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Drops of Torah from our members (2020-21 / 5781)

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 2019-2020
Drops of Torah from 2018-2019

  1. Bereishit by Helena Landis
  2. Noah by Randy Tiffany
  3. Lekh Lekha by Amy Strauss
  4. Vayera by Alex Shapiro-Colarocco
  5. Hayyei Sarah by Max Wilson & Dina Jacobs
  6. Toldot by Me'ira Pitkapaasi
  7. Vayetze by Rabbi Nathan
  8. Vayishlach by Andrea Apter & Harry Chen
  9. Vayeshev by Andrea Bruno
  10. Miketz by Ruthie Lefkowitz
  11. Vayigash by Laura Lee Blechner
  12. Vayechi by Andy Coleman
  13. Shemot by Michael Lefkowitz
  14. Vaera by Dan Gura
  15. Bo by Lynn Cashell
  16. B'shallach by Reisa Mukamal
  17. Yitro by Kathy Trow
  18. Mishpatim by Joyce and Ron Romoff
  19. Terumah by the Rabbis
  20. Tetzaveh by Emily Cashell-DeSilva
  21. Ki Tissa by Debbie Wile
  22. Vayakhel/Pekudei by Me'ira Pitkapaasi
  23. Vayikra by Marilyn Verbits
  24. Tzav / Passover: A Liberation Word Cloud
  25. Passover and Crossing the Sea by Emma Lefkowitz
  26. Shemini video by BimBam
  27. Tazria/Metzora by Susan Meyer
  28. Acharei Mot/Kedoshim by Andy Coleman
  29. Emor by Anna Billiard and Zachary Stillman
  30. Behar/Bechukotai by Eleanor Skale
  31. Bamidbar/Shavuot video by BimBam
  32. Nasso: a poem by Shelley Savren
  33. Beha'alotekha by Nicole Sprague
  34. Shelah Lekha by Sarah and Hannah Beck
  35. Korach: Rabbi Nathan shares a teaching from R. Jonathan Sacks
  36. Chukat by Josh W. - When Moses Needed a Snickers
  37. Balak by the Rabbis; Me'ira Pitkapaasi
  38. Pinchas by Kathy Trow
  39. Mattot-Masei by Nancy Blank
  40. Devarim by Margo Zitin
  41. Vaetchanan by Lynn Cashell
  42. Eikev
  43. Re'eh
  44. Shoftim
  45. Ki Teitzei
  46. Ki Tavo
Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-19) by Helena Landis

In this week's Torah portion we encounter the story of Eve and Adam eating of the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and their subsequent expulsion from the garden. This was a moment when humans became aware of shame and guilt. A perspective I'm taking with me at this moment when it comes to reading this story is the notion of consequences. Just as the first humans did not have an awareness of the larger consequences of their behavior, sometimes we are similar. We may share an off-handed remark with someone that may have far reaching negative impact. The work of Jewish awareness practices, like Mussar, help us to become more conscious and aware of our behaviors and actions before they can become damaging. Perhaps, unlike the first humans, we can take the lesson to heart to be thoughtful in our behaviors with others and thereby create more positive consequences. (Return to Top)

Noah (Genesis 6:9-7:9) by Randy Tiffany

The premise for the Noah story is found at the beginning of the narrative when we learn “The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness” (Breisheit 6:11).  After the idyllic beginnings in Chapter 1, humans (and, according to Rashi, all creatures) had fallen to a level of immorality requiring a complete reboot and the establishment, beginning in the next parsha with Avram and continuing through the remainder of Torah, of a society based on divine law. We have been reminded multiple times over the course of American history, including our own, that when the rule of law ceases to be the norm, bad things happen. (Return to Top)

Lekh Lekha (Genesis 12:1-20) by Amy Strauss

Lekh lekha means to leave. This portion talks about the war between the kings of the city states.  Lot is forced out.  Abraham frees Lot.  Abraham went to war because the kings were stealing from the poor.  Although, we tried to avoid wars, sometimes it is necessary to help those who can’t help themselves. May we be ready for this challenge. (Return to Top)

Vayera (Genesis 18:1-22:24) by Alex Shapiro-Colarocco

In this week's Torah portion we encounter the mob of Sodom that seeks to harm Lot's angelic visitors. Rabbinic commentaries suggest that the townspeople were afraid of losing their wealth and perhaps saw themselves as above the strangers. We should remember, particularly this week, that strangers have sometimes come to our country and made important contributions to its welfare. We need to remember that we too were once strangers in the land of Egypt thousands of years ago. Instead of being like the townsfolk of Sodom, perhaps we could be more like Abraham and defend the rights of the poor and the vulnerable? (Return to Top)

Hayyei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-11) by Max Wilson & Dina Jacobs

In this week's Torah portion, Chaye Sarah, there is a theme of planning for the future. This theme was conveyed when Abraham bought the Cave of Machpelah for a place to bury his wife, Sarah and for other family members in the future. He wants to buy the land from the Hittites but at first they tell them to take it as a gift. He declined the gift and paid, because he wanted to ensure that the land would only be his and his family’s. Now nobody could take the land back or say that it wasn’t rightfully theirs because he paid the full price. In doing so, Abraham planned for the future to ensure a better life for his family.

