• August 6, 2020

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Eikev
    By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    In an episode of the Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schultz, Linus tells his sister Lucy that he wants to be a doctor. She replies in her big-sister way, “You could never be a doctor, you know why? Because you don’t love mankind, that’s why!” To which Linus replies:

    This seems to illustrate Moses’ feeling towards the Israelites in Parashat Eikev.

    One can’t argue with his commitment to the Israelites as a people (“mankind”), while at the same time we experience his deep frustration with their behavior. As they prepare to enter the Promised Land, Moses’ words include a series of rebukes as he tells them, “You have been rebelling against the Lord since the day I have known you” (Deut. 9:24). He recounts their transgressions in detail – how they built a golden calf Read More >

  • June 19, 2020

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Shelah
    By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    Leaders tend to behave in one of two ways. Some promote fear, often spreading lies which may be based on fears of their own; other leaders promote trust, offering hope for a future envisioned but not yet realized.  Parashat Shelah tells the story of what can happen when leadership is fear-based.

    It begins as twelve men are selected by Moses to scout out the promised land. These twelve are all machers in the community, one from each of the twelve tribes, whose names and lineage are listed in the text. Their mission is to gather information about the land and its inhabitants. The Torah reading describes how they find huge clusters of grapes, as well as pomegranates and figs – indications of fertile land and good produce. Then we read, “And they returned from searching the land after forty days” (Num. Read More >

  • May 1, 2020

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Aharei Mot Kedoshim
    By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    Parashat Kedoshim consists of a series of commandments which God wants Moses to convey to the Israelite people. As is God’s wont, God has a lot to say as the verses in this parashah jump from one topic to another– keep My sabbaths; when you reap your harvest, leave the corners of your field for the poor and stranger; do not curse the deaf; do not cross-breed your cattle; and so on. These are a few of the laws which appear just in the first two aliyot of the Torah reading. Imagine how the Israelites might have listened to this series of commandments while trying to remember it all; it must have felt overwhelming, and perhaps a bit confusing. What harvest? What stranger?

    Then we arrive at the beginning of the third aliyah: “When you come into the land Read More >

  • March 12, 2020

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Ki Tisa
    By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    In Parashat Ki Tisa Aaron has been left in charge of the Israelites while Moses is meeting with God atop Mount Sinai. As the brother of Moses, Aaron is a likely choice to be given the responsibility of interim-leader. Given what happens however, one might wonder if he was the right person for the job.

    Time passes, Moses doesn’t return, God is silent, the Israelites become anxious.  In Exodus 32:1 we read, “The people gathered against Aaron and said to him, come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses… we do not know what has happened to him.”   Aaron immediately complies.  He doesn’t try to convince the people that Moses will be back soon, or encourage them to keep faith with God. Rather, he asks for the gold from the jewelry of their wives and daughters, and Read More >

  • January 22, 2020

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Va’era
    By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    Parashat Va’era begins with a continuation of the interaction between God and Moses from last week’s parasha. This week’s conversation seems to be a “do-over”, perhaps the result of God’s recognition that the relationship with Moses is going to be quite different from the earlier relationships between God and the Genesis patriarchs.

    When God first appeared to Abraham (then called Avram) in the book of Genesis, God commanded him, “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace…to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you…” The response was direct and immediate: “So Avram departed” (Gen 12:1-4).

    Moses is no Abraham. Last week when Moses first encountered God at the burning bush, he was far more reluctant to follow God’s instructions. After the introductory “I am the God of your Read More >

  • December 5, 2019

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayetze
    By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    Our liturgy contains frequent reminders that our God is also the God of the three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But from what we know about Jacob when we encounter him at the beginning of Parashat Vayetze, he seems like a poor choice for a patriarch. He had behaved terribly towards his brother and father, having manipulated Esau into giving him the older brother’s birthright and then deceiving his father Isaac into giving him the blessing meant for Esau. Jacob is forced to leave home in order to escape Esau’s death threats.

    Granted, Jacob’s role had been preordained when they were in the womb, as it was declared that the elder of the twins, Esau, would serve the younger, Jacob (Genesis 25:23). Nonetheless, Jacob’s behavior thus far does not seem consistent with the actions of one worthy of God’s blessing.

