Rabbi Steven Pik-Nathan for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
"Be a Blessing"
The parashah begins with God's call to Avram (his name won't be changed to Avraham until later) to "Go forth from your land, from your kindred, from your father's house, to the land that I will let you see. I will make a great nation of you and will give you blessing and will make your name great. Be a blessing!"
What does it mean to be a blessing? Even for us, those who are accustomed to the concept of berakha/blessing have difficulty wrapping our minds around this. How much more difficult must it have been for Avraham, who was raised in a polytheistic, idolatrous and superstitious culture, and who is having his first encounter with the Divine, to understand what he was being commanded to do.
Noach - Rosh Chodesh Heshvan
Genesis 6:9 - 11:32
Dr. Miryam Brand for thetorah.com
The Benei Elohim, the Watchers, and the Origins of Evil
According to the non-biblical book of Enoch, Genesis 6 tells of angels who bring sin to humanity, causing the Flood as well as sin and disease in the present.
The bulk of the flood story is told in Parashat Noah, but it begins at the end of Parashat Bereshit, in which God sees the wickedness of humanity:
Gen 6:5 And the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that the inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6:6 And the LORD regretted that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved his heart.
The Torah doesn’t say anything specific about this wickedness, but early Jewish interpretation fills in the gaps.
The Book of the Watchers and the Origins of Evil
The earliest work addressing this issue is the Book of the Watchers (250-200 BCE), which now makes up chapters 1-36 of the book of Enoch. (For a brief description of this book, see appendix.) “Watchers”  is a translation of the Aramaic עירין (lit. the awake ones) found in Daniel (4: 10, 14, 20) that probably originates from the tradition that angels do not sleep. The angels in question are those who appear as benei ha-elohim in Gen 6:1, in the story that immediately precedes the flood account.
By Prof. Marc Zvi Brettler for thetorah.com
Differing Conceptions of the Divine Creator
The very beginning of the Bible presents one of the clearest pieces of evidence that the Torah is composed of various sources, more or less complete, written documents that have been woven together to comprise the text that we now have. Some readers know this theory well, and may have accepted it, perhaps incorporating one of the many models that this site has outlined about how such ideas might be integrated into Judaism. For others, this theory is more novel, or its basis is unclear.
To address these different audiences, this week’s devar torah has two parts. The first outlines why I, as a biblical scholar, believe that the beginning of Genesis contains two different creation stories. But for me, outlining these sources is just the beginning, a prerequisite for understanding each source on its own terms. Thus, the second part will explore the different God depicted in each section. My focus in this devar torah is part of our hope at TheTorah.com—Project TABS that this year we will be able to focus more on how modern biblical studies might help elucidate our understanding of God—both how our ancestors understood God, and how we might.
Shabbat Chol Hamo'ed Sukkot
By Rabbi Michael Cohen for JewishRecon.org
Sukkot: Yom Kippur's Counterbalance
Imagine Yom Kippur, the synagogue packed for the holiest day of the year. The anticipation of the day is upon everyone as they take their seats. But suppose something different occurs: Mahzorim for Sukkot are handed out along with hundreds of pairs of lulav and etrogom. This is one of my rabbinic fantasies -- to switch Yom Kippur with the first day of Sukkot. We often bemoan the fact that our synagogues are never so full as they are on Yom Kippur. Part of the problem with the rest of the year has to do with what happens on Yom Kippur! Known as the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur is the day that we go to shul. That long day in synagogue reinforces the idea that Judaism is heavy and serious, and that we should spend our time inside the synagogue in prayer or study. The problem with this picture is that it does not present a balanced view of what Judaism that takes us beyond the walls of the synagogue.
By Rabbi Lewis Eron for JewishRecon.org
Eleh Ezakara - Sacrifice and Martyrdom
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is never an easy day. Fasting, however, is not the real problem. Rather, the day's challenge comes from its demand that we confront deep spiritual, theological, and philosophical issues we would often wish to avoid. We are asked to consider, for example: the tension between sin and forgiveness, the relationship between suffering and redemption, and the emergence of hope out of tragedy. The prayers and readings of Yom Kippur demand that we meditate on these themes as personal challenges, but present them to us in grand images on a mythic scale. The entire day is challenging but, the most challenging hour on Yom Kippur is the one dedicated to the Mussaf service.
It is early afternoon on the Day of Atonement and Mussaf is half over. The hazzan has just completed reading the lengthy poetic retelling of the worship service in the Beit HaMiqdash, the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. In our sacred imagination we left our synagogue and joined our ancestors in that most holy place as we participated spiritually in the worship service conducted by the Cohen Gadol, the High Priest, that carried our prayers for forgiveness and our hopes for a year of blessing to God.