able to offer a very concrete vision of ways to abate the worst case scenario through the construction of granary complexes. This story can be a useful reminder that we too have concrete steps we can take even if we can't stop the famine or its equivalent today, that we still have tools at our disposal to respond and make change. (Return to Top)

Vayigash by Richard Remenick

Intention
"May we work in the coming year to be less attached to our narratives as victim."

Comment
"…it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you”. This statement that Joseph
makes to his brothers reminds us to let go of our attachment to the role of victim
and to cultivate a broader more generous perspective on our circumstances,
whether good or bad. (Return to Top)

Vayehi by Rabbi Nathan

Intention
May we all be channelers of blessing and hold out for the possibility of protection and redemption.

Comment
In the process of blessing the son's of Joseph, his grandsons, Jacob says "The Messenger who has redeemed me from all harm—Bless the lads. In them may my name be recalled, And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, And may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth.” These words have become a contemporary song and lullaby among some Jews. Here is one version of this song by Yonina, an Israeli-American musical duo. (Return to Top)

Shemot by Kathy Trow

Intention
It takes strength and confidence to disobey an order that you know is wrong and will be harmful to others, but it can change the world.

Comment
In this week’s Torah portion the Hebrew women defied the Egyptian Pharaoh by
saving the male children that Pharaoh wished to be killed. The midwives, Shiphrah
and Puah denied being present at the births so they couldn’t kill the children, and
Miriam and Jochebed sent Moses down the river in a basket to be discovered by
Pharaoh’s daughter but to be raised by his own mother. God was pleased with
their defiance and the Israelites multiplied.

Historically it has been expected that women cater to the whims of men, but even
in biblical times when women find their voices for what is moral and just, we can
change things. There are several examples throughout history of women banding
together in protest that have led to political change supporting their causes
(woman’s suffrage parade in 1913, women’s march for peace in 1976, and more
recently the million mom marches against gun violence to name a few). As a
woman, I have learned that speaking my truth and advocating for what is right
can ultimately lead to change. (Return to Top)

Vaera by Rabbi Linda

Intention
May we always remember to lean into one another for support and assistance.

Comment
In Exodus 6:12, Moses, the quintessential prophet in our Jewish tradition, expresses self-doubt in the face of his daunting mission, exclaiming: “How then should Pharaoh heed me, who gets tongue-tied!” God reassures him that he, Moses, will be in the role of God, with Aaron helping out. What does this mean?

Moses will be the leader but Aaron will help with the speaking, as elocution is not the strong suit of Moses.  If the ultimate prophet in our tradition can ask for help, so can we. Our interdependence is holy. (Return to Top)

Bo by Abby Weinberg

Intention
When hope is scarce and the fear arises inside us that things are only getting worse... May we remember that liberation is real, things get better, even if it takes a very long time. 

Comment
In this weeks parsha (Exodus/Shemot, Ch.12:41), we are told that after 430 years of slavery, the "legions of the Lord went out of the land of Egypt."  In the 1619 project, scholars teach us that 404 years ago the first 20 enslaved africans were brought to this land ushering in another long era of slavery and discrimination.  Just as G!d ended the terrible oppression of the Israelites in Egypt after generations, so may we have the courage and strength today to usher in a new age of liberation for all people suffering under racism and intolerance.  (Return to Top)

Beshallah by Sharon Kleban

Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, before Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea....Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, “They are astray in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.” (Ex. 14:2-3)

Intention
May we hold onto our faith in a better future when we face the unknown.

Comment
Every one of us faces times in our life when we feel caught in a narrow place, where the familiar but painful place is behind us and the unknown is ahead.  Like the Israelites facing the sea, we need to have a little faith that the unknown is simply unknown and full of possibilities. Many of our more recent ancestors faced the sea and boarded ships in the old world that would carry them to better lives.  Just as the ancient Israelites and our grandparents and great grandparents did, we need to have some faith when facing a metaphorical sea. (Return to Top)

Yitro by Candy Berlin

Intention
There’s value in working with others in partnership or community. Sharing responsibilities can relieve individual stress, elevate relationships, build community and lead to more successful results.
 

