Fri, 17 Mar 2017 22:21:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Lech L’cha (Go to yourself) Fri, 17 Mar 2017 22:21:03 +0000 Lech L'chaGenesis 12:1 to 17:27

This text introduces Abram – or Abraham as he is called later. Torah then details the life, successes, and beliefs of Abram after his direct contact with the Eternal.

“Go to yourself’” – This seems like an unusual combination of words. How can I go to myself?…. I’m with me all day long. Sometimes I would like to leave; but, this would be impossible.

So what does this phrase mean? … Maybe the opening words of the this week’s text provide a clue: “The Eternal One said to Abram, “Go forth from your land, your birthplace, your father’s house, to the land that I will show you, I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and it shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will pronounce doom on those who curse you; through you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3)

Maybe “Go to yourself” is another way of saying “set your life’s direction.” In the text God tells Abram to go to a new place…. The rest of this week’s text continues through a great portion of Abram’s life. We discover how Abram’s life is influenced by these words from God. All through his life, Abram shows his faith in the Eternal. He follows all the directions that God gives. Abram has total faith… a complete belief in his God.

However, Torah doesn’t provide a complete story of Abram’s life. When Abram left the land of his birthplace and father’s home he was 75 years old. (Gen. 12:4) Midrash stories create a background for these life-changing decisions. These stories tell us that when Abram was very young he tried to worship the sun. He saw that it rose every day and set every day. There was no variation. Then, at night the sun was replaced by the moon which also followed a set pattern. Abram reasoned that there must be a power greater than the sun and moon. He thought there must a be a more powerful God in control.

Another story that we all know tells us that Abram broke his father’s Idols. When asked by his father how it happened, Abram blamed one of the larger idols. His father said that it was impossible, the idol couldn’t move. Abram saw this as proof that his God was the true God…. the God with power.

There are other stories that state that Abram left his land because his beliefs were different than most people and these views put him in danger.

But, these are Midrash tales…. After reading these Midrash tales, this writer asks; Does the Torah’s Abram story contain more truth than these stories? Maybe the Torah’s Abram is not a single man; but, a story about a group of people who had faith in God. And what we are reading is the story of the birth of our faith…. but, presented in a format of a single person to make the story more dramatic.

This writer also wonders was it God who discovered Abram – the true believer…… or was it Abram who found (or created) a God to help understand the world in which he lived. (This Abram could be a single person who taught his beliefs to others …. or a group of people with the same belief). Then, whether it was God who found Abram… or Abram who created God in his own mind… Abram continued his life with a strong belief and faith in this God. This belief in God continues to be the central theme throughout Torah.

Maybe the meaning of “Go to yourself” is that each of us should look to our beliefs and shape our lives to fulfill these ideas. Torah tells us that our beliefs should be God-focused. So, according to this text, the beliefs, laws and commandments of the Eternal should be the focus and direction of our lives… Just as these beliefs were for Abram.

Earl Sabes

Noach (Noah) Fri, 17 Mar 2017 21:40:58 +0000 NoachGenesis 6:9 to 11:32

The stories of Noah and the Tower of Babel document the corruption and evil that had taken over the earth. This week’s text tells of God’s response.

The Torah tells us that “the earth became corrupt before God, the earth was filled with violence, and God saw how corrupted the earth was, how all flesh was acting in a corrupt way upon earth…” (Gen. 6:11) … We all know the story… God saw a single righteous man, Noah, and told him to build an ark which would house his family and representative animals of the earth. Then a great flood destroyed all that was evil on the planet.

Noah is called a righteous man; but, many have asked: “If he was so righteous, why didn’t he argue with God to save those people who may not have been guilty? … if such people existed. Why didn’t he argue on behalf of the innocent animal life that was also destroyed?

Noah may not have said anything verbally….. But, his actions gave the other people plenty of warning. Midrash tells us that Noah planted the trees that would be used to create the ark. He built the ark by himself. He collected all the animals that would board the ark. All this took time. Surely the neighbors of Noah would have seen these activities. And if asked why he is doing all this, Noah most likely told them why.

The other people had time to change. The span of this time had to be decades. There was no change. The people continued their evil and corrupt ways.

But this tale of Noah may be just a story. Many people think that that it never happened. Maybe there was a great flood. All cultures seem to have a similar story. But, Noah, the ark, all the animals…. that’s just a myth in the minds of most progressive Jews. They say that the message of the story is most important.

