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Egypt

The Formation of a People

Parashat Vayak’heil/P’kudei is a double Torah portion that concludes the Book of Exodus. The paired Torah portions describe the building of the Tabernacle and the anointing of the priests. The parashiyot are primarily contain many verses of detailed plans and descriptions of rituals, some of which are hard to visualize sitting in such a different world today. 

D'var Torah By: 
Finding Humanity and Divinity in the Other
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Linda Bertenthal

Parashat Vayak'heil/P'kudei describes the process of building the Mishkan (Tabernacle), which serves as a model for building Jewish community. The cherubim on the kaporet (ark cover) of the Mishkan that faced each other remind us that we should face one another and listen. 

The First Heroes of Exodus

The Book of Exodus opens by creating a picture of the Israelites’ life in Egypt: who was there, where they came from, and what their connections were to the stories of Genesis. Then, we read the famed words, “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). In this single statement, the Torah signals the end of a period of peace and the beginning of an era oppression and slavery.

D'var Torah By: 
Rebels Who Are Actually Women of Valor
Davar Acher By: 
David Spinrad

As we near the end of the episode of Shiphrah and Puah’s bold defiance of Pharaoh’s decree to kill all the male babies born to Hebrew slave women, the Torah teaches that God “dealt well [vayeitev] with the midwives” (Exodus 1:20). Because Shiphrah and Puah’s reverential awe for the Eternal was greater than their fear of defying Pharaoh’s awful edict, the text explains that God made households for them as their initial reward. 

Revealing Oneself in Order to Heal

As Parashat Vayigash begins, Joseph still has not revealed his identity to his brothers. With Joseph having framed his younger brother Benjamin for stealing his divining goblet, and consequently declaring that as punishment, Benjamin will be enslaved in Egypt, his brother, Judah, now beseeches Joseph to enslave him instead (Genesis 44:33). His plea comes after Judah reminds Joseph that he has an elderly father and describes in detail, why Benjamin did not initially go down to Egypt with the brothers and why, should he not return to Canaan, their father literally would die (Genesis 44:31). 

D'var Torah By: 
Taking Initiative on the Road to Peace
Davar Acher By: 
Jeremy Simons

Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers is not an obvious outcome. This is, after all, the same Joseph who “brought bad reports of [his brothers] to their father” (Genesis 37:2) and the same Joseph who had no compunction about telling them of his dreams in which he was the star of the show. And that was all before he found himself alone in an Egyptian dungeon as a result of their actions. Between his ego and their actions, it’s pretty extraordinary that 20 years later he can make peace with them. 

How Humble Is Too Humble?

When we open the Book of Exodus this week, and turn to Parashat Sh'mot, we find that the Israelites are suffering under the tyranny of ego. Pharaoh, a despot who believes himself to be more powerful than God – indeed, he believes that he is a god himself – has enslaved the Israelites in order to secure his own power.

In this context, I find it particularly fitting that the leader who emerges to help the Israelites escape from Egyptian slavery is Moses, whom the Torah describes as "a very humble man, more so than any other human being on earth" (Numbers 12:3). While Pharaoh's first words in Exodus are focused on oppressing the Israelites to consolidate his own power, our introduction to Moses in this week's Torah portion highlights Moses' humility and his doubts about stepping into leadership. No one can accuse Moses of being a rival to Pharaoh, of leading the Jewish people for his own self-aggrandizement. When God calls to Moses at the Burning Bush and charges him with the mission of going to Pharaoh and demanding the Israelites' freedom, Moses humbly shrugs off the mantle of leadership five times (See Exodus 3:11, 13; 4:1; 4:10; 4:13).

D'var Torah By: 
This Little Light of Mine
Davar Acher By: 
Stephen J. Weisman

Rabbi Kalisch challenges us to explore the balance between ego and humility. Her message recalls the words of the noted author and spiritual teacher, Marianne Williamson – "Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, . . . born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us."

These words connect the challenge here at the start of Exodus to difficult concepts in Genesis 1, among them, the creation of humanity in the "image" of our incorporeal God. When we embrace the spark of the Divine that is within each of us, letting it out from within ourselves to enlighten the world, then we begin to take on God's "image."

To do this requires us to let our own light out for others to see and to be aware that all the people we meet have a Divine spark within them, equally worthy of being shared. As we grow into our roles as God's partners in Creation, ceasing to shrink from either challenge or opportunity, we must be careful not to violate the borders of others, allowing them the space they need to grow and shine.

Leadership and Letting Go

Can you say chutzpah? How about arrogance? Or is ignorance a more appropriate word for people behaving badly?

D'var Torah By: 
Breaking the Cycle of Dysfunction
Davar Acher By: 
Neal Katz

I remember learning the beautiful phrase "spiritual bacteria," from Rabbi Sam Stahl in San Antonio, Texas.

Visions of Redemption

The last word of the Book of Genesis is b'Mitzrayim, "in Egypt," and that is where we find the Israelites at the beginning of the Book of Exodus.

D'var Torah By: 
Seeing Something Different
Davar Acher By: 
Carla Fenves

Rabbi Dreyfus artfully explores the importance of vision in this week's Torah portion. However, there is one moment of seeing that gives me pause. In Exodus 2:11-12:

Worrying about More Than Ourselves

As we read Genesis, we find it refreshing to encounter the so-called heroes and heroines of the narrative struggling with their own characteristically human feelings, failings, and frailties.

D'var Torah By: 
Jacob Wrestles with More Than Angels
Davar Acher By: 
Judith Erger

In his old age, when continuity of habit and consistency of comfort should define normalcy, Jacob finds himself in a hammerlock of life-altering change as he once again must fold his tent and

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