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Sacrifice

You Are What You Eat: The New World of Kosher Food

Thousands of years ago, Judaism recognized the essential significance of food in the Jewish and human experience. Originally, without explaining “why” we should eat some, but not all types of different foods, the Torah in this week’s portion, Sh’mini (Leviticus 11), laid down a lengthy list of culinary dos and don’ts, the textual foundation of kashrut, Jewish dietary practice and law. The Rabbis greatly expanded on this topic and today there are a variety of expressions of kashrut.

D'var Torah By: 
Finding Spirituality in the Dietary Laws
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Miriam Philips

Living in Israel after college, I found myself staying in a kosher home. I became so engrossed in the minutia of kashrut (the laws/practice of keeping kosher) that I gave little attention to the ethical imperatives at the heart of Judaism. But surely kashrut should be a spiritual discipline, as I’d initially believed. Where was the heart I searched for? Sh'mini begins to answer the question.

It All Depends: Finding the Middle of the Torah

Finding the midpoint in the Torah has long been a matter of considerable debate. Some scholars say the middle of the Torah falls in this portion, Parashat Tzav. But the answer to the question, where is the middle of the Torah, depends on many mathematical, theological, and phylosophical factors.

D'var Torah By: 
Finding Value in the Middle
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Larry Freedman

Some people think the middle is boring, but that's hardly the case for our Torah. In its middle we find dramatic stories of our ancestors, laws, and examples of God's grace. Some people say that the middle of the Torah is in Parashat Tzav.

The Moral Imperative of the Stranger

Man helps a stranger up the hill demonstrating tikkun olam

In Parashat Mishpatimwe find the Israelites in the midst of the Revelation at Sinai, experiencing the communal wonder and intensity of their encounter with God. Mishpatim, which means “laws,” dives into the details. The Revelations in Mishpatim are among the words Moses writes down on stone when he and Aaron ascend the mountain. Scholars call these laws the Book of the Covenant or Sefer HaB’rit. It’s the Torah’s first pass at the legal details that govern Jewish living.

D'var Torah By: 
Laws that Lead Us to Act with Compassion
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Matt Zerwekh

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Translated into English, the meaning of Parashat Mishpatim is “Laws,” but I would suggest we also refer to this Torah portion with the word rachmanut, “compassion.” The laws set forth in Parashat Mishpatim give us clear guidance as to our treatment of the segments of society to which we do not belong — the slave, the poor, the widow, the orphan. It point isn’t only that we should remember that we were once strangers in a strange land, for that only calls for empathy — an understanding of the other.

Torah and Taliban: Is There Something in Common?

In a particularly graphic moment, one of the instructions received in our weekly reading is "...to destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods, whether on lofty mountains and on hills or under any luxuriant tree. Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site" (Deuteronomy 12:2-3). This is a clear directive to destroy all the sites at which the native Canaanites worshipped throughout the sacred Land of Israel.

D'var Torah By: 
Following Difficult Instructions with a Goal to Pursue Peace
Davar Acher By: 
Suzy Stone

One of the most troubling aspects of this week's Torah portion is the commandment cited above in Deuteronomy 12:2-3, which requires the invading Israelites to destroy all forms, and places, of foreign worship.

As Rabbi Firestone notes, this commandment was limited to Land of Israel, which in turn limited the scope of this harsh decree. Additionally, I appreciate Rabbi Firestone's suggestion that this commandant was meant to mollify the temptation felt by a young nation coming into its own spiritual, and physical, home.

Commissioning a New Leader on Inauguration Day

At this point in the Book of Numbers, we find Moses' term of service moving toward a conclusion and God begins planning for his succession. God tells Moses, "Single out Joshua son of Nun, an inspired individual, and lay your hand upon him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before the whole community, and commission him in their sight. Invest him with some of your authority, so that the whole Israelite community may obey" (Numbers 27:18-20).

Hearing these instructions could not have been anything but painful for Moses. The leader of the Israelites for so long, how could he imagine anyone else in his place? And yet, they were perhaps comforting too. There would be no power vacuum. God would not let the progress of the last forty years fade away. The political transition would be a smooth one, free of upheaval and discord.

D'var Torah By: 
Transitioning to New Leadership with Full and Honest Disclosure
Davar Acher By: 
Michael E. Harvey

There is, indeed, great comfort in Nachmanides' interpretation of Moses' commissioning of Joshua. Certainly, as Rabbi Skloot explains, when we "see with our own eyes, that our leaders respect the basic institutions of government," tomorrow doesn't seem so scary. But in times like ours, times Rabbi Skloot acknowledges are, at the very least, "cynical," there may in fact be greater comfort found in Rashi's interpretation of Parashat Pinchas.

