Wednesday, August 27, 2008



This week's portion is Re'eh.
The portion opens with Moshe's offer of two paths: Follow the Mitzvot and receive a blessing, or follow a different path and receive a curse. These passages are often cited to show that Gd gives humanity Free Will - people are empowered to choose their paths.

The Jews are instructed to reiterate these declarations of blessings and curses on their entry into Israel, at the mountains of Grizim (curse) and Eival (blessing). Six tribes would stand on one mountain and six on the other, and the Levites in the middle would turn toward each mountain for its respective verses.
The Jews are then informed that Gd will choose a site for a Beit haMikdash (Temple), and that the building of the central Beit haMikdash will render all other altars superfluous. They are to bring all offerings to that Beit haMikdash. At the same time, it is recognized that Jews won’t be able to go the Beit haMikdash daily, and so they are instructed to perform the rite of Shechitah when they prepared meat for their own use. They are instructed to cover the blood with dirt, and not eat the blood.
The Jews are then given another iteration of the constant biblical refrain: Don’t get drawn into idolatry, as may happen if they would follow the Canaanite ways or if they would latch on to a false prophet or just a persuasive person who tried to draw them in that direction.

The Torah presents the laws of Ir haNidachat, an Israeli city which is entirely idolatrous. The Talmud's majority view is that this never actually happened; even having a single Mezuzah in the city would save the city from the "Ir haNidachat" title.
The portion then discusses a key method for preserving our sanctity: The Kosher Diet. We are instructed to think before we eat; there is sanctity even in the base and animal act of ingestion. The Torah follows up with other laws related to preserving our sanctity: Tithing produce so that agriculture gains a level of sanctity, leaving Israel fallow in the Sh'mitah (Sabbatical) Year, giving charity, being kind to slaves, dedicating our first-born animals in the Beit haMikdash.
Finally, the portion concludes with one last, major element of sanctity: How we celebrate our holidays. Rather than have bacchanalian festivals or other types of indulgence, we are instructed to come to the Temple in Jerusalem and celebrate the holidays with our families and with the poor.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, August 20, 2008



This week's portion is Ekev.

Last week's portion, Va'Etchanan, ended with a warning that the Jews’ right to Israel stems from their adherence to the Torah. This week's portion begins by outlining the relationship between Torah and Israel:
1. Without Torah, the Jews will meet the same fate the Canaanite nations met.
2. When the Jews follow the Torah's laws, Gd will protect them against the other inhabitants of the land.
3. Torah is to be part of day-to-day life in Israel.

Moshe describes the beauty of Israel, too, listing the seven species for which Israel is praised: Wheat, Barley, Grapes, Figs, Pomegranate, Olives and Dates. He instructs the Jews that they should eat, be sated and bless Gd in thanks for their food.

Moshe then brings up a new theme in his 5-week oration: The Golden Calf. He reminds the Jews of what happened the first time they worshipped idols, lest they fall back into it now.

Moshe follows up with a reminder that Gd cares about all people and all events; no action is beneath His notice. He presents a beautiful contrast (Deuteronomy 10:17-18) between the majesty of Gd as King of Kings and the humility involved in His care for human beings of every social stratum.

The portion concludes by reiterating the Divine system of reward and punishment. This paragraph is incorporated into the twice-daily Shema.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Va'etchanan / Nachamu


This week's portion is VaEtchanan. This Shabbat is also known as Nachamu, 'Be Consoled,' which is the title of this week's post-Tishah b'Av Haftorah of consolation.

VaEtchanan begins with Moshe's description of his prayer to be allowed to enter Israel. Moshe details Gd's refusal to allow him to enter Israel, and then Moshe turns to the people and explains what he wants them to do after he passes on.

Moshe tells them:
1. Don't forget Sinai, and the Torah I have taught you.
2. Don't stray into idolatry.
3. Always remember that repentance is possible; even when you stray and suffer national punishment, Gd will accept you back if you return

Moshe then begins to prepare the Jews for life in Israel.

He first establishes cities of refuge, which are meant as safety zones for people who kill accidentally. Moshe establishes three cities on the eastern side of the Jordan River; when the Jews enter Israel they establish three more such cities. Moshe's cities were not "activated" until the other cities were established, but Moshe wanted to do as much as he could toward the Mitzvah.

Moshe then recounts the theology that will mark the Jews as a unique nation in Israel. He reminds them of their experience at Sinai, repeating the Ten Commandments and recalling the nation's awe at that revelation. He instructs the people in the basic belief in one Gd, reciting the "Shma" and declaring the Mitzvah of loving Gd.

Moshe then warns the Jews that in their success in Israel they shouldn't forget Gd and assimilate among the Canaanite nations; they must retain their unique spiritual identity.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Devarim / Chazon


This week's portion is D'varim.

(This Shabbat is also called "Shabbat Chazon," because of the special Haftorah portion called "Chazon," which is always read the week before the fast of Tisha b'Av. This Haftorah portion is traditionally read with special musical notes reflecting mourning; these are the same notes used to read the book of Eichah on Tisha b'Av.)

D'varim is the start of Moshe's 5-week speech to the Jews, originally presented from the 1st of Shevat through the 7th of Adar, on the eastern side of the Jordan. Moshe provides a history of the Jewish experience in the desert. Moshe specifically recounts the low points; he is trying to make sure these errors aren’t repeated after his death.

This week's portion of the speech covers the following points:
1. Moshe recounts his exasperation with handling an entire nation. He discusses the establishment of judges, and his instructions to the judges.

2. The mission of the Spies who were to investigate a military approach to the land, and who ended up giving a negative report and discouraging the nation. When the nation's males rebelled against Gd for bringing them there, Gd decreed that this generation of military-aged males would die in the desert, and the next generation would enter Israel.

3. The Jews' approach to Edom, the descendants of Esav, on the way into Israel. The Edomites refused to let them through. The Jews were instructed not to fight them, so they went around.

4. The Jews' approach to the people of Moav, with whom they were not supposed to fight, either. They went around.

5. The Jews' approach to the people of Amon, with whom they were not supposed to fight, either. They went around.

6. The Jews' approach to the Emorites, who refused to let them through. The Jews fought a war and captured many cities on the eastern the side of the Jordan. The tribes of Reuven and Gad, and half the tribe of Menasheh, chose to live there. They agreed to fight for the rest of Israel first, though, and then go back to the eastern side of the Jordan.