Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah

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This week’s Torah portion includes the Torah reading that the Reform movement uses on the morning of Yom Kippur.  (In traditional congregations, Leviticus 16 is used, which describes the ancient observance of Yom Kippur.)  In Deut. 30:19, Moses challenges us to “Choose life, so that you and your children may live….” In a commentary on this verse in the Mishkan HaNefesh machzor (High Holy Day prayer book), Rabbi Josh Zweiback says that this verse asks us:  “Do we live in a way that supports life in the broadest sense, or do we live in a way that serves only …our own narrow interests?”  As we inch closer to the New Year and the Ten Days of Repentance, one of the questions we should be asking ourselves is:  What life choices can I make that are not selfish, but that ensure a full and tranquil existence for future generations?  May it the New Year, 5778, be a blessed and life-giving year for us all.

A list of blessings and curses greets us in the middle of Ki Tavo.  They are to be pronounced after the Israelites settle the Land of Israel, which they will soon settle.  Among the curses, we find:  “Cursed be the one who subverts the rights of the “ger.”  The word “ger” is often translated as “stranger,” but a better translation is “sojourner” or “newcomer” or “one who dwells with you.”  The root of this word means “dwell.”  The people whose rights we are commanded to uphold are those such as immigrants and temporary workers in our midst.  The 800,000 “Dreamers,” young immigrants who received temporary legal status (through DACA) in the United States, are in this category.  This week the Administration announced that DACA is to be ended.  Will Congress act to protect those affected?  As Jews, it is imperative that we make our voices heard so that the “Dreamers” rights are not overturned.

Generally the Torah provides great comfort and deep insight, but occasionally we come upon a passage that really challenges us.  In Ki Teitzei, we find the law of the “wayward and defiant son,” who does not listen to his parents and is also a glutton and a drunkard. The son is taken to the elders of the town and stoned to death in public.  (Deut 21: 18-21) The Talmudic sages assure us that capital punishment was never actually carried out in ancient Israel or after (Sanhedrin 71a).   Still, we gasp at the content of this passage!  All parents can relate to the child who does not listen, and anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder or substance abuse surely can empathize with the child and/or parents in this parasha.  Thank goodness, our culture has evolved to a point where we treat such issues more humanely and sensitively.  

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