Kedoshim 5771

by Max Bartell, 2011 USY Religion/Edducation International General Board

P.J. O’Rourke is famous for saying, “Because of their size, parents may be difficult to discipline properly.” Now, regardless of the fact that O’Rourke is not a member of the tribe, this type of view and opinion is exactly what this week’s Parsha, Parshat Kedoshim seeks to change and get rid of. In Parshat Kedoshim, there are a rather unusually large amount of Mitzvot. There are 13 positive commandments, and 38 negative commandments, totaling 51 commandments. The first commandment in the Parsha is “Every man should revere his mother and father,” followed by “You shall keep my Shabbatot for I am Hashem your God.” There are a number of interesting things in these first two commandments, ranging from the wording used in them, to the reasoning behind the order that they are placed in. From the first commandment, “Every man should revere his mother and father,” we learn a number of things. We learn that by using the word revere, the Torah is implying that a person should not disagree with his parents in public, and should always treat them with the utmost respect. This can range from not taking their seat at a table, to correcting them in front of their friends, no matter how egregious their error may be. Just as a side-note, this pasuk is often used as proof and reasoning behind caring for your parents, even unto their old age.

Another interesting point that the commentators make with regard to this Parsha, has to do with the fact that the commandment to keep Shabbat directly follows the commandment to respect parents. According to Rashi, the importance of the order is that eventually this verse comes to teach us that a child should refuse his parent’s request that he or she desecrate the Shabbat, because ultimately Hashem and his Torah take precedence. This pasuk does not give a child the right to disregard the orders of his parents unless of course, the parent directs the child to break another one of God’s commandments. Only then is disregard of the parent’s orders acceptable. In terms of order that the commandments in this Parsha should be observed in, think of it this way: “1. Respecting your parents” and “1A. Keeping Shabbat.”

It seems that the commandments here really come back to one main theme of Judaism. The idea of the unwritten “Golden Rule.” The Golden Rule is essentially “V’ahavta L’Recha Camocha” or “Love your neighbor as you would yourself.” The commandments in this Parsha are really centered around the concept of respect. From the idea of not embarrassing your parents, all the way to not correcting an error that they make in front of their friends. While respecting our parents may appear to be a tall task, it is really quite simple. What it all boils down to is treating your parents the same way that you would like them to treat you. I highly doubt that one might want his parents to correct him or tell him that he iswrong in front of his friends. And even sometimes, when it may seem that his parents don’t understand your situation, he must still respect them because, in the words of Dr. Suess: “A Person’s a Person, no matter how small.”

Metzora 5771

by Josh Seed, 2010-11 ECRUSY Religion/Education Vice President and 2011 Religion/Education International General Board member

This Shabbat we read Parashat Metzora. Like much of the book of Vayikra, Parshat Meztora deals largely with the laws pertaining to ritual purity. This was an important topic for the time with the Tabernacle in use and the eventual building of the Temple in Jerusalem. The fourth aliyah reads, “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, ‘something like a plague has appeared upon my house.’” (Vayikra 14:33-35)

The previous passage speaks about a skin disease known as Tzara’at, sometimes translated as leprosy. The Talmud and many commentators see Tzara’at as a punishment for the most serious of sins, Lashon Hara or malicious gossip. Just like gossip, the Torah tells us that the plague could spread beyond the individual, to his clothing, home and beyond. Anyone suffering from Tzara’at would be required to separate themselves from the community. This begs the question, why is this part of the treatment process? Why must one reside away from other people in order to be deemed pure once more?

Lashon Hara can spread quickly and affect many people. Perhaps the individual was sent away to prevent their gossip from damaging the community. The disease of Tzara’at does not exist today but that does not mean that we no longer see Lashon Hara. Gossip is just as much of a problem today as it was in biblical times.

Judaism exists within a community and a principle of acceptance can help to make everyone feel welcome. It is this idea that makes our organization so special. USY provides a place for all Jews to come together and express themselves in a fun and safe environment. Everyone has a place and the stereotypes that may exist at school do not carry the same meaning. When we meet for a convention, we put all of our differences aside and become a single community. To quote one Kadimanik, “USY is the place I can always be myself.  Everyone accepts me for who I am.”

The mitzvah for this week is appropriately Lashon Hara or the prohibition against telling gossip. Judaism forbids causing any deception or embarrassment through speech, even if the statement is true. According to the majority of Torah scholars Lashon Hara is considered to be a most serious of sins because of the harm that it can cause.

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Ha’azinu 5758

by Joey Shapiro

Ha’azinu, the second to last parsha in the Torah read throughout the course of the year, is a very glorious one. The sedra is contained in two columns of the the torah which are divided into yet smaller columns. The words make up a song praising the glory of G-d and recalling his miraculous wonders which he did to aid Bene Yisrael in their years in the wilderness of Sinai.

On the surface this is a very happy, joyous, and festive sedra, one filled with spoken triumph, glory, and miracles. Yet, it contains a very sad, melancholy undertone. This is the final time that Moshe addresses the people. He is here reminding them orally of what G-d did for them so that they will continue to worship G-d throughout the ages, but Moshe is also, without saying it outwardly, trying to remind them what he has been through with him. He knows that this is his final day at the helm of the nation and wants not to be forgotten. He is sad; he knows he will now go off to die and does not want his people, his brethren to forget what he has tried to teach.

So, Ha’azinu is one last hurrah before the end, but it is overshadowed with the upcoming death of Moshe Rabenu.

