Posted on June 26th, 2017

Numbers 19:1 - 22:1 

By Jordana Schuster, a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She is a graduate of Williams College and has studied at the Conservative Yeshiva and at Harvard Divinity School

Responding to Thirst

Moses' frustration and fatigue were no excuse for his refusal to accept the people's cry for help.

Parshat Hukkat brings one of the most famous of biblical stories: Moses strikes the rock and is thereafter barred from entering the land of Canaan. The outline of the story is spare. Toward the end of the Israelites’ 40-year journey through the wilderness, the people begin to whine and grumble (once again) about their thirst. In response, Moses and his brother Aaron consult with God, who tells them to speak to a stone and it will bring forth water. Moses, instead, berates the people — “Listen up, you rebels!” — and strikes the rock.

Water comes forth and the people drink, but God punishes Moses and Aaron, saying, “Because you did not trust in Me enough to make Me holy before the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Everlastingly holy as God may be, Moses and Aaron fail to demonstrate God’s holiness to the people and for this they are chastised and severely punished.

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Posted on June 19th, 2017

NUMBERS 16:1−18:32 

D'var Torah By Rabbi JOSEPH A. SKLOOT for

How Not to Have a Conversation

If I had stopped to listen once or twice

If I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes

If I had cooled my head and warmed my heart

I'd not be on this road tonight (James Taylor, "That Lonesome Road")

Imagine a group of people, twenty or so, who all disagree about a range of issues — political, philosophical, theological — meeting weekly for dinner and conversation. Occasionally there's laughter. Sometimes someone speaks excitedly, passionately. Sometimes someone interrupts. There are moments of discomfort, but never contempt. There moments of confusion, but not hostility. There are hard questions. There are assertions of "I don't know." There is sometimes silence.

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Posted on June 12th, 2017

Numbers 13:1 - 15:41 

BY CANTOR JOSEE WOLFF. Reprinted with permission from  The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, for 

The Sin of the Spies

What exactly did the spies do wrong?

When Moses sends the scouts to survey the land of Canaan, he gives them a list of very specific things to investigate. He charges them: “Go up there into the Negeb and on into the hill country, and see what kind of country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not?” (13:17-20). Twelve emissaries go out and return after forty days, reporting on what they saw in this exotic new land. All but two of the scouts are punished later; victims of a plague, they die in the wilderness.

What is their sin? According to our tradition, they sin by not trusting God’s vision and not having faith: “How long will this people spurn Me, and how long will they have no faith in Me despite all the signs that I have performed in their midst?” (14:11). Furthermore, they sin because they “caused the whole community to mutter against him [Moses] by spreading calumnies about the land” (14:36).

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Posted on June 5th, 2017

Numbers 8:1 - 12:16 

Rabbi Devorah Marcus for; This commentary is provided by special arrangement with American Jewish World Service.  

Our Covenantal Responsibilities

This week's parashah reminds us of our sacred obligations to those who are still languishing in oppression.

As slaves living under Pharaoh’s law, the Israelites existed in a society which neither recognized the value of their beliefs, nor honored their inherent dignity as human beings. Though they received food and shelter, these were given in the most meager amounts.

In Parshat B‘ha‘alotkha, just a weeks after their liberation from slavery, the Israelites prepare to offer their Passover sacrifice to God. Representing a unique moment in the history of the Jews, this sacrifice commemorates both our people’s liberation from slavery, as well as our communal redemption by God.

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Posted on May 29th, 2017

Numbers 4:21-7:89 

BY RABBI KERRY M. OLITZKY, Director Big Tent Judaism, for 

The Priestly Benediction

Those who link themselves with God and the people of Israel will indeed be blessed.

Among the many salient elements in this week’s Torah reading is the priestly benediction at the end of chapter six of the book of Numbers. Three of these verses have been woven into various aspects of Jewish ritual and liturgy.

May God bless you and keep you
May God cause the divine light to shine upon you and be gracious to you
May God turn toward you, and grant you peace

This passage has become a part of the spiritual life of the Jewish people, recited at Shabbat, during the holidays, and at life-cycle events. As important as this priestly blessing has become, however, the entire piece deserves our attention.

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