• June 17, 2024

    Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a prophet? To know things before they happened? This week’s parashah, Parashat Beha’alotekha, represents a master class in prophecy. Through a series of vignettes, the Torah provides insight into what it means to be a prophet.

    In the first episode, several men come up to Moses and Aaron saying that they were unable to bring the Passover sacrifice because they were ritually unclean. Is there any way they can still participate (Num. 9:6-7)? All that Moses had learned from G-d was that the sacrifice was to be brought on the fourteenth day of the first month (Num. 9:5); there was nothing about what to do with people who were unable to participate at that time.

    What should Moses do? Would he look weak if he admitted that he did not know the answer? Should he make his Read More >

  • June 11, 2024

    There is a beautiful place in the Ayalon Valley - west of Jerusalem - just 25 km away. It is called Latrun. The name Latrun may have been derived from “Le Toron des Chevaliers,” the name of a Crusader castle that once stood there. In modern times the hill is best known as the site of an important battle during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.

  • June 3, 2024

    Anyone who has spent several days in the desert knows the nighttime there—the human need to stay close to the nearby camp.

  • May 28, 2024

    “Why? Because, I said so!” Many of us heard those words as children, when we questioned something we were told to do. The reason given was, “Because I said so!” We ourselves may have said those words, as parents or teachers, in our roles as authority figures.

    This week’s parashah, Behukotai, is named for hukkim, the rules mentioned in the opening verse. According to rabbinic tradition, hukkim are statutes for which there is no rationale. We are to obey them “because God said so.”  The sages of the Talmud note, “And you shall keep my statutes (hukkotai; Leviticus 18:4)” refers to rules which may be challenged, because the reasons for them are not known. They cite a list of examples of such hukkim, including the prohibition against eating pork, against wearing shatnez (garments of diverse fabrics), and the scapegoat of the Yom Kippur ritual. The Talmudic passage concludes, “And lest you say these are meaningless Read More >

  • May 20, 2024

    Sylvia, z”l, passed away Erev Pesah at almost 100 years old. Although her loyalty was to the Valley Stream Jewish Center and Rabbi Yechiel, she often told me that I was her “favorite female rabbi.” She was intelligent and thoughtful, often adding her own “midrash” to our texts. She was raised to fight for civil rights, women’s rights and peace, and raised her children the same way. Her insights always added to our discussions.

  • May 14, 2024

    Albert Einstein once said, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” Reflecting on this wisdom, I write this D’var Torah on Wednesday, May 8, 2024 - the Sixteenth Day of the Omer: Day 215 of captivity, as we continue to count both the days of the Omer and the endless days of our brothers and sisters' cruel captivity at the hands of terrorists.

  • May 8, 2024

    Our parsha begins with the striking words: קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י ה׳ אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃ You shall be holy, for I, your God, am holy. (Lev. 19:2)

  • May 2, 2024

    Parashat Aharei Mot gives us much to think about, to learn from, to understand and to challenge ourselves with. I’ve chosen to devote my D’var Torah to the anonymous and fascinating individual in this parashah, the ish iti – or “man of the hour” or “time-bound man”.

  • April 26, 2024

    During the festival of Pesah, it is customary to read Shir HaShirim – Song of Songs, a beautiful collection of poetry extolling the splendor and the power of love.

  • April 17, 2024

    This week's Torah portion describes a “backdoor” entry into understanding the priesthood and the Tribe of Levi. Acts of Temple worship like the offering of sacrifices and the burning of aromatic herbs take place “up front,” where the Israelites in the courtyard (‘azarah) gaze in awe at the priests and Levites.

  • April 8, 2024

    One of my rabbis used to tell a story about a time when his father was on death’s doorstep. He had been 30 days in a coma suffering from a rare blood infection. The doctor comes into the room and says, “I don’t think he’s going to make it. There is one more drug we can try, but it’s so strong— if it doesn’t help him, it could kill him.” He told my rabbi the name of the drug. “Oh!,” said my rabbi, “that is the same drug that I was given 40 years ago when I was sick with Typhoid fever. It saved my life.”

  • April 1, 2024

    People sometimes ask questions to rabbis in the form, “Is there any Jewish significance to the number [x],” or “Is it true that [x] is an important number in Judaism?” Of course, the answer is always “yes.”

  • March 26, 2024

    Well everybody’s got a secret, son Something they just can’t face Some spend their whole lives trying to keep it They carry it with them every step that they take ‘till one day, they just cut it loose Cut it loose or let it drag ‘em down. Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town

  • March 18, 2024

    When I began studying Hebrew grammar with my friend Rabbi Amanda Brodie, one of the first things I learned about was the vav ha-hippukh (flipped), also called “the consecutive vav” or “narrative vav.” Normally, this letter serves as a prefix meaning “and,” “but” and sometimes “or,” and the word following is in the imperfect tense (an uncompleted action). But when this letter has a patah vowel (straight line) and the next letter has a dagesh (dot) inside, it “flips” and translates to something like, “and then….” basically suggesting a continuation of the narrative, and a perfect (completed) action.

  • March 13, 2024

    The portion Pikudei includes the action of building the mishkan, the portable sanctuary in the desert and the making of the vestments for the high priest. 

  • March 5, 2024

    In challenging times, how do we stay strong and sustain our spirits? When I am in need of sustenance for my soul, I find myself turning to stories of people who retained faith, hope and their humanity in the most horrific times and circumstances. A midrash on this week’s parashah, VaYakhel, imagines such a story. It is a story of women, from the ancient narrative of our people’s enslavement in Egypt. 

  • February 27, 2024

    We are living in a time when good leadership is hard to find.

  • February 19, 2024

    A first or even a second reading of the text of Parashat Tetzaveh doesn’t begin to reveal the nuances, the implications, the messages of what might otherwise sound like elaborate but formulaic instructions for how to light the lights and for how to dress the priests. Instead, we can learn so much from the choice of words and from the message behind the words which inform our lives to the present day. Reflecting on God’s instructions to us as we struggled to become a nation was a learning curve - then and now.

  • February 12, 2024

    We have been freed from the bondage and oppressive servitude under Pharaoh. We have crossed the narrow passageway of the Reed Sea to freedom in the wilderness. We have stood at Sinai and entered into a covenant with God, saying “Na’aseh v’Nishmah” – We will follow God’s ways and seek to understand them. And, now, in this week’s Torah portion, God tells Moses to collect terumah – gifts of materials and supplies from the Israelites “[a]nd let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” [Exodus 25:8] A list [Exodus 25:3-7] has been delineated: from precious metals to precious stones, an array of yarns to animal skins and goat hair, wood, oil and spices… All of this to be brought as terumah from each person whose heart so moves them;

  • February 6, 2024

    “Na’aseh v’nishma (We will do and we will heed)”~ Shemot 24:7 Just Do It ~ The Nike slogan In my other life, I am a theater producer. 

  • January 31, 2024

    Moses was famously close with his father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro), the Priest of Midian. This week’s Torah portion is named after Yitro, celebrating the reunion between Moses and Yitro shortly after the Exodus from Egypt.  

  • January 23, 2024

    As Parashat Beshalah begins, the Israelites are soon trapped between the Sea and the oncoming Egyptian army. What will they do? Incredibly, Gandalf raises his magic staff and the Sea splits! Wait… I mean Moses.

  • January 16, 2024

    The saying goes, “you can take the kid out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the kid.” How and where we grow up has a huge influence on how we move forward and live the rest of our lives.

  • January 9, 2024

    What’s in a name? A lot when you talk about the name of God.

  • January 3, 2024

    Growing up in Uruguay, I learned about the Exodus in two different languages, Hebrew and Spanish. The Hebrew version spoke about the story that named the Book of the Torah—Moses's birth, rise, and glory as a leader. The Spanish version spoke about the birth, rise, and glory of a different leader: Jose Artigas, the leader of the Uruguayan people. 

  • December 26, 2023

    As I prepared to write a D’var Torah for parashat Vayehi – with my Tanakh, my research notes and my computer open in front of me, my thoughts kept going to the date later in the week of the yahrzeit of my husband, Rabbi Joseph H. Wise z”l. I looked it up and parashat Vayehi was read on the Shabbat following his passing which seemed to further connect the parashah and the yahrzeit.