Comment
Asking for assistance requires humility and accepting one’s limits which is sometimes considered a failing or weakness, but it’s actually a healthy response. And as a bonus, it places a special value on the other person(s), conveying that they are needed and trusted. The scenario in Parshat Yitro is that Moses is overwhelmed and exhausted with carrying out what he thinks Hashem expects of him. His father-in-law sees this and, unbidden, gives him advice on how save himself and delegate the work more broadly within the community. (Take note, future BI presidents!) Moses implements the suggestions with incredibly successful results. With Jethro’s guidance, Moses’ specific achievement, succinctly put by R. Nathan, is “to reorganize the judiciary.” I find it interesting, almost miraculous, that once Jethro offers advice, Moses doesn’t hesitate to listen and act. Many people stumble at this point. When they’re given sage advice on a silver platter, they aren’t able to accept it, much less act on it. A discussion for another time perhaps. (Return to Top)

Mishpatim by Dan and Stacy Beller

Intention
May we continue to examine our laws and strive for more equal justice. 

Comment
This week's Torah portion outlines a series of ritual and ethical laws for the Israelites. Reading the laws reminded us of the harshness of life in Biblical times. Many of the punishments were death or related to treating others as chattel. It inspires us to pay attention to the fairness of our current laws and look for ways to make them more just.  (Return to Top)

Terumah by Benjamin Alouf

Intention
As we carve out holy space and time for ourselves, may we be mindful of aiming for the practical as well as the beautiful.

Commentary on Ex.25:13-30
But these are holy items that hold the sacred "pact" or "testimony" depending on the translation I read. And to my understanding the space between the two cherubim is to be a seat for G-d. It is important to get it right. The Torah is full of instructions on constructing the sacred to the practical. And in this case there seems to be a bit of both. The size (somewhat on the smaller size likely to make it portable) the poles and rings for the poles (again in anticipation of it needing to be portable) seem to be by design. Add to that gold and cherubim welded into the gold cover and facing each other with outstretched wings clearly designate these as holy. As if G-d wanted to say these are sacrosanct but you are still a wandering people so we need to be practical. I don't want to be a burden to you as you carry my laws around but I want you to recognize the respect they deserve. That seemed to have been achieved here. (Return to Top)

Ki Tissa by Reisa Mukamal

Intention
Twice a day, holy incense is placed on the golden altar of incense in the Tent of Meeting. This includes the ingredient galbanum (chelbinah), a gum resin that emits a foul odor when burned.

Comment
Galbanum’s foul odor is diffused when blended with the other herbs in the holy incense—stacte, onycha, and frankincense, and makes them more pungent. Rashi teaches that this means we should be vigilant in including in our prayer gatherings people who have committed even severe transgressions. Just as the sacred formula for the aromatic incense is improved by galbanum, mingling with and appreciating everyone in our community helps us to be better versions of ourselves. (Return to Top)

Vayakhel/Pekudei by Sea Amundsen

Intention
May we remember that even the grandest of constructions is the work of many small parts, formed from the unique contributions of many.

Comment
This week's Torah reading details the work of creating the Tabernacle from the gifts the Israelites brought, with the skill of the hands of all those called to the service, and the expertise of Bezalel and Oholiab. This passage focuses on the details that had to come together to make the Tabernacle a reality, and how important each piece was in making the greater whole. (Return to Top)

Vayikra by Sharon Boyd

Intention
When we are moved by necessity or impulse to give, let us be guided by our more generous selves.  In this case, we are taught not merely to follow the letter of the law, but to imbue the act of giving with the spirit of generosity.

Comment
The beginning of Leviticus describes in detail how an offering to G-d must consist of the best of any given category of sacrifice.  This obligates the one offering the sacrifice to spare the best of his flock or pantry, rather than making offerings of poorer quality.  When we give, we have a choice to give the minimum to meet the requirement of the gift or to appeal to our kinder, more compassionate, generous nature.  The extra dose of love that may accompany a thoughtful gift is nourishment to the soul.  When giving, this portion teaches us to give from the heart, to sacrifice, in order to imbue our offer with meaning and love. (Return to Top)

Tzav by Adva Chattler

Intention and Commentary
We might not not have a priest and a Chattat offering to blow up in smoke all the unintentional sins of our people, but we can do so for ourselves with our breath: Close your eyes, sit comfortably in your seat, take a deep breath and when releasing it to the air: release with it the burden of all the things you’ve done unintentionally – to yourself, to others that you love, and to others that you don’t even know. Don’t carry this burden upon you, let it go. When you are ready, you can say: “May it be in my power and ability, to only bring goodness to this world. Amen.” (Return to Top)

Shemini

Intention
As we move beyond Pesah and "reset" our homes, may we also realign ourselves on a path of spiritual practice.

