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Drops of Torah from our members (2023-24 / 5784)

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.

Drops of Torah from Prior Years

  1.  Preparation for Yom Kippur
  2.  Psalm 27
  3.  Simchat Torah to Bereishit
  4.  Poems and Prayers for Israel, and Psalm 27
  5.  "Mima'amakim" by Joey Weisenberg
  6.  "The Narrow Bridge" by Nefesh Mountain
  7.  "Karov" by Batya Levine
  8.  "Min Hameitzar" by Deborah Sacks Mintz
  9.  A Thanksgiving Prayer by Rabbi Naomi Levy
  10.  Vayishlach by Yehuda Weinmartin
  11.  Hanukkah by Reisa Mukamal
  12.  Joseph's Coat, Interpreted by Daniel Silverstein and Andrew Lloyd Weber
  13.  Vayigash by Rabbi Nathan
  14.  Vayehi by Rabbi Nathan
  15.  Shemot by Rabbi Nathan
  16.  Vaera by Robin Schaufler
  17.  Bo by Daniela Eskenazi
  18.  Beshallah by Alicia DePaolo
  19.  Yitro by Randy Tiffany
  20.  Mishpatim by Me'ira
  21.  Terumah by Linda Cohen
  22.  Tetzvaveh by Amy Strauss
  23.  Ki Tissa by Larry Hamemesh
  24.  Vayakhel by Rabbi Nathan
  25.  Pekudei by Kathy Trow
  26.  Leviticus by Deb Erie
  27.  Tzav by Lynn Cashell
  28.  Shemini by Marion Hamermesh
  29.  Tazria by Rabbi Nathan
  30.  Shabbat Hagadol
  31.  Shabbat Hol HaMoed Passover by Rabbi Nathan
  32.  "Somebody's Hero"
  33.  Emor by Rabbi Nathan
  34.  Behar by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg
  35.  Behukotai by Daniela Eskenazi 
  36.  Nasso by Nancy Martin
  37.  Beha'alotekha by Allan Feldman (with support from Rabbi Nathan)

AnchorPreparation for Yom Kippur

As we prepare for Yom Kippur, we offer this contemporary version of "Ki Hineh Kahomer," for we are like clay sculpted in the hands of the sculptor, remembering our fragility and dependence on others and the Divine in this process of teshuva(Return to Top)

AnchorPsalm 27

We continue to offer Psalm 27 through this holiday. Enjoy this musical rendition(Return to Top)

AnchorSimchat Torah to Bereishit

Friends, please enjoy this short GodCast video written by Sarah Lefton connecting the holiday of Simchat Torah to Bereishit(Return to Top)

AnchorPoems and Prayers for Israel, and Psalm 27

Friends, we offer two different "drops of Torah" to hold this particular moment. The first is the sharing of the recording of a Ritual Well session held on October 12th on Poems and Prayers for Israel and the second is musician Aly Halpert's prayer song from Psalm 27 asking that all we seek is to dwell in God's house, a house of peace and wholeness. (Return to Top)

Anchor"Mima'amakim" by Joey Weisenberg

This week as we still hold the challenge and heartbreak with the war in Israel we share this piece by Joey Weisenberg which translates to "From the depths I call to you God; God hear my voice". (Return to Top)

Anchor"The Narrow Bridge" by Nefesh Mountain

This week, we would like to offer this song by Nefesh Mountain, titled "The Narrow Bridge". (Return to Top)

Anchor"Karov" by Batya Levine

Friends we share two pieces of Torah this week. First, all are welcome to view the procession of nearly fifty sefer Torah scrolls that survived the Holocaust and that were gathered together last evening in a special Kristalnacht - survivor scroll gathering. And also, we include a short piece by singer Batya Levine, Karov - which includes the lyrics "God is close to those who cry out to Her, she answers those who plead." May the Divine hear our pleas as well. (Return to Top)

Anchor"Min Hameitzar" by Deborah Sacks Mintz

We share this musical rendition from the psalms for "Min Hameitzar", from Psalm 118: “From a narrow place I called out to YAH; God answered me within the expanse.” (Return to Top)

AnchorA Thanksgiving Prayer by Rabbi Naomi Levy

We are particularly grateful for the release of the first group of hostages from Gaza. And we also share this brief Thanksgiving prayer written by Rabbi Naomi Levy. (Return to Top)

A Thanksgiving Prayer
Rabbi Naomi Levi

For the laughter of the children,
For my own life breath,
For the abundance of food on this table,
For the ones who prepared this sumptuous feast,
For the roof over our heads,
The clothes on our backs,
For our health,
And our wealth of blessings,
For this opportunity to celebrate with family and friends,
For the freedom to pray these words
Without fear,
In any language,
In any faith,
In this great country,
Whose landscape is as vast and beautiful as her inhabitants.
Thank You, God, for giving us all these.  Amen.

