Over the past few years, since we have introduced Weekly Words of Torah (WWOT) to our WL Week, our goal was to connect Parashat HaShavuah, the Weekly Torah Portion, to our Torah Fund Theme for that campaign year. For example, when our theme was chesed, acts of kindness, each week the WWOT suggested an act of chesed which was connected to the Torah portion that week. This past year, the WWOT illustrated how the Torah and Haftarah readings were paired together, b’yachad.
This year, 2022-2023 / 5783, our Torah Fund campaign is Hazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous. WWOT this year will illustrate how a concept or idea from the weekly Torah Reading provides us with strength.
October 22, 2022
As we begin the new book of Genesis, Sefer Bereshit, with Parashat Bereshit, our Torah reading provides us with many ideas that help us be strong and courageous – chazak v’ematz. The world was not created in a day – so why should we think we can do better than God. If we want to create something – it will take time. We too need a break, and need a day of rest, just as God gave us a day of rest. Since the first couple, Adam and Eve, there were some communication problems, so let us not be discouraged when we too have issues communicating with our partner. In addition, from the first pair of siblings, there was sibling rivalry, and we should remember that we truly are our sibling’s keeper. Some lessons are learned in reverse – we learn how to be strong and courageous, by observing how others missed the mark. Let us all use our strength and courage to give ourselves patience when creating, remember to rest each week, and communicate better with our partners and siblings. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
October 29, 2022
Parashat Noach ends with the story of the Tower of Babel. The people who originally all spoke the same language, decide to try to build a tower so high, so that they can reach the heavens. Eventually the people began to speak all different languages, and had difficulty communicating, and so were not able to build their tower. Do you ever feel like you are speaking English, but you are speaking a different language from the people around you – and just seem to constantly be miscommunicating? Sometimes it is because of the lingo or dialect, or sometimes it is because of a generational difference. It seems like an abbreviations dictionary is needed to decipher text messages sometimes. We are in good company. God confounded the speech of the builders of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:9) and scattered the people across the earth. Therefore, the next time you find yourself feeling like you are in an Amelia Bedelia book, (remember the children’s series by Peggy Parish?) Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
November 5, 2022
Some of us were born with a sense of direction and some of us, even with the incredible invention of a GPS, still get lost, even if they have been to the destination before. More frequently than I would want to admit, I have heard my GPS say to me – rerouting. It happens ! Sometimes we do not know where we are going and get lost. Not that Abram got lost – but in this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Lekh-Lekha, when God told him to “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” Abram did not know where he was headed. Abram did not get lost; just his final destination was unknown. Isn’t that true literally and figuratively for many of us? Sometimes we do not know what our destination will be; or we do not have a specific destination. Life is a journey! When you are trying to find your destination, think of Abram, our forefather, who did not know where God was leading him; or Sari, who probably had no choice in the matter, and just had to go with her husband. But as you set out on whatever journey may be going on, whether it is to the supermarket, a Sisterhood meeting, or a walk or drive with no specific destination – Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
November 12, 2022
We begin Parashat Vayera with Abraham greeting his three visitors, while he is recuperating from his brit milah, circumcision, at the age of 99. Sarah overhears the three visitors, who were messengers from God, telling Abraham that Sarah, who was advanced in years, and was no longer menstruating, would bear a child in a year. Sarah’s reaction to hearing this news was laughter. Have you seen that in your own life? You or someone you know hears some incredible, unbelievable news, and there are really no words to express what is felt and what is being heard – and the only reaction is a laugh? Even our matriarch Sarah had a nervous laugh. Anybody who laughs when they feel awkward and do not know what to say – you are in good company. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
November 19, 2022
Parashat Chayyei Sarah
It always seems surprising that the name of this week’s Torah reading is Parashat Chayyei Sarah, the life of Sarah, and our matriarch Sarah is actually deceased. The Torah reading begins with Abraham acquiring a burial plot for Sarah. Later, we read about Abraham’s servant searching for an appropriate spouse for Isaac, so that she can take the matriarch’s place in Sarah’s tent. The lesson that the name of the Torah reading is teaching us, is that even when we die, how we lived is most important, and so the parashah is called the life of Sarah, not the death of Sarah. Additionally, although Sarah was no longer physically in the tent, her values, and outlook on life, continued to live in her tent, and so it was very important to have a wife for Isaac, who would carry on Sarah’s legacy. May we realize that how we live is important, even when we pass from this world, to the world to come. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
November 26, 2022
Parents playing favorites is something that many try to avoid, but sometimes does happen. Sometimes one child is more similar to a parent, and that can either cause a greater affinity one to the other, or they may be so similar, that they irritate each other, and cause more tension. In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Toldot we see the negative consequences of Rebecca and Isaac playing favorites to their children Jacob and Esau. Perhaps Esau’s being a hunter, and perhaps brazen mannerism made Rebecca think too much of her brother Laban, and perhaps since Jacob was more a timid character, who liked to sit by the tent, was too similar to Isaac himself. And thus, we see that the parents favored the child who was less like their own sibling and their own personality. Who do you see yourself drawn to – people you are similar to a family member, or someone not like you or another member of your family? Let’s all keep an open mind when entering into friendships and relationships, and as you do it remember – Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
December 3, 2022
In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Vayetzei, Jacob has a dream, where angels are ascending and descending on a ladder towards heaven. God promises him that his descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth and will extend in all directions. God promises to protect Jacob. Jacob wakes up and he says, “Surely God is present in this place, and I did not know it!” It always reminds me of the V8 commercial, where the person hits their head and says, “I should have had a V8!” Have you ever felt that way – that God is present, and you just need to become more aware of God’s presence? Often in the most mundane places – like Jacob sleeping on a rock, we should be aware of God’s presence, for God is always with us. May we all have the privilege to say, “God is surely in this place – and I do know it!” Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
December 10, 2022
In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Vayishlach, Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau, who he ran away from, fearing that Esau would kill him because Jacob tricked him out of his birthright. The night before their confrontation, Jacob struggles with a man, and he wakes up injured. The commentators wonder if Jacob truly struggled with someone who was physically there? Was it an actual person? Was it an angel of God? Or some say that perhaps Jacob was actually struggling with himself, in a dream perhaps? Whatever happened, after this wrestling match, Jacob winds up with the socket of his hip being strained. Have you ever endured a similar situation – where you needed to have a difficult conversation, or confrontation, or meeting with someone, and you felt like you were actually mentally, spiritually, emotionally, or perhaps even physically wrestling with someone , or perhaps yourself? This account in the Torah should give us strength, that just as Jacob had to face one of his greatest foes, and could not sleep the night before, we too might find ourselves in similar situations. But we need to remember – Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
December 17, 2022
In Parashat Vayeshev, we read about Joseph’s dreams. It is a wonderful Torah reading – which even has its own Broadway show and soundtrack. One might wonder – was it a good thing that Joseph told his family about his dreams? Maybe he should have shown a little bit more humility, if he realized that his dreams could be interpreted as him ruling over his siblings. Perhaps if Joseph were a little more humble and less boastful, maybe his family would have listened with more curiosity, and seen that their son/brother was going to achieve greatness, and not have been jealous. Or, maybe Joseph did not realize he was being boastful, and at that point, did not realize his dreams showed that he was going to rule his family. We do not really know if Joseph knew what his dreams meant at that point; could he have developed his ability to interpret the meaning of dreams later in life? Did Joseph just share these dreams with his family because he was seeking attention? Was he oversharing? Think about this the next time someone tells you something; you do not really know why they are telling you – is it oversharing? Seeking attention? Just wanting to share? Perhaps the person just wants a listening ear – and maybe that is what Joseph wanted also. Just someone to listen to him. Remember the next time you have a conversation with someone – be a listening ear – and be less like Joseph’s brothers – listen without jealousy or judgment. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
December 24, 2022
Parashat Miketz – Rosh Chodesh Tevet
Joseph is the classic rags to riches story – although he did not start with rags. Joseph was the favorite son of his father Jacob; he was wrapped in the coat of many colors, and had magnificent dreams, which could be seen as a very positive, fruitful future. Yes, Joseph was hated by his brothers, whose jealousy perhaps caused them to throw him into a pit and be sold into slavery. As a servant, he was seen as very appealing to the wife of Potiphar. Maybe he had a better life as a servant, in the home of someone who admired him. But he had values, and did not appreciate Poritphar’s wife’s advances, and Joseph wound up in jail. Joseph could not be kept down. He used his dream interpretation to get him out of jail, and straight into official business, advising Pharoah and becoming a top official in Egypt. Joseph should be an inspiration to all of us. His life is exemplary of what many of us go through – highs and lows in life. Life is a roller coaster. We may have a great job, a wonderful life, and the best of health, and all of that can go away with the blink of an eye. Remember the challenges Joseph had in his life, and let us all stay strong. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
December 31, 2022
Our Torah Reading, Parashat Vayigash, shows Joseph face to face with his brothers. No matter how many times one reads this story, we may still hold our breath – will the brothers realize it is Joseph, their brother who they threw into a pit, sold into slavery, and told their father was dead? When will Joseph reveal his true identity and how will the brothers react when they realize their brother is alive and well, and very powerful? We all know what will happen, but still, it is exciting to read how the situation will play out. In real life, when we are faced with people we have wronged, or have wronged us – we do not know ahead of time what will happen. It is in our own hands how to react and respond. Do we learn from past mistakes? Do we forgive and forget? If we have been in a similar situation before, will we respond and react differently? We are taught that is real Teshuvah, repentance, to react differently and to learn from our former mistakes. We see that Joseph and his brothers have learned from their mistakes, and do reconcile. A lesson for all of us to learn, and put to practice, when we face similar types of situations. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
January 7, 2023
This Shabbat, with the reading of Parashat Vayechi, we conclude the book of Genesis, Sefer Bereshit. When we conclude a book of the Torah, it is customary to say, “Hazak, Hazak, Venithazzek,” which some say means “be strong, be strong, let us be strengthened.” As the Torah reader concludes the final words of the book, s/he closes the scroll. Then the congregation pronounces “Hazak, Hazak, Venithazzek.” The Torah reader does not say anything, nor does the person with the aliyah, until after the congregation says it, at which point the Torah reader repeats the statement. Then the scroll is opened again and the person reciting the Aliyah blessing, kisses it, closes it, and says the final aliyah blessing. (This is one custom of doing this; there are probably many different ways people do this practice).
A number of commentators link this custom to a midrash, Rabbinic legend, given in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He teaches that when Joshua received revelation from the Holy One of blessing, God found Joshua sitting and holding the Book of Deuteronomy in his hand. God said to Joshua, “Hazak v’Ematz – Be strong, and be of good courage, Joshua. This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth.” (Genesis Rabbah 6:18). Another explanation for this custom is connected to II Samuel 10:12, when Joab says, “חֲזַ֤ק וְנִתְחַזַּק֙…” which is often translated as “Let us be strong and resolute.” This seems to be the source for the language. Some translate “Hazak, Hazak, Venithazzek,” as “let us be strong, let us be strong, let us strengthen one another.” Some also translate it as “strong, strong, may we be strengthened again,” or “…we strengthen ourselves.” The word hazak is in the imperative mood, but also of unclear origins, thus the varying translations. “Venithazek” is a reflexive verb, which gives the idea of us imparting the strength to us. This custom encourages us to be strong to continue our reading and learning, to the next book of the Torah. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
January 14, 2023
In Parashat Shemot, a new Pharaoh came to power in Egypt, who did not know Joseph. The new Egyptian leader was scared that the children of Israel would rise up and rebel against him, and so decreed that all Israelites baby boys born should be killed. However, there were many heroic women who defied his decree – such as the midwives, Shifra and Puah, who made excuses for why the Israelite women were still having baby boys delivered, and kept the baby boys alive, which helped perpetuate the children of Israel. Miriam was another woman who defied Pharaoh’s decrees, and the midrash, Rabbinic Legend, teaches that she encouraged her parents to remain married, and have more children, even if it was a boy, and so Moses was born. Moses was put into an ark, and placed into the Nile River, but Miriam watched over baby Moses, as he was hidden in the Nile River. Miriam told Batyah, Pharaoh’s daughter, when she found baby Moses, that she knew of an Israelite woman who could nurse the baby. Miriam then brought her mother Yocheved to Batyah, so that Moses could be fed. All these women took action, which could have been very dangerous, and risked their lives, to ultimately save the Jewish people. These women who took courageous actions are inspirations to all of us. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
January 21, 2023
When Moses told God that he would not be a good leader, one of Moses’s excuses was that he was not a man of words. That excuse was dismissed as not an issue, because Aaron would be a spokesperson for Moses. Aaron would assist Moses when he approached Pharoah to request that God should let the Israelites leave, and Aaron could be the speaker. Aaron was also instrumental in helping start many of the plagues. For example, when the Nile River turned to blood, it was Aaron who used his rod to turn the water into blood, and not Moses. This was not related to speech, yet Aaron was the one who started the plague of blood, Dam. Many commentaries state that because the Nile River provided Moses with protection when Moses was put into the ark, God would not have Moses inflict a plague on the Nile River. Lessons for all of us – we should not make excuses; rather find solutions. Leaders have people alongside them, who they bring along with them, to help facilitate change and see their goals come to fruition. Another lesson, remember who or what has helped you in the past, and bring them no harm. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
January 28, 2023
Do you ever give yourself a reminder, perhaps in the form of writing something down, like making a To Do List, putting up a post-it, in a location that is easily seen? People used to wear a rubber band, or tie string, to remind themselves of something. Children often write a note on their skin – one approach I am not a big fan of, at all! This week’s Torah reading, Parashat Bo, ends with a way for the Jewish people to remember God, and the Exodus from Egypt. That reminder is the donning of Tefillin, also called phylacteries. We are taught in Exodus 13:16, “And so it shall be a sign upon your hand and as a symbol on your forehead that with a mighty hand the Lord freed us from Egypt.” Each time we wrap Tefillin, we are reminded of our relationship to our past ancestors who were slaves in Egypt, and freed by God. Furthermore, each time we wrap Tefillin, it is a reminder of our commitment to God and the Torah, because of our history, and our faith in God. As we wrap tefillin, we are reminded that God rescued our ancestors, and God will be with us as well. Just another wonderful reason to wrap tefillin – to make us stronger, and more committed to God, Torah and Israel, each time we do tefillin. Mark your calendars for the World Wide Wrap on Sunday, February 12, 2023. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
February 4, 2023
This week’s Torah Reading, Parashat Beshalach, is the famous story of the parting of the Sea of Reeds. A midrash, rabbinic legend teaches that when the children of Israel were being pursued by Pharaoh and the Egyptian Army, and they reached the shore of the Sea of Reeds, Nachshon ben Aminadav made the courageous decision to jump into the waters, nearly losing his life. Only at the very last second did God interfere and split the sea after which the Jews were able to enter the waters and were thus saved from Pharaoh’s assault. No other Israelite, standing by, had the courage to take this unprecedented step. They waited until the waters were split before entering. He showed great courage, saving all of them and that it was they who were the cowards. Nachshon took a great risk by jumping into the waters, not knowing what would happen. So often in life, we also may need to take risks, not knowing what the outcome will be, but without doing something courageous, nothing may happen. May we all take Nachshon ben Aminadav as an example to be strong and courageous! Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
February 11, 2023
When people use the phrase “take two of these and call me in the morning,” the phrase refers to taking two pills, which can also be called tablets, to help whatever may be ailing them. However, one does not always need to take medication to help their ailments. Perhaps all we need, can be found in the Torah, as Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Ancestors teaches, hafoch bah v’hafoch bah, v’hakol bah – turn it and turn it (meaning Torah) and all is in it! This week’s Torah reading, Parashat Yitro, includes the two original tablets, the most important tablets, the Ten Commandments, which Moses wrote on two tablets, while God told Moses the Ten Commandments while on Mount Sinai.
