Benjamin Perlstein The Times of Israel Blogs
The Virtue of Self-Creation
In Parshat Noach we saw how morality and creativity in the Torah begin to be fused through the concept of covenant. In Parshat Lech Lecha we see how the practice of covenant between God and humanity matures into a new tradition of countercultural monotheism. As the Torah proceeds from covenant to covenant, we begin to see in finer focus that the importance of moral relationships entails a rich sense of the complementary creative seriousness of individuality.
BY MELANIE LEVAV, JTS
Lessons of Survival
The rain fell on the land for forty days and forty nights. (Gen. 7:12)
One need not look hard these days to read of the devastation brought by floods. In recent weeks, powerful hurricanes have caused destruction beyond belief, completely flooding parts of Texas, Florida, the Caribbean, and the entirety of Puerto Rico. Beyond the devastation of land and property, such storms leave a lasting impact on the people who survive the experience. How we respond to such disasters can make a difference in how we continue to live. Survivors of the Holocaust know this well. Introducing Viktor Frankl’s influential Man’s Search for Meaning, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote, “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation” (2006 edition, x).
BY AVI GARELICK,JTS
Reading and Rereading
There's a good quip about the Jewish people: we're the longest running book club on the planet. This week, in synagogues and study halls across the world, Jews are rolling the scroll of the Torah back to the beginning and starting again. This is a different kind of reading than we do in other spheres of our lives. We read books, articles, and stories at specific times. They could be life-changing—we might return to those texts and reread them—or they could quickly be forgotten. Some people will do that more than once, at which point they have become either fans or scholars, giving those texts a place of privilege in the formation of their individual identity.
Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot
Exodus 33:12-34:26; Maftir Numbers 29:17-22
Rabbi Andy Shapiro Katz, Director of North American Engagement, Conservative Yeshiva
The Torah portion for Sukkot, Leviticus 23, enumerates all of the holy days, from Shabbat through the seven Yamim Tovim (plural of Yom Tov), calling all of them moadim (6 times) and mikra'e kodesh(11 times). But in truth, Shabbat shouldn't be in this list. In the whole Torah, this is the only place where Shabbat is called a mo'ed or mikra kodesh, which makes sense because, as scholars have shown, mo'ed means a yearly "fixed time" related to the lunar calendar, and mikra kodesh means a sacred proclamation/ convocation.
BY ARNOLD M. EISEN, CHANCELLOR AND PRESIDENT JTS
Making Every Word Count
Ha’azinu is remarkable in two respects: what it says, and how it chooses to say it. My focus here will be the latter, but let’s note with regard to the former that in this, his final address to the Children of Israel before a set of farewell blessings, Moses reviews all of his people’s past, present, and future. He begins by calling on the God who had called Israel into being and called him to God’s service. He reminds Israel that God has chosen them and still cares for their well-being. He prophesies that despite all that God and Moses have said and done, Israel will abandon God, as they had in the past. God will punish them, as in the past, but never to the point of utter destruction. In the end, God and Israel will reconcile. Why, Moses pleads, can you not understand the simple truth that YHWH alone is God, YHWH and no other? If you accept that truth and act accordingly, God will save you from your enemies—and if not, not. Remember these words, he concludes, for they are your very life and the length of your days—whereupon, rather peremptorily, God tell Moses that his days are over. The time for his words is done. Moses must join the forebears who speak no more (Deut. 32:46-50).