Category: Two Minutes of Torah

Parashat Va-eira • Exodus 6:2−9:35

Why do we drink four cups of wine during our commemoration of Passover? A historian might point out the parallels between the Greek symposium and the Passover seder, suggesting four cups was the ideal number to spark vigorous discussion without devolving into inebriation. A talmudist might guide us to the volume of consumption necessary to fulfill the mitzvah (four olive’s worth; Mediterranean olives, not pizza olives). A rabbi would suggest the answer is found in this week’s Torah portion.

“I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians,” we read in this week’s Torah portion, the first of four promises made to the Israelites in Exodus 6:7-8. “I will deliver you from their bondage;” “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm;” and “I will take you to be My people,” round out these promises. In honor of God’s covenant with the people, we consume a glass of wine for each of these promises. A careful reading of the text, however, notes a fifth and final promise in the very next verse: “I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to your ancestors.” Our Passover seder, then, uses five cups of wine and not just four. The fifth cup, of course, is poured for Elijah the prophet, herald of the promises in this Torah portion!
– Rabbi Aaron Meyer

Parashat Sh'mot • Exodus 1:1−6:1

“A new king arose over Egypt who knew not Joseph,” we read in this week’s Torah portion, Shemot, beginning both a literal new book of Torah and a metaphoric new chapter for the Israelites. While the first eight verses of the portion continue the narrative of Genesis, enumerating those families sojourning in Egypt, verse nine renders Joseph’s assistance to the Egyptian people and subsequent rise null and void as the new ruler sought to impose harsh new restrictions. “So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor; and they built garrison cities for Pharaoh, Pithom and Raamses.” It is a dramatic narrative device from which we might learn an important lesson.

Jews are natural story tellers, born perhaps of our long and rich history. Tales of “your grandmother did this” or “your crazy uncle did that” not only build resilience among our people but ensure the lessons of previous generations are not forgotten. Compare this to verse nine of our Torah portion, where history and prior success are ignored. Not only is this model presented as distinctly non-Jewish, it is also quickly shown to be ill-advised. Let us continue telling the stories of our tradition, turning them and turning them again, for important lessons have yet to be fully grasped.

–  Rabbi Aaron Meyer


Parashat Va-y'chi • Genesis 47:28−50:26

Teaching Us How To Say Goodbye

As we approach the end of the book of Genesis, our parsha features the death of not one, but two Genesis greats: Jacob first, and then his son Joseph. First, Jacob asks that upon his death he be treated with chesed v’emet, translated as “faithful kindness,” requesting that his remains be buried in the family plot back in Canaan. Then, in an impressive moment of control, Jacob sits up in his deathbed to bless each of his sons individually, before drawing his feet back into his bed and then breathing his last breath.

Joseph’s brothers remain unconvinced that he will not seek reprisals against their earlier treachery, and so they approach Joseph to beg his forgiveness. Here is what Joseph says, “though you intended me harm, God intended it for good in order to accomplish what is now the case, to keep alive numerous people… thus did he comfort them and speak straight to their hearts.” (Genesis 50:20 – 21) A few short verses later, Joseph, too, departs from the world.

According to Midrash B’reishit Rabbah, Jacob, in his dying, teaches us the “faithful kindness,” is that which the living show the dead in performing acts of burial and eulogy. Joseph, in his dying, teaches us how to forgive – by speaking straight to the hearts of those who would seek our forgiveness. Each of these men offer us lessons in the difficult art of saying goodbye; reminding us that even in the final moments of a life, forgiveness and true kindness are attainable.

Rabbi Callie Schulman


Parashat Mikeitz • Genesis 41:1−44:17

“Seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of scarcity,” Joseph interprets from Pharaoh’s dreams. Pharaoh recognizes Joseph’s brilliance and places him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Through conservation of now abundant resources, recognizing and preserving this bounty, Joseph helps the Egyptians survive the famine and teaches us all a lesson about the cyclical nature of life: bad times often follow good, good times often follow bad. 
The same lesson is visible in the beauty of our Chanukah candles. Long before the Talmud story of oil that burned for eight crazy nights, the Book of Maccabees recorded the Israelite effort to celebrate the Festival of Sukkot as soon as the Temple was rededicated. They waited — they fought —for dawn to emerge from the darkness; and it did. Good times often follow bad in the cyclical nature of life. Maintaining our faith and hope, as did the Maccabees, gives us direction and fortitude in the midst of struggle. 
Rabbi Aaron Meyer

