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Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion
Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Yitro ( Shabbat 02-18-2017 )



At our morning study session this Shabbat, I will continue teaching from Paul Tillich's The Dynamics of Faith. Our study during the Torah service will be introduced by Sophie Nelson, our Bat Mitzvah. Sophie will be talking a bit about the inner life of Moses. I will continue from there to the idea of revelation, as reflected, however-dimly, in my message presented here, adapted from Shavu'ot 2016. Congratulations to Sophie, her parents Arlene and David and all the family and friends attending our service!

Revelations



Armed and Divided - Torah Portion Beshalach 2017 ( Shabbat 02-11-2017 )



Armed and Divided - Torah Portion Beshalach 2017 (revised from 2016)
Rabbi Mordecai Finley


At the morning study session this Shabbat I will continue relating my own spiritual and intellectual journey by discussing the work of the great Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich. Torah study, I will discuss some of the ideas contained in this Shabbat message.

You are all invited to a meeting of my philosophy club Shabbat afternoon, where we will be discussing what this "Alt-Right" phenomenon is. We are meeting from 4...




God and the Bible - Comments On Torah Portion Va-eira ( Shabbat 01-28-2017 )



God and the Bible - Comments On Torah Portion Va-eira (adapted from 2016) -Rabbi Mordecai Finley

Readers of the Bible are almost always troubled by the depiction of God's hardening Pharaoh's heart in this weeks Torah portion, in Exodus 9:12, and in other places, as well. No matter how many times they read the Bible, people want the depiction of God in the Bible to be one of a fair and just God. In this case, the idea of a God that grants free will is violated. To deprive someone of their free will, and then punish them for w...




Discovering the Name - Comments On Torah Portion Shemot ( Shabbat 01-21-2017 )



Discovering the Name - Comments On Torah Portion Shemot (adapted from a previous version)

-Rabbi Mordecai Finley

The Hebrew name of the first Torah portion in Exodus is "Sh'mot"; "Names" in English, after the first phrase in the Hebrew, "These are the names of Israelites coming to Egypt . . ."

This first sentence is where the name of the Torah portion comes from but naming takes place throughout the Torah portion. Moses is named, and God reveals God's name. The daughter of Pharaoh is given her name...




The Struggle for the Blessing - (adapted from 2015) - Rabbi Mordecai Finley ( Shabbat 01-14-2017 )



When I was a graduate student at USC, I frequented a nearby supermarket with a deli inside to get lunch. Once when I was standing in line, a young man ahead of me, about my age, was dismayed to find that he had forgotten his wallet. It was a sandwich and drink; I offered to pay. He protested, and I insisted. I paid for both our lunches and as we left the checkout counter, he stopped me - I thought to thank me. What he did say next I did not see coming.
"Do you know what you have done?", he asked me. I knew the answer was not that ...




Chanukah and Tony Robbins -Rabbi Mordecai Finley ( Shabbat 12-31-2016 )



At the urging of a couple of good friends, I got over myself and watched the Netflix documentary on Tony Robbins called "I Am Not Your Guru." Whatever I had thought about Tony Robbins before was mostly based on vague impressions and a void of knowledge (a nice way of saying ignorance). I am still processing what I think about the man and am still doing some research. Right now, I am very impressed. Yes, I have changed my mind.

But in these brief words I want to talk about Dawn Watson and Chanukah. At the seminar c...




Reflections on Chanukah ( Shabbat 12-24-2016 )



We have a custom at Ohr HaTorah that on the Sabbath before Christmas, Rabbi Finley discusses some aspect of the Jewish origins of Christianity. This Shabbat, he will speak about certain ideas in Greek philosophy that influenced early Judaism as well as early Christianity, especially the idea of the "logos."

Since Chanukah falls on Saturday night, this Shabbat message focuses on that holiday. Remember that Rabbi Finley's talks on Shabbat morning are live on Facebook, and will be left up for a period of time. In addition, he wi...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Vayishlach ( Shabbat 12-17-2016 )



For the morning study, Rabbi Finley will conclude his series on Wisdom. For the Torah study, he will discuss the deeper dimensions of Chanukah, which begins next Saturday night.

