Parsha Ki Tisa – 5777

Parshat Ki Tisa In-Depth

“This they shall give . . . half a shekel (30:13) The mitzvah of the half-shekel is that each should contribute a coin that [is valued at] half of the dominant coin of that time. If the prevailing coin is a takal, they should give a half-takal; if it is a sela, they should give a half-sela; if it is a darcon, they should give a half-darcon. (Midrash HaGadol)

Why not a complete coin? To teach us that no man is a complete entity unto himself. Only by joining with another can a person become a “whole thing.” (The Chassidic Masters)”

Torah Sparks: Ki Tissa 5777

“Parshat Ki Tissa or parts of it are read no less than nine times during the year. In addition to its place in the yearly cycle, we read parts of Ki Tissa on five fast days and on two Shabbatot of festivals (Pesach and Sukkot). The beginning of the portion is also read on Shabbat Shekalim.

The dramatic center of the portion is the story of the sin of the Golden Calf that takes place when Moses is on Mount Sinai with God. The dialogues between Moses and God at this moment become the basis of our Torah reading for fast days.”

A Concrete Relationship with God

“At this point in Exodus, in Parashat Ki Tisa, the Israelites have seen a lot of action: the great drama of the plagues, the earth-shattering Exodus itself, and the transcendent moment of Revelation at Sinai. But now, it is as if the rushing scenes have been paused in favor of, well, waiting. The Israelites are somewhere in the desert, they have had these communal, transcendent experiences, and now, … now they are killing time until Moses returns to them.”

The Promise of Forgiveness

“The great drama of our Torah revolves around the themes of sin and forgiveness – human error and Divine forbearance. The great teaching of our scripture is that forgiveness is available to those who seek it. The great hope of our tradition is that we all avail ourselves of this gift and turn in repentance from our errors and mistakes to live fuller lives. The great dream of our people is that we can use this insight to strengthen the spiritual bonds that unite us with each other and with our God.”

Haftarah Parshat Ki Tisa

“Shabbat Parah is the third of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesah. Its was intended as a reminder for people to purify themselves before Pesah so that they would be ritually pure in order to partake of the Pesah offering. The accompanying haftarah from the prophet Ezekiel takes the theme of purity and transforms it conceptually from being a physical condition into a spiritual condition. Sin and disloyalty to God make the people impure and worthy of exile. For Ezekiel, this explains the exile of the children of Israel following the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians.”

Parsha Tetzaveh – 5777

Parshat Tetzaveh In-Depth

“And you shall command . . . (27:20)

Tetzaveh is the only Parshah in the Torah since Moses’ birth in which Moses’ name does not appear (with the exception of the book of Deuteronomy, which consists mostly of a first-person narrative spoken by Moses). The reason for this is that [when the people of Israel sinned with the golden calf,] Moses said to G‑d: “If You do not [forgive them], erase me from the book that You have written” (Exodus 32:31). This was realized in the Parshah of Tetzaveh, since the censure of a righteous person, even if made conditional on an unfulfilled stipulation, always has some effect. (Baal HaTurim)”

Torah Sparks: Tetsaveh 5777

“This year Parashat Tetsaveh is read on Shabbat Zachor, and in fact Purim will begin when Shabbat goes out (except for Jerusalem and several other historically “walled cities”). Clothing is a theme common to both the parashah and the holiday. In Tetsaveh we read of the special clothing given to the kohanim (priests); in the evening we will dress up. When I studied in Israel many years ago, our daily minyan had a kohen, who, in accordance with the custom there, duḥaned each morning. His Purim costume was to dress as the kohen gadol, the High Priest.

In the parashah we are told that all the priests are to wear four garments – linen breeches, tunics, sashes and turbans.”

Each of Us Can Kindle the Light Within

“There’s something incredibly powerful about the ner tamid, usually translated as the “eternal light.” Most often, it hangs elegantly in a synagogue just before the ark, right at the front of the sanctuary. (As an interesting aside, the ner tamid was historically placed on the western wall of the synagogue as a reminder that the Holy of Holies was to its west.1) The constancy of the ner tamid was a source of great interest to me as a child. I don’t think I am unique in remembering sitting through services, gazing at the lamp, and wondering whether it really burned all the time, when was it lit for the first time, and who made sure it didn’t go out.”

