The Numbers of Those Who Wandered in the Wilderness (Be-Midbar, Numbers 1:1-4:20)

By Rabbi Burton L. VisotzkyThis week we begin reading the fourth book of the Torah, known in English as the book of Numbers. This text, however, carries a different name in Hebrew. The English/Latin title is all about the census of those who wandered in the desert; the Hebrew title, Be-Midbar, is all about the wilderness in which they wandered. I wish to explore the relationship between the numbers and the wandering.There is a dramatic story in the Palestinian Talmud (Ta’anit 9:11, 69c) t … [Read more...]

Overhearing God’s Voice (Naso, Numbers 4:21-7:89)

By Rabbi Jonathan WittenbergHow do we hear God speak, if, that is, we hear God speak at all? Would the world be a better and safer place if we did; or would it be even more frightening and unstable?The Torah describes the great procession with which the Children of Israel marked the dedication of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Numbers 7). Perhaps it wasn’t as dull an occasion as it seems in the recounting. On each of twelve consecutive days, a prince of each of the tribes of Israel b … [Read more...]

Heeding the Call to Protect the Land (Bechukotai, Leviticus 26:3-27:34)

By Rabbi Lisa L GoldsteinI have a vivid memory from a Bible class in the late 1980s in which we were learning the classic formulations, seen in this week's Torah portion, that if the Israelites obey God’s laws, the rains will come in the right season and all will be well. If, however, the Israelites abandon the covenant, the earth and their enemies will work together to utterly destroy them. One of my classmates scoffed. “Come on,” he said. “The rain won’t come if we are unethical! We know th … [Read more...]

Leviticus: Keeping Holiness Simple (Behar, Leviticus 25:1-26:2)

By Dr. Stephen Hazan ArnoffFor centuries, formal Jewish study began not with Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Bible, and not with the Mishna, the first codex of lived Jewish law, but with Leviticus, also known as Torat Kohanim, or the Book of Priests. While focusing in many sections, like last week’s portion of Emor, on practices and obligations of the priestly class, Leviticus addresses all Israelites as a “nation of priests” whose relationship with holiness is nothing less than a matte … [Read more...]

How to Love Your Neighbor (Kedoshim, Leviticus 19:1-20:27)

By Rabbi Margie Klein RonkinThis is the story of how studying the most famous verse in the Torah - found in this week’s Torah portion - challenged how I understand love and changed my relationship with my dad.The commandment - "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) was one I learned early in grade school.  As a kid, I knew well that, 2000 years ago, when a man asked the great Hillel the Elder to explain the whole Torah while standing on one foot, Hillel taught a version of th … [Read more...]

The Momentum of Freedom (Passover)

By Ariel Evan Mayse & Yossi QuintIn celebrating the Jewish liturgical year and holiday cycle, we relive significant occasions in the tale of the Jewish people. The Hasidic masters emphasize that each festival highlights a particular spiritual quality, some essential element of life that is a part of both our national story and our own spiritual lives.Passover is a time for contemplating the meaning of freedom, but it also forces us to confront the nature of servitude and bondage. … [Read more...]

Covering the Blood Before Us (Acharei Mot, Leviticus 16:1-18:30)

By Rabbi Shmuly YanklowitzIn the Torah portion of Acharei-Mot, we learn the obligation of “kisui ha’dam,” to cover the blood produced from slaughtering (Leviticus 17:13).Commentators take a number of different approaches to explain the reason for this mitzvah. Rambam argues that this ritual is meant to distance Jewish practice from pagan blood rites. He suggests that pagans would collect the blood after slaughter and eat the animal’s meat while sitting around the blood; for Rambam, we pou … [Read more...]

Life on the Margins (Tazria, Leviticus 12:1-13:59)

By Rabbi Niles Elliot GoldsteinWhat does it feel like to live at the edge, on the margins of community?The Torah reading for this week, Tazria, seems to imply that it can be a very lonely experience. When someone from the Israelite community is found to have leprosy (“tzaraat”), a disease of the skin, that person is removed from camp and separated from the others (Lev. 13:46). While their physical affliction is not their choice, the social consequences of their condition are severe. Tho … [Read more...]

Jewish Memory Week: A Tale in Three Parts (Zachor, Deuteronomy 25:17-19)

By Dr. Yehuda KurtzerThe memory of the Holocaust today is vulnerable. Between the Diaspora and Israel the Jewish people are fighting about the meaning of the Holocaust, encoding in our ideological debates about who we want to be in the world our increasingly polarizing interpretations about our recent past. It is the nature of trauma that we become conditioned to act and behave in certain ways as a result of what we experience. But would it have been possible to anticipate how quickly and … [Read more...]

Situating God: Revisiting Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26)

By Dr. Erica BrownOpening the new biblical book Vayikra, Leviticus, likewise opens a new chapter in the lives of the Israelites. Their relationship with God would be expressed through the performance of set rituals in a physical structure. No doubt such changes also brought transformations in their spiritual lives and reoriented the way in which they approached the divine. Unmediated and direct conversation with God became formalized and more distant. Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) in “Major T … [Read more...]