Parshat Vayeshev • Genesis 37:1−40:23

Parshat Vayeshev introduces us to Joseph, our famous dreamer, whose story asks us to take careful notice of our dreams. Whenever we sleep our bodies and brains benefit from the restorative powers of rest; but Jewish tradition argues that our souls receive a tune up as well. Scattered throughout Jewish practice are hints at what our ancestors made of what happened behind their eyelids at night. Ever have a dream that you just can’t shake? Or that keeps recurring? A nightmare so terrifying you woke up in a cold sweat? So funny that you woke up laughing?  A dream, reviewed in the light of day, can sometimes seem like utter nonsense – like our brains have gone rogue on us, and run off with Lewis Carroll for a trip through Wonderland- but our tradition asserts that there’s got to be more to it than that.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, an 18th century rabbi from Italy, dug into the study of what Judaism has to say about the purpose of dreaming. After all, our biblical ancestors were having wild dreams all over the Torah, so there must be something to them. This particular rabbi taught that while our brains were resting and sifting through the information of the day, our souls become sort of detached from our bodies and zip around the realms of the spirit – where they are most at home. But he doesn’t stop there. The spiritual realm, he suggests, is like a grand reunion of spiritual beings and divine messengers. Rubbing elbows with such a crowd, our souls might innocently overhear some prophetic hint, what we might call an omen. That bit of information, he says, then travels down to us through our dreams, and gets filtered through our consciousness while the brain and body rest. These messages get mixed in with the rest of the strangeness of our dreamscenes and we are left to decipher them; just as Joseph was left to decipher the dreams that would ultimately become prophetic.

– Rabbi Callie Schulman


Parashat Vayeitzei • Genesis 28:10-32:3

Much ink has been spilled about Jacob’s dream in this week’s Torah portion Vayeitzei. The angels defy our expectations by first ascending and then descending, the inverse of what we might expect from “heavenly” beings. Just as important as their direction of travel, though, is their method of conveyance. These are angels, capable of moving about as they please! That they are climbing the rungs of a ladder teaches us an important lesson.

Mitzvah goreret mitzvah; aveirah goreret aveirah — fulfilment of one commandments leads to the fulfillment of another; one transgression also leads to another we read in Pirkei Avot. One step up toward living by our highest values, achieving what God wants from us, keeps us on the right path for future steps. One step down makes subsequent steps even easier as well. Travel in either direction, as the angels show us, happens one step, one rung, at a time. Choose wisely!

Rabbi Aaron Meyer


Parashat Tol'dot • Genesis 25:19−28:9

This week’s Torah portion, Toledot, speaks of sibling rivalry in mythic proportions. Jacob, the younger son, conspires with his mother to steal the birthright traditionally reserved for the oldest sibling. Upon learning of the deception, Esau repeatedly asks his father, “But do you only have one blessing to give”; perhaps both a practical question about material well-being and an insight into his newly fragile emotional state. Isaac fumbles this question, answering honestly about the exclusivity of the birthright without fully grasping the depth of his son’s emotions. 

All too often we join Isaac in thinking that love is a zero sum game. Our blessings, our good thoughts and kind words, are not limited commodities that we must monitor as expenditures but rather endless gifts that we can choose to bestow upon whomever we please. We can love many siblings, many friends, and even disparate people on opposite sides of conflict. We learn this difficult lesson the hard way in Toledot and must continually try to internalize it’s message. 

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer


B'reishit • Genesis 1:1−6:8

And so it begins, again. On Friday Night we will unfurl a Torah scroll, read the final verses of Deuteronomy and then start right in with the opening words of Genesis: another beginning, as we return to “the” beginning B’reishit. As we emerge from the thickly laden holy days into the new year, we come back to the text; the words remain the same, yet the eyes we bring to them are inevitably changed from year to year. A fresh read of the Torah might reveal newfound meaning, might call into question previous understandings, might unfurl new voices buried deep within the ancient stories.

B’reishit is a densely packed narrative, containing the mysterious accounts of creation of both light and dark, with an unflinchingly raw introduction of the same tendencies of the human impulse. Mere verses after our primordial birth we read about the first transgression, and then the next, each followed by transformation; as if the very act of creation set off other wheels of creation within itself. These sacred stories do not shy away from the myriad tendencies that exist within humanity, they ask us what we are to make of them, and how we are to weave them into our ever-evolving senses of self.

Rabbi Callie B. Schulman


A Special Rabcast from Rabbi Daniel Weiner

In response to the recent, tragic massacre in Las Vegas, Rabbi Weiner wants to share a special Rabcast from a few years ago, with a more timely introduction.  As you’ll note, it is painful that we confront the same horrors in the same season from year to year.  “When will they ever learn…?”


Parashat Shoftim • Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9

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