<I>Toldot</I>: Listen, Do You Want to Know a Secret?<I>HaShem</I> appears to Yitzchak and reassures him that He will be with him and bless him, "because Avraham obeyed My voice (<I>asher shama Avraham b'koli</I>)." This is strange. Why should Yitzchak be protected if it was Avraham who obeyed <I>HaShem</I>?
<I>Vayera</I>: A Man for All ReasonsJewish legend is replete with stories of visits from beyond, Eliyahu-like strangers who appear from out of nowhere, popping into our lives to teach us something important - usually about ourselves - and then disappearing as mysteriously as they came.
G-d's Reign and G-d's RainLong before there was a Katrina, a Rita or a Wilma, there was a Great Flood, which made all the other weather systems feel like a summer sprinkle.
<I>Bereishit</I>: Stand Tall or Slither SmallWhy is it such a punishment that the snake finds food everywhere, within easy reach, having only to slink along effortlessly to encounter a full menu of foods that fill his belly? This easy access to sustenance almost seems like a <I>bracha</I> (blessing).
Doing the WaveYom Kippur is over and you hope you have been inscribed for good. Now, it is time to live life, to celebrate life.
<I>Ki Tavo</I>: When Will I Be Loved?Anti-Jewish sentiment is part and parcel of the curses enumerated in the <I>Tochacha</I> of our <I>sedra</I>: "You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the field." But why does this happen to us and what can we do to prevent it?
To the ChildrenIn the aftermath of the disengagement trauma, young people throughout the Jewish world are asking pertinent, probing questions that trouble their souls and cloud their vision of the future. My kids, too, press me for answers and direction. As a concerned parent, I cannot ignore their heartfelt pleas.
<I>Ki Teitzeh</I>: The Plane TruthWe have to be strong, to go the extra mile - especially in Elul - to be ultra-scrupulous and diligent in <I>mitzvot</I>. And so, I offer the following amazing story I heard recently.
G-d's Rain and the Reign of G-dWhy don't the elders - <I>a la</I> the case of the false witnesses - simply declare that if a person is found dead, it must be G-d's will that he died? Why are they involved in this incident after the "judgment" has already been passed on the unfortunate victim?
<I>Chukat</I>: The Statute of LibertyIf we are choosing one aspect of the Torah to be representative of the whole document, why not pick something more famous, more dramatic? Like <I>Shabbat</I>, perhaps, or love of G-d. Why choose something so oblique that even the wise Solomon couldn't grasp it?
Who Loves Ya', Arik?Ariel Sharon can still be welcomed back by his people, still find lasting love among all those who stuck by him through the years and worked so hard to elect him as prime minister. But, there is a condition. We Jews do not believe in "free love".
<I>Sh'lach</I>: Faith Up to the TruthWhat is it that causes men of conviction, strong men, men with a history of unshakable resolve, to falter and lose faith? What causes warriors to become wimps, what makes heroes lose heart?
<I>B'ha'alot'cha</I>: Serving G-d With Soul and BodyI remember, as a <I>semicha</I> student, attending one of our Practical Rabbinics sessions. We listened to a recent graduate describing the life of a pulpit rabbi. He made the following remark: "To be a successful <I>rav</I>, you must be strong."
<I>Kedoshim</I>: In a League of Our Own<I>Kedoshim</I> comes between Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron. On both days, we acknowledge those who set themselves aside for extreme courage, sacrifice and devotion to G-d. Some chose their role willingly, others had it forced upon them, but both illustrate how exalted, how special, how <I>kadosh</I> this nation can be.
Once Upon a Time in Bnei BrakThe message of <I>matzah</I> and the power of Pesach is all encapsulated in one amazing story of the <I>Haggadah</I>.
Maintaining Matzah ModeWhat's so special about <i>matzah</I>? Clearly, among all the many symbols of Passover, <i>matzah</I> stands "tall" as the preeminent representative of the <I>chag</I>.
This Month's for You, Bud"This month shall be for you the head of the months." So we are commanded to honor Nissan - when history began anew for us with our liberation - as the first month in the calendar. But what does "for you" mean?
