Saturday, March 16, 2013

Parashat VaYikra (Joshua Feinstein)

Shabbat Shalom.

My parasha, VaYikra, is all about when you sin unwittingly or wittingly, or when another person points out that you have sinned, you have to suffer a consequence. Usually that consequence is to sacrifice a sheep, goat, or ox, but if you can’t afford those animals, you can sacrifice two turtledoves or two pigeons instead. These animals must be without blemish, or else the offering will not be accepted.

What I wanted to know was, what was the punishment if you did something wrong in early Israel? What did you have to give up, and what were the consequences of that punishment? Why were the punishments so harsh? How is this different from punishment today?

The punishment for sinning, whether it was intentional or not, was sacrificing a sheep, goat, ox, or pigeons. By sacrificing these animals, you are giving up milk, more animals, wool, carrying power, meat, and money, which in the past people used to survive.

In punishment today, however, no matter what the religion is, you are still giving things up that may be important to you. For example, if I were to get detention for whistling in class at my school, which has happened before, that takes away personally from my adventure time before jazz band and my jazz band warm-ups. I prefer to have this time because it gives me something to do, whereas in detention, I just sit there staring blankly at the clock, which is very boring. Why are these punishments so harsh? Both the punishments in the Bible and detention after school set an example to other people not to do that which has been done, otherwise they will face the consequence that has been brought upon the person who sinned in the first place. Back then, in the time of early Israel, if you sacrificed animals, you would most likely tell your friends about it, and they would know not to sin because they needed those animals to survive. Today, with my example, people know not to whistle in class. Otherwise, they will have to sacrifice time after school.

This week, my blessing for us is to learn from our mistakes and those of others, making sure that we do not repeat those mistakes.

Shabbat Shalom.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Shabbat Ha-Chodesh (Jason Bryer)

Shabbat Shalom.

Today is Shabbat Ha-Chodesh, which is the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh, or the beginning of the month, which will be Nissan. Nissan is significant because it was originally the first month of the year in the times of the Bible. In honor of Shabbat ha-Chodesh, we read a special maftir, the portion from the second Torah, from Sh’mot chapter 12. My maftir aliyah, which comes from Parashat Bo, is set when God is about to unleash the tenth plague: death of the first-born. God tells the Children of Israel to slaughter their best lamb and take the blood to smear on the doorposts, since that will be a sign to God that the plague should skip over their houses. 

When reading my maftir, one pasuk stood out:

“For that night I will go through the land of Egypt, and strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast, I will mete out punishments to all the gods of Egypt, I the Lord.”

God is saying that this is the tenth plague: he will go through the nation of Egypt and kill every first born of any living being. He will sabotage the Egyptians gods because He is God and because He is the highest deity.

But wait: are there other Gods?

Are there other gods out there besides HaShem who are mighty and powerful, who have followers?

I have been taught to believe that there is one God, HaShem, and that He is the only God and we should worship him, but in this text and other texts like the 10 commandments, it never specifically states that there are no other gods besides HaShem – in fact, it does acknowledge other gods.

Rashi; an eleventh century commentator, who wrote commentaries on the tanakh and Talmud, says that when God says that he is going to execute judgments on the other gods, he means that he is going to rot the wooden idols and dissolve the metal ones.

In the 10 commandments, it says that you shouldn’t worship other gods, and also, you can’t say that God means idols instead of gods because the third commandment says that you should not worship idols like you worship Hashem. In the ten commandments, Rashi says that you cannot call them “gods” because they are not equal to Hashem and that Hashem is before all of the other “gods”

In this Pasuk it says that God is going to execute judgments on these other “gods”. I believe that we should acknowledge that other gods exist for people who practice other religions, but, we as Jews should only believe in, and worship Hashem.

So when we sit down at our Passover Seder, we should remember that God brought us out of Egypt and kept our ancestors safe when he slayed the first born Egyptians and executed judgments on their gods. May we give thanks for this and think about how God continues to help us today.

Shabbat Shalom.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Parashat Ki Tisa (Naomi Rivin)

Shabbat Shalom.