  • December 21, 2023

    We learn about Serah bat Asher (daughter of Asher) in our Torah portion, as she is listed with the names of the children of Israel who went down to Egypt with Jacob to reconnect with Joseph and to find a safe place with access to food during famine. (Gen. 46:17) We hear about her again when her name is listed with those who are making their way into the Promised Land after wandering in the wilderness for forty years. (Numbers 26:44-47) Wait! Just how much time has elapsed from going down into Egypt and entering the Promised Land… Four hundred years?

  • December 11, 2023

    “How many children do you have?” This question, often posed as a simple social pleasantry, can be a complex one for a bereaved parent. Does one inject the intense, personal topic of a deceased child into a casual conversation with a stranger? Or does one ignore, not count, the child who is physically absent, but is still present in one’s heart and family? 

  • December 4, 2023

    “A dream can follow you, it will not be denied, Dreams can haunt your life until you them guide.” ~ from “Follow Your Dreams: Joseph’s Song” by Robin Anne Joseph

  • November 29, 2023

    More than 30 years ago, the award-winning Israeli novelist David Grossman wrote a children’s book, איתמר פוגש ארנב Itamar pogesh arnav, “Itamar meets a rabbit.” It’s a story about a boy named Itamar who loves animals of all kinds, except that he is terrified of rabbits.

  • November 20, 2023

    Parashat Vayeitzei was my bat mitzvah portion, and while I remember chanting the Haftarah on Friday night and reading a speech I wrote (with lots of my father’s help!) about it, it wasn’t until AJR’s retreat where we explored this parashah through song, dance, art, intensive study and more that I realized how special it was, and how it spoke to me personally.

  • November 15, 2023

    “Stop making sense, stop making sense Stop making sense, making sense” -Talking Heads, Girlfriend is Better (1983)

  • November 6, 2023

    The portion Hayei Sarah, the life of Sarah, reflects more on her death, and how her husband, Abraham, buys land in Canaan to bury her. In fact, Abraham’s purchase of the land, at an exorbitant price, is the first purchase of land in Canaan recorded in the Torah.

  • October 30, 2023

    Rachel Edri served tea and Moroccan cookies to Hamas terrorists carrying grenades until police stormed her house in the south of Israel and rescued her on October 7, 2023. After an early-morning air raid siren, Rachel and her husband returned from a bomb shelter in her hometown of Ofakim to find a band of Hamas militants in her living room.

  • October 23, 2023

    A major theme in parashat Lekh Lekha is the account of God’s covenant with Abraham and with the generations which will follow him.

  • October 16, 2023

    It was morning in the Mount Scopus neighborhood of Jerusalem, near the Hebrew University campus. Up early, I was preparing to make my first presentation as a university student participating in a course on Carl Jung. I was analyzing a Talmud passage in which Rabbi Yohanan is arguing with his disciple, Resh Lakish, about whether knives and swords are considered ritually unclean.

  • October 9, 2023

    וַיִּקְרָ֛א יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶל־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ל֖וֹ אַיֶּֽכָּה׃  The ETERNAL God called to the human and said to him: Ayekha? (Gen. 3:9)

  • September 18, 2023

    As we move from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, this week we read Parashat Ha’azinu, Moses’ farewell song. There are many fruitful portions of the parashah upon which to focus, but my attention immediately gravitates to the phrase וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשֻׁרוּן וַיִּבְעָט (“and Yeshurun grew fat and kicked”; Deut. 32:15).

  • September 6, 2023

    “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” -Inaugural Address of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt (March 4, 1933)

  • August 28, 2023

    A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of talking with someone interested in converting to Judaism. Since the pandemic, I have noticed an uptick in people interested in converting with me. In the conversation, I asked them more about themselves, their story, and their interest in casting their lot with the Jewish people. And although I’ve heard several answers now to this question of “Why do you want to convert?”, I had never heard this one before.

  • August 22, 2023

    I recently visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and managed to have timed my visit to be able to view the exhibit “Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina”. It was beautiful, and it was painful. Beautiful, because the pottery was subtly exquisite. Painful, because each piece was made by an enslaved human being, subjected to horrors we cannot begin to imagine. In the South in the mid-1800s, the phrase “buy local” had a whole different connotation. “Buy local” meant support the slave industry with your economic decisions. Don’t buy from the North – goods made by free people. The paradoxical mix of beauty and pain found in the Old Edgefield pottery is not so uncommon. We find it frequently in the Torah. The beauty is in the fact that the words are part of our ancient and sacred tradition. The pain is in what those words say.

  • May 2, 2023

    Lo tehal’lelu
    You shall not
    Do not.

    You and I
    and each of us,
    holy leaders
    great and small,
    let us think twice
    about what we do,
    let us remember
    and pay attention,
    that we do not

    or others (Lev.21:9) —
    are you
    are they
    am I,
    by one or more,

    …our children, (Lev. 21:15)
    the future they are;
    we will not be here
    one day
    but they will,
    they will only
    if we remember
    and if we restrain
    and if we transform
    our baser

    …the Name; (Lev. 21:6)
    are not the center
    of the Universe
    nor am I
    nor he nor she
    nor they nor them —
    much is beyond us
    more important,
    critical on every level
    to functionality
    to wellbeing;

    …the sanctuary of the Oneness (Lev. 21:12)
    the Breathe
    the All-Encompassing
    the Mystery—
    minuscule though we are,
    you hold
    and I hold,
    the power
    to wreak havoc;

    …any place sacred to the One— (Lev. 21:23)
    is there a place not cherished
    by the Initiator
    of all
    holding that hallowedness?
    what does it take
    for us to notice the sanctity
    feel Read More >

  • April 24, 2023

    “Hokheiah tokhiah et amitekha.” “You shall surely reprove your fellow.” (Leviticus 19:17) Giving critical feedback, or tokhehah (often translated as “reproof” or “rebuke”), is a positive mitzvah in the Torah.

    Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us, as constructive critique and feedback is a primary way that we learn and grow. And yet, already in the time of the Talmud, two of the greatest sages of their generation indicated that almost everyone who attempts to fulfill this mitzvah is doing it wrong.

    In the Babylonian Talmud, Arakhin 16b, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah differ about why the system of tokhehah seems to be broken. According to Rabbi Tarfon, “I would be surprised if there is anyone in this generation who can receive rebuke. If the one rebuking says ‘Remove the splinter from between your eyes,’ the other responds: ‘Remove the beam from between your eyes!’” In other words, the experience of receiving criticism, even when generously offered, tends Read More >

  • April 17, 2023

    Click here for an audio recording of this D’var Torah

    A D’var Torah for Parshiyot Tazria-Metzorah
    By Rabbi Matthew Goldstone

    Reading Parshiyot Tazria-Metzorah this year I can’t help but think about bodily autonomy and the conversations taking place across the United States about the legality of abortion and related procedures. The Torah establishes a system in which those in power, the priests, are tasked with looking at a part of a person’s body to dictate their ritual status. Based upon their determination, the person may be socially isolated and required to shave portions of their body. The voyeurism coupled with a religiously-imposed obligation to do something with, or to, one’s body, grates against modern notions of personal autonomy.

    And yet, at the same time, I realize that I actually do subscribe to certain bodily limitations and restrictions imposed by governing powers. להבדיל,[1] I endorse vaccination requirements for people to enter certain spaces. Even beyond Covid-19, I expect public schools Read More >

  • April 10, 2023

    The Bitter and the Sweet
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Shemini
    By Rabbi Greg Schindler (’09)

    Most of us are familiar with the concept of a hyperlink. Case in point: hyperlink. When you click on a hyperlink, you begin a journey connecting the idea on the page to a related concept. Quite the innovation, right?

    Yes, indeed. The hyperlinks embedded in the Torah were quite the innovation.

    Wait, what? The Torah?

    In Jewish tradition, a hyperlink is called a gezerah shaveh – where the same words are used in two different cases in order to shed light upon each case. In this way, the Torah comments upon itself.  For example, in Num. 28:2 we read that the daily burnt offering is to be brought “בְּמוֹעֲדוֹ ” (bimoado) – “at its appointed time”, meaning even on Shabbat. In Num. 9:2, we similarly read that the Passover offering is to be brought “בְּמוֹעֲדוֹ” (bimoado). From this, the rabbis determined that, just Read More >

  • April 3, 2023

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    A D’var Torah for Hol HaMoed Pesah
    By Rabbi Ira J. Dounn (’17)

    The Passover story, which we recount in our seders this week, highlights Moses (on behalf of G-d) telling Pharoah to “Let My people go!” (Exodus 5:1)

    And yet I wonder: What are the things that we are holding onto? What do we need to let go of in our own lives?