The Ten Commandments, which are five commandments related to God and the people, mitzvot bein adam lamakom, and five commandments related to people and people, mitzvot bein adam l’chavero. These two tablets provided us with the solidification of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. Rereading the story of the receiving of the Ten Commandments strengthens our relationship with God, Torah, and the Jewish people. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
February 18, 2023
Parashat Mishpatim – Shabbat Shekalim
This Shabbat we read Parashat Mishpatim and it has a special title of being called Shabbat Shekalim, one of the special Shabbatot before the holiday of Passover. The Israelite men’s census was counted by giving half a shekel, chatzi shekel. Each man gave the same amount, no matter how rich or poor he was. Although this was not truly equal – since the women were not counted – this process was showing that no matter how wealthy one was, each person counted towards helping in the community. The message for us today is that we all can contribute to our community, and we should draw strength from this lesson, that our wealth does not matter, we truly now count equally in the Jewish community, especially since we live in an egalitarian society. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
February 25, 2023
This week’s Torah reading, Parashat Terumah, contains one of the most monumental and significant verses in the entire Torah, (Exodus 25:8) V’asu lee mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham, Make for me a sanctuary, so I (God) shall dwell amongst you. In Parashat Terumah, the Israelites are commanded to build a Mishkan, the movable Tabernacle used by the Israelites while they were wandering in the desert. The Tabernacle, the mishkan, was built so that God could dwell within the camp. Today, all of our homes and our tables are considered a Mikdash Miat, a mini sanctuary. Furthermore, we ourselves are sanctuaries for God. Therefore, we should all make sure that our homes, our behavior, our communities, and our sisterhoods are worthy places for God to truly dwell amongst us. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
March 4, 2023
Parashat Tetzaveh – Shabbat Zachor
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat of Remembrance, which is always the Shababt before Purim, because the Maftir portion, the final part of the Torah reading for this Shabbat, is taken from Deuteronomy 25:17-19, which discusses Amalek, who were Haman’s ancestors. The Maftir portion discusses Amalek, who attacked the Israelites, as they were leaving Egypt. The evil character in Megillat Esther, read on Purim, was Haman, who was a descendant of Amalek. The Maftir portion for Shabbat Zachor teaches that we should remember what Amalek did to us when we were leaving Egypt. We should not forget. I would assume that most of us want to be remembered as good people. What do you want your legacy to be ? What do you want to be remembered for? Let us be remembered for being strong and courageous women! Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
March 11, 2023
Parashat Ki Tisa – Shabbat Parah
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Parah, one of the special Shababtot before Passover. We read about the burning of the red heifer and how it was used to purify the people. We read this as we prepare for the holiday of Passover, when we begin to clean our homes and get rid of chametz, leavened. Today, there are no red heifers, so how do we purify ourselves? What can we do to clean ourselves? Is it just cleaning out our bread and crumbs? What do we truly need to do, to clean ourselves, to feel pure before God? This is not an easy question. Do we each have a pure heart and soul? Do we feel clean? As we prepare ourselves for Passover, let us think about what it means to be pure and clean – both physically, mentally and emotionally. The process of cleansing and what it means to be clean and pure, will be different for each person. As we ruminate on the issue of purity and cleanliness, may we all do it with great strength and courage. Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
March 18, 2023
Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei – Shabbat HaChodesh
This Shabbat’s Torah Reading is the double portion of Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei, and concludes the book of Exodus, Sefer Shemot. The Children of Israel gather to see the completion of the construction of the mishkan, the Tabernacle. It was very important for the Children of Israel to see the fruits of their labor, and gather together to see the completion of the mishkan, the dwelling place of God. We are gearing up to gather together, as sisters, at our triennial Women’s League for Conservative Judaism Convention, in July 2023. I hope you are all as excited as the Children of Israel must have been in our Torah reading. We too will be together, in the dwelling place of God, as we see our sisters, who we have not seen in years. Our little zoom boxes will come alive, and truly God will gather amongst us as well, as we look into the eyes of our sisters, and see in each other the face of God! I cannot wait ! Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
This Shabbat we begin the third book of the Torah, Sefer Vayikra, the book of Leviticus, with Parashat Vayikra. Our Torah Reading begins with the words, Vayikra el Moshe, ‘God called to Moses.’ And so begins the book of Leviticus, with its instructions on sacrifices, and a guide for the priests, often called Torat Kohanim, instructions for the priests. Do you feel called upon by God to do something in your lives, like Moses was called by God? What is your calling in life? What sacrifices have you made in your life? Were they for God, or someone or something else? In hindsight, do they still seem like sacrifices, or stepping stones to something else? In the book of Leviticus, we will see how sacrifices were used for different ways to communicate with God. How do you communicate with God? Sacrifices in the Torah were also ways to express gratitude to God; praise God; and petition God. How do you express gratitude to God? How do you praise God? Do you petition God for things missing or lacking in your life? These are many overarching questions to think about as we begin the new book of Vayikra, Leviticus. As you ponder these questions, may you be strong and courageous in all that you do! Chazak v’Ematz
April 1 – Parashat Tzav – Shabbat HaGadol – Yom HaAliyah
The name of our Torah Reading this week, Parashat Tzav, means Command. Tzav is the root of the word Mitzvah – commandment. How often do people think about being commanded these days? Do people just think about the Ten Commandments – or are most cognizant that we actually have 613 commandments, mitzvot. Many do know that 613 is a significant number in Judaism. However, we are not able to fulfill all 613 commandments, because many are related to sacrifices, which we no longer have, since we do not have a Tabernacle or Holy Temple in Jerusalem. However, we still read about the sacrifices, many of which are spoken about in Parashat Tzav. How many commandments do you fulfill each day? Do you feel commanded? How can one fulfill the commandments in a modern day society, where we do not have sacrifices? May we be strong and courageous as we fulfill mitzvot every day! Chazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous!
October 15, 2022
Parashat V’zot HaBrachah
This is the final parashah of the Torah. It is never read on Shabbat, only on Simchat Torah. It is a mirror image of Parashat Vayechi, the last Parashah at the end of the book of Bereshit. There, on his deathbed, Jacob blessed each of his sons, describing their distinguishing characteristics. Now, as the nation was poised to enter the promised land, each of those sons had grown into a full-fledged tribe. Moses blessed them once again, prophesizing about their future.
Finally, Moses ascended Mt. Nebo, from which God showed him the land, and the areas which each tribe would settle and inherit. This, God told Moses, was the land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; now their descendants stood on the brink of claiming it as their own, thanks to the leadership of Moses during the last forty years.
The last eight verses of the Torah very poignantly describe the death of Moses, על-פי יה-וה, literally, “at the mouth of God.” Like Aaron before him, Moses’ death is described as a divine kiss. It was God as well that buried Moses on the mountain; to this day, we imitate God when we participate in the mitzvah of burying the dead at a funeral, shoveling the dirt onto the coffin.
The Torah ends by telling us that there has never again risen a prophet of the stature of Moses in Israel.
With this, we have reached the end of the Torah. Next week, we will begin again with Parashat Bereshit and the story of creation; I am handing off these weekly commentaries for Sefer Bereshit, the book of Genesis, to our Executive Director, Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields.
May the study of Torah continue to bring us new blessings and insights in the coming year.
Chazki, chizki, v’nitchazek!
October 8, 2022
This parashah consists of Moses’ final song to the nation, his farewell message. In it, he offers praise to God for all that God has done for the nation and exhorts the people once again to remain faithful to God.
He begins by calling both the heavens and the earth to give ear to his words. Praising God’s ways of justice and truth, Moses admonishes Israel for the way in which they have requited God.
He continues by recounting the history of the nation, how they were chosen by God, how God protectively cared for them, providing for all their needs. All this they repaid with their apostasy, worshipping foreign gods. This in turn provoked God’s jealous anger and threats of punishment.
“Turn your hearts to the Torah,” Moses encourages the nation, and teach your children to observe its commandments—because it is your life.
Ironically, as Moses finishes his song with this statement, God tells him that the time has come for him to go up to Mt. Nebo to his own death. The chapter ends with a message meant for us as much as for Moses: he will see the land from the mountaintop, but he will not be permitted to enter it, because he had sinned against God at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh. Even a man as great as Moses can be guilty of sinning before God; therefore, none of us is perfect. We have just completed a period of teshuvah, repentance; yet we know that we are bound to make new mistakes in the coming year. And when we do, we need to remember to turn our hearts to the Torah–because it is our life. Hazak v’Ematz-Be Strong and Courageous.
October 1, 2022
Moses is now 120 years old; God has told him he will not cross over the Jordan. Joshua will lead them in his place, and God will go with them as they enter the land, destroying the nations before them. Moses exhorts them not to be afraid (chizku v’imtzu, the plural form of our Torah Fund theme). Moses calls Joshua to him, charging him in the sight of all the people to lead the nation in his stead.
The text then tells us that Moses wrote this Torah and gave it to the priests; he instructed them to gather the nation once every seven years, on Sukkot, to read it, making sure it was passed on to the next generation.
God then commanded Moses and Joshua to come to the tabernacle together so that God could officially give Joshua his charge; Moses also charged him once again, this time with the words now familiar to us: hazak v’ematz – be strong and courageous. We can only imagine the weight of the awesome responsibility that was being placed on Joshua’s shoulders. Like Joshua, we, too, need to be strong and courageous as we pass on our Jewish values to the next generation.
God instructed Moses to write one last poem and teach it to the nation; this poem will stand as a witness against them in their future, when they turn away after other gods. Finally, Moses gave the Torah to the Levites, telling them to place it in the ark along with the two sets of tablets.
The parashah ends with Moses reading this newly-written poem to the people. The words of this poem appear in next week’s parashah, Ha’azinu.
September 24, 2022
Moses calls together the entire nation to hear the end of his third and final speech: the men, children, wives, and strangers all gather to enter into the covenant. They will be God’s people and the Lord will be their God, fulfilling the promise that had been made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Further, this covenant is made not only with those who were physically present, but also with those who were not there—i.e., all the future generations of Jews.
The people are warned that anyone who goes after the gods of the other nations will be subjected to all the curses previously enumerated, and God will blot out his/her name. Nevertheless, if they return to the Lord, then God will gather a remnant from all the nations, bringing them back into the land and turning the curses on their enemies.
Moses lays out a choice: God sets before the nation life and good, death and evil, blessing and curse. Heaven and earth are called upon to witnesses this covenant. He commands the people to love God, obeying the commandments, so that they and their descendants may live in the land, and it will be blessed by God.
He exhorts them: choose life!
The haftarah also emphasizes the importance of choosing God and an ethical life.
It is for this reason that this parashah is always read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashanah. As we approach the High Holidays, we are all urged to do teshuvah, recommitting ourselves to a life of Torah observance, so that we may be sealed in God’s book. Choose life! Hazak v’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous.
I wish you all a Shanah Tovah u’Metukah.
September 17, 2022
Parashat Ki Tavo
Moses again exhorts the people to keep God’s commandments “with all your heart and soul” (26:16). Just as “You have declared the Lord to be your God,” he says, “the Lord has declared you to be [God’s] special people… set high above all other nations” (26:17-19).
This parashah contains both curses and blessings. Curses apply to anyone who: makes a graven image; dishonors father or mother; hinders the blind; perverts the judgment of strangers, orphans, and widows; strikes their neighbor secretly; takes a bribe; does not maintain all the words of the Torah.
Observing the commandments will bring blessings: in the city and field; with abundant fruit of body, ground, and animals; coming in and going out. Israel’s enemies will be defeated, and they will be established as a holy people.
Not obeying the commandments will be equivalently cursed in all the same areas. Additionally, gruesome curses will be suffered by a disobedient nation, including but not limited to: pestilence, sickness, rain and drought; defeat by enemies; madness and blindness; exile; famine so severe as to cannibalism of family members; plagues on them and their children; fear; enslavement. Instead of numbering as the stars of heaven, they will be left few in number.