    Parashat Vayetze begins pursuant Read More >

  • December 5, 2019

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayetze
    By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    Our liturgy contains frequent reminders that our God is also the God of the three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But from what we know about Jacob when we encounter him at the beginning of Parashat Vayetze, he seems like a poor choice for a patriarch. He had behaved terribly towards his brother and father, having manipulated Esau into giving him the older brother’s birthright and then deceiving his father Isaac into giving him the blessing meant for Esau. Jacob is forced to leave home in order to escape Esau’s death threats.

    Granted, Jacob’s role had been preordained when they were in the womb, as it was declared that the elder of the twins, Esau, would serve the younger, Jacob (Genesis 25:23). Nonetheless, Jacob’s behavior thus far does not seem consistent with the actions of one worthy of God’s blessing.

    Parashat Vayetze begins pursuant Read More >

  • September 6, 2019

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Shoftim
    By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    “Return to Me”. As I was folding my food-delivery bag I saw those printed words on the bottom. The actual words were “Return Me” (a message for the sake of sustainability) but that’s not what I saw; the mind is a funny thing sometimes. We are in the month of Elul, countdown to the High Holidays. Return to Me! Return to the One in Whose Guidance we trust; return to me, my most sacred authentic self. There are many ways to approach this period of preparation and personal reflection prior to the Days of Awe; a theme from Parashat Shoftim suggests one framework: that theme is justice.

    This week’s Torah reading begins with God’s establishment of a legal structure, for the time when the Israelites will dwell in their new home across the Jordan. Judges and law enforcement officials are to be established in all the Read More >

  • July 10, 2019
    The Life of Miriam
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Hukkat
    By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    In parashat Hukkat we encounter Moses’ sister Miriam for the last time: “Then came the people of Israel, the whole congregation into the desert of Zin in the first month, and the people abode in Kadesh, and Miriam died there, and was buried there” (Numbers 20:1). The description of her death is remarkably brief, comprising just five words (va-tamat sham Miriam, vatikaver sham). Miriam does not even merit her own verse of Torah, as her death-announcement is tacked on to the end of the narrative describing the people’s arrival in Kadesh. And indeed, for a figure who looms so large in our Torah-consciousness, the total amount of biblical text that pertains to Miriam is quite sparse.

    In her initial biblical appearance, Miriam is identified not by name but simply as the sister of the baby Read More >

  • May 22, 2019
    A D’var Torah for Parashat Behar
    By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York island,

    from the redwood forests to the gulf-stream waters,

    this land was made for you and me.”

    This classic American anthem was written in 1940 by Woody Guthrie and made popular by Pete Seeger and numerous other singers. The song is in praise of our country’s natural beauty; it is also a statement about how the land’s resources belong to all the people, not just the wealthy. One particularly-controversial verse was removed and lost for decades until it was rediscovered in the 1990s:

    “There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.

    The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’

    But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.

    This land was made for you and me.”[i]

    This week’s Torah portion Parashat Behar seems to support the message of the song, Read More >

  • April 4, 2019

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Tazria
    By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    Much of the text of Parashat Tazria is about skin disease. These verses, from Leviticus 13:1-46, lay out in remarkable detail numerous variations of skin-related afflictions and how these are to be treated.  On the surface one might think that the intention is to demonstrate concern for the physical health and welfare of the community. On the other hand, perhaps the underlying concern is less literal, and is, rather, a statement on the importance of distinguishing between that which is impure from that which is pure. A third take, and what I believe may be a significant function of this text, is that this is about power, specifically the power of the kohanim, the priests. Let us examine each of these viewpoints.

    The detailed descriptions of the many variations of skin lesions, and how they are to be managed, seem to read like a medical manual Read More >

  • February 8, 2019

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Terumah
    By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    V’asu li mikdash v’shakhanti b’tokham

    “And they shall make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst”

    Exodus 25:8

    Some people require periods of solitude in order to best function in the world. In fact, self-chosen solitude is generally considered to be beneficial, particularly in today’s increasingly social-media-run, group-conscious culture. And although our biblical ancestors obviously didn’t have cellphones or Twitter accounts as they wandered in the wilderness, the conditions of their lifestyle – being constantly surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people — similarly was not conducive to seeking solitude. Two weeks ago in the Torah portion Yitro, we read about how the Israelite people stood together in fear and awe as God’s laws were revealed to them; had I been there, I imagine I would not be the only one in need of some alone-time so as to reflect on Read More >

  • December 20, 2018

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayehi
    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    With Parashat Vayehi we come to the end of the book of Genesis, the completion of a series of individual narratives including those of our matriarchs and patriarchs.

