Posted on May 28th, 2017

Numbers 4:21-7:89 

BY RABBI KERRY M. OLITZKY, Director Big Tent Judaism, for 

The Priestly Benediction

Those who link themselves with God and the people of Israel will indeed be blessed.

Among the many salient elements in this week’s Torah reading is the priestly benediction at the end of chapter six of the book of Numbers. Three of these verses have been woven into various aspects of Jewish ritual and liturgy.

May God bless you and keep you
May God cause the divine light to shine upon you and be gracious to you
May God turn toward you, and grant you peace

This passage has become a part of the spiritual life of the Jewish people, recited at Shabbat, during the holidays, and at life-cycle events. As important as this priestly blessing has become, however, the entire piece deserves our attention.

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Posted on May 21st, 2017

NUMBERS 1:1−4:20 

BY NOAM KATZ, a rabbinical student at  HUC-JIR 

On Child Soldiering

We can transform the institution of Pidyon Haben to include all those who have had their childhood stolen.

Just a year removed from the shackles of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites find themselves perched at the edge of the wilderness. Twelve tribes prepare to navigate the barren landscape that lies before them in the hopes that it will lead to a land of promise. Before departure, God instructs Moses to take a census of the Israelite community: “Count the heads of all in the tribes of Israel.”

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Posted on May 21st, 2017

NUMBERS 1:1−4:20

D'var Torah By Rabbi Joseph A. Skloot for

Reduced to Numbers . . . Do We Count?

Were they people? Not to the Principal. Not even employees? They were more like digits, widgets, sprockets, more cogs on the command chain. (Joshua Cohen, The Book of Numbers, Oxford, 2014, p. 1.87)

Incredulous. That's how I felt, after requesting and then learning my Uber passenger rating. You see, drivers get to rate and rank you too.

"4.8! That's it?" I thought. "I've never been impolite or unfriendly. I never cancel a request after submitting one. What reason could there be for denying me a full five stars?"

Once again, here was one small example of the many ways each of us is reduced to numbers as we go about our post-modern lives.

"Please enter your account number, followed by the pound sign."

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Posted on May 14th, 2017

Leviticus 25:1-26:2 / 26:3-27:34 

D'var Torah By Rabbi LANCE J. SUSSMAN for

Liberty and Freedom From Religion in America

The Liberty Bell holds special fascination for American Jews, especially those of us who live in Philadelphia. For years, we lived happily with the knowledge that the Liberty Bell had been cast in England and brought to America in 1752 on a ship called the Myrtilla owned by two local Jewish shippers, Nathan Levy (the founder of the Philadelphia Jewish community) and David Franks (later one of the city’s leading Tories during the American Revolution). For better or worse, recent scholarship has changed all that and we now know conclusively that the bell was aboard a different boat, the Hibernia, captained by William Child but of unknown ownership. Moreover, the Hibernia’s docking was recorded on September 1 and the Myrtilla did not drop anchor until the end of the month.

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Posted on May 7th, 2017

Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23 


Sacred Time and Space

The Jewish concept of holiness is bound to notions of sacred time and space--and reaching out to those in need.

Sarah, a member of my congregation, once explained to me why she was proudly a “bad Jew.” She had hated her traditional religious upbringing. As soon as she left home she proudly embraced a fully secular lifestyle. Although she eventually found her way back to Judaism through belonging to a liberal synagogue, Sarah told me that she was a member purely for cultural reasons, because of her connection to Jewish social justice values, and she still eschewed any form of religious observance.

“Let me tell you how ‘bad a Jew’ I truly am. Every Shabbos morning,” she told me, “I sleep late. Then I make bacon for breakfast and eat it slowly, savoring the smell and the flavor, while reading the paper and catching up on how to be involved in world events. I look forward to that moment all week long.”

“I hate to break this to you,” I told her, “but it sounds to me like you are keeping Shabbos!”

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