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Weekly Words of Torah

May 21, 2022
Parashat Behar: Leviticus 25:1-26:2
Haftarah: Jeremiah 32:6-27

Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, mcella@wlcj.org

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

Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, mcella@wlcj.org

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

Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, mcella@wlcj.org

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

Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, mcella@wlcj.org

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

Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, mcella@wlcj.org

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

Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, mcella@wlcj.org

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

Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, mcella@wlcj.org

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

Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, mcella@wlcj.org

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

Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, mcella@wlcj.org

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

Submitted by Rabbi Margie Cella, WLCJ Educator, mcella@wlcj.org

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, mcella@wlcj.org

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 Moshe 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.

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, mcella@wlcj.org
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, mcella@wlcj.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, mcella@wlcj.org
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, mcella@wlcj.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, mcella@wlcj.org

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, mcella@wlcj.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, mcella@wlcj.org
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, ewolintz-fields@wlcj.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, ewolintz-fields@wlcj.org
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, ewolintz-fields@wlcj.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, ewolintz-fields@wlcj.org
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, ewolintz-fields@wlcj.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, ewolintz-fields@wlcj.org
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, ewolintz-fields@wlcj.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, ewolintz-fields@wlcj.org
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, ewolintz-fields@wlcj.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, ewolintz-fields@wlcj.org
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.