    Let us imagine for a moment that Genesis and the following book of Exodus are two parts of a movie, each with its own musical soundtrack. Genesis ends on a happy note as Jacob is buried in the family plot at Makhpela in Canaan, surrounded by his family — grand-finale-type music, or perhaps a mellow, sweet melody. Camera pans out. Suddenly, the tone of the movie score alters dramatically as the Exodus narrative begins — a sinister motif suggesting the portent of things to come, the slavery of our people at the hands of a paranoid and cruel pharaoh. There’s trouble ahead!

    Pause. We’re not ready to move forward yet. High-speed rewind. Let’s take another look at that Genesis Read More >

  • October 27, 2018


    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayera
    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    Our matriarch Sarah is held in high esteem. Her kindness in welcoming strangers is a trait she shares with Abraham, and it is said that on the day she gave birth to Isaac many other barren women similarly “were remembered” and also gave birth (Bereishit Rabbah 53:8). Yet the Torah places her in the background rather than at her husband’s side, even with events that directly affect her.Parashat Vayera begins as Abraham welcomes three strangers (messengers of God) who are passing by in the heat of mid-day. Abraham enlists Sarah’s help in preparing food for them, then she remains behind while he goes out to sit with the visitors.  They ask him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” and Abraham replies that she is in the tent (Gen. 18:9). Then they tell him that at this time next year they will Read More >

  • August 3, 2018

    A D’Var Torah for Parashat Eikev
    By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

    “Dear when you smiled at me, I heard a melody
    It haunted me from the start
    Something inside of me started a symphony
    Zing! Went the strings of my heart”

    These lyrics come from a song made famous by Judy Garland in 1938 and recorded by others many times since. “Zing went the strings of my heart…” What does this mean, exactly?  According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the term “heartstrings” refers to one’s “deepest emotions or affections”. According to our singer, “Zing!” is the sound of heartstrings tugged by love.

    Imagine our awareness of Divine Love being so strong, so immediate that it would make our heart go “Zing!”  Perhaps that is what God is asking of the Israelites in Parashat Eikev this week when they are commanded, “U’maltem et orlat l’vavkhem v’arp’khem lo takshu od”, “You shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, therefore, Read More >

  • June 7, 2018

    A D’var Torah for Shelah Lekha
    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz ’14

    In the story of the twelve spies who scout out the land of Canaan in Parashat Shelah Lekha we experience several different leadership styles — from the spies, Joshua and Caleb, Moses and God.

    God instructs Moses to send representatives from each of the twelve tribes, “everyone a leader among them”, to spy on Canaan, the land which God has promised to the Israelites.   After forty days they return and ten of these tribal leaders produce an “evil report” with regard to the overwhelming size and strength of the Canaanite people.  An eleventh, Caleb, expresses disagreement and suggests going right away to possess the land (Numbers 13:30).  But his is a lone voice, as the ten continue their litany of fear and exaggeration.

    In response the people “lifted up their voice and cried” (Numbers 14:1). They speak out against Moses, Aaron Read More >

  • April 12, 2018

    What is Holy?
    A D’var Torah for Shemini
    Cantor Sandy Horowitz ’14

    In response to gun violence incidents, the press often seeks to provide information about the shooter in an attempt to determine motive. Was he a Muslim terrorist or a white disgruntled employee, a bully or bullied, a cop or a criminal, or a known sociopath who slipped through the cracks of law enforcement bureaucracy? All have been true. And no matter who they are, the outcome of their actions remains unquestionably disastrous.

    Similarly, with regard to this week’s Torah reading, there are numerous possible explanations for the actions of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu, who bring strange, unsanctioned sacrificial fire to God, and die as a result. In the context of the culture that God is establishing for the ancient Israelites, theirs is a serious transgression.

    This disturbing event occurs following a lengthy, detailed description of the sacrifices offered at Read More >

  • February 8, 2018

    A D’var Torah for Mishpatim
    by, Cantor Sandy Horowitz, ’14

    Parashat Mishpatim contains over fifty laws covering a range of subjects, which are related to the Israelite people by God through Moses. Having just received the ten commandments in the previous Torah portion, now come the details.

