Weekly Torah Commentary – Kedoshim May 6, 2016

Leviticus 19-20

In last week’s Torah portion, we were given several commandments prohibiting certain behaviors.  In this week’s reading, we move to positive commandments.

The section opens with these words:

The Lord also said to Moses, ‘Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel.  You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy…….’Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.’

By connecting these two commandments within the section, we understand that from God’s point of view, there is no true holiness without loving others.  As has been said, ‘If you cannot love your brother whom you do see, how can you love God whom you do not see?’

Holiness is defined as the state or quality of being holy.  Becoming holy is a process  comprised of daily choices that in reality boil down to one fundamental choice: will I live by God’s instructions or not?

In this week’s portion, for instance, there are also the commands: ‘Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people’ and ‘Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives.’  Both of these relate directly to the commandment: ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’

Every time we choose to bite our tongue rather than lash out in anger at someone else, we take a step towards holiness.  Every time I pass up the opportunity to gossip about someone, I take another step towards holiness.

Now here’s the rub.  We all get hurt – it’s part of life.  But…what we sometimes forget is this: we all hurt others as well.  It’s a two way street.  We may not intend it but it happens. If we want understanding and forgiveness from someone we may have offended, then it is incumbent upon us to be ready and willing to forgive those who offend or hurt us.

Centuries ago, Rabbi Akiva said: ‘That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellowman; this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”  In other words, treat other people the way you want to be treated yourself…and do it first!  Can you imagine what this world would be like if as a society we all lived by this principle?

Why don’t we?

Consider: Moses had ample opportunities to be offended.  Remember when his sister and brother spoke against him in Numbers 12?  Yet in that very passage, God called him ‘the most humble man in all the earth.’

Humility is not weakness; it is the fundamental character of a person who understands that we are all fallible; everyone of us makes mistakes.  Therefore, when someone behaves or speaks in a way that irks me or annoys me, rather than react in anger and lash out, humility causes me to take a step back and recognize my own fallibility.  As I do, an attitude of understanding and compassion can arise in me towards the offender.

That does not mean we just let people get away with anything and everything.  Absolutely not.  But it does mean that if I am in the position to address the offense and offer some correction or means of reconciliation, I do so maintaining respect for the offender, not belittling or demeaning him or her but communicating in a clear and appropriate manner, designed to minimize any damage to the relationship.

To walk in love towards others requires willingness on our part to exercise patience, kindness and humility.  To walk in love towards others is no small matter.  But it IS a commandment. Therefore, if we have dedicated our lives to following God and His Word, the choice has already been made.

May God help each of us to live up to our commitment.

In Tune with Torah this week = honestly assess how you are doing in this matter?  Do you love your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your co-workers, as you love yourself? What does that mean to you?

Shabbat shalom and a blessed weekend to you.




Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayikra March 18, 2016

Leviticus 1 – 5

The third book of the Torah, Leviticus, (Vayikra in Hebrew) begins in an unusual way and reminds us that originally the Torah was not divided up into chapters and books but was one continuous narrative.


“And (He) called out to Moshe, and God spoke to him. “  The previous book, Exodus, came to an end rather abruptly and the story continues into the first chapter of Leviticus, a fact lost on some readers who don’t make the fundamental connection between the two books.

Of course, God calling out to man – especially to Moshe – is not an unusual occurrence in the Torah; however, this opening verse is different. For the first time, God calls out from within the completed Tabernacle. When we begin to read Leviticus in the context of the final verses of Exodus, we suddenly realize that this new book is the culmination of the Exodus itself.  The prophet, Jeremiah, actually helps us gain insight:

“Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says God: I remember the kindness of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” (Jeremiah 2:2)

According to Jeremiah, God reminisces about the early days of His relationship with the Jewish People. Having rescued them from Egypt, the ex-slaves follow Moses into the desert, destined for Mt. Sinai.

Initially the experience at Sinai between God and His people strikes us as outstanding, amazing, stupendous. But no sooner is the covenant between them established, turmoil ensues as the Hebrews erect a golden calf and fall into idolatry. Is the relationship with the Almighty over?

Moses intercedes, and soon there is regret, repentance, and a restoration of the relationship. Moses ascends the mountain again and returns with the second set of Tablets which include the detailed instructions for building the Tabernacle. And as the construction is completed, the book of Exodus comes to a close.

But the Tabernacle, in and of it self, does not produce what God is ultimately after: intimacy with His people.  And that, my friends, is what Leviticus is truly all about.

Certainly God has spoken to Moses many times, but this is different; now, man has made place for God down on earth, indicating a sense of permanence to this relationship. A home has been built for them to share. Exactly like a marriage, now their relationship requires a commitment of a totally different degree.  Israel must begin to nurture and maintain the love between themselves and God in a consistent, stable and personal relationship. It is a new challenge for the congregation of former slaves and it is a challenge posed to God’s people in every generation.

Just as a magnificent home that welcomes a newlywed couple does not create intimacy and permanence in marriage, neither did the Tabernacle, nor the Temple centuries later; only personal relationship does.  Religious rules and traditions do not create intimacy with the Holy One of Israel; personal relationship with Him does.

The model of marriage plays well to our understanding.  Without personal communication between husband and wife, the marriage weakens and ultimately will fail.  Without you and I spending quality time with God, talking to Him in our own words, sharing our deepest thoughts and desires with Him and learning to listen to that still small voice within our own soul – that voice that answers us when we call upon Him – we may have religion, but we do not have relationship.

There is none so sad as he who thinks that relationship with God is simply a perfunctory habit of man-made rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is not looking for robots; He desires hearts that love Him with passion and devotion.

In Tune with Torah this week = Just as ‘He called out to Moses..’, He calls out to us in our own day.  Are we listening? Have we made it a priority to spend personal, intimate time with our God?  Are we consistent in our study of His inspired Word?

Shabbat Shalom



Weekly Torah Commentary – Beshalach January 30, 2015

Beshalach    Exodus 13:17 – 17:16

“Pharaoh approached; the Children of Israel raised their eyes and behold – Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; the Children of Israel cried out to God. They said to Moses, ‘were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the desert’?!”  Exodus 14: 10-11

This is admittedly a curious passage.  On the one hand, the children of Israel are terrified at the site of the Egyptian army pursuing them and so they cry out to God. But in the very next breath, they complain to Moses!  ‘You brought us out to die!’

How is it that prayer and complaint can be so closely expressed by our forefathers?

There is a disquieting truth about prayer, particularly ritual prayer.  By reading through established prayers over and over again out of habit, it can be so easy to fall into mindless praying or praying by rote with no internal involvement of the heart; and at times, even of the mind.  Ritual prayer can be rattled off with no consciousness of what we are saying. It becomes a major challenge (though not impossible) to pray with meaning and understanding in such a situation.

This is not the way the children of Israel prayed in our text.  Theirs was the prayer of turning to the God of Israel as a clear and present danger was barreling towards them. This is the prayer of ‘crying out to God’ in one’s own words, appealing to Him as one would to a best friend or a loved parent.  These are the orations that erupt from our inner being, in our own words, with our personal emotions and desires enlivening them.

Prayer is defined as a conversation with God. I doubt that you and I have the exact same conversation with our spouses and/or children every day of our lives.  The relationship would soon be boring beyond repair. This is not to say that ritual prayer is all wrong.  Not at all!  There is a place for it in communal worship and it is important to consciously involve our heart and mind in its utternace.

However, in one’s personal prayer times, spontaneity and creativity in talking with Avinu Malkenu, Our Father, Our King, is more than appropriate.  Sharing our heart and our thoughts freely with our God is how we come to experience what the psalmist wrote about: “In Your presence is fulness of joy….”

Crying out to God in times of need gives witness to the truth that He is ultimately the Source of all blessing and protection.  But to ‘cry out to God’ and then immediately turn to complaining is a paradox.  Yet we dare not point a finger at the children of Israel for we, too, are guilty of the same paradox.

If prayer is anything, it is an expression of FAITH.  It gives voice to the inner trust that we have in our God.  To pray in one breath and complain in the next is at the very least, hypocritical.  Our prayer is best clothed in thanksgiving and the thankful heart finds it difficult to complain!

In Tune with Torah this week = ask yourself: How am I doing in prayer?  Is my heart in the words, is my mind turned towards my God?  Do I regularly give thanks for all that He has done and continues to do in my life? Am I working at fixing my thoughts on Him?

Prayer is one of the most beautiful of human activities.  May it be so for all of us!

Shabbat Shalom!

Weekly Torah Commentary — Toldot November 21, 2014

Genesis 25:19-28:9

The critical event regarding the birthright which Jacob purchased from Esau in exchange for a bowl of red lentils is one of the most well known accounts in the Torah. But does the story focus equally on the relationship of Isaac and Rebecca as it does on Jacob and Esau?

Several commentators suggest that perhaps the communication between Isaac and Rebecca during their married life was less intimate than between Sarah and Abraham. We get a hint about the strained communication to follow when Rebecca saw Isaac “meditating in the field” at which point she “covered herself with a veil.” Was she in awe of Isaac? Did she feel she was unworthy to be his wife, and from then on that sense of inadequacy dictated her communication or lack of it?

The Sages suggest that at a series of critical moments in their married life we see a failure of communication. It quite possible that Rebecca never told her husband what she heard from God before the twins, Esau and Jacob, were born, in which God told her “the elder will serve the younger.” If Isaac knew this, he may well not have favored Esau.

The failure to communicate had its consequence. Many years later, when she heard that Isaac was about to bless Esau she resorted to deception; she told Jacob to pretend he was Esau. Why not simply tell Isaac that Jacob was chosen by God to be blessed? Was she afraid to acknowledge that she’d kept the prophecy to herself all these years? Was she afraid that Isaac would be angry?

