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Archive for the ‘Torah_Commentary’ Category



Hoping for Rain- Biblical Understanding of Cosmic Order, Human’s Nature and Drought

Jun27

by: Rabbi Belle Michael on June 27th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A photograph of Lake Mead (Arizona/Nevada) in the midst of a drought.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Chris Richards.

As we all heard, 2014 set record for being the hottest year in a decade; in fact scientists say that every year in the past few decades set a record for being the warmest year. We know it for fact now; our planet is getting warmer each year.

Some scientists are still trying to figure out the causes for Global Warming while others study the effects of Global Warming on extreme weather events such as heat waves, hurricanes and droughts. As to the drought in California, so far no scientific link between Global Warming and the drought was found. Research has shown contradicting evidence and thus, contradicting conclusions.

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For the Sake of Heaven

Jun23

by: Melissa Weininger on June 23rd, 2015 | Comments Off

Close up of a flame.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Oliver.

According to reports, when a young stranger walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last Wednesday night, the senior pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, invited the young man to sit next to him so that he would feel welcome. It was literally an article of faith that the church should embrace the young man, though he was not a regular member of the community, though he was white in a historically black church. These things didn’t matter to Pinckney and the other members of the Bible study group that met that night. What mattered to them were tenets of faith and the standards of their community, a congregation built on the premise of inclusion, particularly inclusion of the marginalized and rejected.

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Torah Commentary: The Seder and Transformative Consciousness

Apr3

by: on April 3rd, 2015 | Comments Off

The Torah tells us of four sons…

One of the central passages of the seder involves a presentation of the questions of, and the responses to four paradigmatic sons. We are told of a wise son, a wicked son, an innocent or naive son, and the fourth described as one who does not know how to initiate a question. Each of these “sons”questions, in one way or another, is about the meaning of the ritual observances surrounding Passover, and for each one an appropriate answer is given, depending on the personality of the son. Each of these ‘sons’ questions and answers are constructed out of biblical proof texts which contain a reference to instructing one’s offspring. However, they are not presented, Powerpoint style, in order of their appearance in the Torah, and are used in a homiletic manner to teach certain points. What these points might be is also left unexplained in an almost zen koan like challenge to comprehension; we will see that loaded within this seemingly innocuous passage is a call to transformative consciousness.

The entire passage is unclear, for example, the question of the wise son and the wicked son are similar, while the answers they receive are curious; furthermore, the answer given to the wicked son and the non-questioning son are derived from the exact same verse. What do all these texts with their attributions to different types of children come to teach us on the first night of Passover, what does any of this have to do with liberation from oppression?

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The Iconography of Sorrow: How Easter Transforms Our Response to Suffering

Apr1

by: Luke Bretherton on April 1st, 2015 | Comments Off

From pictures of poor farmers in Depression era America to bloated children in Sudan, the contemporary aesthetics of poverty subtly reinscribe the ancient division between the children of the soil (chthonoi) and children of the gods (theion) familiar to us from the Greek and Babylonian myths.

Those who live some form of what is often deemed the ideal “Western” lifestyle look down from Olympus with sympathy on the sons and daughters of the soil and their visceral imprisonment to nature and necessity.

“We” who benefit from consumer lifestyles, technological advancement and decent sewers contemplate the photographs of stricken faces and think: “If only they can be more like us.”

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The King and the Ring: On Purim and Violence

Mar4

by: Aryeh Cohen on March 4th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

The question, twenty years after Baruch Goldstein slaughtered 29 Palestinians at prayer, wounding tens more, is this: How can we celebrate Purim? Goldstein, heard the reading of the Megillah on Purim night, heard (for the fortieth time?) that the Jews took vengeance on their enemies, slaughtered thousands of men, women, and children. Twice. Goldstein, a medical doctor, then rose early in the morning, went to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and shot his M16 until he was overpowered and killed, having killed or wounded tens of praying innocents. How do we read this tale of revenge when we know that that revenge, the Purim revenge, the revenge of “the Jews got their enemies in their power” (Esther 9:1) has been wreaked?

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Responding to Anti-Semitism

Mar4

by: Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah on March 4th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Graphic of a girl covering her mouth with her hand, with the British flag behind her.