Enjoy these thoughts on the weekly Torah portion. He read this thought aloud on his Facebook feed this late afternoon, you can go there if you'd like to watch it.

The Unification of the Soul
(adapted from 2014)

In the Torah we are taught to love God, "with all your heart, with all your soul and all your might" "b'khol levav'k...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Vayetzei ( Shabbat 12-10-2016 )



At this Shabbat's 9AM Morning Study Session, I will be continuing my talks on wisdom (and will not be discussing the election - for my thoughts on what do do now, you can read this).

For the 11 AM Torah Study, I am returning to a close study of Genesis chapter one.

And don't forget about my Kabbalah class which continues Tuesday evening!

From Darkness to Wisdom
(adapted from 2015)

I can imagine Jacob bemoaning his fate, justifiably. Jacob was the one, the Bible tells us, who was the dweller in...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Toldot ( Shabbat 12-03-2016 )



At this Shabbat's 9AM Morning Study Session, I will be continuing my talks on wisdom (and will not be discussing the election - for my thoughts on what do do now, you can read this).

For the 11 AM Torah Study, I am returning to a close study of Genesis chapter one.

And don't forget about my Kabbalah class which continues Tuesday evening!

The Curtain and the Veil

Rebecca goes to inquire of God when she does not know what is happening inside of her. The text does not say that she sat and prayed. Upon...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Chayei Sara ( Shabbat 11-26-2016 )



At this Shabbat's 9AM Morning Study Session, I will be continuing my talks on wisdom (and will not be discussing the election - for my thoughts on what do do now, you can read this).

For the 11 AM Torah Study, I am pausing the talks on Genesis chapter 1, because so many will be out of town. I will instead focus on the Midrash of this week's Torah portion.

And don't forget about my Kabbalah class starting this Tuesday evening!

Life Torn and Sewn Together
Human pain is the backdrop of the book of Ge...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Vayera ( Shabbat 11-19-2016 )



While I will continue to write a column on the weekly Torah portion, for my Shabbat Torah study teaching (about 11:15 to 11:45), I am embarking on a new project: doing a word by word, line by line study of the book of Genesis (at least the first few chapters). I want to bring in as many of the sources that I have consulted over the years as I can: critical, scholarly commentaries, inspired new commentaries (Avivah Zornberg, Leon Kass), traditional commentaries - Rashi, Ramban, etc., the Midrash, the Zohar, Hasidic texts, etc. This wi...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Lech Lecha ( Shabbat 11-12-2016 )



While I will continue to write a column on the weekly Torah portion, for my Shabbat Torah study teaching (about 11:15 to 11:45), I am embarking on a new project: doing a word by word, line by line study of the book of Genesis (at least the first few chapters). I want to bring in as many of the sources that I have consulted over the years as I can: critical, scholarly commentaries, inspired new commentaries (Avivah Zornberg, Leon Kass), traditional commentaries - Rashi, Ramban, etc., the Midrash, the Zohar, Hasidic texts, etc. This wi...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Noach - Pillar of Prayer ( Shabbat 10-15-2016 )



While I will continue to write a column on the weekly Torah portion, for my Shabbat Torah study teaching (about 11:15 to 11:45), I am embarking on a new project: doing a word by word, line by line study of the book of Genesis (at least the first few chapters). I want to bring in as many of the sources that I have consulted over the years as I can: critical, scholarly commentaries, inspired new commentaries (Avivah Zornberg, Leon Kass), traditional commentaries - Rashi, Ramban, etc., the Midrash, the Zohar, Hasidic texts, etc. This wi...




HIGH HOLY DAYS 5777 - May you be inscribed for a good year ( Shabbat 10-02-2016 )



This year we are especially eager to usher in the new year with all of you, good friends and supporters, professional teams and lay leaders, as we anticipate more growth and work to prepare for the transformation that follows.

We wish you all a year of good health and prosperity; that all of this year's Jewish days of celebration bring you comfort and joy, a sense of home and belonging here at Ohr HaTorah.

