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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parshat Toldot – He Dug his Father’s Wells: A Personal Reflection

Posted by rabbiart on November 21, 2014

In this week’s parshah we read of Isaac digging water-wells that had been stopped up after his father Abraham had originally drilled them. As he dug them, herdsmen of Gerar fought over ownership of the wells and their water. Only when Isaac moved along to Rehoboth did he re-open a well that was able to stay open.

Hold that thought.

A number of years ago I was on a trip in Canada.  My watch broke, so I went out and bought a new one.  It keeps analog time, and also the day and date.  To adjust the time you pull the stem all the way out.  To adjust the day and date you pull it and spin it one way or the other. Lately the day/date function has stopped working, so I have to spin the time forward to adjust the day/date when a month has less than 30 days. (All together now… “30 days hath September, April, June and yada yada yada”).

As I’ve gotten older, my wedding ring has become increasingly difficult to slide on and off over the knuckle of my finger.  Even with a recent loss of weight (yeah Israel Ride) it hasn’t gotten easier. So I went to the jewelry store to have it enlarged. The owner asked me if I had any gold at home, which would lower the cost.  I rummaged through some drawers and found two watches. One was the watch that broke in the previous paragraph, and one was my father’s watch (aha, there is some sort of connection to the parshah here) which I took possession of as a memento after he died.  Turned out these two gold watches are just gold-plate, but no matter.

Anyway, I had a new battery put in Dad’s (alav haShalom) watch, and as I took it back from the jeweler, I discovered that it had the same design as the watch I had purchased up in Canada.  I had bought my father’s watch!

Isaac generally is considered to be the ‘weak link’ between patriarch Abraham and patriarch Jacob.  His father almost killed him, his “uncle” found him his wife, his favorite son played a ground-shaking trick on him. Frankly, he comes across as a bit of a wuss, and as Frank Sinatra said on his 50th birthday concert (with the incredible Count Basie band) “I cleaned that one up for you!”

Maybe Isaac was really really content to follow in his father’s footsteps, both literally and figuratively.  His life. His choice. Isaac’s father founded a family that continues to this day. My Dad did likewise.  Isaac’s father is a great historical figure; three great religions claim him as their original inventor.  My Dad was no historical figure, he was just a man with a quiet dignity about him.  Like so many men of his generation, he went right over the day after Pearl Harbor and signed up. Fortunately, he made it home in one piece. Isaac got chased out of Gerar by Abimelech king of the Philistines, because he had become too rich.  My Dad never got rich, but he did well enough that his three children eventually received a financial inheritance in addition to everything we learned from him.  And he was part of the generation that fought against the worst person and the biggest enemy – in the history of the world – that the Jewish people ever faced. I’m not saying that person’s name (may it be wiped from the history books and forgotten).  My Dad’s generation kicked his evil, sorry ass (and I’m not cleaning that one up).

This one’s for you, Dad, and I’ll see you again when I travel the path you have already taken.

Shabbat Shalom


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Parshat Toldot – The Akedah – A Radical Reinterpretation

Posted by rabbiart on November 20, 2014

Our Parshah opens with this verse.   וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת יִצְחָק, בֶּן-אַבְרָהָם:  אַבְרָהָם, הוֹלִיד אֶת-יִצְחָק  or in the English (Robert Alter translation). “And this is the lineage of Isaac the son of Abraham, Abraham begot Isaac”. See Breshit 22:19

There are only two places in the Tanach where the word “Abraham” occurs in succession.  The other instance is at the end of the Akedah, in the moment when Abraham has lifted the knife to slay his only son – not counting Ishmael, that is.

In every case where HaShem (or HaShem’s designated representative) calls upon Abraham to respond, he responds promptly with Hineni.  Literally translated the word means “here I am”, but it should be understood as “I am ready”.  In only one instance does Abraham not respond when he hears his name being called; when he knows that the act he must now perform is to slaughter Isaac upon the temporary altar he has just built.

Why is Abraham’s name called out twice in this moment?   Is it as simple as ‘so the angel called his name twice, what’s the big deal with that?’.  This interpretation is not possible, because we are taught that every letter, much moreso every word, in the Torah is deliberately and consciously placed, and therefore laden with meaning. So we must look for clues in this verse and in our verse from the Akedah – Breshit 22:11.

Reading the trope signs, in our Akedah verse, the second mention of “Abraham” appears on the etnachta which signals the mid-point of the verse.  Almost always, the etnachta is preceded by a mercha or a tipcha or some combination of the two.  In our verse, the first “Abraham” is cantillated not with either of those signs, but with a munach. Furthermore, in printed versions of the Tikun which Torah readers use to prepare their readings, a vertical bar is printed between the first and second “Abraham”s.  In other words, not the normal or expected Torah trope. Something is being indicated. There is some kind of break between the first and second “Abraham”.

The tradition tells us that Abraham was confronted with ten tests, all of which he passed.  The call to sacrifice his son is unquestionably the biggest and most difficult of all these tests.  And according to the plain meaning (pshat) of the text, Abraham passed the test because HaShem’s messenger angel proclaims (Alter’s translation again) “Do not reach out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him, for now I know that you fear God, and you have not held back your son, your only one, from Me.”

Any parent, hopefully any person, is horrified at the idea that Abraham would have been willing to kill his long-awaited, hoped for, prayed for son. And to go home to tell Isaac’s mother what he had done?  He would have been in the husband dog-house for the rest of his life.

I prefer a different interpretation, and if we have to “go to the midrash”, to justify it, then that’s what we have to do. I prefer to believe that – in colloquial terms – the sacrifice of Isaac was “never gonna happen”.  I prefer to believe that Abraham believed it was “never gonna happen”.  In every moment of the three days journey, Abraham must have been believing in, and looking for, a way out.  When the moment comes and his name is called, Abraham does not respond with Hineni! A second call-out is required. Only then does Abraham answer. And he hears that no sacrifice-your-child is required.

In our parshah, Abraham’s name again occurs twice in succession. In this case, the first “Abraham” is at the mid-point of the verse, cantillated with an etnachta. The second ‘Abraham’ is over a tipcha, because the meaning requires that the usual order of mercha, tipcha be reversed.

Our verse emphasizes the relationship of father and son.  Isaac is the son of Abraham, Abraham is the father (begot) Isaac.  This second repetition – Abraham, Abraham – is only possible because of the first. When chanting, or listening to the chanting of this verse, we hear a clear pause between the first and second “Abraham”. This is a critical clue.  It tells us that there was most definitely a pause between “Abraham” and “Abraham” at the ultimate moment of the Akedah.

Abraham kill his son?!?!

Never gonna happen.

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Chayei Sarah – A personal reflection

Posted by rabbiart on November 14, 2014

This D’var Torah is dedicated to the memory of my mother – Shirley Gould.  Her Hebrew name was Sarah.  Readers undoubtedly know the six parshiot that have the names of real people; Noach, Sarah, Yitro, Korach, Balak, and Pinchas.  Were we to rate these six, the last three would immediately fall to the bottom of the list. Noach was a “pre-Jew”.  His story is part of the foundational myth of the creation of the world.  So maybe he comes in at third place. Having watched the movie “Noah” on the way back from Israel, where Noah sports well developed musculature and excels at hand-to-hand combat I have to say Noah was no Russell Crowe, or maybe Russel Crowe is no Noah.  On a more serious note, carpentry/boat building doesn’t quite compare with being an advisor (Yitro) to someone who spoke face to face with HaShem, or gave birth (Sarah) to the entire Jewish people.

(BTW Here’s a really good article exploring why the six people mentioned above merited a parsha named after them. )

Like my mother (עליה השלום), Sarah Emoteinu had a hard time giving birth.  When she found out she was to have a son, she laughed in utter astonishment.  Unlike my mother, who was incapable of anything but extremely blunt speech, Sarah attempts to do a little packaging, denying to HaShem that she had laughed upon hearing this news.

Although the name of the parsha means ‘the life of Sarah’, there is almost nothing about Sarah in the parsha.  The first meaningful story in the parsha is the tale of Avraham Avinu purchasing a burial plot for Sarah. That story is prefaced by this verse: Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and bewail her. A negotiation ensues.  At least no stones are thrown, and no guns are fired. Abraham purchases the double cave.

