• September 4, 2020


    A D’var Torah for Parashat Ki Tavo
    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover (’11)

    In the megahit musical Hamilton, there is a song with the repeated line, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrMkdZtqiVI). The way that we know who we are and where we come from is through stories. Sometimes we call them myths; sometimes we call them history. There’s more overlap between those two than we’d like to admit. It is impossible to include every detail of something that’s happened in a story, so every single time we tell a story, we make choices about what to put in and what to leave out. And indeed, who tells your story can determine whether you are hero or villain, victim or victor—in fact, whether you are remembered at all.

    Sometimes stories are codified in an attempt to shape identity, to tie everyone into a community through agreement on a shared Read More >

  • May 28, 2020

    A D’var Torah for Shavuot
    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover (’11)

    Most of us experience moments of transcendence in our lives. A moment of transcendence could be the first moment you realized you were in love with your partner. Or the way you felt at the birth of a child, or the first time you brought home a child you adopted. Perhaps it is a moment of communing with nature—realizing the power and beauty of the ocean, or climbing a mountain, or realizing the vastness of the universe while looking at the moon and the stars. Perhaps it is a religious moment—finding a new truth in the Torah, or suddenly realizing that a prayer speaks directly to you. It could be a big life moment or a small one, but you remember it because it impacted your soul, your spiritual self. It was a connection to something. I would call it a connection Read More >

  • April 13, 2020
    A D’var Torah for Hol HaMoed Pesah
    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover

    When you were a child, did you ever resent the adults in your life enforcing bedtimes? Did you ever think, “When I’m a grown-up, I’ll be free to do whatever I want, and I’m going to stay up all night!” If you are an adult now, do you ever stay up all night just for fun, just because you can? I’m guessing you probably don’t, or at least not often. There are many ways in which we have more freedom as adults than we do as children, but that doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want. It does mean that it is up to us to learn to discipline ourselves, because as adults there are many ways in which there is no one else who will make sure we make healthy choices.

    In this time Read More >

  • February 12, 2020
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Yitro
    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover (’11)

    This week’s Torah portion includes the single most intense episode in the whole Torah—the revelation of Torah at Mount Sinai. The Israelites, having left Egypt, stand together at the foot of the mountain. There’s thunder and lightning, and the blaring of a horn. The mountain is shaking and smoking, because God has come down on it in fire. This is when the Israelites really become a people, God’s people—when God gives them the Torah.

    We don’t call this Torah portion “revelation,” though. And we don’t call it “the 10 Commandments.” The name we use for this Torah portion is Yitro, because the portion begins with something else, something that is also very important, though more mundane.

    At the beginning of parashat Yitro, Moses and the Israelites are encamped at Mount Sinai. Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro—Yitro in Hebrew—comes to visit. Jethro and Moses have a nice visit and catch Read More >

  • January 3, 2020

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayigash
    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover

    In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, Joseph reveals who he is to his brothers, in an awkward and fraught family reunion. It could hardly be otherwise. His brothers, when they were more powerful than Joseph due to age and numbers, sold him into slavery years ago and let their father believe his favorite son was dead. Now, he is the powerful one—the Egyptian official second only to Pharaoh—and they have come begging to buy food in the famine.

    They never had much in common with each other, Joseph and his brothers, and they never got along. Joseph insulted his brothers and reported on their behavior to their father. They, of course, rejected him in the most extreme way, just short of murdering him.

    Still, the bond of family remains. Times are hard now, during this great famine. Joseph forgives his brothers and helps them, Read More >

  • November 15, 2019

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayeira
    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover (’11)

    At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, Abraham is sitting outside his tent at the hottest part of the day. God visits him. Our rabbis tell us that this is an act of compassion on God’s part. The reason Abraham is sitting isn’t just that it’s the hottest part of the day—too hot to work or do anything, really—but also because he’s recovering from having circumcised himself, as God had commanded him to do at the end of last week’s Torah portion.

    This is where we derive the duty to visit the sick—we are emulating God, who visits Abraham when he is recovering from surgery. God, who is so much more important than Abraham, takes the time to come see him when he isn’t feeling well.

