The lesson of Shavuot - Arami Oved Avi

Peace_Parsha_Logo185Written by Rabbi Jonah Geffen for APN.

Rabbi Jonah Geffen serves as the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaare Zedek. A member of the New Shul's Rabbinic Havurah, Rabbi Geffen was the National Rabbinic Director for the J Street Education Fund and spent two years as a Marshal T. Meyer Rabbinic Fellow at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side.


The Torah instructs the Israelites how to celebrate the upcoming holiday of Shavuot:

In the book of Deuteronomy (ch. 26) we read that upon entering and dwelling in the Land of Israel, the people are to take the “first of all the fruit of the ground” (v. 2), bring it to a designated place, and give it to G-d. As the priest takes the produce, the person who has brought it is to state as follows:

(26:5) And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God: ‘Arami oved avi, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous…. (10) And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O LORD, hast given me…

Arami oved avi. A seemingly simple phrase can actually be understood in two very distinct ways. Rashi, the 11th century sage sees a past of survival and near genocide. He focuses on the narrowly escaped destruction of the Jewish people. Rashi explains that when the pilgrim brings first fruits “He mentions the loving kindness of the Omnipresent saying, arami oved avi - an Aramean destroyed my father, which means: “Laban wished to exterminate the whole nation” when he pursued Jacob” (Rashi on Devarim 26:5). He emphasizes that this fate is one of which we remain at risk: this (near destruction) happened to us. Genocide is in our immediate past, because this happened to my father.

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A thoughtful essay, a disgusting video: Lag B'Omer

Lag BaOmer 2016


There aren’t many holidays that take note of an absence, of when something ceases, of an end. But there is such a holiday: Lag B'Omer - the 33rd day between Pesach and Shavuot. It is a little-known Jewish holiday that celebrates (among other things) the cessation of a divinely-sent plague that resulted from people not showing one another adequate respect.

Donate TodayWe could all use a day of true respite, a day that reminds us how desperately we need to end the plague of violence and hatred. Imagine one day without violence and counter-violence, without the fear of being stabbed or brutalized, a day without the occupation, a day without victims – on both sides. Given all the tumult in the world and our own rough-and-tumble elections, we yearn for THAT Lag B’Omer NOW.

The plague we suffer from is not divinely sent, but one of human choices and actions. It takes work and time to end it, but humans are clever, and when motivated, we are able to work true wonders. Political conflicts are not decreed by fate. They are ours to resolve.

It starts with one day.

Did you know?

Click on the image to watch the video



Lag B'Omer is celebrated with joy and huge bonfires throughout Israel. But every year, Hebron settlers use this holiday as an opportunity to steal Palestinian furniture to burn in their bonfires. This year, an activist caught settlers in Hebron doing just this and shared it with Peace Now.

Stand with us and with our Peace Now colleagues in Israel.

Help us stand up to the extremist settlers.

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The holiday of second chances - Not too late for peace

shmura-matza-transparent320x265This Sunday, thirty days after Passover begins, there is another holiday – one almost no one has heard of. This holiday is called “Pesach Sheni” – second Passover- and has no celebrations, no special services, no seder.  Yet, perhaps we should consider reviving it.

Originally, it appears in the Bible because there were a number of people who were, for reasons out of  their control, unable to celebrate the Passover a year after leaving Egypt. Upset that they would be unable to celebrate, they complained to Moses, and were instructed to observe it a month later, just for one day.

Second Passover is the holiday of second chances.

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Peace Parsha: A Calculation of Suffering

 Peace_Parsha_Logo185Rabbi Rachel Miller Solomin is a Jewish educator, writer, life coach, and mother living and working in California’s Silicon Valley. She was ordained from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in 2001.

Several years ago, on a bright California Sunday, I had a car accident involving pedestrians.  By maneuvering my car, I had avoided hitting them head-on. The family involved incurred only minor physical damages, but they were traumatized.

Since then, I have been struck by the relationship of these events to the Jewish laws of monetary damages. This week’s Torah portion, Emor, contains the biblical origins of these laws: “If anyone maims his fellow, as he has done so shall it be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The injury he inflicted on another shall be inflicted on him” (Leviticus 24:19-20, my emphasis). This formula, known variously as the lex talionis, reciprocal or retributive justice, assigns penalties appropriate to the injury. In the Torah, “an eye for an eye” is intended to limit consequences to proportional justice rather than permitting vengeance killings in response to minor injuries. When the accident happened, I ran out of my car and collapsed, sobbing apologies, beside scared, crying children in their stroller. The children’s mother suggested I move away from the kids -- ”If my husband sees you, he’ll kill you.”

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Peace Parsha: Transforming Guilt into Peace

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.”


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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