Commentary
This week's Torah portion, Shemini, includes a description of consecrating the tabernacle for sacred use. Thinking about this moment of transition after Passover, and connecting to the Torah portion, we too have the opportunity to consecrate ourselves toward the sacred.

Tazria-Metzora by Me'ira Pitkapaasi

Intention
Let us remember that everyone is entitled to Community, no matter their differences, no matter how deeply we do not understand.

Commentary
Tazria-Metzora was my parshah when I became Bat Mitzvah 40 years ago. I spoke then about the isolation caused by anti-semitism when we as Jews are considered to be lepers by the mainstream community.  I spoke of getting off the school bus in Bucks County to taunts of “Burn the Jews!” and “Jesus killer!”  The extended family at my ceremony were primarily from Jewish neighborhoods in North Jersey and were appalled to hear of such experiences occurring on a daily basis to one of their own.

Six years later I moved to the home of one of those cousins for the summer, to help prepare her children to become B’nai Mitzvah. I was 19 years old and we had a beautiful few weeks together- until my cousin asked me about the person I was seeing, and the name I gave her was that of another young woman.  

My cousin promptly removed my toothbrush and washcloths from the bathroom, banned her children from being alone with me, and started following me around the house with a bottle of Lysol. Needless to say, after just a few days I dejectedly removed my impure self from her home and community and returned to my own home where only strangers treated me like trash for being queer.

Vinny Prell writes for Keshet, a Jewish LGBT community: “Our long history as Jews facing exile and exclusion from nations around the world [does] not keep Jewish denominations from excluding LGBT Jews….The LGBT history of exclusion from mainstream society [does] not keep us from downplaying and distancing ourselves from transgender people….. Even within Jewish LGBT communities we forget those who are different from ourselves…forgetting that there are still many barriers to the inclusion of transgender and bisexual people.”

Humanity is in the desert, eternally traveling towards the Promised Land. Let us reflect on how we can reach out to those who have been labeled as “Other”, how we can be there for those who are traditionally rejected in our communities. The disabled, the immigrant, the dark-skinned.  The mentally ill, the queer. Let us remember that everyone is entitled to Community, no matter their differences, no matter how deeply we do not understand. (Return to Top)

Aharei Mot by Joyce Romoff

Intention
May we accept responsibility for our errors, repent, atone, and be cleansed to begin the new Jewish year with grace and transformation.

Commentary
This parasha discusses two identical goats with two dramatically different fates. The goats stand at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting waiting for the High Priest. By lots, the High Priest designates one goat for Adonai; the other goat goes to “Azazel.” The goat for Adonai is sacrificed according to ritual. The High Priest then places his hands on the head of the remaining goat, confesses all “iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites”, and then sends that goat “off to the wilderness.” But, if our errors, sins, iniquities can be relieved by a goat, how do we learn, grow, and transform? May we, together and separately, correct and learn when we miss the mark. (Return to Top)

Emor by Marion Hamermesh

Intention
As we move through life, may we strive for holiness in our thoughts, our deeds, and our relationships with G!d and G!d’s creations.

Commentary
Parshat Emor begins with detailed rules for what Priests must do to remain sacred to G!d. In Exodus 19:6, we are told that we are to be “a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation.” With the destruction of the Temple, the Priests and their connecting to G!d disappeared. Now, all the more, we must be a holy nation and keep that union strong. How do we do this? We emulate G!d by being compassionate and gracious and kind, by being thoughtful custodians of the Earth and its creatures and plants, and by seeking and fighting for truth and justice. (Return to Top)

Behar/Behukotai by Miriam Sigler

Intention
May we heed the message in Leviticus 25 to respect the land, including everything that makes life possible (i.e. water, air, kindness) so that we can truly flourish, whether due to an abundance of food, natural resources or love.