We are reminded of the Noahide laws which included the following seven laws…. People may not worship idols … They may not blaspheme God … They must establish courts of justice … They may not kill … They may not commit adultery … They may not rob … And, they may not eat flesh cut from a living animal. This last law was added after. the flood. The others all have a basis from text in B’reishit. (Plaut, The Torah – A Modern Commentary, Revised Ed, p. 75)

Then, several generations later the people spread out and some settled in the land of Shinar. They said, “Come let us build a city with a tower that reaches the sky, so that we can make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over all the earth!” (Gen 11:4) These structures were not build for shelter; but, to “make a name” for the builders. By doing this, the intent was to build a structure that could admired or worshiped by the people. God saw this as a form of idolatry and responded by causing the people to have differing languages. Because of the differences in language, the people separated and went to other locations. As a result, the structures were never completed. The location of the unfinished towers became known as Babel.

So, as the text tells us, the laws were still not followed. God realizes that without laws, the world would be evil and corrupt like that of Noah’s time. However, God’s efforts will not be focused on the entire world… as we will see in next week’s reading, God chooses to focus on a single family – the family of Abraham – to become a “light unto the world.” As time went on, more laws were added with the intent of creating a better world… a world filled with love and justice.

Today, we have laws to protect people and create a better world. Most people follow these laws and desire the better world. …… Yes, most people follow the letter of the law. But, sometimes the spirit of the law is overlooked. This writer looks at the Torah, then at the world, and I am worried.

Torah tells us on the sixth day of creation God created man to “fill the earth and tame it; hold sway over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky, and over every animal that creeps on the face of the earth.” (Gen. 1:29) God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it.” (Gen. 2:15) Mankind is God’s representative to keep and maintain all life on earth.

Noah took decades to build the ark and carry out God’s plan. The people had a chance to change their ways; but, didn’t. Today, mankind still has the responsibility to keep and maintain the planet on which we live. Scientists have been warning of global warming and climate change for decades….Little action has been taken.

Today, average temperatures everywhere on the planet are rising…. There are more storms, hurricanes, and droughts…. Weather conditions are becoming more intense.

Most experts agree that man-made pollution is a major cause of these conditions.

Just as Noah’s ark building was a sign of future events; the climate changes today are a sign of coming events. Yet, little is being done. If current trends continue, the eco-systems may change for the worse.

Mankind has the given responsibility to care for the planet. But, it seems that comfort and short term economic issues are preventing any changes that could improve our climate conditions..

It seems ironic that one of the predicted results of the current climate change will be a rise in sea levels……. Maybe, a second flood is approaching because mankind is not taking responsibility for “keeping and maintaining” the planet. Is history repeating a biblical tale?

Mankind has had decades to change… Maybe now is the time

Earl Sabes

B’reishit (In the beginning) Fri, 17 Mar 2017 21:08:06 +0000 B'rieshitGenesis 1:1 to 6:8

In the world God created was a Garden of Eden in which a Tree of All Knowledge was planted. When the fruit of this tree was eaten, was the result a punishment or reward?

And now we go back to the beginning…. In six days God created the universe, our solar system, Earth, and all that lives on Earth.

Then Torah presents a second creation story with more details regarding mankind’s first days. “God planted a garden in Eden, setting the man there whom God had formed. Then, out of he soil, God grew trees alluring to the eye and good for fruit and in he middle of the garden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of All knowledge…. So God took the man, placing him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. God then commanded the man, saying, ‘You may eat all you like of every tree in the garden – but of the Tree of All knowledge you may not eat, for the moment you eat of it you shall be doomed to die” (Gen. 2:8-17)

God created a partner for man… a woman. Both are to live in Eden and, as the above states, both work and keep the garden. All they would ever need is provided. The text states that they were naked. This could signify that they had no need or desire for material objects…. All they needed was provided and they were satisfied.

Then, they disobeyed God’s single commandment – Do not eat of the Tree of All Knowledge. The women took some of the fruit and ate it; then, she gave it to the man… and he also ate it. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and, realizing that they were naked, they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves skirts.” (Gen. 3:87)

God was angered and as punishment to woman God said: “I am doubling and redoubling your toil and your pregnancies / with anguish shall you bear children, / yet your desire shall be for your man,/ and he shall rule over you.”

“Now to the man, God said, ‘Because you hearkened to your wife and ate of the tree about which I commanded you saying, ‘Do not eat of it,’ the soil is now cursed on your account. Only through anguish shall you eat of it, as long as you shall live. It shall sprout thorns and thistles for you, when you would eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread, till you return to the earth – that earth you were taken from; / for dust you are, / and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:15-19)

Most interpretations of this story is that the women and man are being punished for eating of the forbidden fruit. But, maybe they are being rewarded by being sent out of the Garden of Eden. (I call them man and women because Eve didn’t get her name until they were out of the Garden of Eden. And Adam is referred to as Man in most of the story.)

