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Parashat Noach 5779: Noah and Abraham and their different reactions to a similar decree from God

This week’s parashat, which deals with the well known story of Noah, begins by saying:
“This is the line of Noah. Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God. “ (Bereshit 6:9)
What does it mean that Noah was righteous “in his generation”? Why does the text include these words? You can understand the text without it. What does the text want to express?
There is a Midrash that deals with this question:
“What is the meaning of IN HIS GENERATION? Some interpret the phrase to his praise, and some interpret it to his shame, i.e., IN HIS GENERATIONS but not in other generations.
A parable: To what is the matter comparable? If one should put a silver coin among [a hundred] coins of copper, the one of silver would seem beautiful. Thus, did Noah seem righteous in the generation of the flood.
Then, how do some interpret it to his praise? The situation is like a jar of balsam which was put in a tomb where its aroma was good. If it had been in a house, how much better would its aroma have been!” (Midrash Tanhuma Buber Parashat Noach 5).

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Bereshit 5779: Bereshit, Light and Renewal

 Bereshit, Light and Renewal

This week we begin again the annual reading of the Torah with Parashat Bereshit. This parasha begins with the creation of the world. The first thing created by God is light. As it is written,

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1:3)

Without light we would not be able to see and survive. That is why we thank God every day, during the morning prayers, for having created light. The first blessing before the reading of the three paragraphs of Shema Israel says,

Praised are you Adonai our God, who rules the universe, creating light and fashioning darkness, ordaining the order of all creation (see for example the Siddur Sim Shalom we use every Shabbat, on page 107)

The famous Chassidic rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (Ukraine, 1740–1809) noticed that the blessing is written in the present tense. It says that God creates the light, not that He created it. Why is that? According to Rabbi Levi, this reminds us that the creation processes are constant. They did not cease even for a moment since the creation of the world. That is why we say in the weekday morning blessing before Shema Israel, “in Your goodness, day after day You renew creation.”

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Torah Thoughts: Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot 5779

A Fragile Sukkah, a Fragile Life

This week we are celebrating the festival of Sukkot. The main symbol of this festival is of course the Sukkah, the booth in which we live, or at least have our meals, for seven days.

If you build a sukkah every year, or if you ever built a sukkah in the past, you know very well that sometimes it is hard to keep your sukkah in good condition for seven days. Rain, wind and other climatic factors make it difficult to have the sukkah at the end of Sukkot looking the same way it did before Sukkot began.

The question is, should we feel bad because we cannot fully guarantee our sukkah will hold up during the festival? My answer is, not only should we not feel badly about it but, in fact, one of the most important lessons we learn during Sukkot is that nothing in this world is as strong and durable as it seems to be.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Haazinu 5779- Nature is a Witness of God

This week we read Parashat Haazinu. Although it is not the last parasha of the Torah, it is the last one we read during a Shabbat, because the Torah’s very last one, Vezot Habracha, is only read during the festival of Simchat Torah.

Most of Haazinu is a poem that Moses said before he died. The poem opens with the following words, “Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!” (Deuteronomy 32:1).

Why did Moses choose the heavens and the earth as the witnesses for his words? According to Rashi, who follows the Midrash Sifrei, Moses was afraid of picking human witnesses. He thought, “I am made of blood and flesh, tomorrow I can die. If the people Israel comes tomorrow and says – We have never accepted the covenant” – who will be able to oppose them? Therefore, Moses had the heavens and the earth as witnesses, because they are eternal witnesses.

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Parashat Vayelech – Shabbat Shuvah 5779

“Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of returning to our soul”

This coming Shabbat, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is called Shabbat Shuvah, which means Shabbat of return. This Shabbat is part of the Yamim Noraim, High Holy Days, and Aseret Yemei Teshuva, ten days of repentance.

The name ‘Shuvah’ is a reference to the opening words of this week’s Haftarah, “Shuva Israel — Return Oh Israel to the Lord your God”. This haftorah is always read during the Ten Days of Repentance, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Ashkenazi Jews read Hosea 14:2-10 and Joel 2:15-27, while Sephardic Jews read Hosea 14:2-10 and Micah 7:18-20. The selection from Hosea focuses on a universal call for repentance and an assurance that those who return to God will benefit from divine healing and restoration. The selection from Joel describes how a blow of the shofar will unite the people in fasting and supplication. Hosea focuses on divine forgiveness and how great it is in comparison to the forgiveness of man.

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Tora Thoughts: Parashat Nitzavim 5778: Two Cycles Integrated

Parashat Nitzavim is read every year on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. There are different explanations about why we do so.

First of all, there are some verses in our parasha about repentance/return (Teshuva), one of the main topics of the High Holidays. For example, “And you will return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day, you and your children. Then, the Lord, your God, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where the Lord, your God, had dispersed you” (Deuteronomy 30:2-3).

Second, Parashat Nitzavim begins with an allusion to the eve of the Day of Judgment. It says, “You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God, the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel” (Deuteronomy 29:9). As you may know, Rosh Hashana is also known as Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, because God judge every living creature on this day.

Third, the numerical value of the Hebrew words “You are all standing this day” is 694. It is the same value as the phrase laamod lislichot, or “To stand for Slichot.” Slichot are the penitential prayers on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana (or the previous one, if Rosh Hashana falls too close to Shabbat).

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Parashat Ki Tavo 5778

Stones as obstacles or as facilitators of light, birth, life, dreams and remembrance

In this week’s parasha, parahat Ki Tavo, Moses and the elders, upon entering the land of Israel, ordered the people of Israel to erect large stones and write on them all the words of the Torah.

It is written in our parashah:

“As soon as you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones. Coat them with plaster and inscribe upon them all the words of this teaching”. (D’varim 27:1-3). 

Thinking about stones, we may find special significance attached to stones in the Torah and in other classical Jewish texts.  Stones are used in multiple ways and are used as symbols. 

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