Parshat Nitzavim • Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20

During our Tuesday night high school program, Livnot Chai, our 9th and 10th graders walked through the difficult language of our Yom Kippur confessions. "For the sin I have sinned against you by..." We explored together what each of these couplets means, and sought understanding by finding real-to-life examples from their experiences. At the end of our time together, one student remarked "wow, I didn't realize how much I had to change."
We all have much to change as we approach this new year. Where have we wronged others? Where have we come short of being our highest selves? What successes have we had that we need to continue? Tomorrow evening, we will join in a creative project as part of our Shabbat service to articulate our list of ways in which we have missed the mark in preparation for the Days of Awe. Rabbi Weiner and I will be leading this creative Shabbat Omanut and I hope to see you!
Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer

Parshat Ki Tavo • Deuteronomy 21:6–29:8

The Commandment to Love and Help the Stranger
This week’s Two Minutes of Torah are courtesy of and Reuven Firestone.

“This week, the Israelites are instructed that after they enter the Promised Land and begin to farm it, each head of household is to fill a basket with the very first fruits produced there and bring it to Jerusalem. They are to bring the basket before the priest and recite a story that we read every year in our Pesach seders…”  Read more.

Parshat Ki Teitzei • Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19

Watch Rabbi Daniel Weiner’s Rabcast for his reflection on Parshat Ki Teitzei.

Parshat Shof’tim • Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9

TDHS Volunteers and Bellevue Police Department Officers Serve a Warm Meal to the Residents of Tent City Four
TDHS Volunteers and Bellevue Police Department Officers Serve a Warm Meal to the Residents of Tent City Four

“Justice, justice you shall pursue” we read in this week’s Torah portion. In a sacred literature where every word matters, why this doubling of the word “tzedek”, justice? Perhaps it serves to emphasize the centrality of justice to the society that was being created. Or maybe it describes who was to seek justice: both the judges and the common person. More often it is understood to mean justice must be more than merely respected or sought by actively pursued.

Last night, Temple’s volunteers and officers of the Bellevue Police Department offered another interpretation of this commandment. By serving a meal to those in need at Tent City 4, justice was sought as human beings helped other human beings to meet their physical needs in order to survive. A second level of justice was also pursued during this meal. Too often police and the communities they serve are or feel at odds. Last night, over BBQ brisket and french onion soup, conversations happened that allowed people to connect beyond their living situation or professional occupations. “Justice, justice you shall pursue” is as relevant today as 2,500 years ago.

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer

Parshat Shof'tim • Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9

Watch Rabbi Daniel Weiner's Rabcast for his reflection on Parshat Shof'tim.

Parshat Re’eh • Deuteronomy 11:26–16:17

All life is a series of choices. Some are small: what to eat for dinner, whether to hit the snooze button on a Wednesday morning. Others are much bigger: continue dating this person or break it off? Go for the promotion or seek employment elsewhere? Yet no matter the size of the choice, each and every one we make has consequences. Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, every action has a reaction and that means we must live with the decisions we make. For children that’s one of the toughest lessons to learn; recognizing cause and effect can be, for some, (probably all) a rude awakening. Ironically, we simply cannot move through the world without choosing but when we do, we have no choice but to accept its aftereffects. 

It is within the chapters of of Re’eh that Moses continues to present the people of Israel with a choice: a life of blessings or a life of curses. Urging them to choose blessing means continuing to observe God’s commandments in the unknown reality of the Promised Land. That means letting go of the temptations of idolatry and the false promises of anything posing to be greater than God. That means proclaiming true allegiance when they’re not sure how their move into Cana’an will go. 

It’s hard to decide whether or not this qualifies as a “big choice” or a “small choice,” and indeed, maybe it’s both. When faced with the unknown we humans often respond in curious ways; surely each one of us can look back on examples of this in our own lives. While some, faced with Moses’ proposal, might have reacted with assured confidence, others undoubtedly questioned the legitimacy of this setup. Why must one path only equal blessing and another only equal curse? Surely, there had to have been a middle ground. This is, after all, the messy experience of being human. There’s never one totally right or completely wrong. 

Perhaps the most significant element of this parsha is its name – Re’eh – which comes from the Hebrew root word meaning, “to see.” Choice – however complicated, however daunting – is often presented to us as an “either / or” option. No matter which path we choose – big or small, seemingly insignificant or perilously monumental – that choice illuminates for us a path. That path takes us forward or it takes us backward. It inches us into new territory or announces a grand move in a new direction. No matter the way we humans choose to go, I pray that we may be able to see that path fully and clearly, illuminated by the knowledge that we have done the best we can in a valiant effort to choose wisely. Perhaps that is the ultimate message of Re’eh. 

Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen 

Parshat Eikev • Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

We Jews are the “Chosen People”. This idea, and these words, might be used as either a moral imperative or an anti-semitic trope depending on who is speaking them. As such, I am a bit squeamish when I hear the phrase… and I suspect I am not alone. A redeeming explanation is provided by this week’s Torah portion, Eikev.

“For God, your God, is bringing you into a good land (Deuteronomy 8:7).” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, perhaps the founder of modern orthodox Judaism, writes: “Your training course of wandering in the wilderness has now come to an end. You are about to enter upon that future for which your anomalous situation on earth thus far was to be a preparation. Now, given a normal position as individuals and as a nation, you must demonstrate in practice the lessons which you should have learned during that singular training course, and which you must not forget if the future you are about to enter is to endure.” We wandered that we might learn. We learned that we might positively impact. We positively impact if we are to endure. Am Yisrael Chai — for that we are chosen.

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer

Parshat V-etchanan • Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11

The Power of Love

When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.
-Jimi Hendrix

The Seattle guitar-deity’s words reflect well the essence of this week’s Torah portion, V’etchanan. This parasha contains passages that form the cornerstone of our liturgy: Shema and Ve’ahavta. The Shema is the somewhat cryptic and deceptively terse affirmation of our faith in the one God: Adonai. But it is more than a self-directed meditation.The words compel each Jew to remind the other of God’s name and nature. To begin with the word "Shema/Listen" is to invite focus, heighten awareness and inspire action. This is followed immediately by the V’ahavta, an expression of the ways in which we show love for God, practical and tangible acts that render faith more a “walking the walk” than a “talking the talk.” And its proximity to Shema is pedagogically sound: the power of love can only be fully realized when we are keenly aware of the object of that love and our motivation to express it. More than even Jimi intended, true "Shalom", true wholeness, integration and peace will come only when the quest for love transcends the pursuit of power.

Rabbi Daniel Weiner