    The pre-Passover purge might indicate that we’re not too shabby at letting go of things. The spring cleaning that features the throwing away, giving away, or selling of our hametz is a reminder to us that it’s good to let things go.

    But anyone who has had the unenviable job of cleaning out the home of a loved one who has passed away might find the task more daunting. In this instance, the only physical thing we have left of the person Read More >

  • March 27, 2023

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    Constancy and Careful Guarding: How to Link the Jewish Past with the Future
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Tzav
    By Rabbi Mitchell Blank (’21)

    This coming Shabbat is the last one before Passover begins (Shabbat HaGadol) and the Torah reading this year falls on Parashat Tzav. Both Tzav and Exodus 12, the chapter that details Passover observance, emphasize the biblical world view that constancy of action (temidut) and careful guarding of ritual (shemira) are the glue linking past and future generations. The Rabbis endorse these paths to Jewish survival yet also understand that the ultimate guarantor of continuity in an ever-changing world is intergenerational peace. Passover, the time of our freedom and redemption, is davka the holiday our sages choose to accentuate that the most important mitzvah is to maintain Jewish continuity by children and parents being in dialogue.

    Parashat Tzav begins with particulars of Olat HaTamid, the daily burnt offering. Intertwined in these details is a Read More >

  • March 20, 2023

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    Keeping focus on sacred connections
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayikra
    by Rabbi Steven Altarescu (’14)

    The Book of Vayikra begins where Exodus leaves off. The Israelites have finished building the Mishkan and God has shown approval through the appearance of a cloud of God’s Presence. Exodus thus ends triumphantly with a description of the work being finished;

    “Now the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of YHVH filled the Mishkan” (Exodus 40:34)

    We are then told that Moses:

    “was not able to come into the Tent of Meeting for the cloud was dwelling on it and the Presence of YHVH filled the Mishkan.” (Exodus 40:35)

    Vayikra begins with God calling out to Moses:

    “YHVH called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting…” (Leviticus 1:1)

    The building of the Mishkan and the blessing of God’s presence add a sense of Read More >

  • March 13, 2023

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    Where do we face in our holy space?
    A D’var Torah for Parshiyot Vayakhel-Pekudei
    By Rabbi Rob Scheinberg

    “Once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?” — Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

    Alice might have approved of the Talmud, which has conversations among the sages on every page. But she might have been disappointed that there are not very many pictures. There is, however, an evocative picture inspired by a verse from this week’s Torah portion, found in printed editions of the Babylonian Talmud in Rashbam’s commentary to Tractate Bava Batra 99a, that carries some relevance for us Read More >

  • March 7, 2023

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    The Golden Calf: Not a Tantrum, but a Meltdown
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Ki Tissa and Shabbat Parah
    By Rabbi Katy Allen (’05)

    Perhaps the golden calf was inevitable,
    and perhaps
    even necessary.
    Egel ha’masekhah, the molten calf (Ex. 32:4),
    the meltdown–
    the internal or external loss of control
    stemming from demands
    or overwhelming emotions.
    Not a tantrum.

    Not a tantrum
    but the breaking down
    that leads to breaking open.

    G!d demanded so much,
    and all at once
    and in no uncertain terms.
    Moses seemingly disappeared
    just when everyone’s lives
    were being overwhelmingly disrupted
    changed irrevocably.

    Has it ever happened to you?

    Hamasekhah hanesukhah
    the veil that is spread over all the nations (Is. 25:7)
    the veil of mourning that covers us all (BDB)
    G!d will remove it,
    and will “wipe away the tears” (Is. 25:8)
    from all our Read More >

  • February 27, 2023

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    Remembering and Turning Things Upside-Down: Shabbat Zakhor and Purim
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Tetzaveh, Shabbat Zakhor, and Purim
    By Rabbi Rena Kieval (’06)                         

    “There is a certain people, scattered and separate from the peoples in all the provinces of your realm, and their rules are different from those of any other people… It is not in your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them. If it please your Majesty, let an edict be drawn for their destruction…” (Esther 3: 8,9)

    Every Purim, these words of Haman in Megillat Esther send chills down my spine. The words are ancient, yet they are all too familiar. We recognize the anti-Jewish tropes, the intolerance of anyone who is seen as ‘other’ or different, and the quintessential hate speech that is gaining Read More >

  • February 20, 2023

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    The Impermanence of the Natural world and the Eternity of God’s Presence
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Terumah
    By Rabbi Mitchell Blank (’21)

    As I write these words, the death toll has risen to over 36,000 and tens of thousands more have been injured, let alone the untold number who have become homeless and penniless. Life on earth is truly fragile and it’s sad that only violent tragedies such as the recent earthquake centered in Turkey and Syria seem to be able to wake us up to the reality of the impermanence of it all. In these moments, we cry out to God: Where are you?! Yet, we know that this apparent absence of the Divine is beyond our comprehension. In better times, we can occasionally feel God’s presence. We acknowledge this natural oscillation in our understanding of God in the Kedushah for Musaf: “God’s glory fills the Read More >

  • February 13, 2023
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    Yearning for Divine Intimacy, and the Call of Ordinary Life
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Mishpatim
    By Dr. Yakir Englander

    The weekly Torah portion – Parashat Mishpatim – opens with a long list of laws governing daily life. On the face of it, there is no hint of the previous portion’s numinous encounter between the People of Israel and the Divine at Mount Sinai. The dark cloud and the thunderous voices are gone, and instead we find Israel saddled with a tedious inventory of colorless rules.

    And yet, as this portion unfolds, we learn of more intimate divine/human encounters – described now with a kind of holy pathos. The people respond, to each of the divine injunctions, na’aseh ve-nishma’ – “We will do, and we will hear!” Moses and Aaron, with the latter’s two sons and also seventy Read More >

  • February 6, 2023

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Yitro
    By Rabbi Greg Schindler (’09)


    “She generally gave herself very good advice (although she very seldom followed it)”

    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

    How good are you at taking advice?

    I know that I could use a lot of work in this department, especially when it comes to unsolicited advice. If someone starts a sentence with, “I think you should”, I often nod my head appreciatively… and tune out.

    This seems to be a part of human nature. According to research, people generally start out with a personal bias towards their own opinions, and discount the advice of others.

    Most of us feel like the Duchess in Alice: “If everybody minded their own business ..the world would go round a deal faster than it does.”

    Perhaps to counteract this bias, our tradition is replete with Read More >

  • February 1, 2023

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    Fear of Freedom?
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Beshalah
    By Rabbi Steven Altarescu (’14)The most powerful metaphor in Jewish thought is the exodus from Egypt. The story of the exodus has been read as a model of people seeking freedom in every historical period, as a symbol of rebirth and renewal, as freeing oneself from psychological and emotional conscription.

    The visual image of the sea parting, leaving dry land for the Israelites to march through but then closing up and drowning the Egyptians who pursued them, is stirring. The song the Israelites sung when they witnessed the power of God to open the sea for them but close it on the Egyptians is sung every morning as part of the shaharit service.

    In the Torah the song of the Read More >

  • January 24, 2023

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    Moses Gone Rogue
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Bo
    By Cantor Robin Anne Joseph (’96)

    In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, Moses goes rogue.

    True, he has already been known to have “acted out,” shall we say. There was the incident of Moses killing an Egyptian taskmaster upon seeing him beating a Hebrew slave, so we know Moses has a temper, but that was before Moses was under the tutelage of ‘ה. Doesn’t Moses now have an obligation to adhere to the directives of this Higher Power?

    It seems to start out that way. ‘ה has given Moses the task of administering the plagues and Moses has been faithfully carrying out that task. Up to this point, between the efforts of ‘ה, and Aaron and Moses as directed by ‘ה, the Read More >

  • January 16, 2023

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    The Presence and Absence of Names
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vaeira
    By Rabbi Robert Scheinberg

    Last week’s Torah portion, the first Torah person of the Book of Exodus, is called “Shemot,” which means “names.” And in fact, the Torah portion begins with the names of the sons of Jacob who descended to Egypt and had become the ancestors of the Tribes of Israel. But in a Torah portion which is called “Shemot,” there are relatively few personalities in last week’s Torah portion whose names are listed.

