Four Levels of Societal Transformation (Vayakhel, Exodus 35:1-38:20)

By Rabbi Lisa L. GoldsteinI recently had to report for jury duty. I had been summoned for jury service before, but this was the first time I did so in New York City. In the past I had found that, despite the hours away from my regular responsibilities, being an active part of the justice system was an inspirational and worthy thing to do. The framers of the Constitution were idealistic enough to envision that ordinary citizens could be trusted to hand down just verdicts. Of course, their … [Read more...]

Leadership and Confrontation: Lessons from Moses and God (Ki Tisa, Exodus 30:11-34:35)

By Rabbi Melissa WeintraubIt seems every few weeks a new round of headlines cover the latest eruption within the American Jewish community over Israel, the most recent including a panel-turned-spectacle at the 92nd St Y and communal storms over policies delineating who should and shouldn’t be allowed to speak at Hillels and JCC’s.While these moments of heat and escalation capture the most press and attention, they obscure and distract us from at least two far more common, subtle, and sys … [Read more...]

Thou Shalt Donate to Overhead Costs: The Biblical Commandment of Keeping the Lights On (Tetzaveh, Exodus 27:20-30:10)

By Rabbi Mishael ZionThis summer the usually sleepy world of nonprofit organization talk was rocked by a campaign to “Debunk the Overhead Myth.” With a growing body of research and years of experience behind them, a coalition of experts claimed that, counter to popular belief, “overhead is a poor measure of a charity’s performance.” While 62 percent of Americans believe that a typical charity spends more than it should on overhead, these researchers believe that “charities should spend more o … [Read more...]

Making the Space to be Present (Terumah, Exodus 25:1-27:19)

By Judith RosenbaumSince I became a parent, I’ve been reading the Torah through a new lens. I now see in God’s behavior toward the Children of Israel a range of lessons  – positive and negative – on parenting. The God of the Hebrew Bible reminds me of a parent who is not yet sure-footed, whose behavior is somewhat erratic – making promises at one moment, testing at another, exploding with rage at yet others.The beginning of the wilderness journey in the Book of Exodus reveals some of this … [Read more...]

Jethro and Pope Francis: Models of Interreligious Engagement (Yitro, Exodus 18:1-20:23)

By Rabbi Daniel L. LehmannAlong with many others from across the diverse religious world, Pope Francis has captivated me. In a very short period of time, he has become a transformational figure among global religious leaders. Through his choice of the name Francis, his eschewing the trappings of Vatican wealth and his focus on serving the poor and marginalized, the new pope has begun to redirect the enormous spiritual energies and resources of the Catholic Church toward more pastoral … [Read more...]

Manna to Worms: Spiritual and Political Lessons from Heavenly Bread (Beshalach, Exodus 13:17-17:16)

By Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer Each Friday afternoon, I spread a tablecloth on my dining room table, place two braided loaves of bread on the cloth, and then cover the bread with another cloth, one of several specially designed, beautiful challah covers we have accumulated over the years. I have known since my first days of rabbinical school that the custom of blessing two loaves on Shabbat evokes the double portion of manna –the mysterious  lechem min ha shaymayim-- “bread from heaven” (Exodus … [Read more...]

Joseph and Mandela: Exemplars of Reconciliation (Vayehi, Genesis 47:28-50:26)

By Rabbi Toba SpitzerThe Torah portion of Vayehi brings to a close the story of Joseph and his brothers—the longest and most detailed of the family sagas in the book of Genesis. Reading this complicated narrative of family tension, cruelty, and ultimate reconciliation in the same week that the world mourns the death of Nelson Mandela, it is difficult not to hear echoes between the Biblical account of Joseph and the real-world experiences of the beloved South African leader.On the s … [Read more...]

Carl Jung, John Lennon, and Joseph: The Shadow & The Beautiful Boy (Vayigash, Genesis 44:18-47:27)

By Stephen Hazan ArnoffJoseph was a beautiful boy, so beautiful, in fact, that his father was bewitched by his beauty, loving him more than all of his other sons. In the “Testament of Joseph” — part of a collection from late antiquity purporting to tell the first-person account of each of the 12 sons of Jacob — Joseph is quoted as saying, “[God] gave me ... beauty as a flower, beyond the beautiful ones of Israel” (see James Kugel’s “In Potiphar’s House”).It was because of this beauty, alo … [Read more...]

The Power of this Moment: Lighting the Menorah

By Rabbi Daniel KleinThere has been a lot of excitement within the Jewish community about the recent Pew Research Center survey of the American Jewish community. Some people are optimistic about the findings and its implications for the future of the Jewish people in this country, while others are deeply pessimistic. As we contemplate how to move forward as a community, it is worth paying attention to the story of Hanukkah as told by the rabbis of the Talmud.The Talmudic story is the … [Read more...]

The Journey Home (Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4 – 36:43)

By Ariel Evan Mayse and Yossi Quint The opening of this week’s “parasha” (portion) finds Jacob on his journey home after many years of indentured servitude. He returns in triumph with a new family and great wealth, but coming back to the land of his forebears means that Jacob must confront a shadow from his past. He must finally make amends with his brother Esau, from whom he fled so many years previously.In preparation for this meeting, Jacob sends messengers bearing gifts before him, pe … [Read more...]