The pandemic has taught us many lessons about needing to prepare for the future. At the start of the pandemic, there was not enough equipment or PPE (personal protective equipment) to care for people with COVID-19 or to protect front line workers. We now know much more about the infection, and we can better care for people who do contract the infection. Importantly, we now know how to better prepare for future pandemics by making certain we have an adequate supply of needed materials and equipment. We also now very much understand the need to work together as a community to take care of each other. This is the only way that we can survive and move on after crises.

The past few weeks have seen a lot of political turmoil. We look forward to coming together as a nation to take better care of each other for all of our futures! (Return to Top)

Toldot (Genesis 25:19 - 28:9) by Me'ira Pitkapaasi

Rebecca is a rare character in the Torah.  She is a woman that refuses to stand by and allow life to happen to her.  She faces every difficult situation with strength and determination and ensures things turn out the way she wants them to be. She chooses her husband Isaac, leading the servant Eleazar to her parents. Given the choice, she tells them she wants to make the long journey to marry her uncle Abraham’s son.  Experiencing the trauma of her unborn twins struggling inside of her, she goes personally to question God’s motives rather than asking her husband to intervene on her behalf.  When her husband makes a plan to give his deathbed blessings to his favored child, she carries out a plan to switch the boys, ensuring a blessed future for her favored child.  She insists - commands - that her son Jacob follow her plans, and even agrees to take upon herself any curse Isaac might put on Jacob should they be found out. When she hears of Esau’s plan to murder her favored son, she chooses to send Jacob to sanctuary with her brother Laban, promising to bring him back home as soon as Esau is less enraged, and puts into motion a scenario in which Isaac will send her youngest boy into safety.  As a mother, a wife, a woman, she has no power to make such a decision without the direction of her husband. She convinces Jacob that he would prefer to have Jacob marry Rebecca’s kin, and Isaac sends him off, putting him onto the path where he eventually marries Rachel and Leah, his maternal uncle’s two daughters.  There are many rabbinic discussions regarding whether Rebecca’s choices are those of a positive Biblical role model for future generations of women.  Rather than looking at her specific choices, perhaps we should first examine the idea that she was able to design a life for herself in which she was able to have choices.  No matter what decisions she might have made, Rebecca refused to allow her circumstances to control her.  She took hold of the reigns of a difficult life and directed an outcome that would lead to the life she wanted for her children and for herself. (Return to Top)

Vayetze (Genesis 28:10 - 32:3) by Rabbi Nathan

In this week’s Torah portion, in a moment of cosmic karma, Jacob is tricked into marrying Laban's eldest daughter rather than his intended marriage to Rachel. This part of the narrative is the source of the custom of unveiling the bride or bedekin at traditional Jewish weddings. Laban's and Rachel and Leah's deception of Jacob seems to parallel Jacob and Rebecca's deception of Isaac in the previous parshah, a kind of cosmic payback for how Jacob attained Isaac's blessing. What are the ways you might notice payback in your life -- positive or negative -- for your own behavior?As an additional offering we share Debbie Perlman's z"l contemporary psalm for Thanksgiving here. Wishing all blessings for this time. (Return to Top)

Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4 - 36:43) by Andrea Apter & Harry Chen

In Genesis 34, a story is told, that Dinah went out of her camp to see the women of the locality. Shechem, the local prince saw her and apparently raped her. But he wanted also wanted her to be his wife. The story continues where the sons of Jacob, knowing that there would be much pain at the third day of the circumcision, attacked the city, killing the men, seizing their wealth, their little ones, wives and all in the houses as captives in retribution for Shechem's treatment of Dinah. This story is told seemingly with firsthand knowledge of how Jacob, Simeon and Levi felt after finding out of Dinah’s rape. However, Dinah does not have a voice in this passage. That Shechem wanted to marry Dinah, rather than to keep her as a slave, may put to question whether she was raped or consented. All too often in our patriarchal (misogynistic) society, the wishes and feelings of women are attributed by men and are not expressed in the first person, by the woman. To this day, the control of women’s bodies are all too often determined by men expressing the highest of moral purpose, denying women the right to control what happens to their body. May we learn from this story. (Return to Top)

Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1 - 40:23) by Andrea Bruno 

I’m intrigued by Tamar’s knowledge of her rights and her ability to outsmart Judah.  She took a chance that Judah would do the right thing and the law would be on her side despite her social status. I’m less secure in my trust of the law in our society today.  There seem to be many loopholes and those of status and wealth are often in a better position to escape the law.