<I>Ad D'lo Yada</I>: A Serious Purim MessageAll kidding aside, the story of Purim is not as simple and fluffy as it appears on the surface. A question that has always bothered me: Why did Mordechai stubbornly refuse to bow down to Haman when his refusal endangered a whole nation of Jews?
<I>Pekudei</I>: The Last Word In Giving<I>HaShem</I> did a great "favor" for Moshe. He knew deep down that each of us wants to give, and derives satisfaction and joy from helping others. In this way, we emulate G-d, who is the ultimate Giver. And so, He found a way for Moshe - whose life was all about giving - to be part of this effort, too.
<I>Ki Tisa</I>: Stand Up and Be CountedNo doubt that the central theme in our <I>parsha</I> is the tragic episode of the <I>Egel HaZahav</I>, the Golden Calf. Yet, the <I>sedra</I> begins with the counting of the nation, by means of the half-shekel.
<I>Mishpatim</I>: Spiritual AerobicsEven the most obvious <I>mishpat</I> has cosmic implications unknown to the mortal mind; and every mysterious <I>chok</I> has recognizable value and meaning.
<i>Bo</i>: When Will I Be Loved?Can you picture a Jewish People, an Israel, loved and admired by the world at large? An Israel that perennially wins the "Most Admired" prize in international voting?
<I>Va'era</I>: "Watch" Out For <I>Geulah</I>!The Sforno comments: "I am <I>Hashem</I>" - who not only creates, but continually maintains all existence. Nothing in the Universe has an iota of substance without <I>Hashem</I>'s continuous, careful supervision.
<I>Vayigash</I>: Have Faith, Brother!The dramatic saga of Yosef and his brothers is the longest continuous story in <I>Sefer Bereishit</I>, if not in the entire <I>Tanach</I>. It has two primary themes: <I>achdut</I> (unity) and <I>emunah</i> (faith).
<I>Miketz</I>: Light Makes RightThe drama continues. After being apart for 22 years, Yosef and his brothers again come face to face. But something is strange: "Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize Yosef." (42:8) Why not?
<I>Vayetze:</I> Luz, Ladders and Life's JourneysOur beloved Torah is rich in imagery, yet never more so than in the famous dream of Ya'akov's Ladder. What a marvelous metaphor this is - the angels going up and down as <I>Hashem</I> blesses Ya'akov on his journey.
<I>Toldot:</I> The Divine Deception of DaddyIs G-d really prepared to affirm a <I>bracha </I> given under false pretenses, in violation of His own maxim, <I>"ayn mitzvah leeyday avera"</I> - no <I>mitzvah</I> can be effected via a sin?
<I>Chayei Sarah</I>: A Bargain At Any PriceAt first, Efron appears quite magnanimous. He calls Avraham a "mighty prince" and seems to give him carte blanche over the field. "In the choicest of our graves you may bury your dead!" he tells Avraham.
<I>Noach</I>: Every Man a SupermanNoach, as the late Rodney Dangerfield would have said, is the Biblical character who "gets no respect." Despite being characterized as an <I>"Ish"</I>, a <I>"Tzadik"</I> and <I>"Tamim"</I> (perfect), his prominence is continually dissected and debated, and he never quite makes it into the "Legion of Torah Super-Heroes".
<i>B'reishit</i>: Regrets Only? No Way!What is going on here? G-d regrets making Man? As if He - who exists in the future as well as the past and present - didn't know what Man would do. G-d is "heartsick"? This is a Divine emotion?
<I>Nitzavim-Vayelekh</I>: The Sky's the LimitHigh-minded platitudes and ideas are suitable for contemplation and discussion, but they don't take the place of the actual performance of <I>mitzvot</I>. Debate the esoteric meaning of every nuance of every word, if you like, but make sure you get your head out of the clouds and <I>bentsch</I> after the meal.
<I>Nachamu</I>: Can Tears Turn To Cheers?To understand the double phraseology of <I>Nachamu</I>, we must first try to grasp the double nature of <I>loss</I>. When we lose something precious to us, something really precious, there is shock, and then there is after-shock.