AnchorVayishlach by Yehuda Weinmartin

(Inspired from his bar mitzvah dvar Torah) 

May we strive to rebuild our damaged relationships, even ones that seem beyond repair.

In this week’s Torah portion, even after twenty years of estrangement, Jacob and Esau find a way to forgive each other and reconcile. And even though they went their separate ways, one could tell from the story that they still cared for one another. (Return to Top)

AnchorHanukkah by Reisa Mukamal

At this fraught time in history, let's remind ourselves that the proper response is not to curse the darkness but to light a candle. That’s the wisdom of Hannukah(Return to Top)

AnchorJoseph's Coat, Interpreted by Daniel Silverstein and Andrew Lloyd Weber

The age old story of Joseph and his brothers' jealousy has inspired much art over the years. I'm including a couple of pieces of interpretive Torah, including a hip hop piece by Daniel Silverstein on GodCast, and of course, Andrew Lloyd Weber's version from Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. Enjoy! (Return to Top)

AnchorVayigash by Rabbi Nathan

During those times that we distant from God/our spiritual self, may we remember that the possibility to reconnect is ever present.

A Hasidic reading of Judah's approaching the Egyptian Viceroy (Joseph in disguise) suggests that when Judah starts his speech with the words "Bi Adoni"  (Please My Lord) that this phrase can also be read as Bi Adonai - God is in me, a reminder that the sacred presence of the divine accompanies us throughout our life's journey. (Return to Top)

AnchorVayehi by Rabbi Nathan

As we start new beginnings, even if they are challenging, may we bring the resources of our connections and traditions with us.

As we conclude the book of Genesis we traditionally recite the words, "Hazak, Hazak, Venithazek" meaning may we go from strength to strength. As we start a secular new year, we can draw upon these words to remind ourselves to draw from the wisdom of our traditions to give us strength to face these difficult time. (Return to Top)

AnchorShemot by Rabbi Nathan

May we always remember the fire within that leads us to seek wholeness in the world.

In this week's Torah portion Moses is drawn to a bush that is aflame but not consumed by the fire. From this lowly shrub emerged the voice of the Divine. May we too remember the fire within us and that we too can hear the voice of the Divine calling for wholeness in the world. (Return to Top)

AnchorVaera by Robin Schaufler

Let the plagues in the time of Moses be a warning to learn how to work with nature rather than try to dominate it.

This week's Torah portion describes the first seven plagues that befell Egypt. Can we interpret the plagues in light of modern ecology?

Perhaps the water turned red like blood from algal blooms caused by runoff of excess fertilizer. Maybe the pests were provoked by poor agricultural and irrigation practices. Boils and loss of firstborns may have resulted from poor sanitation or crowding, or both.

A plausible explanation of the hail and fire plague, number 7, is that a wildfire may have created its own weather. The heat of a severe fire causes an updraft, sending the particulates into the atmosphere, where atmospheric moisture can freeze around the ash particles, forming hail. The heat and wind also cause a thunderstorm with lightning. If irrigation drained an area of moisture, the result may have been similar to drought conditions, leaving dry vegetation standing as kindling. Such draining may have been an effect of the same practices that bred frogs, lice, and flies, and whatever sickened the livestock.

Days of darkness are a little harder to parse. It could have been a solar eclipse, which has nothing to do with ecological failure. But since the hail and fire plague happened earlier, there may have been more wildfires beyond the borders of interest, sending up smoke that darkened the skies like what New York and parts of Pennsylvania experienced from the 2023 Canadian wildfires.

If the time of Moses was a culmination of great and widespread agricultural intensification, that intensification could have induced either global or regional climate change. We know that the Amazon creates its own weather. Raze the tropical rainforest, and the rain will stop, converting the land to dry savannah or possibly dessert. The Exodus phenomenon wasn’t that extreme, but could hint at anthropogenic effects to come. (Return to Top)

AnchorBo by Daniela Eskenazi

Just as God in the story of the Exodus does not give up fighting for Her people, may we too internalize that same fierceness and persistence in our struggles to better ourselves and the world.