I’m reminded of a time I trusted a mechanic by paying in advance for his service.  Youth and inexperience were my disadvantage.  My car remained in disrepair despite my win in small claims court.  Yes, the law was on my side, however, there was not a way to collect funds that did not exist.  While the mechanic was by no means of status and wealth he was likely aware he could get away with what he did.  I was not as wise or fortunate as Tamar.  Our present divided society chooses dominance over equality that is fueled by prejudice and intolerance of minority groups. How might we help pave the way for helping those at a disadvantage be heard and supported? (Return to Top)

Miketz (Genesis 41:1 - 44:17) by Ruthie Lefkowitz

In this week's parsha, a continuation of the Joseph story, his brothers start their journey back home from Egypt. On the way, Joseph stops them and accuses them for stealing his valuable item. The brothers insist that nobody stole it, but they said that if one of them did, then they would all willingly accept the punishment. So, Joseph searched all of their  bags, and they found it in Benjamin’s bag. Joseph didn’t really like his brothers after they carelessly threw him in a pit, however, he wanted to give them a second chance. He wanted to see if they had changed their cruel behaviors towards the favorite child. Joseph knew that Benjamin was the new favorite, and he wanted to see what would happen if he threatened to take Benjamin away. Would they be grateful to never see him again, or would they beg for forgiveness in hopes that Benjamin could come home with them? They ended up begging for forgiveness, which means that they have changed and we can change too! (Return to Top)

Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 - 47:27) by Laura Lee Blechner

In this week’s portion, Vayigash, after Joseph and his brothers finally reconcile, Jacob and his entire family go down to Egypt to escape the famine. On the road, God comes to Jacob in, yet another, dream and calls to him “Jacob! Jacob!” and Jacob responds “Hineni - here I am.” In the dream, God tells Jacob not to fear this trip, because God will make him a great nation in Egypt. God will go down to Egypt with him, and, also, bring him back from Egypt. 

But we know, that this is the beginning of our Exodus story, and that in a couple of generations, the Children of Israel will become slaves to Pharoah in Egypt for hundreds of terrible years. And yet, what I hear in God’s double call to Jacob, and Jacob’s Hineni response, is a foreshadowing of God’s call to Moses - also a double call - and the exact same response of “Hineni - here I am.” The seeds of hope and redemption are planted, just waiting for us to be present, to say “Hineni,” and become God’s partner in repairing the world. (Return to Top)

Vayechi (Genesis 47:28 - 50:26) by Andy Coleman

In Vayechi, the final parsha of Genesis, Jacob blesses Joseph's sons. In a recurring theme of Genesis, Jacob gives the younger son the blessing for the older. Then we read about Jacob's blessings to all his sons just before he dies. Many of the "blessings" are unflattering descriptions. Reuben is rebuked for sleeping with one of Jacob's concubines. Simeon and Levi are criticized for the slaying of the men of Shechem. Others are compared to wild or domesticated animals. Some of these are actually good. Commentators have said "Judah is like a lion" because leaders (kings) have come from the tribe of Judah.  Issachar is compared to a donkey bearing a load. Commentators have said "bearing a load" refers to "the yoke of Torah." Apparently many scholars came from the tribe of Issachar.

We have just come through a year filled with trials, tribulations and tragedies. Some of us have experienced great loss. We are certainly in need of blessings. Perhaps we can take  inspiration from our more "observant" Jewish brethren. I have heard it is a custom to say 100 blessings a day, or at least look for opportunities to say them.  We can be inspired to say a blessing for a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Blessings for family, friends and community. I, and many Beth Israelites, have expressed blessings to be a part of this community during this time. We are certainly blessed to have Rabbis Linda and Nathan and our lay leaders who have worked so hard for us. Perhaps they are from the tribe of Judah?  To all those in need of healing, I wish you a refuah shlema, a full and complete recovery. Shabbat Shalom. (Return to Top)

Shemot (Exodus 1:1 - 6:1) by Michael Lefkowitz

This week's Torah portion is the story of Moses's encounter with the burning bush. Moses saw the bush on fire which drew him to look at it. But when he examined it closer he heard the voice of God and received a call to action. Some say it was his own voice that he heard. Maybe feelings of guilt? 

Anyway, seeing the bush and hearing a call to action is like witnessing many of the images that surround us these days and being called to action by what we see. Images of sea creatures choking on trash have led my family to taking steps to reduce the amount of plastic items that we use and discard. More recently images of too many people lining up to receive too limited resources to feed all their hungry families have led us to increase our support of food charities around the nation. These images, having been seen, do not go away. They are like a bush that continues to burn to remind us of the actions needed. (Return to Top)

Vaera (Exodus 6:2 - 9:35) by Dan Gura

In this week's Torah portion, Va-era, there is a moment in which the Israelites are unable to hear and take in Moses' message of deliverance because they had a "shortness of spirit or breath." Moses too, seems for a moment to give up as well. I wonder if both the Israelites and Moses lost a sense of self and perception that blocked them from hearing the true message of deliverance. Did they not feel worthy enough? Did they lose a sense of self-worth? What makes us question our self worth and block our liberation and ability to live full, balanced lives? As we read this story I hope that we are able to step back, take a deep breath, and see ways forward through patterns that don't serve us. (Return to Top)

Bo (Exodus 10:1 - 13:16) by Lynn Cashell

The fifteenth reading from the Torah is named Bo (בוא), which means "Come." The title comes from the first words of the first verse of the reading, which say, "Then the LORD said to Moses, '[Come] to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart" (Exodus 10:1). The portion begins by concluding the narrative of the ten plagues, the tenth of which is the slaying of the firstborn. To avoid the plague, the Israelites are given the instructions for the Passover sacrifice and the laws of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Pharaoh finally consents to let Israel go, and they leave Egypt.

