Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah

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Ki Tavo - In this week’s parasha, speaking and listening take center stage in what is expected of the People of Israel once they enter the Land of Israel.   Moses tells them that when they harvest the first fruits of their planting: “Va’anita, v’amarta lifnai Adonai Eloheicha,” “You will answer and speak out before God.” (Deut 26:5) Later, Moses adds: “Haskeit u’shma Yisrael,” "Pay attention and hearken Israel, on this day you have become a people to the Eternal, your God. Follow all of God’s commandments. (26:17) Speak out and hearken: It was good advice at the return to settlement in the Land of Israel in our epic Torah story. It is good advice for us now in this time of political turmoil in America. And its advice that reaches beyond the campaign to our own lives and relationships as well. I will elaborate on this message in my sermon at Shabbat services at 7:30pm tomorrow night.

This week’s parasha (Torah portion) contains a commandment against cross-dressing: “A woman must not put on a man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing;….” (Deut. 22:5) This act, which is considered “abhorrent” in the Torah, is part of a larger set of laws that have to do with improper mixing of categories. In ancient society, those who cross-dressed may have been thought to be seeking out improper sexual relations or trying to deceive others about their true identity. But, today cross-dressing is most often by transgender or gender non-conforming individuals, seeking to not be defined by what society deems a certain gender should wear. At Beth Hillel, we are just beginning to grapple with how we can be more inclusive of gender non-conforming folks who are part of our community. Our Reform Movement adopted a far-reaching resolution on this topic almost a year ago at the biennial URJ convention. In the coming months, you will have an opportunity to learn about and discuss this topic through a Jewish lens—beginning on Yom Kippur and at other times as well. Please join in this important conversation.

The name of this week’s parasha, Shofetim, means judges or magistrates.  Much of the parasha is about judicial matters, including a description of what seems to be the first High Court in ancient Israel. In Deut. 17:8-9 we learn that cases that are too “baffling” for lower level judges are to be taken “to the place that God will have chosen” (that is, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem) and presented to the priests and magistrates there.  This is the first mention of what later became the Sanhedrin of 71 judges that functioned like the Supreme Court of ancient Israel.  This court ruled on religious and civil matters, appointed the high priests and kings, and authorized decisions to go to war.  It even created law and in that way, functioned as a legislative body as well.

JULY FOOD OF THE MONTH: Canned Tuna  

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