Jews are not ascetics – or at least, so we tend to think.... Parashat Naso gives us laws that lead us to focus on priestly rules and the purity of the Israelite camp. The adjacent appearance of laws on the sotah (adulteress) and the Nazirite invite us to consider the relationship between these two subjects.
Recently, my daughter and I had an exchange that felt like we were enacting an ancient script between parents and teenagers. It left me wondering where on earth this script comes from, and how I ended up with the parental role.This week’s parashah, B’haalot’cha, provides some answers. God and the people of Israel struggle: the people are tired of manna, yearn for the food of Egypt, and cry out for meat.
When I was speaking with a 95-year-old congregant this week, she shared with me the uncomfortable feeling of having her synagogue change around her. “We used to be properly Reform. Now, when I come, I see people wearing a tallit..... " For her, seeing fellow congregants wearing a tallit feels like a betrayal of the Reform principles she holds dear.... The commandment to wear tzitzit, the fringes on the corners of the tallit, comes from this parashah.
Korach is easily caricatured. ... In the biblical text of Parashat Korach, and in much of the Jewish interpretive tradition, Korach is a jealous demagogue, stirring up rebellion against Moses and Aaron in the desert.
As we come towards the end of the Book of Numbers, Moses is constantly reminded that he will not be the one to lead his people into the Promised Land – along with the vast majority of the Israelites who left Egypt. In Parashat Pinchas, we find the second census of the people by the Jordan River before their crossing; those named in the first, at the beginning of the book, have almost all died in the wilderness. Joshua, one of two sole survivors, will be the one who leads them forward.
Before setting off on a hike in the mountains of Montana, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner was unsettled by all the signs warning about bears. He peppered the National Park Service employee with questions about which trails might be bear-free. The employee pointed out that if it were bear-free, it would not be a wilderness. Over the course of the Book of Numbers, the Israelites encountered many trials in the wilderness. Now, this next generation of Israelites is ready to work together as a people.
The Book of Deuteronomy is radical in every way. Initially, it seems that it’s “just” a review of key events, lots of criticism of the Israelites, and repetition of the core values encountered in previous books through the lens of Moses. But in fact it is wildly radical--different from all the other books of the Torah in both form and function.... Much of the book, especially its first Torah portion, D'varim, highlights the major events that have formed the Jewish people, from Moses' view point.
“You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them ... ” (Deuteronomy 6:7). While we don’t agree on much, over time and space we religiously minded Jews do seem to agree on one central thing: the supreme importance of the study of Torah. As modern scientific fields of study and new Jewish movements have emerged, many ask, “Why study the Torah?’ I propose four answers to this question.