This was my father’s Torah portion in 1939. I wonder what his 13-year-old self thought about how Moses and the Pharoah spoke up for their own causes, each believing in their own perspectives. My father was the youngest of 7 out of 5 boys and 2 girls, yet he was the one who took care of his father in his later years, often causing unrest among his siblings who accused him of taking my grandfather’s money. Like the challenges Moses faced with Pharoah, my father did what he felt was right and hoped that his siblings would gain the right perspective.

My father came from a long line of incredibly stubborn individuals, who often had their hearts hardened, yet the grit of his Russian immigrant parents coupled with their Jewish value of the importance of family and education tempered this blindspot. He worked in the real estate business his whole life, and was involved in building low-income apartments and a nursing home to ensure that those in need had safe, caring places to reside. In our township, he initiated the project to create a community pool and I recall him trying to work with many whose hearts were hardened against this project. He was ultimately successful and was rewarded by being tossed in the pool, suit and all!

He demonstrated to me how to be tough, stand up where I saw injustice, and unharden my heart to those whose perspectives differed from my own. I continue to seek ways to temper my own genetic stubbornness and open my heart to gain new perspectives. (Return to Top)

B'shallach (Exodus 13:17 - 17:16) by Reisa Mukamal

In B’shallach, the Israelites escape Egypt via the Sea of Reeds and rejoice, singing the Song at the Sea, with the very familiar verses of Mi Chamocha—who is like You, Adonai? But soon after their rejoicing, they complain about having no food and water. God reassures them. He tells Moses, “I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion.” 

I would like to focus on something God goes on to say: “…on the sixth day, when they apportion what they have brought in, it shall prove to be double the amount they gather each day.” In other words, God is giving the Israelites the means to observe Shabbat. This is the origin of why, to this day, we bake two challot on Shabbat.

In fact, the word Shabbat occurs in the Torah for the first time in B’shallach, specifically when Moses says, “This is what the Lord meant: Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy Sabbath of the Lord.” I was surprised to learn from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt”l that the ancient Greeks ridiculed the idea of the seventh day of Creation. They didn’t understand what was creative about resting. I guess they didn’t foresee that civilizations, like individuals, can burn out and crumble.  May Shabbat continue to sustain us! (Return to Top)

Yitro (Exodus 18:1 - 20:23) by Kathy Trow 

In this week’s portion (Yitro), God gives Moses instructions for him to relay to the Israelites. Moses came down from the mountain and “summoned the elders of the people and put before them all that the LORD had commanded him.” The people agreed to do whatever the LORD commanded without prior knowledge of the expectations, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!”

This is the definition of trust, right? The Israelites did not know what God was commanding them to do, but because of their faith in both Moses’ bringing the word of God, and God, the people agreed to do whatever was asked of them.

This kind of blind trust can be good when the source is actually guiding their disciples in a positive direction, but it can be disastrous when the goal is ill intentioned. An example in current news was the storming of the Capitol Building on Jan. 6. Many of the insurrectionists have claimed that they were following instructions from important government officials. They trusted in their leaders and did their bidding without considering the consequences to themselves or others.

I think when agreeing to do something blindly, it is imperative to know and trust the source. If you can, then so much can be accomplished. (Return to Top)

Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 - 24:18) by Joyce and Ron Romoff

In Beresheit, “when the earth was wild and waste…the rushing spirit of G!d hover(ed) over the face of the waters.” With words, G!d began to organize the world into something we recognize today. In Parasha Mishpatim, the Israelites left Mitzrayim, and arrived at Mt. Sinai a huddled, unformed, vast, and disorganized people. As in Beresheit, so, now, does G!d, by uttering words and leaving them with us, begin to organize the “wild and waste” of Israelite society.

“These are the regulations (mishpatim) (Moshe is to) set before (the Israelites).” “When you acquire a Hebrew serf…”. Wait? What? Israelites personally experienced slavery but they, in turn, are permitted to enslave their own people? Next, “when two men scuffle and deal a blow to a pregnant woman (causing only a miscarriage),” then a fine is to be imposed. (Shemot 21:22). However, if “harm should occur… (then) you are to give life in place of life- eye in place of eye, tooth in place of tooth, hand in place of hand…” and so forth. Wait? What? Miscarriage, alone, is not a “harm”? Know, also, that “G!d you are not to curse; an exalted leader among your people you are not to damn.” (Shemot 22:27). If this still holds, many of us, not pleased with our previous Administration, are in real trouble. Finally, Israelites are warned not to bow down to the gods of the people they will conquer, or “cut with them or with their gods any covenant.”

Happily, Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu and “seventy of the elders of Israel” ascend Mt. Sinai, see “the G!d of Israel”, the “sapphire tiles” beneath G!d’s feet, and eat and drink having seen “G!dhood”. Even without this heavenly inducement, the rest of the Israelites, on hearing the rules, promised they would “do and (they would) hear”(Shemot 24:7).

