Parashat Devarim 5783

July 17, 2023

Rabbi Ira J. Dounn (’17)

There’s a lot in our tradition that is difficult to accept. One of the concepts that seems especially not to square with our lived experience is the theology of Divine reward and punishment. It’s hard to reconcile for me, for many in the Jewish community, and for many of the students I work with. The haftarah that we’ll read on this Shabbat Hazon sums it up well: אִם־ תֹּאב֖וּ וּשְׁמַעְתֶּ֑ם ט֥וּב הָאָ֖רֶץ תֹּאכֵֽלוּ׃ וְאִם ־תְּמָאֲנ֖וּ וּמְרִיתֶ֑ם חֶ֣רֶב תְּאֻכְּל֔וּ כִּ֛י פִּ֥י יְ-הֹוָ֖ה דִּבֵּֽר If you are willing and obey, you will eat the best of the land. But if you refuse and disobey, you will be devoured by the sword, for the mouth of G-d spoke. (Isaiah 1:19-20) This is just not true. It’s hard to imagine, frankly, that it was ever true. But in the decades after the Holocaust, it seems especially impossible to believe. Worse, it’s offensive. Because the argument for it to be true would...

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Parashat Devarim 5782

August 5, 2022

Click HERE for an audio recording of this D’var Torah 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 on their journey, going before them...

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Parashat Devarim 5781

July 16, 2021

Click HERE for an audio recording of this D’var Torah A D’var Torah for Parashat Devarim By Rabbi Michael Rothbaum (’06) There’s a profound meaning in the practice of Yiddishkayt, a beauty and depth that’s hard to describe if you haven’t lived it. That beauty explains why rabbis and cantors do what we do. In the words of the old saying, nothing worth doing is easy. Or, as we say in Yiddish, Shver tsu zayn a Yid. It’s hard to be a Jew. In a 1973 review of the Sholom Aleichem play that took its title from that Yiddish saying, Richard P. Shepard wrote that “ ‘It’s Hard to Be a Jew’ is a phrase that may not quite go back to Moses’ scaling of Mount Sinai, but it is venerable and often verifiable.” Recent events have only served to help that verification process. We’re still Jews, and it’s still hard. The challenge of...

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Parashat Devarim 5780

July 24, 2020

Into and Through Tisha b’Av: Our Fragile Alchemy of “Why” A D’var Torah for Parashat Devarim By Rabbi David Markus There’s gotta be a reason. What’s happening now must be a reaction to something that came before. Someone must be responsible: maybe me, maybe you, maybe all of us. Any God that is good and fair must have some purpose in all this – right? We sense this yearning for “why” just under the surface. After all, there’s lots to explain, and mere natural explanations don’t always suffice. That’s why so many people, of all faiths, might seek and see divine purpose in most everything from covid to tornadoes. The human psyche – that sacred alchemy of supernal light and stardust – naturally seeks explanation for life’s twists and turns. For every fairness or unfairness, victory or defeat, comfort or suffering, we’re wired to connect the dots of causation with some...

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Parashat Devarim 5779

August 9, 2019

A D’var Torah for Parashat Devarim By Rabbi Heidi Hoover (’11) Devarim is the first significant word of this week’s Torah portion, and therefore it gives the Torah portion its name. Because this week is the first portion in the fifth book of the Torah, Devarim is also the name of the whole book, which is called Deuteronomy in English, from the Greek. Devarim means “words,” and it’s an appropriate name for the book, because Moses spends the whole book of Deuteronomy making his last speech to the Israelites. At the end of it he dies and they prepare to go forward into the Promised Land. In Judaism, words are very important. We are called the “People of the Book”—a book (books, really) full of words that give us the best information we have about what God wants from us. Words can create and destroy reputations. According to our tradition,...

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