Had she spoken openly to Isaac on that day, Isaac may well have responded in a way that would have changed the entire course of their, and their children’s, lives. The entire deceit planned by Rebecca and carried out by Jacob would not have been needed. At its root is the sad truth that she and her husband did not enjoy open communication. The consequences were painful.

The elderly Isaac felt betrayed by his younger son, Jacob. He “trembled violently” when he realized what had happened, and said to Esau, “Your brother came deceitfully.”

Esau’s sense of betrayal produced such a violent hatred toward Jacob that he vowed to kill him. Rebecca was forced to send Jacob into exile and for the next twenty years did not see the son that she so loved. As for Jacob, the consequences of the deceit lasted a lifetime, resulting in strife between his wives, and between his children. “Few and evil have been the days of my life,” he said as an old man to Pharaoh. Four lives were scarred by one act which may not even have been necessary in the first place.

There is always a price to pay for a failure to communicate. The Torah shows us real life, among real people with real problems. Communication matters. In Genesis 2,the phrase “And man became a living soul” can just as correctly be translated “and man became a speaking soul.” Life is about relationship. And human relationships only exist because we can speak. We can tell other people our hopes, our fears, our feelings and thoughts.

Parents, clear and kind, strong and honest communication is essential in the home between yourselves and between you and your children. Open and respectful communication is what makes families, teams and corporate cultures healthy. Each individual needs to understand the values and behaviors they are expected to exemplify. When a child or an employee does well, there should be sincere praise given. When constructive criticism is required, it must be given with courtesy, making clear that it is not the person who is being criticized but their action.

Honest, open and respectful communication is not just about speaking; it is equally about listening! Parents, employers, friends, co-workers – we must all learn to gift one another with attentive listening as the occasion arises. My late husband used to say, “God gave us two ears and only one mouth; perhaps that means we should listen twice as much as we speak.”

In Tune with Torah this week = we can derive a couple of lessons from this week’s reading: 1) the importance of good communication between human beings is essential to stable society and a stable home.
2) If we find ourselves struggling to communicate, this is the time to humble ourselves before God, asking for His help as we strive to improve our skill in communicating effectively with those we love.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Mattot-Masei July 5, 2013

This week we complete the reading of the book of Bamidbar/Numbers with the last two Torah portions from that book, Mattot and Masei. Throughout these readings, the power of our words is a major theme.

Mattot opens with a discussion of vows. A vow is a solemn commitment to specific action for a specific period of time and for a specific purpose. While the making of a vow is not intended to be a daily or weekly occurrence in our lives, the underlying message is. In the opening verses, we read, “…according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do.” We are obligated by the words that we speak. Or — a man’s word is his bond.

Speech is a defining human quality, an ability which is part of what is involved in the declaration: ‘in the image of God created He them.’ But speech is not only a defining human quality; it is also a manifestation of the Divine spark within us, the Divine Breath, as it were. “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul” (Bre/Gen 2:7) The term in Hebrew is nefesh chaya which is also translated in some places as ‘a speaking spirit’.

God could have created this world any way He pleased. This beautiful planet could have resulted from just a Divine thought or the Divine Will. Instead God chose to use words to create our world and to create mankind.

We need to realize that every time we speak, we utilize the very same tool which God purposely and specifically chose to use in the very act of Creation! This concept deserves some serious meditation. This is the very reason why the Torah — and indeed all of Tanach (the Bible) — gives such importance to our speech.

We know that thoughts give birth to words, and words give birth to action. There is a process common to all of us: thoughts – words – actions. When God speaks, His thoughts, His words, His actions are in complete alignment with one another; in total unity all the time. His thoughts, words and actions are ONE.

Too often, ours are not. Hence, the commandment, ‘according to whatever comes from his mouth, that shall he do.’

Consider: We were created in His image and likeness. We are commanded in Torah ‘to be holy as I am holy’. We are called to emulate Him, to reflect Who He is to those around us, to be a light to the nations.

An essential element in our ability to fulfill this calling is inner integrity of soul. When our words say one thing, and our actions say something different, we are fundamentally violating the very purpose for which we were created and the very destiny to which He has called us.

To become more like Him, whose thoughts, words and actions are always in unity, we need to strive towards that same unity in our thoughts, words and behavior.

When our thoughts are disconnected from our words or our words from our actions, we are being fundamentally dishonest. That dishonesty may or may not affect others in a particular instance, but it ALWAYS affects us, our inner being and can even impact our descendants. To say one thing and then do another is the mark of an unreliable person.

In Tune with Torah this week = ask yourself – do I say what I think other people want to hear? Or am I straightforward in my communications? Do my actions reflect my words or not? Do I speak and act truthfully with graciousness and kindness or are my words and actions manipulated by what others will think? Or what I think they may think?? Learning to live with complete internal integrity is a lifelong journey and this week’s parshiot bring that challenge to the forefront for our meditation.

Shabbat Shalom