In the garden all their needs were fulfilled. All they had to do was keep and maintain the garden. There were no real challenges. There were no desires for material objects. And the text hints at the idea that there were very limited emotions between the man and woman.

Once outside the garden, life becomes harder. But, man – and woman – have challenges to overcome. They have been given desires. They want material objects. They want each other. The text above tells us that the woman shall have “desire” for her man. Mankind can now create … not just tend the world. Mankind has been promoted to become a partner with God. They not only tend the world around them; but, by seeing both the good and evil in the world, they have the opportunity to improve the world.

One contemporary example of this is in the text itself…. Women are give the role of childbearing. Until recently, women spent most of their adult life bearing children to help support the family. As the text states: “God was angered and as punishment to woman God said: “ your desire shall be for your man,/ and he shall rule over you.” In the modern world, this has changed to a great extent. The needs of the household have been lessened. The man does not have to rule over the women. Now women can choose their own lifestyles. Mankind has created a new relationship between the sexes.

Comparing a life where everything is provided… including eternal life from the Tree of Life…. But, without the challenges of our world … the joys of achieving success … the bonds that grow out of mutual help given to others. I think I would choose our world.

For this reason, this author sees the “punishments” for eating from the Tree of All Knowledge as a reward or a promotion. Mankind has the power to see the good and evil in the world as God sees it. Then, mankind has the choice of choosing Life and improving the world in which he or she resides. This choice was not available in the Garden of Eden.

Maybe the Tree of All Knowledge was a test for mankind. Were they ready to make their own decisions? Were they ready to be full partners to God in creating a better world?

Earl Sabes

V’zot Hab’rachah (And this is the blessing) Thu, 26 Jan 2017 03:54:46 +0000 Deuteronomy 33:1 to 34:12V'zot Hab'rahah

The last chapters of Torah relate Moses’ blessing to the people and tell of his death.

(Picture to right -Simhat Torah Flag – France, 1930)

This week we are celebrating Sukkot. During this seven day celebration, each day has its own reading. The text for Saturday, October 22 is Deuteronomy 14:22 to 16:17. Rather than commenting on this text, I would like to focus on the last parsha of Torah –V’zotHab’racha. A look at the calendar shows that this parsha is not included in the weekly schedule. However, the last few verses of the text are read on Simhat Torah when we read the ending and beginning verses of Torah.

V’zot Hab’rachah presents the blessing Moses gives the people before his death. Then, the text relates the death of Moses at age 120.

Moses concludes his blessing words of optimism:
O Jeshurun, there is none like God,
Riding through the heavens to help you,
Through the skies In His majesty,
The Ancient God is a refuge,
A support are the arms everlasting.
He drove out the enemy before you
By His command: Destroy!
Thus Israel dwells in safety,
Untroubled is Jacob’s abode,
In a land of grain and wine,
Under heavens dripping dew.
O happy Israel! Who is like you,
A people delivered by Naiad,
Your protecting Shield, your Sword triumphant!
Your enemies shall come cringing before you,
/And you shall tread on their backs. (Neut. 33:26-29)

In many ways these words apply as much today as they did when Moses spoke them.

These are the words of Moses…. Moses who is called “the man of God” in the opening line of this week’s text. (33:1) And when he dies, the text refers to him as “the servant of the Eternal” (Deut. 34:5) All through four of the five books of Torah, Moses delivers the words, ideas, laws, and commandments of God to the people. The Israelite come to understand God through the words of Moses. It is no wonder that the Torah itself states: “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses – whom the Eternal singled out, face to face, for the various signs and portents that the Eternal sent him to display in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and his whole country, and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel.” (Deut. 34:10-12)

The ideas and concepts may have come from the Eternal. But the words were the words of Moses… The leadership on the forty year journey to freedom and independence was that of Moses. Moses taught the Israelites and all the succeeding generations of Hebrews the words of God … including ours and the generations of our children, and their children. It may be the greatest compliment to this great man that the book that tells the story of Israels beginnings is call Torat Mosheh … The Five Books of Moses.

Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (13th Century) – better know as Gersonides or the abbreviated Ralbag – stated: “It is indeed a very strange phenomenon that as much as the Torah took great pains to describe the exact location of Moses’ grave: ‘in the Land of Moab, in the valley, over against Beth Peor,’ in spite of all this, the Holy One blessed be He so devised it that no man knoweth of his burial place, so that generations to come should not go astray and worship his as a deity.” (Quoted from Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Devanagari/Deuteronomy, p.374)

This was the man – or legend – Moses.

And, as we always do at the close of a book of Torah, we say: Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazek! Be strong, be strong, and we shall be strong! We shall continue to study the words of Moses… individually we will gain strength… then we will study together and we will be stronger – together.