In Parshat Ki Tisa, Aaron makes the Golden Calf, because the Israelites thought Moses died up on Mount Sinai and they stopped believing in God. When Moses comes down from Mount Sinai after forty days and forty nights and sees the Golden Calf, he break the two tablets on which the Ten Commandments are written.  The story we hear about the Golden Calf when it happens and the story that Aaron tells Moses about what happened are slightly different.

In Exodus 32 verses 1-2 it reads, “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses who brought us from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.’ Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters, and bring them to me.’” In my perspective, Aaron basically gets confronted and told that he must build a new god because Moses hadn’t come down from Mount Sinai yet. Aaron clearly stated that he would do it, only if he got the gold from the wives and children, but the men gave Aaron their own gold and he did it anyway.  When Aaron was confronted by Moses, who was upset about the Golden Calf, Aaron tells him almost the true story, except for the fact that he had asked for the wife’s and children’s gold and that he took the men’s gold and “Hurled it into the fire and out came this calf.” I honestly do not understand why Moses believed this, because it is so unrealistic.

I was confused on why Aaron was so “okay” with making the Golden Calf. Why didn’t he say, “I’m not going against my brother, my religion and my God”? And why did Aaron end up lying to Moses about the reason of the Golden Calf?

In order to understand Aaron’s actions I was thinking about peer pressure. Imagine Miriam is a new child coming to 7th grade and had moved from a different state. On her first day, a new friend tells her that they will be going to a store after school, and that she must steal an expensive bracelet in order to be friends with her group.  Although Miriam doesn’t want to steal a bracelet and get in trouble, she doesn’t want to lose all her new friends. She agrees, but demands that before she steals it her friends must buy her lunch. All her friends agree to this. At lunch, they do not buy her a lunch of her own, but they give her half of what they bought. Although this was not what Miriam had wanted from her friends, she still agrees to steal the bracelet because in a way her friends did come through with what they promised and she believes that her keeping these friends is more important than not getting in trouble in this moment. Miriam’s mother finds out that she had stolen the bracelet. In response to her mother, Miriam tells her mother a slightly different story than what happened. She tells her mother “I made a mistake by stealing it.” Miriam doesn’t mention her friends’ part in this act because she feels that their new friendship is more important and she doesn’t want her mother not to let her hang out with them. 
This relates to Aaron because he was put in a very awkward place when Moses confronted him and asked about the Golden Calf. Maybe Aaron had to choose between telling the truth and the slightly tweaked truth because he had to protect the Israelites from the wrath of God. More importantly, though, he needs them to continue trusting him after this disaster, no matter what the punishments are.

We learn from Aaron’s actions that no matter the size of our mistakes we always need to take responsibility for our actions rather than blaming everything on others.  May we this week take responsibility for our actions even when it may be difficult.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Parashat Toledot (Callan Sullivan)

Shabbat Shalom.

For three months I have been studying this week’s parasha, Toledot. In the beginning I struggled with the learning, but now I feel fully confident. When I was studying the stories of Toledot, I was interested in how Esau threw his birthright away like it was nothing, but then got upset when Jacob actually took Esau’s blessing in Isaac’s old age. I felt like Esau should have known better than to give his birthright away, if he cared so deeply about the blessing.

A birthright is the inheritance to the first-born son when a father dies. The son inherits all the power, land, and blessings of his father. Later in the parasha you find out that Isaac is dying. Rebecca helps Jacob steal the blessing, because Rebecca favors Jacob over Esau while Isaac favors Esau over Jacob.

For the last three weeks as I’ve studied Toledot, I’ve felt a ton of pressure on getting the prayers fluent.  Now that the day is here I am relieved that I wont have a lot of pressure anymore. Even though I wanted to get my bar mitzvah over-with and I wished that time would slow down, instead time seemed to speed up. The day has come and I couldn’t wait to get on the bimah. As I have become a bar mitzvah I have learned that stuff that sounds easy is only easy if you work hard. I feel like getting ready for my bar mitzvah has been like Esau in my parsha: Esau threw his birthright away not knowing that it would be helpful later in life. This is like how I wish that I tried harder in Hebrew school.

I’m going to end this dvar torah in a wish that every one would follow in the footsteps of Jacob who always thought of his future more than his present, rather then Esau who only thought about what he needed in the present.

Shabbat Shalom.