    For example, the birth and very early life of the most significant person in the entire Torah are described as follows in last week’s Torah portion: (Exodus 2) “A man from the house of Levi married a woman who was a daughter of Levi. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw how beautiful he was, Read More >

  • January 10, 2023

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Shemot
    By Rabbi Katy Allen (’05)

    I’m glad I wasn’t an Egyptian back then.
    I’m glad I wasn’t there
    to be ordered by Pharaoh
    to throw newborn babies
    into the river. (Exodus 1:22)

    Although, I’ve heard that I might not necessarily
    have had to drown any babies myself ‒
    I might, instead, have had to force my neighbors,
    the Israelites,
    to drown their own babies (Or HaHaim).
    I’m glad I didn’t have to do that either.

    It’s also possible,
    the whispers through the generations tell me ‒
    and I shudder in response ‒
    that if I myself had given birth
    the day that Moses was born,
    I might have had to kill my own baby,
    Egyptian though he would have been. (Sotah 12a)
    Of all the terrible things our sacred tradition tells us

    that Pharaoh did,
    I find that telling his own people
    to snatch Read More >

  • January 3, 2023

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    Wrestling With Our Names: Lessons from Jacob/Israel
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayehi
    By Rabbi Rena Kieval (’06)

    Each of us has a name
    given by God
    and given by our parents
    Each of us has a name
    given by our stature and our smile
    and given by what we wear

    Each of us has a name
    given by the mountains
    and given by our walls

    Each of us has a name
    given by the stars
    and given by our neighbors

    Each of us has a name
    given by our sins
    and given by our longing

    Each of us has a name
    given by our enemies
    and given by our love

    Each of us has a name
    given by our celebrations
    and given by our work

    Each of us has a name
    given by the seasons
    and given by our blindness

    Each of us has a name
    given by the sea
    and given by
    our death.

    © Translation: 2004, Read More >

  • December 27, 2022

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    Anti-Shemitism: The Power of Names to Turn Us Into an Abomination
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayigash
    By Rabbi Mitchell Blank (’21)

    In a recent notorious SNL monologue, Dave Chappelle proclaims: “There are two words in the English language you should never say together, in sequence, and those words are “the” and “Jews”.” As per Chappelle, this would violate the “show business rules of perception: If they’re Black it’s a gang, if they’re Italian, it’s a mob but if they’re Jewish; it’s a coincidence and you should never speak about it.”  Each group receives its own racial or ethnic epithet. As for the Jews, they control Hollywood. In Chappelle’s opinion, Jewish control is so pervasive that even naming “the Jews” will unleash a severe backlash against anyone who tries. Jews are uniquely noxious in that epithets are insufficient to dirty our name. In addition, Jews are Read More >

  • December 19, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Mikeitz
    By Rabbi Ira Dounn (’17)

    How is the arc of your own story bending right now?

    I think about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quote “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” often, particularly when a desired outcome hasn’t yet been achieved. MLK is reminding us to have hope despite the slow pace at which it seems progress sometimes occurs.

    To this point, Joseph has had a tough life. Although originally the favorite child, Joseph’s brothers act on their intense jealousy, throw him into the pit, and sell him into slavery. His position as a slave in Egypt is initially comfortable and successful, all things considered, since “G-d was with Joseph” (Gen. 39:2). But after he is falsely accused of sexually assaulting Potiphar’s wife, back down into “the pit” he goes and he Read More >

  • December 12, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayeishev
    By Rabbi Greg Schindler (’09)

    Dedicated to the memory of my dear wife Barucha Esther bat Daniel v’Rachel (z”l)

    Dream On

    Dream on/ Dream on / Dream on
    Dream until your dreams come true
    – Steven Tyler (Aerosmith)

    Did you ever have a dream that came true?

    The Talmud tells us that a dream is one-sixtieth of prophecy. (Berakhot 57b) But the trouble with dreams is, they require interpretation.

    Rav Hisda said, “A dream not interpreted is like a letter not read.” (Berakhot 55a) Dream interpretation is made especially difficult by the “red herrings” in dreams: “Just as it is impossible for the grain to grow without straw, so it is impossible to dream without idle matters.” (ibid.)

    Moreover, the Sages claim that the actualization of a dream depends on its interpretation: Read More >

  • December 5, 2022

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    My Parasha
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayishlah
    By Rabbi Andrew Hechtman (’03)

    On most any Shabbat the world over, b’nei mitzvah children rise before their community and state an affirmative obligation to maintain Jewish identity and live a Jewish future. Most often, they deliver a D’var Torah (teaching) beginning with the words… “My Parasha is ____”. We encourage our children to take ownership of their Torah. As Jews, only knowing the “facts” about Judaism is “livatala”, meaningless, unless accompanied by an evolving Jewish identity.

    The concept of differentiation of self is at the core of Bowen Family Systems Theory. Differentiation addresses how individuals differ from each other in terms of their sensitivity to one another and their varying abilities to maintain and preserve a degree of autonomy in the face of other social pressures. The struggle for balance and harmony in our lives is Read More >

  • November 28, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayeitzei
    By Rabbi Steven Altarescu (’14)

    We are often running from place to place, from errand to errand, doing our best, tripping up, falling down and getting up and running some more. We face challenges and sometimes we face them with wisdom and sometimes we fail at them. Life can feel like moving on a line, horizontally.

    In the last number of years, through the last few election cycles and through the pandemic, we can feel we are running for our lives. Motivated by saving democracy and freedom, and to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy, while still trying to function in the world. We do not know what is next, both from a political perspective and from a medical perspective, and yet we keep moving. I believe it is very easy to get entangled in our daily lives and lose hope Read More >

  • November 21, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Toledot
    By Cantor Robin Anne Joseph (’96)

    “Still waters run deep.”

    Coined several centuries before Shakespeare’s take-off in Henry VI, Part 2—Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep—this idiom seems to date back to the Latin: Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi—The deepest rivers flow with the smallest sound.

    That’s our Isaac—our ancestor with the least to say, but perhaps with the most bubbling underneath the surface. Maybe that’s why, in this week’s Torah portion, Toledot, Isaac is busy digging wells. Let’s unearth this situation together…

    What’s bothering Isaac?

    A question usually reserved for dissecting a Rashi teaching, I think we could ask the same of Isaac. What is bothering this poor soul to lead him to this seemingly compulsive action of digging not one, not two, but five wells in fairly quick succession? What is going on with all this digging? Read More >

  • November 14, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Hayei Sarah
    By Rabbi Katy Allen (’05)

    Hayei Sarah –
    the life of Sarah
    tells of her death.
    Abraham is old,
    nearing his death as well,
    and he says to his servant,
    I will make you swear—
    I, Abraham, will make you,
    another human being,
    swear an oath unto G!d.
    On my deathbed,
    I will make you promise.

    What right have we
    to force someone else
    to promise something
    in the name of G!d?
    Can it really be valid?
    Can it really be sound to its core?

    And, it’s about finding a wife
    for his son, Isaac.
    Swear, Abraham says to his servant,
    swear in the name of all that is sacred and holy,
    that you won’t take a wife for my son
    from among these Canaanites,
    but that you will go back
    to the land of my birth
    and find him a wife there.

    Why is this command,
    with such vehemence,
    needed at all?
    After all, we Read More >

  • November 7, 2022

    How Do you Make a Well or a Ram Disappear? By Rabbi Rob Scheinberg Twenty years ago, two experimental psychologists at Harvard, named Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, created what has become one of the most famous experiments in the behavioral sciences.  The participants in this study were given a simple task. They just had to watch a brief video that included several people passing basketballs back and forth to each other. Three of these players were wearing white shirts, and three were wearing black shirts. The task was simple: watch the ball that was being passed among the players with the white shirts, and count how many times the basketball was passed. This is not difficult – most people came up with the right number.

  • October 31, 2022

    A D'var Torah for Parashat Lekh Lekha By Rabbi Rena Kieval ('06) Be a blessing! Vehe-yei berakha! I am always struck by the profound, surprising and somewhat mysterious words spoken by God to begin a new relationship with Abraham. God might have opened with something more like, “Follow this important set of rules I will give you,” “You shall believe in Me,” or, “Let us enter into a covenant.” In time, the Torah will present all of those frameworks for a life with God, but God’s momentous first call to Abraham sets the stage with a series of statements about blessing: “I will bless you, those who bless you will be blessed, those who curse you will be cursed, you will be a source of blessing to others, and vehe-yei berakha: you will be, or should be, a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2,3) God’s words about blessing suggest not only the birth of a relationship with Abraham, but a new vision of humanity’s role in God’s world.