Earl Sabes

Haazinu (Give ear … Listen) Wed, 25 Jan 2017 23:49:04 +0000 Deuteronomy 32:1-52Haazinu

Moses looks at the traits of the Israelites and predicts a future…. In a recent book by author Marjorie Ingall she looks at today’s Jews and sees a different future.

This week’s reading, often called the Song of Moses, takes the form of a “song” or poem presented by Moses to the Israelites. It is interesting to note that the “song” form both starts (the Song of the Sea – Ex. 15:1-21) and concludes the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness (Song of Moses – Deut. 32:1 – 52). This Song of Moses tells of Israel’s relationship with the Eternal. Then, it looks into the future when the people become unfaithful to God.

But we live in the 21st Century where things and beliefs are very different. One way we can look to the future of Judaism is to look at the children of this current generation. A new book by Marjorie Ingall, Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children, focuses in on what Jewish parents have done right. The following information was taken from a book review by Nara Schoenberg  featuring this book. The reviews appeared in the October 9, 2016 Chicago Tribune Sunday LifeStyle section.

To grasp the success of the Jewish population in the 21st Century the review states that “Although Jews make up less than 1 percent of the world’s population, we constitute 170 of 850 Nobel Prize winners, 21 percent of Ivy League students, 37 percent of Academy Award-winning directors, and 51 percent of Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction.”

Ingall asks, “What are Jewish parents doing to foster that out-sized achievement?”

In the book she presents the theory that Jewish tradition “stresses learning and debate combined with a long history of religious persecution to create a distinctive approach to child rearing that’s heavy on learning, humor, and skepticism, embracing geekiness in all its forms and encouraging children to pursue their own passions.”

This theory is put into practice through the following four traits that are common of many successful Jewish mothers.

1 – Distrust Authority
Jews have grown to question and distrust authority because so often they have settled in a place, only to be driven out by hateful and self-serving authorities. This distrust of authorities has led to a decentralized religion that has much friendly debate and dissent. This has offered a great opportunity to sharpen critical-thinking skills.

The Talmud is an excellent example of the results of this style of thought. Each page of the Talmud has a big box containing the law in the center of the page. Then, wrapped around this box is lots of discussion and debate. Often, there is no real statement of meaning… just many viewpoints. Today, this way of thinking is expressed in the joke; “Wherever there are two Jews, there are three opinions.”

Successful parents question assumptions…. They engage their children in healthy debate. They talk about questions that they are struggling with, and ask for their children’s opinions.

2 – Encourage Geekiness
Accepting academic study may not have been considered the “coolest” thing to do. But, it was encouraged by Jewish parents throughout history. Popularity and conformity were not major goals. Children were encouraged to follow their passionate interests. Ingall writes: “Pay attention to what really fascinates your kid, even if it’s not what you might expect.”

3 – Read and Laugh
Ingall writes: “research suggests that both humor and storytelling can contribute to a child’s success…. And, both are central to Jewish culture.” She suggests the following tips for parents: “Ask your kids lots of questions about what they’re reading, and listen to the answers. And be sneaky. Judy Blume suggests that if we want our kids to read, simply leave books lying around the house and periodically say nonchalantly,’You’re not ready to read this yet.’”

4 – Heal the World
This is a tough concept to show children …. And no religion has a monopoly in this concept. One of the ways that Judaism has achieved it is through meaningful connections with other people. This may be the major reason why, for so many years, a great number of Jews have become successful artists, songwriters, performers, doctors, and lawyers. Ingall states that Jews”have insight into the human condition because from childhood we’ve been brought up to consider the feelings of others.”

“Ingall recommends starting early with our kids; even a preschooler can help donate old toys to a homeless shelter. You and your kids don’t have to do astonishing, creative things… Small acts can be powerful.”

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses sees the Jews heading into a negative future…. Ingall sees a future filled with success.

Earl Sabes

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at

Vayeilech (And he went) Wed, 25 Jan 2017 18:41:00 +0000 Deuteronomy 31:1-30Vayeilech

In this week’s Torah reading Moses presents an idea that is designed to both establish faith in God and bring a knowledge of the law to the Israelites.

“Moses went and spoke these things to all Israel…” (Deut.31:1) These are the opening words of the final address to the Israelites before they enter the new land…. And the opening of one of the shortest portions in Torah … only 31 verses. In keeping with that fact, this week I will also attempt to keep my comments very brief.

God tells Moses to “[write] down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be My witness….” (Deut. 31:19) Then Moses tells the people that this Teaching will be read to all the people – men, women, children, and all the strangers in the land. The reading will take place every seven years as the people gather for the Feast of Booths. It is done so that all the greatest number of people may “hear and so learn to revere the Eternal your God and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching. Their children, too, who have not had the experience, shall hear and learn to revere the Eternal you God as long as they live in the land that you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.” (Deut. 31:12-13)

My first question is … What is included in the “Teaching” that Moses reads to the Israelites?