Why Moses Did Not Become a Priest

“This week’s parashah, Tetzaveh, begins with God commanding Moses “And as for you, you shall instruct the Israelites to bring you pure olive oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling the Eternal Lamp (Exodus 27:20).” At first glance it does not appear that there is anything unusual or extraordinary about this verse. It is simply God giving Moses another instruction concerning the Mishkan (Tabernacle), just as God instructed him last week on how he was to build it. However, it is precisely because God’s instructions to Moses had been at the center of the preceding narrative that commentators have questioned why the verse begins “V’atah tetzaveh” (and as for you, you shall command) as opposed to simply tzav (command!) or tetzaveh (you shall command). After all, “and as for you ” would seem to imply that the previous verses had been addressed or referred to someone else.”

Haftarah Parshat Titzaveh

“The episode of King Saul’s war against the Amalekites was certainly provocative. It was part of the ongoing saga which we first encountered in the Torah where we learn that the Amalekites waged a particularly offensive war against the children of Israel. The memory of the acrimony from that battle reverberated throughout the generations. Generations later the story continued when the prophet Samuel commanded King Saul to obliterate the Amalekites and resurfaced again in the book of Esther when Mordechai a descendent of the tribe of Saul tangles with Haman, a descendent of the Amalekites.”

Parsha Terumah – 5777

Parshat Terumah In-Depth

“Speak to the children of Israel, that they should take to Me a terumah (“uplifting”) (Exodus 25:2)

Every created entity has a spark of G‑dliness within it, a pinpoint of divinity that constitutes its “soul,” its spiritual function and design. When we utilize something to serve the Creator, we penetrate its shell of mundanity, revealing and realizing its divine essence. Thus we elevate these “sparks,” reuniting them with their Source. (The Chassidic Masters)”

Torah Sparks: Terumah 5777

“In the last two Parshiot we were getting on beautifully with the revelation on Mount Sinai; we had the Ten Commandments in Parshat Yitro and some very sensible and practical ethical-legal instructions in Parshat Mishpatim. Now suddenly, in Parshat Terumah, we are thrown into the weird and wonderful world of ornate ritual objects. In this parashah we begin to be told about God’s detailed requirements for the building of a Mishkan (Tabernacle) so that God might dwell in the middle of the camp. God says that the Mishkan must be built – “V’Shachanti B’tocham” – “that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). The rules for the construction of this astonishingly complicated edifice fill chapters and chapters of the Torah up to the end of the book of Exodus.”

Giving Gifts of Free Will

“As the Torah continues the Israelites’ dramatic, people-building saga, Parashat T’rumah approaches the story from a new angle. Instead of developing the literary adventures of a no-longer-nascent people or focusing on the striking events at Mt. Sinai, this week’s Torah portion is about the details. And these details are not the specifics of community-building or daily life. Rather, they concern, in painstaking minutiae, the construction of the Tabernacle. This is a parashah about holiness, and in the case of Parashat T’rumah, the holiness is in the details.”

Blueprint for a Full Jewish Life

“Me’am Loez may provide some insight into the dynamic of such spiritual renewal by noting a subtle difference in the instructions given to Moshe for making the menorah, the tabernacle, and the sacrificial altar. Instructions for making the menorah and mishkan are given in the present tense, as if a reliable visual image given to Moshe at Sinai could serve as the design grid when the building actually began. Moshe, however, is given the instruction for designing the sacrificial altar in the past tense, ‘as you were shown on the mountain.'”

Haftarah Parshat Terumah

“King Solomon’s wisdom is a major anthem of the book of Kings. At every turn, we are reminded of his wisdom. He prayed to God for wisdom and it was granted to him. Solomon is most well-known for the famous court case where he decided the fate of a baby claimed by two prostitutes. This week’s haftarah also puts into play his wisdom in the building of the Temple: “The Lord had given Solomon wisdom, as He had promised him. And there was friendship between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty.” (verse 26)”

Parsha Mishpatim – 5777

Parshat Mishpatim In-Depth

“And these are the laws which you shall set before them (Exodus 21:1)

The phrase “and these” (ve’eileh) implies that they are a continuation of what is written before. This is to teach us that just as the laws written above (the Ten Commandments) are from Sinai, these too are from Sinai. (Mechilta; Rashi)

Since the majority of laws set forth in the Parshah of Mishpatim are logical laws, the Torah wishes to emphasize that these too are divinely ordained. (Commentaries)”