Commentary
Whether one believes in G-d, or Mother Nature, all of us on this big ball have a social contract to preserve our land, sea & air. Even with nature’s abundance (the 2 extra years G-d tacked on?), we are paying dearly for not having abided by that contract. We have been poor stewards. We forget that we “are but strangers resident” on this earth. 

Is it too late to fix? I’m not sure. But if we don’t reset, it certainly will be. In addition to the obvious reset towards sustainable living, there are psychological resets. We must return to respectful discord. This is a tall order that starts with nurturing children, just as we must nurture earth. 

Today’s youth inherited challenges I never had to consider. But they have more tools than ever to restore our land, water & air. I’m optimistic younger generations will reset enough to be the stewards all of us should’ve been. (Return to Top)

Bamidbar by Randi Raskin Nash

Intention
May we soon have peace throughout the world. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. Each person shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, with none to make them afraid. (Isaiah 2:4)

Commentary
While Bamidbar, not Isaiah, is our parshah this week, I was struck by the contrast between prophet Isaiah’s utopian vision and the stark reality of Bamidbar. Bamidbar begins with Gd instructing Moses to take the census of all those who are able to go forth in battle. The male Israelites are counted in order to be deployed, i.e., all who are fit to bear arms. While we aspire to “study war no more” (wonderfully sung by the BI Chorus during High Holy Days!), the reality of our world now, and then, absolutely necessitates readiness, willingness, courage and capacity to protect and defend our nation. I am profoundly grateful to the less than one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. population who choose to serve our country as part of the U.S. military. As many may know, my son is a Marine Corps officer—it is a privilege and an honor to support him, his active-duty friends, and all those who serve, and have served, in accordance with their military oath as they strive for the greater good.

Here is a prayer by Alden Solovy called The Last Soldier that honors the ultimate mission of soldiers (Army), sailors (Navy), Marines (Marine Corps), and airmen (Air Force): Peace. https://ritualwell.org/ritual/last-soldier/ (Return to Top)

Naso by Andy Coleman

Intention
May we offer our prayers with different intent even as we say the same words.

Commentary
In this week's portion we read that the head of each tribe brought the same offering on 12 successive days. Our Rabbis interpreted this to mean that each brought the same offering with a different intent. We recite the same prayers from our siddur each week. We could recite them each week with Keva, which means simple repetition or by rote or with no intent. If we use Kavannah in prayer, we pray with intention. We use the same words, but from week to week or day to day our intent may be different. We can bring whatever we are feeling at the moment to prayer. (Return to Top)

Beha'alotekha by Deb Erie

Intention
May we listen to the voices of those who may be different from us and may we advocate for change and inclusivity.

Commentary
 In this Torah portion, G-d hears the request that another opportunity be given to those who were unable to offer the Passover sacrifice and creates the opportunity one month from Pesach creating Pesach Sheni. G-d hears and responds by creating another opportunity for that sacrifice for those who were excluded or unable to participate. (Return to Top)

Shelakh Lekha by Katie Sibley

Intention
It is better, as W.H. Auden noted in his 1940 poem, to “Leap before you look”
although, he added, “look if you like.” Still, one must leap, he writes— “the dream of safety has to disappear.” It may sound unsettling, but this beautiful poem is about the value of taking risks. Clearly, the Israelites needed to hear this message too, offered (with the enticements of milk and honey) by Scouts Caleb and Joshua, who had gone ahead with a small party to check out things in the Negeb and promised it would be well worth it.

