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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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