These mishpatim sound archaic and wrong, at first blush. We shouldn’t keep slaves, harm people, steal, insult our parents, or bow down to anyone, let alone foreign gods. Also, we’re supposed to do things even before we’ve heard them? Still, these are the beginnings of a code of behavior towards each other that, at our best, we try to uphold to this day. We are paying, now, in blood, for centuries of keeping people as slaves. We are learning that miscarriage is a true harm. We are learning that “an eye for an eye” is, instead, frequently a miscarriage of justice. Finally, stoning to death an ox that has gored a man or a woman, is, well, just wrong.

Rabbis have also said that each Israelite (and all of us also there), heard the utterances in his or her own way. We continue to debate this today. That, in my estimation, is what makes Judaism such a wonderful, viable way of life. We interpret, we dream, we argue, we agree, we try to abide by rules and continually try to understand what they mean. This makes me so happy to be a Reconstructionist Jew and a member of this community. Even without the sapphire tiles or the G!dly cuisine. Shabbat shalom. (Return to Top)

Terumah (Exodus 25:1 - 27:19) by the Rabbis

The tabernacle was created to be a space for divine-human connection. Of the many descriptive verses about the tabernacle, the Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, picked up on a seeming innocuous phrase, "You shall make the planks (KeReSH - קרש) for the Tabernacle of acacia wood, upright" by using wordplay to say that human beings are like the planks of the sanctuary, and that we can be the link or knot (KeSHeR-קשר) that integrates human and divine worlds. But if we choose to bind ourselves to impermanent vanities of this world, we instead bind ourselves to self-deception (SHeKeR-שקר). So we have an opportunity as human beings to choose how to align ourselves in the world, toward higher purpose or deception.
May we use our traditions and practices to guide us to the former. (Return to Top)

Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20 - 30:10) by Emily Cashell - DeSilva

So many of us feel burdened with the weight of societal expectations of how we are “supposed” to present ourselves to the world. This is especially present in women, and we see it further amplified in people with larger bodies. When we spend so much time concerned with what we should, should not, can, or can not wear, we are not honoring our bodies. They carry us through this world and deserve to be treated with dignity and love. They deserve adornment. Exactly as they are. There is something so Holy about being able to wake up and chose your daily armor. You are in charge of how the world sees you. You are in charge of your daily armor. Horizontal stripes? Holy. Animal print? Holy. White after Labor Day? Holy. Purple lipstick? Holy, holy, holy. (Return to Top)

Ki Tissa (Exodus 30:11 - 34:35) by Debbie Wile

When first thinking about this portion, my dear Karen shared some ideas. She talked about the Buddhist perspective, where symbols like the mandala are used to help focus a worshipper’s energy. I remember watching Master Lausong create a mandala at Swarthmore College many years ago and feeling its sacred, mystical energy. Judaism, too, has symbols we use to focus our energy: Torah (often adorned in riches), tallit and kippot, chai, to name a few. We readily accept these symbols as part of our worship and traditions.

But then there’s the story of the golden calf. How is this different and what can we learn?  The story seems clear that the people needed to worship a deity and that Aaron set them up to worship a golden calf. Is the golden calf a separate deity or could it simply have been a symbol, similar to a mandala or Torah?  

While I’m sure this question has been discussed ad nauseum throughout the ages, this reading gives pause to reflect again on our need for worship and the nature of symbols to focus that worship. Karen says that the place where worship goes awry is when we confuse our devotion. Is our devotion to the thing, the symbol, or to the idea behind it? So let’s ask ourselves: How do we distinguish between the symbol and the deity? How do we ensure that our worship is what we want it to be? How do we prevent ourselves from worshipping the symbol? (Return to Top)

Vayakhel/Pekudei (Exodus 35:1 - 40:38) by Me'ira Pitkapaasi

In Vayakhel/Pekudei, Exodus 35-40, Moses asks the Israelites to donate towards the building of the Tabernacle – the place of worship while we were in the desert.  Some people brought gold or silver, some linens or thread, some simply brought their skills.  While each gift of time, money, goods, and services might be given different monetary values, every donation was important towards the building of this Holiest Place.  So, too, every gift given to our community is essential.  Whatever you can give is of great value.  We must remember that however great or small the sacrifice, everything we give to or do for our community, no matter how large or small, is truly no small thing at all. Because you’re giving of you. (Return to Top)

Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26) by Marilyn Verbits

After the destruction of the Second Temple, animal sacrifices were no longer able to be held. Without this way of drawing closer to God in atonement or in gratitude, prayer was created. Biblical commentator Nehama Leibowitz said that the sacrifice (and later prayer) of well-being is unique in that there is no petition connected to it. The act itself of saying the prayers creates a feeling of well-being, wholeness, and peace.  Even as our lives continue to be altered by the pandemic, in what ways can we acknowledge and be grateful for the well-being in our lives today? (Return to Top)

Tzav / Passover A Passover Word Cloud with words submitted by BI members

Passover and Crossing the Sea by Emma Lefkowitz

The image of crossing the red sea, this year, is very rich in layers of meaning for me. One of these is the feeling that I am coming through from one kind of 'mind' or understanding of life - that is, a life of forever-quarantine - to another understanding of life that includes the possibility of a "new normal". The crossing of the red sea, therefore, is like a mental crossing or a 'belief'-crossing, in which I am trying to assimilate our new post-pandemic reality that is coming. Since we're not there yet, though, I feel quite solidly in the middle of crossing -- and I can't quite see the other side, at least not yet. (Return to Top)

Shemini (Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47) Video by BimBam

Friends, this week's drop of Torah is presented by BimBam (formerly G-dcast) that provides a digital dvar Torah on this week's parshah, Shemini, created by a colleague of Rabbi Nathan, Rabbi Dan Horwitz.