  • October 24, 2022

    Seasonal Changes: "Remembering" to be Merciful to Ourselves By Rabbi Mitchell Blank ('21) Living in southern New York, I love this time of year, especially the changing of the leaves. Our home  backs upon acres of undeveloped woods. About 20 years ago, I built a 1.5 mile loop trail through the forest. The path took six months to complete; it was an embodied labor of love. Seasonal maintenance proved to be labor intensive as well. After more than a decade of clearing fallen branches, the trail was now also defined by at least 20 lbs. of wood stacked high for its entire length. The ongoing maintenance and care were daily sources of enjoyment and satisfaction. The boundaries of the path, tangible reminders of years of hard work, only heightened the love derived from walking it.

  • October 19, 2022

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    What Cain Learned
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Beresheet
    By Dr. Yakir Englander

    In the Genesis story, we find Cain and Abel in a field. There the elder brother, Cain, kills Abel, the younger. Midrash Rabbah (22) on this passage remarks that Cain does not know how to take the life of another human person. So, he decides to imitate his brother, slaughtering him in the same way he had seen Abel himself slaughter animals as sacrificial offerings to God. When that same God questions Cain, after the murder, it is with either an utter innocence or with a calculated intent to cross-examine the killer: “Where is your brother Abel?” And Cain responds, without batting an eyelid: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)

    It is a disturbing passage. As a Jewish theologian, I have always Read More >

  • October 6, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Ha’azinu
    By Rabbi Matthew Goldstone

    Our parasha this week begins with calling heaven and earth as witnesses (see Deut. 31:28) as Moses sings his final song to the people. The natural imagery continues as Moses compares his words to rain and dew, and refers to God as the Rock (צור). This past week many of us have had rains on our mind as Hurricane Ian ravaged portions of Florida. Within the biblical theology of our parasha, such natural disasters are understood as an expression of divine displeasure at our sinful actions (e.g., Deut. 32:18-24). For many modern inheritors of the Hebrew Bible, however, such a theology no longer resonates and can even be offensive – particularly when employed as a weapon by religious extremists. So what meaning can we draw Read More >

  • September 29, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayeilekh
    By Rabbi Matthew Goldstone

    This past week thousands of Jews gathered in person and online to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. We now find ourselves in the midst of עשרת ימי תשובה, the 10 days of repentance leading up to Yom Kippur. Yet, even during this week between the Yamim Noraim we continue with our regular Torah reading cycle. This week of Shabbat Shuvah we read the short parashah of Vayeilekh in which Moses announces to the Israelites that he has reached 120 years of age and will no longer lead the Israelites forward.

    At this time in our Jewish calendar of sacred gatherings, I would like to explore three instances in our parashah in which all of the Israelites gather together. At the very outset of the portion, Moses speaks to “all of Israel” and encourages them to be strong and resolute (חזקו ואמצו;  Read More >

  • September 22, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Nitzavim
    By Rabbi Doug Alpert

    Growing up I always looked forward to an excerpt in the Siddur on Shabbos morning immediately following Ein Keiloheinu toward the end of Musaf. It is taken from Talmud Bavli, Berakhot 64a, “Rabbi Eleazar said in the name of Rabbi Hanina: Students of Torah increase peace in the world…” (emphasis added). I am not sure what it was about this sugya of Talmud that I found so alluring; possibly that in conjunction with Ein Keiloheinu I found it to be a particularly affirming moment toward the end of a long morning of praying, or perhaps it was the mere fact that we were in the homestretch of our service, and Kiddush lunch was around the corner.

    Whatever feelings elicited from the passage resonated for me in my youth, it has taken Read More >

  • September 15, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Ki Tavo
    By Rabbi Jeffrey Segelman

    Parashat Ki Tavo begins with two mitzvot which are declarations. The first is that of Bikkurim – the first fruits. This declaration is very familiar to us as it forms the basis of the Maggid section of the seder (Arami Oveid Avi… (Deut 26:5-10). The rabbis call this statement “mikra bikkurim” – “the declaration of the first fruits”.

    The second declaration concerns the end of the three year cycle of tithes. In short, all the tithes of the cycle had to be properly distributed during three years. On the last day after each three year cycle, a declaration at the Temple was made. Here is that declaration:

    I have removed the holy things (tithes) from my house, and I have also given it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and Read More >

  • September 9, 2022

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    The Value Of Life
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Ki Teitzei
    By Rabbi Jill Hackell (’13)

    This week’s parashah, Ki Teitzei, is filled with a wide variety of mitzvot. It contains, perhaps, the most laws of any other parashah in the Torah. I’d like to focus on two of them. The first is as follows:

    “If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow. If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it; then you shall return it to him. You shall do the same with his donkey; you shall do the same with his garment; and Read More >

  • September 1, 2022

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    Idols of Our Own Making
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Shofetim
    By Rabbi Matthew Goldstone

    Our parasha this week begins with a call to justice – we must establish reliable judges who will judge with integrity and we ourselves must actively pursue justice. Immediately following this charge, the portion switches to a prohibition against setting up idolatrous objects of wood or stone. The next chapter (Deut. 17) continues to interweave discussions of avoiding idolatry through the worship of celestial objects with legal justice – that capital punishment shall only be enacted on the basis of the testimony of multiple witness and that difficult cases should be brought to the appointed judges of the day. The extended connection between avoiding idolatry and the pursuit of justice reinforces their antipodal orientations. Idolatry leads us away from truth and justice.

    But the nature and Read More >

  • August 25, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Re’eh
    By Rabbi Enid Lader (’10)

    Our Torah portion this week is Re’eh – Deut. 11:26-16:17In chapter 15, Moses continues to speak to the people about what to expect as they come into the new land. “There shall be no needy among you – since the Eternal your God will bless you in the land that the Eternal your God is giving you as an inheritance – if only you will heed the Eternal your God and keep all this Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day.” (15:4-5) Here’s the thing… If you play by the rules, there will be plenty for all. That makes sense. We know that there certainly are ways we can treat each other and care for (and about) each Read More >

  • August 18, 2022

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    Of Bread and Potential
    A D’var Toraj for Parashat Eikev
    By Rabbi Katy Allen (’05)

    The grass dries out in the heat–
    it’s brown now.
    Flowering plants, and even shrubs,
    are wilting,
    their leaves dull and stiff,
    the bright blue of the sky
    day after day
    broken only
    by occasional fair-weather clouds,
    as the temperatures soar
    and relief doesn’t come.

    Here in my yard,

    the visible life and death question is
    focused on plants,
    and perhaps some pollinators
    or creepy crawlers in the soil
    (though the bunnies and woodchucks no longer graze outside my window,
    and I’m wondering where and what they are munching instead).
    Elsewhere, however,
    are dying.

    Humans cannot live by bread alone, (Deuteronomy 8:3)

    our Torah text tells us,
    and some rabbis say this means
    we actually can live on less–
    although I find it impossible to imagine no need for water.
    The text also says
    that humans can live on anything the Lord decrees,
    and thus the manna from Read More >
  • August 12, 2022

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    Studying Torah 101
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Va’ethanan
    By Rabbi Rob Scheinberg

    I first began to study Talmud in 7th grade in the Jewish day school I attended as a child. Those first months of Talmud were intensely frustrating. The Talmud, as a work of law, is supposed to be logical. And much of the content of the Talmud is, in fact, a series of logical arguments about different rabbis’ statements on various matters in Jewish law. But there were also a number of statements in the Talmud that, to my classmates and to me, just didn’t seem to make any sense. These rabbinic statements purported to be logical but just didn’t seem logical to us. Being seventh graders, my classmates and I expressed this frustration in a typical seventh grade manner, opining “This is stupid,” or “This is a waste of time,” Read More >

  • August 5, 2022

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    Do You Believe In Miracles?
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Devarim
    By Rabbi Marc Rudolph (’04)

    In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses assembles the Israelites on the plains of Moab, poised to enter the Land promised to our ancestors. In a series of three speeches, Moses recounts the history of the past forty years, reviews old laws and imparts new ones, exhorts the people to follow the commandments and castigates them for their failure to do so in the past. He recalls the miracles of the plagues in Egypt and the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea. He reminds the Israelites how God cared for them in the wilderness, “as a man carries his son, all the way that you traveled until you came to this place” (Deuteronomy 1:31).  God even personally guides the Jewish people Read More >

  • July 29, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Mattot-Masei
    by Rabbi Doug Alpert

    For some reason a good deal of my time both within and outside of Torah has lately focused on land and borders. This week’s double portion, Mattot-Masei provides us with the most extensive, but certainly not the only delineation of the borders for HaAretz-the land of Israel in our Written Torah.