Sadly, there is to this day an ongoing dispute over “who owns the rights” to Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron.  Stones are thrown, guns have been fired, and people have been killed. As in our original story, suspicion is present, and trust is absent.  In the Parsha, Ephron the Hittite offers the cave and the field it is in as a gift to Abraham.  Abraham, for his part, insists on paying full value.  Between the words we see a delicate dance over who will hold the ownership rights to this land.

3,000 years later, nothing has changed. Two peoples, two narratives, two competing claims.

On the Arava Institute Israel Ride this year I made a new friend – Ahmed Sayara – who is an alum of the Arava Institute.  He lives in Hebron and participates in a ‘dual narrative’ tour. In this tour one hears from a Jewish family in Kiryat Arba and then goes over to the Arab side and sees things through a different set of eyes.  When speaking to the riders about his vision of the future, Ahmed said he did not expect to see the conflict settled in his lifetime.  But he said – perhaps we can move to a situation where we are only throwing chairs at each other and calling each other a**hole.

This would indeed be progress!

Shabbat is the time when we leave the ‘real world’ and get a taste of how the world is supposed to be. When we eat bread we say the b’rachah hamotzei lechem min ha-aretz. I heard a drosh once that during the six days of the week the b’rachah refers to bread that is created by the efforts of humans, but on Shabbat it is as if HaShem literally (and I don’t mean metaphorically!) brings bread forth from the earth.

Perhaps one day we will live in a ‘real world’ where bread comes forth from the earth, Kiryat Arba and Hebrew refer to the same place in the same way and all narratives come together so that we can all live together in peace.

Shabbat Shalom

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Parshat Noah – The Flood This Time

Posted by rabbiart on October 21, 2014

Our opening verse sets the scene for a classic debate about Noah’s merit. Was he righteous only in comparison to the rest of his generation, or was he truly righteous depsite his generation? And therefore he would have been even more a tzaddik in other times? (Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 108 Read about it in English here) He was – in his generation – an ish tzaddik; a righteous man. Not only that, elohim walked with Noah.

אֵ֚לֶּה תּֽוֹלְדֹ֣ת נֹ֔חַ נֹ֗חַ אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֖ים הִֽתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ:

Noah is the last righteous person on earth. The world has descended into immorality, idolatry and robbery. Everyone and everything has lost its way. Hashem selects Noah, and commands him to build a very large boat. Without this intervention, humanity will be eradicated. Sound familiar?

Rabbi Avi Shafran complained last week  about the sinister sound (as he called it) demonstrations beneath the window of his Agudath Israel offices in Manhattan. We shouldn’t worry about climate change, he reassures us, because ‘Hashem has built self-correcting mechanisms into nature, and that our zeal should be reserved for Torah-study and mitzvos.’ He mentions several anecdotal adjustments to planetary warming as evidence that nature will self-correct regardless of anything humankind can do to it. According to R. Shafran: No interventions are required.

Davar Acher

When Noah was born, his father named him with a prayer that he would relieve the pain and toil of working the ground which HaShem had cursed. (Breshit 5:29) Noah worked for 120 years to build the ark. It must have required trust, faith, perseverance and even a modicum of zeal. Saving the world from itself is no casual endeavor.

From Noah we learn what it means to be an active partner with HaShem in the ongoing work of creating the world. Just as humans had caused the ground to be cursed, another human would redeem it.

We make much, as we should, of Avraham Avinu and his willingness to answer hineni when called. With Noah, it appears that no call was even necessary. When he enters the story, he is already a tzaddik, walking with HaShem.

Perhaps Noah was righteous only in his generation because his vision did not include saving the entire world, only the future of humanity. Shall we be gladdened at the end of the story because Noah’s family and the animal family are saved? Or shall we be sad for the deaths of all those who perished?

At the end of Noah’s story, HaShem comes to grips with the realization that HaShem’s most important creations are flawed. HaShem promises HaShem’s self to never again bring the hammer down on all living things. The seasons, as well as the times for planting and harvesting, will continue for all time. HaShem establishes a brit in which the use of flooding (and we would like to believe, all weapons of massive destruction) are forswarn.