Still, the parashah ends on a positive note. Moses reminds the people of all that they have seen that God did for them, from the plagues and subsequent deliverance from Egypt to forty years in the wilderness when their clothes and shoes did not wear out, and God provided manna for them to eat; when attacked, they defeated the kings of Heshbon and Bashan.
The parashah ends with this exhortation from Moses: “Keep therefore the words of this covenant,… that you may prosper in all you do” (29:8). Be the recipient of blessings, not curses. Hazak v’Ematz
September 10, 2022
Parashat Ki Teitzei
Moses reminds the nation of many of God’s commandments. Several concern marriage: a woman taken captive in war shaves her head, cuts her nails, and mourns her parents for a month before a man marry her. If he finds afterwards that he is unhappy with her, he may not sell her as a slave.
A newlywed man must stay at home with his wife for a year.
There are the laws of yibum and chalitza: if a man dies childless, his brother must marry his widow, to provide an heir for his deceased brother. If he does not want to marry her, then, in the presence of the elders of the city, she removes his shoe, spitting in his face, disgracing him as he has disgraced her.
There are mitzvot governing interpersonal relationships:
If you find someone’s animal wandering around, or their garment, or anything that (s)he has lost, you must return it. If you see someone’s animal has fallen, you must help lift it. You must have perfect weights and measures, insuring honest business practices.
Pay a worker’s wages at the end of each day.
When harvesting your field, leave whatever you drop for the poor; similarly, leave what you miss when harvesting from an olive tree or a grapevine.
Finally, construct a parapet (protective border) on the roof of your house to protect people from falling off.
The overriding principle in these mitzvot is extending to our neighbors the same respect and sensitivity that we desire—and viewing them as our equal.
God declares: “you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore, I command you to do [these things]” (24:22). Recalling our redemption from Egypt strengthens us to commit to a life of Torah observance. Hazak v’Ematz
September 3, 2022
Moses emphasizes the importance of a judicial system: judges shall be appointed to judge fairly, not taking bribes. He instructs them, צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף…., “Justice, justice shall you pursue….” (This quote hung in the office of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg z”l.)
We learn of the gravity of being a witness. An individual can be condemned to death only on the testimony of 2 or 3 witnesses; if they are to be stoned, the witnesses themselves must be the first to put their hands on the person in carrying out the sentence. False witnesses are not to be tolerated. One who is suspected of giving false testimony is brought, together with the accused, before the judges to determine who is telling the truth. If the accuser is indeed determined to be a false witness, then (s)he must suffer the same punishment that would have been meted out on the accused had they been found guilty.
Six cities of refuge are to be set up as safe places for one who killed another unintentionally. If anyone who murdered someone intentionally fled there, (s)he was to be removed from there and delivered to the (family) avenger.
We also learn the laws of war: those going to battle must not be afraid. (Chazak v’Ematz!) Anyone who had built a new house but not dedicated it, planted a new vineyard but not eaten from it, betrothed a wife but not married her— and anyone fearful or faint hearted–was to be sent back home. Additionally, when besieging a city, you may not cut down trees that are used for food.
Interactions with fellow Israelites and our enemies alike must be guided by this overriding principle: “You shall be perfect with the Lord your God. (18:13)”
August 27, 2022
Moses continues his instructions to the nation: when entering the land, they must destroy all the Canaanite worship places; they are to remain faithful to God and must not worship foreign gods or consult false prophets or dream interpreters. They are to bring their sacrifices and rejoice at the place that God will designate. They must not add to or diminish the commandments of God. Moses tells them again which animals they may eat and which are forbidden.
On a note of social justice note, Moses reiterates our obligation to support those among us who are unable to support themselves: Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows—in return, we will receive the Lord’s blessings.
Every seventh year is designated for the land to rest. No crops are harvested, all debts are cancelled. A slave is freed but does not go out empty handed; he must be furnished liberally from the flock, the grain, and the wine. If God has blessed you, you must share those blessings and give him a means to sustain himself.
God says,” There shall be no poor among you” (15:4) but 7 verses later (15:11) seems to say the opposite: “the poor shall never cease out of the land.” The seeming contradiction can be explained only if we take the first verse as a commandment rather than a statement. In other words, since there will always be poor among us, God commands us to work towards eradicating their poverty. “You shall open your hand wide to him/her and lend him/her sufficient for his/her needs” (15:8).
Together we must be resolute in fulfilling that which God requires of us: Chazak v’Ematz.
August 20, 2022
Moses’ discourse to the nation continues as they are poised to enter the promised land. He exhorts them to remember the deliverance from Egypt and the 40 years in the desert; they are reminded of the tablets that Moshe angrily smashed upon seeing the golden calf, and the many times that they tried both Moses’ and God’s patience. Moses’ recounts his intercession with God on their behalf: “… they are your people and your inheritance, which you brought out by your mighty power and by your outstretched arm.” (9:29)
They are reminded of the loving care God gave them: their clothes never wore out and feet never swelled (8:4).
Moses exhorts them multiple times not to forsake God for the other nations’ gods; this will bring severe punishment. Conversely, obeying the commandments and keeping the covenant will bring a multitude of blessings: God will love and multiply them; bless their children, flocks, and produce; there will be no barrenness or sickness in them or their animals (7:12-16).
Finally, Moses offers encouragement by telling them that the land that God is bringing them into is a good land (8:7); they should not be afraid to enter it, and they must remember to thank and bless God for all these blessings that will be bestowed on them (8:10).
We, too, are called upon to remain faithful to the covenant, and we, too, can draw strength and encouragement from the blessings that God continues to bestow on us to this day: Chazak v’Ematz.
August 13, 2022
This week’s parashah contains a wealth of important passages: the second account of the experience at Horeb (Sinai) when we received the Ten Commandments (5:5-18), as well as the first paragraph of the Shema prayer that we are commanded to recite twice daily (6:4-9).
Moses recounts how he pleaded with God in vain to cross over into the promised land, only to be told to go to the top of the mountain, to have the best view of the land that he himself would never be able to enter (3:23-27).
Moses reminds us repeatedly to keep the commandments, not forsaking our covenant with God by worshipping graven images.
This is Shabbat Nachamu, the first of seven Shabbatot of Consolation following the observance of Tisha B’Av and leading up to Rosh Hashanah.
The parashah ends on an encouraging note: Moses reminds us that no other nation was chosen by God or heard the voice of God, or had God perform wonders for them (4:33-35); God chose Israel not because of our size (we were the smallest of all people); God chose us because God loved us (7:6-8).
We draw strength (חִיזוּק) from Moses’ final message: God is faithful, keeping the covenant and mercy with those who love God to a thousand generations (7:9). In these sometimes turbulent times, this promise of God’s faithfulness is perhaps more relevant today than it has ever been before. Chazak v’Ematz.
August 8, 2022
Parashat Devarim: Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22
Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1-27
Shabbat Chazon: Third Haftarah of Admonition
This parashah begins the fifth and final book of the Torah. The events described here take place in the fortieth year after leaving Egypt: Israel is poised to finally enter the promised land, camped on the other side of the Jordan. Moses delivers a discourse recounting all that has happened to the nation since leaving Egypt: receiving the Torah at Horeb (Mt. Sinai); arriving at the border of the land in the second year; the ill-fated mission of the twelve spies resulting in God’s decree that the men of that generation would all die in the wilderness; thirty-eight years of wandering in the wilderness; the defeat of the Canaanite kings who confronted them; and the allotment of land on the other side of the Jordan to the tribes of Reuven and Gad.
This parashah is always read on the Shabbat immediately preceding Tisha B’Av (August 6-7 this year); this is called Shabbat Chazon from the first word of the haftarah, חֲזוֹן, meaning “prophecy” or “vision.” Isaiah foretells the downfall of Jerusalem because of the sinfulness of the nation; he accuses them of hypocrisy, offering sacrifices to God but failing to observe the commandments. God is not interested in listening to their prayers. Isaiah speaks of the possibility of redemption if they turn back to God in repentance. If not, they will be devoured by their enemies.
In verse twenty-one, Isaiah mourns over the fate of the city; the first word of the verse is אֵיכָה, the name of Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations over Jerusalem that we read on Tisha B’Av; indeed, this entire haftarah is meant to be chanted in the same mournful trope that we use for Eichah.
Following Tisha B’Av we enter a seven-week period of consolation leading up to Rosh HaShanah—almost like a second omer period. This is also hinted at in the haftarah: in verses 16-18, Isaiah lists ten components of teshuvah (repentance): washing and cleaning oneself, putting away evil ways, ceasing to do evil things, learning to do good things, devoting oneself to justice, aiding those who are wronged, upholding the rights of the orphan, defending the widow, and reach an understanding with God. These correspond, Rashi says, to the Yamim Noraim, the ten-day period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.
May this approaching season of contemplation bring blessings to us all as we work on renewing our relationships with God.
July 30, 2022
Parashat Matot-Masei: Numbers 30:2-35:13
Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4
Second Haftarah of Admonition
This week’s double parashah brings us to the end of the book of Numbers, as the nation of Israel prepares to finally take possession of the promised land.
The tribes of Reuven and Gad (and Manassah) request that they be given land on the other side of the Jordan because it appears to be a good place for their large numbers of cattle to graze. Moses grants this request, but only after they promise that they will go to battle armed, along with all the other tribes if the land is threatened.
Next, we read a recounting of all the places at which the nation stopped during their thirty-eight-year journey through the wilderness; Moses outlines what the borders of the land should be when they take possession of it. He warns them not to follow the idolatrous practices of the Canaanites. They are told to provide cities to the Levites, who will not receive a land apportionment, as well as six cities of refuge, where anyone who committed a murder unintentionally could go to escape the revenge of their victim’s family members. One who committed a murder intentionally must be convicted on the testimony of (at least) two witnesses, and then put to death.
This is the second of the three haftarot of admonitions that are read in between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. It was given by Jeremiah in the years leading up to the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. He begins by accusing both the previous and present generations of abandoning God to worship Canaanite gods instead. Recounting all the wonders that God has done for them since leaving Egypt (which were also mentioned in the parashah), Jeremiah is incredulous at their apostasy, and chastises them for their faithlessness. They have forsaken a “fountain of living waters” for “broken cisterns”–gods that are powerless (verse 13). Twice Jeremiah asks how (אֵיךְ) the nation can behave as they are; this foreshadows the reading of Eichah (אְיכָה) on Tisha B’Av, when Jeremiah foretold the destruction of Jerusalem.
In order that the haftarah can end on a positive note, an extra verse is added on (3:4): And yet, he ends on a positive note, God anticipates that the people will turn back once again to God, Who will accept them as a loving parent.
During this time of semi-mourning, may we, too, each examine ourselves and put away those things which distract us from our relationship with God.
July 23, 2022
Parashat Pinchas: Numbers 25:10-30:1
Haftarah (for after 17th of Tammuz): Jeremiah 1:1-2:3
At the end of Parashat Chukat the men of Israel were being drawn into idolatry and immorality by the women of Moab. The plague was finally stayed when Aaron’s grandson Pinchas ran a spear through a couple who were fornicating in the tabernacle. As a result, God said that the priesthood would be established through his descendants.
God then commanded Moses and Eleazer to take a census of all those aged twenty or older. The names of all the families in all the tribes are given; not one of them was counted in the previous survey thirty-eight years earlier—those men had all died in the wilderness, except for Joshua and Caleb.
Next Moses was approached by the five daughters of Zelophchad, whose father had died without having any sons. The women petitioned Moses to give them their father’s inheritance; God instructed him to grant their request.
Next God instructed Moses to go up to the mountain, from where he would be able to see the land before he died, as he was not permitted to enter the land. At Moses’ request, God designated Joshua to be his successor.
The final chapter delineates the various sacrifices that God requires for all the different days of the year.
This week’s haftarah is connected to the calendar rather than the parashah. It is the first of the three haftarot of admonition that are read in the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz (July 17th this year), which marks the day the Babylonians first breached the walls of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, and Tisha B’Av (August 7), the day on which the Temple(s) were destroyed. It tells the story of God calling Jeremiah to be a prophet, instructing him to say everything that God puts into his mouth. Jeremiah is to foretell the impending doom of the nation when they will be invaded by a foreign nation because they have been unfaithful to God. Nevertheless, the prophecy ends on a positive note, affirming the holiness of the people; the relationship between Israel and God is portrayed as a bride and her groom.
May we use this time to examine our own relationships with God and commit ourselves anew to observance of the mitzvot. May we as women also be like the daughters of Zelophchad, claiming our inheritance and our place in the nation.
Hazak v’Ematz—be strong and courageous.
July 16, 2022
Parashat Balak: Numbers 22:2-25:9
Haftarah: Micah 5:6-6:8
Parashat Balak tells the story of the prophet Balaam, who was solicited by the Moabite King Balak to curse Israel. God initially told Balaam not to go with Balak’s men, but ultimately relented, telling him to speak only the words that God would tell him to say. Nevertheless, God was angry with Balaam for going with them, and sent an angel to block his path. Though he was unable to see the angel, his donkey saw the heavenly messenger. Three times the donkey reacted in fright, first leaving the path, then crushing Balaam’s foot against a wall, and then falling down under him. Each time he struck the animal in anger; finally, she spoke to him, asking why he was mistreating her so. Finally seeing the angel, Balaam became repentant. Once again, the angel reiterated that he could only say what God told him to say.
Balak brought Balaam to a high place from which he could see the nation of Israel; Balaam opened his mouth, and blessings came out instead of curses, angering Balak. Balaam said he could speak only what God put in his mouth. Balak brought Balaam to a second, and then a third, place to try again; each time, only blessings came out of his mouth. On the third attempt, he also foretold that Israel would conquer the Moabites. Balaam and Balak then parted ways, each returning to his place.
In the haftarah, Micah foretells a time when Israel’s enemies will be destroyed; the remnant of Israel will either be a blessing, like the dew, or a curse, like a young lion, to the surrounding nations. He recounts God’s past providence, delivering Israel from Egyptian slavery, providing the leadership of Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, and preventing Balaam from cursing them (a clear connection to the parashah).