    This started for me back in Parashat Shelah-Lekha with the narrative regarding the twelve spies who scouted the land. Within my weekly clergy interfaith Torah study group the conversation shifted from the Read More >
  • July 22, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Pinhas
    by Rabbi Jeffrey Segelman


    In Parashat Pinhas, the formal ceremony of leadership succession takes place. Upon being reminded (as if he needed to be reminded) that he would not enter the land, Moses calls upon God to appoint a new leader. By appealing to God as the “Elohei HaRuhot” – the God of all spirits – the rabbis explain that Moses wants to make sure that God understands that the new leader must be able to tolerate the different opinions and personalities of the people. (See Rashi to Numbers 27:16 Read More >

  • July 8, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Hukkat
    By Rabbi Ariann Weitzman (’11)

    The most frustrating thing about cleaning is that things don’t stay clean and you’re going to have to do it all over again. The second most frustrating thing about cleaning is that it’s hard to do without winding up filthy yourself. This is exactly the paradox of the ritual of the red heifer. As we read at the beginning of parashat Hukkat, the only way to cleanse the ritual impurity attached to caring for or touching the dead is to bring impurity to a wide circle of others. In order to produce the “waters of lustration,” which are used to ritually purify those who have been in contact with the dead, a perfectly unblemished red heifer, who has never had the experience of being yoked, must be slaughtered and Read More >

  • June 24, 2022

    In this week's D'var Torah, Rabbi Katy Allen says that Caleb and Joshua teach us not to catastrophize but to seek out the best and maintain a positive outlook even when the future feels fearful.

  • June 10, 2022

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    What’s Your “Work Work”?
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Naso
    By Rabbi Rob Scheinberg

    The original sacred ritual space of the Jewish people, the Mishkan, was portable. Whenever the Israelites moved from place to place in the wilderness, the Mishkan would be disassembled and transported to its next location. The Levites were the ones in charge of its porterage, and the different families of the Levites each had different holy objects to carry whenever the Mishkan would travel with the people from place to place.

    This is the context for one of the more unusual verses in the Torah, a verse in the beginning of the book of Numbers (Parashat Naso), that describes the Levites’ roles. After specifying that the Levites were to work from age 30 to age 50, the Torah (Numbers 4:47) divides the labors of the Levites into two categories, Read More >

  • May 27, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Behukotai
    By Rabbi Doug Alpert (’12)

    Amongst our many struggles in interpreting Torah and apprehending G-d’s will is in how we view theodicy – how we reconcile the evil that permeates our world vis-à-vis our G-d of mercy and compassion. Arguably a close cousin in this struggle is how we view G-d who metes out blessing and curse, reward and punishment as a response to our conduct. Central to this week’s Torah portion – Parashat Behukotai is how G-d rewards us with blessing for fealty to the Mitzvot and imposes curse or punishment for violating G-d’s statutes and commandments.

    While I characterize this struggle as ours, this may really be my own struggle. I shared this struggle with my interfaith clergy Torah study group. We have been meeting most weeks for about seven or so years now. We study Parashat Read More >

  • May 20, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Behar
    By Rabbi Matthew Goldstone

    This week in Parashat Behar we learn about the laws of Shemitta, the sabbatical year. For six years we work the land and then in the seventh year the land is granted a Shabbat, a rest. Just as we are entitled to a rest on the seventh day of our week, so too the land deserves a period of rest to reset. But what exactly is our relationship to the land and our responsibility for allowing it to rest?

    In Genesis God blesses the first humans with the imperative to conquer (וְכִבְשֻׁהָ) the earth and to subdue (רְדוּ) its creatures (Gen. 1:28). Yet, we are also told that humanity is brought to the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it (Gen. Read More >

  • May 13, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Emor
    By Rabbi Cantor Sam Levine (’19)

    You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy (Lev. 19:2)

    This is the thesis statement of what Bible scholars call “the Holiness Code” (Lev. 17-26). It is also, arguably, the thesis statement of the Book of Leviticus, and, one might further argue, of the entire Torah.

    Of course the statement begs the question, what does it mean to be holy?

    We may find a clue in a pair of verses from this week’s sedra.

    An ox or a sheep or a goat, when it is born, shall remain seven days under its mother, and from the eighth day and forward it will be accepted as a near-offering, as a fire-offering to YHWH. And an ox or a sheep—it and its young you are not Read More >

  • May 6, 2022

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    A Stumbling Block Before the Blind
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Kedoshim
    By Rabbi Jill Hackell (’13)

    Parashat Kedoshim contains many laws that outline a path toward leading a holy life. Although some of these are mystifying (e.g. the laws of shatnez – a prohibition against wearing clothing made from a mixture of wool and linen), the preponderance of these laws deal with the way one treats our fellow human beings. “Love your fellow as yourself” [Leviticus 19:18] can be seen as a summary of all these laws. If we can picture ourselves in the place of our fellow and treat her as we would want to be treated, then we will be living as we are meant to live.

    One law tells us, “You shall not insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind” Read More >

  • April 29, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Aharei Mot
    By Rabbi Michael Rothbaum (’06)

    In an instantly-classic scene from Fiddler, Tevye the dairyman comes to an agreement to marry off his daughter Tzeitl to the butcher Lazar Wolf. The two men celebrate by singing the rousing anthem L’Hayim — “To Life!” The lyrics report that:

    Life has a way of confusing us,
    Blessing and bruising us.
    Drink, l’chaim, to life!

    This modern Jewish sacred text reflects an elemental hasidishe teaching — namely, that that even when the material conditions of existence are meager, we raise up the sparks of holiness that surround us. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, we can lift a glass of shnapps “to life.”

    The toast l’hayim stretches much farther back than Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics, of course, no matter how much we revere them. Some scholars trace the custom all the way back to Talmudic times, as illustrated in Read More >

  • April 22, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Shabbat, the seventh day of Pesah
    By Rabbi Cantor Sam Levine (’19)

    One of the key passages of the Passover Haggadah comes at the end of the maggid section: b’khol dor vador hayyav adam lir’ot et atzmo ke’ilu hu yatza miMitzrayim – “In every generation, a person is obligated to see themselves as though they personally had come out of Egypt…” This is a call to memory – to a national memory that has, to a large degree, been constructed for us. We are enjoined to “regard ourselves” as though we had personally come out of Egypt based on the information that we have been given, or at least based on a version of the story that has been passed down to us.

    We are the people of memory. The Hebrew root z-kh-r (meaning “memory” or “remembering”) appears 228 times in the Hebrew Bible, Read More >

  • April 13, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for the First Day of Passover
    By Rabbi Marc Rudolph (’04)

    This Friday marks the beginning of Passover.  I am certain that most of us will be keenly aware that this seder will be the third time we hold our Seders since the Pandemic. The Pandemic has taken a very heavy toll on us all. Over the past two years, 4 in 10 adults have reported symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, up from one in ten before the Pandemic. There has been an increase in the number of people reporting difficulty sleeping, focusing, working, and learning.  Consumption of alcohol and other drugs as well as overeating has increased. There has been an overall worsening of chronic medical conditions due to the worry and stress of the coronavirus and the social isolation as a result of it.

    Therefore, I was intrigued when Read More >

  • April 8, 2022

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    Turning Our Hearts Towards Each Other at the Seder
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Metzora – Shabbat Hagadol
    By Rabbi Robert Scheinberg

    Why is the Shabbat before Passover called Shabbat HaGadol – the “great Sabbath”? One of the best known explanations is presented by the Levush (OH 430:1), among other sources: It refers to the concluding lines from the Haftarah designated for Shabbat Hagadol, taken from the conclusion of the book of Malachi: “Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome [Hebrew: hagadol], fearful day of Adonai. He [Elijah] shall turn the hearts of parents toward children, and the hearts of children toward parents….” (3:23-24)

    The prophet Malachi uses the word hagadol, “great” or Read More >

  • April 1, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Tazria – Shabbat Hahodesh
    By Rabbi Doug Alpert (’12)

    I watched with great interest the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this past week regarding Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to be an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. This interest is not generated solely by my background and interest in law, nor is my concern limited to the state of our country and the on-going challenges to our democracy. As Jews we (and I) are keenly aware of the importance of Halakhah; how our rule of law and a system of justly administered laws contributes to our sense of community and Jewish unity. As Jews we also know that we have thrived when governed by democratically principled governments and we have painful memories of being targets of persecution under authoritarian regimes.

