Remember: Ki Teitzei Prayer Links

Abraham Joshua Heschel’s challenge to explore the “soul” of words in our prayers (see last week’s post) suggests consideration of “zakhor [remember],” which occurs several times in the portion Ki Teitzei:

Remember [zakhor] what HASHEM, your God, did to Miriam on the way, when you were leaving Egypt. — Deut./Devarim 24:9

You shall not pervert the judgment of a proselyte or orphan, and you shall not take the garment of a widow as a pledge. You shall remember [v’zakharta] that you were a slave in Egypt, and HASHEM, you God, redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing. — Deut./Devarim 24:17-18

Remember [zakhor] what Amelek did to you on the way when you were leaving Egypt….wipe out the memory [zekher and/or: zakhor] …you shall not forget! — Deut./Devarim 25:17
— all translations from Stone Chumash*

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Awaiting the Harvests: Re’eh Prayer Links

“You find three verses [two in this week’s portion] that command you to rejoice in the Feast of Tabernacles….For Passover, however, you will not find even one command to rejoice. Why not?” Several explanations are offered in the commentary for the variations of joy-related commandments (there is one command to rejoice for Shavuot). Each explanation suggests important ideas about the calendar, including the upcoming fall holidays, and reciting Hallel throughout the year.

(For more on the festival cycle, see, e.g., Michael Strassfield’s article at My Jewish Learning.)
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Emor: A Path to Follow

The story [of the blasphemer, Leviticus/Vayikra 24:10-23] is noteworthy in that it is one of only four incidents in the Torah in which Moses is shown asking God how to decide an issue (the others are Numbers 9:6ff, 15:32ff, and 27:1ff). Moses sought God’s judgment because the punishment for blasphemy had not yet been detailed. More significant, however, is the placement of this story. It is, in effect, a cautionary tale, coming as it does on the heels of the sections demanding holiness and morality from the Israelites. Continue Reading

Tzav: A Path to Follow

When is “taking out the ash” as simple as clearing up the remains of a fire? As often, perhaps, as a cigar is just a cigar. And when — in musing on “musings,” or sins of the heart — does “Mah nishtanah?” simply mean “What’s changed?”

Musings: or Sins of the Heart

This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it. The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breaches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. — Leviticus/Vayikra 6:2-4

Scholars have long drawn lessons of derekh eretz [manners/ethics] from this passage: Dress appropriately to an occasion, including Shabbat, as a sign of respect, e.g.; change dirty clothes before serving food, (see Something to Notice). Those preparing for Passover often seize on the topic of “housekeeping” as a sacred task, linking it with the seasonal search for chametz. But less straightforward lessons have also been linked with taking out the ash.

The olah — burnt offering, totally consumed by fire — is not obviously linked with any sin. However, R. Simeon bar Yochai associated the olah with sinful thoughts (Vayikra Rabbah 7:3). Nachmanides (Ramban) saw inner or secret thoughts — hirhurim ha-lev [literally: speculations of the heart] — as a kind of first step toward active sinning. See A Torah Commentary for Our Times* for a discussion of this.

The passage above’s focus on a sacrifice which burned all night caused some teachers to link it particularly with inappropriate sexual passions, which might also “burn all night.” (Can’t find an English citation, but some cite the Hebrew Torah Shelemah Menahem Kasher.)

Avivah Zornberg, in her book The Murmuring Deep,* links the Akedah — which was to be a burnt sacrifice — with Abraham’s hirhurim, his “qualms.” (See also “Look Behind You.”)

Considering the link between the olah and hirhurim is one path to follow. Here’s another…
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Tzav: Great Source(s)

“People of the book”? — “People of the table,” too.

With the repeated destruction of local and central sanctuaries, the power of the sacrificial system necessarily diminished. The decline of sacrifice did not end Jewish concern with food, but channeled it in a different direction. Meat-eating became separated for sacrifice, and non-sacrificial forms of worship flourished.

Rabbinic Judaism, the new form of Judaism established after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, elevated non-priestly and non-sacrificial values and institutions to central importance. The primary avenues to God became Torah study, prayer, deeds of lovingkindness, and fulfillment of the countless ritual observances established by the Rabbis. These activities had not been part of the hereditary priestly system and therefore were not prohibited for women or non-priestly men. This change gave a greater religious role to those who had stood on the periphery of the religious order.

The Rabbis transformed the sacrificial rites of the Temple into domestic table rituals….Passover sacrifices became a family feast of highly symbolic foods….The Rabbis composed dozens of berakhot (blessings) to be said over food and after eating. The holiness that was previously contained within the sacred precinct of the Temple extended into homes and community. Sanctified food, which once referred to the food designated for sacrifice, now meant the food prepared for every Jewish family’s use….