Is Time Ours or Is It God’s?

In Parashat Emor, the verses in Leviticus 23:1-44 name and describe the sacred times of the Jewish calendar: Shabbat, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and the Pilgrimage Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Time becomes a holy thing, and the "normalcy" of time — of one day being no different than any other — is forever differentiated by the weekly Sabbath and by these special festive days.

D'var Torah By: 
Is Your Holy Time Becoming?
Davar Acher By: 
Rachel S. Mikva

Time is funny. It is relative: You may feel that time spent watching a sporting event flies by, but I will find it painfully long. It is fleeting: there is never enough time in a day to accomplish everything that needs doing. And time is fungible: all those uncompleted tasks will still be there tomorrow.

Blood and Sex: The Messy Stuff of Life

For the life of all flesh — its blood is its life. Therefore I say to the Israelite people: You shall not partake of the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Anyone who partakes of it shall be cut off. (Leviticus 17:14)

The Book of Leviticus could be nicknamed "The Journal of Blood and Water." Throughout its chapters we find the words tamei — translated as "impure," and tahor — translated as "pure"  as markers of a system of taboos so strong, the penalty for daring to dismiss them is kareit, or "excommunication." The taboos for certain sexual practices are painstakingly outlined in chapter 18, the section of Acharei Mot that we read on this Shabbat.

D'var Torah By: 
Blood: The Gift of Life
Davar Acher By: 
Andrea Goldstein

A number of years ago my husband came home from work wearing a sticker that read, "I saved a life today." Our children were young and just becoming fascinated with the adventures of comic book superheroes, so when they saw my husband's sticker their minds began racing.

"Did you save someone from a bank robber?" one asked, almost gleefully.

"Nope," my husband shook his head and smiled.

"Did you pull someone out of a car that was going to explode?" another guessed, with eyes hopefully wide.

"No," he said again.

After a few more questions, our youngest couldn't stand the suspense. "What did you do to save somebody's life today?" she demanded.

"I donated blood," my husband said.

You Are What You Wear

He shall be dressed in a sacral linen tunic, with linen breeches next to his flesh, and be girt with a linen sash, and he shall wear a linen turban. They are sacral vestments; he shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. (Leviticus 16:4)

A few years ago, I was in Jerusalem in a Chasidic neighborhood, surrounded by stores carrying tallitot, kippot, and all sorts of Judaica. To my utter shock, prominently displayed in one store's window was a bright pink tallis! I went inside and started talking to the owner, a Chasid in full regalia: black coat, knickers, side curls, and fur-trimmed shtreimel hat. "Who would buy a pink tallit?" I asked. "A bat mitzvah girl of course," this Chasid said, with no hesitation. ". . . no, not the girls in my community," he added, "but in yours, sure, why not?"

D'var Torah By: 
Setting Limits on Displays of Wealth, Even for the High Priest
Davar Acher By: 
Joshua M. Z. Stanton

Our tradition braves the middle ground between materialism and the denial of aesthetic power. To make worship solely about our attire undermines its power to elevate us beyond the physical realm. To ignore ritual garb overlooks a meaningful way, in the words of Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, to "take off the earthly street… when we arrive at the shul door, and feel closer to the angels."

To Die in the Exercise of Your Passion

On Wednesday, August 7th, 1974, a 24-year-old Frenchman named Philippe Petit stepped out onto a steel wire strung across the 130-foot gap between the tops of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York — close to 1,350 feet above the ground. After a 45-minute performance he was asked, "Weren't you afraid that you were going to die?" While conceding, he replied, "If I die, what a beautiful death, to die in the exercise of your passion."

Parashat Sh'mini contains the important and troubling story of Nadab and Abihu. It is the eighth day of the ceremony of consecrating the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the priests. Aaron and his sons have been sacrificing animals all week long. Fire comes down from heaven and consumes the offerings, and all is going according to plan. Suddenly Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron's sons, bring an additional offering of incense, which had not been commanded. They are immediately consumed by Divine fire; their bodies are dragged out of the Mishkan while Aaron remains silent.

D'var Torah By: 
Strange Fire in Our Time
Davar Acher By: 
Ari S. Lorge

When are you a priest? When are you a prophet? These questions present a constant tension for liberal Jews. When do we maintain what was passed down to us? When do we strike out on a bold new path? In Covenant & Conversation, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks lifts up the priests Nadab and Abihu, and their "strange fire," as examples of those who misunderstood their role and moment. Sacks uses the images of priest and prophet to set out a tension, as he writes: "The priest serves God in a way that never changes over time. . . . The prophet serves God in a way that is constantly changing over time."The priest attests to what is enduring and ritualized, while the prophet must be spontaneous and take his or her own initiative.

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