Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah

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Parashat Re’eh begins with the commandment:  “You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshipped their gods, … Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site. ” (Deut. 12:2–3) What a week to encounter this verse!  The controversy swirling around events in Charlottesville, VA this week has raised, among other crucial issues, the question of the removal of Confederate statues in the American South.  The statues in question are not representations of foreign gods, as in the Torah portion.  Rather, they are symbols of a way of life that our nation abandoned after the Civil War:   The institution of slavery.  When we read this verse in the Torah portion, we may bristle at its harshness and its insensitivity to the other religions. Or we may view it a necessary step in the perpetuation of our people’s values.  Does the effort to tear down statues of Confederate leaders on public land represent insensitivity?  Or is it justified as a statement of our values as a nation today?  I come down on the side of the latter, and I will share my thoughts on this subject at Kabbalat Shabbat services this Friday at 5:45pm.  

“Can you believe it’s already August? Summer’s almost over.” It is a common refrain at this time of year. Perhaps we all begin to feel a bit anxious as summer wanes, but in the Jewish world, there is a reason for our anxiety: Soon the Days of Awe will be upon us, and we wonder if we will be ready. The rabbis who chose the weekly Haftarah readings were keenly aware of the season, the Torah theme of the week, and the psyche of those who would be listening to the scripture lesson in the synagogue. For this season, they chose seven messages of “nechemta,” comfort, partly to help us move out of the mode of mourning that pervades the Tisha B’av observance we have just completed. But, I believe they were also trying to help us cope with the coming of the season of repentance. Texts of comfort from the prophet Isaiah are shared each week, beginning with this week’s Shabbat Nachamu, Shabbat of Comfort, echoing the beginning words of the Haftarah: “Nachamu, nachamu, ami,” Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people.” (Isaiah 40:1)

At the beginning of Torah portion Masey (Num. 33: 2ff), the second half of this week’s double portion, Matot-Masey, Moses reviews all of the stages of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to this point, the end of the Book of Numbers, which is, in essence, the end of the wilderness journey as well.  The next book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, is a series of speeches, retelling what happened before.  A midrash explains Moses’ review through a parable of a king who takes his son to a distant land for a cure, and on the return journey points out to him all of the places they passed before and what they experienced there.  So, it is with God and the people of Israel.  Out of compassion and love for the people, God points out all of the stages, the highs and lows, that made this moment possible. (Hertz Chumash, p. 714)  

January FOOD OF THE MONTH: Pasta

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