In my own life I have been thinking about how important persistence is in the face of long difficult struggles, whether this is the struggle to maintain one's health or the struggle to create more just and equitable communities in Greater Philadelphia. The story of God's persistence - throwing plague after plague against the Pharaoh can be seen in a positive light and going the extra mile for something we care about! (Return to Top)

AnchorBeshallah by Alicia DePaolo

On this Shabbat Shirah, may we feel the beauty and power of joining our voices in song as we work together towards liberation.

This week's Torah reading features the "Song of the Sea," an ancient poem celebrating the Israelites and God's victory over the Egyptians who were pursuing them. As we listen to the Song of the Sea this week, may we draw inspiration from Moses and Miriam's bravery and leadership, and may we move forward from our own narrow places. (Return to Top)

AnchorYitro by Randy Tiffany

As liberal Jews may we look towards tradition for guidance but also trust our own ethical sense as we work towards living our fullest lives.

In this week's portion, Yitro, we reach the dramatic moment of revelation on Sinai.  But looking more closely, divine revelation occurs throughout Tanakh and, in the post-biblical period,  the rabbis assign to themselves the role of arbiters of revelation. As liberal Jews,  we are guided by tradition but we assume responsibility as individuals and as a community the difficult but essential task of determining how our lives can best contribute to a higher purpose. (Return to Top)

AnchorMishpatim by Me'ira

May we find the wisdom in Torah that allows us to make better choices in our lives, eliminating cruelty to humans, and to all animals.

“Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.” The Sages tell us we must not derive any benefit from such an act of cruelty to a young animal. How much closer are we to holiness if we completely eliminate the cruelty of cooking any animal at all? When God created the universe, there was no need to kill animals for food, and in fact, before Noah, we did not kill animals for food. Now that our society has developed appropriate nutrition that does not require animal sacrifice, may we find the wisdom in Torah that allows us to make better choices in our lives, eliminating cruelty to humans, and to all animals. (Return to Top)

AnchorTerumah by Linda Cohen

A community thrives when each member contributes their time, resources, and unique talents.

In Parshat Terumah, God instructs Moses to fashion a sanctuary to hold the Tablets. He asks foran offering from each community member: everything from gold and silver to goat hair, oil and spices. By creating the Mishkan in this way, the result was not just a beautiful Ark, but the communal experience of investing and creating something together. (Return to Top)

AnchorTetzvaveh by Amy Strauss

May we remember to judge a person by how they act, rather than what name or description we give them.

One of the things that is interesting about parshat Tetzaveh is that Mose’s name is never mentioned around the lengthy description of the construction of the priestly garments. The sages say that even though Moses gave us the Torah, his name is not cited in Tetzaveh because when the people sinned with the golden calf (in the parshah right after this), Moses responded by saying, “Forgive them or erase me from Your book.” Even though the people were forgiven, Mose’s request was granted by God by not including his name in this Torah portion (Some rabbis argue that time is fluid and that our portion tetzaveh was written after the sin of the golden calf even though it comes before it in the Torah). I think this teaching about Moses "disappearance" from Tetzaveh suggests that you are more than your name, profession, race, nationality, religion and other characteristics that you are named or identified with. It shows us that we should judge a person by how they act, rather than what name or description we give them. (Return to Top)

AnchorKi Tissa by Larry Hamemesh

Revere the manifestations of G!d, but do not worship them. 

In parsha Ki Tissa, why is G!d so upset when the Israelites make and bow down to a golden calf? In the same parsha G!d commands the Israelites to make all sorts of things - incense, holy oil - to make the Ark of the Covenant a holy physical object. Is G!d a hypocrite? And are we idolaters when we rise when the Ark is opened and kiss the Torah scroll?

In short, no. We kiss the scroll in reverence,  as a tangible manifestation of the divine, but we do not worship it as a deity. Just so, we revere and must care for myriad divine manifestations - rain forests, coral reefs, family relationships,  among many others - but they are not objects of worship. (OK, so maybe we do worship our grandchildren, a little.) (Return to Top)

AnchorVayakhel by Rabbi Nathan

May we seek to be compassionate truth tellers in our building of community.

In an interesting detail in this week's Torah portion the text notes that "They made the planks for the Tabernacle of acacia wood, upright. (Ex. 36:20)". In a word play on the letters of the word plank K-R-SH, our Hasidic masters note that this word is close to the word for falsehood in Hebrew SH-K-R. From this exploration they reiterate the spiritual truth that the stability of a community, like the stability of the tabernacle depends on an uprightness and truth-telling. When offered well and with compassion, truth-telling can help us all grow to be more sensitive with one another and to face our faults directly to create stronger structures of trust and to be able to lean on each other to hold up our holiness. (Return to Top)

AnchorPekudei by Kathy Trow

May creating and adorning ourselves with beauty nourish our souls as well as our bodies.