    The first law in Mishapatim states, “Should you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall work [for] six years, and in the seventh [year], he shall go out to freedom without charge” (Exodus 21:2). Slavery is certainly a hot topic for the newly freed Israelites. While not abolishing slavery, this and other related laws insert an insistence on humanity with regard to the treatment of others. This ethical backbone is reinforced as we read, twice in this portion alone, about the treatment of the stranger: “And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:20). “And you shall Read More >

  • December 20, 2017
    Jacob’s Ultimate Encounter with God
    A D’var Torah for Vayigash
    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz ’14

    “And God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and God said, ‘Jacob, Jacob’. And he said, hineni, ‘Here am I’. And God said ‘I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation; I will go down with you to Egypt; and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph shall put his hand upon your eyes.” Genesis 46:2-4

    In Parashat Vayigash, while traveling towards Egypt and the reunion with his long-lost and most-beloved son Joseph, Jacob receives this powerful message of reassurance from God. It is a significant moment not only in the context of Jacob’s own life, it also stands out with regard to two other Torah hineni moments.

    As a youth Jacob Read More >

  • June 13, 2017

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    What’s in a Name?

    Parashat Shelah tells the story of twelve spies sent by Moses to scout out the land of Canaan that has been promised by God to the Israelite people. Upon their return, ten of the twelve report that the enemy is too great and the land unconquerable, thereby instilling doubt and fear among the Israelites. Only two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, remain faithful to God’s promise of a successful outcome.

    The Torah portion begins by listing the names of the spies, representatives from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Joshua, future leader of the Israelite people, is an unassuming fifth from among the twelve: “From the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun” (Numbers 13:8).

    Numbers 13:16 reads, “These are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land; and Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Read More >

  • May 3, 2017

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    Parashat Aharei Mot-Kedoshim: A Look Back

    Max: Aaron has asked us to divide into groups and share our reflections about what we heard from Moses today.  So many laws!  I lost track after fifty.

    Hannah: “You, who are on the road, must have a code that you can live by….”*

    Max: What?

    Hannah: I heard that in a dream once.

    Shira: How long will this take? Miriam’s doing folk-dancing tonight and I promised her I’d bring my timbrel…

    Shmuel: What’s with all those Ani Adonai (“I am Adonai”)s? He kept repeating it.

    Max: Perhaps it helps us remember a Higher Purpose whenever we consider these laws.

    Shmuel: Or maybe he’s still mad about the golden calf…

    Max:  I was struck by hearing the laws regarding land: we’re commanded to leave the corners of our fields for the poor and hungry, fruit-trees grow unpicked for three years and then we sacrifice the first fruits before Read More >

  • March 22, 2017

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    Ancestors. We begin praying the Amidah by invoking them: as we acknowledge the presence of God, we do so by stating that this is also the God of our patriarchs. In recent times, more liberal streams of Judaism added the matriarchs; as a woman it is comforting to read the names of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah alongside (well actually, following) Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    It can be an equally meaningful though different experience to pray from a traditional siddur in which our maternal ancestors have not been added, this too. I still recite their names after reading the printed names of the patriarchs, as a conscious acknowledgement of their textual invisibility.  It is an opportunity as well to reflect on the broader notion of inclusion and exclusion.

    Ancestors. Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei provides a rare opportunity to acknowledge the entire community of ancient Israelite women, our collective female ancestors who are Read More >

  • February 8, 2017

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    The narrative of parashat Beshalah describes numerous dramatic events immediately following our ancestors’ liberation from slavery, in which the power of God plays a central role. God leads the people as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; when the Israelites reach the Sea of Reeds and seem to have no way forward God instructs Moses to raise his rod and the sea splits, allowing them to cross to safety. There is the destruction of the Egyptians who chase after them; there is the shirat hayam, the song at the sea in praise of God. There is also complaining, and bitter waters made sweet by the rod of Moses at God’s commandment, and manna from heaven, the daily portion, again provided by God.

    Then towards the end of this week’s story Amalek approaches, and Moses instructs Joshua to lead the Read More >

  • December 28, 2016

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    Parashat Mikeitz continues the story of Joseph which was begun in last week’s Torah portion. A theme that connects the two readings is that of three pairs of dreams, each with their own functions.