Torah Sparks: Mishpatim 5777

“The Rabbis disagreed over the meaning of the repetition: one said any mistreatment, even trivial, will trigger God’s anger; another said one is liable only if he/she repeats the offence. Thus we see that the repeated verb can minimize (e.g. “at all”) or it can intensify (“surely”). There are other examples of this in our parasha. Ex. 21:2 entitles the Hebrew slave to go free after six years, but if amor yomar, he says says ‘I love my master…I will not go free’ his ear is pierced and he is a slave for life (Ex 21:5). The rabbis say “he must say so twice.” A one-time remark, whether made casually or in jest, is not enough to commit him to servitude for life. On the other hand “one who strikes a parent mot yumat – shall surely be put to death” (Ex. 21:15).”

The Moral Imperative of the Stranger

“In Parashat Mishpatim, we find the Israelites in the midst of the Revelation at Sinai, experiencing the communal wonder and intensity of their encounter with God. Mishpatim, which means “laws,” dives into the details. The Revelations in Mishpatim are among the words Moses writes down on stone when he and Aaron ascend the mountain. Scholars call these laws the Book of the Covenant or Sefer HaB’rit. It’s the Torah’s first pass at the legal details that govern Jewish living.”

Jewish Tradition and Slavery

“The laws limiting the rights of a slave owner and expanding the rights of the slave (including the right to emancipation after seven years labor for Hebrew slaves, and automatic release for all slaves during a Jubilee year) are described in the parshat Mishpatim.

One would think that the life of a Jewish slave owner bent on maximizing the economic benefit of slave labor would be greatly impeded by such “humanitarian” restrictions. But in a gloss near the end of his commentary, Jacob Culi reminds us why this would not be the case even if the Jewish slave owner was concerned about halacha. For the laws regulating the relationship between the slave owner and the slave are talui b’aretz, dependent on the steady and complete habitation of Eretz Yisrael by a full complement of Jewish tribes. Lacking this sovereignty, this class of halachot are not binding.”

Haftarah Parshat Mishpatim

“This Shabbat begins the cycle of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesah. The first of these, Shabbat Shekalim, deals with the special Jewish half shekel tax which was collected for a variety of needs in the Temple. The special haftarah for this Shabbat records an episode in the Temple where the High Priest and the king worked to insure the proper use of the collected funds. The story related there also has some other twists and turns. The king, Jehoash was raised in the Temple from childhood by the High Priest, Jehoiada, in order to prevent his assassination by the queen mother, Athaliah. Jehoash assumed the kingship at age seven under the ward of the High Priest. His rule was described in the book of Kings this way: “And Jehoash did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days all the while that he was instructed by Jehoiada the High Priest.” (12:3)”

Parsha Yitro – 5777

Parshat Yitro In-Depth

“Jethro, the priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moses, heard of all that G‑d did for Moses and His people Israel, that G‑d had taken Israel out of Egypt (18:1)

Of what did he hear that he came? Of the splitting of the Red Sea and the war against Amalek.(Rashi)

Jethro heard . . . and Jethro came . . . (18:1)

This is the meaning of the verse (Proverbs 27:10) “Better a close neighbor than a distant brother.” “A close neighbor”—this is Jethro; “a distant brother” refers to Esau. (Midrash Rabbah)”

Torah Sparks: Yitro 5777

“Of the Ten Commandments, only four will land you in jail if you are convicted of violating them. The winners:

1. You shall not swear falsely by God’s name (assuming you are under oath).
2. You shall not murder.
3. You shall not steal.
4. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (assuming, again, some court proceeding)

All this leaves us a lot of wiggle room to sin. If we want to create a sculptured image and worship it, no one will stop us. If we want to dishonor a parent, we may. If we want to spend the Sabbath day laboring away at some menial task, let’s shvitz to our heart’s delight. It’s a free world. The opportunities for sin abound, and ironically, it is in such an environment that the possibility for living the sacred life is greatest.”

Radical Inclusion at Sinai

“We have arrived. All of the stories; all the of the generations between Adam and Eve, and the matriarchs and patriarchs; and 400 years of slavery in Egypt now culminate in the Israelites’ triumphant redemption. They all lead to this singular moment: the Revelation at Sinai. In Parashat Yitro, Moses guides the Israelite people to Mt. Sinai where they encounter God, experiencing all the drama and glory of Revelation.”