Commentary
Instead, of course, the Israelites listened to the eight other Scouts who returned from that party, who unlike Caleb and Joshua, warned of being devoured like “grasshoppers” by giant Negeb Nephilim (a tribe of mysterious giants). Panicked, the people broke into a frenzy and threatened to pelt their leaders with stones rather than proceed to such a fate. G’d was furious at their faithlessness and told Moses and Aaron they would all be destroyed; fortunately, Moses got the punishment lowered to just under 40 years in the wilderness instead—still, only Caleb and Joshua would see the promised land. Rabbi Beth Ellen Young persuasively employs the term Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) in connection with this parsha. Trauma held back the heel-dragging Israelites, she writes; who could blame them, struggling after years of enslavement, hasty flight, and endless wandering. But, as Caleb and Joshua somehow had done, they too needed to develop coping skills so they could effectively grow despite their trauma, and indeed, leap. Instead, they were condemned to wander for decades (or, like the eight “calumny spreaders,” to die by plague.) (Return to Top)

Chukat by Laura Lee and Randi

Intention
May you find lightness and laughter in unexpected places. 

Commentary
This is a heavy Torah portion. Gd teaches Moses the laws of the red heifer whose ashes purify a person defiled by contact with a dead body. Beloved Miriam dies. The people are thirsty and complaining. Moses gets angry at them and strikes a rock for water. Gd tells Moses that he and Aaron are not going to the Promised Land. Stalwart Aaron dies. Venomous snakes attack the Israelite camp when they once again speak out against Gd and Moses.

As we worked on our d'var for Shabbat our moods were heavy. We weren’t “feeling it.” Then we found this poem by Rick Lupert: The Rebels Yell - A poem for Torah Portion Chukat

Our moods lightened, and we hope you enjoy too! 

P.S. Here's the original, in case you feel like singing along. (Return to Top)

Balak by Marion and Larry Hamermesh

Intention
Do not allow yourself to be bought; those who would make such an offer are most likely doing so out of evil intent.

Commentary
Balak, king of Moab offers Balaam untold riches and rewards to curse the “people who came from Egypt and hides the Earth from view.” Throughout their negotiations Balaam never wavers - he will only do what the Lord permits. We can be like Balaam. We can bless G!d’s creation by acting virtuously rather than cursing it by giving in to destructive impulses. The path to holiness rests on our resisting the temptation to compromise our beliefs and ethics for the lure of shiny trinkets and high-priced vacations. (Return to Top)

Mattot-Masaei by Rabbi Nathan

Intention
May the many stops of the Israelites on their journey (Num. 33) remind us that our spiritual work is a process with many stops along the way.

Commentary
This week's Torah portion lists the many encampments of the Israelites in their 40-year journey to Canaan. There are Hasidic commentaries that understand this journey not only as a physical one but also as a metaphor for spiritual work. Each "station" that we encounter in our life, whether it is one of hardship (i.e. lack of water physically or spiritually) or joy can be one of reflection and growth. (Return to Top)

Devarim by Hadassah Weinmartin

Intention
May we try in our leadership to not isolate ourselves but rather take the time to create and lean on support networks in our communities.

Commentary
In this week's parshah, Moses recalls the decision he made with God's guidance to appoint tribal leaders to share the burden of leadership. This is still helpful and instructive for us today, since we can often find ourselves pulled to go it alone when the smarter move is building community to lead together. (Return to Top)

Va'etchanan by Emma Lefkowitz

Intention
Holy One of Blessing, Your Presence fills Creation, calling me to know your voice even if I cannot perceive your shape.

Commentary
In this week's Torah portion, Va'etchanan, the Divine is depicted as a voice without shape or form, "יהוה spoke to you out of the fire; you heard the sound of words but perceived no shape—nothing but a voice. (Dtr 4:12). This passage, with its emphasis on Gd having no particular or perceptible shape but only a voice, reminds us that Gd's presence takes many forms, and that part of having faith in a creative force in the world is being open to hearing its voice wherever and whenever it calls to us. (Return to Top)

Eikev by Carol Brisseli

Intention
In these times of great turmoil and contentiousness in our country and the world, may we discover that we do not need to harm those who obstruct the path to attaining rewards.

Commentary
In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we find Moses commanding the Israelites to remove any traces of foreign presence and the influence of foreign practices, perform Mitzvot, and in return receive G-d’s reward.  It seems to me that there is more disagreement and divisiveness in today’s world than kindhearted spirit. 

May we learn from this Torah portion that rather than “trampling” over others with whom we disagree and who obstruct our path, alternatively we can reach out in order to find common ground.  Our challenge could be to perform a Mitzvah without regard for the reward.  It might bring us closer together and foster deeper relationships. (Return to Top)

Re'eh by Debbie Wile

Intention
May we find in our hearts a way to include everyone, both those whom we consider part of our group and those whom we consider as outsiders.

