Vayeilech

Posted on September 10th, 2018

Deuteronomy 31:1–30


RABBI REUVEN FIRESTONE, FOR REFORMJUDAISM.ORG


On Repentance and Seeking Peace Above and Below


"And Moses went (Vayeilech) and spoke these words to all Israel" (Deuteronomy 31:1). This opening marks the beginning, not only of the parashah, but also of the long death scene for Moses that will not be completed until the very end of the Torah two portions hence. Traditional commentators noticed an unusual locution. Usually the Torah reads "And Moses spoke … " Only here does it say "And Moses went and spoke … "

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Nitzavim

Posted on September 3rd, 2018

Deuteronomy 29:9–30:20 

 

By Rabbi Reuven Firestone for ReformJudaism.org

 

Collective Responsibility, One for All and All for One

 

Nitzavim comes in the cycle of Torah readings just before Rosh HaShanah and is particularly appropriate for the High Holidays because it stresses the importance of repentance. The tone of the passage is at once both lofty and terrifying.

It begins with Moses' inspiring address to the entire people of Israel shortly before he is to die, "You stand this day (Atem nitzavim hayom), all of you, before the Eternal your God — you tribal heads, you elders, and you officials, all the men of Israel, you children, you women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer" (Deuteronomy 29:9-10).


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Ki Tavo

Posted on August 27th, 2018

Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8 


By Rabbi Professor Marc Saperstein, for ReformJudaism.org


God’s Punishments: Or Are They?


Parashat Ki Tavo contains one of the most powerful and frightening chapters of the Torah. Fourteen verses (Deuteronomy 28:1–14) outline all the good things that will happen to the people if they obey God and faithfully observe all of the divine commandments. That’s “the good news.” Then come 54 verses (28:15–69) warning of the antithesis: the curses that will befall the people if they do not faithfully observe all the commandments. This is the most terrifying litany portraying various kinds of Jewish suffering in our classical literature. Because of its content, for years no one wanted to have the aliyah in which this passage was read, and it was sometimes given to the town fool. In traditional practice, it is chanted at breakneck speed in a soft voice, loud enough to hear but only if one strains a little.


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Ki Teitzei

Posted on August 20th, 2018

Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19 


RABBI PROFESSOR MARC SAPERSTEIN for ReformJudaism.org


When a Debtor Does Not Repay


Parashat Ki Teitzei is a treasury of Jewish legal and ethical literature. I would guess that more pages of the Talmud are devoted to the discussion of verses from this parashah than any other in the Torah. Many basic principles of marriage law and of civil law find their sources here — generally in verses that are by no means self-explanatory but require extensive discussion, interpretation, and application. The parashah is truly an embarrassment of riches that makes selection of a single topic very difficult.

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Shoftim

Posted on August 13th, 2018

DEUTERONOMY 16:18–21:9 


RABBI PROFESSOR MARC SAPERSTEIN for ReformJudaism.org


Set a King Over Yourself


Don Isaac Abravanel (1437–1508) was one of the towering figures of late medieval and early modern Jewry. He held ministerial-level positions in three different royal courts: Portugal, Spain, and the Kingdom of Naples, and he was recognized by contemporary Jews as one of their most important and influential leaders because of his access to the top levels of government. At the same time — and this is what makes him so different from modern Jews who have held important political positions — he was one of the most prolific Jewish writers in history. Especially impressive are his monumental commentaries in Hebrew on the Torah and early and later prophets, an encyclopedic exposition of Jewish thought, especially in the Sephardic ambience, produced at the historic moment when this great culture was experiencing a massive disruption. Because of their length, only a miniscule percentage of his commentaries have been translated.

Not surprising because of his professional career, Abravanel’s commentaries are filled with fascinating ventures into political theory. One of the most important is linked with the verse pertaining to the Israelite king in Parashat Shof’tim:

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