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Posted June 17, 2016 - 12:00am

Shalom Bayit

Babies. Isn't that what naturally comes to your mind after reading this week's Torah portion? Confused? Let me explain.

This week's reading contains an unusual ritual, the testing of the sotah (the wayward wife). This is a strange and even fantastical ritual, quite foreign and bizarre to the modern mind. To the modern ear it appears to be more akin to alchemy than biblical instruction. It goes like this: 

If a woman was suspected of adultery and had been warned in regard to certain actions that could lead to inappropriate behavior, she would be brought to the kohen (priest) in the Tabernacle to undergo this unusual interrogation. It begins with her bringing "a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance" (5:15). The kohen then takes a clay pot filled with sacred water from the bronze laver of the Tabernacle and adds to it some of the dust from the floor of the Tabernacle. He then uncovers her head and places her grain offering into her hands. He then makes her swear an oath. The oath attests either to her innocence or to her guilt. If she is innocent then the waters of cursing will have no affect. If she is guilty, however, then an awful curse will come upon her that will make her "womb swell and [her] thigh fall away" (5:22). After this, the kohen writes the entire curse upon a scroll. He then scrapes off the text-which contains the Divine Name of God-into the water mixture. After this, the woman drinks the mixture of water, dust and ink and waits to see if her innards will rot.

Posted June 10, 2016 - 12:00am

The Big Picture

There is a distinct way of reading the Scriptures that is evident when we begin to peel back the layers of religious and cultural sediment that has accumulated in our minds. One of the ways to do this is by returning to the original language of the Torah. A prime example of this is found in the book of Numbers. In Christian tradition, the book of Numbers is so named because of the first four chapters which seems to be written by the Israelite Census Bureau. It appears to be entirely preoccupied by the numbers of the various tribes and subgroups within the Children of Israel. From the opening lines of, "Take a census of all of the congregation of the people of Israel by clans..." (1:2) until the end of chapter four, it appears that the Torah has little to offer us other than its obsession with the number of people in the various camps within Israel. But are numbers the only thing the Torah is trying to communicate to us in this parashah? 

There's a vast difference in how the Torah is read, depending on your perspective. For the casual reader, making it through the first four chapters of the book of Bamidbar is nothing less than an endurance test. If we are oblivious to the big picture whose details are now being offered by the Torah, our current reading can seem like a waste of time. However, if we can zoom out and see the bigger picture that the Torah is trying to paint for us, then everything begins to come into focus. Let's briefly zoom out to take a look at one perspective of this.

Posted June 3, 2016 - 12:00am

Leviticus 26:3-27:34

As the final reading and concluding note to the book of Vayikra (Leviticus), Parashat Bechukotai  (which means, "in my decrees") makes a final appeal to the Children of Israel by listing out a series of blessings and curses related to whether or not they would be faithful to the terms of the covenant made with them at Sinai. Blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. One unique component about this portion is its use of the Hebrew word keiri (קרי). The word is used only seven times in the entire Bible, but only in our current Torah portion. Here is its first appearance:

Then if you walk contrary (keiri) to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. (Leviticus 26:21)

In each of these instances it is used in relationship to living a life not in accordance to the Torah. The way it's typically translated is related to being contrary, hostile or stubborn. Since it seems like the Torah is speaking of a rebellious person, it seems obvious that our word in question should be translated along these lines. However, Rashi, the medieval Jewish scholar and commentator, suggests something entirely different. According to Rashi and his knowledge of Hebrew, keiri has the connotation of casualness or passiveness. This makes for a very different understanding of these passages.

Rashi helps us understand what this means by saying that just as some things appear to happen "by chance," so too will our Torah observance become. In other words, we will behave casually toward the commandments and their performance, and therefore Hashem will act casually toward us. 

Posted May 27, 2016 - 12:00am

Leviticus 25:1-26:2

Parashat Behar begins, "The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying..." We get the name of the parashah from this opening line. The word behar, in Hebrew, means "on the mountain." But why do we need to know this information? Didn't all of the commandments and instructions given by Moses originate at Sinai when he was given the Torah in its entirety? Why hasn't the Torah reiterated this fact prior to our current reading? Why do we need to be reminded of this obvious fact? 

Maybe it's because of the commandments that follow. What follows this statement is a series of commandments that don't seem to make any rational sense. For instance, the first commandment is the mitzvah of the shemitah (sabbatical) year. Every seventh year, farmers in the land of Israel are to leave their ground fallow: no planting, no tilling, no watering, no harvesting, etc. It must remain completely uncultivated. Not only that, but whatever crops are produced are considered communal property. Any person or any beast may eat freely from it.

The second set of commands revolves around the Yovel (Jubilee). The Yovel is the fiftieth year, after seven shemitah cycles. The entire year is to be consecrated and dedicated to the return of property to its original owner. In addition, like during the shemitah, we are not to cultivate the land; we may not plant or harvest.

Next, we have various laws pertaining to the sale of property in relationship to the Yovel, including a series of laws for slaves. And last we have several regulations outlining the procedures for redeeming a poor person who has been sold into slavery.


Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 


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