Haftarah Nasso – Leaders We Deserve

May 24, 2018
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Haftarah Nasso – Leaders We Deserve

I certainly do not want to retell the story of Samson in detail. You know it. You’ve heard it before. You may have even seen or heard any number of dramatizations. Of course, there is the famous 1949 Cecille B. Demille film starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr (that’s Hedy not Headly!). This version was nominated for 5 Academy Awards and won 2 (probably for “most over-acted”).  Subsequent versions abound (1984, 1996 and yet another version expected this year).  George Fredrik Handel, Newburgh Hamilton, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Ferdinand Lemaire all compose operas and librettos themed around this story.  Most bizarre is the 1963 Italian film mash-up Hercules, Samson and Ulysses, where Samson is helped by the Greek/Italian mythological characters fighting the Phoenicians (Phoenicians, Philistines, what’s the diff?). https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=gxni6VZd4II Read more »

Nasso – Bless is More

May 22, 2018
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Nasso – Bless is More

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This week’s parasha contains one of only two prescribed blessings in all of Torah, the Birkat Kohanim. This blessing is so familiar to us, it is part of the morning shacharit, and is traditionally chanted by the Kohanim on Yom Kippur. Parents also say it over children on Erev Shabbat. I find it so meaningful that at Congregation Shuvah Yisrael it is our minchag to have a Kohen deliver this blessing every Shabbat at the end of mussaf.

This blessing is a cleverly crafted gem, which becomes particularly evident when studied in Hebrew. The blessing contains an increasing pattern of words on each line (three, five, seven) and an increasing pattern of both consonants (fifteen, twenty, twenty-five), and syllables (twelve, fourteen, sixteen). The very wording therefore creates a sense of meter, order, climax and completion.

What is ultimately apparent in the recitation of this blessing is that the Kohen serves an appointed and vital, yet limited role. He is not a magician generating magic, the Kohen is but A channel for blessing to pass through on the way from the HOLY blessing One to the Jewish People.  For that reason, each line begins by mentioning God as the active agent, and the last line explicitly states the words of Hashem, “I will bless them.” Read more »

Shavuos all Over Again

May 17, 2018
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Shavuos all Over Again

Yankee Hall of Famer Yogi Berra was renown for his unique and often comical manner of turning a phrase. One phrase that has become part of the American lexical tradition is “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Déjà vu of course is that sensation we sometimes get that we’ve been here before – that what we are experiencing in some mysterious way has already happened.  If only we could experience the reality of the Scriptures in that way – but we can’t – or can we? People who think they were with Moses at Sinai, the event that is celebrated at Shavuos, are generally not allowed to walk the streets unattended. Still as we open Torah each week we do so in a manner that would suggest that we are receiving the Holy One’s instruction and gift anew on Mt. Sinai. On Shavuos this feeling should only be intensified.

There are many believers in Yeshua who understand their own experiences to be precisely the same as what his original followers experienced, complete with all the miraculous outworking.  They will often call this experience Pentecostal after the events that are described in Acts 2 of the Besorah. But to fully understand this phenomenon, I think it would be best for us to first understand the nature of the event in question. Read more »

Bamidbar – Wildfire, Water and the Wilderness

May 14, 2018
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Bamidbar – Wildfire, Water and the Wilderness

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This week we embarked upon our annual reading of Bamidbar.  The fourth book of the Torah is so named since it begins “Vay’daber Adonai el-Mosheh b’midbar Sinai (And the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai).” Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar both asks and answers, “Why does Hashem gift the Torah in the Wilderness?”  It goes on to explain that Torah is given in fire, water and wilderness. This is to teach us that just as each of these are free, so the learning of Torah is given freely.

Another approach to the Midrash is to understand fire, water and the wilderness as forces within man. Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, for example, in his Shem MiShmuel, writes that fire refers to man’s heart, the inner fire that aspires to reach God, water refers to his mind, which adds an element of patience and reason in approaching the divine, and the wilderness refers to the renunciation of worldly pleasures which interfere with one’s spiritual pursuits. All three elements, he writes, are necessary for the study of Torah. I would like to extend this metaphor to both examine the potential hindrances to our growth and more importantly our capacity to endure and overcome these obstacles. Read more »

Bechukotai – Peace Within and Without

May 10, 2018
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Bechukotai – Peace Within and Without

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“…you will dwell securely in your land. I will provide peace in the land…” (Vayikra 26:5-6)

 

After the Torah guarantees that we will dwell in our land safely if we observe the mitzvot, it states redundantly, “I will provide peace in the land.” Some commentators explain that the second reference is intended to draw our attention to the internal state of peace that should exist within the nation of Israel. The sages have told us that where there is dissention and strife among the Jews then the Satan can ply his evil trade among us. In fact according to our tradition the First Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C.E. due to widespread idolatry, but God allowed the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. because of divisiveness, contempt among Jews and failure to provide for the most needy and helpless within the Israel’s society. But as part of our covenant with HaShem, it is understood that if we maintain peace within the community then we can be assured of peace and security from without as well. Read more »

Emor – Kiddush Hashem

May 3, 2018
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Emor – Kiddush Hashem

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It is no wonder that Americans grow ever more cynical regarding organized religion. I think few people are totally surprised by the recently exposed sexual abuses that have been going on within Catholic parishes, since the rumors have flown around for years. But I believe that which appalls most people is the high degree of cover-up that was perpetrated by those in high authority within the Church. But despite the recent falling from grace by Catholic clergy, we cannot place the entire responsibility of soiling the name of the Creator upon their collective backs. Decades cannot erase the memory of Jim Bakker and Jim Swaggart. And from Jim to Jim there was none like Jim Jones, who was willing to subsume the souls and eventually the lives of thousands to feed his hydra-like megalomania. In recent years the fall of Ted Haggard and the allegations of financial impropriety brought by the board of Oral Roberts University against some of its highest level administration serve as a reminder that the problems surrounding institutionalized religion are not all in the distant past.

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