Posted on July 16th, 2017

Numbers 30:2 - 36:13 

BY RABBI JORDAN D. COHEN, Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton, Ontario, for 

Holy Words

The laws of vows and the rabbinic cautions against making them teach the holiness and power of the spoken word.

Parashat Matot begins with a detailed presentation of the laws pertaining to vows and oaths. Next, Moses is instructed to “take revenge” against the Midianites, and there is a long report on Israel’s terrible battle against Midian. In the aftermath of the war, Moses reminds the soldiers about tumah — the laws of ritual impurity — and deals with the division of booty between the soldiers, community, and the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Next, Moses is approached by the tribes of Reuven and Gad, asking to be apportioned some land on the east side of the Jordan River. At first, Moses is annoyed by this request, but he then relents as long as they agree to continue to fight with the rest of Israel to conquer the land of Israel.

In Focus
If a man makes a vow to the Eternal or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips (Numbers 30:3).

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Posted on July 10th, 2017

NUMBERS 25:10−30:1

D'var Torah By Rabbi VERED L. HARRIS for

Their Father’s Sin Is Not Their Own

The popular use of ancestry websites speaks to our curiosity about where we come from and the history of our families. Some of us want genetic information for medical reasons. Others want a connection to the past: What did our ancestors do for a living? Where did they live? Is there anything in our lives that resembles those who came before us? Placing ourselves as a link in a chain of ancestors can both satisfy curiosities and add meaning to our lives. It may also remind us that we are a link in connecting the chain to the future.

But what happens when we learn an ancestor did something terrible? This week’s Torah portion assures us that the sins of our family’s past do not require us to follow their path.

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Posted on July 2nd, 2017

Numbers 22:2 - 25:9 

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is Executive Director of Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.

Balaam Versus Pinhas

Pinhas saw the relationship of an Israelite and a Midianite as a curse--but perhaps he, like Balaam, could have turned it into a blessing.

Some people write off this Torah portion as biblical fantasy. In Parshat Balak, Balaam has a conversation with a donkey. A dialogue of this nature seems more appropriate for an animated film than a serious religious text. As a result, many ignore and overlook the implicit message of the portion, as well.

And yet Balaam is not unique — we have no problem with humans speaking to donkeys — or animals of any kind, especially domesticated dogs and cats who have become part of our families. So why are we surprised when the animal answers us?

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Posted on June 25th, 2017

Numbers 19:1 - 22:1 

By Jordana Schuster, a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She is a graduate of Williams College and has studied at the Conservative Yeshiva and at Harvard Divinity School

Responding to Thirst

Moses' frustration and fatigue were no excuse for his refusal to accept the people's cry for help.

Parshat Hukkat brings one of the most famous of biblical stories: Moses strikes the rock and is thereafter barred from entering the land of Canaan. The outline of the story is spare. Toward the end of the Israelites’ 40-year journey through the wilderness, the people begin to whine and grumble (once again) about their thirst. In response, Moses and his brother Aaron consult with God, who tells them to speak to a stone and it will bring forth water. Moses, instead, berates the people — “Listen up, you rebels!” — and strikes the rock.

Water comes forth and the people drink, but God punishes Moses and Aaron, saying, “Because you did not trust in Me enough to make Me holy before the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Everlastingly holy as God may be, Moses and Aaron fail to demonstrate God’s holiness to the people and for this they are chastised and severely punished.

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Posted on June 18th, 2017

NUMBERS 16:1−18:32 

D'var Torah By Rabbi JOSEPH A. SKLOOT for

How Not to Have a Conversation

If I had stopped to listen once or twice

If I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes

If I had cooled my head and warmed my heart

I'd not be on this road tonight (James Taylor, "That Lonesome Road")

Imagine a group of people, twenty or so, who all disagree about a range of issues — political, philosophical, theological — meeting weekly for dinner and conversation. Occasionally there's laughter. Sometimes someone speaks excitedly, passionately. Sometimes someone interrupts. There are moments of discomfort, but never contempt. There moments of confusion, but not hostility. There are hard questions. There are assertions of "I don't know." There is sometimes silence.

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