Your light continues to grow, illuminating beautiful new paths for all of us at Ohr HaTorah and The HUB on Ven...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Shoftim - Wisdom and Virtue ( Shabbat 09-10-2016 )



Due to popular demand, I am going to write something pretty dry, not very inspiring, and filled with information.

As I have been teaching about acquiring wisdom and virtue on Shabbat, people have asked me to write out a brief description of the whole thing. Here is it.

Wisdom: First, wisdom is a kind of knowledge, starting with knowledge of the self, especially the ego self. Wisdom also has to do with knowledge of the inner lives of others and processes of life. A wise person understands the rules of creating goodn...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Re'eh - Love of Truth ( Shabbat 09-03-2016 )



This Shabbat is the third of the seven Sabbaths between the 9th day of Av and Rosh HaShanah, the New Year observance. From a spiritual-psychological perspective, one dimension of Rosh HaShanah is the sovereignty of the Divine. From an inner life perspective, this does not just mean acknowledging theologically (or denying) that there is God. The idea of sovereignty means that there are values that are the standard for our thoughts, feelings, speech and behavior. Even pronounced atheists often claim allegiance to truth and rationality,...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Ekev - Revering, Walking, Loving, Serving - (edited from 2015) ( Shabbat 00-00-0000 )



This week's Torah potion, Ekev, has a section that I encourage those who study with me to memorize. It expresses succinctly the world-view of the book of Deuteronomy and much of the Bible.

12 And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the Lord your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul . . . for your good (Deuteronomy 10:12 and following)

Memorize these verbs: revere, walk, love and serve, and I believe, in thi...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Vaetchanan Loving the Beauty, Methodically. (republished from 2015) ( Shabbat 08-20-2016 )



I have been reading a book by Richard Rorty called "Religion Without God." Among other things, Rorty discusses the experience of beauty as something that differentiates some people from others, and even religious people from each other. For example, you might believe in the facts of your religion's theology, but they remain just facts. For others, those facts suggest a "God beyond God" (to use Paul Tillich's term) - a sublime mystery, something not reducible to theological facts.

There are physicists who encounter the numinou...




How to Commemorate the 9th of Av ( Shabbat 08-13-2016 )



I knew when I was growing up that there was a Jewish commemoration day called Tisha B'Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, commemorated this year this coming Saturday night to Sunday night) that marked the destruction of the Temples, but only in theory. When I was in rabbinical school, I thought it was about time that I went to a 9th of Av service. I went to a local Conservative synagogue. We prayed the evening service, and then we all sat on the floor. The rabbi chanted the book of Lamentations. When he finished, he announced...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Matot-Masei - Teaching in Exile (edited from 2015) ( Shabbat 08-06-2016 )



This week's Torah portion is a double portion. The reason we have double portions is so that during a Jewish leap year, when there are 13 months instead of 12, we can "unpack" the double portions so that each Shabbat in a leap year has its own Torah portion. This double portion ends the book of Numbers (Ba-Midbar - "in the desert" in Hebrew).

Many of the themes in these two Torah portions have to do with final matters before the Israelites enter the Land of Canaan. One of these matters is the concept of the "cities of refuge"...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion- Balak - Curses ( Shabbat 07-23-2016 )



Unbeknownst to the Israelites, great hostility is brewing just over the next hill. The main focus of this week's portion, King Balak's hiring of the prophet Bila'am to curse the Israelites, takes place out of the sight of the encamped tribes of Israel. The Israelites sit oblivious to the fury, fear and drama that is taking place nearby, outside of their awareness.
The Israelites need to cross Moabite land to get to the plateau that overlooks Canaan, just across from where Jericho is today. The Moabites apparently think...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Korach - Society to Question Enthymemes, or, How to Get Smart ( Shabbat 07-09-2016 )



Nice thing about studying philosophy is that you have words for stuff. Remember "Barack Obama is a Muslim"? Rhetorically speaking, that is a world away from "Barak Obama is half black and half white."

"Obama is Muslim" is called an "enthymeme." This is an extremely important word, so you should memorize it. If you are smart (or aspire to be), and you don't know this word yet, you will be very grateful that you are reading this little essay. (This word is also helpful for understanding this week's Torah portion, Korach). Pe...




