Heeding the Call to Protect the Land

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Bechukotai, Leviticus 26:3-27:34
May 14, 2014

I have a vivid memory from a Bible class from the late 1980′s in which we were learning the classic formulations, seen in this week’s Torah portion, that if the Israelites obey God’s laws, the rains will come in the right season and all will be well.  If, however, the Israelites abandon the covenant, the […]

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Leviticus: Keeping Holiness Simple

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Behar, Leviticus 25:1-26:2
May 7, 2014

For centuries, formal Jewish study began not with Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Bible, and not with the Mishna, the first codex of lived Jewish law, but with Leviticus, also known as Torat Kohanim, or the Book of Priests. While focusing in many sections, like last week’s portion of Emor, on practices and […]

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Blessing Our Counting

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Leviticus 21:1-24:23
Dean, Rabbinical School
April 30, 2014

In Jewish sacred time, this is the season of counting. Every day, from the second night of Passover to the festival of Shavuot, we literally count our days. The period is known as the Omer, originally rooted in the agricultural rhythms of ancient Israel, a time of both anxiety and anticipation, as farmers waited to see […]

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How to Love Your Neighbor

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Kedoshim, Leviticus 19:1-20:27
April 23, 2014

This is the story of how studying the most famous verse in the Torah – found in this week’s Torah portion – challenged how I understand love and changed my relationship with my dad. The commandment – “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) was one I learned early in grade school. As a kid, […]

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The Momentum of Freedom (Passover)

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April 14, 2014

In celebrating the Jewish liturgical year and holiday cycle, we relive significant occasions in the tale of the Jewish people. The Hasidic masters emphasize that each festival highlights a particular spiritual quality, some essential element of life that is a part of both our national story and our own spiritual lives. Passover is a time for contemplating […]

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Covering the Blood Before Us

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Mot, Leviticus 16:1-18:30
April 8, 2014

In the Torah portion of Acharei-Mot, we learn the obligation of “kisui ha’dam,” to cover the blood produced from slaughtering (Leviticus 17:13). Commentators take a number of different approaches to explain the reason for this mitzvah. Rambam argues that this ritual is meant to distance Jewish practice from pagan blood rites. He suggests that pagans […]

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Empathy Activism

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Metzora, Leviticus 14:1-15:33
April 2, 2014

On March 31, 2014, along with dozens of my colleagues, I shaved my head. Bald. Not just short. Bald. To paraphrase the babies from “Free to Be You and Me,” “Bald as a ping-pong ball.” Why? The simple answer is that we joined “36 Rabbis Shave for Brave” to raise money for children’s cancer research […]

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Life on the Margins

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Tazria, Leviticus 12:1-13:59
March 26, 2014

What does it feel like to live at the edge, on the margins of community? The Torah reading for this week, Tazria, seems to imply that it can be a very lonely experience. When someone from the Israelite community is found to have leprosy (“tzaraat”), a disease of the skin, that person is removed from […]

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Learning to Live with Loss

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Shemini, Leviticus 9:1-11:47
March 19, 2014

In its March 26, 2013, obituary of Rabbi Herschel Schacter, The New York Times recounts the dramatic and poignant encounter that Schacter, the first Jewish chaplain to pass through the gates of the notorious concentration camp Buchenwald upon its liberation in 1945, had with a 7-year-old boy whom he discovered cowering behind a mound of […]

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Jewish Memory Week: A Tale in Three Parts

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Zachor, Deuteronomy 25:17-19
March 11, 2014

The memory of the Holocaust today is vulnerable. Between the Diaspora and Israel the Jewish people are fighting about the meaning of the Holocaust, encoding in our ideological debates about who we want to be in the world our increasingly polarizing interpretations about our recent past. It is the nature of trauma that we become […]

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