Category Archives: Rabbinical School Divrei Torah

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Getting to Fifty: Some texts evoking thoughts about Shavu’ot as the day following the 49th day

Introduction Shavo’ut is unique among the biblical pilgrimage holidays in that it is not identified by date. It is celebrated on the day following the completion of counting seven weeks, or forty-nine days beginning on the day after the celebration of Pesah. In the Zohar, these forty-nine days are connected to the rabbinic notion of “gates of understanding”. When the Israelites were in Egypt they defiled themselves with all kinds… Read Article →

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Sefirot HaOmer

Over the past few years, the somewhat esoteric practice of connecting the counting of the Omer to the seven lower sefirot has been gaining popularity in liberal Jewish circles. The usual structure for this practice is to devote each of the seven weeks to one sefirah and within each week to devote one day to each sefirah. Every day is thus dedicated to a primary (of the week) and secondary… Read Article →

Rabbinical School Divrei Torah Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld

Humility and Hope in an Uncertain World: A Purim Teaching

This morning’s Torah reading begins with a divine call. Vayikra el Moshe vayedaber Adonai elav. Something, someone calls out to Moses, and God speaks to him. Vayikra. There are two things about the opening word of this verse and this sefer (book) that are noteworthy and that have given rise to much commentary. First, we are not initially told the subject of the verb “called”. Vayikra el Moshe. Not God… Read Article →

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Skin and Nails, Hands and Heels

Parshat Toledot Esav (Esau) and Yaakov (Jacob), the twins of Rivka (Rebekah) and Yitzhak (Isaac), differ in almost every way at the beginning of their lives.  Yaakov is smooth-skinned (27:11), slippery in his interactions and emotions, and his motives are concealed in the tent of his mother (25:26-28).  Esav, the ruddy one (25:25), smells like the field (27:27), hunts game beloved by his father (25:28), and bears hair like the… Read Article →

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The Time of Our Freedom: A Text Study for Pesach

Celebrating freedom is often a challenge. For much of Jewish history, Jews celebrating Pesach had to respond to the challenge of celebrating freedom while living as an oppressed minority. As a result, our tradition is full of teachings and stories about celebrating Pesach and connecting to the essence of freedom even in the most oppressive conditions. Celebrating Pesach in the great Jewish centers of Israel and the USA in the… Read Article →

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Matanot L’Evyonim – Giving and Receiving on Purim

Adar is here! Purim, with all its joy and merriment, is on its way.   As someone who was passed over when the gene that appreciates alcoholic beverages was dispensed, I find Purim, and the way it is widely celebrated, perplexing. Looking for the Divine in Purim can be difficult. We have a meal with no kiddush or candles, a scroll with no mention of G-d, where the heroine’s very name… Read Article →

Rabbinical School Divrei Torah Judith_with_the_Head_of_Holofernes_by_Cristofano_Allori

The Forgotten Miracle of Hanukkah

Why is this month (Kislev) different from all other months in the Jewish year? It offers us a holiday (Hanukkah) that (at least in the Northern hemisphere) resists and subverts the natural order. At the darkest time of year, we celebrate light. And the stories we tell to explain our rituals of creating light emphasize the overturning of “natural” expectations. A small band of improvised fighters defeats an imperial army…. Read Article →

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Marheshvan – In the Wake of the Floodwaters

And as I watch the drops of rain Weave their weary paths and die, I know that I am like the rain There but for the grace of You go I. (Paul Simon, “Kathy’s Song”) Marheshvan (or Heshvan) is the month of darkening days creeping towards the winter solstice, leaves ablaze on the New England trees, dank air and occasional torrential rains. Nights lengthen, the dawn is incrementally delayed, and… Read Article →