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Liberty and Freedom From Religion in America

This week's double portion, B''har/ B'chukotai includes this famous phrase that appears on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia: "Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof" (Leviticus 25:10). The bell holds specialy significance for Americans, especially American Jews.

D'var Torah By: 
Steadying the Hand of Our Neighbor
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Craig Axler

The phrase on the Liberty Bell is just one of the many maxims woven throughout B'har/B'chukotai that promote the establishment of a just society.Another, is Leviticus 25:35: "If your kin, being in straits, come under your authority, and are held by you as though resident aliens, let them live by your side." 

If Then, You Really Listen and Heed My Commandments

"V'haya im shamoa — If then, you listen, yes, you really heed My commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the Eternal your God and serving [God] with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in its season. . . . " 

This section of our Torah portion is known as V'haya im Shamoa, and is included in the daily and Shabbat morning service in traditional prayer books right after the Shema and V'ahavta prayers. Reform siddurim omit it, perhaps it because it feels a bit simplistic. The message seems to contradict our understanding of nature and weather: if you obey God's commandments nature will be good to you, but if you stray and serve other gods the Eternal will punish you through acts of nature.

D'var Torah By: 
Have Your Fill, Yet Remain Hungry
Davar Acher By: 
Amy Ross

Rabbi Firestone offers a beautiful understanding of V'haya im shamoa, "If we truly listen . . . " If we do God's will, follow God's commandments, nature will be good to us. As our modern understanding of weather contradicts this theology, Firestone suggests we read the text as a call to sustain and protect nature.

Protection seems all at once an easy and a daunting task. The course is clear — reduce, reuse, recycle, carpool, minimize your carbon footprint — yet changing our lifestyles proves far more difficult. Why do we struggle so with the tasks essential to the survival of our world, our children, our way of life?

The Promised Land: Not So Far Off

A synagogue is, at its best, a place where each of us can feel that sense of rootedness and connectedness, a place where despite differences of age and experience; regardless of cultural background or class or sexual orientation or physical ability; whether we are "regulars" or newcomers, all of us can feel known and appreciated.

As we complete the Book of Numbers this week, we find the Israelites yearning for just such a place. Over the last eight weeks, our Torah readings have recorded the events of their 40 turbulent years in the wilderness. As we come to the last two portions of the book, Matot and Mas'ei, the Israelites are looking to come home.

D'var Torah By: 
Making Newcomers Feel Welcome, Needed, and Wanted
Davar Acher By: 
Robert E. Tornberg

I agree with Rabbi Skloot that, "A synagogue is, at its best . . . a place where each of us can feel that sense of rootedness and connectedness, a place where despite differences . . . all of us can feel known and appreciated." This resonates with my childhood memories, and I have continued to feel that way as an adult.

But, as I read those words, I became all-too-aware of childhood friends and acquaintances for whom the synagogue did not feel like a place of "rootedness and connectedness." Further, as a Jewish professional I am aware of the growing number of Jews  — the Reubenites and Gadites we might call them — who feel disaffected, disconnected, and do not see themselves as part of "the community."

The Sound of Shofar: Leading Us to Revelation and Freedom

Count off seven sabbath years — seven times seven years — so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. (Leviticus 25:8-10)

In this week's portion, the Jubilee year is established. Called yovel, our parashah explains how every forty-nine years — seven weeks of seven years — in the seventh month, on Yom Kippur, the shofar of freedom is to be sounded throughout the land for all its inhabitants. This iconic verse to proclaim freedom throughout the land is inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

D'var Torah By: 
Yovel: A Call to Renewal and Connection
Davar Acher By: 
Alexis Pinsky

While last week's parashah, Emor, contains a command for the people to keep Shabbat, resting every seventh day, B'har continues with the theme of rest by introducing the sabbatical year, a period of revitalization for the land, set to occur every seven years. It isn't until we set a precedent of rest for humanity and for the earth that we can arrive at the observance of the Jubilee year, distinguished as a time of release, a time when all the earth and the people who dwell on it can return to a more natural state of being, free of external burdens, able to connect more fully to God and the sources of holiness in their lives.

Getting What We Deserve

A baby boy born with a defective heart has multiple surgeries before his first birthday and will suffer from physical and cognitive impairments for as long as he lives.

D'var Torah By: 
Open to the Present: A Response to Life’s Surprise
Davar Acher By: 
Greg Wolfe

Rabbi Korotkin deftly explores the challenges of how we might understand, today, the system of rewards and punishments that are laid out so matter-of-factly in this week's Torah portion, Eikev

Are We There Yet? The Journey from Egypt to Israel as a Metaphor for Our Lives

We now come to the end of the Book of Numbers. As this is a non-leap year, there are several portions throughout Torah that need to be paired.

D'var Torah By: 
The Significance of Forty-Two (and Other Things)
Davar Acher By: 
Kathy Barr

Forty-two, the number of places we camped in the B'midbar (the wilderness or the desert), has great significance in many aspects of our lives.

In Which the People and the Land Are Redeemed

As we have made our way through the Book of Leviticus, we have often noted how boundaries have been crossed—between the inside and outside of the body in issues of

D'var Torah By: 
Redemption in Our Land in Our Time
Davar Acher By: 
Greg Weisman

The journey through the Book of Leviticus, which comes to a close this week with the double portion B'har/B'chukotai, is one that prepares the Israelites to dwell in the Land of Israel.

All You Need Is Love?

"All the world needs is love." We hear that refrain in our music, in our theologies, in conversations prosaic and profound.

D'var Torah By: 
Eikev: Divine Reward and Punishment
Davar Acher By: 
Jessica Kessler Marshall

Rabbi Milgrom's d'var Torah explores our conditional brit, covenant, with the Eternal. We read, "If, then, you obey the commandments . . .

The Heart of the Matter

"Moses spoke to the heads of the Israelite tribes, saying: This is what the Eternal has commanded . . . " (Numbers 30:2)

D'var Torah By: 
Opening Our Heart to Broaden Our Perspective
Davar Acher By: 
Sharon L. Sobel

A few weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune published a small article titled "He gets How Much?

For God's Sake

Parashat B'har begins in a very unusual way. "The Eternal One spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: . . ." (Leviticus 25:1-2).

D'var Torah By: 
Just Paying Attention Is Holy
Davar Acher By: 
Marc Kline

The biblical text speaks to us in a time post Sinai. Moses has already shared what he received while standing before God.

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