    My interest in the hearings for Read More >

  • March 24, 2022

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    Three Lessons in Spiritual Leadership
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Shemini
    By Rabbi Jeffrey Segelman

    Parashat Shemini establishes Aaron as the Kohein Gadol, the spiritual leader of the Jewish people. From Aaron we might learn positive lessons about how we grow as spiritual leaders. The parasha also tells a story of Moses from which we might also learn a lesson of spiritual leadership – albeit a negative one.  And then there is the lesson of spiritual leadership which we learn from the pig.

    Moses said to Aaron, “Come near to the altar and perform your service…” (Lev. 9:7Rashi points out that Moses had to tell Aaron to ‘come near’ because Aaron was reluctant, embarrassed. He still had the image of the Golden Calf and his role in that scene. He felt unworthy. Yet Moses encouraged his brother, telling him that this Read More >

  • March 17, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Tzav
    By Rabbi Ariann Weitzman (’11)

    This week’s parasha begins with a command to offer an olah, a burnt offering. The olah was not offered to expiate guilt or express thanksgiving. No explanation is given for it, and unlike other sacrifices, no part of the olah was kept to feed the priests or the family who offered it.

    According to Leviticus Rabbah 7:3, ain ha’olah ba’ah ela al hirhur halev, the olah is only brought because of the doubts of the heart. Perhaps those doubts arise from a sense that we may have sinned and do not know it. Or perhaps, we have failed to express thanks and must rectify the omission.

    Or, alternatively, as I learned from my teacher, Rabbi Jill Hammer, the olah is offered as a result of personal fear, and the sacrifice is an effort to strengthen one’s relationship with God, Read More >

  • March 10, 2022

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    The Covenant of Salt, the Salt of Your Covenant
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayikra
    By Rabbi Katy Allen (’05)

    וְכׇל־קׇרְבַּ֣ן מִנְחָתְךָ֮ בַּמֶּ֣לַח תִּמְלָח֒ וְלֹ֣א תַשְׁבִּ֗ית מֶ֚לַח בְּרִ֣ית אֱ-לֹהֶ֔יךָ מֵעַ֖ל מִנְחָתֶ֑ךָ עַ֥ל כׇּל־קׇרְבָּנְךָ֖ תַּקְרִ֥יב מֶֽלַח:

    You shall season your every offering of meal with salt; you shall not omit from your meal offering the salt of your covenant with G!d; with all your offerings you must offer salt. —Leviticus 2:13

    lapping gently against warm sand,
    crashing ferociously against rocky crags,
    mixing with sweet water in sheltered estuaries,
    cresting endlessly across vast open oceans—
    a constant reminder
    of the everlasting brit melah, covenant of salt. (Num. 18:19)

    Ancient is this covenant,
    from Creation, (Rashi Lev. 2:13)
    when G!d decreed that salt would be offered on the altar
    with the sacrifices—
    derived from the sea,
    perhaps to enhance Read More >

  • March 3, 2022

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    Making Space
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Pekudei
    By Rabbi Lizz Goldstein (’16)

    Some weeks feel like there is just so much ungodliness in the world; it’s hard to know where to even begin shining the light of Torah. I believe in the power of Torah, of the Divine, of our spiritual connections, to help clear away the shadows of sadness and fear, but sometimes there are just too many shadows to get all of them, and I just feel overwhelmed.

    In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Pekudei, our scripture may not directly address the horrors of war in Europe, refugees traversing continents, impending climate disaster, changes to public health recommendations that will surely continue to drag out the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, nor the regressive laws across the country right now attacking the bodily autonomy of people with uteruses and the Read More >

  • February 24, 2022

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    Generosity and Commitment
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayakhel
    By Rabbi Enid Lader (’10)

    Voluntary gifts from every quarter of the Israelite population formed the material out of which the Mishkan and its sacred vessels and priestly clothing were crafted and built. There was no imposed special tax for this purpose, but merely the request for voluntary individual contributions: “Take from among you gifts to the Eternal; everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them—gifts for the Eternal…” (Exodus 35:5).

    And bring they did, with such exuberance and generosity that those in charge of the project begged Moses to end the campaign: “The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the Eternal has commanded to be done” (Exodus 36:5).

    Thus, we have the first building Read More >

  • February 17, 2022

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    Do You Resolve Conflicts Aaron’s Way or Moses’ Way?
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Ki Tissa
    By Rabbi Rob Scheinberg

    What’s the best way to get two people in a conflict to be reconciled with each other?

    Avot De-Rabbi Natan – an early commentary to the Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) – imagines the conflict resolution strategy employed by Moses’ brother Aaron. When Aaron would see two people in conflict, he would go to one of them and say, “Your friend has just come crying to me, saying ‘Woe is me, that I have offended my friend! Aaron, please go and request forgiveness on my behalf!’” Aaron would sit with him until his anger subsided, and then Aaron would go to the other friend and say exactly the same thing. When the two friends would see each other, they would hug each other, and their Read More >

  • February 10, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Tetzaveh
    By Rabbi Marc Rudolph (’04)

    The final fifteen chapters of the Book of Exodus are devoted to the building of the Mishkan. This comprises over one quarter of the entire book. This year, since it is a leap year, we will spend a full five Shabbatot reading about this, in exquisite detail, in our synagogues. The midrash connects the completion of the Tabernacle with Creation itself. The story of Creation and the story of the construction of the Tabernacle are the only places in all of scripture where the verbs “to complete”, “to sanctify” and “to bless” are used together. (Midrash Tanhuma Pekudei 2:3) Yet it is striking how much more time the Torah spends on the building of the Tabernacle compared to the relatively succinct description of the creation of the universe in the Book Read More >

  • February 4, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Terumah
    By Rabbi Doug Alpert (’12)

    My original D’var Torah which I wrote on Sunday afternoon appears below. However, on Sunday evening many in our AJR community gathered (via Zoom) to share memories of our teacher, Rabbi Yitzchak Mann z”l. Dr. Ora Horn Prouser as our teacher and Academic Dean shared a D’var Torah which, like my D’var Torah referenced the poles of the Ark contained within the Mishkan – our Holy Tabernacle. With that experience I would feel remiss if I did not dedicate this D’var Torah to the memory of Rabbi Mann. As it was said on Sunday evening, Rabbi Mann was not only an extraordinary teacher of Torah, but someone who through his gentle and generous spirit lived Torah.

    So how did I draw the short straw. In its droning on and on with instructions for building Read More >

  • January 27, 2022

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    A D’var Torah For Parashat Mishpatim
    By Rabbi Jeffrey Segelman

    Parashat Mishpatim includes the mitzvot pertaining to one who is responsible for guarding something owned by another. Similarly, it speaks of the responsibility of one who borrows something from another (Exodus 22:9-14). Without going into detail, the Torah points to the difference in obligation depending upon whether the “shomeir,” the one who is watching the item, has been paid for his efforts or not. It also depends on the degree of reasonable concern and/or negligence that the person demonstrated. Obviously, these laws have great application in the lives of people who wish to live together in peace.

    There may also be great spiritual significance to this idea. But in order to discuss it, let us first digress.

    A few weeks ago, when we read the conclusion of Shirat HaYam, we listened as Read More >

  • January 21, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Yitro
    By Rabbi Matthew Goldstone

    This week the American Jewish community finds itself processing the events of last Shabbat, during which a rabbi and three congregants were taken hostage in Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. As a minority in the United States, many are reflecting on the dangers of being Jewish in this moment. Our parasha this week mentions the names of Moshe’s sons, the meanings of which echo sentiments some of us may be feeling: Gershom, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land,” and Eliezer, “The God of my father was my help, and God delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh” (Exod. 18:3-4). In some ways, despite having been a presence in North America for hundreds of years, we are still strangers, those who Read More >

  • January 14, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Beshalah
    By Rabbi Jill Hackell (’13)

    The Book of Exodus starts with the heroism of the midwives, who refuse to abide by Pharaoh’s terrible decree to kill the newborn boys born to the Israelites.  This introduction provides an interesting lens through which to view our parashah of Beshalah. (Full disclaimer: my daughter-in-law is a midwife, and I am a loyal viewer of the PBS show “Call the Midwife.” And I am a mother).