Richard Elliot Friedman in his Commentary on the Torah (p. 660) states that the Teaching does not include the entire Torah. Most modern Torah scholars believe that the five books were not compiled until the rabbinic period.- hundreds of years later. Friedman believes that the Teaching included most of the law code that begins in Deuteronomy 12 and ends in Deuteronomy 26. He also feels that it probably included the Blessings and Curses found in chapter 28.

In the days of the Jerusalem Temple, the pilgrimage holidays attracted the greatest number of people. By reading this Teaching in its entirety every seven years, the teaching was reaching all generations … including the youth who did not experience the giving of the law at Sinai. This reading helped keep the people’s faith in God; while, also focusing on the importance of the laws.

Obviously, at the present time this “Teaching” is not read in this manner. However, with the advent of mass printing, the Teaching is available to every household … every person … in every corner of the world. But, is the Teaching reaching all the people?….. Most definitely not, most copies of the Torah remain on a shelf – unopened – all year long.

I feel this is one of the greatest problems facing today’s Jewish communities…. People consider themselves “Jewish.” But, really don’t know what it means to be Jewish. They know about the Passover Seder and the Hannukah candles…. They know that Saturday is Shabbat … but don’t treat the day any differently than any other day…. Very few know anything about the 613 commandments of Torah. When the children grow older, many don’t have any formal contact with Jewish law or traditions. In many cases, as this second and third generation engages with the assimilated world, their Jewish identity is lost.

This is a problem that has been discussed for generations… without any real solutions.

However, maybe there are solutions. Our weekly Torah study sessions provide a small number of interested congregants with the knowledge of this Teaching. And, our religious schools provide the basics to those who are involved…. But, we are only reaching a part of our total Jewish community. Maybe we should follow the lead of Moses. We could attempt to assemble the people … all the people … members of both organized congregations; as well as. non-members on a special day – in a special place – and present a special message. In today’s internet/social media world… this special place could be a combination of both physical and online locations. I can’t see the entire law (Teaching) being read…. But, on this day a focus could be placed on a message of a pride from that comes from being part of a Jewish community. The message could also include a discussion of some major mitzvot that are seen as important to the community. If specific mitzvot are chosen for a community, region, or maybe the nation… these could form the basis for a year long effort to increase Jewish awareness…. I don’t know how successful it would be in today’s over-programmed world…. But, maybe, it’s worth a try. After all, this week’s Torah text tells us that the reading of the Teaching may help stop the “curses” of an unfaithful Israel.

With this message, I also want to wish you and your families L’shana Tova …. And an easy fast this Yom Kippur.

Earl Sabes

Nitzavim (Standing) Wed, 25 Jan 2017 18:00:45 +0000 Deuteronomy 29:9 to 30:20Nitzavim

For the people who have turned away from God, Torah provides the process of Teshuvah – return to God – The process can apply to both the nation of Israel and the individual Jew.

This week’s portion is always read the week before Rosh Hashanah. It features an extensive listing of curses and blessings that will befall a community based on how they act toward God and God’s commandments. If we follow the commandments, blessings will result…. If we go astray and worship other gods and disobey the commandments, curses will result.

The curses get as transgression advances. However, the Eternal tells Moses that when the people are driven from the land because of their evil ways, God is always ready to take them back. In this week’s text Moses tells the Israelites that they will always have the ability to “return” to God. If they take God in their hearts and souls, the Eternal will take them back and then the people will follow the laws and commandments again…. This is the same as expressed in the concept of rehabilitation. The errors that were made are acknowledged and efforts are made to make sure that they are not repeated.

This text tells us how the nation of Israel can seek teshuvah … a return to God. The coming High Holiday period gives individuals like us the opportunity to seek teshuvah with both God and individuals.

In a recent article in Rabbi Paul Kipnes (Congregation or Ami, Calabasasi, CA.) suggests a four step process by which a person can achieve Teshuvah (return).

1. Count the blessings of the past year. By creating an inventory of our blessings we see that many of our blessings are made possible through a combination of our efforts, God-given factors, and the efforts of many other unrecognized individuals. Our successes and failures are due, not only to our efforts, but those of other people.

2. Examine the events of the past year and look for instances where actions did not meet the standards you have set for yourself. As I have written in the past, as Reform Jews, we have the responsibility of studying the law. Then, choose to follow those mitzvot which help us express our faith. During the High Holiday season, we measure how close we have come to meeting the goals we set for ourselves.