Rabbi Dan's video focuses on the issue of silence. How do you approach the use of silence as a spiritual tool even if it causes discomfort? (Return to Top)

Tazria/Metzora (Leviticus 12:1 - 15:33) by Susan Meyer

Tazria is about infectious disease. Reading partly like a diagnostic checklist for dermatologists, and partly like a public health manual, it focuses on “eruptions of the skin” and explains how to identify those that are dangerous and contagious, and how to keep them from spreading in the population. The public health measures it recommends— isolation of the infected and deep cleaning of objects they have touched—are quite familiar to us, one year into our own pandemic. From that vantage point, we may also appreciate one of the quieter lessons of this much-joked-about parshah, which is that health is not simply a private matter, but an essential public good. (Return to Top)

Acharei Mot/Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1 - 20:27) by Andy Coleman

Why didn’t God give the restrictions to Moses about entering the sanctuary before Nadav and Avihu entered the sanctuary and they were killed by fire from the altar. Perhaps God made a mistake by not warning Moses earlier. Later in the double parshah we encounter the prescription to “vehavta lereakha Kamocha” to love your neighbor as yourself. Perhaps we all have work to do, even the Divine, in being more considerate about the impact of our actions and our non-actions. (Return to Top)

Emor (Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23) by Anna Billiard and Zachary Stillman

This week's Torah portion gives the instruction as part of the laws of the holiday of Shavuot that "when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field" but leave those gleanings for the needy and the stranger. How do we understand this obligation today? 

Zack: I think that tzedakah/charity aren't enough to help the stranger and the needy nowadays. I think that having publicly funded programs to provide basic needs (healthcare, food, shelter, clothing, access to potable water) are very much within the realm of not reaping your whole field. In an ideal world, tzedakah/charity would be enough, but for now, I think a little extra obligation would be helpful.

Anna: Of course the Biblical command to leave the edges of the field unreaped has a direct interpretation with regards to food insecurity and tzedakah. But the idea of leaving space itself for others is also a lesson that can be taken from this portion. Do not reap the edges of the field, and leave space for the marginalized and underrepresented in your activism, in your discussions, and in your workplaces. There, too, though you may be gifted with a large "field" thanks to privilege, you must not use all of it for yourself. (Return to Top)

Behar/Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1 - 27:34) by Eleanor Skale

The law of allowing one to redeem the land they were forced to sell (Lev. 25:24-31)
is an example of the wisdom and compassion (chesed) within the laws of Judaism.  When someone must move from their home due to loss of financial viability, it is a deep and painful loss, one that may result in feelings of humiliation, shame and despair. 

God’s laws put forth in this section of the Torah show that God’s love is abiding, demonstrated in the creation of a structure to potentially buy back one’s home or land. It seems to also acknowledge that the loss of one’s home likely impacts a person’s sense of identity, belonging and stability. 

Being supported by the laws of the Jewish people enabling the potential to “come home” in the future would provide a window to escape from the feeling of defeat, self-recrimination, anger and despair but rather direct one’s energy to move forward and work to improve one’s situation and be resilient. 

During this time of Pandemic, a great many people may, unfortunately, find themselves in this situation through no fault of their own due to loss of a job and/or inability to work due to illness. I think that we all need to broaden our perspective to understand that if any person winds up needing to sell their home due to their insufficient funds or even debt, and even if a person becomes homeless, we must not consider it to be due to their failure in any way. All people need to have and convey mercy in thought and deed. If we have a home and are not in such dire circumstances, that is reason to pause and ponder our situation and elevate gratefulness. (Return to Top)

Bamidbar (Bamidbar 1:1 - 4:20)/What is Shavuot? Video by BimBam

All About the Jewish Holiday for Torah and Learning from BimBam Video - click on the link here to watch. (Return to Top)

Nasso (Bamidbar 4:21 - 7:89): A Poem by Shelley Savren

The Butcher's Wife by Shelley Savren

The year was round with zeros, 1900,
and they lived in a Lithuanian shtetl
where her garden smelled like roses and mint
and she collected eggs each day
from fifteen chickens
to sell at the market stand.

Her husband was a butcher,
moyl really, but who could make a living
doing circumcisions?
He had a shop and knives, lots of knives.

A peddler came to the farm one day
and showed her how to open her mouth
and kiss. When he left,
she ran her tongue along the surface
of her teeth and smiled.

It took three days for her husband
to spill her confession.
Why else would a peddler spend
a sunny afternoon at one farm?
So she fasted, a full week, as he ordered,
and scrubbed her mouth with soap.

She had no words that week.
Nothing passed between her lips.
But when she stepped into her garden
her whole mouth blossomed
like roses, like the taste of mint. 
(Return to Top)

Beha'alotekha (Bamidbar 8:1 - 12:16) by Nicole Sprague

This week's Torah reading tells the story of how the divine cloud would move or come to rest and determine when the Israelites would camp or travel. It more broadly today connects to the idea of when we need to stay put or change directions in our lives.

