Peace Parsha: Transforming Guilt into Peace


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Rabbi Justin Goldstein was ordained in 2011 by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, is a 2012-2013 Rabbis Without Borders Fellow and has served Congregation Beth Israel in Asheville NC since 2014.

Often dismissed as irrelevant or boring, Parashat Tzav details some of the ritual procedures for the sacrificial offerings which were made in the Mishkan - the portable sanctuary the Children of Israel carried in the wilderness - and, eventually, offered in the Temple. Among others, there are three types of offerings specified in this week’s Torah portion which I would like to focus on.

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Peace Parsha: Purim - A fantasy of our worst selves

 Esther_LedermanRabbi Esther L. Lederman is Director of Communities of Practice at the Union for Reform Judaism.  She previously served as the associate rabbi at Temple Micah in Washington, DC.

 

As children, we were given a sanitized ending:  Queen Esther and Mordecai save the Jews from destruction at the hands of Haman and his minions.  Much merriment ensues, with food and drink. Mishloach manot (gifts of food) are sent to neighbors and friends as a way of offering thanksgiving for being saved from the gallows. 

Our rabbis, teachers, and parents didn’t want us to know how it really ended.  The truth was kept hidden. 

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Na’aseh V’nishma: “We will do, and we will hear.”

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By Lex Rofes

Two simple Hebrew words. I have heard them over and over again, from rabbis, Jewish educators, and lay-leaders. At my Jewish summer camp, we shouted it at the top of our lungs at the end of Bir’kat Hamazon every Shabbat. At a Reform congregation where I was a member, it was inscribed in huge letters on the synagogue’s ark.

Na’aseh V’nishma comes from this week’s Torah portion – Parashat Mishpatim. According to the most common interpretation of it (drawn from Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer among other sources), the sequence of the words is of the utmost importance. According to this school of thought, the best translation is really “We will accept [God’s commandments], and then we will understand.” The words indicate, in effect, that the Israelites will do whatever the Torah says – even though they don’t even know what that is yet. Many have lauded the Israelites’ behavior in this Mid’rash. That our ancestors were so willing to trust God, obeying a document they hadn’t even read yet, is, in their opinion, praiseworthy.

I can’t agree. The reason is that, in today’s world, injustice thrives. It runs rampant, in our own society and all around the world. That includes the West Bank and Gaza, under military occupation by the Israeli government for almost fifty years. Our relationship to this injustice – all injustice really – cannot be one of “we will accept it, and then we will understand.”

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Peace Parsha: Targeting Innocents for the Crimes of Others

peace_parsha_logo186x140By APN's intern, Hannah Ehlers

In the last Torah portion of Genesis, Jacob lies on his deathbed. Frail yet determined, he summons his twelve sons, along with Joseph’s children, to his bedside. To some he offers praise and blessings, while others receive chastisement. Two sons in particular, Simeon and Levi, are rebuked for their violent tendencies. Jacob exclaims, “Simeon and Levi are a pair; weapons of violence their kinship… for in their anger they slew men; and when it pleased them, they maimed animals” (Genesis 49: 5-6). Earlier in Genesis, Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a man in a neighboring town. Simeon and Levi then killed every male in that town and seized all the women, children, livestock, and property as revenge. Simeon and Levi punished the entire town for the crimes of a few.

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Peace Parsha: Chanukah - The light that must be seen; the darkness of neglect

peace_parsha_logo_186x140Rabbi Michael Bernstein is the spiritual leader of Congregation Gesher L’Torah in Alpharetta, Ga. Michael received his ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1999 and is an alumni of the Rabbis Without Borders second cohort.

 

This week on the Jewish calendar both great darkness and great light intersect as we read in the Torah the story of Joseph being subjected by his brothers to the bottom of a pit, and prepare to once more kindle the lights of Chanukah.  In the Talmud, there are two different teachings by Rabbi Tanhum that are presented one after the other, even though they seem to have little to do with each other.  The first is the law that the Chanukah candles must not be placed so high that a passerby's eyes would not naturally be able to see them.  The second deals with Joseph and the fact that the pit into which he is tossed is described as being "empty and having no water."  It had no water, but, according to this teaching, the pit did have snakes and scorpions!   

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peace_parsha_logo186x140Barbara Green has been a volunteer for Americans for Peace Now for many years. She lives in Washington, DC.

 

If we look to the Torah for lessons in how we are to live our lives today, we're hard-pressed to find it in Vayeitze.  Rather this is a series of lessons in duplicity, trickery, bad faith between kinsmen, and ultimately the creation of a physical boundary between them which neither is ever again to cross. Laban tricks Jacob, Rachel tricks Laban, Jacob tricks Laban.  In the end the 'heroes-heroines," our ancestors, narrowly escape with their lives and flocks intact.

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Peace Parsha for Sukkot and Simchat Torah: All beginnings are hard

peace_parsha_logo186x140Barbara Green has been a volunteer for Americans for Peace Now for many years.   She lives in Washington, DC.      

 

"Kol ha-hatchalot kashot," as every Israeli school child learns, means "All beginnings are hard."  We know this to be true in our everyday lives but the Torah gives new meaning to the concept.  

            God  gave us the ultimate new beginning when he created the world, but within 3 short chapters the inhabitants of Paradise were expelled and in the next chapter we have the world's first fratricide. Before long God realizes He made a major mistake when His creation scheme included human beings.  He vows to end the entire enterprise.

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peace parsha feature 1 logoOn Wednesday (Sept. 23) as Jews end their Yom Kippur fast, Muslims will begin the Eid al-Adha holiday. Imam Haytham Younis and Rabbi Alana Suskin met for coffee and then exchanged the following email dialogue about the two holidays’ convergence and the meaning of a shared story that lies at the intersection of both faiths.

Suskin: It is a rare occurrence for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and Eid al-Adha (the Feast of the Sacrifice) to fall back-to-back, but seems appropriate somehow. Just a week ago, on Rosh Hashanah, we read the Torah portion relating the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son — the Jewish perspective of the same story that underlies Eid al-Adha. For Jews, this is the story of the sacrifice of Isaac at God’s command (stopped, of course, at the last moment, by an angel sent by God).

Younis: Yes. Eid al-Adha similarly commemorates the obedience of Abraham and his son to the command of God in fulfilling the sacrifice, as well as the observance of the pilgrimage to the House of God (the Kaaba) in Mecca, which, we believe, was established by Abraham. According to the Quran, the son involved in the sacrifice however, was Ishmael, not Isaac.

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Peace Parsha: How the world is, and how we must be

Rabbi Joshua Gutoff is Director of the MA in Jewish Education program at Gratz College. He has rabbinic ordination and an EdD from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

peace_parsha_logo186x140We turn to the Torah, many of us, for wisdom.   And this week when we turn to the parsha, this is what we find:  a command to the Israelites that, when encountering an enemy town, to enslave all the inhabitants.  Unless they put up a fight, in which case all the adult males are to be slaughtered, and the women and children enslaved.  And that’s outside the Promised Land.  When conquering the Land, none of the indigenous population is to be spared.  (Deut. 20:10-18)

 

Where we might have been hoping for something that would demonstrate a respect for all human life, even anticipate the Geneva Conventions, we find instead an invitation (or command!) to participate in forced enslavement or genocidal slaughter. 

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Peace Parsha: Tisha B'Av - Kindness, Justice and Righteousness

peace_parsha_logo186x140Rabbi Seth Goldstein has served as the rabbi of Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia, WA since 2003, after graduating from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. He is a member of the board of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, served as a co-chair of an RRA task force examining issues of Jewish status and identity, is a participant in the Clergy Leadership Program of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and a fellow of CLAL's Rabbis Without Borders.

 

Tisha B’Av (“the ninth of Av”) is a day of fasting and mourning for the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem, and is observed this year beginning the evening of July 25. Like Yom Kippur, it is a full day fast (The fast is being observed on the 10th of Av this year because the 9th falls on Shabbat, and thus the fast is postponed.)

The Temple holds an important place in the collective spiritual consciousness of the Jewish people. It is seen as the place where the community was in deep and close connection to God. The destruction of the Temple led to the separation from the land, the dispersion of the community and a need to rebuild the ritual infrastructure of Judaism, so its loss is remembered as a great tragedy. In addition to setting aside this one day to mourn, prayers for the rebuilding of the Temple and Jerusalem punctuate our liturgy.

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