Tidbits of Torah

Shabbat Parashat Balak – Visions of Victory

Dear Friends,

This Shabbat is the 17th day of the Jewish month of Tammuz.  On this date, in 70 C.E., the Roman army breached the walls of Jerusalem.  Three weeks later, on the 9th of the Jewish month of Av, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple.

In our modern Jewish calendar, the 17th of Tammuz is a “minor” fast day.  This means that the fast (refraining from both eating and drinking) begins at dawn and ends 25 minutes after sunset.  However, when the 17th day of Tammuz falls on Shabbat, the fast is put off to the 18th day of Tammuz.

During this heat wave, it is important that we observe the fast only to a degree that does not in any way endanger our health.  Whether we fast or not, our calendar reminds us that we were not always victorious.  Our people suffered losses.  And we remember the pain of those losses even as we look forward to celebrating better days.

In our Torah portion, the foreign prophet Bilam blesses Israel that we will “rise up like a lioness” and be victorious.  This blessing is not to be dismissed.  We appreciate the blessings of all people.  However, Bilaam’s vision of victory was clearly a vision of military victory.  Our Jewish prophets envisioned that for our people, along with an even more far-reaching vision of victory – a victory with a spiritual message of redemption for the entire world.

May our calendar and our Torah strengthen our resolve to bring to fruition the fulfillment of the vision of victory of our prophets and the ultimate blessing of true and lasting peace to the world in which we live!

Shabbat Shalom!


Rabbi Gilah Dror

Shabbat Parashat Chukkat — Favorite Mysteries

Dear Friends,

As you may recall, I mentioned last High Holy Days that I am an avid reader of Louise Penny mysteries which are written on the backdrop of Quebec landscapes. Since then, I have been enjoying Donna Leon’s books featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti and his Venetian escapades. And, most recently I have begun reading the Maise Dobbs Mystery Series, written by Jacqueline Winspear, and set in London in the 1930’s. I especially enjoy the interesting character development in these three mystery series. But most of all, I find it enjoyable to get to the end of each book and to finally find out “who done it.” I enjoy arriving at the solution to the mystery. This, to me, is great “escape literature.”

But, as we know, in real life we don’t always get to “solve” all of our mysteries.

In discussing two of the greatest mysteries of the tradition, our Torah portion, Chukkat, clearly reflects the fact that some things in life remain within the realm of unsolved mysteries. And, that this is as true in both the spiritual and in the physical worlds which we, as human beings, inhabit.

The first great mystery is the mystery of the Red Heifer ritual. How is it that the ritually pure person who performs the purification ritual for a someone else who is ritually impure, automatically become impure himself? That is the first mystery and it reminds us of spiritual mysteries.

The second great mystery in Chukkat is the mystery of why Moses was punished so severely for striking the rock? Why would that one slip up cause God to decree that Moses, who faithfully shepherded our people out of Egypt and all the way through the 40 years in the desert, would never himself enter the Promised Land? That is the second mystery and it reflects the physical mysteries that color our lives.

It is true that our Sages tried to come up with “solutions” to both of these mysteries. However, the inclusion of these two enigmatic pieces in our weekly Torah portion reminds us that there are mysteries in life for which there can be no definitive “solution.”

The message of Torah is that if we can accept that some things will always remain mysteries, we can still walk the path of Torah and strive to do our best in an often mysterious world. The beauty of Torah is that it is not “escape literature.” Our Torah is real and it reflects the very real complexity of life in its stories and in its guidelines for life. How blessed are we to have such a rich heritage as our Torah!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror

Shabbat Parashat Korach Independence

Dear Friends,

I hope you are enjoying our Independence Day Weekend!

I was grateful that we had a lovely morning minyan on Thursday, July 4th, and that we could be with Stephanie and Jack Gelman who were concluding the Shiva for Stephanie’s mom, Edith Spritzer, of blessed memory.

After the morning minyan service, and before breakfast…we shared the prophet Isaiah’s words of comfort: “Your sun shall set no more, your moon no more withdraw; for the Lord shall be a light to you forever, and your days of mourning shall be ended.” (Isaiah 60:20) Then, as is the Jewish custom on completing the week of Shiva, we all walked out of the Temple building and around the parking lot, before entering the Temple building once again for our shared breakfast.

The circular path that we took as we walked alongside Stephanie and Jack out of the Temple building is a symbolic way of signaling that the circle of life continues even as we grapple with our sense of loss.

Of course, mourning does not magically end. It lingers with us after the seven days of the Shiva. But, we are helped by being a part of a caring community that recognizes our pain and accepts us in good times and in times of sorrow.

And, when we lose a parent, we continue to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, when we are part of a minyan, for a full 11 Jewish months. This ritual helps us to process our loss and it also keeps us connected to community in a very special way. There is no substitute for connection and for community.

As we continue to celebrate the July 4th weekend, we are mindful of the blessings of our country. We are able to live as Jews and observe our traditions and rituals thanks to the principles upon which the United States of America was founded. But, despite the 423 years of our independence, we still have work to do to fulfill the promise of those founding principles. Only through continued connection with one another, nationally and communally, can we continue to blossom and to improve.
Shabbat Shalom and a Happy Independence Day Weekend!

Rabbi Gilah Dror