3. Then, we can make efforts to correct errors where we have not followed the law… “the mark that we missed.” First, one must recognize the errors that were made in our relations with the Eternal… realizing in our “heart and soul” that errors were made…. And, in cases where other people were involved, make efforts to create peace with the individuals that were affected by our wrongful actions.

4. The last step is Teshuvah … return to the right path. Along with these actions of forgiveness, efforts should be made to ensure that past errors are not repeated. Like the Israelites, the individual returns to God and then follows those laws that are seen as correct.

As we enter the High Holiday season, I want to wish your families L’shana Tova… A happy – healthy new year.

Earl Sabes

Ki Tavo (When you enter) Fri, 23 Sep 2016 22:21:09 +0000 Ki TavoDeuteronomy 26:1 to 29:8

In concluding his Third Discourse to the Israelites, Moses tells them to hear and pay attention to his words. Rabbi Kook extends this command to a discussion of how to best study Torah.

In this week’s text, Moses is concluding his third discourse to the people before they enter the Promised Land.

In this discourse, Moses again addresses the people …. But, he prefaces his remarks with the Hebrew word, Haskeit: Gunther Plaut in The Torah – A Modern Commentary translates this to mean “Hear, [O Israel]…” (Deut. 27:9). Like many other translations of Torah; the English words chosen may slightly change the meanings depending on the person who translates. Richard Friedman, in his Commentary on the Torah, translates the words to: “Be silent and listen, Israel: …..” Rabbi Kook (1865-1935, In 1921 he established the position of Chief Rabbinate of pre-state Israel, becoming Chief Rabbi with Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yaakov Meir) translated the phrase as “Pay attention and listen, Israel…”

Rabbi Kook wrote further about the word Haskeit…..”One explanation proposed by the Talmud is that haskeit is a composite word, formed from the words hass (“be quiet” –“hush”) and kateit (“to shatter”). When studying Torah, we should first be quiet and accepting, even if we fail to fully understand the reasoning. Only afterward should we try to analyze and dissect what we have learned, raising whatever question we have”

“Hear, O Israel,” “Be silent and listen,” “Pay attention and listen,” … All three sound like a request to stop and carefully study what follows. In commenting on this week’s Torah text, Rabbi Kook presents two ideas on how to best study Torah…. These concepts also apply to any study in which a person may be involved.

The first concept “follows the advice of Rava, the fourth-century Talmudic scholar, who consoled: “One should first study [Torah] and only afterwards scrutinize.” (Talmud source – Shabbat 63b)”

To reach the most complete knowledge of a given subject, one should have as much information as possible. To obtain this, one should keep quiet and listen to any information presented. If a person wishes to interrupt and express an opinion, they are speaking without obtaining all the presented information. The information we don’t hear may change or modify what we think….. By interrupting, we do not get a total picture. In fact, we may obtain an incorrect view.

Appling this to Torah study, Rabbi Kook states: “We must first gain an overall understanding of the subject at hand and all relevant topics…. For this reason, the Sages advised that we train ourselves to listen carefully and acquire much knowledge before introducing our own opinions and view…. Initially, we need the quiet patience of hass (quietness) to uncritically absorb the subject matter and the methodology of study…. After we have gained a complete picture of the subject, then we may participate in the intellectual battles of milchamta shel Torah, “the battle of Torah.” Then we may kateit – (“shatter;” or, in this case, attack and critique) that which we feel is illogical or unreasonable…. Tragic errors often result from rash students who were too quick to challenge and tear down.”

Rabbi Kook’s second concept of study is stated in a Talmud quote: “Form groups (asu kittot) and study Torah; for Torah knowledge is only acquired through group study.” (Talmud source – Berachot 63b)

The Talmudic scholars went even further. They warned that by studying Torah alone, a student is in danger of acquiring three negative traits: intolerance, ignorance, and sin.

But, in reality, much of our study is done alone. So, one may ask: “Why is it so bad?”

This question can be answered by looking at the three positive benefits of study in groups… as pointed out by Rabbi Kook.

First, in group study many opinions are shared. This may correct misconceptions and help build a tolerance for ideas that may be different than from ours. Without modification of thought, this intolerance could become a major factor in disputes leading to verbal and even physical violence.

Rabbi Kook’s second reason for group study of Torah is that it helps the student to analyze matters of faith and fundamental Torah views. Often group discussions result in the discovery of important facts that may be hidden during a first reading.

A third reason for group Torah study, according to Rabbi Kook, is to obtain clarity of legal issues. Through solitary study, a student could obtain an erroneous interpretation of Torah and apply it to daily life. In addition, this solitude could lead to unnecessary stringencies, which are referred to as “sinful.” This is the case that is used to show why the life of the Nazarite is not desirable. Torah tells to “choose life”… to enjoy and relish the pleasures of daily life; not to withdraw and lead a quiet, lonely, solitary existence.