Shelach Lekha - Questionably Patriotic, Offensive on Many Levels, and of Meager Torah Value. ( Shabbat 07-02-2016 )



It is the Shabbat of July 4th weekend, so I am supposed to say something inspiring and patriotic, but not hackneyed, that will offend no one, and then in a clever and interesting way, connect all this to the Torah portion.
Due to a contrarian side of my personality, however - a side of myself that I thought I would outgrow but has only become more exacerbated with age, and therefore I think is more core to who I am thanI probably wanted to admit, and while I have a professional prudential care for what people thi...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Beha'alotcha - The Moment When ( Shabbat 06-25-2016 )



There was a comedy duo, Hudson and Landry, on the radio when I was a teenager. In "The Hippie and the Redneck," a redneck cop pulls over a hippie doing over 80 mph. ("Impossible," says the hippie. "I haven't even been out an hour!") Anyway, the cop calls it in. "I found me one of those long hair, blabby mouth sassy hippies out here . . . lookin' for his head". The station asks a question we can't hear. "Naw, there ain't been no accident."
Even though I probably fit the description of a long hair blabby mouth sassy hi...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Nasso Human Frailty and the Grace of God ( Shabbat 06-18-2016 )



The first Torah portion in the book of Numbers, focusing on the census, was pretty dry. With this week's Torah portion, Naso, things get very interesting. After the census is completed, preparations for the long march toward the promised land would begin. First, we are told in chapter five to purify the camp of anyone in a state of ritual impurity, mostly around the issue of blood. They are to live "outside the camp" while they are in an impure state; then they can move back in.

The Torah then deals three cases of a different...




Reflections on Shavu'ot - Revalations ( Shabbat 06-11-2016 )



In honor of the holiday of Shavu'ot, the celebration of the revelation of Torah at Mt. Sinai, I thought I would share some of my own revelations, with commentary.

1. My parents told me that I could be in any religion I wanted, before they told me that I had to be Jewish. They had lying around the house Huston Smith's 1958 classic The World's Religions. I read it and decided I wanted to be Buddhist. My parents were Marxist atheists, so we believed in nothing and therefore Nothing was very close by. Turns out that Huston Smith...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Bechukotai - Statute and Commandment ( Shabbat 06-04-2016 )



(Dear Friends - Shy Blakeney, our rabbinical intern, will be taking my place this Shabbat. Meirav is joining me at a conference I am attending).

I would like to offer you an interpretation of the first words of our Torah portion, Bechukotai. The portion begins thus, "If you walk in my statutes and keep my commandments, and do them . . ." What follows next are a set of blessings that will follow if we keep God's word.

Some of you know that there are many terms for the idea of "commandments" in the Bible. The ancien...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion Behar - Revere the Truth ( Shabbat 05-28-2016 )



This week's Torah portion, Behar, contains verses that are the source for what is perhaps the most well known narrative in the Talmud - well known, and usually deeply misunderstood.

We are taught in our portion regarding the Sabbatical year; that families return to the patrimonial land every 50 years. Therefore, one does not actually buy land, one only buys usage of the land for how ever many years are left in a 50 year Sabbatical cycle. The Torah gives instructions on how to make these transactions fair, introduc...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion Behar -Revere the Truth ( Shabbat 05-28-2016 )



This week's Torah portion, Behar, contains verses that are the source for what is perhaps the most well known narrative in the Talmud - well known, and usually deeply misunderstood.

We are taught in our portion regarding the Sabbatical year; that families return to the patrimonial land every 50 years. Therefore, one does not actually buy land, one only buys usage of the land for how ever many years are left in a 50 year Sabbatical cycle. The Torah gives instructions on how to make these transactions fair, introduc...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Emor - Processes of the Soul ( Shabbat 05-21-2016 )



One of the most influential changes in my thinking about religion has to do with the holidays, the greatest focus of this week's Torah portion, Emor. My Jewish education up until the time I discovered Kabbalah and Chasidism saw holidays as a commemoration of that which happened in the past, and as an opportunity for the study of the values we derive from that event. Passover celebrates a past event, the Exodus, and we study the value of freedom, for example.