Words of God

“The week’s parashah, Yitro, takes its name from the opening line which states “And Yitro (Jethro) father-in-law of Moses heard all that God had done to Moses and to Israel his people, that God had taken Israel out of Egypt.” The parashah then continues on with Yitro’s advice to Moses not to take on the duty of judging the people’s grievances alone, but to appoint judges to help him. Finally, the parashah reaches a climax with the central event of our religious mythology, the giving of the law/Torah at Sinai. It is at Sinai that the ragtag bunch of former slaves finally covenants themselves to God as a people. At Sinai the nation/people of Israel is born.”

Haftarah Parshat Yitro

“Isaiah was anything but eager to take on the role of prophet. God had to pull out all stops to convince him. And all for good reason. Isaiah would be asked to be the harbinger of the severest of messages, a message which would foresee the downfall of the nation on account of its sinfulness. After Isaiah accepted his charge, he delivered this message to his people: “Go say to the people: ‘Hear, indeed, but do not understand; See, indeed, but do not grasp.” (verse 9) It gets worse. The people’s obstinacy is then reinforced by God: “Dull that people’s mind, stop its ears; lest seeing with its eyes and hearing with its ears, it also grasp with its mind and repent and save (heal) itself.” (verse 10)”

Parsha Beshalach – 5777

Parshat Beshalach In-Depth

“G‑d did not lead them through the way of the land of the Philistines (13:17)

The tribe of Ephraim had erred and departed from Egypt 30 years before the destined time, with the result that three hundred thousand of them were slain by the Philistines . . . and their bones lay in heaps on the road. . . . G‑d therefore said: If Israel sees the bones of the sons of Ephraim strewn in the road, they will return to Egypt . . .

Thus the verse says, v’lo nacham Elokim (‘G‑d did not lead them,’ which can also be translated as ‘G‑d was not comforted’). This is comparable to a king whose sons were carried off as captives, and some of them died in captivity. The king afterwards came and saved those that were left. While he rejoiced over those who survived, he was never comforted for those who had died. (Midrash Rabbah)”

Torah Sparks: Beshallah 5777

“Nahshon ben Aminadov is a fairly familiar character in biblical lore. He was the prince from the tribe of Judah known for taking the initiative to jump into the sea when the children of Israel were trapped, in panic, between the pursuing Egyptian army and the sea (Exodus 14:9-12). It was his great faith in God which caused God to split the sea so that the nation could leave Egyptian bondage. One rabbinic tradition asserts that this as the reason that the tribe of Judah warranted the kingship, through the house of David (see Mechilta deRabbi Yishmael Beshallah 6).”

First Steps on the Path to the Promised Land

“Redemption! Parashat B’shalach is a Torah portion of glory — glory in the Song at the Sea, the poetic celebration of liberation from Egyptian bondage, and glory in the details of the Israelites’ first steps out of Egypt.

The parashah begins with the verse that sets the scene for the entire next thematic section of the Book of Exodus, the Israelites’ early adventures wandering in the desert. Exodus 13:17 reads, ‘Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, ‘The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.'”

Sinai and Mitzvot

“The parashah begins with Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro, showing Moses how to set up an administrative system to govern the newly-freed Israelites, and how to delegate minor tasks to others so that he can focus on major issues. Then the story moves to the theophany on Mount Sinai, the giving of the mitzvot (commandments) to Moses. Much of the rest of the biblical story consists of discussions of the rules and the way they are to be enforced. These two elements, the rules and the mechanism by which they are administered are essential parts of traditional halakhah.”

Haftarah Parshat Beshalah

“It is important to pay close attention to how a story is told. The message is in the details. The children of Israel had been subjugated by Jabin, king of the Philistines, for twenty years. When they cried out to God, expressing their troubles, God answered them and had them redeemed. There were three human protagonists in the story: Deborah, Barak and Yael. Deborah was the leader of the people and Barak, the general whom she assigned to do battle with this bitter enemy. For his part, Barak refused to lead the forces on his own and only agreed to do battle if Deborah accompanied him. Deborah acceded to his request but cautioned him that any victory against the enemy would not be achieved at his hands. The battle went well and the enemy general, Sisera, was forced to escape. He fled to the tent of Yael who promised to hide him from Barak. Neither Barak nor Deborah finalized the victory. That achievement was left for Yael who killed Sisera while he slept in her tent.”

