Archives for June 2013

Torah Reflections June 21 – 29, 2013


Numbers 25:10 – 30:1

We Are All Zelophechad’s Children

Disclaimer: I originally published these Torah Reflections a year ago. However, as we applaud this week’s decision by the Supreme Court regarding the unconstitutionality of the DOMA, I felt it appropriate to post it again. The court’s decision had to happen the week of this Torah portion…. of course!

One of the most powerful stories in Torah appears in the middle of this week’s portion: the story of Zelophechad’s daughters. It is powerful at many levels. First and foremost, the heroes are all women, which, knowing the patriarchal character of Torah is in and of itself remarkable. Second, these women stand on the principles of justice and civil rights to see the overturning by God Himself of a long-established set of laws. This is a radical shift. Up to this point the biblical mandate was that property is passed down from father to son. Zelophechad’s five daughters, at the time when Moses performed a census to apportion the Promised Land among the tribes, challenged this many generations-old law.

The daughters of Zelophechad… came forward… They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said, “Our father died in the wilderness… and he has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!” Moses brought their case before the Eternal. And the Eternal One said to Moses, “The plea of Zelophechad’s daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them. Further, speak to the Israelites people as follows: ‘If a householder dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter….'” [Num. 27:1-11]

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Torah Reflections June 16 – 22, 2013


Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

Happiness Beyond Thought                    

This week’s Torah portion tells the story of Balak and Balaam. Balak is king of Moab. As the parashah opens, his kingdom is threatened to be invaded by the Israelite armies encamped at his borders. He and his soldiers have learned of the neighboring powers already defeated by the Hebrews tribes; and they fear that they are next. Balak figures that he will need a trump card to shift the odds in his favor, so he hires Balaam. Balaam is a renowned professional curser. Everyone knows, as Balak says to Balaam, that

he whom you bless is blessed indeed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” [Num. 22:6]

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Torah Reflections June 9 – 15, 2013


Numbers 19:1 – 22:1

The Dissolving Power of The Light of Truth                   

Since we left last week’s Torah portion and opened our books again to study this week’s, thirty-eight years have passed. The generation of Israelites who had known the slavery of Egypt has now died, and a new generation has arisen whose only memory of Egypt’s captivity is the tales their parents left behind. The image is that in our time of wandering through the wilderness, we have done our spiritual work and have managed to leave behind our slave-mentality, our narrow consciousness plagued with unrelenting attachments and cravings for control. We have been able to transcend this aspect of ego-bound consciousness, yet it is still part of us even if seemingly a distant memory or an ancient tale.

In Torah, the time is now for conquest, for circumventing or defeating the armies that still surround our Promised Land. Before engaging in battle, Moses sends emissaries to ask for safe passage through the lands of the different powers standing between the Hebrews and their final destination. The Torah recounts the plea these messengers make to the king of Edom, descendant of Esau, Jacob’s brother — replaying, in so doing, the original encounter between the two siblings:

Thus says your brother, Israel: You know the hardships that have befallen us; that our ancestors went down to Egypt, that we dwelt in Egypt a long time, and that the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our ancestors.” [Num. 20:14-15]

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Torah Reflections June 2 – 8, 2013


Numbers 16:1 – 18:32

When Korach Takes Over                  

We left the Israelites at the edge of the Promised Land last week. Twelve tribal leaders, who had gone to scope out the Land, had come back. Ten against two, they advised against entering into the Land, opting to remain in the wilderness. They argued that more time was needed to prepare. The people weren’t ready to let go of the spiritual retreat that the wilderness afforded. They wanted to stay in that wilderness state a little longer. Above all, they didn’t want to re-enter the world, have to raise kids and go to work every day. They wanted spirituality divorced from everyday reality. They wanted more highs, more miracles, more ecstatic moments. [Read more…]