Popular tradition teaches that Jews have been “the people of the book,” prizing Torah study above all. This is only partly true. Rabbinic Judaism made us “the people of the table” as well. The table was at the center of every Jewish dwelling. Laden with food, with books stacked up in the empty spaces, it substituted for the altar.
— Jody Elizabeth Myers, from “The Altared Table: Women’s Piety and Food in Judaism,” IN Lifecycles Volume II*

* Please see Source Materials for full citations and additional information.

The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Beshalach: A Path to Follow

In a recent dvar Torah, Mimi Feigelson discusses what she calls “bracketed reading,” a technique focusing on first and last words of a passage under consideration, and applies it to the books of the Torah:

There is an extreme form of this method that I’ve developed and that is to look at the last words of a corpus of writing and ask, ‘Why has the author left us here / lead us to here?’ If you do this with exercise when looking at the five chumashim you will find that God leaves us exactly where we need to be at that moment:

The last two words of Breishit/Genesis are “ba’aron b’Mitzrayim/in a coffin in Egypt.” The entire book of B’reishit, from creation through the establishment of the household of our patriarchs and matriarchs is to lead us to the most constricted, limited, confined place – a coffin in Egypt.

The last two words of Sh’mot/Exodus is “b’chol mas’e’hem /on all of their journeys.” The book of Sh’mot constitutes our journey out of Mitzrayim and toward establishing our identity as we journey through the dessert.

The book of Vayikra/Leviticus ends with “b’har Sinai/at Mount Sinai.” The book of Vayikra teaches us the content of our covenant with God, what standing at Mount Sinai really meant.

The book of Bamidbar/Numbers concludes with “Yarden Yericho / Jordan Jericho” – this book brings us to the border of the Land of Israel. We are not there yet, but we have almost made it, we can see it from afar.

And the last book in the chumash brings us to “kol Yisrael/all of Israel” – it is here that we have all come together, finally united.

One path to follow in reading Beshalach is to consider the last words of the portion (Shemot/Exodus 17:16) — midor dor [generation to generation] — to see where they have left us and where they lead. The final words, alone, might be interpreted in one light, in terms of this portion and its connection to the Passover seder. Another path is suggested by considering the entire verse or paragraph (about eternal war with Amalek).

Reb Mimi’s dvar Torah, “To be a Temporary Resident of Mitzrayim,” was written for parashat Bo (last week’s portion). (Here’s the original posting, through the WayBack Machine.) The remainder centers around a teaching of R. Mordechai Joseph Leiner, the Ishbitzer Rebbe, who is also known by the title of his Torah commentary, Mei HaShiloach [Living Waters] (see Commentators page for more information). Avivah Zornberg often quotes the Ishbitzer Rebbe, and noticing those citations presents another path to follow. The original dvar torah can be found

Finally, I learned with Reb Mimi when she was offering a course on Mei HaShiloach and other Hasidic teachers at Drisha Institute. I recommend both teacher and institute — additional “paths” to follow, should the opportunity arise.

More on Reb Mimi at Schechter in Jerusalem and at Jewish Women’s Archives

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Bo: Great Source(s)

From “The Pharoah and the Frog” IN God’s Mailbox: More Stories about Stories in the Bible by Marc Gellman (NY: Beech Tree, 1996)

…While he was under the covers, [Pharaoh] heard a frog voice. “Let’s see now,” the frog voice said. “Plague number one was blood, then there were frogs (that’s how I got here), then fleas, then flies, then dead cows, then zits, and now we have the charming plague of ice balls with fire mixed in, and still you won’t let the people go? What a dope!”

…Then Moses put his arm around the Pharaoh’s shoulder and said to him quietly, “Listen to me, and listen well. This is the last time we will see each other. If you do not let my people go by this time tomorrow, the last plague will come and it will be so horrible you will never forget it. Don’t make God punish you and your people this way. You can’t win. You can’t stand against freedom, and you can’t stand against God.”

The Pharaoh said, “God has nothing to do with all this stuff. We are just having a run of bad luck, real bad luck!…Moses, if you are in Egypt tomorrow, I will have my soldiers find you and kill you, along with that frog!”

…after the ice balls with fireballs mixed in, after the locusts and after the darkness, every first-born person and animal died in all the land of Egypt. That day the Pharaoh cried a cry that was so loud that people all over Egypt heard him. That day the Pharaoh let the people go.

As Moses and his people walked out of Egypt with all their stuff and with all their animals, they did not cheer and they did not laugh and they did not sing. They saw how the plagues had ruined Egypt, and they were sad for the Egyptians, so they just left quietly.

The Pharaoh was alone. Between his tears he heard a frog way in the distance. The frog was croaking over and over, “You can’t stand against freedom, and you can’t stand against God!” — Exodus 7:14-12:36

This book and Gellman’s earlier volume, Does God Have A Big Toe? Stories about Stories in the Bible (NY: HarperCollins, 1989) are great companions to the Torah — for adult readers as well as for children. We’ve used this particular story for multi-age seders.

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.