    Last week the young Joseph, favored by his father Jacob and hated by his siblings, fueled the fires of hatred and jealousy by recounting two dreams. In the first, Joseph was an upright sheaf of wheat surrounded by his brothers in the form of sheaves bowing down to him; in the second dream, he was the center of all the 11 planets [read brothers] and the sun and moon. His recounting caused the siblings to become even more furious at this brother of another mother, they threw him into a pit and then sold him to a caravan of traders headed for Egypt. Even though the statement of the brothers’ hatred for Joseph (Gen. 37:4) Read More >

  • November 16, 2016

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    “`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run”
    Bruce Springsteen

    Parashat Vayera begins, “Vayisa einav vayar v’hinei shlosha anashim — And he [Abraham] lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold three men stood by him”; it continues, “And he saw them, and he ran (vayaratz) to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the ground” (Genesis 18:2).

    These opening verses are often cited as a central example of the virtue of hospitality. The active verbs provide a reminder that being welcoming is not a passive, receptive experience but rather a course of action, as we read how Abraham then spoke to the strangers, offered them food and water and a place to rest, and then rushed to prepare the food, enlisting his wife Sarah in the endeavor.

    In addition to the act itself of being welcoming, is Abraham’s willingness to run towards something unknown in order to Read More >

  • July 6, 2016

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    [The AJR Devar Torah email will be taking some time off during the summer, but don’t worry, we’ll be back before you know it.]

    “Everyone has a choice when to and not to raise their voices, it’s you that decides”
    Run of the Mill by George Harrison

    In this week’s Torah portion Korah, along with Datan, Aviram and 250 chieftains from among the Israelites, attempts a full scale rebellion, challenging the leadership of Moses and Aaron.

    When Moses hears about it, “Vayipol al panav,” “He fell on his face” (Numbers 16:4). According to Rashi, after having endured the incident of the golden calf, and the complaining about food, and the spies who had so little faith in God, Moses feels utterly discouraged.

    As he lay on the ground following this challenge from Korah and his followers, imagine how Moses might have reflected on the three prior incidents that Rashi mentions.

    While on the mountain Read More >

  • May 27, 2016
    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    In the Harry Potter books, Harry is able to take a strand of memory, slip it into a pool of water and then immerse himself in that pool in order to experience the memory.  Reading Torah can sometimes feel this way. Torah creates the opportunity to experience multiple planes of reality, simultaneously living in our present-day world while immersing ourselves in ancient biblical events, and then returning to reflect on what we have gleaned. What follows is an exploration into the multiple simultaneous strands of time and place that occur as we read this week’s Torah portion.

    Parashat Behar begins with shmita, the laws regarding care of the land: “Six years you shall sow your field and six years you shall prune your vineyard…but in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest to the land” (Leviticus 25:3-4). This verse refers us back to the Read More >

  • April 15, 2016

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    With all the preparations involved in getting ready for Pesah, the Shabbat preceding the holiday can tend to feel like a disruption; we know that we ought to savor the Shabbat-time, but it often feels more like something we’d rather “pass over” in our efforts to get to the first Seder on time.

    But this is Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Shabbat. The very name calls to us, inviting us to stop and reflect.

    One of the reasons for the name of Shabbat Hagadol comes from the Haftarah reading for this Shabbat. This is in keeping with other special Shabbatot whose names are derived from the Haftarah reading of that week (Shabbat Nahamu, Shabbat Shuva, etc.). On Shabbat Hagadol we read in Malachi 3:23: “Hinei anokhi sholeah lakhem et Eliya hanavi lifnei bo yom Adonai hagadol vehanora…”  (“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and Read More >

  • February 25, 2016

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    “And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made…”
    (from The Sounds of Silence by Paul Simon)

    In Parashat Ki Tissa, we read about the golden calf, that surrogate object of worship which the Israelites create as they give up on waiting for Moses, who has yet to return from his mountaintop sojourn with God.

    For modern readers of the Torah, Moses departed for his Divine rendezvous three Torah portions ago. In all that time the Israelites have been without their leader, while we’ve read about the many laws and instructions being transmitted from God to Moses. If that seems like a long time to us, we can only imagine what it must have felt like for our ancestors — here they are out in the middle of nowhere, having left Egypt with the promise of a future in a homeland that has yet to be Read More >

  • January 21, 2016

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    There are many remarkable aspects of Shirat Hayam, the “Song of the Sea”, which occurs in parashat Beshalah (Exodus 15:1-18): the way it looks on the page of the Torah scroll, the musical traditions that accompany its recitation; but probably most remarkable of all is the first verse of the Song.

