Posted on August 21st, 2017

Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9 

Daniel Septimus is executive director of Sefaria. 

Engage All Texts

At a time when Jewish influence has increased, how do we approach unethical commandments?

Parashat Shoftim begins with the command to appoint judges to execute mishpat tzedek, righteous judgment (Deuteronomy 16:18). Two verses later comes the biblical principle perhaps most frequently cited by activists: “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof – Justice, justice you shall pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gave you (Deuteronomy 16:18).”

It’s not only judges who are responsible for maintaining an ethical judicial system. Shoftim also delineates the rules of legal testimony, which presume innocence and seek to ensure that witnesses be corroborated and accountable. The Talmud expands upon these laws and views this area of social/civil justice as a matter of concern for the divine.

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Posted on August 14th, 2017

Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17 

Rabbi Akiva Wolff is director of the environmental responsibility unit of the Center for Business Ethics in Jerusalem. 

Time to Clean Up

As we work to clean up the places we live, we pray for Jerusalem to return to her splendor.

Our Torah portion begins with the following words:

Behold I set before you today a blessing and a curse; a blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day, and a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known. And it shall come to pass, when the Lord your God has brought you to the land to possess it, that you shall put the blessing upon Mount Gerisim, and the curse upon Mount Ebal. (Deuteronomy 11:26-29).

Blessings & Curses in the Environment

While there seems to be no obvious connection in these verses to the quality of the environment, nineteenth century biblical commentator Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch saw a message with deep ecological consequences. He wrote:

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Posted on August 7th, 2017

Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25 

Rabbi Malka Drucker was ordained in 1998 from the Academy for Jewish Religion, a transdenominational seminary, she is also the founding rabbi of HaMakom: The Place for Passionate and Progressive Judaism, in Santa Fe, NM.

The Human Body Code

The imagery of the Bible hints at the luminous potentiality of our bodies to experience God.

Scripture descends to speak to us, using metaphor to reveal the holy. In Parashat Eikev, we find references to the “mighty hand and the outstretched arm” by which God liberated the Israelites from Egypt (7:19). When the Torah uses the human body as a code to decipher God, we glimpse through ourselves the presence of the One in whose image we are created. Knowing that God is incorporeal, some find such physical descriptions of God inadequate and turn to the natural world. Thus we may imagine God as a rock (hatzur, as in 32:4), as dew (Hosea 14:6), or as a spring of living water (Jeremiah 17:1). Nevertheless, if we look closely at the corporeal imagery in Parashat Eikev, we discover that its imagery hints at the luminous potentiality of our bodies to experience God.

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Shabbat Nachamu - Vaetchanan

Posted on July 31st, 2017

Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11 

Akiva Gersh has been working in the field of Jewish education since 1998, including teaching Jewish environmental studies.

Guard Yourselves Very Well

The Torah requires us to eat and live healthfully and responsibly.

There is a well known Midrash that tells of God taking Adam on a tour of the world shortly after his creation. At the end of the tour, God says to Adam, “Now, make sure you don’t destroy this world, for there will be no one after you to come and fix it.”

We can still hear God speaking these words today if we listen carefully. Woven into the fabric of our tradition, an environmental ethic appears throughout the halakhic (legal) and mystical teachings of the Torah . It is part of the ancient consciousness that each generation inherits from those that came before, whose responsibility it is to then pass it on to those who will come next. As history unfolds and society changes, new faces of the Torah are revealed, as its ancient laws must be applied to completely new situations.

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Shabbat Hazon - Devarim

Posted on July 24th, 2017

Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22

Ellen Frankel is the CEO of the Jewish Publication Society. She wrote The Five Books of Miriam, a compelling retelling and woman's commentary on the Five Books of Moses, the Torah.

Moses Rewrites History

Why does Moses change his story as he retells it at the end of his life?

The Book of Deuteronomy, dramatically set just outside the land of Canaan, is comprised of a series of farewell addresses delivered by Moses as he prepares to die, forever barred from the Promised Land. Unlike the previous four books of the Torah , which are narrated in the third person, Deuteronomy is narrated almost entirely in the first person, the “I” of Moses persistently addressing a “you.” However, the “you” that Moses addresses is not always the same: sometimes it refers to all the Israelites who left Egypt, none of whom is still alive to hear these final words; other times it refers to their children, the generation of the wilderness, those now listening to Moses; still other times, it refers to a small group of Israelites, such as the 12 scouts, the two-and-a-half tribes who have chosen to settle on the east bank of the Jordan, or just Joshua and Caleb.

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