It would seem in our day that Noah is someone we should seek to emulate. We are flooded with the consequences of so much yetzer that we cannot simply be passive and trust to self-healing mechanisms. We need to partner with HaShem in everything symbolized by Noah building his ark.

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Parshat Breshit – Keeping Our Brotherhood

Posted by rabbiart on October 16, 2014

Who me?

Not me?

Got kids?  Then you’ve heard these phrases before. In particular, this might serve as  modern vernacular translation of Cain’s response to HaShem when he is asked “Where is your brother Abel?”

In his book Bedibur Echod Asher Ben-Zion Buchman offers explanations of each Parshah. In particular he searches for ‘thoughts on the unity of the weekly sidrah’. For Breshit he writes that the key phrase is “ ‘heaven and earth’, which refers to the duality in creation of the spiritual and the material”.  When he comes to the two brothers, (p. 11-12) he references Rabbi Don Isaac Abravanel ( as observing that Cain קין is based on the Hebrew word that means ‘to acquire’, while Abel – הבל – means breath or nothingness.  One brother, he continues, is soley concerned with acquisition and materialism while the other brother is purely spiritual. The world cannot be built only out of the one or the other. Only through the characteristics of the lesser known third son – Seth – can the world be built up.

In concluding his remarks on Parshat Breshit, he mentions that Noah’s birth is included in this parshah, thereby completeing the first ten generations of humankind. According to the Torah there is only one sacred spark left from the divine light of creation; it is embodied in Noah, who finds favor in HaShem’s eyes.

In this parshah we have the astonishing (but not surprising!) statement that HaShem can hear the voice of Abel’s blood crying out to HaShem from the ground.

מֶה עָשִׂיתָ; קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ, צֹעֲקִים אֵלַי מִן-הָאֲדָמָה

The Gemara (Rosh HaShana 16b) observes that there are three kinds of individuals; those who are completely wicked, those who are completely righteous, and those who are in the middle.  It is rarely if ever the case that those who are completely righteous regard themselves as having that much merit, and even more rare that the completely wicked will acknowledge that they are.  And in any event who am I, who are we, or who is anyone to judge.

As we look around the world at the beginning of 5775 it is so hard to ignore that there is so much blood crying out from the ground. Spilled by war, spilled by disease, spilled by – in our own country – racial hatred.  If HaShem were not HaShem, HaShem would most surely be deafened by the sound of all this blood crying out from the ground.

What we must not do is turn our own deaf ears.  We must not say Who Me. We must not say Not Me, and we absolutely must not question the idea that we are in fact our brothers’ keeper. In our day, perhaps we all in some way, wear the mark of Cain on our foreheads.

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Parshat Breshit – In the Big Inning

Posted by rabbiart on October 15, 2014

It’s baseball playoff fever here in the Bay Area.  The A’s fell to Kansas City, but the Giants are looking like a team of destiny, as they took a 2-1 lead last night on – of all things – a walk off error!  Our Rabbi is a huge Giants fan; I’ve never heard him mention the A’s.  Coincidence (as they say) I think not.  On the other hand, in the blueprint for the world as designed by HaShem, there is no such thing as luck, and really, we have no evidence that she gives a hoot about sports, other than – perhaps – that players not get injured.

My Uncle Sid (alav haShalom) ran away from cheder early in life and returned to the active fold late in life, becoming a pillar of his shul and a minyan regular.  It’s from him I learned to translate בְּרֵאשִׁית as “in the Big Inning”.  The customary translations are “In the beginning” and “when beginning”.  The former aligns with the theology that the earth was created out of nothing; the latter aligns with the idea that HaShem organized what was already there. Professor Robert Alter (The Five Books of Moses) renders it as “When God began to create” but doesn’t explain why he chose that particular translation.  The Chabad translation of the first two words of the Torah – בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא – renders it as “In the beginning of God’s creation {of the world}”.

Regardless, the creation of the world is certainly the Big Inning to begin all Innings.  The game is not yet over, although reading the newspaper makes one feel that it is most certainly in extra innings.

Even a cursory reading of the Torah reveals that it tells two stories in one. The story of how the world is, and the story of how the world ought to be.  Or as R. Shlomo Carlebach is reported to have said “The Torah is a commentary on the world, and the world is a commentary on the Torah”.

