Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah

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In this week’s parasha, Moses speaks to God about succession plans for leadership of the Israelite community.  Moses knows that he will not go into Israel, and now Aaron and Miriam are both dead.  Moses urges God:  “Let Adonai…appoint someone over the community…who shall take them out and bring them in, so that Adonai’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.” (Num. 27:17) One might read into these lines Moses’ disappointment that he does not get to see his mission through to the end.  He begs God not to keep the next leader from fulfilling his mission. The truth, however, is that few of us get the privilege of seeing all of our dreams and goals accomplished.  We have to accept some degree of “unfinished business” no matter how long we strive toward our goals or how many years we live.  But we should not mistake an incomplete mission for failure.   Instead, the quality of the journey and the good that we did along the way should be our focus.

This week’s parasha contains a story about a king, a prophet, and a talking donkey.  The King of Moab, Balak, implores a renowned foreign prophet, Bil’am, to go and curse the Israelite people, offering a handsome reward.   Echoes of Egypt’s Pharaoh abound, in Balak’s paranoid view of the Israelites:  “…they are too numerous for me; perhaps I can defeat them and drive them out of the land.” (Num. 22:6) Bila’am sets out to do the king’s bidding, but fails repeatedly as God intervenes, even speaking through the prophet’s donkey.   One commentator asks why Balak did not ask the prophet to bless his own people, instead of cursing another.  Beit Ramah concludes:  “He was so consumed by hatred that he forgot about his people’s needs and could think only about hurting his enemy. “  (Etz Hayim commentary, p. 895.)  We will take up this story at our Parashat Hashvuah (Weekly Torah Portion)study this Shabbat on Saturday at 9:30am. (Under the umbrellas in the BHT backyard.  Inside, if rainy or too hot.)  Join us!

This week’s decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to renege on his commitment to create an egalitarian worship space at the Western Wall in Jerusalem should trouble every Jew who cares about pluralism, democracy and the future of the Jewish State. (For more information, click on the links below in this edition of the BHT ENews.)  That this decision was made during the week of parshat Chukat, when we read about the ritual of the red heifer (Num. 19), seems fitting.  This obscure law about the use of the ashes of a cow for purification purposes has not been followed since shortly after the Temple was destroyed.  But, because of this statement in the Talmud:  “According to R. Meir in all of Jewish history only seven heifers were burned, but according to the rabbis there were nine (Par. 3:5), and the tenth and last will be prepared by the Messiah (Yad, Parah Adummah 3:4),” one very small sub-sect within the Orthodox Jewish world is preparing to reinstitute the red heifer law in the Messianic Age.  It is also a small sub-sect of the Jewish world that PM Netanyahu is trying to appease in reversing course on The Kotel.   His decision is as out of step with modernity as was the red heifer law in the 1st Century CE.

May FOOD OF THE MONTH: canned or dried beans

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