Survey data is easily manipulated to 'prove' a certain view or opinion. What matters more is how we confront anti-Semitism in the context of historical Jewish persecution. Credit: CreativeCommons / SA HonestReporting.com

Anti-Semitism is in the news again. First: the deadly assault on the kosher supermarket in Paris on January 9(2015), which claimed four lives, two days after the murderous attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine. Then, on Shabbat, February 14: the killing of a Jewish man on security duty and the wounding of a police officer outside a synagogue in Copenhagen – after an attack against a cafe holding a meeting about free speech, where another person was killed. All these attacks perpetrated by Islamist extremists, and in each case, anger against Western press freedom that has allowed the publication of material that is disrespectful of the Prophet Muhammad, followed by the targeting of Jews.

So, has anti-Semitism got worse? Those who set up the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism UK (CAA) that was launched in August 2014 believe that it has. A YouGov poll commissioned by the CAA that was publicised following the Paris attacks, said that 45% of Britons assented to at least one of four anti-Semitic statements put to them.[1] The CAA also conducted their own survey of over 2,200 British Jews, which showed that more than half felt that they had witnessed more anti-Semitism in the past two years, and that 54% feared that Jews have no future in the UK.[2] Alongside the results of these surveys, the Community Security Trust recorded a 36% rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the first six months of 2014, while during the Israeli operation in Gaza in July 2014 hate crime in London soared, with 90% of attacks being aimed at Jews.[3]

Torah Commentary – Perashat Toledot: Blessing and Intention

Nov20

by: on November 20th, 2014 | Comments Off

These days, there is no shortage of hatred to go around. Tragically, much of this hatred has erupted into tragic violence in Jerusalem this week, a brutal set of murders in a synagogue that most clearly illustrates the religious, and we may say, biblical nature of this conflict. It is noteworthy that this week’s Torah reading is one in which the growing animosity between Jacob and his brother Esav is described, a rift that the Talmud records as the source of eternal enmity between Jacob, that is, the Jewish people, and Esav, midrashically reified as Rome and thus European society. The reflexive assumption made before reading the texts, then, is Jacob=good, Esav=bad. However, that is a prejudice not entirely present in the text, as we shall see, a text which is extremely ambiguous with regards to who is or is not the hero of this episode. For after all, their father Isaac (Yitzchak), clearly intended to bless Esav, but only through the wily intervention of Jacob’s mother does Jacob hijack these blessings.

Despite the ambiguity in the narrative, the blessings that ultimately are bestowed upon Jacob are read in various ways as prophetic of later Jewish history, and as such are incorporated into the traditional prayers. The Midrash gives many readings of these blessings as pertaining to the Jewish future, but surely Yitzchak had a whole different idea of the blessing’s possibilities, geared as they were in original intent towards Esav. To put this in modern terms, there is a very wide gap here between authorial intent and reader response to these texts. I will present three exegetical approaches to this conundrum, which will be presented in order of progressive radicality in terms of the usual assumptions about this episode.

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Our Josephs, Our Choices

Aug12

by: Paul Tesser and David Steinberg on August 12th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Pharaoh Joseph

Credit: Creative Commons-Flickr pcstratman

In the Torah (specifically, the portion of Mikeitz), we read of Pharaoh’s dreams and Joseph’s interpretations of them. As we know, Joseph explained the dreams to mean that there would be seven years of plentiful harvests in the land of Egypt followed by seven years of severe famine. In this way, Joseph was not only an interpreter but also a prophet, having interpreted the prophetic dreams that God gave to Pharaoh.

Pharaoh’s dreams speak to our own day, a day during which droughts, typhoons, and hurricanes of increasing severity are more and more frequent. These are the equivalents of Pharaoh’s dreams: disturbing, anomalous manifestations of something that calls out for interpretation.

But what is our equivalent of Joseph? We have but to think for a moment to realize that among us are men and women who interpret the overall shape of the novel climate events we have been witnessing – climate scientists. With respect to these phenomena, they are the best interpreters of what is occurring.And the consensus is in. Peer-reviewed science journals report that there is no longer the slightest quibble about the reality of climate change.