Parsha Bo – 5777

Parshat Bo In-Depth

“G‑d said to Moses: ‘Come in to Pharaoh’ (10:1)

Rabbi Shimon [bar Yochai] continued: It is now fitting to reveal mysteries connected with that which is above and that which is below. Why is it written, ‘Come in to Pharaoh?’ Ought it not rather have said, ‘Go to Pharaoh?’ It is to indicate that G‑d brought Moses into a chamber within a chamber, into the abode of the supernal mighty serpent that is the soul of Egypt, from whom many lesser serpents emanate. Moses was afraid to approach him, because his roots are in supernal regions, and he approached only his subsidiary streams. When G‑d saw that Moses feared the serpent, He said, ‘Come in to Pharaoh.’ (Zohar)”

Torah Sparks: Bo 5777

“The Passover Sacrifice is central to Parshat Bo. It is the major feature of the Exodus and it will remain a central part of Israelite national existence for generations to come. In some sense the centrality of the Seder in our time is a continuation of this tradition that signified the birth of our nation. It is set out in Exodus chapter 12…

This sacrifice has several key features: it must be roasted, there should be one lamb per household, uncircumcised (men) cannot eat from it, and it must be consumed in its entirety in a concrete period of time (12:8-10).”

Why Firstborns Are Such a Big Deal in the Torah

“Birth order matters in Parashat Bo, too. Bo begins with the final four plagues, culminating in that infamous, horrifying last plague: makat b’chorot, the killing of the firstborn. God takes this concept to its extreme, condemning every single firstborn — whether human or animal — to perish. The Israelite firstborns were saved by placing lambs’ blood on their doors.

But the emphasis on the firstborn doesn’t end with the 10th plague. After the conclusion of the plagues, God commands Moses, “Consecrate to Me every first-born; human and beast, the first [male] issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine” (Exodus 13:2). This statement lays the groundwork for a ritual called pidyon haben, in which parents must symbolically redeem their firstborn son from God’s ownership via an offering of coins on the 31st day after birth.”

The Sign of Courage

“As we read the story of the Exodus in the course of the annual cycle of Torah lessons and again in the spring during our Passover Seder, we hear very clearly Moses’ challenge to Pharaoh – “Let my people go!” We focus our attention on the clash between God and Pharaoh. We imagine Moses going time and time again to the hard-hearted Pharaoh and pleading with him to release our Israelite ancestors before God sends a plague even more dreadful than the one before. Then we hear Pharaoh’s firm refusal – “No, I will not let them go!” and we wait with fear and anticipation for the next horror that God will cast upon Egypt. The pattern repeats ten times until every Egyptian family has lost a loved one and Pharaoh finally relents and lets the Israelites go free.”

Haftarah Parshat Bo

“Metaphors can often express a message more powerfully than direct expression. This literary tool works, however, only when the audience understands the imagery. One verse, in particular, from this week’s haftarah bears out this idea: “Egypt is a handsome heifer (eglah yafefiah), a gadfly (keretz) from the north is coming” (verse 20)

The description of Egypt as an “eglah yefefiah” might seem a bit odd. Herodotus, the Greek historian clears up the confusion. For the Egyptians, Aphis, who was represented by a heifer, served as a deity. As such, the beautiful heifer was an apropos mascot for Egypt. (See Menahem Bula, Isaiah, Daat Mikra, p. 548, note 52) On the other hand, Babylonia is likened to a “keretz”. What is a “keretz”? Here, a debate in the Talmud chimes in: “‘Ulla said: It is a synonym for ‘slaying’ Rav Nahman bar Yitchak said: What is the scriptural evidence? Egypt is a very fair heifer. But the kerez [gadfly] out of the north is coming, it is coming. What is the intimation? As R. Joseph interpreted it: A fair kingdom is Egypt but murderous nations from the north will come upon it.” (Yoma 32b)”

Parsha Va’era – 5777

Parshat Vaeira In-Depth

“G‑d spoke to Moses, and said to him: ‘I am G‑d. I revealed Myself to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob’ (6:2–3)

G‑d said to Moses: I regret the loss of those who have passed away and are no longer found. Many times I revealed Myself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; they did not question My ways, nor did they say to me, ‘What is Your name?’ You, on the other hand, asked from the start, ‘What is Your name?’ and now you are saying to Me, ‘You have not saved Your people!’ (Talmud, Sanhedrin 111a)

You questioned My ways, unlike Abraham, to whom I said, ‘Isaac shall be considered your seed,’ and then I said to him, ‘Raise him up to Me as an offering’—and still he did not question Me. (Rashi)”

Torah Sparks: Va’era 5777

“In Parshat Va’era Operation Exodus from Egypt gets underway, beginning with the confrontation between Moses and Aaron on one side and Pharaoh and his team on the other. Seven of the Ten Plagues take place this week, and, as in the modern world, technology plays an important part in the struggle.