The Kabbalah, on the other hand, sees the world down here as an ech...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Kedoshim ( Shabbat 05-14-2016 )



I don't always restrain myself when counseling someone who gives advice to a troublesome spouse or child. "So I told my child to quit smoking pot and go out and get a job!" With a person who does not mind being ribbed with a little bit of sarcasm, I respond, "And I am sure that did the trick. Your kid then said, "Whoa, dad, I never thought about that! You mean, just stop smoking pot and go get a job? Why didn't I think of that? Ok! Good to go!"

I ask the dad how often he has told his miscreant son to "stop smoking pot and...




Reflections on Eighth Day Pesach - The Parting of the Sea of Reeds ( Shabbat 05-01-2016 )



I spoke at a recent assembly at our Religious School, on the topic of monotheism vs. polytheism. I shared that experiencing the Oneness of all despite the fragmented world, out there and within, can be a stunning, life changing moment. Knowing that the all is in the One, and that the One is God, is a mystical insight so profound that it cannot be explained or made sense of. "God is the All" is an invitation to an experience, not an explanation.

I resist this kind of thinking, "the Oneness of the All." I know some people, who...





Reflections on Pesach ( Shabbat 04-22-2016 )



If you are hosting a Seder, you are a bit anxious maybe. Preparing food, designing an evening for your guests that will be fun and meaningful. Perhaps hoping that everyone will get along for once.

If you are attending a Seder, perhaps you are hoping that it will be fun yet meaningful, that the food will be good and the people interesting and kind, and you will learn something you didn't know.

Seder anxiety is inevitable - and a bit distracting.

Allow me, then, for just a minute, to focus on a different level...




Reflections on Shabbat HaGadol

Wary of Messianism ( Shabbat 04-16-2016 )



This coming Shabbat is called "Shabbat Ha-Gadol", probably because the reading for this Shabbat from the book of prophets, Malachi 3:23, contains the prophecy that there will be a "great and awesome" day of the Lord to come, a "yom gadol ve-nora".

There was a belief in Talmudic times (and continues for some to this day), that there will be an "end of times" where the world order shall radically change for the good. Evil will perish and the good will be exalted. Some teachings of the end of times include a teaching of the Messi...




Reflections on Shabbat HaHodesh - Melancholy and Renewal ( Shabbat 04-09-2016 )



This Shabbat is the fourth and final of the Four Special Portions, read before Passover. This special Shabbat, Shabbat Ha-Hodesh ("the month"), always comes right before the Hebrew month of Nisan begins, and tells us that Passover is just a couple weeks away.

The inner life tradition sees these four special Sabbaths as forming something of a passageway toward freedom. This fourth one, Ha-Hodesh, is seen as speaking of the "Hadash", the new, or more specifically, a sense of inner renewal.

In one Hasidic teaching, one ...




Reflections on Shabbat Parah - PURITY ( Shabbat 04-02-2016 )



We are in the midst of the four special readings from the Torah before Passover. Each has a different spiritual theme. Shekalim focuses on generosity of spirit and finding wholeness. Zachor insists that we remember that evil exists, and to be mindful of destructive patterns in our inner lives.

This Sabbath is "Shabbat Parah"; we have a reading that deals with purity - the ritual of Red Heifer, discussed in Numbers 19. Purity as a spiritual theme is a complex one - and one that is fraught with danger. Puritanical dimensions of...




Thoughts on the Weekly Torah Portion - Tzav - The Will ( Shabbat 03-26-2016 )



How do we image the inner life? There are many maps and metaphors for depicting the dynamics of inner work, but the use of the ancient Tabernacle (Mishap) in the desert is one of the most common and compelling in the Jewish mystical tradition.

Each element of the Mishkan is understood to stand for something in the inner life of the human being. For example, the light of the oil lamp stands for the soul, the bread offering stands for the physical world, and the incense stands for the sense of the divine that permeates our live...




