• August 23, 2018

    Restoring What Has Been Lost
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Ki Teitzei
    by Rabbi Rena Kieval (’06)

    When life gets busy, with many distractions, I have a tendency to misplace objects: my keys, my cell phone, or a piece of mail with important information. Most of us have had the experience of losing an item whose absence disrupts the tasks of daily life. When that happens, a possession can take on an importance out of proportion to its true value. Even when we lose an object that is not especially essential, something feels awry, out of kilter. Lost objects can have a strange power, an ability to make everything feel disrupted.  Conversely, when a lost object is located or returned, the relief can be huge: order seems to be restored.

    The mitzvah of hashavat aveidah, the obligation to return lost objects to their owner, is stressed in the Torah and later rabbinic tradition.  Parashat Ki Teitzei includes this mitzvah among its Read More >

  • June 28, 2018

    Blessing in Boise : A Balak Moment
    A D’var Torah for Balak
    by Rabbi Rena H. Kieval (AJR ’06)

    Sometimes it seems that we live in a world filled with curses.  In this country of late, we have been witness to cruel treatment of the most vulnerable among us, and have been immersed in hateful rhetoric and fear-mongering.   From fear, can come anger.  From fear can come an impulse to curse. 

    So it is in this week’s parsha, in a scene sadly familiar to us Jews.  Balak, king of Moab, fearing the Israelites, loathing these outsiders, wants to curse them.   Balak has choices about how to deal with his fear: he has a choice between cursing the others, or having his own people protected and blessed.  Coming from a place of hatred and negativity, he opts for the curse and hires Balaam the sorcerer to carry Read More >

  • March 8, 2018

    You Gotta Have Heart…or Do You?
    A D’var Torah for VaYakhel-Pekudei
    by Rabbi Rena H. Kieval, ’06

    The great communal building project of the mishkan, the wilderness tabernacle, finally gets underway in this week’s double Torah portion, and the participants who craft, create and assemble it are reportedly full of heart.   The Hebrew word for heart –lev – and its variants libo, libam, and so on, are repeated at least a dozen times.  We read of the generous of heart – nedivei lev (Ex. 35:5, 35:22), who donate their jewels and fine fabrics for the structure; the wise of heart – hokhmei lev (Ex. 35:10, 35:25), who are skilled and able to share their artistic talents, and their building and organizational abilities.  We read too of the nesi’ei lev (Ex. 35:21, 35:26) those with uplifted hearts, or perhaps, those whose hearts have lifted them up to participate.  The hearts of this community are Read More >

  • January 11, 2018
    Exodus: God, Women, and Dr. King
    A D’var for Parashat Va’era
    by Rabbi Rena H. Kieval ’06

    “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” That is the name of Hollywood’s most recent major film version of the seminal story of our people.  The title resonates with our parashah, as we follow the grand showdown of majestic force between God, capital G, and gods, lower case g, the gods of the Egyptians, and the mighty King Pharaoh. Gods and Kings.  We see in this Torah story how Gods and Kings make history. We see the dramatic confrontations which culminate in the defeat of the oppressor King Pharaoh, and the liberation of the Israelites, God’s people.

    As we enter into the thick of this spectacular drama, however, we should note that the Torah leads up to the story with a prologue that begins the Exodus narrative with a somewhat different framework. The stage was set in last week’s parashah, Shemot; it reminds us that history is made not only by Read More >
  • November 14, 2017

    We’ll Always Have Parents: 2017
    A D’var Torah for Toldot
    by Rabbi Rena H. Kieval

    In the classic movie Casablanca, the ill-fated lovers played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman share these words of comfort: “We’ll always have Paris.” A playful poem by Mary Jo Salter uses that line to make a point. The poem, titled, “We’ll Always Have Parents,” notes that, “We’ll always have them…they’re in our baggage.” The poem calls to mind what a wise and learned person once told me: that no matter how old we are, most of us shape our lives in response to our parents. We may define ourselves in a positive way by who our parents were, and what they taught us, and we may also define ourselves against who our parents were, and what they taught us. Most of us are driven and shaped by mixed legacies. Whatever those legacies are, “we’ll always have parents.”

    Parashat Toldot Read More >

  • May 26, 2006

    Counting the Models of Religious Leadership in The Book of Numbers
    By Rabbi Rena Kieval

    I would like to dedicate this dvar Torah about
    religious leadership to my fellow graduates, my
    teachers, and all the students at AJR, where
    individuals are embarked on this path in so many
    different ways and bringing a multiplicity of talents
    and roles to the holy work.

    What makes a religious leader? In Sefer Va-yikra
    (Leviticus) we learned in exhaustive detail about
    the roles of the kohanim – priests, whom the
    Torah refers to as meshuchim – anointed ones
    (Num. 3:3). They are God’s elite religious
    functionaries who live apart from the people, who
    must meet strict standards of taharah ‘ purity – and who strive for, or symbolize, perfection.

    In Sefer Bamidbar (Numbers), which
    we begin reading this week, God announces the
    selection of another group of religious leaders, the
    levi’im – levites. The Read More >

Rabbi Rena Kieval

Rabbi Rena Kieval (AJR ’06) serves as Rabbi at Congregation Ohav Shalom in Albany, New York.