As we initiate several weeks of reading from Leviticus in the synagogue this Shabbat, we acknowledge the challenge that much of Leviticus presents for us. In this week’s D’var Torah at the Reform Judaism website, Rabbi Lance Sussman discusses this in detail. http://www.reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study/vayikra/between-rock-and-hard-place-navigating-book-leviticus. But it is not just Leviticus, with its arcane material, that challenges us. What do we do when we find teachings anywhere in our tradition that trouble or offend us? In my sermon this Shabbat, I will take up the subject of how we deal with difficult texts, with the help of some insights from 100 year old actor, Kirk Douglas!
If you like drama, this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa, is a real winner! It contains the story of the Golden Calf: In their impatience, waiting for Moses to come down from Mt. Sinai with the commandments, the Israelites ask Aaron to create an idol for them to worship. Surprisingly, Aaron, the chief priest and brother of Moses, complies. Moses shatters the tablets of the commandments, freshly carved with the finger of God. He takes the Golden Calf, grinds it into powder, spreads the powder on the water, and makes the Israelites drink. Those who still do not wish to be loyal to God are killed by sword, and a plague is brought on to punish the rest. (Ex. 32) Then Moses returns to God to receive a new set of commandments. This unforgettable passage in the Torah gives us insight into the challenge of introducing monotheism in ancient times. It was not easily accepted, and, in fact, well into the settlement in Israel the backsliding to idol worship continued.
D'Var Torah (A bit of Torah study from Rabbi Feingold) Zachor
The Shabbat that precedes Purim (in this year’s case, just as Shabbat ends, Purim begins) is known as Shabbat Zachor. The word “zachor,” “remember” is taken from the special verses added to this week’s Torah portion: “Zachor et asher asa l’cha Amalek,” “Remember what Amalek,” the arch-enemy of the Israelite people, “did to you.” (Deut. 25: 17-19). In fact, in the Megillah, Haman’s lineage is traced to Amalek. Remembering our enemies is, unfortunately, something of which we seldom have to be reminded as Jews. Waves of antisemitism ebb and flow, but we seem to be experiencing a high tide moment in the United States right now. It is disturbing and sad, but we are grateful that we live in a society in which our institutions: The police force, the courts, and our Constitution protect us from such threats and actions. We must be ever vigilant against antisemitism and hatred and bigotry in all of its forms. As Jews, we must “remember” to stand up for all who are the victims of hate and intimidation in these troubling times.