Archives for July 2011

Torah Reflections: August 22-28, 2010

Parashah (portion) Ki Tavo – Living Extra-Ordinary Lives

Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8

I don’t know about you, but I think that the High Holy Days are definitely coming too early this year. After all, we are still in the midst of summer, enjoying barbecues and picnics, and forecasts call for more sun and warm weather. Who has time to focus on repentance or forgiveness when the days are still calling for summer celebration? Who can engage wholeheartedly in an introspective process of soul-searching when everything around us lures us towards outward life-affirming exuberance? It is as if the Universe conspired to make this time even more challenging than usual, to make it nearly impossible for us to really be present to the depth of inner work that the High Holy Days demand of us.

This week’s Torah portion brings this dichotomy into sharp focus. The text includes a series of blessings and curses, of great light and great shadow. Blessings and light will come if we engage in the spiritual work that God places before us; curses and darkness are to befall us if we collapse into an unconscious way of life. However, despite this highly contrasted picture, a verse in the middle of the portion opens it up for a more nuanced interpretation:

If you listen, listen to the voice of the Eternal One your God… (Deut. 28:1)

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Torah Reflections: August 15-21 , 2010

Parashah (portion) Ki Teitzei – On Being our Brothers’ Keepers
Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19

Like many of you I have been troubled by the fear mongering against the Muslim community coming from the media and our political representatives. Whether it is about the bans against the building of mosques, or the heartbreaking uproar against the proposal to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero; these repeated attacks (verbal thus far) seem to be leading us down a path reminiscent of the era of McCarthyism. Hateful e-mails and videos are circulating that attempt to convince us of the intrinsic evil of Islam, offering “proof texts” from the Qur’an itself. Fear, once again, comes to dominate our national conversation.

We have been here before. As Jews we know well the challenge our Muslim cousins are now facing. Countless times in our own history, our holy texts have been used against us, our rituals distorted in order to demonstrate the “true nature” of the “evil Jew.” For us the result has been expulsions, persecutions, and massacres throughout our history. In truth, many verses in Torah challenge our contemporary worldview. Placed in the wrong hands, these verses can easily be turned against the people who follow the path of Torah. What are we to make, for example, of the following verses from this week’s portion?

If a householder has a wayward and defiant son, who does not heed his father or mother, and does not obey them even after they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town… Thereupon his town’s council shall stone him to death. Thus you will remove evil from your midst. (Deut. 21:18-21)

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