Wednesday, October 29, 2008



This week's portion is Noach:

The portion begins as Gd tells Noach to build the ark. Gd is going to destroy the world via a Flood, due to His frustration with the population's acts of Chamas. Chamas refers to the self-serving use of force to take property from people, or to kidnap people themselves. Gd decides to roll Creation back to its beginning, restoring the world to a lifeless state in which the land is again covered by water.

Gd instructs Noach to build a large ark, and save the remnants of the world's population. This exercise in kindness would stand as a strong foundation for the post-Flood world.

After the Flood, the ark lands. Noach proves that he has learned the lesson of generosity, by offering a gift to Gd from his own property. Gd then declares that He will not bring another Flood; people have natural greedy aspirations, but they can also overcome those desires. Gd assigns the rainbow special symbolism, marking His covenant with humanity.

Noach grows grapes and drinks their wine, and becomes intoxicated. His grandson, Canaan, a forerunner of the nations the Jews would meet on leaving Egypt, abuses the drunken Noach. Noach curses Canaan, and Canaan's descendants.

We are then told of the lineage of Noach's descendants, down to Avraham and Sarah.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, October 22, 2008



The Torah portion for this Shabbat is Bereishit, the beginning of the Torah. There is a lot to say in Bereishit; I will be as concise as I can manage:

The portion begins with the creation of the universe in 6 days. It is clear that at least some of this account is intended to be understood allegorically rather than as a literal historical account. The Talmud declares that the Torah's account of Creation is one of those areas which are shrouded in mystery, and its secrets are not for public consumption.

Adam and Eve are instructed to guard the Garden of Eden, and to refrain from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Commentators offer varying explanations of the Tree's role; one popular view is that eating from the fruit meant internalizing good and evil, so that one would lose the ability to objectively evaluate choices, and one would now feel a personal desire for good and for evil.

A serpent convinces Eve to eat from the Tree, arguing that this would make them Creators like Gd. Eve eats, and then gives the fruit to Adam to eat. Gd evicts them from the Garden. He gives them punishments which make their creative abilities painful and difficult - Eve in bringing life into the world, Adam in producing life from the ground.

Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel in jealousy over Abel's relationship with Gd; Cain then performs the world's first act of repentance, and Gd alleviates some of his punishment.

The Torah then records the generations between Adam/Eve and Noah. There is much more here, of course...

Have a great day,

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah


This Tuesday and Wednesday are Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, and we have special Torah readings.

On Tuesday we read from the end of the Torah's "Reeh" portion, Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17. This portion is read on the last day of each holiday - the 8th day of Pesach, the 2nd day of Shavuot, and Shmini Atzeret. It is selected for its digest of the different holidays, as well as for its specification that one is not to ascend to the Beit haMikdash [Temple] in Jerusalem "empty-handed." In the absence of a Beit haMikdash this is applied as a reference to tzedakah, and we fulfill it by making Yizkor pledges.
We also read a second reading, regarding the special "Musaf" Temple offering of Shmini Atzeret. That comes from Numbers 29.

On Simchat Torah night, we begin to read the Torah's last portion - "veZot haBerachah." There are varying customs as to whether one reads 3 or 5 segments. This is not a "regulation" Torah reading; it is done to celebrate as we near the completion of the Torah.

On Simchat Torah day, we read from 3 Torah scrolls:
1. We complete the Torah, by reading its last portion..
2. As we do on Shmini Atzeret, we read the special "Musaf" Temple offering of Shmini Atzeret, since Simchat Torah is really a second day of Shmini Atzeret. This comes from Numbers 29.
3. We begin the Torah again, reading from Bereishit. This is not a "regulation" Torah reading. It is done in order to demonstrate that we never truly complete our Torah study; we simply begin again, hopefully with a greater level of understanding than we had a year ago.

Have a great Yom Tov,

Sunday, October 12, 2008



This Tuesday (and Wednesday outside Israel) we read a special reading for Succot. The reading is the same for both of the first two days of Succot - it is Leviticus 22:26-23:44, also known as "Shor O Chesev."

The Torah reading begins by stating that one may not slaughter cattle before they are eight days old. This is generally understood to be a concern that the animal may not be viable; an animal which is dying is not Kosher, even if it undergoes sh'chitah (kosher slaughter).

The Torah also mentions the rule that one may not slaughter an animal and any of its young on the same day. (The Sefer haChinuch, seven centuries ago, explained this as an eco-mitzvah to preserve species.) This has special relevance for holidays, when people tend to use more meat for private meals as well as for Temple offerings.

The Torah then lists the holidays and their practices - Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh haShanah, Yom Kippur and Succot.

Have a great Yom Tov,

Monday, October 6, 2008



This week's Torah portion is Haazinu.
Most of this portion is recorded in the Torah in poetic form, as two columns. It is a song describing sin, retribution and redemption, employing unusually flowery, poetic language. Even the musical cantillation notes reflect that.
At one point, Gd expresses scorn for a nation which sees events and does not understand that Gd is behind them. It isn’t clear who the recipient of Gd’s mocking tone actually is – the Jews who have sinned, or the nations who think they have triumphed on their own merits, instead of as Gd’s tools. The commentators differ on this point.
Ultimately, the Jews are told (Deut. 32:47) that the Torah is not "Reik Mikem," "empty from you." Torah is not foreign; it relates to each of us.
The portion ends with Gd’s final instruction to Moshe – that Moshe should ascend the mountain, and expire there.
Have a great day,