Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah


There are many verses in the Torah in which both Moses and Aaron are mentioned.  But very seldom do we find Aaron listed first, as in Numbers 3:1:  “This is the line of Aaron and Moses….”  A list of both of their descendants should follow, but, in fact, only Aaron’s line is mentioned.  A. B. Ehrlich explained: “while in monarchy and priesthood hereditary succession obtains, it does not in matters of prophecy.” (UAHC Torah, p. 1047)  Thus, even if Moses wanted to pass on his leadership position to his progeny, he could not. Only God can give the gift that made Moses a leader: Prophecy. Therefore Moses’ sons need not be mentioned in this list of inherited leadership. This weekend, the world will witness another royal wedding in England. Inherited leadership and the pageantry that goes along with it fascinate many.  But, for the past 2000 years since the destruction of the Temple, Jews have, for the most part, rejected inherited leadership. Scholarship rather than prophecy became the chief qualification.

In this week’s parasha, the Sabbatical year is described.  The land was to lie fallow every seventh year to provide rest and renewal for the land, just as people were provided Shabbat for rest and renewal.  In Lev. 25: 21, the text states that people need not worry about starving during that 7th year because God will “ordain my blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it will yield a crop sufficient for three years.”  This concept is reminiscent of the manna that fell in the wilderness.  Enough for two days fell on the 6th day so that the Israelites did not have to go out and gather on Shabbat.  While this promise of a bumper crop miracle may have buoyed the spirits of the Israelites as they anticipated the Sabbatical year, it undoubtedly also caused them to save, store, and plan for the Sabbatical themselves.  While we pray and hope that God will provide in moments of anticipated deficits, we need to act in our own best interest to assure ourselves a future.  As I write these words, I cannot help but think of the planning we are currently doing to assure smooth sailing at BHT while I am on “Sabbatical” this summer.  The goal is study, renewal and reinvigoration for a rabbi.  In the meantime, the congregation functions without the rabbi, which may engender some concern.  Rest assured, we have planned well and set things in place for the summer, including the hiring of a student rabbi.   Our hope is that this advance planning will, in the words of the Torah portion, “be a blessing for you.”

A troubling incident takes place in this week’s parasha.  A fight breaks out between an Israelite man and another man who is half-Israelite and half-Egyptian. (Lev 24:10)  The half-Israelite blasphemes God’s name, and God directs Moses to have the leaders of the community use the death penalty (stoning) for this offense.  It is also pointed out that this man is the product of an inter-marriage.  In addition, his mother’s name is mentioned, which is very rare in Torah texts.  S’hlomit is “called out” for having intermarried and for producing a son who brazenly broke the law.  It is easy to pass over difficult texts such as these.  But they, too, are part of our heritage and can spur thought and discussion about how people are dealt with for their transgressions and how our view of what is a transgression has changed over time.

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim     April 26, 2018

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is a popular Jewish writer and public speaker.  In his essay on the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-4),he relates how audiences often mistakenly believe that a commandment in this week’s parasha is one of the ten. (Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, p. 56) “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev19:18)is not one of the Ten Commandments, but that does not make it any less important.  In fact, Rabbi Hillel said that it is the most important of all the commandments: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.  All the rest is commentary, now go and study.”  (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a)  It is said that almost every culture in the world has this same maxim, often called the Golden Rule.  The following link will lead you to hundreds of formulations of this commandment.  https://www.goldenruleproject.org/formulations/We are happy to share this mitzvah with the rest of humanity.  Now, if people would only practice it consistently in their lives:  What a world this would be!

Yom Ha’atzma’ut   April 19, 2018

The State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948.  On the Jewish calendar, we mark Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israeli Independence Day and Israel’s 70thbirthday, today.  Israel’s Declaration of Independence begins with the statement:  “The Land of Israel, Palestine, was the birthplace of the Jewish people…” One might argue about when and where the Jewish people came into being:  Through the Exodus experience?  At Sinai? When Abraham and Sarah decided to leave their home to settle in the “land that God would show (them)?”  The statement above implies that Jews were the “indigenous people” of the land. But, the Torah and the later books of the Bible show that there were people there already when we arrived. There are others who consider the land we call Israel to be their birthplace as well.  How do we best celebrate 70 years of Jewish sovereignty when we know that others claim the same land as “home?”  It is a challenge that we must confront with sensitivity and honesty as a people, and yet we have every reason to be joyful and celebrate Israel’s zaccomplishments in its short 7 decades.  I will address these thoughts more fully in our Beth Hillel celebration of Yom Ha’atzma’ut at Shabbat services on Friday night at 7:30pm.