Before the Ten Plagues we have a “promo” – God tells Moses and Aaron to cast the rod before Pharaoh and it shall become a serpent (Ex. 7:8-10). When they do, not only is Pharaoh unimpressed; he summons his wise men and sorcerers (chachamim u’mechashfim), and chartumei mitsraim, the Egyptian magicians, do the same thing (turn rods into serpents) “b’lahateihem, with their spells.” Moses and Aaron have the last word – “Aaron’s rod swallowed their rods.” But Pharaoh evidently was not impressed; “his heart stiffened and he would not listen to them” (7:11-13).”

The True Purpose of the Plagues

“Parashat Va-eira is all action: the first six plagues descend on Egypt, and Pharaoh responds in kind, creating the dramatic and suspenseful story that will culminate in God redeeming the Israelite slaves from Egypt. The plagues are high drama, a fast-moving blockbuster film.

Blood. Frogs. Lice. Insects. Pestilence. Boils. My skin crawls and my scalp itches just writing about this batch of creepy, crawly, infectious plagues. The six plagues in Va-eira come in two sets of three plagues each (blood, frogs and lice; insects, pestilence and boils). In each set, Pharaoh is forewarned about the first two plagues and surprised by the third.1 And after each set, he refuses to free the Israelites.”

Moses’ Double Mission

“This week’s Torah portion, Va’era, is set in Egypt. Moses has already returned from his exile in Midian. He has had his first and unsuccessful encounter with Pharaoh, who, in response to Moses’ request to allow the Israelites the opportunity to worship God in the wilderness, has placed additional burdens on the already overworked Israelite slaves. In addition to Pharaoh’s scorn, Moses’ own people abuse him for the troubles they believe he has brought upon them. Soon after it has begun, Moses’ mission already seems to have come to an end. He has failed as a diplomat in his attempt to negotiate his people’s freedom.”

Haftarah Parshat Vaera

“This special haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh is linked to these special days on account of its prophecy of redemption, found in its penultimate verse, where there would be universal recognition of God especially on Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh (verse 23). Earlier in the haftarah, though, the situation described is not as rosy. One particularly difficult verse seemingly describes a serious dispute among the members of the community after the Jews returned from Babylonian exile. The voices heard in the following verse indicate a debate over who were the authentic representatives of God: “Hear the word of the Lord, you who are concerned about His word! Your kinsmen who hate you, who spurn you because of My name, are saying, ‘Let the Lord manifest His Presence, so that we may look upon your joy.’ But theirs shall be the shame” (verse 5 according to the NJPS translation)”

Parsha Shemot – 5777

Parshat Shemot In-Depth

“And these are the names of the children of Israel who came into Egypt . . . Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah (Exodus 1:1–2)

Although G‑d had already counted them in their lifetime, He again counted them at the time of their death, to express His love for them. For they are like the stars, which He takes out and brings in by number and name, as it is written (Isaiah 40:26): ‘He takes out their hosts by number; He calls them each by name.'(Rashi)”

Torah Sparks: Shemot 5777

“Moshe was a shepherd before God assigned him the position of leadership at the burning bush. The inspiring nature of the desert, combined with the responsibility of caring for living creatures, might be a good start for a leader who will take a people through the wilderness and deliver them the Divine Torah. But Rashi saw this also as an example of Moshe’s ethics. He suggests that Moshe took his flock to the far end of the desert to avoid the slightest risk that they might graze off others’ property. It would not be a large embezzlement scandal, only a little ‘who will notice?’ theft. But even that Moshe went to great lengths, literally, to avoid. Bad ethical habits would be a poor start for a leader.”

The First Heroes of Exodus

“The Book of Exodus opens by creating a picture of the Israelites’ life in Egypt: who was there, where they came from, and what their connections were to the stories of Genesis. Then, we read the famed words, “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). In this single statement, the Torah signals the end of a period of peace and the beginning of an era of oppression and slavery.”