    And look at the effect it has on Abraham, who must be toward the end Read More >

  • September 26, 2019

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Nitzavim
    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover (’11)

    In this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, Moses speaks to the Israelites of the covenant between them and God. He emphasizes that every person in their society is a party to the covenant. Interestingly and perhaps incredibly, the non-Israelites who live among the Israelites are included as part of the covenant. We read repeatedly in the Torah that there is to be one law for the Israelite and the foreigner who lives among the Israelites, but usually it is not as clear that those foreigners are actually party to the covenant with God. But they are.

    Moses says, “You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God—your tribal heads, your elders, and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer—to enter into the covenant of the Read More >

  • August 9, 2019

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Devarim
    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover (’11)

    Devarim is the first significant word of this week’s Torah portion, and therefore it gives the Torah portion its name. Because this week is the first portion in the fifth book of the Torah, Devarim is also the name of the whole book, which is called Deuteronomy in English, from the Greek. Devarim means “words,” and it’s an appropriate name for the book, because Moses spends the whole book of Deuteronomy making his last speech to the Israelites. At the end of it he dies and they prepare to go forward into the Promised Land.

    In Judaism, words are very important. We are called the “People of the Book”—a book (books, really) full of words that give us the best information we have about what God wants from us. Words can create and destroy reputations. According to our tradition, God used words Read More >

  • June 14, 2019

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Naso
    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover (’11)

    Last week’s Torah portion, Bemidbar, started with a lot of counting of Israelites. This week’s Torah portion, Naso, also begins with counting. The word “Naso” means “take up,” as in “Take up a census of the Gershonites also” (Numbers 4:22). The counting in this Torah portion is of different clans of the Levites who have responsibilities to pack up and transport different parts of the Tabernacle when the Israelites decamp and move on through the wilderness.

    We are told the final counts: There are 2,750 Kohathites between the ages of 30 and 50—which are the years when the Levites are responsible for the work of the Tabernacle; there are 2,630 Gershonites; and there are 3,200 Merarites, for a total of 8,580 Levites. This seems like rather a lot of people for the task of packing and moving the Tabernacle around, but Read More >

  • April 25, 2019
    A D’var Torah for the last days of Pesah
    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover (’11)

    We are coming now to the end of Passover, our joyful spring holiday. At our seders, we asked questions, we learned, we discussed how we were slaves in the land of Egypt, and how we were freed from that degradation and pain by the strong hand and outstretched arm of God, who took us to be God’s people, and who we continue to acknowledge as our God. It is a journey from slavery to freedom, from sadness and despair to rejoicing.

    On the last day of Passover, we traditionally read about the crossing of the Reed Sea and the song of celebration the Israelites and Moses sang on the other side. Some Jews, particularly among the Hasidim, have a tradition of pouring water on the floor and singing and dancing to remember the crossing Read More >

  • March 1, 2019

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayakhel
    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover (’11)

    In this week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel, the Israelites finally get to do something. Something sanctioned, something that is approved—in fact, instructed—by God through Moses. Moses has received the detailed instructions from God to build a dwelling-place for God among the Israelites, the Tabernacle. The Israelites became restless and anxious while waiting for Moses: In last week’s Torah portion they made the Golden Calf, and were punished for it.

    Now Moses stands before them again, and this time they are not in trouble. Moses begins by instructing them to work six days of the week, but to rest on the seventh. Then they are instructed to bring as gifts the materials needed to build the Tabernacle, and they bring, and bring, and bring, until there is more than is needed and they have to be told to stop.

    Why do they bring so much? Read More >

  • January 11, 2019

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Bo
    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover (’11)

    In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, we are in the midst of the dramatic story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, when they go from slavery to freedom. Because it is the story we retell at Passover, it is one of the most familiar in the Torah. God frees the Israelites “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Psalm 136:12).

    In parashat Bo, the last three of the ten plagues befall the Egyptians: locusts, darkness, and the death of the first-born. The penultimate plague, darkness, seems like it might be less destructive than the other two. After all, it gets dark every night, and we all get through it. But this wasn’t like that regular, natural darkness. This was three solid days of “darkness that can be touched” (Exodus 10:21). “A person could not see his brother or sister, Read More >

  • November 15, 2018

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayeitze
    by Rabbi Heidi Hoover (AJR ’11)

    At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Jacob leaves home. He doesn’t leave by choice, though. He has to leave because his life is in danger–his brother wants to kill him. He runs away, ending up in the wilderness, alone, with nothing, it seems, except the clothes he is wearing. He sleeps with his head on a rock. He’s headed in the direction of Haran, where his mother’s family lives, but he has never met them. Jacob is not an immigrant. He is a refugee.