Shemini Part 2, April 12, 2018

Did you grow up in a kosher home?  What about your home today?  Do you keep the same level of kashrut that your parents did or have you added to your level of Jewish dietary observance compared to that with which you were raised? I imagine that the answers to these questions vary quite a bit within our congregation.  In this week’s parasha, we come across the laws of clean and unclean animals:  those approved to eat and not approved to eat.  (Lev. 11:1-23).  Interestingly, the word “kasher” (fit, proper) does not appear in the passage, nor anywhere in the Bible except in Esther 8:5, where it does not refer to food. 


Shemini Part 1, April 5, 2018

This Shabbat is the last day of Pesach for traditionalists, and there is a special parasha for the holiday.  But, at Beth Hillel, as in Israel and in other Reform congregations that observe 7 days of Pesach, we will return to the weekly cycle and read Shemini.  We will read first part of it this week, and the rest next week, so that we can get back on track with the rest of the Jewish world!   Much discussion has occurred over centuries of Torah commentary about a story in Shemini:  Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, bring “eish zarah,” an alien fire, to the altar on the day of their ordination as priests and are killed by God because of it. (Lev 10: 1-11). One interpretation of this shocking incident implies that it was wrong of these men to innovate and draw attention to themselves instead of to the holy tasks they were to perform.  Erich Fromm said that “all idolatry is reduceable to the service of the ego-self.” (Rabbi Herbert Bronstein, 1999, Voices of Torah.)Was finding a “flashy” way to draw attention to their own egos, instead of drawing attention to the service of God, the sin of Nadav and Avihu?  And if so, did it warrant the death penalty?  It is a sobering question for anyone who likes to innovate and bring new twists to traditional customs and expectations.  When does innovation cross the line to self-adulation?  

Pesach March 29, 2018

This Shabbat will also be the first day of Pesach. The special Torah reading for the day is from Exodus 12, beginning with the commandment to put blood on the doorpost to ward of the Angel of Death as the 10th plague sweeps through Egypt. To our 21st century ears, this blood ritual sounds barbaric, and the Death of the First Born, even moreso. And yet, in 21st century America, we have been living through our own child-killing plague—the plague of gun violence. We reject the ancient idea that blood purifies and protects--that somehow the offering up of the blood of the most precious—will stop the plague. Still, we have been acting, as a society, as if this were true. We keep offering up our children again and again, as if this time the plague will be halted, and it only continues. Our children are now rising up to lead us. Perhaps they will show us the way forward past the blood on the doorposts, the hallways, the sidewalks and the desktops to finally stop this tragic and uniquely American plague. Dayenu. Chag Samei’ach v’Kasher. A Happy and Kosher Pesach to all.

TZAV March 22, 2018 

BY: RABBI DAVID A. LYON, URJ Commentary  (Rabbi Feingold is away this week.)

This year, Parashat Tzav is read on Shabbat HaGadol, the great Sabbath preceding Passover. It is so called because we find in this week’s haftarah, from Malachi 3:23, “Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the great (hagadol) and awesome (hanora) day of the Lord.” ...

Read more:
Tzav-URJ commentary


Vayikra    March 15, 2018

This week’s parasha, Vayikra, is focused on the sacrifices brought to the priests to offer up to God in ancient times. In his Torah translation, contemporary American scholar Everett Fox relied heavily on the previous work of German scholars Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig. (The Five Books of Moses by Everett Fox, 1995) Therefore, Fox’s translations often vary from those found in other Torah commentaries. Buber and Rosenzweig were very intent on getting at the actual meaning of Hebrew words, even if there was no good equivalent in German. Fox tries to do the same. A good example is the word “korban,” which is usually translated as “offering.”   But the basic meaning of the word “korban” is “bring near,” so Fox translates “korban” as “near-offering.”   He is trying to get at the idea that a “korban” was something brought near to the altar, but it also has the sense of bringing the worshipper nearer to God. (Fox, p. 497) It is important to realize that translations themselves are interpretations of the Hebrew text. There is no one “authoritative” translation of the Torah. Each translator puts his/her own interpretive stamp on the process.

Vayahel-Pekudei  March 8, 2018

As we encounter this week’s double Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei, the Book of Exodus comes to an end as does the monumental project of the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. As  we have been reading about the construction of the Mishkan, our own place of worship, Beth Hillel Temple, has been under construction.   Although we are not doing the work ourselves, we are enveloped by the work in progress—the missing bathrooms and closed off spaces, the dust, the construction supplies taking up space we used to have for activities, and more.  Experiencing this helps us to understand what a relief and a joy it must have been to complete the Mishkan and to witness God’s presence coming to rest upon it in a sign of approval.  (Ex. 40:34)  Let us keep our sights on the joy of the completion of our Building Accessibility project, as we endure the discomfort and inconvenience the process requires.  We pray that we, too, will witness the presence of God in our midst when the project is fully completed and the dream of a “A House for All People” truly fulfilled in the coming months.