The donkey asks Balaam, מֶה־עָשִׁיתִי לְךָ, “what have I done to you?” (22:28), and God asks the same question of Israel in the haftarah (6:3). Balaam’s third attempt to curse Israel begins with the famous words (24:5), מַה־טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיך יַעקֹב, how goodly are your tents, O Jacob! Micah’s prophecy finishes with him saying that God has told the nation (6:8) מַה־טֹּב, what is good: to act justly, mercifully, and modestly.
God changed Balaam’s words from curses to blessings; we, however, will determine by our behavior whether we are a curse or a blessing for God’s world. God has told us what is good. The choice is ours.
July 9, 2022
Parashat Chukat: Numbers 19:1-22:1
Haftarah: Judges 11:1-33
Parashat Chukat begins with the strange ritual of the red heifer: a cow with no blemishes, never yoked, pregnant, or milked that is sacrificed by the priests, who then mix the ashes with pure water; this water is then used to purify anyone who has become impure through contact with the dead.
Next we read that Miriam died; afterwards the people complained to Moses and Aaron because there was no water. The brothers sought guidance from God, Who instructed Moses to gather the people and speak to a rock which would then bring forth water. Instead, Moses hit the rock twice and water came out in abundance. Since he had not followed God’s instructions, however, God told Moses and Aaron that they would not bring the people into the land.
The people next traveled to Mount Hor, where God decreed that Aaron would die; Moses took him and Eleazar up to the mountain, where the high priest’s garments were transferred from father to son. The nation mourned Aaron for thirty days.
Chapter 21 chronicles the nation’s travels through the desert, defeating the Canaanites and the Amorites along the way, finally coming to the plains of Moab on the banks of the Jordan River. This chapter is reflected in the haftarah: Jephthah is called upon to lead the nation when the Ammonites, whose king claims that Israel had stolen his land on their way from Egypt to Canaan, declare war on Israel. Jephthah responds by citing incidents from the parashah: though the kings of Edom, Moab, and the Amorites were asked to allow Israel to pass through their land, they refused; when they chose instead to attack, God delivered them into Israel’s hands. These events are recounted in verses 21:21-25 of the parashah and 11:19-22 of the haftarah. Thus, Jephthah shows that Israel had a legitimate claim to the land.
Both Israel and Jephthah made vows to the Lord if God would guarantee their success: Israel vowed to destroy the cities of their enemies and they followed through (21:2-3). Jephthah vowed to sacrifice whatever first came out of his house to welcome him home; the haftarah ends before we read the disastrous consequences of his flippant vow: upon his return from battle, his daughter was first to come out to greet him, and he, too, followed through.
Showing our gratitude to God is an important part of our spiritual lives. But it needs to be done in an appropriate manner: observing the mitzvot, doing acts of chesed for others—things which reflect both our love of God, and God’s love for us and our fellow human beings.
July 2, 2022
Parashat Korach: Numbers 16:1-18:32
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 11:14-12:22
This week’s parashah tells the story of the ill-fated rebellion of Korach, who, accompanied by two hundred fifty men, rose up to challenge the authority of Moses and Aaron. He was also joined by Datan and Aviram, two malcontents who accused the brothers of taking the nation out of the security of Egypt for certain death in the wilderness.
Following Moses’ instructions, Korach and his men brought their incense censers before the Lord; Moses told the rest of the nation to separate themselves from the rebels. The earth opened, swallowing Korach and his men; fire then came forth from God and consumed those who had incense in their fry pans, in much the same way that Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu had died. The following day God sent a plague among the nation, who were now accusing Moses and Aaron of killing the rebels. Aaron took his firepan among the people to make atonement and stop the plague, but not before 14,700 had died.
Finally, God instructed Moses to take twelve rods, and write on them the names of twelve princes, one representing each tribe, placing them before the Tabernacle. Aaron’s rod was designated as the representative of the tribe of Levi. In the morning, the only rod to blossom was Aaron’s; thus, the legitimacy of his priesthood was divinely established.
The haftarah also centers on the theme of leadership. Here we see the prophet Samuel inaugurating Saul as the first king of Israel, following the people’s demand for an earthly monarch. Samuel viewed this as a betrayal of God’s leadership, warning the people that the well-being of the nation was dependent on the allegiance of both them and their king to following the Lord and obeying the commandments. In return for their wholehearted service, Samuel promised that the Lord would never abandon them.
Just as Korach challenged Moses’ leadership; the people challenged God’s leadership by requesting a king. Both Moses and Samuel are shown to intercede on behalf of the people. Both men answered God’s call with the word hineni: here I am (Exodus 3:4 and 1 Samuel 3:4).
Today, the call to leadership has been extended to us as Jewish women, to serve as rabbis, cantors, educators, and lay leaders. May we, too, have the courage and faithfulness to step forward and say, hineni: here I am.
June 25, 2022
Parashat Shelach Lecha: Numbers 13:1-15:41
Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24
The story of this week’s parashah is a familiar one to many of us: God instructed Moses to send twelve men to scout the land of Canaan. While there, they cut down a branch with a cluster of grapes so big it required two men to carry it. After forty days, they brought back their report: the land flowed with milk and honey, but the people there were powerful giants. Caleb and Joshua alone said that the people should go into the land; the others said that they could not attack the people, who were stronger than them. Tragically, the nation listened to the majority, deciding not to enter the land; as punishment God decreed that they would travel in the wilderness for forty years, and all the men aged twenty years old and up (fighting age), except for Joshua and Caleb would die. The next morning the people changed their minds, deciding to go into the land, despite Moses’ warning not to do so. The Amalekites and Canaanites attacked and defeated them.
The parashah ends with the passage that is the third paragraph of the Shema: the commandment to put fringes (tzitzit) on the corners of our garments to remind us of the commandments.
The haftarah has a strong connection to the parashah.
Forty years later, Joshua assumed the leadership of the nation and planned once again to enter the land. He sent two men to spy out the land. They came to the house of a woman named Rahav, who hid them from the King of Jericho under the stalks of flax on the roof of her house. After she had diverted the king’s men out of the city, Rahav came to the spies; recounting how her people had come to fear the Lord after hearing about all the wonderful things that they had heard about what God had done for Israel, Rahav exacted a promise from them to save her and her entire family when they took possession of the land. After three days’ time, the spies returned to Joshua, bringing him the positive report that victory would be theirs. Thus, the haftarah is the sequel to the parashah. Joshua is fulfilling the mission at which Moses’ spies failed. Joshua and Caleb alone survived the forty years in the desert because they brought back a favorable report; in the haftarah, Joshua takes his place as the leader of the nation, and a midrash (Numbers Rabbah 16:1) tells us that Caleb was one of the two spies sent into Jericho by Joshua.
In the parashah we are told to place a blue thread in our tzitzit to remind us of the commandments; Rahav placed a red thread in the window as a sign of her faithfulness to the Jewish people.
The parashah warns us to wear tzitzit so that we do not stray (zonim) from God; Rahav is described as a zonah (prostitute or innkeeper.)
A grammatical connection occurs in the use of the verb shelach (send) which gives the parashah its name (Numbers 13:2); this same verb appears three times in the haftarah (2:2, 2:3, 2:21).
Thus, the haftarah demonstrates the fulfillment of the prophecies made so many years before when God promised to bring Abraham’s descendants into this land. Ours is a faithful God.
June 18, 2022
Parashat Behaalotecha: Numbers
Haftarah Zechariah 2:14-4:7
The parashah begins with God’s command to Aaron to light the lamps of a golden menorah. The Levites are consecrated in place of the firstborn, and given as a gift to the Cohenim to serve in the Tabernacle; Moses is instructed to cleanse them and change their clothes.
The people were commanded by God to observe Passover in the first month of the second year after leaving Egypt. Some were unclean and therefore unable to celebrate the holiday at its designated time; Pesach Sheni was designated during the second month as a second opportunity for these people to be able to observe Passover.
There is a description of the cloud that covered the tab
After the second Pesach, the nation departed from Sinai; in the desert the people complained about lack of meat. God responded by providing quails for them to eat.
The portion ends with the story of Miriam and Aaron speaking against Moses because of his relationship with his wife. God became angry
The haftarah tells of three visions of the prophet Zechariah. The first tells of a future time when God will dwell in the midst of the people, in much the same way as the cloud represented God’s presence in the parashah. Many nations will want to become part of God’s people.
Zechariah’s second vision is o
Coming full circle with the beginning of the parashah, Zechariah’s final
June 11, 2022
Parashat Naso: Numbers 4:21-7:89
Haftarah: Judges 13:2-25
At 176 verses, Naso is the longest parashah in the Torah. It begins with another census of the Leviim, including a delineation of their specific jobs.
Next there is the strange and disturbing ritual of a woman whose husband suspects her of adultery. She is brought to the priest and forced to drink bitter water mixed with dirt from the tabernacle’s floor; if she is guilty, the water causes her belly to distend and her thigh to sag; if she is innocent, she will be able to have a child. Either way, her husband is declared free of guilt.
This is followed by the laws of Nazirite vows: anyone who chooses to set him/herself aside for God must abstain from wine and alcohol; they may not cut their hair or defile him/herself through contact with the dead. When the vow is completed, they must bring a sacrifice, shave their head, and burn their hair.
Next, God gives Moses the words of the now familiar Priestly blessing, through which the cohenim bless the nation.
The concluding lengthy section recounts the offerings brought to the completed Tabernacle by the Chieftains of Israel on behalf of their tribes, one each day for 12 consecutive days; they all brought the identical list of gifts.
The haftarah tells the story of the unnamed barren wife of a man named Manoah; she was visited by an angel, who announced that she would have a son. Her child would be a Nazirite from birth; therefore, she was instructed to abstain from wine, and her son would not be permitted to cut his hair. A midrash says that Manoah, like the jealous husband of the parashah, was suspicious because his wife had a male visitor; therefore, he prayed to speak with the angel himself; instead, his wife received a second visitation. She fetched her husband, but the angel simply repeated to him the same instructions he had given to his wife. Manoah asked the angel for his name, but he refused to answer. It is only when their visitor rose in the flames of the altar on which Manoah had made an offering that they realized he was not human. Subsequently, the woman conceived and gave birth to the promised son; he was named Samson and was blessed by God, just as the cohenim, priest, bless the people of Israel to this day.
June 4, 2022
Parashat Bamidbar: Numbers 1:1-4:20
Haftarah: Hosea 2:1-22
Two years after leaving Egypt, God instructed Moses and Aaron to take a census of the men of fighting age (twenty and up) by tribe and family. Each tally is noted; the total is 603,550.
The Levites were not included in this census; God claimed them for service in the, mishkan, moveable Tabernacle. Charged with maintaining the physical structure, they were given to the cohenim, Priests, by God to take the place of all the firstborn, who had been consecrated to God when they were spared from death in Egypt. All were given specific duties, and instructions for dismantling, then reassembling, the tabernacle every time the nation moved camp. Moses warned them not to look at the holy things lest they die.
The setup of the camp was also described: with the Levites and the mishkan always at the center, three tribes each were designated for the the east, south, west, and north sides. They were to always maintain this formation, even when traveling.
Hosea prophesied during the eighth century BCE. Here, he begins with a prophecy of renewal for the nation, fostered by a reunification of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
Using the metaphor of a marriage to define Israel’s relationship to God, Hosea portrays the nation as an unfaithful wife, guilty of idolatry; he urges them to put away their false gods and recognize that everything they used to worship Baal had been given to them by God. If not, God promises to punish and abandon (divorce) them.
Ultimately, God leads the people into the desert (Bamidbar) for reconciliation; when the people reclaim God as אִישִׁי (my husband), God promises to espouse them forever in justice, mercy, and faithfulness; thus, they will come to know God intimately. We recall these beautiful promises when we recite the last two verses each morning while winding the tefillin strap around our middle finger.
Both texts use the desert (מִדְבַּר) as the setting for the action; not only is it the name of the parashah, but the word also appears three times (verses five, sixteen, seventeen) in the haftarah. The wilderness represents a place of reconciliation, where we can renew our covenant and draw close to God. We, too, sometimes need to go to a metaphorical desert, a place without distractions, where we can experience an intimacy with our Creator and recommit ourselves to our special covenant relationship.
The central event of the parashah is the counting of the nation commanded by God. The haftarah promises that in the reunited nation, the people will be innumerable, like the sands of the sea—or possibly the sands of the desert?
May 28, 2022
Parashat Bechukkotai: Leviticus 26:3-27:34
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14
Parashat Bechukkotai, which concludes the Book of Vayikra, Leviticus contains a series of blessings and curses; which ones we receive will depend on whether we are obedient to God’s commandments or not.
Most of chapter twenty-six (v. 14-39) comprises the section called the Tochecha (curses); the tone becomes more positive after that, reflecting the blessings that will be bestowed on those who are faithful to the commandments.
The same theme, emphasizing the justice of God’s judgment and trust in God’s redemptive power, dominates the haftarah, which contains several prophecies of Jeremiah written at various times, both before and after the destruction of the Temple.
The parashah warns against the punishment that God will mete out to those who are disobedient and worship idols (26:3); Jeremiah reacts virulently to the cultic behavior of the people that he has witnessed (17:2). Finding the people guilty of idol worship, God says that their punishment will be exile.
According to Jeremiah, those who trust in human beings are doomed, compared to a dried-out verdant tree (עץ-רענן) in the wilderness (17:2), while those who trust God will thrive like a tree of fresh (רענן) ever-present leaves planted by the water, that does not cease to give fruit (17:8). These contrasting images of trees reflect the parashah’s promise that the faithful will live safely in a fertile land that will yield its produce (Lev. 26:3-5).
Jeremiah declares that God examines the hearts of human beings and requites each accordingly (17:9-10); in Leviticus, God speaks of the punishment that will be meted out on those who have “uncircumcised hearts” (26:41).