    In that desolate night when he is so alone, Jacob has a dream of a ladder to heaven, with angels going up and down the ladder. God assures him that he will be protected and have countless descendants. It is an amazing experience for Jacob, who says after he awakens, “God was in this place, Read More >

  • September 6, 2018
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Nitzavim
    by Rabbi Heidi Hoover (AJR ’11)

    Week after week we wrestle with the Torah, often trying to figure out where the women are, how to deal with this God who seems often punishing and violent, and how to think about a hierarchical system of worship involving sacrifice of animals that is really alien to the way we worship now. For me, this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, is easier to approach than many others. It is both inclusive and equitable. There is still talk of punishment by God, but there is also reassurance of reconciliation with God.

    The inclusivity of this Torah portion is right at the beginning, when Moses, who is now nearing the end of his final instructions to the Israelites, lists the various groups who are present, who are receiving the instruction. Those with authority are there: tribal heads, elders, and officials; and Read More >

  • July 12, 2018

    A D’var Torah for Mattot/Massei
    by Rabbi Heidi Hoover (AJR ’11)

    In this week’s Torah portion, Mattot/Massei, we have a remarkable episode. Two tribes, Reuben and Gad, look around the land where they Israelites are staying before they enter the Promised Land. They see that the land where they are is good for cattle, and they are cattle-herders. They decide this is the land they want, instead of the allotment of land they’ve been promised in Canaan.

    What is surprising about this portion is that we’ve taken it for granted ever since the Exodus that what the Israelites really want is to get to the Promised Land. That was the destination after the Exodus. During the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness they’ve just been waiting for the opportunity to get into the Promised Land. Or so we would think. Then along comes this passage where two tribes go to Moses and Read More >

  • March 22, 2018

    A D’var Torah for Tzav
    by Rabbi Heidi Hoover ’11

    This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, continues detailed discussion of the sacrifices, though this week’s text is addressed to the priests and focuses on their duties, while last week’s text was addressed to the Israelite people.

    We frequently talk about how alien animal sacrifice is to us now, and it can be very difficult to feel any affinity to these Torah portions. But the Israelites did get something out of the sacrificial system, and one thing I believe they got is something that we still want today. I suggest that the sacrificial system supported communal life.

    Everyone knew the rules and followed them. When a person came to make a sacrifice, it was not something they did alone. A person would bring the animal and give it to the priest—so there were at least two Read More >

  • January 25, 2018
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Beshalah
    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover, ’11

    This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shirah—the Shabbat of song. It is so named because it is in this week’s Torah portion, Beshallah, that the Israelites walk through the Reed Sea on dry ground, because the water is parted and piles up to their left and their right, making a path for their escape from Egypt with the Egyptian army on their heels. The water closes on the Egyptians, and the Israelites are finally free and safe! Overwhelmed with joy, they sing, the song at the sea, which includes the words we sing at every service: mi khamokha, ba-elim Adonai/ mi kamokhane’edarbakodesh? Nora t’hilot, osehfeleh! “Who is like you, Adonai, among the gods who are worshipped? Who is like you, majestic Read More >

  • November 28, 2017


    Not as Bad as We Expected
    A D’var Torah for Vayishlah
    by Rabbi Heidi Hoover

    In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlah, Jacob and his family return to his homeland, and Jacob anticipates his reunion with his brother Esau. It’s been more than 20 years since Jacob ran away from his brother’s anger, after having stolen their father’s blessing. He is afraid to meet Esau again, afraid that Esau will still be angry. When they do meet, the text says, “Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him; and they wept” (Genesis 33:4).

