Tidbits of Torah

Torah Tidbits

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Tidbits of Torah: The Art of Living with Soul…

 Shabbat Parashat Behar-Bechukkotay

 Shabbat Mevarekhim HaChodesh 

May 4, 2013 – 24 Iyyar 5773   

The Art of Living with Soul…

In his book: “Why Be Jewish?,” David J. Wolpe writes: 

“The spark of soul inside each of us is unique.  Out of the billions who live, who have lived, no one has shared exactly our secret; no one will ever be as close to it or understand it as we do.  To lose that in the surface turmoil of everyday life is a tragedy.

A soul is both a hearty and a fragile thing.  So long as there is life in us it persists, yet it is easily chilled or silenced.  The mystery is to find a way to live in a frantic and fast-paced world that does not do violence to our conscience, that does not stunt our souls.”

How true!  It takes time for us to become cognizant of the soul within us. Then, it takes more time for us to figure out how our unique soul can connect with and contribute to the world around us.  

 In this week’s double Torah portion of Behar and Bechukkotay, Torah suggests to us a framework within which we may develop the soul within us even as we engage in the tumultuous world around us.  

I refer to the Toraitic mitzvoth of the Sabbatical Year, the Jubileee Year, and the weekly celebration of Shabbat.  These mitzvoth are presented to us in Parashat Behar, along with the injunction to strive for holiness, for God is holy.

In connection with the Sabbatical year, the Jubiliee year, and Shabbat, the number 7 resonates repeatedly in our parsha.  The Sabbatical year is defined as the seventh year in a repeating cycle of years.  

Today, we may think of a sabbatical as a sabbatical from work, but the Torah envisioned more than that.  The Torah envisioned a Sabbatical of the Land. 

The message of Torah is that even the earth requires a break from its farming routine, in order to be able to fulfill its potential as a source of food and sustenance for all.  

After seven cycles of seven years, the Jubilee Year, the fiftieth year, was designed to make sure that people stayed connected with the Land and to remind us that we are all temporary sojourners on this earth.  

We may acquire ownership of land, but in the end, the land we acquire is a gift from God, and we do not have ultimate control over our material acquisitions.  

The opportunities to stop – to break the cycle of routine activity – whether it is once every seven years, once every fifty years, or one day a week – all give us time to reconnect with our souls, to allow our souls to develop to their potential and to fulfill their promise to those around us.  

Interspersed in our Parsha are reminders that we are responsible not only for our own souls, but for the souls of others who live in our area.  We were strangers in the Land of Egypt.  We must remember to treat strangers in our Land fairly and with respect, much as we would have liked to be treated when we were strangers in a foreign land.

Living with soul is a worthwhile endeavor – for each of us individually, as well as for all of us as a community.  Let us savor the opportunities we have to hone the art of living with soul and let us celebrate the gift of Torah!

This Shabbat we will recite the prayer for the new Jewish month of Sivan.  Rosh Chodesh Sivan will be on Thursday night and Friday of this coming week.  May it be a month of health, of happiness, of peace – and of soulful living! 

Shabbat Shalom! 

Rabbi Gilah Dror

Torah Tidbits

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Tidbits of Torah: On Torah and Inclusivity

Shabbat Parashat Emor
April 27, 2013 – 17 Iyyar 5773

Dear Friends,

Over the years, I have struggled with some of the “difficult” portions of Torah – portions that challenge my understanding of basic human equality, that raise up questions of morality, or that simply defy notions of logic and common sense.  Yet, these same portions of Torah have often become a source of inspiration and of wisdom to me as I learned to revisit them year after year, continuing to delve into the mystery of their message and to immerse myself in commentaries that sought to illuminate these texts and shed light on their significance and relevance for each generation.

One of these “difficult” texts is in Parashat Emor.  There, the Torah specifies various kinds of deformities, disabilities, and physical blemishes that would disqualify priests from functioning in their priestly capacity at the alter as the people of Israel brought sacrificial offerings to God.

Why would these people be disqualified from the priestly service?  And how could I reconcile this text with the teaching that all human beings are created in the image of God?

Over the years, not only have I asked myself this question, but I have been asked this question by many others.  As a result, I was spurred on to search for answers.  But, until now, none of the responses sufficed.

One example of the unsatisfying responses I found is that just as one would not bring an obviously defective gift to a flesh and blood king, and would expect the ceremonial presentation of such a gift to be impressive, one would want the service of God in the Tabernacle to be no less impressive.  Therefore, not only would the sacrificial offerings need to be unflawed, but also the priests who offered the sacrifices up to God would be expected to represent that kind of ceremonial perfection.