Thoughts on the Weekly Torah Portion - Vayikra - 25 Things to Remember on Shabbat Zachor - the Sabbath of Remembering ( Shabbat 03-19-2016 )



1. The beginning of wisdom is virtue, and the beginning of virtue is restraint.

2. I am challenged, "Doesn't the Bible say, 'The beginning of wisdom is reverence for God'? (Psalms 111:10)." Many questions are raised: What do we mean by "wisdom"? What do we mean by "beginning"? What do we mean by "reverence"? What do we mean by "God"?

3. Wisdom has many faces, but for those who want to engage in wisdom work, one has to begin at the beginning and never forget the beginning. Wisdom has to do with insight into yoursel...




Thoughts on the Weekly Torah Portion - Pekudei - The Cloud of Unknowing ( Shabbat 03-12-2016 )



The Cloud of Unknowing , written in the late 1300's, in middle English by an unknown Christian monk, deals with the mystical knowing of God. The book, like others of its type, charts a path to knowing God that dispenses with any God of any Bible, and ignores theology in general. In a word, my type of book.

Like many of the great books I have read, it was assigned reading for a class in college. Like many of those books, it gave me a language and a way of knowing that has shaped my life since.

I have often taught: the...




Thoughts on the Weekly Torah Portion - VaYakhel - You Bet Your Life ( Shabbat 03-05-2016 )



This Shabbat is Torah portion Va-yakhel, with an additional reading called "Shekalim", the first of the four special parshiyot (Torah readings) that are read before Passover/Pesach. Yes, it is already that time! Purim and Passover are around the corner.

Our custom at Ohr HaTorah is to study Jewish holy days from an "archetypal" perspective. "Archetype", when used in the study of Torah, has come to mean that some aspect of our spiritual lives is presented in the narratives of the Torah. Whatever you are struggling with now...




Thoughts on the Weekly Torah Portion - Ki Tisa -
Architects ( Shabbat 02-27-2016 )



What qualities does it take to render an idea and make it real in this world?

Creative artists know this question well. Painters, sculptors, musicians, writers, architects, composers, poets, decorators, gardeners - in every realm of creative activity there are those who say that ideas seem to arrive from some place within. I experience this as a counselor and a teacher - new ideas and insights arrive in my work all the time. Sometimes I think hard, work something through and arrive at a conclusion. I grind it out. And other t...




Thoughts on the Weekly Torah Portion - Tetzaveh Sartorial Salvation ( Shabbat 02-20-2016 )



Last Shabbat, I taught about the Tallit, the four cornered prayer shawl with the fringes attached to the corners. Many people don't wear one at synagogue. They say they are not "bar/t mitzvahed" - please remember, you are automatically a bar/t mitzvah when you turn 13. Some say they are not Jewish (yet, in some cases). I say we are very liberal at our synagogue about non-Jewish seekers trying on Jewish practices, in this case, literally.

But some say that they don't like engaging in externalities. Spirituality is an inner ex...




Thoughts on the Weekly Torah Portion - Terumah House of Holy ( Shabbat 02-13-2016 )



I noticed that bricks were missing from the footpath at our old house in Van Nuys, so I went looking for them. I found them gathered together in a corner of the yard, festooned with flowers, yarn and other decorations. I didn't believe my sons were behind this, and little Avigayil was still an infant, so I found my way to my elder daughter Shuli, about 4 at the time. I asked her what's up, and she told me she had made a house for the fairies. "Like a bird-house" she clarified, "but for fairies."

I asked her about the fairies,...




Random Thoughts on the Torah Portion - Mishpatim The Dutch, Rye Whiskey, Clint Eastwood, Dwight Eisenhower, etc. ( Shabbat 02-06-2016 )



Our Torah portion begins with laws about slavery. Who begins their Constitution with laws about slavery? Former slaves. Former slaves would have begun our constitution with the 14th amendment. You might say that our nation really began its march toward moral grandeur with the Civil War and the 14th amendment, thank had been crafted by a nation that had allowed itself to countenance slavery until it couldn't anymore and fought a bloody war to press the point. As a nation, we could finally face the shame and the horror and pass laws tha...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Yitro - Small Claims Court ( Shabbat 01-30-2016 )



The Israelites are out of Egypt, and have arrived at Mt. Sinai, awaiting the Revelation. The need for justice can't seem to wait. The Torah does not tell us what the disputes were about, but it seems that as soon as they made camp, people lined up to have their legal cases settled. Moses was adjudicating cases from morning until night.

Moses's father-in-law asks him what is going on. Taking a break from the bench, Moses informs his father-in-law that people are coming to him to inquire of God. They present their cases, and Mo...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Beshalach - Armed and Divided ( Shabbat 01-23-2016 )



In the Torah portion this week, Beshalach, we are told in Exodus 13:18, that the Israelites arose from Egypt "chamushim." From how the word "chamush" is used in other passages from the Bible, the translation "armed" seems to be right. They came out with swords at their sides, ready for battle.

Some ancient rabbis playfully interpreted the word chamush to mean "a fifth" - the Hebrew word for "five" is "chamesh." According to this interpretation, only a fifth of the Israelites came out of Egypt; the rest were undecided, afrai...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Bo - The Inner Pharaoh and Truth Within ( Shabbat 01-16-2016 )



The Jewish tradition loves serious play with words. This week's Torah portion begins with the phrase in English "Go to Pharaoh" to tell him to let the Israelites go. The problem is, the Hebrew is "bo el Paro" which literally means "come to Pharaoh", not "go to Pharaoh." The biblical Hebrew word "bo", apparently, can mean "come" as well as "go." Academically speaking.

The spiritual tradition sees it differently. If God says, "come", one is called to move toward God. "Come - to Pharaoh" is interpreted to mean, "Come to Me, but...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Vaiera How to Think About God ( Shabbat 01-09-2016 )



I am always a bit perplexed by those troubled by the passage in this week's Torah portion where God is depicted as hardening Pharaoh's heart in Exodus 9:12, and in other places, as well. First, note that in most of the plagues, the text says that the heart of Pharaoh was strengthened or hardened on its own. Second, in the first passages of Exodus 7, God is shown as explaining why he will harden the heart of Pharaoh when he does: to multiply the signs and wonders, so the Egyptians will know that the Lord is God.

Many of those...




Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Shemot - Discovering the Name ( Shabbat 01-02-2016 )



The Hebrew name of the first Torah portion in Exodus is "Sh'mot", "Names" in English, after the first phrase in the Hebrew, "These are the names of Israelites coming to Egypt . . ."

Maybe this first sentence is where the name of the Torah portion comes from, but that is not where the name of the parsha takes us. Namings take place throughout the Torah portion. Moses is named, and God reveals God's name. The daughter of Pharaoh is given her name in the rabbinic midrash to this Torah portion.

For these few words, I ...





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Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Shemot - Discovering the Name

The Hebrew name of the first Torah portion in Exodus is "Sh'mot", "Names" in English, after the first phrase in the Hebrew, "These are the names of Israelites coming to Egypt . . ."

Maybe this first sentence is where the name of the Torah portion comes from, but that is not where the name of the parsha takes us. Namings take pl...

Read more

Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Vaiera How to Think About God

I am always a bit perplexed by those troubled by the passage in this week's Torah portion where God is depicted as hardening Pharaoh's heart in Exodus 9:12, and in other places, as well. First, note that in most of the plagues, the text says that the heart of Pharaoh was strengthened or hardened on its own. Second, in the first passages o...

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Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Bo - The Inner Pharaoh and Truth Within

The Jewish tradition loves serious play with words. This week's Torah portion begins with the phrase in English "Go to Pharaoh" to tell him to let the Israelites go. The problem is, the Hebrew is "bo el Paro" which literally means "come to Pharaoh", not "go to Pharaoh." The biblical Hebrew word "bo", apparently, can mean "come" as well as...

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Reflections on the Weekly Torah Portion - Beshalach - Armed and Divided

In the Torah portion this week, Beshalach, we are told in Exodus 13:18, that the Israelites arose from Egypt "chamushim." From how the word "chamush" is used in other passages from the Bible, the translation "armed" seems to be right. They came out with swords at their sides, ready for battle.

Some ancient rabbis playfully inter...

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