Regardless of the reader’s understanding of how the Torah came into existence, I believe that we can all agree that it is a living document that speaks to us in every generation and addresses the most issues of our times. For proof we need look no further than Rashi’s opening comment. In it Rashi asks and answers the question “why doesn’t the Torah begin with Shmot 12:2, which is the first commandment specifically addressed to the Jewish people?”. He answers, that, since HaShem created the world, HaShem may give the lands of the seven nations (what is now modern-day Israel) to whosoever HaShem chooses.  This is the answer, Rashi says, that the Jewish people should give whenever the nations of the world accuse us of having taken the land by force.

The argument over this tiny portion of the Earth continues to this day, with more and more European nations (who don’t exactly come to this conversation with clean hands) accusing Israel of exactly that – appropriation of land by force and conquest. The exploration of that debate will have to wait for a different post, but there is no doubt that the Torah has much and will have much to say on this topic because without question “It’s Alive”.

Rabbi Sheldon Lewis, in his wonderful book Torah of Reconciliation makes some wonderful observations that illuminate what the Torah has to say about this argument and the terrible darkness that seems to be falling on much of the world, especially in the Middle East.  In his beginning (p.39) he writes “Peace Comes with the First Light”, referencing the verse from Isaiah (45:7) that has become (in slightly modified form) the opening sentence of the morning service.  Later on (p.49), Rabbi Lewis, referencing Rashi, states that Reconciliation is Fundamental to Creation.

As we begin anew the cycle of reading the Torah, may we (and all the peoples of the world) be blessed with understanding that (quoting Rabbi Lewis on p. 51) Teshuva is integral to the world, a world which is “unthinkable without a way to heal relationships that were in tension or were completely broken”.

Refuah Shlemah  to us all.

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Parshat Metzora – The Power of Speech

Posted by rabbiart on March 29, 2014

Sefer HaHinuch (following RamBam of course) reports 11 positive commandments in this parshah. All of them deal with the issue of ritual un-cleanliness, either determining the status of a person, or their recovery and ritual cleansing.  Following hard on the heels of Tazria we can safely say that the Torah considers this to be a  troubling subject to which serious attention must be paid.There are three kinds of purification identified in the Torah; immersion into water, sprinkling of water upon the person, and by sacrificial offering.


In Biblical times, the virtue of the status – ritually clean or unclean – and the virtue of the cleansing ritual was that they left the individual in a known state, and operated at the physical level. In our day, when there is no Temple, no sacrificial rite, and – practically speaking in the non-Orthodox world – no status of ritual cleanliness or the absence there of, we operate at a spiritual, emotional and psychological level.  Are we clean?  Are we unclean?  What do these distinctions mean?  And how are we to ascertain what our status is.  Unfortunately, the waters are much more murky. When we delve into the traditional sources we find that our generation is far from the first to ponder the interpretation of Tazria and Metzora.

Certainly afterward and perhaps before the Temple itself was destroyed, our scholars wrestled, as we do, with these issues.

What did it mean to be cleansed by water?  Here is Sefer HaHinuch on this question.

“Why should it purify every defiled person…that it is in order that a man should perceive himself after the immersion as though he had been created at that moment – just as the world was entirely water before there was any man in it: as it is written, and the spirit of G=d was hovering over the face of the waters (Breshit 1:2). Thus he will ponder in his reflection that just as he becomes renewed in his body, so let him make all his actions equally new, for the good.  Let him make his deeds worthy, carefully observing the ways of the Eternal Lord, blessed is He”.

There are many ways to see our reflection; water is but one. Most of us look in a mirror at least once, probably several times, during the course of a day.  When out and about, we might catch our reflection unexpectedly; in a shop window, on a security camera, in a video or photograph, or quite often, in our computer monitor when the screen is blank or dark.


One might think that a mirror gives us the truest reflection of ourselves; it is designed precisely for that purpose.  Of course we know that our image is reversed and therefore right is left and left is right.  When we look in the mirror we see what we look like, but we do not see ourselves as others see us precisely because everything is reversed.”Everyone knows” that the camera adds 10 pounds. Our society is sufficiently caught up with external appearances that HP identified a market for a camera that makes the subject look skinnier.

Water is constantly in motion. According to Robert Hunter  there will be a ripple in still water (even) when there is no pebble tossed nor wind to blow.  So our reflection will itself be in motion, and constantly changing.  It is a better picture of who we are then what we see in a mirror or a photographic image. Because – to borrow from Dreamgirls we are constantly changing; oscillating as it were between being clean and un-clean.  This happens every time we open our mouths.

So the Rabbis were right on point when they translated the name of our parshah – Metzora – into the Hebrew phrase motzi shem ra. They taught that the afflictions described in our parshah come upon us because of what we say. And what we say is both what we do and who we are; it is how we announce ourselves to the world. It is a rare occasion when adverse consequences do not follow after bad speech.

Rabbi Sheldon Lewis has published a wonderful book – Torah of Reconciliation – in which he explores each parshah. For our parshah this Shabbat he explores how hateful speech brings about destruction, whereas proper speech can bring about peace.  At the conclusion of his section on Metzora he says

“A single, well-placed word can heal another and totally alter another’s mood.  A spoken compassionate sentiment expressed to another can overcome years of tension and estrangement. Every person bears this capacity to become a peacemaker”.

In our day, we can cleanse ourselves – and each other – through speech. With peaceful speech we find yet another place to see our reflection; in the eyes and heart of our fellow human being. When we can see ourselves as others see us, and cleanse ourselves in the heart of our fellow, that is the best purification and the truest reflection of all.

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Parshat Tazria + Shabbat HaChodesh

Posted by rabbiart on March 28, 2014

No question that the parshah this Shabbat – and it’s companion piece next week (Metzora) are challenging for the modern reader. Not only that, but by the time of rabbinic interpretation, challenging for the ancient reader as well. Especially if that reader lived in chutz la’aretz – outside the land of Israel.Our parshah deals with a variety of impurities over the course of its two chapters. The first of its two chapters (Vayikra 12) is mercifully short, coming in at only 8 verses and dealing with the ritual impurity of a woman after child-birth. Many interpretations have been written addressing the fact that the the period of impurity is twice as long when a daughter is born than that for a son; 66 rather than 33 days. Less attention has been paid to the oddity that neither is a number of complete weeks, nor are they the length of one or two months in the Jewish calendar.

The third verse mentions that baby boys are to be circumcised on the eighth day. According to Sefer HaHinuch at least, this verse is not the primary source of this commandment.  He does not list this among the 7 commandments derived from this parshah.

In his treatment of mitzvah #166 (the ritual impurity of a woman after childbirth) he makes a prefatory statement about human illness that rings true even today, especially with regard to what are commonly referred to as lifestyle diseases. Here it is in the English translation.

In his treatment of mitzvah #166 (the ritual impurity of a woman after childbirth) he makes a prefatory statement about human illness that rings true even today, especially with regard to what are commonly referred to as lifestyle diseases. Here it is in the English translation.

“There is no doubt that human illnesses come either on account of an excess in the body or a deficiency, or on account of some damage or deterioration which which it suffers from whatever cause there may be.  For in truth, as long as its nature is balanced to the utmost degree and it has not suffered any sort of damage, the body will not sicken; but the sin of people will lead them to have an excess or a lack in what is needed for their nature, and they will fall ill.” (Sefer HaHinuch, volume 2, page 201 Feldheim Publishers).

The second of our two chapters deals with a variety of skin diseases and the procedures for examining them.  Many translations render the word tza’ra’at as leprosy, but this is inaccurate.  Until the advent of antibiotics, leprosy was a disease with no known medical treatment, so lepers were permanently isolated.  In our parshah we learn that the skin conditions can be temporary, and the person (or garment) may return to health and also be restored to the community. (By the way, you can read a short article about Hansen’s disease here.

Our Rabbis struggled mightily to construct a teaching from the text of this parshah. The primary approach is to learn out that these diseases are a result of imperfections in human behavior.  Here are two:

Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani said in the name of Rabbi Johanan that skin disease results from seven sins: slander, the shedding of blood, vain oath, incest, arrogance, robbery, and envy.