Another example is that in ancient times, deformities, disabilities and physical blemishes were understood to be the result of some spiritual lack either in the person who suffered from that condition or in that person’s ancestors. Therefore, it was not considered proper to have that person included in the priestly service which is to represent spiritual wholeness and holiness.

As none of the explanations that I found truly satisfied me, I continued to ponder this difficult text, searching for a message that would allow this text to resonate with meaning and relevance in my life.

This year, it occurred to me that this text holds a powerful message on Torah and inclusivity!  

In describing the exclusionary policy at the center of the holiest service of God, this Torah text places before us a crystal clear reflection of what we are in fact doing in our society.  It vividly describes a sad reality in our society.

The reality is that as a matter of course, we create frameworks – whether they are camps or programs, schools or synagogues, cultural centers or sports centers – that are adequately designed for those who seem to us to be physically, mentally, and emotionally unflawed, but less than adequately adapted for people with disabilities and challenges of various sorts.  The reason that our frameworks may be inadequate is that often, when we do take such people into account, it is done as an afterthought.

We often fail to see that we are being exclusionary.  In justification for what we do, we put forward explanations of practicality, and of fairness to greater numbers of people, that fall short of realizing that true holiness belongs to all human beings; that all of us are flawed in some way; that all of us are created in the image of God.

The Torah, in Parashat Emor, holds up a mirror before our eyes…
so that we shall see our reality more clearly;
so that we shall commit to greater inclusivity;
so that one day we will see a different picture when we hold up a mirror to our society – a picture in which all human beings have equal access to holiness and to wholeness.

Then, as a community, we may truly fulfill the vision of our Torah and we may truly become a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6)”.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror

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Torah Tidbits

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Tidbits of Torah
Shabbat Parashat Acharey Mot-Kedoshim
April 120, 2013 – 10 Iyyar 5773

Dear Friends,

I hope that you will join us at services this Shabbat as we celebrate the bat mitzvah of Prue Whaley.  Mazal tov to Prue and to her entire family!

This has been an intense week in which we celebrated Israel’s Independence Day, yet we mourned the losses incurred in Boston.  We were at once raised up to spiritual heights and sent spiraling down to the depths of uncertainty and sadness.  Yet, with all this, our Torah remains a steadfast anchor and a source of inspiration and of hope.

Our double parsha of Acharey-Mot and Kedoshim parallels the ups and downs of our lives.  Sanctity, life and celebration mingle with loss, sadness and mourning.  Yet through it all, the value of life and the values of Torah remain a beacon of hope and a welcome light in the darkness.

Torah has us focus our attention on the practical steps we can take to make our lives meaningful and to make the world a better place for all.

Some of my favorite teachings from our weekly parsha…

“You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old…

When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him.

The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the Lord am your God.” (Leviticus 19:32-34)

And at the heart of our Torah:

“…You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)

God gave us life and gave us Torah in the hopes that we would find ways to connect our lives with holiness.  And, it is so much easier to do that when we come together in holy community, as each of us has the potential to bring something uniquely special to the mix.

I look forward to seeing you at services this Shabbat and share with you below Rabbi Naomi Levy’s prayer in response to the Boston Marathon bombing.

A Prayer of Hope After the Boston Marathon Bombing by Naomi Levy, spiritual leader of Nashuva, author of Hope Will Find You.

God of peace, God of healing
God of the grief-
stricken,
We call You, we invoke You
We pray to You:
Oh my God,
we called out to You
as a day of celebration
Turned to mourning.
Oh my God
The shock
The senselessness
Innocent lives cut short
Wounded victims
Heartbreaking cries of
panic and grief.
But through the darkness came
The light
The hope
The heroes
The selfless caring of first responders
Arms extended in comfort and love,
Your messengers on earth.
God, send comfort to grieving families,
Send healing to the wounded,
Send wisdom and strength to doctors and nurses Send calm to hearts filled with panic.
Bless us with peace, God,
Show us that we will rebuild
In the face of tragedy.
Grant us the power and wisdom
To bring justice to those who harm us.
Teach us that we will triumph over terror.
We will not let this tragedy twist our spirits We choose hope over fear.
We are resilient, we are strong
We are one nation under God
We will come together, hand in hand
We will rebuild.
Amen.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror