Category Archives: Rabbinical School Divrei Torah

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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 →


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 →


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 →


Choosing to Light

What’s the big deal with the miracle of Hanukkah? A little oil lasted longer than it should have. And to what end? What really was at stake? Had the oil only lasted a day or had the Maccabees not lit the menorah at all, the only consequence would have been waiting a few more days for a supply of oil sufficient to keep the menorah burning without Divine intervention. On… Read Article →


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 →


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 →

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The Routine Call of the Shofar

I know that we’re about to begin the month of Tishrei, the opening of the Jewish year, with Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, but humor me for a bit while I write about Pesah. In the Talmud Yerushalmi, Rabbi Levi says that “anyone who eats matzah on the day before Pesah is like a man who has sex with his fiancée in his father-in-law’s house,” i.e., prior to the… Read Article →

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כַּהֶגֶה בְּיַד הַמַּלָּח: “Like a Helm in the Hand of an Old Salt” — or Not?

In Ashkenazi tradition, a liturgical poem, or piyyut,[i] recited on the eve of Yom Kippur begins, כִּי הִנֵּה כַּחֹמֶר בְּיַד הַיּוֹצֵר, בִּרְצוֹתוֺ מַרְחִיב וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְקַצֵּר, כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְּיָדְךָ חֶסֶד נוֹצֵר: “As clay in the hand of the potter, who thickens or thins it at will, so are we in Your hand, Guardian of love.”[ii] The piyyut continues with a series of other similes for our status vis-à-vis God, including the… Read Article →


Seventy faces of Torah

Last Wednesday, May 7th, over 400 community members, supporters, alumni, students, faculty, and staff gathered at Gann Academy for the Hebrew College gala to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Rabbinical School.  Below is an excerpt from the remarks shared by Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, one of the honorees at the event. Limnot yameinu ken hoda v’navi levav chochma. Teach us to number our days that we may attain a… Read Article →

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The Sacred and Mythic Dimensions of Yom Ha’atzmaut

Our Jewish holidays have a complicated relationship with history. On the one hand, they tell a story of occurrences in time from the creation of the world (Shabbat) through the exodus from Egypt (Pesah) the destruction of the temple (Tisha b’Av) and down to the establishment of the State of Israel (Yom Ha’atzmaut). yOn the other hand, the historical awareness of many Jewish people today negates the possibility of accepting… Read Article →