    The Hebrew word for the phrase, “he kissed him” has dots in the text over each letter. The rabbis interpret this as having meaning. In Midrash Rabba, Rabbi Shimon ben Eleazar says this “teaches that he kissed him with all his heart.” Rabbi Yannai disagrees, saying, “It teaches however, that he Read More >

  • April 4, 2012

    By Rabbi Heidi Hoover

    More than a decade ago, shortly after my conversion to Judaism, I was working as a religious school tutor. One day at about this time of year, I was having a conversation with a colleague about Passover, specifically the part of the haggadah that instructs us to say, “God brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” How, I asked, could I honestly say “us?” As a Jew by Choice, I am obviously not descended by blood from the Israelites who left Egypt in the Exodus. At the same time, as a Jew, it didn’t feel right to say, “God brought them out of Egypt.”

    It was a number of years later that I found two answers to my question. One came from Maimonides, one of our great rabbis, who lived in the 1100’s in Spain, Morocco, and Egypt. Maimonides wrote a letter Read More >

  • October 7, 2010

    In this week’s Torah portion, God, having concluded that Humanity 1.0 has not worked out at all, decides to start over again. God chooses the most righteous man, Noah. Our rabbis disagree on whether Noah was not particularly righteous, just more so than everyone else at the time, or whether Noah would have been considered righteous no matter what his generation. Either way, Noah and his family are chosen to be the humans that will repopulate the world. God causes there to be a great flood that covers the whole world, killing every human and animal that lives on land, so that only Noah, his family, and the animals on the ark with them survive.

    Upon emerging from the ark, Noah builds an altar and makes an offering to God.  God “inhale[s] the soothing fragrance” (Gen. 8:21, Read More >

  • January 10, 2008

    By Heidi Hoover

    This week’s Torah portion, Va‘era, continues a saga that many Jews have lived with all their lives and that we tell every year at our Passover tables: the exodus from Egypt. Last week Moses and Aaron had their first confrontations with Pharaoh, to no avail. Now the narrative takes us through the first seven plagues: blood, frogs, lice, swarms of insects (some say wild beasts), livestock disease, boils, and hail. We’re good at listing the plagues. We give prizes to religious school kids who can recite them. I’ve recently noticed a trend of frog-themed Passover toys and other products. Apparently frogs were the cute plague.

    In our familiarity with this story, it seems we don’t notice the fear and pain in it anymore. Those experiencing the plagues must have thought it was the end of the world. The plague of blood meant the water was contaminated, undrinkable. Fish died. Read More >

  • April 12, 2007

    Parashat Shemini
    Heidi Hoover

    In recent years, soy has become popular among American vegetarians and others trying to eat a more healthy diet. It is a great source of protein without the fat and cholesterol of meat. The presence of soy in Asian diets has been associated with the low level of heart disease in that part of the world. Tofu, which is made from soy, is good in stir-fried dishes, in soup, even with pasta. What could be bad? More recently, however, there have been studies showing that there can be negative health effects from eating soy products. These include possible thyroid problems, some cancers, fertility issues, and more. So what is going on here? Apparently, what many of these studies are showing is what happens when soy makes up too much of one’s diet.

    We are not a society of moderation. We believe that if some is good, more must be Read More >

  • March 23, 2006

    By Heidi Hoover

    In this week’s parashah we begin with God’s reassurance to
    Moses that God is El Shaddai, the same One who appeared to Abraham,
    Isaac, and Jacob, and that God will indeed free the Israelites. This
    appears to be in order to restore Moses’ confidence in God. That
    confidence (which was always shaky anyway) doesn’t seem entirely
    restored, because when God then reiterates the command to Moses that he
    should go and speak to Pharaoh, Moses again protests that his oratory
    abilities are not up to the job. As a result, Aaron is sent along with

    Then there is an interruption in the narrative flow, where the
    families of three of the Israelite tribes’Reuven, Simeon, and Levi’are
    listed. After this partial genealogy, the narrative continues to what
    is probably one of the most familiar parts of the Torah’the plagues
    brought down on Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The first seven
    plagues’blood, frogs, lice, insects (or wild beasts), cattle disease,
    boils, and hail’are described Read More >

Rabbi Heidi Hoover

Rabbi Heidi Hoover (AJR ’11) has taught Conversion at AJR. She is the rabbi of B'ShERT: Beth Shalom v'Emeth Reform Temple in Brooklyn, NY.