In addition, the haftarah includes two verses that are familiar to us: verse seven, which begins, “baruch ha-gever…” is in birkat hamazon. And verse fourteen, Jeremiah’s plea for God’s healing forms part of the bracha of praying for the sick in the daily Amidah.
May we all be worthy of receiving God’s blessings and healing.
May 21, 2022
Parashat Behar: Leviticus 25:1-26:2
Haftarah: Jeremiah 32:6-27
Parashat Behar describes the shmita, sabbatical year, occurring every seven years as a sabbath for the land, when nothing is to be harvested. After seven cycles of seven years—the fiftieth year is declared a jubilee. In this year, all who had become slaves or indentured servants were set free and returned to their families; possessions which had been sold reverted to their original owners. God promises that the sixth year will produce enough food to last for three years, until the new crop of the first year of the next cycle could be harvested in the second year.
We are enjoined to help those who fall into poverty. If someone is forced to sell part of his land to support his family, another relative must redeem it (buy it back); if none is able to do so, it remains with the purchaser until the jubilee year, when all lands revert to their original owners.
Similarly, one who becomes destitute may enter your house as a hired servant to support his family. He may be redeemed by a relative; if not, he works until the jubilee year, when he goes free. God reminds us that we are all servants of God; therefore, we are reminded not to make idols or graven images; rather, we must keep the sabbaths and revere the sanctuary.
The events of the haftarah, which take place in 587 BCE, include a clear example of the land redemption described in the parashah. God instructs Jeremiah to purchase (redeem) land from his cousin Hanamel. He does so and then directs his scribe to seal and store the documents as a future witness of the purchase. This land purchase was symbolic, intended to inspire hope in the future restoration of the land that God is promising. Jeremiah, however, finds it incomprehensible, considering the impending Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, which is coming because of their disobedience. Nevertheless, he proclaims that houses, fields, and vineyards will again be purchased in the land.
Jeremiah praises God’s past deeds, from redeeming Israel from Egypt to settling them in the land but expresses surprise at God’s message of hope. The haftarah ends with God mimicking Jeremiah’s words, asking, “is anything too wondrous for Me?”
Like Jeremiah, we, too, are commanded to trust in the redemptive power of God, even as we live through times and experiences that would challenge that belief.
May 14, 2022
Parashat Emor: Leviticus 21:1-24:3
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31
Parashat Emor begins by delineating the laws governing the cohanim, the priests: they may only defile themselves to bury parents, siblings (brothers, or sisters who are virgins), and children; they may not have blemishes and may not work in the mishkan, the Tabernacle, if they have become unclean. They may not marry a harlot or divorcee; the cohen gadol, High Priest, is additionally forbidden to marry a widow but is also required to marry a virgin from his own people.
Next, we find some of the laws governing sacrifices: the animals must be whole, without blemish or injury; they may not be offered during the first week of life, and thereafter not on the same day as their mother.
Moses emphasizes that our observance of the mitzvot makes God’s name holy just as God makes us holy. Finally, Moses once again lists all the sacred occasions of the year from Passover through Sukkot.
The haftarah was written in approximately 572 BCE, while the nation was in exile. Ezekiel speaks of a future restoration to the land and a rebuilding of the Temple, in which only the priests from the line of Zadok will be permitted to serve. The regulations for priestly behavior are delineated here as well. Like the text in Leviticus, Ezekiel prohibits drunkenness when serving in the Temple, and requires the cohanim to always wear their priestly garments when serving. He extends the prohibition of marrying widows to all priests while permitting them to marry virgins from any tribe. The list of familial relationships for which they may defile themselves remains the same.
Both texts emphasize that the priests eat from the meat of the sacrifices; they (and the people) may not eat any animals that died of natural causes or were killed by another animal.
Ezekiel maintains that the priests are responsible for preserving the teachings and laws about holidays and Shabbat; all of these are outlined in the parashah as well.
The two texts are well connected; the haftarah maintains many of the traditions set forth in the parashah; yet several of them have been amended for a new time and situation. This is a clear illustration of the way in which we Conservative Jews maintain the core values of our tradition, while recognizing that halachah must be allowed to change and adapt to meet the needs of our modern world.
May 7, 2022
Parashat Kedoshim: Leviticus 19:1-20:27
Haftarah: Ashkenazim: Amos 9:7-15
Sephardim: Ezekiel 20:2-20
Parashat Kedoshim contains the Holiness Code: God instructs the nation, “you shall be holy, for I am holy.” This is followed by a listing of mitzvot whose observance God requires of us. The positive commandments include honoring parents, keeping Shabbat, leaving the corners of your field and the gleanings for the poor, judging fairly, leaving fruit trees alone for three years, showing respect for the aged; having just measures. The prohibitions include worshipping idols, stealing, swearing using God’s name, cursing the deaf, putting a stumbling block before the blind, slandering, hating, taking revenge, eating blood, making cuts or marks in yourself for the dead, consulting mediums, wronging the stranger, sacrificing children to Molech, committing adultery, engaging in any one of a list of prohibited sexual relations. Each of the Ten Commandments appears somewhere in this list. The parashah finishes with a reminder that we will inherit the land, therefore we must be holy, since God has separated us as God’s own people.
This very short haftarah (nine verses) begins by reminding Israel that we are no different from other nations—all nations and races are equal in God’s eyes. As such, God will also destroy the sinful among us. The image that is used is of a large sieve that will separate out only the finest among us; this remnant will be restored to the land, never to be uprooted again. Each harvest will be so plentiful that it will last until the next one. We will again once again be called “my people”.
Both the parashah and the haftarah warn us that banishment from the land of Israel will be a consequence of being sinful (Lev. 20:22, Amos 9:14-15). Though we have been chosen as God’s own people, and are set apart from other nations, we may only realize our destiny through observance of the covenant. We must be holy, because God is holy, and demands nothing less from us.
April 30, 2022
Parashat Acharei Mot Leviticus 16:1-18:30
Haftarah: Ashkenazim: Ezekiel 22:1-19
Sephardim: Ezekiel 22:1-16
After the death of his two sons, Aaron is warned that he may go into the holy of holies only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, when he is to wash and don his priestly garments, then offer a bull to atone for himself and his family. Two goats are to be brought; one is to be sacrificed as atonement for the people. Aaron is commanded to enter the tent alone and sprinkle blood from the sacrifice on the altar; he is to lay his hands the head of the live goat, confessing the people’s sins, and send it out into the wilderness. God commands that this is to take place on the tenth day of the seventh month, when we are to afflict our souls and do no work.
Moses instructs that all sacrifices are to be brought to the Tent of Meeting to be offered by the priests. Eating blood, as well as animals that die on their own, is prohibited.
The parashah concludes with a list of forbidden sexual unions.
The haftarah was written sometime before 586 BCE. Ezekiel warns the nation that it will be punished and sent into exile for the many sins that have been committed by the people and their leaders; twenty-four sins are listed, including bringing improper sacrifices; mistreatment of the most vulnerable members of society; mistreatment of parents; profaning Shabbat; charging excessive interest; committing fraudulent behavior; engaging in the forbidden sexual relations delineated in the parashah. Moses warned us not to consume blood; Ezekiel condemns us for shedding it.
Moses warned that if the nation was sinful, the land would spit them out for defiling it; in Ezekiel’s time, that is precisely what happened. In exile, they will be refined like dross that is turned into silver before being restored to the land.
Ezekiel makes us accountable: failure to observe the covenant with God has consequences.
We, too, must allow God to refine our souls, not just on Yom Kippur, but every day of the year.
April 23, 2022
Friday, Seventh Day Pesach: Exodus 13:17-15:26
Maftir Reading: Numbers 28:19-25
Haftarah: 2 Samuel 22:1-51
Shabbat, Eighth Day Pesach: Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17
Maftir Reading: Numbers 28:19-25
Haftarah: Isaiah 10:32-12:6
The centerpiece of the seventh day’s Torah reading is Shirat haYam, Moses’ song of praise after the people of Israel experienced God’s deliverance from Pharaoh and his army of six hundred chariots through the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea. Moses’s song is followed by the song with which Miriam led the women in singing and dancing their praise of Hashem. According to tradition, this event occurred exactly seven days after leaving Egypt.
Similarly, the haftarah is a song of praise offered by King David for having saved him from his enemies, and from King Saul when he had wanted to kill him. Some of the language used by David is reminiscent of phrases in Moses’ song, making it a natural complement to it. Incorporating these songs into our liturgy keeps these historic events in our memory, and reminds us that when we experience miracles, we, too, must begin our response with praise.
The eighth day’s Torah reading reminds us to bring the tithe of our produce and the firstlings of the flock to God. We are enjoined to provide for those who have no means of supporting themselves: Levites, strangers, orphans, widows, and the poor. Every seven years we are to free slaves, reminding ourselves that we were slaves ourselves in Egypt. Once again, we are reminded of the yearly festivals: Passover in the spring, seven weeks later the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and after the fall harvest the Feast of Booths (Sukkot); these three times each year all males must appear before God with an offering at the place that God designates.
The haftarah speaks of a future redemption; a utopian world of peace is envisioned, brought about by a leader from the line of David. This Passover of the Future is believed to refer to the time of the messiah. The text concludes with two short hymns of praise, including two verses (12:2-3) that are familiar to us from the Havdalah service, expressing gratitude to Hashem for our deliverance. How fitting it is to be hearing these words as our annual holiday of redemption draws to a close!
April 16, 2022
Shabbat, First Day Pesach: Exodus 12:21-51
Maftir Reading: Numbers 28:19-25
Haftarah: Joshua 3:5-7, 5:2-6:1, 6:27
Sunday, Second Day Pesach: Leviticus 22:26-23:44
Maftir Reading: Numbers 28:19-25
Haftarah: 2 Kings 23:1-9, 21-25
The Torah reading for the first day of Pesach tells of the night we were liberated from Egypt: each family sacrificing a lamb, spreading its’ blood on the doorpost and lintels of the house; the Lord passing over the houses as the Egypt firstborn were struck down at midnight. Pharaoh finally relenting, telling us to leave Egypt; taking our dough before it could rise and asking the Egyptians for gold and silver. It is an ordinance to observe this feast forever, explaining it to our children when they ask.
The reading instructs that Passover must be observed once the people are living in the land (12:25); the haftarah tells the story of the first Pesach celebration that took place in the land of Israel. Exodus instructs that any male wishing to participate in the Pesach celebration must be circumcised (12:48); the haftarah relates that, though the generation that left Egypt were all circumcised, none of those born in the desert had been circumcised (verses 4-6). Therefore, once they arrived in the land, Joshua told them to do so right away (v. 2-3). They then offered the Passover sacrifice on the fourteenth day of the first month (v. 10), eating unleavened bread and the produce of the land. On that day the manna finally ceased (v. 11-12). Finally, Joshua received an angelic visitor who told him, “remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy” (v. 15). The wording calls to mind the language used by God at the burning bush; thus, Joshua was validated is the successor of Moses in leading the nation.
The Torah reading for the second day of Pesach begins with the command not to sacrifice an animal during the first seven days of its life, and thereafter not in the same day as its mother. This is followed by a listing of the holy days that God commands us to keep: every seventh day (Shabbat); the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread; another feast seven weeks later; in the seventh month a memorial of blowing horns, a convocation of afflicting our souls, a seven day holiday when we dwell in booths and take the fruit of goodly tree with palms, willows, and boughs of thick trees, culminating in an eighth day of convocation.
The haftarah recounts the story of King Josiah calling the nation’s elders to the Temple in Jerusalem for a public reading of the scroll that had been found there (which is believed to have been the book of Deuteronomy). He and all the assembled people entered the covenant “with all their heart and soul” (v. 8). He then removed and burned all the items that had been used in idol worship (v. 4-7). Finally, he commanded that the nation observe the Passover that was described in the scroll (v. 21-23); we are told that the festival had not been observed during the time of the judges or the kings. Finally, the text says that there was no other king like Josiah, either before or since (v. 25). Thus, the importance of the Pesach celebration is emphasized, as well as commitment to the covenant with God.
April 9, 2022
Parshat Metzora: Leviticus 14:1-15:33
Haftarah Shabbat HaGadol: Malachi 3:4-23
This week’s parashah continues to outline the laws regarding leprosy and bodily discharges. The categories of people that are declared unclean are: anyone afflicted with צרעת (leprosy); a man who has any kind of discharge or seminal emission; a woman who has a discharge of non-menstrual blood or her regular menstrual flow. All of these spend seven days outside the camp before inspection by a priest to determine if they have become clean. Purification occurs through sacrifices, sprinkling of blood, pouring of oil, and immersion in a mikvah. If the individual is still unclean, (s)he must spend another seven days in isolation before being rechecked by the priest. Garments and dwellings are also susceptible to infection and must be similarly checked by a priest.
This week is Shabbat HaGadol, the Shabbat before Pesach. This day, traditionally, the rabbi of the congregation gave a lengthy sermon, explaining all the laws of the holiday. Its name is connected to the penultimate verse of the haftarah, which says that God will send the prophet Elijah לפני בוא יום ה’ הגדול, before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord.
This haftarah is the last chapter in the Tanakh, written sometime after the reconstruction of the Temple, between 500-480 BCE. God promises that the people’s sacrifices will once again be accepted, but not before the sinners among them will be called upon to repent and return to Hashem. The righteous among the people express indignance at their perceived Divine snub; God promises that they will receive a future reward, even as the wicked are destroyed for their sins. Finally, the nation is exhorted to be mindful of the teachings of Moses, and to wait for the day when Elijah will reappear, bringing reconciliation between parents and children, and between the people and God.
Verse five lists the sins of which the people have been judged guilty: sorcery, adultery, cheating workers of their wages, and mistreating the widow, orphan, and stranger; the single commandment mentioned more times than any other in the Torah–36 times!—is to remember the stranger and treat them with kindness and dignity because we know what it was like to be strangers in Egypt.