When we are put in a situation where we need to make change or decisions, it is never easy. For most of us, unfamiliarity and changing courses in our life can feel stressful and scary. I think it is important to feel comfort and security when making a decision and even though there is a collective group agreeing on that decision, one should always question the action and reason for the patterns and choices made. Ask yourself why are you making this choice?

Who does it benefit and/or are you 100% comfortable and happy with the choice. So many of us make decisions based on how others will perceive the choice, but it takes self awareness --- perhaps our own internalized divine cloud -- to reflect and truly understand why one chooses to change paths. (Return to Top)

Shelah Lekha (Bamidbar 13:1 - 15:41) by Sarah and Hannah Beck

In this week's Torah portion ten of the twelve scouts deliver a bad report about the land of Canaan leading to a very poor reaction from the Israelites. In the meantime God seems to lose God's temper pretty quickly and decrees that the generation of Israelites will have to perish in the desert and won't get to see the promised land.

A few questions that arose for us in this episode are: Why did the scouts and then later the Israelites respond so negatively? And why wasn't God more patient? While there is much to unpack in this story it does bring up the question about how we manage our anger and disappointment when we encounter challenges. This story may be a lesson in what not to do as much as what to do. (Return to Top)

Korach (Bamidbar 16:1 - 18:32): Rabbi Nathan shares a teaching from R. Jonathan Sacks

"Korach was an ambitious man, so he saw Moses and Aaron as two people driven by ambition, 'setting themselves above God’s congregation.' He did not understand that in Judaism to lead is to serve. Those who serve do not lift themselves high. They lift other people high." (Excerpted by R. Jonathan Sacks z"l). May we take in the teaching this week of how do we lead others through service. (Return to Top)

Chukat (Bamidbar 19:1 - 22:1) by Josh W. - When Moses Needed a Snickers

Imagine that you're on a family road trip and the children are getting restless. "Are we there yet? Are we there yet? I'm hungry! I'm thirsty! I'm bored!" Now imagine that you have an entire tribe of Israelites in the car (possibly an exceptionally large Honda Odyssey) and they're hungry, thirsty, and tired. This is pretty much where we encounter our weary ancestors in this week's parsha, Chukat.

They have finally emerged from the desert but find themselves without water and they make their concern known. Moses (probably pretty irritable at this point) asks G-d for a bit of help. I can only imagine that it went something like "O Lord, canst thou makest for us a Slushy machine or at least a vat of Gatorade?" G-d commanded that Moses and Aaron assemble the Israelites and "before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water. Thus you shall produce water for them from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their beasts.” However, when it came time for Moses to speak to the rock, instead he addressed the group, calling them rebels. He then struck the rock, and out came the water. The people were thrilled. G-d was very much not thrilled. This was not a "no harm no foul" situation; He decides that Moses and Aaron shall not lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, and indeed, Aaron dies shortly after.

Why does G-d react this way? Because Moses didn't show enough faith. You'd think that after being rescued from slavery and surviving 40 years in the desert, a bit of faith would be easy, but Moses apparently needed a Snickers bar by that point. He had reached his limit with the family and it showed.

What does this parsha teach us? Probably that it's better to take a break when we're reaching our limit. Go to the gym, have a snack, or get some fresh air. It's better than losing your temper. I've gotten better at this over the years; early in my career I slammed my office door so hard that a clock fell off the wall. That happened once and never again; these days I take a break to clear my head and reset. I'm not perfect, and I definitely am not Moses. But it's usually not worth hitting the rock, or slamming the door. Have a little faith that things will work out, and they generally will. (Return to Top)

Balak (Bamidbar 22:2 - 25:9) by the Rabbis

In this week's parshah, Bil'am, the non-Israelight prophet ends up channeling the Divine and supporting the Israelite community through his blessings. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg sees this event as a kind of "prophetic pluralism" where humans are given the chance "to break through, to know the other as a precious image of God, to join a partnership to repair the world for everybody." While Bil'am was compelled to overcome his narrow interests in service of a greater good, perhaps we can also find the strength to overcome our own narrow vision of the world and see ourselves as instruments of service to all. (Return to Top)

Balak (Bamidbar 22:2 - 25:9) by Me'ira Pitkapaasi

In Parshat Balak we meet with a talking female donkey. This might not seem that strange at first- after all, our culture is filled with stories of talking animals. The Torah only has two, though - the serpent in the Garden of Eden who is trying to lead us towards doing what God has forbidden... and the donkey in Balak who is trying to lead us towards doing what God commands.  When something occurs so rarely in the Torah, the rabbis tell us that this is most definitely asking us to sit up and take notice.  

When the serpent is successful in his negative task, humans do nothing to him, and God turns him and his progeny into snakes. When the female donkey is unsuccessful in her positive task, her human beats her three separate times, and threatens her with death. The angel who had been guiding the donkey speaks up in her defense, but we otherwise learn nothing of her fate. 