Ha’azinu 5762

by Aron Cohen

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shuvah, and we read from Parshat Haazinu. Shabbat Shuvah is the Shabbat that falls between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. Shuvah comes from the root shav, literally meaning to return or to repent (to God, to the straight path).

The entire book of Devarim is Moshe’s final speech, delivered to the Children of Israel, summarizing the laws in the Torah. Moshe knows that he won’t be around much longer-the Israelites will enter the land of Israel, but he won’t be allowed to enter it with them. Devarim can be looked at as Moshe’s last chance to give the Children of Israel advice, just as a teacher will try to remind of all they’ve taught you before you leave him/her for the summer holiday.

If Devarim is Moshe’s last words of advice, Haazinu is Moshe’s last call to the Children of Israel with his most important thoughts, as your mother might call out to you as you are walking out the door to remind you to take a sweater. Moshe tells the people to remember Judaism, to remember Hashem, and to remember their roots. Moshe doesn’t know where the people will end up, but he knows he won’t be around to look after them and that they tend to get into trouble.

Haazinu consists of Moshe’s reminders to the Children of Israel for when they enter the land of Israel. As important as we believe first impressions to be, it is our last impressions of our friends that will remain embedded in our memories. Thinking back over my summer, I have memories of the first few weeks, but the last week of Wheels really determined how I remember people. Although God can easily recall the whole year, the way we act over the next few days reflects how we will be remembered for the entire year.

We are taught “On Rosh Hashannah it is written, and on Yom Kippur, it is sealed”-it being God’s decision to either inscribe you in the book of life or not. We are constantly given chances to repent. Even after our fate is written, we still have the chance to go back and change it.

We should take every opportunity to repent, to make things right. We won’t always be so lucky to have a second chance. Take a moment to call up that friend you haven’t gotten along with for a few weeks, or sit down with your parents if you’ve been arguing lately. While these people will most likely be around after Yom Kippur, it’s better to start out the year with a clean slate¼ on good terms with everyone, and especially, on good terms with God and with yourself.

May everyone’s year be one of blessing, and may you all have a meaningful fast on Yom Kippur. Shabbat Shalom and Shanna Tova!

Ha’azinu 5769

by Bekah Hakimian

Shana Tova and G’mar Chatimah Tovah! As we begin the second to last Parsha in the Torah, a poem of warning that was introduced in the previous portion is read. Moshe is instructed by God to recite this poem of moral teachings. Moshe calls upon the heaven and earth to witness his words. He begins by praising God and describing the special care God has given Israel. In response, the people have spurned God and God’s laws. Because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, they will suffer God’s wrath. Ultimately, God will show mercy to the Israelites and deliver them from their enemies. Moshe tells the people to take the warning he has recited very seriously. Israel’s observance of God’s laws is no trifling matter. These laws are the essence of their lives. The portion closes with God directing Moshe to ascend Mount Nevo and to look at the Land promised to the Israelites. Moshe is told he will die on the mountain.

Ha’azinu means “give ear,” as in this portion, Moshe calls upon heaven and earth to give ear to these words of praise. Why did Moshe call upon heaven and earth? Devarim Rabbah 10:4 provides several possibilities. One of them implies that it was actually Israel who was called to witness, since God has compared Israel to the stars of heaven (Beresheit 15:5) and to the dust of the earth (Beresheit 28:14). This is also the second time that Moshe has utilized a poetic structure to communicate with the Israelites. The first time was after Israel’s rescue at the Red Sea (Shemot 15) where the start of the years of wandering began in the desert. Here, Moshe speaks to the Israelites at the conclusion of their wandering. The first poem praises God for delivering the people from Pharaoh’s hand. The content of the second poem forewarned the people of their impending rebellion. It spelled out the retribution God would exact and the fact that the people would be ultimately redeemed.

If anything, this Parsha should give us hope for the new upcoming year. This Shabbat is indeed Shabbat Shuva (the Shabbat of Returning), the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It even says in the Parsha that God is redeeming. Personally, the High Holidays can often be a little daunting for the sole reason that we are trying our hardest to become better people and to finally be sealed into the Book of Life. I often read the English in the Mahzor to try and understand what exactly we are saying. The God that I am use to, the one who is compassionate and giving, is not always mentioned in the High Holiday prayers. We are pleading for our lives, and it is often very frightening to think about that. It is human nature to make mistakes and we are not always as perfect as we want to be. It is important to remember that and really strive to be a better person for the year to come. G’mar Chatimah Tovah. May you and your loved ones be sealed in the Book of Life and may this New Year bring peace and happiness to us all.

Vayelech 5762

by Hadar Schwartz

This Shabbat we read from the parshiot Nitzavim and Vayelekh.

In Vayelekh, God tells Moshe that he is about to die and that Joshua will soon be appointed ruler of Israel. Moshe wants to remind his people one more time that they should follow God and not sin. Moshe knows that he will no longer lead his people but he wants to remind his people of their faults. Then, the Parashah introduces the poem, Then Moses recited the words of this poem to the very end in the hearing of the whole congregation of Israel. (Deuteronomy 31:30) This is the last line of the Parashah, it just ends. This Parashah seems almost like a cliffhanger: it introduces something, gets us all hyped for this poem, that we won’t hear until next week in Parashat Haazinu.

Parashat Vayelekh seems to fit perfectly with this time of year and this coming week. We are repenting for our sins for last year, all the things we could have and should have done differently. We begin to think forward to the upcoming year, this is what will happen, and then the page goes blank! The story for next year is not yet written another cliffhanger! However, in this story, the ending is up to us.

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