Purim, March 1, 2018

Today is Purim on the Jewish calendar.  We celebrated last night, but the holiday continues through sundown.  In Israel, on the day of Purim, many municipalities host a festive parade with costumes, floats, bands, and clowns called “Ad Lo Yada.”  The words mean “until you no longer know,” reflecting a custom that has its roots in the Talmud:  “A person is obligated to drink enough on Purim so that he cannot distinguish between ‘Blessed is Mordecai’ and ‘Cursed is Haman.’”  Interestingly, according to gematria, the Jewish practice of putting meaning into the numerical value of Hebrew words, the numerical value of both of these phrases is 502.  The contemporary parades in Israel do not involve drunkenness and neither should our synagogue observances, if nothing else, out of concern for people with addictions.  However, we should celebrate with abandon in other ways on Purim, letting our worries evaporate for a day into the fun and frivolity of a truly happy holiday.  Chag Purim Samei’ach! Happy Purim!



February 22, 2018

At the beginning of this week’s parasha, the Israelites are commanded to make a “ner tamid,” a fire that is constantly stoked so that it never goes out. This ner tamid was in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle created as a portable worship space in the wilderness. (Ex. 27:20)  In her book Torah Journeys, Rabbi Shefa Gold equates the ner tamid with the “light of consciousness,” a light within us that never goes out, but which needs constant tending.  There are times in our lives when the darkness of troubles, losses, illness, both mental and physical, clouds that internal light of consciousness that enables us to walk with faith and hope in the future.  Gold says that it is only through a daily practice of noticing what is eternal and good and beautiful in life that we can “free ourselves from our particular drama” and affirm the goodness of life, even in our darkest moments. (Gold. P. 88).  I will expound on this message in my sermon this Shabbat.  




February 15, 2018

In Torah portion Terumah, those expected to donate toward the creation of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the wilderness, are “kol ish asher yidbenu libo,” “every man whose heart is willing.” (Ex. 25: 2)  It seems like only men are required to contribute because every word in Hebrew is gendered.  “Ish” is man and “isha” is woman.  But in later chapters of Exodus (35 and 36) it is made explicit that women are to contribute as well.  The URJ Women’s Torah Commentary states that this implies that “women had their own resources and control over them.” (p. 453).   But, I wonder….  In ancient times and right up to the present, women have functioned at a decided disadvantage in ownership, resources, agency and more.  Until very recent times, it was rare for any woman to have resources that were truly her own; rather the men in her life may have given her control over some things.  This fact does not diminish the fact that women did what they could to contribute to the Mishkan, and that is something we can celebrate.  But, we should never be satisfied with a society in which women have less control than men over their finances, their philanthropy, or anything else, and too often today gender disparity in almost every realm is still descriptive of our world.


February 8, 2018

As I write this D’var Torah, I am about to head out to a rally in support of the Dream Act and the rights of DACA recipients with a local activist organization, Voces de la Fronterra. You may recall that Beth Hillel’s Leadership Council has passed a resolution supporting immigration rights and giving our Social Action Committee and me permission to speak out on this issue on behalf of the congregation. See the resolution, which is posted at the temple website here: http://bethhillel.net/index.php/programs/social-action. Cited in the resolution, as the basis for Jewish support of refugees and rights for immigrants, is the fact that a law about not oppressing the stranger comes up 39 times in the Torah. The first locus of this law is in parashat Mishpatim: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Ex 23:9) I will be expounding on this verse in the public square this afternoon in support of immigrants in America. (Wed, Feb 7, 2018)


Feb 1, 2018

At the end of Torah portion Yitro (in which the giving of the Commandments on Mt. Sinai is also found), we have a commandment about the building of the altar within the tabernacle, and the prohibition against using “hewn stones” as materials.  (Ex 20:22)  The idea (which appears also later at the time of the building of the Temple in Jerusalem) is that the metal stone-cutting instruments were like weapons of war that ought not to be associated with worshiping God.  The tabernacle and later the Temple were to be sanctuaries of peace.  The value suggested here is an uplifting one- that this new community in covenant with God is to be a people focused on peace.  That value is enshrined in the very place where the people and God will meet- to serve as a reminder and a symbol when events inevitably impel the community toward violence and war.  What reminders and symbols do we have today in our world, that keep us grounded in peace-making when events seem to tip us toward war? And do those reminders make a difference?  Or is war inevitable, no matter how much we value peace?

May FOOD OF THE MONTH: canned or dried beans

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