The portion Pedudei that describes the High Priest’s clothing in detail. The wardrobe was fine and beautiful. I struggled with this portion to find a connection to this elaborate costuming of the High Priest when it seems like a disconnect to me when there was poverty and need around him. It just didn’t seem like a humble practice. But then Laura Lee sent me a piece from the Velveteen Rabbi and it helped with perspective. The author wrote about beauty being a “spiritual tool” and that it can “nourish the soul”. I think that the adornment of the HP with the elaborately detailed robe and headdress was a connection to the artistry of the physical word with the richness of the spiritual world. We can take the beauty we find in our physical world and apply it to enhance and support our spiritual path as appreciating what we perceive as beautiful as a pathway to the divine. (Return to Top)

AnchorLeviticus by Deb Erie

May we always take responsibility for our wrong actions and for the wrong actions of our larger community in an effort to bring us closer to a just world.

This parsha deals with taking responsibility for wrong actions - sins (knowingly or unknowingly) through sacrifice at the Temple. What I found interesting in this portion was the equality and recognition of human dignity – allowing for varying sacrifices based on what was available to each person and no one was excluded from this commandment. It also spoke to our communal responsibility for any wrongs committed and that without this, a society can be corrupted by the actions of a few bad members. (Return to Top)

AnchorTzav by Lynn Cashell

May we find ways to do holy and sacred works that honor the Divine.

Parsha Tzav focuses on the different sacrifices and distinctions between them that God commands:  sin offerings, burnt offerings, ritual offerings, and homage offerings. While we no longer sacrifice animals and special breads, we are commanded to offer things made by our own hands, When we engage in providing food for the homeless shelter, a food bank, or for each other, we are sacrificing our time, products, and energies. When we plant vegetables in our own or our BI gardens and donate it, the dirt under our fingernails speaks to our sacrifices. When we provide service to our community via committees, service on the Board of Directors, singing or playing instruments, we are raising up sacred service and doing holy acts. In all of these ways, we honor our Lord as commanded. (Return to Top)

AnchorShemini by Marion Hamermesh

Practice self-care AND do not neglect the obligation to care for your friends, family, neighbors, and community.

Leviticus 9:7 describes some more of the priest’s tasks saying, “Come forward to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering, making expiation for yourself and for the people…” The priest acts for himself AND for the people. Earlier, in Exodus 19:6 we are told we “shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” so, we must, like the priest, act for ourselves and for the people. Michelle Alexander in the Preface to the Tenth Anniversary Edition of The New Jim Crow speaks directly to this.

“More is required of us in these times. We must learn to care for one another across all boundaries and borders and build a movement of movements rooted in a love so fierce that when a Mexican child is ripped from the arms of his mother at the border, and when a black child is ripped from the arms of her mother as she’s arrested on the streets of New York, and when a white child is ripped from the arms of her mother in a courtroom in Oklahoma, we feel the same pain, the same agony, as though it were our own children.” (Return to Top)

AnchorTazria by Rabbi Nathan

May the ritual wisdom of our ancestors inspire us to design rituals today to help us move from states of challenge to states of wholeness.

This week's Torah portion identifies elaborate reintegration rituals for someone who is identified as ritually impure as and isolated from the camp. There is wisdom in creating rituals and structures that allow us to reintegrate into community when we have found ourselves isolated. May this ancient wisdom inspire us to recreate our own practices today. (Return to Top)

AnchorShabbat Hagadol

Here's a bit more explanation behind the term/concept of Shabbat Hagadol by Rabbi Lewin of the North Shore Synagogue in Lindfield, Australia. (Return to Top)

AnchorShabbat Hol HaMoed Passover by Rabbi Nathan

May Passover help us bring out our attributes of kindness and compassion more fully.

The traditional Torah reading on Shabbat of the intermediate days of Passover focuses on God's kindness and compassion and willingness to continue Her covenanted relationship with the Jewish people, even after the golden calf incident. Not long after elaborating the thirteen attributes of God (Ex. 34:6-7)- a kind of formula to unleash God's compassion - we see that God instructs the Israelites to observe Passover. While no specific reason is given for this turn to connect to Jewish time, perhaps it is because the holiday is connected to kindness and inclusivity (an open seder table for all), reinforcing our identity through ritual and diet, and seeking to lift up others with special Passover tzedaka. May this time of celebration and reflection lead us to open our hearts to the suffering of others as best as we are able. (Return to Top)

Anchor"Somebody's Hero"

As a tribute to Mother's Day, for our drop of Torah this week we are sharing "Somebody's Hero" by Country singer Jamie O'Neal. (Lyrics here). Enjoy! (Return to Top)

AnchorEmor by Rabbi Nathan

May we find ways to connect with and intertwine our lives with "Jewish time".

