Teachings: Divrei Torah By Portion

Toldot - Machalat bat Ishmael

by Rabbi Jill Hammer

The purpose of this monthly d'var Torah is to alert us to the most hidden and obscure female presences in the Torah, named or unnamed, and to use these hidden voices to understand our inner truths.

"Esau realized that the Canaanite women [he had married] displeased his father Isaac.
So Esau went to Ishmael and took to wife, in addition to the wives he had, Machalat
the daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, sister of Nevayot."

Mishpatim - Laws and Love

by Rabbi Alexis Roberts

Parah Adumah: Finding Meaning in the Red Heifer Practice

There is an important opportunity in the red heifer Torah portion.

In the background of news footage, we often see people collecting body parts for preparation for burial; in Israel these are often trained burial society volunteers, chevra kaddishah members.

Toldot - Destiny Rules

by Rabbi Alexis Roberts

In Parshat Toldot, we have a familiar story and a familiar question arises from it: Do we control our own lives, or is everything pre-ordained? The answer is…yes. Here we find people struggling and scheming to bring about what God has foretold. Are they helping or hindering by trying so hard ? Are they promised abundance and given life experiences full of doubt, drought, and jealousy just to test and develop their characters? Is the abundance the real gift, or the faith to trust in it despite appearances? The answer is…yes.

Ki Tissa - Inspired to Lead

by Rachel Ellis Fried, Age 13

"When I pray, there is a feeling inside of me

Parah Adumah - Turning Muck into Luck

I had a really strange dream the other night. I was in a restaurant and had ordered my meal, but when it came it was gross looking. It was hooves of cow, with the legs attached, and they were a deep red colored, like nothing I had ever seen.

“Waiter,” I cried, “this is not what I ordered.”

Waking up, I wondered, what could this dream mean? Then I remembered the very strange story of the red heifer, the red cow, the symbol of this very Sabbath, called Shabbat Parah. Parah means young cow, neither a calf nor a full-grown cow.

Vayeitze - How Awesome is Now

It’s 4:54 on a wintery afternoon. I walk into my study, which has windows facing west. It’s been a typical day, some work, some errands. Nothing special. My attention is grabbed by spectacular colors outside the window.

"Alan!" I yell to my husband. "It’s the most amazing sunset. Grab your coat and let’s run outside before it changes."

It was the most amazing sunset- shocking bright pinks and subtle purples, in colors and shades I had never in my sixty-one years seen before. How is this possible?

Devarim - The Spiral Journey

Summer is a time of travels, and it reminds me of what I learned at my father’s feet-- to be a good map reader. You find where you are, you locate where you are headed, and you try to figure out the best way to get there. Usually, it’s the shortest road, or the one with the most highway, the fastest way.

Miketz - Worlds Apart at Hanukkah

by Rabbi Alexis Roberts

The themes of the Torah portion for Shabbat Chanukah 2001 sound painfully relevant: how are brothers with a long history of mistrust and violence supposed to make peace? How will the victim act when he finally is in a position of power? How much can be risked or compromised for survival? Can people who have grown so very far apart, and live in different worlds ever come back together? Against all odds, but with the help of God, all ends well.

Vayakhel-Pikudei - Experiencing the Shabbat Moment

A visualization by Joyce Reinitz

In the final two chapters of the Book of Exodus we witness the actual building and dedication of the Mishkan. The imagery is rich, the colors are vibrant and the details are mesmerizing. This is the description of the place where God's Presence will dwell among the people.

Vayakheyl begins with Moses reiterating the commandment of Shabbat:
"On six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest."

Va-Etchanan - Unending Love

This Shabbat we begin the cycle of love; seven special Torah readings leading up to our New Year, Rosh
HaShannah, seven weeks in which we open to the experience of G-d’s love for us, and G-d’s yearning to have us draw closer.

This week we also commemorated the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av, which marks the destruction of the First and Second Temple, as well as other tragedies for the Jewish people.

Miketz - Power Within

by Rabbi Shefa Gold

The Blessing

Vayakheyl - Building with Our Lives

by Rabbi Alexis Roberts

An old story is told about a medieval architect traveling to a city where a great cathedral is under construction, in order to study it’s design. He arrives as the day’s work is done. He meets a craftsman on his way home and asks about his work.

“What is it you are doing?”

“I am carving an ornate pair of doors, covered with figures representing Biblical stories.”

Next he meets a stone mason and asks about his work.

“What is it you are doing?”

Ekev - You Shall be Satisfied

Deut. 8:10
V’achalta v’savata u’vayrachta
And you shall eat
and you shall be satisfied
and you shall bless …

Last week I was teaching at a Jewish retreat center, Elat Chayyim, where the food was abundant and every meal was buffet style. Sure enough, when I returned home I had gained 4 pounds. Not only had I gained spiritual nourishment, I had gained water and fat!

Miketz - The Hero and the Addict

Elohim ya’aneh et sh’lom Paroah.
God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace. Gen. 41:16

I don’t think it is just coincidence that my chosen Hebrew name, Shohama, from Shoham, onyx, is the stone of the tribe of Joseph. There is something in the heroic tale of our forefather that speaks to me of the life I lived during the three decades that I was married into a family plagued by multiple addictions and multiple addicts.

Pikudei - A Crown of Holiness

"And they made the…holy crown of pure gold, and wrote upon it…HOLY TO THE LORD" Ex. 39:30

My favorite kippah, or sacred head covering, is black velvet, with a burnished gold woven headband, and Hebrew words inscribed on its metallic clasp. When I place it on my head, I feel some of the awe and power ascribed to the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest described in Exodus 39:30. "And they made the plate of of the holy crown of pure gold and wrote upon it a writing, like the engravings of a signet: Holy to the Lord."

Ki Titzei - The Way of Kindness

The title of this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, is "When you go out" while the title of next week’s is "When you come in." Goings and comings, comings and goings, are a theme that runs through all of our lives, as well as through all of Torah.

Summer, for many of us, is a time of travel, of going out and coming in. "Where did you go?" is a frequently asked question.

Shemot - And These Are the Names

Our Torah portion this week begins this way, “And these are the names.” In beginning the history of the Jewish people in Egypt, Torah recounts the names of all the sons of Jacob, the heads of the tribes, who came into Egypt with him. These names are from more than 3000 years ago.

Pikudei - Opening to Mysery

by Rabbi Shefa Gold

The Blessing