In verse six, God states that God has not changed, and that we as a nation have not ceased to exist. God calls us to turn back to Godself—and promises to turn back to us. God promises to send Elijah to bring about a great reconciliation; on Passover night we open the door for him, eagerly anticipating his arrival, bringing with him a time of peace.
May it come soon and in our day!
April 2, 2022
Parashat Tazria: Leviticus 12:1-13:59
Rosh Chodesh Reading (Shevii) for Shabbat HaChodesh: Numbers 28:9-15
Maftir Reading for Shabbat HaChodesh: Exodus 12:1-20
Haftarah Ashkenazim: Ezekiel 45:16-46:18
Haftarah Sephardim: 45:18-46:15
This week is a three Torah Shabbat!
The weekly parashah outlines the laws governing a woman’s impurity after childbirth. She is unclean for one week, plus an additional 33 days if she bears a son; twice those numbers for a daughter. Afterwards, she brings a burnt offering and a sin offering.
There follows a lengthy explanation of the laws of צרעת (leprosy) and all its forms of manifestation. The afflicted individual must dwell outside the camp for seven days before being checked by a priest and hopefully declared clean; immersion in a mikvah is required before reentering the congregation. There are similar laws for infected garments, which must be burned if the infection cannot be eradicated.
The short reading from Numbers lists the sacrifices that were brought on Shabbat and on Rosh Chodesh.
This is Shabbat HaChodesh, which occurs either on (like this year) or just before Rosh Chodesh Nisan; its name derives from the second verse of the special reading, which declares that this is the beginning, the first month of the year. The reading then delineates the laws of Passover offering and observance.
In the haftarah for this shabbat, Ezekiel speaks to the nation in Babylonian exile, giving them a vision of the restored Temple in Jerusalem, describing the sacrifices that will once again be brought on all the sacred occasions and the leader (prince) who will be responsible for bringing them and cleansing the Temple.
Connecting it to the Torah readings, the haftarah speaks of bringing the Passover sacrifice on the 14th of the month, followed by seven days of eating unleavened bread, just as was commanded in the reading from Exodus. Prior to this, on the first of the month, a sin offering is brought (like the new mother in the first reading) and its blood is smeared on the doorposts of the Temple, just as the Exodus reading commands the smearing of blood from the Pesach sacrifice on the doorposts of the home.
We are reminded of Hashem’s protective presence, both in the privacy of our home, and when we gather for public worship. This year, as many of us tentatively emerge from our Covid induced cocoons to invite others into our homes for seder, and we also venture to our synagogues to worship together, b’yachad, again, may we feel the comfort of the Shekinah surrounding us and lifting us up.
March 26, 2022
Parashat Shemini: Leviticus 9:1-11:47
Maftir Reading for Shabbat Parah: Numbers 19:1-22
Haftarah Ashkenazim: Ezekiel 36:16-38
Haftarah Sephardim: 36:16-36
The priests finished their week of isolation; it was time to dedicate both them and the mishkan. The action took place on the eighth (שמיני) day. Moses commanded Aaron to make sacrifices on behalf of himself and his sons, and the people. Moses and Aaron blessed the assembled nation, and fire came from God, consuming the burnt offering. In their zeal, Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, brought “strange fire” in their incense pans, and were instantly consumed by the same fire from God. Moses told Aaron and his two remaining sons not to observe any rituals of mourning.
The parashah finishes with Moshe delineating what animals the people may and may not eat.
This is the third of four Shabbatot before Pesach, Shabbat Parah. The maftir reading explains the ritual of the red heifer, an unblemished, unworked animal that was sacrificed and burned, and its ashes dissolved in water and sprinkled on anyone who had become unclean through contact with a corpse, to purify them.
In the haftarah, Ezekiel addresses the nation of Israel, who are in Babylonian exile, due to their sins. In a statement reminiscent of the haggadah, God says “I poured [ואשפך] out my blood upon them”; however, Israel is the object of Divine wrath here, “for the blood that they shed upon the land” (36:18). Their sins defiled both God’s name and the land. The theme of impurity (טמא—v. 17, 18, 25, 29) and purification (טהר—v. 25, 33) connects the haftarah to both Torah readings. God promised to cleanse the nation from its impurity and restore it to the land, imbuing them with a new heart and a new spirit. In verse 35, God said, “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean….”, just as ashes of the red heifer brought purification to one who was unclean. God promised finally that the people would be as numerous as the sheep that fill Jerusalem for the holiday (presumably Pesach).
Ezekiel exhorted the people to examine themselves and cleanse themselves from their sins. As we root out the chametz from our homes in the coming weeks, may we, too, root out the sins from our lives as we prepare to celebrate Pesach in joy.
March 19, 2022
Parashat Tzav: Leviticus 6:1-8:36
Haftarah: Jeremiah 7:21-8:3, 9:22-23
This week’s parashah continues the description of the various types of sacrifices. Here we learn about the burnt, meal, sin, guilt, and peace offerings: what was sacrificed, the reasons for each, and who got to eat the sacrifice. Only Aaron and his male descendants were permitted to eat the priestly portion, only peace offerings were eaten by the person who brought them. Neither the blood nor the fat was to be consumed by anyone.
Next Moses gathered all the people to the tabernacle to witness the ordination of Aaron and his sons. He washed them, dressed them in their priestly garments, offered a bull and two rams as sacrifices; taking the blood from the second ram, he smeared it on the right ear, thumb, and big toe of each man to indicate his subservience to God. Finally, he gave them strict instructions not to leave the Tent for seven days.
The haftarah is a prophecy from approximately 597 BCE; the people had become lawless, even observing pagan worship and child sacrifice, both abominations to Hashem. Jeremiah chastises them for bringing sacrifices while practicing immorality and foretells their horrific doom (which will come at the hands of the Babylonians, who will destroy Solomon’s Temple). To end on a positive note, two verses are added from chapter 9 that exhort the people not to trust in their wisdom, strength, or riches, but rather only God; and to emulate God with acts of kindness and justice. Hashem prefers these to insincere sacrifices.
The parashah lays out the details of the sacrifices and the value Hashem places on their meticulous observance; the blood on the ear of the priests emphasizes the complete obedience that is desired. The haftarah shows a nation so far removed from what God desires that we are told twice (verses 24, 26) that they did “not listen or give ear.” As a result, Jeremiah said, their sacrifices were worthless.
The combined message of these two texts is that we must have a proper healthy balance in our lives between observance of mitzvot on the one hand, and ethical, moral behavior on the other. If we can maintain that balance, then that is the way in which we can draw close to the Divine.
March 12, 2022
Parashat Vayikra Leviticus 1:1-5:26
Shabbat Zachor Maftir Reading: Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Shabbat Zachor Haftarah: Ashkenazim: 1 Samuel 15:2-34
Sephardim: 1 Samuel 15:1-34
Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, firstname.lastname@example.org
This week is Shabbat Zachor, the shabbat that immediately precedes Purim. The special maftir Torah reading tells the story of Amalek, who led his people to attack the nation of Israel as we were leaving Egypt, singling out the most vulnerable among us as the first victims. God commands us three things: to remember (זכור) what Amalek did to us, to blot out the name of Amalek, and not to forget what he did to us.
This theme continues into the haftarah, where the prophet Samuel delivered to King Saul God’s command to attack the Amalekites, killing them all and proscribing their property. Saul complied, but failed to kill the Amalekite King Agag, taking him prisoner instead, as well as retaining the choicest of the animals. Samuel came to deliver the news that God is angry with Saul and will take the kingship, and ultimately his life, from him. Samuel himself killed Agag, but not before, according to midrash, he was able to father a child while in captivity.
Generations later, Mordecai, descended from the same line as Saul, defeated Agag’s descendant Haman, who lost his life for his crimes, along with 10 sons. Mordecai accomplished what Saul was unable to.
Since then, the name Amalek has come to be associated with any enemy who has risen to destroy us—Rome, Hitler, others. On a spiritual level, it has come to represent those things that would sow seeds of doubt in us, particularly in difficult or trying times. Each of us has our own Amalek(s) that try to destroy our faith. We must work to eradicate their harmful influence.
March 5, 2022
Parashat Pekudei Exodus 38:21-40:38
Haftarah: Ashkenazim: 1 Kings 7:51-8:21
Sephardim: 1 Kings 7:40-50
Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, email@example.com
In this last parashah of the book of Shemot (Exodus) we find a full inventory of the materials Bezalel used to make the mishkan (tabernacle), its furnishings, and the priestly garments for Aaron and his sons. After doing everything that God had commanded, he brought the finished component(s) to Moses, whom God instructed to erect the tabernacle and anoint Aaron and his sons for the priesthood. After he did so, a cloud rested on the tent by day and fire at night, only moving from that spot when the people had to move to a new location.
The events described in the haftarah occurred in approximately 952 BCE, when Solomon finished the work on the Temple, and held a dedication celebration on the holiday of Sukkot, beginning by bringing in all the treasure King David had collected for its functioning. While he himself led the community in offering innumerable animal sacrifices, the elders of the nation, at his command, brought up the ark, containing only the two tablets Moses had received at Sinai, and placed it in the Holy of Holies.
Next the tabernacle and all its vessels were transferred to their new, permanent home. Thus, Jerusalem became the religious center of the nation of Israel. The connection between the parashah and the haftarah is obvious. The centerpiece of both structures is the ark and its precious contents (Exodus 40:20, 1 Kings 8:9). God’s presence is manifested in both structures by the presence of a cloud (Exodus 40:34-35, 1 Kings 8:10-11). The dedication of the mishkan culminates with Moses blessing the assembled nation (Exodus 39:43); similarly, Solomon also blessed the people at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8:14). The absorption of the ark and, indeed, the entire tabernacle into the structure of the Temple signaled a continuity of worship to the people of Israel: what had served a nomadic people traveling in the desert became the foundation of the permanent structure serving a people settled in the land.
Unfortunately, we know today that Solomon’s Temple, as well as the Second Temple did not withstand the test of time. The sacred ark has been lost to history. Today each of us is called to make a place for the presence of the Shekhinah (feminine divine presence of God) within our soul.
February 26, 2022
Parashat Vayakhel Exodus 35:1-38:20
Haftarah: Ashkenazim: 1 Kings 7:40-50
Sephardim: 1 Kings 7:13-26
Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, firstname.lastname@example.org
Vayakhel begins with Moshe reiterating the commandment to observe Shabbat: no work is to be done nor fires kindled on the seventh day. He instructs the people to make a willing offering of all the raw materials needed to construct the Tabernacle and its furnishings; both men and women generously comply. The craftsman Bezalel and his assistant Oholiab are appointed to oversee the construction; both are endowed by God with the knowledge they need to complete the task. They tell Moshe that the people have brought too much, and he asks them to stop. The balance of the text is a detailed description of the construction project: what items were made and how many; the dimensions of each, and the materials used to create them.
The haftarah tells the story of the completion of the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The craftsman of this project is Hiram, who does the copper and bronze work. King Solomon oversees the construction of the furnishings: the altar, showbread
table, lampstands, doors, and utensils, all made of gold. Because it describes the Temple’s dedication, this haftarah is also read on the Shabbat of Chanukah.
The connections that join the parashah and the haftarah together, b’yachad , are clear: the mishkan and Temple were both constructed as earthly dwelling places for Hashem. Though one was portable and one permanent, they contained almost identical furnishings. Bezalel and Hiram were the master craftsmen that worked on the projects; Moshe and Solomon were the ones to complete them.
Both texts are connected to the Creation story of Bereshit. The word וַיַּ֣עַשׂ, he made, is used to refer to Bezalel (41 times in this parashah ), Hiram (1 Kings 7:40, 48), and God (Gen. 1:7, 16, 25). The creations of Bezalel and Hiram are referred to as ,הַמְּלָאכָ֔ה the work; Genesis uses the word ,מְלַאכְתּ֖וֹ his work, to refer to God’s creation (2:2,3). Hashem created a world for us to dwell in; we completed the creative process by making sanctuaries for Hashem to dwell in. Neither sanctuary exists any longer; today we provide a place for Hashem to dwell within each one of us, and within our holy communities.
February 19, 2022
Parashat Ki Tissa Exodus 30:11-34:34. Haftarah: Ashkenazim 1 Kings 18:1-39. Sephardim 1 Kings 18:20-39
Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, email@example.com
This week’s parashah begins with Moshe taking a census, requiring each man aged 20-60 to bring a half shekel. God designated Bezalel to oversee the Tabernacle’s construction and reiterated the importance of Shabbat observance. While Moshe was on Mt. Sinai receiving the tablets with the 10 commandments, the people had Aaron build a golden calf for them to worship; Hashem was angry enough to want to destroy the nation; Moshe interceded on their behalf. Moshe broke the tablets in anger, and destroyed the calf, designating the Tabernacle as the place of worship. At God’s command, Moshe ascended the mountain with a second set of tablets to be inscribed with the commandments; when he descended after spending 40 days and nights there, his face shone.
The haftarah’s story takes place during the reign of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel who together encouraged idol worship in Israel; during the third year of a drought, God sent the prophet Elijah to put an end to the idolatry. A showdown was arranged between Elijah and 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mt. Carmel. Though the pagan prophets spent hours calling upon their gods, nothing happened. When Elijah took his turn, he doused the altar with water multiple times before calling upon the name of
Hashem, Who answered by consuming the bull offering in fire, causing everyone present to proclaim, “The Lord Alone is God.”
Both the parashah and the haftarah together, b’yachad, are strong incriminations of idolatry. Moshe and Elijah each climbed a mountain to restore the faith of the people in God. Moshe destroyed the golden calf; Elijah sacrificed a bull that God consumed. Both men insisted that the people choose between idolatry and Hashem; thus, the theme of repentance is also stressed. Both passages are related to our Yom Kippur prayers: the Torah reading contains the 13 Attributes of Hashem’s mercy, which are recited multiple times throughout the day. And the phrase that ends the haftarah, ה’ הוא האלקים, Adoshem Hu Ha-Elokim, “the Lord alone is God” is chanted 7 times at the end of Ne’ilah, just before the final shofar blast. To this day, we are called upon to put aside those things that would detract from our relationship with Hashem, and to recognize the supremacy of the one true God.