<I>Devarim</I>: The <i>Mentsch</i> Who Would Be KingMoshe <I>Rabbeinu</I> had so many amazing qualities that it would be hard to enumerate them all. Yet, in the final stage of his life - a stage which begins in this week's <I>sedra</I> - three qualities that exemplify leadership stand out.
<I>Pinchas</I>: Moon Over <I>Moshiach</I>Of all the <I>parshiyot</I> of the Torah, none is more familiar to us than <I>Pinchas</I>. It is from this <I>sedra</I> that a section is read each and every Jewish Festival. As we read of the various <I>korbanot</I> (sacrifices) brought in the <I>Beit HaMikdash</I> on the holidays, it almost seems, well, monotonous.
<I>Chukat</I>: Holy Cow!Far be it from me to try to understand what Shlomo could not, but one lesson clearly emerges from this <I>mitzvah</I>: If you want to purify someone else, you had better be prepared to endure some <I>"tum'ah"</I> yourself.
<I>Korach</I>: That First Step is a Doozy!Granted, his rebellion against cousins Moshe and Ahron - and against <I>Hashem</I>! - was divisive, distressing and demeaning. But did it really merit the earth opening up and swallowing the perpetrators?
"And On the Seventh Day..."This week, at least in the secular calendar, marks the anniversary of one of <I>Am Yisrael</I>'s most important events, the Six-Day War. It was a moment that changed history, enthralled - and shocked - the world, and set into play a ripple effect that is felt to this very day.
<I>Naso</I>: With Open ArmsIn just 15 words, <I>Hashem</I> - via the <I>Kohanim</I> - promises us knowledge, wealth, security, peace and an eternal relationship with Him.
Can We Count On You?If even one letter is missing - if even one Jew is missing or incomplete - the Torah/Israel is in need of <I>tikkun</I> (repair). Let us remember that at the <I>Tikkun Leil Shavuot</I>: Every one counts!
<I>Behar-Bechukotai</I>: The Value of ValuesThe book of <I>Vayikra</I> careens to a close with the chilling section of the <I>Tochecha</I>. These graphic prophecies of doom describe, in frightening detail, the misfortunes that can be our fate if we forsake <i>Hashem</i> and His Torah.
<I>Acharei Mot/Kedoshim</I>: To Be Wholly HolyThis week's double <I>parsha</I> is highlighted by G-d's commandment to us to "be holy." Through 51 separate <i>mitzvot</i> enumerated in the <I>sedra</I>, we're given a glimpse of the all-pervasive nature of this elusive ideal.
The Trauma and the TreasureAs our leaders wisely proclaimed years ago, there is no allowance, no permission for celebration on <I>Yom Ha'atzmaut</I> until we first give honor on <I>Yom Hazikaron</I> to those who made such celebration possible.
The Scent of SuccessThere were 11 ingredients in the <I>ketoret</I>, one of which was the <I>chelb'na</I> (galbanum), which had a rather unsavory odor. Yet, its inclusion was absolutely required, and its omission would render the <I>ketoret</I> invalid.
<i>Mishpatim</I>: The Order of the DayThis week's <i>parsha</i> contains 53 <i>mitzvot</i>. It follows on the heels of the <i>Aseret HaDibrot</i>. You may ask: "Why aren't the 10 Commandments enough? Why engage in 'overkill' by legislating every possible nuance of human behavior?"
<i>Bo</I>: I See the LightOf all the Ten Plagues, I find Darkness (<i>Choshech</I>) the most intriguing. After all, we experience darkness every night (or during our periodic power outages). So, while locusts or fiery hail or giant frogs may be quite shocking, what is all that terrifying about darkness?
<i>Vayigash</I>: In the Name of the FatherThe confrontation between Yosef and Yehuda - first at the pit, now in the palace - is played out with high drama. The stakes are great. Yehuda not only knows that he is placing the lives of all the <i>shvatim</I> (tribes) at risk; he is also prepared, with his brothers, to go to war against Egypt and to try to wipe them out.