Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah


This week’s parasha, Vayikra, is focused on the sacrifices brought to the priests to offer up to God in ancient times. In his Torah translation, contemporary American scholar Everett Fox relied heavily on the previous work of German scholars Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig. (The Five Books of Moses by Everett Fox, 1995) Therefore, Fox’s translations often vary from those found in other Torah commentaries. Buber and Rosenzweig were very intent on getting at the actual meaning of Hebrew words, even if there was no good equivalent in German. Fox tries to do the same. A good example is the word “korban,” which is usually translated as “offering.”   But the basic meaning of the word “korban” is “bring near,” so Fox translates “korban” as “near-offering.”   He is trying to get at the idea that a “korban” was something brought near to the altar, but it also has the sense of bringing the worshipper nearer to God. (Fox, p. 497) It is important to realize that translations themselves are interpretations of the Hebrew text. There is no one “authoritative” translation of the Torah. Each translator puts his/her own interpretive stamp on the process.

Vayahel-Pekudei  March 8, 2018

As we encounter this week’s double Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei, the Book of Exodus comes to an end as does the monumental project of the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. As  we have been reading about the construction of the Mishkan, our own place of worship, Beth Hillel Temple, has been under construction.   Although we are not doing the work ourselves, we are enveloped by the work in progress—the missing bathrooms and closed off spaces, the dust, the construction supplies taking up space we used to have for activities, and more.  Experiencing this helps us to understand what a relief and a joy it must have been to complete the Mishkan and to witness God’s presence coming to rest upon it in a sign of approval.  (Ex. 40:34)  Let us keep our sights on the joy of the completion of our Building Accessibility project, as we endure the discomfort and inconvenience the process requires.  We pray that we, too, will witness the presence of God in our midst when the project is fully completed and the dream of a “A House for All People” truly fulfilled in the coming months.

Purim, March 1, 2018

Today is Purim on the Jewish calendar.  We celebrated last night, but the holiday continues through sundown.  In Israel, on the day of Purim, many municipalities host a festive parade with costumes, floats, bands, and clowns called “Ad Lo Yada.”  The words mean “until you no longer know,” reflecting a custom that has its roots in the Talmud:  “A person is obligated to drink enough on Purim so that he cannot distinguish between ‘Blessed is Mordecai’ and ‘Cursed is Haman.’”  Interestingly, according to gematria, the Jewish practice of putting meaning into the numerical value of Hebrew words, the numerical value of both of these phrases is 502.  The contemporary parades in Israel do not involve drunkenness and neither should our synagogue observances, if nothing else, out of concern for people with addictions.  However, we should celebrate with abandon in other ways on Purim, letting our worries evaporate for a day into the fun and frivolity of a truly happy holiday.  Chag Purim Samei’ach! Happy Purim!



February 22, 2018

At the beginning of this week’s parasha, the Israelites are commanded to make a “ner tamid,” a fire that is constantly stoked so that it never goes out. This ner tamid was in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle created as a portable worship space in the wilderness. (Ex. 27:20)  In her book Torah Journeys, Rabbi Shefa Gold equates the ner tamid with the “light of consciousness,” a light within us that never goes out, but which needs constant tending.  There are times in our lives when the darkness of troubles, losses, illness, both mental and physical, clouds that internal light of consciousness that enables us to walk with faith and hope in the future.  Gold says that it is only through a daily practice of noticing what is eternal and good and beautiful in life that we can “free ourselves from our particular drama” and affirm the goodness of life, even in our darkest moments. (Gold. P. 88).  I will expound on this message in my sermon this Shabbat.  




