Shoftim

Posted on August 21st, 2017

Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9 

 

Rabbi Matthew V. Soffer, a graduate of HUC-JIR-NYC, is associate rabbi of Temple Israel of Boston 


“Grow, Grow”


Why the Torah equates human life with the life of a tree.


This week’s Torah portion is a touchstone text within Jewish environmentalism, as it contains the commandment “not to destroy” trees in the field (“bal taschit”). Eventually, throughout Jewish legal history, it evolves into the broader concept of not wasting our natural resources. In this portion God tells the Israelites that while amid the military operations of conquest, they must not destroy any fruit-bearing trees. One may clearly deduce the practicality of this law, but the reasoning is rather peculiar, raising more questions than it answers.

The text reads:  When in your war against a city you have to besiege it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Ki haadam eitz hasadeh lavo mipanecha? Is the tree of the field human to withdrawal before you into the besieged city?” (Deuteronomy 20:19)

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Re'eh

Posted on August 14th, 2017

Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17 


Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is Executive Director of Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.

 

Open Your Eyes and See

 

If you establish a Jewish spiritual discipline for yourself, you will not be led astray.

 

See. Re’eh. Open your eyes. Take a good, hard look at the world around you. Be clear about what you see and what needs to be done and what you need to do. That is what is behind the opening lines of this week’s Torah portion.

“You can therefore see that I am placing before you both a blessing and a curse. The blessing will come if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I am prescribing you today.” (Deuteronomy 11:26-27)

The blessing does not come as a reward for observing the commandments. The blessing emerges out of the observance itself.

While this portion addresses numerous issues, it is primarily focused on two important ingredients in Jewish life: Jewish dietary laws and the observance of the pilgrimage festivals. Some may, therefore, read this portion simply as the laws and regulations of these two pivotal areas of Jewish religious life. Just another group of complicated things to follow–more barriers for entering the Jewish community.

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Eikev

Posted on August 7th, 2017

Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25

Dvora Weisberg is Associate Professor of Rabbinics and Director of the Beit Midrash at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.


Through Weakness And Strength


In times of success and prosperity we must remember those who have assisted us in the past.


The Israelites are about to experience a great transformation. After 40 years in the wilderness, they are to enter “a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains…of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates…where [they] will lack nothing” (Deuteronomy 8:7ff.). On the east bank of the Jordan, Moses instructs them, “When you have eaten your fill give thanks to…God” (Deuteronomy 8:10).

Is the reminder necessary? Could the Israelites, eating from the bounty of the land, forget who enabled them to enjoy it?

Moses fears that the Israelites will indeed quickly forget the lessons of the Exodus and the wilderness. The land, which should serve as a constant reminder of God’s goodness to them, may soon be regarded as the spoils of war. God does not begrudge the Israelites the fine houses, the abundant herds and harvests, the gold and silver of their new land.

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Shabbat Nachamu - Vaetchanan

Posted on July 31st, 2017

Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11


By Rabbi Lawrence W. Raphael, the Senior Rabbi at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, CA. Previously, he was the first Director of the Department of Adult Jewish Growth at the UAHC.


Whom Should You Honor?


Although relationships between parents and children are complex, our honor for our parents should remain unwavering.

 

  • Moses pleads with God to let him enter the Land of Israel with the people, but God once more refuses his request. (Deuteronomy 3:23–28)
  • Moses orders the Children of Israel to pay attention and follow the laws given by God in order to be worthy of the land they are about to receive. (Deuteronomy 4:1–40)
  • Specific areas of the land are set aside to serve as cities of refuge. (Deuteronomy 4:41–43)
  • The covenant at Sinai and the Ten Commandments are recalled. Once again, the people are exhorted to heed God’s commandments. (Deuteronomy 5:1–30)
  • Moses speaks the words of the Shema, the credo of Judaism, and commands Israel to show their love for Adonai and keep God’s laws and ordinances. (Deuteronomy 6:1–25)
  • Moses warns the people not to commit idolatry by worshiping the gods of the nations they will conquer in Israel. (Deuteronomy 7:1–11)

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Shabbat Hazon - Devarim

Posted on July 24th, 2017

Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22 


Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is Executive Director of Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.


On History and Memory


You can learn history, but how does one acquire memory?


This portion begins the Book of Deuteronomy. Its name in Hebrew is Devarim (literally, “words” or “things” — in this case meaning events). It is also the beginning of a series of last orations by Moses to the people of Israel before he leaves them. In the midst of his speech, Moses retells the story of the Israelites’ journey wandering through the desert. That is why the book is also called Mishneh Torah , implying a Torah repetition of sorts.

Beginnings of books are always full of promise. And with each step that Moses retraces, one has the feeling that the journey is beginning again. Perhaps that is part of Moses’ intent for rehearsing each event. As one relives the event, one can experience its impact and its lesson again. Moses stands at the place that he believes the Israelites forfeited years ago with their actions.

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