    Shirat Hayam is a song of praise that is recited after the Israelites have safely crossed the parted waters of the Sea of Reeds in their escape from Egyptian slavery. It recounts the story of their escape and the subsequent destruction of the Egyptians who pursued them.

    For anyone reading from or looking at the Torah scroll, the visual impact of Shirat Hayam is striking. We pause when we see it, we observe the symmetrical columns on each side, with words widely spaced out between the columns.

    The auditory experience is equally unique. Special trope is used Read More >

  • December 10, 2015

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    In a recent conversation with a young student, we were discussing the events leading up to this week’s Torah portion. I asked the student, in the story that results in Joseph being sold and taken to Egypt, who was the real culprit: was it his father Jacob, for showing blatant favoritism? Was it the brothers, whose collective jealousy led them to such hateful acts? Was it perhaps Joseph himself, whose arrogance provoked the brothers? The student’s thoughtful response was that it probably started with their grandmother Rebecca, who had played favorites with Jacob and acted deceitfully on his behalf.

    Without realizing it, the student had given voice to the later biblical promise — threat, actually — that God will “visit the guilt of the fathers onto the children of the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me.” Rebecca, Jacob, Joseph’s brothers — three generations of sin.

    This Read More >

  • October 30, 2015

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz
    Look back and die!
    Such is the fate of Lot’s wife in Parashat Vayeira.

    TWENTY-FOUR HOURS EARLIER: Lot has been living in Sodom, city of sin destined for destruction by God. On the eve of destruction, angels come knocking on his door, for the purpose of warning him to flee. He invites them in, feeds them, and then tries to protect them when the townsmen demand that he turn his guests over to them for their sexual sport. Lot offers up his two unmarried daughters in exchange for the guests’ safety; the angel-guests intervene just in time.

    Next morning, Lot and his family heed the warning and depart Sodom, leaving behind their two married daughters. As Lot departs we read, “Vayitmamah” (“And he lingered”, Genesis 19:16). This word is chanted using shalshelet, an elaborate cantillation trope which occurs only three other times in the Torah. Shalshelet‘s duration is long and Read More >

  • May 28, 2015

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    יְבָרֶכְךָ יְיָ וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ.

    יָאֵר יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶֽיךָ וִיחֻנֶּֽךָּ.

    יִשָּׂא יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶֽיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם.

    Numbers 6:24-26

    The Ohel David Synagogue in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), home to a small group of Baghdadi Jews, was once visited by Nathan Katz, as he relates in his book Who Are the Jews of India?  When Katz walked into the synagogue one Shabbat morning, he didn’t realize he was about to set off a major halachic conundrum. As it so happened he was the tenth man, fulfilling the requirement for a minyan. As it also turned out he is a kohen, descendent of the biblical kohanite priests, and therefore required to participate in the ritual of duchan, offering of the priestly blessing. But Katz was wearing short sleeves, which went against the custom of this community for performing duchan – even in tropical Read More >

  • April 23, 2015

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    These are the Torah portions we love to hate. This week’s text discusses, in great detail, numerous health conditions including skin disease and bodily emissions. Those in charge of preparing students to become bar/bat mitzvah often wish they could avoid it — well, like the plague.

    Our modern discomfort with Tazria-Metzora is a natural reaction, surely. The kohanite priests however, were enjoined to move towards the afflicted rather than avoid them, as they were charged with the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery relating to their various skin conditions.

    Jethro Gibbs, the main character of the TV show NCIS, has a series of rules that govern his approach to his work and his team. In that spirit, here are a few “rules” that may reflect the priests’ approach as described in this week’s text.

    Rule # 760* / tzara’ath (leprosy): “Pay attention to detail.”

    In Leviticus 13:3 we read that if Read More >

  • March 4, 2015

    Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    “Wanted: Two senior craftsmen to lead team of builders in creating the largest portable dwelling ever made. Must be wise and able to learn from others; only those endowed with the spirit of God may apply. Technical skills a must.”

    Imagine reading such a job posting? Say you’re a pretty good builder or engineer with solid management experience, you had decent SAT scores and attended a respectable college; now you’ve found what looks like the perfect job assignment, and they’re asking for things like — wisdom — what gives? Nobody graded you on wisdom in college!

    Yet these are the qualifications cited in Parashat Ki Tisa, when God tells Moses to appoint Bezalel and Aholiav not only to build the tabernacle and the ark but all the vessels, vestments and accessories therein.

