Month: October 2016

Parashat B'reishit • Genesis 1:1-6:8

Meaning and Metaphor

It is an error in perspective to believe that those who came before us were primitive in their literal interpretation of sacred scripture, and that we modern sophisticates alone possess a nuanced appreciation for the power of metaphor.  In some cases, quite the opposite is true.  The authors and conveyors of the biblical text intimately intuited the capacity of metaphor to convey meaning beyond the constraints of mere expository language, while it is often our contemporaries who mistake the integrity of faith for fidelity to, or even an idolatrous devotion to, the text. (My teacher and past Scholar-in-Residence Rabbi Michael Cook coined the term “bibliolatry” for such errant obsessiveness.)

Those who came before us understood that the biblical account of creation was most probably not an historical or empirical account of the world’s birth a mere five millennia prior, even in the absence of scientific insight.  The truth imparted from both creation stories within the first chapters of Genesis is a moral truth, not an historical one.  It is God’s resume, a testament to the beneficence and power of the Creator in bequeathing the world to us.  It provides the background for the peak experience on Mt. Sinai in the Book of Exodus, when the Jewish people intoned as one “We will do and we will hearken.”  They accepted the constraints and direction of Torah wisdom because God had earned credibility through ma’aseh bereishit, the acts of creation.

Parshat Bereishit reminds us of the many truths beyond the sensory and measurable, the moral truths that are truly the gift and boon of the Torah as the terms of our covenant with God.

Rabbi Daniel Weiner

Chol Ha’Moed Sukkot • Parshat Ki Tisa • Exodus 33:12–34:26

Have you ever had a crisis of faith?

In Ki Tisa, found in the book of Exodus but read during the holiday of Sukkot, Moses emerges from the episode of the Golden Calf feeling lost. His fellow Israelites have just committed an act of total disobedience to the Eternal; having grown impatient and anxious, they created an idol as a supplement for God. Following that episode we recall as one of the most memorable in Torah, Moses pauses. Faced with tremendous doubt and internal strife, Moses seeks a sign from God to continue moving forward in their story. And so, God complies, choosing to show God’s back as God passes by. Moses emerges from this encounter glowing and radiant – and it is this sign from God that renews Moses’ faith. Shortly thereafter, the Israelites march onward.

I have always loved this Torah portion, for it portrays Moses as so distinctly, unabashedly human. Even more, this is an extremely rare occurrence of God manifesting in the closest thing to human form. And it is not insignificant that God shows God’s back to Moses; many Torah commentaries suggest that one's back is a symbol of strength; their spine, like the central palm of our lulav, a symbol of conviction and confidence.

Who among us has not had their moments of doubt, or a feeling that perhaps that vision they were reaching for was suddenly out of reach? Who among us has not struggled; who has not been told “this too shall pass” by someone we love? As I read Ki Tisa this year, I cannot help but think of all the ways our world appears to be spinning and spiraling – and how many of us might feel overwhelmed at the mere mention of tikkun olam – the repair of the world. Repair? Me? Where do I even start?

Perhaps the enduring message of Ki Tisa this year is this – Moses is one man, one human being, with an enormous responsibility to humanity. But even Moses had his moments of self-doubt and of pause, wondering if he should even continue moving forward with this overwhelming burden. But Moses knows he must press onward, moved by the prospect of something greater than him alone. And, to me, Moses’ chutzpah in asking God to reveal God’s self to mortal man is inspiring, for it teaches us who reside in the present to believe in our convictions and – above all – to seek, to ask, and to reach out in order to move beyond.

Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen

Parashat Haazinu • Deuteronomy 32:1–52

This week's Two Minutes of Torah come to you courtesy of the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism).

A Failure of Leadership and Moses’ Downfall
D’var Torah by Reuven Firestone

This is one of the shorter sections of the Torah, and it is made up almost entirely of a breathtaking and chastening poem. The term "awesome" tends to be overused today, but this poem is truly awesome. Unfortunately, the power of the Hebrew rhythm and poetic style is lost in the English translation, but we can still sense some of the majesty.

"Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter!" (Deuteronomy 32:1). Thus Moses commences to "sing out" the majesty of God (the word for poem in Hebrew, shir, is also the word for song). Read more...


Parshat Vayeilech • Deuteronomy 31:1–30

This week’s Torah portion, Vayeilech, contains a verbal curiosity. Our sacred text, known for its paucity of words — wouldn’t it be nice to know how Sarah felt about the Akeidah or how Aaron responded to the death of his sons Nadav and Abihu — repeats the same phrase twice, duplicating two of the thirty verses found in the portion.

“God will not fail or forsake you.”

It is no coincidence that this message is hammered home during the most spiritually difficult week on the Jewish calendar. During these ten days of repentance, we are asked to account for our transgressions and misdeeds. Is God listening? Are the people we have wronged? Can we move forward from our sometimes shameful actions? T’shuvah - repentance; T’filah - prayer; and T’zedakah - righteous acts avert the severe decree. With serious intention, we read in this week’s Torah portion, God will not fail or forsake you. Ken Yehi Ratzon - May this be God’s will.

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer