Parashat Ki Tavo • Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8

The month of Elul offers us the opportunity to prepare in earnest for the High Holy Days to come. Just as a soccer player would never enter the pitch without stretching nor would an actress step on stage without ample preparations, so too must we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to come. I am always sorry to disappoint, but if you plop down in your seat on Rosh Hashanah and expect to be wowed without putting in the necessary personal preparation, we will do just that!

Jewish tradition is to blow the shofar each non-Shabbat morning to begin the process of waking our souls. In the words of Maimonides: “Awake, you sleepers from your sleep. Arouse you slumberers from your slumber and ponder your deeds; remember your Creator and return to God in repentance. Do not be like those who miss the truth in pursuit of shadows and waste their years seeking vanity. Look well to your souls and consider your deeds; turn away from your wrong ways and improper thoughts.” Whether we hear the shofar blow each morning or undertake these preparations in another way, may we enter this High Holy Day season ready to do the difficult spiritual work to come.


Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer

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

Watch The Best of Rabcast for Rabbi Daniel Weiner’s interpretation of this week’s Torah portion.

 


Parashat Shoftim • Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9

Watch The Best of Rabcast for Rabbi Weiner’s interpretation of this week’s parashah.


Parashat R'eih • Deuteronomy 11:26–16:17

“Take care not to offer your burnt offerings in any place you like but only in the place that God will choose.” This cautionary commandment in Parashat Re’eh, Deuteronomy 12:13-14, carries significance well beyond its simple meaning. Scholars posit this text was actually written AFTER Jerusalem had become the center of early Jewish life rather than while the Israelites were wandering in the desert. “In the place that God will choose” thus becomes a euphemism for the ancient Temple already well known to the people. For the author to have used the place name “Jerusalem,” a city the ancient Israelites couldn’t have known about, would destroy the guise of writing during the time of the Exodus and is intentionally avoided. Careful writing, however, can be unmasked through careful reading.

This, ultimately, is our job as inheritors of a sacred tradition. A close reading between the lines reveals something about the authors intentions, thinking, and situation that a casual glance might miss. Turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it. These same skills serve the contemporary Jewish people well as we examine modern-day texts and statements and attempt to ascertain their true meanings. May we continue to draw closer to God through inquisitive reading and study and may we never allow the wool to be pulled over our eyes through unquestioning acceptance of simple statements.

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer


What I Wish A President Had Said Last Shabbat, by Rabbi Daniel Weiner

My fellow Americans…

In the aftermath of the tragic events continuing to unfold in Charlottesville, I want to first offer the condolences of a nation to the families of Heather Heyer, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M. M. Bates, who were so untimely taken from their loved ones. And while we are profoundly grateful for the service and ultimate sacrifice of these State Troopers, the murder of Ms. Heyer tries our faith as it plumbs the depths of our national conscience.

For as Heather Heyer followed the conviction of her principles to a terrifying end, we must face this difficult moment with a difficult realization: Heather was murdered in an act of domestic terrorism—and she was murdered by hatred, bigotry, and evil. The alleged killer and those who organized, sanctioned and marched in Charlottesville suffer the delusion of false empowerment, believing that somehow they possess new license to spew toxic views, to incite wanton violence, to instill fear and to take the lives of those they see as inferior, as less than, as subhuman.

To these misguided citizens, I want to say this clearly, plainly, and unequivocally: There is no place in America for you and for your beliefs. Our nation did not fight wars against slavery and fascism—wars to secure freedom borne of rights endowed by our Creator—only to see the noxious icons and rancid chants of racism, anti-Semitism, and other odious bigotry parade through the streets of one of our historic cities, an inevitable and direct cause of the violence we witnessed today.

To those who stood with Heather against this regenerated virus plaguing our civic body, I commend your embrace of our constitutional rights as I endorse the ideals that brought you to that protest. For it is the historic obligation of every American to speak out against threats to our nation. As President Kennedy cited decades ago at another time of urgent need:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

But I implore you, as your president, and as a fellow citizen who dreams of a different way forward for all of us: Do not descend into the vitriol and violence of our adversaries. Come together, yes! Speak out with a clarion call for justice, equity and respect. But do so in ways that transcend the base and primitive means of those who long for an irredeemable, bygone era.

Let us embrace the path of an American hero, who met contempt with compassion, bigotry with blessedness, the wound of the brickbat with the unqualified will toward love. Dr. King taught us that:

Through violence you may murder the hater but you do not murder hate…Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

And though our faith may not enable us to love our enemies, it is our faith in the blessings of liberty, the pursuits of a life of purpose, and the noble cause of justice that unite us as Americans—a faith that overcomes evil, hatred and bigotry—a faith that envisions new, better days ahead.

May God bless you. And May God bless the United States of America.


Parashat Eikev • Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

Our parsha this week continues with the overarching theme of review that is the book of Deuteronomy. Parshat Eikev finds the Israelites still poised to enter the land, with Moses (still) reminding them of all they have encountered thus far; but Moses’ soliloquies are not pure review. Scattered throughout the re-telling of the Israelite’s wanderings in the desert we find warnings and prognostications of what the Israelites will encounter upon entering the Promised Land: namely, enemy peoples. In a strikingly early example of Jewish guilt, Moses admonishes the people, saying, “Know, then, that it is not for any virtue of yours that your God, Adonai is giving you this good land to possess; for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Deuteronomy 9:6) He then goes on to cite God’s previous covenant with Abraham, Isaac & Jacob as the reason for this continued relationship with the Israelites, and delivery into the Promised Land. 

Earlier this week I awoke to the old, familiar pain of a pinched nerve. Besides being a literal pain in the neck, this recurring injury results in a variety of secondary annoyances, limited range of motion and a shorter-temper to name a few. To be stiff-necked is to be intractable, unable to see the periphery, or to even look up or down. Traumatized by their years of slavery and burdened by their uncertain desert wanderings, it comes as no surprise that the Israelites became stiff-necked; unable to look up from their feet to the horizon, unable to find comfort in the views of the broader picture unfolding around them. And so they became ornery, quarrelsome and lost faith. But Moses’ speech in this parsha reminds us that to be stiff-necked need not be a permanent state: “… what does your God demand of you? Only this: to revere your God, to walk only in divine paths, to love and to serve your God with all your heart and soul…” (Deuteronomy 10:12). We can look up, look around, stretch out those places of constraint and move forward into fresh terrain – to savor the bigger picture and our own place in it while putting one foot in front of the other, ever moving forward. 

Rabbi Callie B. Schulman


Parashat Va-et'chanan • Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11

The book of Deuteronomy is replete with Moses’ instructions for the Israelites as they face a future without their stalwart leader; for Moses himself cannot cross into the land with the Israelites. These instructions carry the weight of the entire history of the Israelite’s wandering in the desert, as Moses endeavors to send the people off with the best possible instruction. In this week’s parsha, Moses recounts the drama of the Sinai covenant to this new generation of Israelites, the centerpiece of which is a retelling of the 10 commandments, the appearance of the Sh’ma and V’ahavta prayers. 

Reading through these chapters can be trying – the constant re-telling, reminding, and Moses’ emphasis on the consequences of breaking the terms of this covenant are much harder to wade through than, say, the action-packed narratives of Genesis. While preparing this week’s parsha, however, I stumbled upon a verse that jumped out at me: “But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live.” (Deuteronomy 4:6). What a powerful reminder for us, today as in every age: to give our experiences their due and, wether cautionary or inspirational, to let the memory of our collective experiences be our guide. 

Rabbi Callie B. Schulman


Parashat Devarim • Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

In his commentary on this week’s portion, Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22), Nachmanides states: “It is a repetition of the Torah, in which Moses explains to the generation that will enter the land most of the commandments that the Jews will need.” In a series of five speeches, Moses reiterates the commandments and covenant between God and the early Israelites. His methodology is one quite familiar to us as Jews: storytelling.

