Bo: How About a Date?

Bo: How About a Date?

A couple of years ago I read about a group of American Jewish teens on a Birthright or similar trip to Israel.  After a meal, one of them apparently said: “It’s time to say the Birkat.”  One of the soldiers guarding them said: “You must not even know what that word means; you can’t say “the Birkat;” it’s not a word you can use by itself.  (The subtext to the remark was, “You think you are superior Jews because you say a prayer in Hebrew, but you don’t even understand what you are saying!”   The kids responded ...

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Va-Era: Revenge: Dig Two Graves

Va-Era: Revenge: Dig Two Graves

The first seven plagues upon Egypt are recounted in this week’s Torah portion, Va-Era.   The seventh plague is a hail storm so destructive that it “struck down all that were in the open, both man and beast; the hail also struck down all the grasses of the field and shattered all the trees of the field.” (Exodus 9:25).   A few verses later, though, we learn that “the flax and barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and flax was in bud; but the wheat and the emmer were not hurt, for they ripen late.”  (Exodus 9:31-32).  But if ....  

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Jan 11

Sh'mot: Make a "Know" Year's Resolution

Sh'mot: Make a "Know" Year's Resolution

In this week’s Torah portion of Sh’mot, the first in the Book of Exodus, a new Pharaoh arises after Joseph’s death who (in)famously “did not know Joseph.” (Ex. 1:8).  Of course, this new Pharaoh could not actually have been ignorant that Joseph both saved Egypt from famine and, in the process, obtained for Pharaoh title to all Egyptian land except the priestly holdings.  So, “did not know Joseph” must mean that Pharaoh chose to ignore Joseph’s contributions and legacy.

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Jan 04

Va-Yehi: Blessing your children

Va-Yehi: Blessing your children

This week’s Torah portion, Va-yehi, contains a sequence that initially seems surprising.   Joseph, Viceroy of Egypt, brings his sons, Manesseh and Ephraim, to see their aged grandfather Jacob for the last time.  Jacob places his hands on their heads.  The text then says “And he blessed Joseph saying …. ‘May G-d … bless the lads.’”  (Gen. 48:15)  That is, Jacob blessed his son by blessing his grandchildren! ...

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Vayigash: Ask "How (not what) do you do?"!

Vayigash: Ask "How (not what) do you do?"!

After Joseph dramatically revealed his identity to his brothers, he told them: “When Pharaoh summons you and asks, “‘What is your occupation?’ You shall answer, ‘Your servants have been breeders of livestock from the start until now, both we and our fathers’ – so that you may stay in the region of Goshen. For all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians.”  (Genesis 46:32-34).  Joseph was concerned that Pharaoh would judge his brothers by the kind of work they did, rather than by who they were.  In this respect, little has changed in 3,500 years.  When we ...

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Dec 21

Hanukah's Message

Hanukah's Message

In recent years at this time, I have researched the story of Hanukah, dressed up as Simon Ben Mattathias to give “dramatic historical presentations” at synagogues, and even lectured about Hanukah aboard cruise ships.  This year, I’m doing something quite different … 

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Vayishlach: It pains to advertise!

Vayishlach: It pains to advertise!

“Tis the season,” advertisers say, to buy, buy, buy! They’ll use many techniques to encourage us to do so.  These will certainly include extolling – and exaggerating -- the benefits of their goods and services, while remaining silent about defects and limitations.  There’s nothing surprising about this; “Buyer, beware!” is, and likely always has been, a necessary marketplace motto. But, how does it square with Jewish ethics, especially when Jews have been accused of “sharp business practices” for millennia?  We can learn Jewish advertising values from this week’s Torah portion. ...

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Nov 29

Vayetze: Our Upper World Connection

Vayetze: Our Upper World Connection

Whenever a smoke-alarm in our home chirps, I schlep an extension ladder from our garage, slide it open to maximum length, and hold it securely against the wall.  My wife shimmies up to the high-ceiling to change the battery. Why her and not me? This week’s Torah portion teaches us that ladders are for angels! I refer, of course, to ...

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Nov 22

Thanksgiving: More than Gratitude Attitude

Thanksgiving: More than Gratitude Attitude

Today is “Thanksgiving Day” in America.  In 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed an annual “day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”  By so doing, he transformed the longstanding custom of individually-declared American “days of thanksgiving” into an annual observance.  While gratitude is not uniquely Jewish, it is central to Jewishness.  The very word ...

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Nov 22

Toledot: Extra! Extra!

Toledot: Extra! Extra!

[To listen to this D'var Torah, click here /Portals/45/Toledot_1.mp3] According to Jewish tradition, the Torah contains no unnecessary words.  But what about Genesis 28:5 in this week’s portion, Toledot?  It mentions Isaac, Jacob, Laban, his father Betu-el -- and Rebekah.  It’s perfectly obvious from previous chapters who Rebekah is; yet, the Torah identifies her here as “Rebekah, mother of Jacob and Esau.” Why are we told what we already know?  My answer: ...   

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He who guards his mouth preserves his life
Proverbs 13:3