So…. A few words of Torah, “Hear, O Israel” – can lead to a discussion of successful study traits. Yes, group study definitely adds to our store of knowledge.

Earl Sabes

Source: Rabbi Kook Torah website:
Study and analyze:
Group study:

Ki Teitzei – Torah In Haiku Fri, 23 Sep 2016 21:27:19 +0000  

Ki Teitzei

Defiant children? …
Torah calls on the neighbors …
To help reign them in —

Deuteronomy 21:18-21

If a man has a wayward and defiant son, who does not heed his father or mother and does not obey them even after they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the public place of his community. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is disloyal and defiant; he does not heed us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Thereupon the men of his town shall stone him to death. Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst: all Israel will hear and be afraid.

This seems like quite a severe decree, but we believe it was never carried out. Are there ways to understand the text so we will never actually call on our neighbors to stone our children to death?

The mention – twice – of both father and mother suggest there cannot be disagreement about what is proper behavior for the child. If the parents aren’t on the same page concerning child rearing, the rule does not apply.

The parents are called upon to call their child “a glutton and a drunkard.” This suggests a very specific type of defiance. Perhaps without such extreme behavior, the severe punishment is not appropriate.

But, more broadly, we can also understand that it not up to the parents alone to punish the child. The text calls for them to consult with the community. Perhaps this is actually meant to protect the child from parental misbehavior. Implicit in the instruction to “bring him out to the elders” is having the ultimate judgment made without undue haste.

Of course, there is also the idea that the entire community is responsible for raising good children. Although it would be wrong to punish a child without the parents’ consent, we cannot ignore misbehavior by others. Wrongs done by children should be brought to the attention of their parents. This may not be explicit in the text, but is part of what it means to be part of a community.

And sometimes an “outsider” is in a better position to talk to a child about proper behavior. An adult other than the one who sets bedtimes, demands that homework be done, and limits screen time might find a more sympathetic ear than the parents and help the child to understand the meaning of the Fifth Commandment.

The Torah In HaikuThe Torah In Haiku
Ed Nickow

Ki Teitzei (When you go out) Wed, 14 Sep 2016 16:55:41 +0000 Ki TeitzeiDeuteronomy 21:10 to 25:19

Torah is said to contain 613 mitzvot or commandments, 72 appear in this week’s text. A central theme emerges stating that an individual should rise above self-interest and care about the well-being of others in the community.

The week the parsha contains the “nuts and bolts” of Jewish practice…. We read many, many mitzvot (commandments) that Moses relates to the people. According to a count by Maimonides, there are 72 mitzvot, each as important as any other. This count can vary according to the person counting because many mitzvot have several parts, and there can be confusion as to which verses contain more than one individual mitzvah.

Most of the mitzvot deal with relationships of a person to others, These relations within the family…. business and social relationships…. and relationships between Israelites and non-Israelites.

There is one factor that seems to be central to a majority of the mitzvot… Every individual must rise above self-interest and have a real concern for the well-being of others. One passage from this week’s text dramatically captures this concept:

“If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it, you must take it back to your peer. If your fellow Israelite does not live near you or you do not know who [the owner] is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your peer claims it back. You shall do the same with that person’s garment; and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow Israelite loses: you must not remain indifferent.”

“If you see your fellow Israelite’s ass or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it, you must raise it together.” (Deut. 22:1-4)

This concept has even entered our political landscape with Hillary Clinton’s statement, “It takes a community.” … If success is shared, the results are multiplied because everyone benefits and contributes more back to the community…. This is true whether it’s financial and educational improvement, better health and safety, honest business practices, or balanced legal and taxation rulings.

The concept of “It takes a community” and, the idea from the Torah quote above “You must not remain indifferent” form a major theme in Judaism over the ages. Abraham showed concern for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah before the cities were destroyed. Later, he demonstrated hospitality to the three strangers (angels) when they appeared at the entrance of his tent…. When Abraham’s servant searched for a bride for Isaac, he encounters Rebecca. She sees that this stranger is in need of water and shows great hospitality by offering water to the servant and his camels. This is no small gesture because the camels consume large amounts of water….. Moses showed concern when he saw the Egyptian soldiers beating the Hebrew slave…. He also came to the aid of several women he didn’t know. These women – one of whom became his wife – were being threatened by a group of men. Later, we read that Moses stood-up for the entire Israelite community before God….. These three people put the good of others before indifference and their own self-interest.

One of the most significant traditions that demonstrate the Jewish path away from indifference is that of tzedakah. It is often translated as “charity; but, its true meaning is “justice” or “righteousness.” Through the laws of tzedakah, the community is commanded to rise above self-interest and be of service to those in need…. “If there is a needy person among you, one of your kin in any of your settlements in the land that the Eternal your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kin. Rather, you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient to meet the need…. Give readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the Eternal your God will bless you in all your undertakings. For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you; open your hand to the poor and needy kin in your land.” (Deut. 15:7-11)

In the 19th and 20th Centuries this sense of Jewish community led to the creation of community organizations whose sole goal was to help the needy. Many of these organizations continue to this day. This strong belief in community is one of the major reasons for the continued existence and success of Jewish communities … and the Jewish people. It is one of the reasons why this week’s reading is so important.

Earl Sabes

Shof’tim – Torah In Haiku Wed, 14 Sep 2016 16:24:00 +0000 Shof'tim

Don’t judge unfairly …
Don’t show partiality …
Don’t take any bribes —

Deuteronomy 16:18-19
You shall appoint judges and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that Adonai your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.

These verses concern judges and other officials who will be appointed by the people. But the rules are addressed to all the people – “you shall not” rather than “the judges shall not.” According to the JPS Torah Commentary, “Moses may want to indicate that all Israelites are responsible for ensuring that the judges act fairly.”

The next verse (Deuteronomy 16:20) begins will the well-known phrase, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” This reinforces the idea that we cannot simply assign the task of justice to others. We, the people, select judges and other leaders. But we cannot then sit back and assume those we choose will act justly.

We must continue to pursue justice. We must speak up and take action when judges or other leaders fail to meet their responsibility to act fairly or in the best interests of the community.

As the election campaign heats up in the United States, these words of Torah remind us that, when selecting leaders, we should strive to make choices that we believe will serve the pursuit of justice.

Image ©

The Torah In HaikuThe Torah In Haiku
Ed Nickow

Shof’tim (Judges) Wed, 07 Sep 2016 18:23:33 +0000 Shof'timDeuteronomy 16:18 to 21:9

Moses addresses the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land. He presents a plan for the set-up of the government and some of its policies including ideas regarding ecology and its role in warfare.

Moses realizes that, for success, the Israelites must have a strong government that serves all the people… not just the ruling class or the wealthy.

His plan includes a strong judicial system and a king selected by God. Both rule by following the laws and commandments of Torah. There are also sections covering the priests and prophets.

The parsha concludes with a discussion of governmental policies regarding the cities of refuge and rules of warfare.

This Torah assumes that the primary reason for battle is to fulfill the plans of the Eternal. For this reason, the troops are led by a priest. He is to tell the troops they should have no fear because God will be with them in battle. Moses tells the people that before attacking a town they should first approach it with an offer of peace. If it does not accept, battle must follow.

However, Moses tells the people to be mindful of the environment during battle…. Yes, three thousand years before Al Gore, Moses fought for the environment with this message: “When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed, you may cut them down for constructing siegeworks against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced.” (Deut. 20:19-20)

The message is not totally clear – The Israelites are told do not cut down trees which produce fruit. But, based on the text the reason why has been explained in differing ways.

Rashi (11th Century) looks at the words: “Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?” … He claims that the trees are not human … they are not at war with the Israelites… And, they can not flee the troops…. Because they are not guilty, and can not flee; they should not be destroyed.

Abraham Ibn Ezra (11th Century) understands these words to mean that the life of man is dependent on fruit-bearing trees. By destroying fruit trees, food for women, children, and future people is destroyed.

A third view is based on the fact that the land and all that it contains is God’s domain. Mankind has a responsibility to maintain the world as if it were a gift from God. Based on an interpretation of the above Torah text, we should understand that in this world objects that are good and beneficial should not be destroyed. This leads to the concept of Bal Tashchit, translated to mean “Do Not Destroy.” If an object is of use, all efforts should be taken not to harm it. So the sages interpreted this section of Torah to apply to, not only trees, but all that is “good and beneficial… Care should be taken to protect physical objects such as clothing, pottery, household items, buildings, objects of nature (i.e. waterways should not be blocked, forests should not be needlessly destroyed), and usable food should not be discarded.

However, if greater good will result from destruction, it is permitted. (i.e. natural plants can be uprooted to create a farm… Small buildings can be razed to create a more efficient housing project) But, questions of interpretation still arise… (i.e. … Should a community destroy open farm land to build a project that produces jobs and housing? …. Is the use of wind, solar, and water produced energy to be preferred over the destruction of natural recourses to obtain coal and oil?)

This discussion shows the biblical basis for environmental responsibility is not a new concept. However, as with many other biblical concepts, interpretation may be needed and sometimes debated. It just shows that the information in the Torah can, and should be, be a living text that can direct us to solutions for the problems of today’s world.

Earl Sabes