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Torah Commentary- Shabbat Nachamu: Hope means Justice in the Present

Aug7

by: on August 7th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Only for the sake of the hopeless ones have we been given hope. (Walter Benjamin, Schriften I)

The world today is ugly, one in which we can read of children dying as a result of political battles in too many places in the world, without shedding a tear, or worse, justifying this outcome as valid or expected. We must cry out for an end to this kind of suffering and cry out for an end to these horrors.

This Sabbath is known traditionally as Shabbat Nachamu, The Sabbath of comforting. The Isaiah 40 (well known outside the synagogue as the opening of Handel’s Messiah) is a prophecy of hope read at this point in the calendar, just after the commemoration of the horrors of war which twice led up to the destruction of the Temple and the creation of millions of refugees. As a result of these experiences, traditional Jewish culture is marked by an emphasis on hope, on a belief that injustice will be overcome, and that the “weary will be given strength”, as the end of this chapter in Isaiah proclaims.

Hope seems one of the more lofty spiritual aspirations of mankind, yet one of the least frequently defined. Schiller seems to have summed it up for the Romantic era as:

Im Herzen kuendet es laut sich an:

Zu was Besserm sind wir geboren!

The heart proclaims it loudly within

We were born for better things!

What these better things might be is not detailed, as yearning itself was enough of a goal in the Romantic era. Whatever hope may be, it was usually something earmarked for future generations. Imber’s Hebrew poem, “The Hope”, later adapted for use as the Israeli national anthem, is built around a similar theme: “As long as within the heart/ A Jewish soul yearns…our Hope is not lost.” This hope is defined as (in the current official version, somewhat different from the original text), “To be a free nation in our land/ The land of Zion-Jerusalem.”

While perhaps in Imber’s time, a harsh time for Jewish existence, a free land may have been adequate to define “the hope”, there are few who would currently feel that hope has been fulfilled only with land ownership, which itself has brought with it some serious challenges, not all of which can be said to have been reached. Certainly we have no less need for hope. So what is it that we hope for? Furthermore, must hope always be something aimed at the future? Is it possible that we can define hope in such a way that it reflects a process which can be actualized in the present, in the here and now? Can we afford to wait for the future when the present is so filled with death and suffering?

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Shavuot’s Revelation of Self

May27

by: Shmuel Klatzkin on May 27th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Revelation is the heart of Torah. “G-d spoke to you face to face,” Moshe reminds the people as he recounts the great event of Sinai in which they all took part (Deut. 5:4).

That we all took part in it is essential to the meaning of Sinai. The revelation described by the Torah was not the property of one leader alone, or of an elite group, whose report had to be taken as authoritative truth. The authority of the revelation in the Torah is rather to be vouched for by the experience and the memory of each one of the community. Just as the redemption from Egypt was unmediated – “Not by means of an angel, not by means of a seraph, not by means of an agent;” “I, G-d, I and no other” – so, too, was the revelation to which the redemption led: “There was no intermediary,” said Abraham ibn Ezra (ad loc.).

On the path up Mount Sinai. Credit: Creative Commons/Templar1307.

As it was at first, so it remains: the authority of the revelation is to be found within. Its authenticity emerges simultaneously with the emergence of the authenticity of the self. As interesting as all other arguments may be for Torah, this essential argument is not an argument at all. It is pre-argument – the same way that we come to know that we are who we are, that reality is as reality is, so do we intuit how the authority and authenticity of Torah is as it is.

How is the content of that revelation written down for the ages? In some ways, it is not written down, for if it is to be as immediate and present for us as our own identities, there is unfolding something new to say each moment. It is, as Moshe says later in Deuteronomy, “in your mouth and in your heart, as you do it.”

But some of it was written down, engraved in stone, as we have learned to say. And the very first word on the stone is anochi – I.

It is, as it appears in the book, as it appeared on stones, the I of G-d. But the mystics break the word down to its elemental letters, each of which can be re-expanded and then stand for a full word. ANoChY – Ana Nafshi Ketavit Yehavit – wrote My self down and gave it (Likkutei Torah 48d).

Beyond giving of law, beyond imposing an order, the root of the revelation, the root of the Torah is G-d’s giving of self.

The receiving of Torah must match the generosity and the creativity of the giving.

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