    The task is daunting, and it’s got to be done right, after all, we’re talking about nothing less than Read More >

  • January 21, 2015

    by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    The recitation of the ten plagues at the Passover Seder table is one of the rituals used to retell the story of the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. This ritual is often done hastily, as we dip our finger in wine and name each plague. As we consider this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Bo, let us slow down this ritual in order to examine the significance of last three of these plagues. All three relate to darkness.

    In continuation from last week’s Torah reading, a pattern has been established in which Moses asks Pharaoh to free the Israelite slaves and let them leave Egypt, Pharaoh refuses, and God casts plagues upon the Egyptians. Of this week’s final three, the first is the plague of locusts. In Exodus 10:15 we read, “They obscured the view of the earth, and the earth became darkened [vatehshakh ha-aretz].” Pharaoh Read More >

  • December 10, 2014

    Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    “Trouble, trouble, trouble trouble…trouble been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born…”
    Ray Lamontagne

    At the beginning of Parashat Vayeishev we read that Jacob settled in the land of his fathers. Right away however, things become quite unsettled: “Joseph brought bad reports about [his brothers] to his father” (Gen 37:2). Jacob’s youngest son is a seventeen-year-old tattle-tale.

    When we read the brothers’ perspective on the situation two verses later, we see that Joseph’s actions actually aren’t the primary reason for their hatred: “His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him” (Gen 37:4). Jacob’s blatant displays of favoritism are at the root of the problem.

    Jacob’s favoritism goes back to Parashat Vayishlah, when he encountered his estranged brother Esau. As Esau advanced towards him with four hundred men, “He placed the maidservants and their children first and Leah and Read More >

  • November 5, 2014

    Cantor Sandy Horowitz

    Journeys are complicated. Fraught with the unexpected, they can bring out one’s best and worst qualities. But the beginning — the moment of outset — can be a moment of perfection and purity. Consider the newborn, or a decision to embark on a new career, or those first steps of a backpacking trip.

    Such a moment opens this week’s Torah portion.

    “And God said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.'”….”Vayelekh Avram” – “and Abram went forth” (Genesis 12:1-2, 4).

    If there was hesitation, we don’t read about it. If Sarai gave him a hard time about leaving, that was kept between the two of them. Without regard to what Read More >

  • March 31, 2011

    By Sandy Horowitz

    Wrestling with Ritual

    In his book Sacred Fragments, author Neil Gillman discusses the issue of ritual in Judaism. He addresses the distinction between laws having to do with relationships among human beings, as compared with commandments to perform ritual acts whose function was for the sake of God.  The commandments of human relationship are ones we probably would come to ourselves, whereas the laws of ritual would only have come about by divine decree.

    Today, we live in a culture that values interpersonal relationship, in which the former tends to make more sense to us, whereas the latter may be more difficult for some of us to understand or accept.

    How we view this week’s Torah portion probably depends a lot on our relationship with Jewish ritual, and what we do with our modern sensibilities.  The first eight Read More >

  • July 28, 2010

    By Sandy Horowitz

    Towards the end of my high school senior year, I woke up one morning with an intense neck spasm, barely able move my head without severe pain. It subsided after awhile, thanks to painkillers and an embarrassingly unattractive neck collar.

    Viewing this incident as a physical mirror of my mental state at the time, it s clear that the timing wasn t coincidental  “ I wasn t feeling ready for whatever might lie ahead as I stepped into adulthood.

    The term k sheh-oref, or  œstiff-necked , which appears several times in Ekev and in the Exodus text which is referenced in this week s Torah portion, also speaks to us about the question of our ancestors  readiness to meet their future, as they prepared to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. Read More >

  • August 12, 2009

    August: the lazy days of summer. Our senses are filled with the beauty of late sunsets, the taste of fresh produce, the feeling of grass on bare feet. My family and I will be setting out on vacation shortly, a road trip that will include visits to college campuses, as we embark on the ritual of “The College Selection Process”. I’m comforted by the thought that our daughter still has two more years at home with us, before she heads off to college…

    “SEE THIS DAY I SET BEFORE YOU BLESSING AND CURSE”! Like a prelude to the daily shofar blast which takes place during the upcoming month of Elul, the first words of Parashat Re’eh shake us out of our summertime complacency. Wake up, choose blessing, and be ready for what lies ahead, “For you are about to cross the Jordan and possess the land that the Lord your God Read More >


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