Similarly, a Midrash taught that skin disease resulted from 10 sins: (1) idol-worship, (2) unchastity, (3) bloodshed, (4) the profanation of the Divine Name, (5) blasphemy of the Divine Name, (6) robbing the public, (7) usurping a dignity to which one has no right, (8) overweening pride, (9) evil speech, and (10) an evil eye.

You can read the details and see the proof-texts for each of these interpretations in the Wikipedia article on our parshah.

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Parshat Pekudei

Posted by rabbiart on February 23, 2014

Everyone knows what a palindrome is. Our parshah opens with a verse that while not a palindrome, immediately suggests one.

אֵלֶּה פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת, אֲשֶׁר פֻּקַּד עַל-פִּי מֹשֶׁה

It’s a well established principle that no word or even letter in the Torah is superfluous. When we begin to look deeply at this verse four words, which are only two roots, jump out at us. Reading in the transliterated form we have “pekudei ha-mishkan, mishkan ha-edut, asher pakad . Stripped down and in the root form, we have l’paked – mishkan – mishkan – l’paked.

The root PKD can be translated as to command, to count, to enumerate, even “to visit” or “to remember” (as in “HaShem pakad et Sarah” Breshit 21:1). The mishkan which we build and rebuild so that HaShem will dwell among us, is commanded for us to build.  This verse is instructing us that our accepting of the commandment, along with our visiting it and remembering it’s purpose, is what makes the mishkan into a truly alive active and vibrant place where HaShem dwells in and among us.

As Midrash Tanhuma puts it (paragraph 2 on this parasha).  [The double occurrence of] the word comes to say that the lower sanctuary points to the upper sanctuary and is parallel to it.

R Yakov the son of R. Asi said: Why does he say “Adonai I love the habitation of your house, the place where your glory dwells”. (Psalms 26) Because building the Mishkan is parallel to  and like creating the world!  How?

(A series of word-play connections follows)

On the first day it is written “In the beginning HaShem created the heavens and earth” as it is written in Psalms 104 “He stretches the heavens as a curtain“. Regarding the Mishkan it is written “You shall make a curtain of goat skins (Shmot 26)

On the second day it is written “Let there be a firmament (which divides) the upper and lower waters). With regard to the Mishkan “and the parochet shall divide between the holy and the holy of holies.
On the third day it is written “Let the waters be gathered”. With regard to the Mishkan “you shal put water (in the brass laver)” (Shmot 30).On the fourth day it is written “Let there be lights in the firmament”. With regard to the Mishkan “make a golden light-holder“.On the fifth day it is written “let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let fowl fly”. With regard to the Mishkan “offer sacrifices of lambs and fowl”.

On the sixth day it is written “Elohim created man in his image”. With regard to the Mishkan “A man who is the high priest who has been anointed to serve before HaShem”.

On the seventh day it is written “The heavens and earth were completed“. With regard to the Mishkan “the work was completed“. In creating the world “Elohim blessed“. With regard to the Mishkan “Moshe blessed them”. In creating the world it is written “vayikadesh oto“. With regard to the Mishkan it is written “vayikadesh oto“.

So why is the Mishkan parallel to and equal to heaven and earth. Because what are heaven and earth but witness for Israel, as it is written “I call heaven and earth to witness” (Devarim 30). Regarding the Mishkan it is written ” this is the account of the Mishkan, the Mishkan is the witness“.

Thus we learn from the Psalmist “HaShem I love the habitation of your House and the place where your presence lives and dwells”.

We build the Mishkan so HaShem will live among us. We feel the presence of HaShem living among us, so we build and rebuild the Mishkan.


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Israel Ride 2013 – More riders from the East Bay

Posted by rabbiart on March 14, 2013

Last night I met with David Eisenberg who does the ride every year, Aaron Parker from the Bay Area JNF office, and a couple other ride alumni.  We made some plans to beef up the recruiting out here in the Bay Area.  Overall we’re projecting 100 to 110 riders this year, and we’re currently at 61 registered riders. We’ll be hosting some Information Sessions labeled as “Taste of Arava” or something like that, and aiming to do them in mid-May.




Rabbi Art Gould

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