Commentary
At the beginning of this parsha, a clear distinction is made about insiders and outsiders. “…You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods… tear down their altars, smash their pillars… obliterating their name from that site (Dtr. 12:3).” The idea of differences/exclusion (in styles of worship) is used to justify identifying and destroying an outcast group.

Within the same parsha, however, the idea of inclusion is introduced. When feasting and rejoicing, “…rejoice… with your sons and daughters and with your male and female slaves, along with the family of the Levite in your settlements… (Dtr. 12:12)” Here, we are directed to be sure to include everyone.

These seem pretty contradictory and confusing. One could argue that the directive of exclusion is stated only once, albeit at the beginning of the parsha, where the directive of inclusion is repeated throughout. Majority rules, right? I suggest that the parsha requires us to choose between exclusion and inclusion, that it is our responsibility to decide for ourselves which way to behave. Since the text of exclusion feels evil and wrong, maybe that’s our sages’ way of suggesting we avoid it. (Return to Top)

Shofetim by Hannah Bowen

Intention
May we all think about ways that we can address the guilt and heal the brokenness in the world, especially in situations where someone is murdered unjustly due to racism, antisemitism, or other situations.

Commentary
In my Torah portion, it talks about an unsolved murder that takes place between two towns. The Torah instructs the Israelites to break a heifer’s neck to get rid of the guilt of the unsolved murder. The town that is closest to the murder will be responsible for this sacrifice. This is necessary because when someone is murdered and no one claims responsibility, it creates unresolved guilt in Israelite society. Normally, the guilty party would offer a sacrifice to clear up the transgression. In this case, when there is no one to clear up the guilt, this could lead to communal punishment because God might abandon the people. This would be very bad!

I also wanted to think about how we can heal from violence today. I recently heard about an incident when a young person, who went to the wrong door to pick up his siblings, and was shot by a neighbor who was scared of him because he was black. Even though the shooter might go to jail, I think there needs to be more healing. What else could the shooter do to try to make things right for the young boy and his family? How could he show that he wants to change? Maybe the man’s “heifer” is taking the extra effort to reform himself and help create peace for the young boy’s family. (Return to Top)

Ki Tetze by Sarah Krakow and Kim Dumoff

Intention
Treat others the way you would want to be treated. 

Commentary
This weeks Torah portion includes the clear obligation to return lost objects and help a fellow Israelite if their donkey has fallen in the road (See Dtr 22:1-4). During this coming year may we pay careful attention to others. We should not feign ignorance of the troubles or misfortunes of our neighbors, both locally and globally. We need to work on being kind and helpful. When you have the opportunity to do good, you must not hide yourself. Imagine if you had lost something that was of great value, and somebody nurtured it and returned it to you. You would feel so relieved and grateful and the person who helped you would also feel good. Both of you would end the interaction with a smile. Helping someone else have a good day by performing a mitzvah, can help you have a good day too. (Return to Top)

Ki Tavo by Rabbi Nathan

Intention
May we always remember that we came from humble origins and that we are deeply connected to the land.

Commentary
This week's Torah portion begins with the recitation of the formula for gratitude -- also found in our Haggadah for Passover - for the first fruits. This recitation includes a brief summary that (a) we were slaves in the land of Egypt (b) God liberated us, and (c) we arrived to a productive brimming with produce and potential. This short synopsis of the journey of our ancestors is worth keeping in mind, not only on Passover. May we find ways to dwell on our liberation story as an inspiration to liberate ourselves and others today, and may we remember that maintaining healthy and productive land, and by extension, healthy and productive ecosystems, are the heritage and responsibility of our own liberation. (Return to Top)

Psalm 27 - Preparation for High Holidays

Friends, as we head into Selichot and High Holidays we wanted to share a new contemporary version of "Ahat Sha'alti" by Jewish musical artist Aly Halpert. You can listen to the recording here. Wishes to all for a meaningful preparation for High Holidays. (Return to Top)

Mon, April 15 2024 7 Nisan 5784