Events from the people’s past are retold with an eye toward their moral lessons and enduring understandings. It is an effective model, and one we all use subconsciously today. When telling others about our day, our travels, or even something we have read, we tend to focus on that which has lasting impact upon us and not gritty minutiae. We thus retell events in such a way that they become beneficial to the listener as well as the one telling the story. May we continue to learn from Moses’ stories as have generations of our people’s past.

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer


Parashat Mattot–Ma’asei • Numbers 30:2–36:13

This week in Torah we find ourselves at the very end of the book of Numbers. These endings are momentous, and we mark them in the public recitation of the parsha by reciting the words, “chazak, chazak, ve-nit’chazek,” “be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened.” The ending of the book of Numbers is particularly exciting within the larger narrative, as for the past many parshiot the Israelites have stood poised on the edge of the Promised Land, preparing to enter. This parsha is also one of seven double-portions that is either read as two separate portions, or individually, depending upon the number of Shabbatot in the year, to ensure the reading of the entire Torah.

As one can imagine, this double portion is full of last minute details to be accounted for before entering into the land. Mattot addresses vows and vengeance; supplementing earlier laws about vows, with specific attention paid to those of women. The narrative then moves to details of how to deal with the Midianite survivors of the recent Israelite/Midianite war, and closes with a continuation of the conversation about apportioning land to the Israelite tribes. Ma’asei describes the journey’s end, with a recounting of the journey itself, and a farewell to Aaron – Moses’ brother and first High Priest of the Israelites. As the Israelites turn their attention to securing the land, the text concerns itself with the establishment of boundaries between and amongst the Israelites, and what to do with those who break certain of those boundaries.

Rabbi Callie Schulman


Auf Wiedersehen and Shalom, by Rabbi Daniel Weiner

As I reflect on my recent trip to Germany at the invitation of the German Foreign Ministry (detailed daily at https://www.facebook.com/RadbamfromUAEtoTXL/), the journey fulfilled both my aspirations for the experience and the intention of the Germans. I hoped to broaden my perspective, to push the boundaries of my collective aversion to the people, land and their products (“Jews don’t buy Mercedes, Krupp or Braun”) toward a more contemporary, accurate and authentic view of 21st Century Mitteleuropa. My hosts sought to demonstrate that “this isn’t your grandparent’s Germany,” that confrontation of sin, repentance for evil and devotion to a very different national path now characterized this infamous culture. Both endeavors succeeded.

Well beyond renowned trials, reparations and national mea culpas, today’s Germans strive to overcompensate like the ex-smoker, addict or philanderer: To be not only better than most, but to lead the world in significant, impactful ways. Germany’s vow to memorialize, to glean and to impart lessons from such remembrance, rivals that of its victims, particularly Jews. It’s growing role as regional sanctuary for refugees, migrants and asylum seekers is the gold standard toward which all nations should aspire, and for which less willing nations should feel inadequacy if not shame. And in an era in which the New Global Authoritarianism, with its toxic blend of historic amnesia, base populism, delusional mythology and denial of reality besots the Continent as it threatens our very own Land of the Free, Germany strives to provide a cautionary example resounding with the echoes of Santayana’s plea.

As with any sponsored trip, I am wary of the propagandizing and agenda-peddling that often accompany such hospitality. My skepticism melted away as effortlessly as my preconceived discomfort. Yet I am left with a sense of pained irony as an American Jew, seeing in the contemporary convictions of this prior perpetrator a genuine, moral evolution that leaves our current State of the Union wanting, yet hopeful. Perhaps an apt reflection of my experience lies in my recent acquisition of a Volkswagen for my newly-minted-college-graduated daughter. The pervasive power of purchase, indeed!

Rabbi Daniel Weiner