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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 23, 2016)
By Warren Klein
MONDAY, JULY 11, MARKED THE 18TH ANNIVERSARY OF MY BAR MITZVAH, AND THE PARASHAH, THAT I READ WAS BALAK. Balak is the king of Moab who wants Balaam to curse the Israelites because he fears their numbers, but instead Balaam ends up blessing them three times. One of the blessings includes the Mah Tovu, which is incorporated into our morning liturgy. During Balaam’s journey to see Balak, God sends an angel to which only the ass reacts and leads Balaam off his path. Balaam becomes increasingly angry and beats the ass until the Lord opens the ass’ mouth to say to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me three times?” God makes Balaam see the angel, and Balaam now reveres God and therefore can only bless the Israelites and not curse them, as Balak intended.

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Chukat (July 16, 2016)
By Jessica Ingram
THIS WEEK’s TORAH PORTION, CHUKAT, is heavy with grief, in many shapes and forms, permeating every element of the narrative. We first learn of the death of Miriam. There is no mention of a burial or communal mourning, but immediately following the announcement of her death, we read that there is a scarcity of water. The Sages of the Talmud created a beautiful midrash from this juxtaposition: Because of Miriam’s integrity, enthusiasm and courage, a well followed her throughout the desert, and upon her death, the well dried up.

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Parashat Korach (July 9, 2016)
By Sherry Nehmer
QUALITY OF LIFE DIMINISHING? Have a sense that we’ve lost our way? Those in power not listening to you? Blame the current leadership, and try to take over. Sounds like an election year to me.

In fact, it’s the Book of Numbers, and it’s the story of Korach.

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Parashat Sh'lach L'cha (July 2, 2016)
By Elizabeth Cooper
AS A RISING JUNIOR who is eagerly, yet nervously, anticipating a study abroad adventure, my imminent journey framed the way I read this week’s parashah: Sh’lach L’cha. This portion focuses on 12 spies who are dispatched and ordered by Moses to venture eastward and survey the new Promised Land, which God has granted the Israelites. Ten return discouraged, claiming to be unsuited to conquer the current inhabitants; whereas the other two, namely Caleb and Joshua, come back feeling confident in their destined endeavors. As the story progresses, the underlying themes of faith and perspective grow more conspicuous, and the lessons become more easily deducible. The parashah examines the consequences of those devoid of faith through the depiction of an angry God and explores the power of perspective. Feeling abandoned and distrusted, God denies the 10 men entry into the Promised Land while he guides the other two to the land of milk and honey.

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Parashat B'haalot'cha (June 25, 2016)
By Missy Bell
THERE IS A LOT HAPPENING IN THIS WEEK’S TORAH PORTION. The Israelites are in the midst of their journey in the desert. God gives them various rules about their travel, including instructing them to remain encamped while the cloud hangs over the Tabernacle and to break camp when the cloud lifts. The Israelites might remain encamped for days or weeks at a time. All the Israelites have to eat during the years of travel is manna, and their dissatisfaction with this diet becomes clear in this Torah portion.

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