“Torah talks about Moshe’s father and mother — and not by name. (Stay tuned for next week…) It is part of Torah’s style — obviously the mother and father of Moshe would be important and of interest — but not at this point of the story. How he came to be adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh, why he ran to Midian and how he came to be tending sheep near the burning bush are the core items in the preparation for Moshe’s charge.”

Haftarah Parshat Shmot

“There is growing appreciation that when it comes to interpreting a text, that the reader is as important as the author. This statement comes to mind in the choice of this particular prophecy as the haftarah for Parshat Shmot. On the face of it, Isaiah’s message speaks of Israel’s exile at the hands of the Assyrians as punishment for disloyalty to God. This punishment was, in turn, to end with God’s redemption of the exiles by bringing them home. This pshat (plain) reading might seem a sufficient parallel to the parashah for the choice, but Rashi’s interpretation of this prophecy provided an even more vivid reason.”

Inter-Faith Relations: Survey of World Religions (Part 5)

Prayer Wheels
Japa Mala Prayer Beads (Bikrampratapsingh – Wikipedia)


The founder of Buddhism was a royal prince born in 624 BCE in northern India – now a part of Nepal – who was given the name Siddhartha. He lived in the royal palace but when he was 29-years-old he moved into the forest to follow a life of meditation. According to Buddhist belief he attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree which grew in Bodh Gaya, India. It was requested of him to teach fellow pilgrims who were attempting to attain enlightenment. The Buddha as he was now called proceeded to teach the first Wheel of Dharma which included the Four Noble Truths. Later he taught the second and third Wheels of Dharma including the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras and the Sutra Discriminating the Intention. The teachings of the Buddha included 84,000 teachings with the intention of leading mankind to permanent liberation from suffering and finding nirvana.23 The First Council was convened after the Buddha’s death in order to preserve his teachings.24 The Second Council was convened about 100 years after the Buddha’s death when conflicts began to arise amongst the Buddhists. It is unclear what happened during this Council but a split occurred within the Buddhist community. The group who felt they were keeping the original spirit of the Buddha’s teachings became known as the Elders and eventually evolved into Theravada Buddhism. Those who taught a more lenient form of Buddhism in ways they felt were in tune with the Buddha’s intentions broke off from the others and became known as the Great Community. This break-off group eventually became Mahayana Buddhism. “Within 200 years of the Buddha’s death, there were 18 schools of Buddhism in India. … Moreover, Buddhism had now spread to places with different languages and customs, and therefore different perspectives on the dharma.”25

The Buddha’s teachings as well as those of Theravada Buddhism are in reality atheistic. However, the Buddha and Theravada Buddhism do not necessarily deny the existence of beings that could be called “gods.” Mahayana Buddhism on the other hand believes in a universe that is populated with celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas who are worshipped by followers as gods and goddesses. Included in this pantheon of gods and goddesses is the Buddha himself. Most of the Mahayana Buddhist deities are adapted from indigenous religions of Tibet, China, and Thailand as well as the deities of Hinduism.26

The First Council was convened after the Buddha’s death in order to preserve his teachings. It was at this Council that the Buddha’s teachings were divided into three categories known as pitaka. These categories include discourses, discipline, and higher knowledge. “The Tripitaka that was formed at this meeting is the same canon used by Buddhists today.”24

Evil according to Buddhism comes from the choices that mankind makes. The three basic roots of evil are greed, hatred, and delusion. It is the choices made by mankind from these roots that is the cause of suffering and evil in this world.27 The Buddha taught a doctrine that rejected the idea of a soul and instead taught a doctrine of reincarnation (often called transmigration) in which one takes on a new body in the next life. Nirvana is the final liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth according to Buddhism and it is the end of all suffering. Nirvana was described by the Buddha as “incomprehensible, indescribable, inconceivable, unutterable. … [In his teachings] the Buddha describes Nirvana as the place in which it is recognized that there is nothing but what is seen of the mind itself; where, recognizing the nature of the self-mind, one no longer cherishes the dualisms of discrimination; where there is no more thirst nor grasping; where there is no more attachment to external things.”28


23“History of Buddhism.” About Buddhism, 2007. []
24“The first Buddhist council.” Religion Facts, n.d. []
25“The second Buddhist council.” Religion Facts, n.d.  []
26“Do Buddhists believe in God?” Religion Facts, n.d.  []
27Nyanaponika Thera. “The Roots of Good and Evil.” Penang, Malaysia: Inward Path, 1999. []
28“Buddhist beliefs about the afterlife.” Religion Facts, n.d.  []