    In our parashah, the Israelites who have grown up in Egypt have left to begin their journey, but their way is blocked by the sea. At God’s command, Moses lifts up his arm over the sea, and God drove back the sea. The text tells us, “The waters were split, and the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right Read More >

  • January 7, 2022

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Bo
    By Rabbi Michael Rothbaum (’06)There’s a well-known rabbinic discussion in the beginning of the Torah about the book of Genesis. The question is asked: why start there, when the mitzvot, the sacred obligations of the Jewish people, don’t appear until Exodus?

    The conversations around that question are fascinating. (See, for instance, Rashi’s discussion here). But it’s in this week’s reading, Parashat Bo, that those mitzvot show up — primarily among them, the first Passover meal. In that elemental mitzvah, we see a template for all mitzvot to come.

    First, some context. The first Pesah lands in between miracles. The Israelites have just witnessed nine plagues, as the once-great Egyptian empire has been brought low. Though they don’t know it yet, they are about to experience redemption at the Red Read More >

  • December 31, 2021

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Va’eira
    By Rabbi Cantor Sam Levine (’19)
    (I am indebted to the invaluable resource AlHatorah.org for directing me to many of the sources cited below.)

    Last week, we read in Parashat Shemot Moshe’s demurral at God’s choosing him for the role of liberator. Moshe says לֹא֩ אִ֨ישׁ דְּבָרִ֜ים אָנֹ֗כִי – I am not a man of words (4:10). He then goes on to say in the same verse כִּ֧י כְבַד־פֶּ֛ה וּכְבַ֥ד לָשׁ֖וֹן אָנֹֽכִי – for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue. No further explanation is given, but (the reader is meant to understand) Moshe has diagnosed for himself some inability to communicate God’s message to anyone, least of all a mighty king like Pharaoh. Moshe expresses a similar idea in this week’s parasha. Twice, in  Read More >

  • December 24, 2021

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    Leaving the Palace
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Shemot
    By Rabbi Rob Scheinberg

    This story sounds familiar, I thought.

    Sitting in a college religion course, my professor began to describe the early life of a most significant religious leader in world history, someone who was effectively the founder of one of the world’s major religions.

    The story began with this future religious leader growing up in a palace and living a life of spectacular material comforts. As a member of the king’s family, he has plenty of whatever he wants, and he is unaware of any suffering or poverty that exists outside the palace’s walls. In fact, the king does his best to insulate him from witnessing any pain, injustice or suffering.

    One day, this future religious leader ventures out of the palace walls, and what he sees there challenges him deeply and changes him Read More >

  • December 17, 2021

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayehi
    By Rabbi Marc Rudolph (’04)

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    In Act ll of Richard the Second, Shakespeare tells us that:


    The tongues of dying men

    Enforce attention like deep harmony:

    Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain,

    For they breathe truth/ that breathe their words in pain.


    This week’s parasha recounts the dying words of Yaakov avinu. As you recall,  Jacob has brought his entire family to Egypt and for seventeen years has been reunited with his beloved son Joseph. The parasha opens with Jacob summoning his children to his bedside. With his last words Jacob rebukes some of his sons, prays for others, gives blessings to some, recalls memories, shares psychological insights, delivers warnings and imparts hope. After blessing his youngest son, Benjamin, Jacob speaks no more. The Torah tells us that he gathers his feet Read More >

  • December 9, 2021

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayigash
    By Rabbi Doug Alpert (’12)

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    With this week’s Parashah we are neck-deep into the Joseph story. A prominent focus of the narrative has been, and continues to be, on Joseph’s relationship with his brothers. Was Joseph seeking revenge on his brothers by withholding his identity, fulfilling a Divine purpose set forth from his youth and/or simply following a series of dreams (his and others) as he interprets those dreams? Can the idea of dreams in Joseph’s case be a stand-in for ambition? All good questions for discussion, but I am drawn in more to how Joseph acts as leader and administrator.

    In this week’s Parasha Joseph acts upon his interpretation of Pharoah’s dream predicting the famine to come. His administrative and problem solving acumen in devising a national plan to provide food during the famine leads him to a position of power in Egypt. He Read More >

  • December 3, 2021

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Mikeitz
    By Rabbi Jeffrey Segelman

    This Shabbat is a three Torah Shabbat. We will read the weekly parasha of Mikeitz, then the reading for Rosh Hodesh and then for Hanukkah. Though it may be a stretch, let’s see if we can weave together the common themes of these three.

    The story of Hanukkah is captured in the conflict between Hellenists, those Jews who embraced much of Greek culture (sometimes to the exclusion of core Jewish rituals and values) and those Jews who saw Greek culture as the defilement of Torah and the holy Jewish way of life. Obviously the Greeks themselves fought on the side of the Hellenists, which made the Hasmonean victory nothing short of miraculous.

    Parashat Mikeitz tells the story of the rise of Joseph from prison to become the viceroy Read More >

  • November 26, 2021

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayeishev
    By Rabbi Ariann Weitzman (’11)

    The story of Tamar is sandwiched between two momentous scenes in the Joseph saga:

    The first scene: Joseph dreams some dreams, whose interpretation infuriates his jealous brothers, who sell him to Egyptian slavers. The second scene: Joseph lands in the house of Potiphar, where he is harassed by Potiphar’s wife, resists her advances, and is then thrown into jail based on her lies. In jail, he interprets dreams of Pharaoh’s servants.

    In the middle we have Tamar. Around the time that Joseph is sold into slavery, Judah, Jacob’s fourth son, has settled himself as a shepherd of his own flocks in Canaan. He has three sons, and marries off his first son, Er, to Read More >

  • November 19, 2021

    Bless People by Their Names
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayishlah
    By Rabbi Lizz Goldstein (’16)

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    This week is Transgender Awareness Week, an opportunity for trans folks to celebrate themselves and for allies to educate themselves and uplift the voices of the too often silenced queer community. The week culminates in the observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th. Transgender people, especially trans women of color, are disproportionately affected by hate violence, ranging from harassment to murder; according to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 45 trans people have been killed through violent means in 2021. Additionally, trans people are more likely than cisgender people to express suicidal ideation or to actually commit suicide. All this leads to the necessity of a Transgender Day of Remembrance to hold vigils for those lost due Read More >
  • November 12, 2021

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayeitzei
    By Rabbi Katy Allen (’05)

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    Once long ago and far away there lived a wise Queen who ruled a small but thriving territory. The Queen had three daughters. As each daughter came of age, the Queen gave her 10 pieces of gold and admonished her to use them both wisely and compassionately. The oldest daughter gave one piece of gold to help feed and clothe the poor and hungry, and the Queen was pleased by this. The second daughter gave two pieces of gold to help feed and clothe the poor and hungry, and the Queen was much pleased by this. The third daughter gave three – and some say she gave all 10 – pieces of gold to help feed and clothe the poor and hungry, and the Queen was not pleased.
    The origins Read More >
  • October 28, 2021

    The Torah portion of Hayei Sarah begins with tragedy. Abraham, dwelling in Beer Sheva, learns that his wife Sarah has died in the city of Hebron, a day’s journey away. He arrives to Sarah’s side “to cry for her and to eulogize her.” (v. 2) But for those who are familiar with traditional Jewish practices regarding care for the deceased, the next sentence makes this tragedy in Abraham’s life even more devastating: “And Abraham arose from the presence of his dead…” (v. 3) Without burial plans already made for his wife, Abraham is forced – in the depth of his grief – to initiate a real estate transaction with his neighbors, the Hittites. The remainder of Genesis Chapter 23 describes these negotiations in exacting detail, perhaps in order to highlight how emotionally challenging this process was for Abraham in his vulnerable state.

  • March 14, 2019

    Controlling the High Price of Judaism (and Guilt)
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayikra
    By Rabbi David Markus

    The Jewish value of tzedakah underscores that to “be Jewish” is partly to “do Jewish,” and to “do Jewish” means to support others. That’s one reason that Judaism calls for tzedakah as charitable acts of support for others that double as communal acts of identity.

    Important as tzedakah is, however, tzedakah isn’t a sufficient solution when it becomes too pricy to “do Jewish” in the first place – as increasingly is happening across vast swaths of Jewish life.

    The economics of traditional Jewish ways have trended toward narrowcasting Judaism toward affluence. This income effect, in turn, lifts costs higher. Especially for Millennials, high cost can become a practical barrier and/or psychological barrier to doing Jewish.

    These dynamics amplify vexing questions about inclusivity and continuity in Jewish life. Cost concerns raise lamentations about Judaism’s socioeconomic privilege, inspiring some to call for cost controls. Read More >

Linda Ripps