In "Torah Queeries" June 2007, we are asked to recognize this completely unique animal as Queer. Queer, after all, is defined as "odd....unusual....unexpected....unconventional..." As one of only two talking animals in the Torah, and the solitary talking female animal, she most definitely fits the bill. Sadly, her treatment by the humans around her very closely matches the treatment of too many Queer individuals in our culture. 

The CDC states that our LGBTQ high school students are TWICE as likely as their hetero counterparts to experience some form of school violence. The HRC reports that HALF of trans individuals have been sexually assaulted. And PBS reveals that those of us in the LGBTQ community are FOUR TIMES as likely to be victims of violent crimes.

As Reconstructionist Jews, we actively take the stance that all LGBTQ individuals and our families are to be welcomed, included, accepted, protected.  Twenty years ago, my transgender child was accepted at BI with open arms, something that was unheard of anywhere in those days. This is an amazing place to be - a true home and family for so many of us today.  

And we do not live in a bubble. There is still so much work to do.  The statistics above must come to an end. We must stand up and take notice. We must protect and defend. We must pass laws, enforce those that so precariously exist.  Support organizations that fight for the rights and safety of the most endangered of our population. We must be worthy of those words pronounced in Parshat Balak on our behalf: "Mah Tovu Ohalekha Ya'akov; Mishk'nohtekha Yisrael" - How good are your tents.... homes... hearts.... People of Jacob; Your words... actions... deeds... choices... dwellingplaces... People of Israel. (Return to Top)

Pinchas (Numbers 25:10 - 30:1) by Kathy Trow

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, we are seeing evidence of women advocating for themselves in a male dominated world where women were not considered equal to men. The portion covers land appointment passed down from fathers to sons based on a census where women were likely not even counted. But in the case of Zelophehad, he had no sons to inherit the land, and his daughters petitioned Moses to ask God to allot them the land:

The daughters of Zelophehad … came forward. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. (27:1-2). “Moses brought their case before God” (27:5).

Moses asked God and God approved the allotment to the five daughters and also clarified further laws around inheritance amongst other family members. 

What chutzpah these daughters possessed! Can you imagine how they must have felt approaching Moses in front of the committee (and additonally questioning God’s law) in order to obtain their rightful inheritance?
I can. Even today, as far as we have come as a society, often a woman’s voice is not heard as loudly as a man’s. As a woman, business owner, and a veterinarian, there are many times where I need to push out of my comfort zone (non-confrontational, nice, etc) to advocate for myself, my business, staff, and patients. Yet, when I follow my moral compass and speak up, the result is often surprising. When one challenges another, as long as the challenger is knowledgeable, calm, and clear, the result may be favorable and change can happen! (Return to Top)

Mattot - Masei (Numbers 30:2 - 36:13) by Nancy Blank

This week’s Torah portion, Mattot, focuses on how to divide the confiscated “spoils” won from war.  When the Israelites won the war against the Midianites, Moses told the soldiers to share the bounty with the Israelites who did not go to war but were in need. This portion emphasizes the importance of nourishing all the Israelite people with the winnings of war and reminds us of the importance of the social safety net.  Today our country is trying to move toward making the social safety net a reality. A few things on the current administration's wish list include guaranteed preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds and two years of free community college. This portion reminds us of the importance of sharing wealth. Taking this point one step further, we can think about how “wealthy” our country would be (economically, socially, and psychologically) if wealth was shared in a way that invests in all people’s long-term growth and self-empowerment.  Taking this thinking even one step further, we can think about the potential benefits of sharing the windfall with all the innocent victims in need, on both sides of war, the victors and losers. (Return to Top)

Devarim (Devarim 1:1 - 3:22) by Margo Zitin

In this week's Torah portion, Devarim, Moses recounts the journeys of the Israelites. But it is important to remember that Moses also was a forward looking leader as well. When I was 5 years old, World War II  was raging.  My Father was a navigator for B-29 airplanes. He was in the Air Force, stationed on the island of Guam, in the South Pacific. I didn't clearly remember my father because he had left when I was four years old. I listened to the radio with our family, and was highly anxious about my Daddy, since the news wasn't good.  Full of fear, I said to my Mother, "Will I ever see Daddy again? Will we win the war?." My Mother pulled herself up to her full height. and said with a confident smile, "Of course you will see your Father again, and of course we will win the war.  Let's pray on it tonight." Imagine what strength it took for her to say that! Her husband was gone for three years, and she was living in a rented house with her very  young daughter." Whenever I need strength, I think of the many trials my Mother went through during her whole life. Like Moses, who led the Israelites through tough odds and showed strength and courage, my mother also showed strength and courage through her trials. May we all be inspired by our parents and those we admire. (Return to Top)

Vaetchanan (Devarim 3:23 - 7:11) by Lynn Cashell

This week's parshah, Vaetchanan, deals with the cities of refuge. It is being impressed upon the Israelites to follow the commandments.
“Observe them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of all these laws will say, “Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people.” (Sefaria, Deuteronomy 4:6) We are confronted with many people seeking refuge and we are facing immigration challenges today that have not shown us to be a great nation. More than being a wise and discerning people, I would hope that we can be looked upon as compassionate, with a return to a greater moral center, becoming increasingly loving and understanding
of all peoples. (Return to Top)

Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782