Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah

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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.

This week’s parasha (Torah portion) contains the story of Korach and his supporters who mount a near “coup” against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Those who participated are killed in a dramatic event.  Nonetheless, God commands that the firepans, the very tools of their revolt, be used to make an altar covering for the Mishkan.  The Torah says that the fire pans “have become holy because they were offered before Adonai.” (Num. 17:3).  Commentators have puzzled over the meaning of this passage. How could symbols of sin and disrespect for leaders become holy?  One interpretation is that they are “mementos of the victory of truth over falsehood.” (Arama, p. 866 in Etz Hayim Torah Commentary.)  Much of the news cycle in America these days is focused around the difficult task of ferreting out truth over falsehood, especially in reporting on the FBI’s Russia probe.  When all is said and done and the truth is revealed, will we find a way, as a nation, to bring a sense of reverence back to our treasured institutions of Democracy? What “firepans” will we sanctify as a way of moving forward together?

“Yes we can” was the motto of President Obama’s 2008 campaign. Before that, it was the motto of the United Farm Workers, as in the Spanish: “Si se puede.” In this week’s Torah Portion, “Shelach Lecha,” Moses sends spies into Canaan to check out the land that the Israelites will one day inhabit. When the spies come back with their report, most of them seem overwhelmed by the task of settling the land. They convey to their fellow Israelites that the task will be too difficult. But two of those who went on the mission, Joshua and Caleb, have a completely different “take” on the experience. In an ancient version of today’s slogan, “Yes, we can,” Caleb says: “Yachol nuchal,” “We will surely be able.” (Num 13:30) At the Beth Hillel Annual Meeting on Sunday, I expounded on “Yachol nuchal” as a fitting motto for our congregation going forward. Read my full report at the BHT website, where you will find the entire Annual Report. It was also sent to you via Email at the end of last week.

JULY FOOD OF THE MONTH: Canned Tuna  

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