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Torah Commentary Blog

Temple Emanu-El’s Torah commentaries are prepared by members of our clergy, senior staff, Religious School faculty and Saturday morning Torah Study group. Blog comments are moderated. Please note that we reserve the right to delete comments that are deemed inappropriate, use offensive language, promote personal attacks or are self-serving (promote goods and services). At the same time, we hope that this blog will promote thoughtful dialogue and continued learning. If you are a temple member interested in joining our team of writers, contact Prince Davis.

Parashat Balak (July 5, 2014)
By Prince H. Davis
A STUDY WAS UNDERTAKEN not long ago to see how parents interact with their children. The study found that for every positive comment a parent makes to a child, there are on average 19 negative remarks. Of course, any teacher or office manager will tell you that people are far more productive in a positive environment than in a negative environment. Yet, somehow, this realization gets lost in the commute from work to home.

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Parashat Chukat (June 28, 2014)
By Saul Kaiserman
THIS WEEK’S TORAH PORTION is called Chukat; the word “chukim,” in Modern Hebrew, is translated as “laws.” Recently, we read another portion titled Mishpatim, which also could reasonably be translated as… “laws.” And actually, the word Torah itself often is translated as “Law” (or sometimes “Law of Moses”), as could the words “halachah” (“oral law”) and “mitzvah” (“commandment”). I know they say Judaism is a legalistic religion, but seriously, what’s the difference between “chukim” (generally translated, to avoid confusion, as “statutes”) and “mishpatim” (“ordinances”)?

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Parashat Korach (June 21, 2014)
By Rachel Brumberg
THIS WEEK’S TORAH PORTION, Parashat Korach, was not easy for me. In it we read about the rebellion of Korach, Dothan and Abriram — all of whom question the authority of Moses and accuse Moses and Aaron of raising themselves above the Israelites and, therefore, treating the rest of the people as less holy than themselves. In response, Moses tells Korach and his followers, 250 people in total, to come to the Tent of Meeting the following day with their fire pans and incense offerings for the Eternal. The community does as Moses tells them; however, God questions their motivation. Korach and his followers bring their fire pans and incense to the Tent of Meeting, but while there, they gather with Korach, waiting to see him confront Moses and Aaron. This makes God want to annihilate them all instantly, but Moses and Aaron petition on their behalf. God acquiesces, and instead, God’s ire is turned momentarily to the houses of Korach, Dothan and Abriram. To prove that their punishment is something delivered by God and not something that a man like Moses could do himself, the earth opens up and swallows them, their households and their possessions. This strikes serious fear in the rest of the Israelites standing near them, and then God sends forth fire to consume the 250 men offering incense.

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Parashat B'haalot'cha (June 7, 2014)
By Warren Klein
IN THE BEGINNING of this parashah there is a description of the seven-branched menorah that God spoke of to Moses to instruct Aaron how to mount and light. Numbers Chapter 8, verse 4 gives a short but satisfying description of the menorah. The parashah continues about God’s rules for the Levites, the ones who would be lighting and caring for the menorah. The parashah is filled with imagery: imagery of cleansing, sacrifices, corpses and even musical instruments, but what strikes me most, as a Judiaca curator, is the short verse with the description of the menorah.

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Parashat Naso (May 31, 2014)
By Rabbi Benjamin J. Zeidman
IN 1903, DURING HIS last sermon at Temple Beth-El before assuming the presidency of Reform Judaism’s seminary, Hebrew Union College, Kaufmann Kohler preached on these very words from this week’s Torah portion. “The Priest’s Blessing,” he said, is “a treasury of comfort and peace for mind and heart, it has come down to us from hoary antiquity, the guardian angel of every Jewish home, the companion and talisman of every son and daughter of Israel, sanctifying the coming and going of Sabbath and holy days, hallowing each joy and soothing every sorrow.”

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