January 22, 2022
Parashat Yitro Exodus 18:1-20:23
Haftarah Ashkenazim: Isaiah 6:1-7:6 and 9:5-6
Haftarah Sephardim: Isaiah 6:1-13
Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, firstname.lastname@example.org
Parashat Yitro is named for Moses’ his father-in-law, who visited Israel in the desert, praising God and bringing a sacrifice when he heard about all that Hashem had done to redeem Israel from slavery. Seeing that Moses was overwhelmed by trying to judge all the matters brought to him by the people, Yitro suggested he set up a system of judges to be rulers over thousands, then hundreds, fifties and finally tens: the first judicial system! The Israelites then journeyed to Sinai, where they witnessed Moses going up to receive the 10 Commandments from Hashem, amidst clouds, thunder, lightning, and shofar blasts.
In Isaiah’s prophecy from the haftarah, dated approximately 724 BCE, he experiences a vision of God sitting on a throne, surrounded by angels who fly around singing God’s praises. Isaiah is instructed to foretell the doom of the nation, and, ultimately, the redeemer that will come to sit on the throne of David and rule in peace.
The parshah begins with the establishment of a system of justice and ends with the revelation at Sinai; the haftarah reverses the order, beginning with revelation and ending with the establishment of justice. In Exodus, God recounts carrying the people of Israel “on eagle’s wings” (10:4)”; in Isaiah’s vision, God is surrounded by angels that have 6 wings each (6:2). The angels declare God holy (6:3); God says that Israel will be a “holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). Both the people of Israel and Isaiah are afraid to look upon God; Mt. Sinai was עשן, filled with smoke (20:15); so was the Temple for Isaiah (6:4). Mt. Sinai trembled (19:18), as did the walls of the Temple in Isaiah’s vision (9:4). The people heard God’s voice at Sinai (19:9), as did Isaiah (19:8).
Isaiah received a personal revelation of God; and we are enjoined to envision ourselves personally standing at Sinai. The opportunity for each of us to have a personal encounter with Hashem is still offered to us today; we encounter the Divine daily through prayer and study.
Jan 15, 2022
Parashat Beshalach Exodus 13:17-17:16
Haftarah Judges 4:4-5:31
Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, email@example.com
Parashat Beshalach tells the dramatic story of our liberation from Egypt, and the parting of the Red Sea; the Israelites pass through on dry land, escaping Pharaoh and his army. Similarly in the haftarah the judge and prophetess Deborah and her husband Barak celebrate an unprecedented military victory over the Canaanites. Both stories are told as narratives, and then as a beautiful song of praise. There are numerous things connecting these 2 texts B’yachad, together. Moses’ song begins with the word אָז, then (Ex. 15:1); this word appears 5 times in Deborah’s song (Judges 5:8,11,13,19,22). Moses’ first words are אָשִׂירָה לַּ-ה, ashira ladoshem, I will sing to the Lord (15:1); this is echoed in the haftarah (5:3). Both texts speak of עֹז, strength (15:2, 5:21), the chariots (מַרְכְּבֹת) of the enemy (15:4, 5:28), and their horses (סוּס—15:1, 5:22). Pharaoh’s army is swept away in the Red Sea (15: 4-5), the Canaanites in the Kishon River (5:21). We read that not one (עַַד־אֶחָד) of either Pharaoh’s (14:28) or Sisera’s (4:16) men survived.
More importantly, there are strong women represented in both texts. Miriam led the women of Israel in song and dance in praise of Hashem; military victory in the book of Judges was brought about through Deborah and Yael. This Shabbat, Shabbat Shirah, is designated as Women’s League Shabbat.
January 8, 2022
Parashat Bo Exodus 10:1-13:16 Haftarah Jeremiah 46:13-28
Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, firstname.lastname@example.org
Parashat Bo continues the story of the Exodus, beginning with the description of the last of the plagues: locusts, then darkness; both times Pharaoh agrees to let them go, and once again changes his mind. Finally, there is the death of the firstborn. God instructs the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb and put the blood on the doorposts; for 7 days they are to eat unleavened bread.
In the haftarah Jeremiah issues 2 prophecies of doom against Egypt, predicting its downfall at the hands of the Babylonian King Nebuchednezzar. Egypt will be punished for having enslaved Israel. These messages are followed by 2 messages containing the promise that Israel will be released from Babylonian captivity.
The Torah portion and haftarah are connected B’yachad very strongly by language. The name of the parashah, Bo, comes from the verb lavo, to come. This same verb appears in various forms 5 times in the haftarah (lavo in verse 13; yavo, it will come, v. 18; ba, comes, twice, v. 20 and again in v. 21; ba-u, they come, v. 22). There is also a homonym, bo (spelled with a vav instead of an aleph), meaning “on him”, appearing in verse 25.
The first plague in the parashah is locusts; the enemy in the haftarah is described as coming down like locusts (v. 23).
Finally, and most importantly, in the parashah, God finally exacts punishment on the Pharaoh of Egypt for refusing to let the people of Israel go free, demonstrating very vividly Hashem’s power and authority over the gods of Egypt; in the haftarah, Jeremiah foretells that the God of Israel will inflict punishment “on Pharaoh—on Egypt, her gods and her kings…” (v. 25) The prophet speaks of the end of Egypt’s reign.
Reading the parashah and the haftarah together delivers a powerful message: ours is a God who keeps promises.
December 25, 2021
Parashat Shemot – Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-23 (Ashkenazic); Jeremiah 1:1-2:3 (Sephardic)
Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, email@example.com
This week’s parashah begins the second book of the Torah, which tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
It begins by naming all those who came to Egypt with Jacob; once there, their numbers increased so greatly that “the land was filled with them.” A new pharaoh, fearing their growing numbers, launches an effort to oppress and enslave them. He decrees that all male Israelite babies are to be drowned in the Nile. One woman defies this decree, hides her baby for 3 months, then places him in a basket in the Nile; he is rescued by the pharaoh’s daughter, who raises him as her own. This baby is Moses, the future redeemer of the nation.
After slaying an Egyptian taskmaster for beating an Israelite slave, the adult Moses escapes to the desert, where he encounters the seven daughters of Jethro, priest of Midian. One of them, Tzipporah, becomes his wife. When tending the sheep, he encounters a burning bush, from which God speaks to him, commissioning him to go back to Egypt and lead the people to freedom, despite Moses’ many protestations that he is not the right person to do so. When Moses and his brother Aaron tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free, he becomes angry, decreeing that they will no longer be given straw to make the bricks, though their quota will remain unchanged.
In the haftarah, Isaiah foretells a future return – a new exodus—of the people of Israel from Egypt and Assyria. Moses asked Pharaoh to allow the nation to worship Hashem in the desert; Isaiah prophesied that they would serve God on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.
These two texts are connected b’yachad through several words that appear in both. Ha-baim describes those who came to Egypt (Exodus 1:1) and those who will come to the land in the future (Isaiah 27:1). God’s awesome signs will be performed bekirbo, in the midst of, the Egyptians (Exodus 3:20), Isaiah foretells that Jacob’s descendants will realize the wonders that God has done in his midst—using the same word. Egypt was filled with (va-timalei) the Israelites (Exodus 1:8), while the land in the future will be filled with (u-malu) fruit.
The Torah reading ends on an ominous note; the haftarah promises a hopeful future for Jacob’s descendants.
December 18, 2021
Parashat Vayechi – I Kings 2:1-12
Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director of WLC, firstname.lastname@example.org
The haftarah that goes b’yachad, together with Parashat Vayechi is I Kings 2:1-12. As we conclude Sefer Bereshit, the Book of Genesis, our patriarch Jacob prepares for his death. The Torah reading and haftarah use similar terminology to refer to death. Genesis 47:29 states, “The days of Israel drew near that he die.” I Kings 2:1 states, “The days of David drew near that he die.” There is another example of similar terminology in the Torah and haftarah readings. When Joseph’s brothers tell Jacob that Benjamin has to go with them to Egypt to get food, Jacob states that he will die if Benjamin were lost. Jacob states “you will send my white head down to Sheol in grief.” In I Kings 2:9, King David states in anger that Solomon should punish Joab and “send his gray hair down to Sheol in blood.” The dying father in the Torah and haftarah readings demonstrate the dying father “commanding” his descendants about how to act after his death (Genesis 49:33, I Kings 2:1). In the Torah reading, the instructions are given to all of Jacob’s children as they gather around his deathbed. King David in the haftarah only speaks to Solomon. Parashat Vayechi ends with the promise that God will rescue the children of Israel from exile in Egypt. In the haftarah, Solomon is promised an everlasting dynasty as long as the children of Israel follow God’s laws.
December 11, 2021
Parashat Vayigash – Ezekiel 37:15 – 28
Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director of WLC, email@example.com
The haftarah that is b’yachad, together, with Parashat Vayigash is Ezekiel 37:15-28. In Parashat Vayigash, Joseph and Benjamin have a reunion filled with tears. In Genesis 45:12, we read the phrase “see for yourselves,” which seems to mean that in order to understand completely what is happening, Joseph’s brothers cannot just hear an explanation but must also see evidence that supports it. The brothers require a visual sign, similar to the Israelites in the haftarah. In the Torah reading, Joseph causes his brothers to go through the action of going home to get Benjamin and bringing him to Egypt in order to facilitate them reliving the time they were alone with Joseph and sold him. The purpose of the enactment was to teach them to protect their younger and weaker brother. In the haftarah, we also see an action which symbolizes a lesson.
In the haftarah, Ezekiel proclaims the reunion of the two halves of Israel, symbolized by the two sticks. One stick has the name “Judah” engraved on it, which included the tribe of Benjamin in the Southern Kingdom and on the other stick, the name “Ephraim,” Joseph’s son who represents the Northern Kingdom. Ezekiel’s reunion of Judah-Benjamin and Ephraim Joseph parallels the Torah reading’s reunion of Benjamin and Joseph.
December 4, 2021
Parashat Miketz – Rosh Chodesh Tevet – Hanukkah – Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7
Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director of WLC, firstname.lastname@example.org
The haftarah that is B’yachad with Parashat Miketz when it is Shabbat Hanukkah is from Zechariah 2:14-4:7. Most Ashkenazic congregations do not add verses from other haftarot. Sephardic congregations add the first and last verse of the Shabbat Rosh Chodesh haftarah. In the haftarah, Zechariah sees in his vision a menorah with seven lamps. God is the source of our light, warmth, understanding, and enlightenment. The menorah gives off God’s light to illuminate our world. May this Hanukkah bring light into our lives. Zechariah states that God dwells amongst us. (Zechariah 2:14). Let us pray that God dwells amongst us, and that we treat each other as we are each God. Zechariah’s name means “God remembered.” The haftarah commences by telling Israel to shout loudly to be saved from exile among its enemies. May God remember us all for good. The haftarah also commences by declaring “Shout for joy/gladness.” May each day of Hanukkah bring us much joy and gladness. In addition to the obvious connection to Hanukkah, with the discussion of the menorah, another connection to Hanukkah is the last verse of the haftarah and the victory of the Maccabees. Zerubbabel will not build the Temple with his own might and power, but rather by the virtue of the spirit of God. Similarly, the Maccabees did not win their battle due to their own might and power, but because God fought their battles. In the haftarah, there is a miracle that the olives pressed themselves and automatically refilled the menorah. Sound familiar? The legend associated with the Maccabees involved miracles and olives. The Maccabees cleaned the Temple and discovered that they had enough oil to last one day, but miraculously the oil lasted for eight days. May we have much joy and gladness each day of Hanukkah and appreciate the miracles in our daily lives.
November 27, 2021
Parashat Vayeshev – Haftarah – Amos 2:6 – 3:8
Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director of WLC, email@example.com
In the Torah reading, Parashat Vayeshev, Joseph tells his dreams, which some see as prophecies, to his brothers who do not want to hear them. Clothing is an important symbol in both the Torah and haftarah. In the Torah reading, Joseph, the favorite child of his father Jacob, is given the coat of many colors. This gift makes Joseph’s brothers very jealous. Both the Torah and the haftarah provide shocking examples of hard-hearted behavior. In the Torah Reading, Genesis 37:24-25, Joseph’s brothers ate after they threw Joseph in a pit. According to a midrash, a rabbinic legend, the brothers moved away from the pit, so as not to hear Joseph’s calls for help. A central theme in both the Torah and haftarah, is the issue of personal responsibility. Reuben understands in Genesis 37:30 that as the oldest in the family, he should have protected his younger brother Joseph. He realizes that he will be held responsible for Joseph’s fate by their father Jacob. In verses 38:1-11, Judah neglects his responsibilities towards Tamar, his daughter-in-law. On the other hand, Tamar does all that she can to fulfill her responsibility to continue the family line, even possibly risking her own life (Genesis 38:12-30). The Torah reading is filled with examples of people being punished measure for measure for the sins of their past. For example, Jacob’s parents played favorites with their sons, ultimately hurting them both. Jacob plays favorites among his sons, ultimately hurting them all. Jacob lied to his father Isaac and Jacob’s sons lied to him. The blood of a goat is used to trick Jacob into thinking that Joseph was dead. Jacob had used a goatskin to fool his own father Isaac into thinking that he was his brother Esau. The coat of many colors is used to trick Jacob into thinking that Joseph was dead. Joseph’s brother, Judah, is later tricked by the clothes that Tamar wears. Joseph’s brothers show his bloody coat of many colors to Jacob, and ask him if he can “recognize this.” Tamar later sends Judah’s staff back to him, and asks “recognize this”. Both the Torah reading and the haftarah provide examples of how you cannot stop a good person from doing good. In the Torah reading, Joseph was a tzaddik, a righteous person, who was turned into a slave by his brothers. Furthermore, there is an example in the Torah reading, of a tzadikah, a righteous woman, Tamar, who lowered herself in order to fulfill her mission.