February 15, 2018

In Torah portion Terumah, those expected to donate toward the creation of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the wilderness, are “kol ish asher yidbenu libo,” “every man whose heart is willing.” (Ex. 25: 2)  It seems like only men are required to contribute because every word in Hebrew is gendered.  “Ish” is man and “isha” is woman.  But in later chapters of Exodus (35 and 36) it is made explicit that women are to contribute as well.  The URJ Women’s Torah Commentary states that this implies that “women had their own resources and control over them.” (p. 453).   But, I wonder….  In ancient times and right up to the present, women have functioned at a decided disadvantage in ownership, resources, agency and more.  Until very recent times, it was rare for any woman to have resources that were truly her own; rather the men in her life may have given her control over some things.  This fact does not diminish the fact that women did what they could to contribute to the Mishkan, and that is something we can celebrate.  But, we should never be satisfied with a society in which women have less control than men over their finances, their philanthropy, or anything else, and too often today gender disparity in almost every realm is still descriptive of our world.


February 8, 2018

As I write this D’var Torah, I am about to head out to a rally in support of the Dream Act and the rights of DACA recipients with a local activist organization, Voces de la Fronterra. You may recall that Beth Hillel’s Leadership Council has passed a resolution supporting immigration rights and giving our Social Action Committee and me permission to speak out on this issue on behalf of the congregation. See the resolution, which is posted at the temple website here: http://bethhillel.net/index.php/programs/social-action. Cited in the resolution, as the basis for Jewish support of refugees and rights for immigrants, is the fact that a law about not oppressing the stranger comes up 39 times in the Torah. The first locus of this law is in parashat Mishpatim: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Ex 23:9) I will be expounding on this verse in the public square this afternoon in support of immigrants in America. (Wed, Feb 7, 2018)


Feb 1, 2018

At the end of Torah portion Yitro (in which the giving of the Commandments on Mt. Sinai is also found), we have a commandment about the building of the altar within the tabernacle, and the prohibition against using “hewn stones” as materials.  (Ex 20:22)  The idea (which appears also later at the time of the building of the Temple in Jerusalem) is that the metal stone-cutting instruments were like weapons of war that ought not to be associated with worshiping God.  The tabernacle and later the Temple were to be sanctuaries of peace.  The value suggested here is an uplifting one- that this new community in covenant with God is to be a people focused on peace.  That value is enshrined in the very place where the people and God will meet- to serve as a reminder and a symbol when events inevitably impel the community toward violence and war.  What reminders and symbols do we have today in our world, that keep us grounded in peace-making when events seem to tip us toward war? And do those reminders make a difference?  Or is war inevitable, no matter how much we value peace?

During this week in January when we remember the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. local clergy are asked to speak on the subject. Therefore, my sermon tomorrow night will be on the topic of “I May Not Get to the Promised Land,” a paraphrase of words used by King in his last speech, the night before he was assassinated in 1968. That night in Memphis, King stated that if he could live in any age, he would “take (his) mental flight by Egypt, through or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on and toward the promised land.” (April 3, 1968) Later in the speech, he intimates that his death his near, prophesying: “I may not get there with you.” By coincidence, we read the beginning of the moment that King wanted to relive by time travel in Torah portion Bo: “That very day Adonai freed the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.” (Ex 12:51)

Early in this week’s parasha, we hear the state of mind of the Israelites described as “kotzer ruach.” (Ex. 6:9) A literal translation is “shortness of breath,” which is how Rashi translates it. But “ruach” is both spirit and breath in Hebrew, which is, in and of itself, interesting. Therefore, we also find translations like “shortness of spirit” (Everett Fox), impatience (Nachmanides) and “dispirited” (Michael Walzer). Those who practice meditation, yoga and breathing know that breath and spirit are indeed intertwined and interdependent. Concentrating on breathing is a way to control, focus and calm one’s spirit. When we are short of breath, we are short of energy and perhaps even seriously ill. When we are short of spirit, we are short of passion, hope, and the ability to act. This is the condition Moses and Aaron found the Israelites in when first approaching Pharaoh to free them from bondage. They needed to learn to breathe and realize that they had a life force yet in them--physically and spiritually.

March FOOD OF THE MONTH: Canned Fruit packed in juice

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URJ Weekly Torah Commentary

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