This week's Torah portion, Emor, is one of the three times in the Torah where the Jewish holidays and the Jewish year cycle are spelled out (Lev. 23). While our holiday traditions and practices continue to evolve, being able to connect with and live in a cycle of Jewish time is what can anchor our lives and Jewish identity. May we continue to try to mine for meaning from our Jewish holidays, allowed them to be fixed and ever changing as we evolve as Jews in this moment. (Return to Top)

AnchorBehar by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg

May the example from our Torah portion of letting the land lie fallow on the seventh year remind us to remember that we can have "enough" without holding onto and accumulating possessions.

This week's Torah portion outlines the laws of Shemita, of letting the land rest every seven years. The Israelites were simply instructed to trust that the land would provide sufficient resources for their needs in years seven and eight. This deep teaching continues to be relevant today where we are often pushed to live a highly consumptive lifestyle that bases our happiness on accumulation. In this spirit, I also share my Ashrei poem that touches on this theme. (Return to Top)

Ashrei Yoshvei Veytecha (Sheila Peltz Weinberg)
Just to take our seat and enter fully into this moment is to recognize that we are part of something so much greater than ourselves
Happy is one who sits in your house.
Ashrei Yoshvei Veytecha
We relax into this moment remembering that we do not posses this house: this moment, this body, this world. And that makes it all the more precious.
In the simplicity of returning again and again to this breath, this sensation, this sound, we are practicing happiness.
The happiness of peace and contentment,
The happiness of feeling connected,
The happiness of greeting the sun in the morning or just taking another breath,
The happiness of knowing this bad mood will pass and this harsh thought has no substance,
The happiness of letting go of ill will for this moment,
The happiness of allowing desire to come to its natural end in the mind,
The happiness of growing still,
The happiness of seeing life and death in everything and not being afraid.
Is this political? Well, I think it is.
This happiness doesn’t hurt people we do not know.
This happiness doesn’t tell us to be ashamed of growing old.
This happiness doesn’t tell us we aren’t okay but can fix that if we try hard enough.
This happiness doesn’t attract a lot of buyers and sellers.
It calls for careful cultivation, like a field of precious jewels
Moment after moment.
It calls for dedication and community and willingness and faith.
It calls upon wisdom and courage.
It is itself a child of goodness.
So simple.
So huge.
But it is the only happiness there is.

AnchorBehukotai by Daniela Eskenazi

While curses can be a strong motivator, may we also try to find the blessings embedded within them. 

This week's Torah portion outlines blessings (a few) and curses (many) as a closing section to the book of Leviticus. In my own life I have found that curses or the threat of a curse (e.g. a health scare) can be a good motivator to change my behavior. And at the same time, I was able to see the benefits of living a healthier lifestyle from the change in my actions. So may the curses (challenges) we face in our lives and the blessings embedded in them motivate us towards the betterment of ourselves and others. (Return to Top)

AnchorNasso by Nancy Martin

May we be careful to not turn to ascetic behaviors as a shortcut solution for facing life’s difficulties.

In this week’s Torah portion we read about Nazirites who decide at some point to take upon themselves a vow of abstinence from alcohol, from cutting one’s hair, and from exposing themselves to impure objects. While I can definitely sympathize with the impulse to take upon ourselves more rigorous practices in our lives to help us recenter — I myself think about times when I fully invest my concentration into racquetball or writing as a practice — I think it also behooves us to be careful to not turn to addictive or ascetic practices as a shortcut to the harder work of juggling multiple responsibilities (e.g. child raising, running a home, taking care of self, or being a caregiver) that each require our attention and concentration. (Return to Top)

AnchorBeha'alotekha by Allan Feldman (with support from Rabbi Nathan)

We have to be careful not to overreact when we get angry.

In this week's Torah portion, God gives Miriam, Moses' sister, leprosy for talking against her brother. I don't know what the punishment should have been but it seems like this was too much! May we all learn to be careful how we react to criticism. (Return to Top)

Fri, June 21 2024 15 Sivan 5784