In the haftarah that is paired b’yachad together with Parashat Vayeshev, Amos 2:6 – 3:8, Amos has a message from God that the people do not want to hear. In the haftarah, Amos states that even the mighty will be stripped naked of the garments that give them strength. In the haftarah the children of Israel insensitively exploited the poor and profited from their exploitation. In the haftarah, the children of Israel neglect their responsibility to protect the poor. Amos takes his responsibility to publicize God’s words very seriously, even if the others do not want to hear the message. Amos 3:2 states that God will call Israel to account for all its sins – and there are many examples how this statement holds true in our Torah reading. In the haftarah, prophets and Nazarites are tzadikim, righteous people, who are robbed of their power and in effect enslaved by the Israelites. The prophets emerge victorious, because after all, we continue to read the books of the Prophets and are generally influenced by their ideas even until today. The self-control of the nazarites in the haftarah stands in opposition to the self-indulgent behavior of Judah, Joseph’s brothers.
November 13, 2021
Parashat Vayetzei – Haftarah – Hosea 12:13 – 14:10 (Ashkenazic)
Hosea 11:7 – 12:12 (Sephardic)
Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director of WLC, firstname.lastname@example.org
Parashat Vayetzei begins by stating in Genesis 27, that Jacob had to flee his home because his brother Esau wanted to kill him for having stolen his blessing. Jacob asks God to provide for his needs, be with him, guard him (שמר) and help him come back in peace (Genesis 28:15, 20 and also 31:29). God was a support and guide to Jacob during hard times (Genesis 28:15). In the Torah reading, Jacob served seven years for Rachel (Genesis 29:20), and was given Leah instead. He then served seven more years for Rachel. Leah, Rachel and their handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah, were the mothers of all Jacob’s children, the ancestors to the entire people, the children of Israel, b’nai yisrael. In Genesis 31:30, household gods appear in the story without outright condemnation. Laban, Rachel and Leah’s father, owns Idols. Rachel steals those idols to take with her when she leaves her father’s house to move to Canaan. Her theft seems to be condemned by Jacob and Laban, but the ownership of those household Idols itself, does not seem to be condemned. In the Torah reading Laban objects to Jacob having left secretively and protests that if only Jacob had told him his plans, “I would have sent you off b’simchah.” B’simchah is usually translated as “with joy,” or “with willingness, alacrity, enthusiasm and generosity.”
The Ashkenazic Haftarah that goes b’yachad, together with Parashat Vayetzei is from Hosea 12:13 – 14:10. The haftarah begins by stating that Jacob served for one wife, and for another wife, he guarded. The haftarah continues to state that one prophet God brought Israel out of Egypt, and another prophet guarded them. Prophets and wife seem to be described in parallel fashion: how Jacob took wives, but not what the wives did for him is compared to what prophets did for God, but not how God acquired them. Wives gave birth to the people, Moses the prophet helped “deliver” the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt and the other prophet “mothered” them until they developed into a nation. Jacob immediately loved Rachel and was willing to serve her father to earn the right to marry her. Jacob acquired Rachel by acting as a servant. In contrast, the prophets were called by God to serve God. Moses is often referred to as “the Servants of God.” Hosea 12:13 refers to Jacob’s need to flee from his home and sojourn in Aram, where he earned his wives by guarding (שמר) the sheep. Hosea 12:14 continues by saying that God assigned prophets to guard (שמר) Israel when they came up from Egypt and when they lived in Israel. Hosea encourages the Israelites to consider God their only source of help (Hosea 12:14 and 13:4-9). Idols are condemned by Hosea (13:1-2).
In the haftarah (14:5), we learned that if the prophet could convince Israel to stop sinning and repent God, would love Israel generously (נדבה). The haftarah (14:5) says that God will love Israel generously. The haftarah’s term (נדבה) generously and the Torah reading’s term b’simchah have very similar meaning. The word disgrace (חרפה) appears in the Torah reading and in the haftarah. In the Torah reading, Rachel has been childless and suffered shame for many years because of it. In Genesis 30:22-23 she finally has a child and says “God has taken away my disgrace.” In the haftarah, since Ephraim has brought disgrace upon God through Ephraim’s sins, God will pay Ephraim back for the disgrace. The word שובה shuva meaning “return,” appears in both the haftarah and the Torah reading (Hosea 14:2 and Genesis 28:15 and 21, 29:3, 31:3 and 13). The word שובה shuva also forms the basis for the Hebrew word “repentance.” To repent, then is to return. This implies that those who have sinned were once in the right place, but have strayed.
The Sephardic Haftarah that is often read b’yachad together with Parashat Vayetzei is from Hosea 11:7 – 12:12. Furthermore, this haftarah is read by some Ashkenazim for next week’s Torah Reading, Parashat Vayishlach. Before Jacob leaves the Land, God promises in Genesis 28;15, to bring him back to the Land, which God does in Genesis 31:3. According to Hosea, God will call the exiled Israelites from exile to return to their Land (Hosea 11:10-11). Hosea 12:3 states that Jacob was punished according to his deeds. Beth El is mentioned in Parshat Vayetzei (Genesis 28:19 and 31:13) as well as in the haftarah, Hosea 12:5. In Parashat Vayetzei, Jacob kisses Rachel and cries (Genesis 29:11). In the haftarah, it is stated that Jacob fought with an angel and wept (Hosea 12:3-5).
November 6, 2021
Parashat Toldot – Haftarah – Malachi 1:1-2:7
Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director of WLC, email@example.com
In Parashat Toldot, we read about two parents each having their favorite child, and the competition between Jacob and Esau for their father Isaac’s blessing. The family becomes split by the competition, each parent taking a different child’s side. Rebecca favored Jacob and Isaac favored Esau, to be Isaac’s heir. Rebecca tells Jacob to lie to his father and to take Esau’s blessing from him. Jacob worries that he will be found out and will be cursed. Rebecca responds that the curse will be on her (Genesis 27:13). Genesis 25:34 states that Esau despised (ויבז –va’yivaz) his birthright. We read in Genesis 26:5, God promised many blessings to Abraham and Isaac because Abraham guarded God’s commandments, laws, and teachings.
The Haftarah that is read b’yachad, together with Parashat Toldot is from Malachi 1:1- 2:7, we read that God prefers Israel (Jacob) to Edom (Esau). The Haftarah begins by stating that Edom, a descendant of Esau, will be destroyed, they will never recover, but Israel or Jacob will continue to exist. However, despite the fact that Israel survives, they are insecure about God’s love and needs reassurance. The same word, (ויבזva’yivaz) is used in the Haftarah to say that the priests of Israel despised the table of Adonai (Malachi 1:6-7 and 1:12). We see in the haftarah that the priests, who are responsible for teaching God’s laws, lie and cheat by exchanging the people’s good quality sacrifices for bad ones. In return, God curses the priests (Malachi 1:14). In the final verse of the Haftarah, the priests are reminded that their role is to guard and teach God’s teachings.
October 30, 2021
Parashat Chayyei Sarah – I Kings 1:1-31
Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director of WLC, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Parashat Chayyei Sarah, deals with the deaths of both Sarah and Abraham, and takes place in Abrarham’s tent, which he is old and dying, described as “old in advanced years” (Genesis 24:1), and is not able to travel himself to find a wife for his son Isaac, so he sends his servant instead to choose a wife. A young woman is sought to become Isaac’s wife, and again bring life back into Sarah’s tent. The servant knows how daunting a task it will be to choose a wife for Isaac. The servant creates a type of rubric, for the eligible woman will complete, in order to be a worthy wife for Isaac. Abraham is concerned about which of his sons will succeed him as leader of his family and inherit his fortune. Abraham hopes for an orderly transfer of his fortune and leadership. Our Torah Reading depicts a failure of the law of primogeniture, the right of the eldest child to inherit the leadership role in the family. Isaac, not the first born, takes over Abraham’s position, and not the first born son, Ishmael.
In the Haftarah that goes b’yachad, together with Parashat Chayyei Sarah, from I Kings 1:1-31, takes place in the King’s palace, when King David is old and dying, described as “old in advanced years” (I Kings 1:1), and his impending death is inevitable. King David can no longer do things for himself, like keeping himself warm. A young woman is sought to bring comfort to King David, as he lies on his deathbed. There is a very daunting task to fulfill in the Haftarah – appointing a successor to King David. This task is actually a divine mission, which will be undertaken by Nathan and Bathsheva, and they worry that they will not succeed, but they do create a plan, and carry it out, without waiting for Divine intervention. King David wants an orderly transfer of his fortune and leadership to his son Solomon and arranges for Solomon to be anointed king before David dies. The Hafarah is an example in the Bible which shows the failure of the law of promingeniture.
October 23, 2021
Parashat Vayera – II Kings 4:1-37
Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director of WLC, email@example.com
In Parashat Vayera, we see the value of hospitality, when Abraham welcomes three visits to his home, who promise that Sarah, a barren woman, with an old husband, Abraham, will have a child. Sarah responds to this news by laughing. Hagar cries to God that she fears that her son Ishmael will die of thirst in the desert, but God opens Hagar’s eyes and shows her a well. A child is in danger in the Torah reading; Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac. After the binding of Isaac, Abraham is depicted as a God fearing man. (Genesis 22:12). The Torah reading shows how much parents value their children. Abraham protests to God on behalf of the innocent, when he hears that God is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
In the Haftarah that goes b’yachad, together with Parashat Vayera, from II Kings 4:1-37, a barren woman is also promised a child, to which the Shunammite woman responds by accusing Elisha of lying to her. However, the Shunammite woman is hospitable to Elisah. The widow cries to Elisha that she and her sons will not have any food, and that she only has a little bit of oil left, in one bottle. Elisha shows her that she has an endless amount of oil, which will provide for her family’s needs. In the Haftarah, the first set of sons is almost taken away from their mother to be slaves to someone to a credit collector. In the second story in the Haftarah, the son dies and is revived by the prophet Elisha. The woman in the first story refers to her deceased husband as a God fearing man (II Kings 4:1). The Haftarah shows how much parents value their children. Elisah is very upset by God’s decision to have the young boy die, and Elisha revives the boy back to life.
October 16, 2021
Parashat Lekh Lekha – Isaiah 40:27-41:16
Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director of WLC, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Parashat Lekh Lekha, Avram is commanded by God to leave his father’s home, and go to a new place that he does not know. In the Midrash, Rabbinic Legend, Avram is depicted as destroying his father’s idols. Avram is fearful that the kings he just defeated (Genesis 14) would retaliate and seek revenge against him. God tells Avram, “Fear not, Avram, I am a shield for you” (Genesis 15:1). God tells Avram that his descendants will spend 400 years in exile serving other people. God is referring to the time the children of Israel will spend as slaves in Egypt. One might wonder if the children of Israel knew that their slavery would eventually end after 400 years, as God had told Avram. God selects Abraham from all the people on earth to father a new nation dedicated to God.
In the Haftarah for Parashat Lekh Lekha, from Isaiah 40:27-41:16, the people are preparing for a difficult move. In Isaiah 40:18-20 and 41:6-7, we read about idols and idol makers. We read in Isaiah 41:10 and 41:14, that God tells the Israelites, “Fear not.” In the Haftarah (Isaiah 41:1-5), God invites the nations to try to argue who controls history. The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 41:18 calls Israel “My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham, my friend.” Both the Torah and Haftarah indicate that God chose Israel, and the fate of the people of Israel depends on their allegiance to God.
There is a reference in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit 21a, which explains another reason why Parashat Lekh Lekh is read together with the haftarah from Isaiah 40:27-41:16. It is stated in this talmudic passage that the dust and straw of Isaiah 41:2 refers to Abraham’s ability to throw dust and straw stubble into the air and have them turn into swords and arrows. A midrash teaches that in Genesis 14:4, Abraham went to battle against the four kings, taking with him his army of 318 men and explains how Abraham provided weapons to his troops.
October 9, 2021
Parashat Noach – Isaiah 54:1-55:5
Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director of WLC, email@example.com
In both Parashat Noach and its Haftarah from Isaiah 54:1-55:5, God acts with justice and mercy. In the story of Noah, God destroys the world with the great flood, but God spares Noah and his family, and promises never to destroy the world again. Both the Torah and Haftarah Readings present complementary models of righteousness. Noah’s righteousness is based on personal purity and God-centered living. In Isaiah, we read about those who follow God by establishing their city through creating models of a community built on collective righteousness, and tzedakah, and doing acts of loving kindness.
In the story of Noah, water is the agent of destruction and wine is a vehicle of sin. In the Torah reading, water causes death, although typically water is needed to sustain life. In Parashat Noach, wine is the vehicle of sin, although typically in Judaism wine is considered a source of joy. God forewarns Noah about the flood that will occur, and Noah survives to tell about the flood. In the Haftarah, water, wine, and milk are represented as life-giving liquids (Isaiah 55:1). Isaiah 54:15-16 states that Israel is in exile, but God predicts their imminent return to their land. Israel will live through the events and survive to witness and testify to God’s prediction and God’s control of the events. God exiles the Israelites and allows Jerusalem to be destroyed, but is now ready to return the people to a rebuilt city. In Isaiah 54:9-11, Israel is compared to Noah. Israel is about to return from exile and God has to comfort Israel and reassure her (Isaiah 54:4,5, 14). God promises in Isaiah 54:9, “For this to Me is like the waters of Noah: As I swore that the waters of Noah nevermore would flood the earth, so I swear that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you.” God’s promise to Noah in Genesis 8:21 says, “Never again will I doom the earth because of humankind… nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done.”
In Genesis 11:1- 9, we read the story of the Tower of Babel, in which different languages developed as a way to scatter the people. They will all understand that God is the only God. Even if everyone agreed that there is only one God, it would still be possible to worship that one God in different ways.
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