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Showing posts from February, 2016

The Impact of the Mishkan - Parashat Terumah 5776 - February 12, 2016

Parashat Terumah introduces the laws related to building the mishkan – the Tabernacle. Each element of the mishkan is guided by a high level of precision in the laws that direct how to build it. The Torah defines the size of each object that is placed in the mishkan – the shulchan (table), the menorah (candelabra), the aron (ark). The length, width and height of each item is explicated. The particulars of the construction of each item is defined and delimited by the halacha – G-d’s command.

The level of precision that the Torah describes in reference to the mishkan is noteworthy. Even a synagogue, a mikdash me’at – a miniature Temple – does not require such precision. What message can we glean from the Torah’s rich description of the parameters of the mishkan?

Let us consider this question in relation to a dispute among our Sages.

Although the Torah places the command to build the mishkan prior to the incident of the Golden Calf, there is actually a dispute between our chachami…

Promoting Justice through Litigant Participation - Parashat Mishpatim 5776 - February 5, 2016

Parashat Mishpatim continues the Torah’s presentation, which began in last week’s parasha, of the mitzvot that were revealed to b'nei yisrael at Mount Sinai.

One of the topics that is shared between the two parashiyot is the primacy of creating a judicial system with integrity. The Torah admonishes us not to testify as a group with evil people. The Torah admonishes judges to not show favoritism to a poor person. The Torah forbids judges to accept bribes.

In last week’s parasha, the Torah records Yitro’s suggestion of the four qualities that a judge should have: accomplished, G-d-fearing, committed to truth and money-despising. Basing himself on the Mechilta, Rashi elaborates on the quality of commitment to truth. Rashi explains that these are trust-worthy people, and that, because it is reasonable to rely on them generally, people will listen to the judgments that they render.

The first part of Rashi’s comment is easily understood – a judge must be trust-worthy. Trust-worthi…

Project Exodus

Mrs. Shelley Kutliroff, Morah Anat Kampf and Rabbi Moshe Nachbar (not shown) are leading the Junior High School students in Project Exodus with additional guidance from Talya Tsuna and Dr. Whitney Kennon. Project Exodus is a project of and is being funded by a grant from The Jewish Community Partners. The Junior High Students at the Margolin Hebrew Academy will be studying the history of the Jews from the Former Soviet Union via interviews with many local Jewish immigrants from the FSU.

Project Exodus is an attempt to permanently document and archive the experiences of Jewish immigrants to Memphis from the former Soviet Union. This project is the inspiration of Lynne Mirvis.

Shabbat is a Reminder of the Creation - Parashat Yitro 5776 - January 29, 2016

This week’s parasha, Yitro, describes Hashem’s revelation at har sinai through the aseret hadibrot – the Ten Commandments.

The fourth of the commandments (or, more literally, utterances) is zachor et yom haShabbat lekadesho – remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it. In this commandment, the Torah identifies the reason of Shabbat as being a reminder of chiddush olam – G-d’s creation of the world ex nihilo - out of nothingness.

Our Shabbat tefilot frequently mention this aspect of Shabbat – zecher lema’ase beresheit – a reminder of creation.

How does Shabbat commemorate creation?

The answer appears to be obvious. Shabbat is a reminder of G-d’s creation of the world from nothingness because the Torah says that G-d created the world for six days and rested on the seventh day. That seventh day is Shabbat.

The Malbim addresses this question by analyzing the word that the Torah uses in our parasha to describe what Hashem did on the seventh day – vayanach – and He rested. Malbim suggests tha…

What the Shira Teaches about Moshe's Leadership - Parashat Beshalach 5776 - January 22, 2016

This week’s parasha, Beshalach, presents the conclusion of the Jewish people’s miraculous exodus from Egypt with their crossing the dry sea bed of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharoh and his army. The Torah records the Jewish people’s reaction to the splitting of the Red Sea - they feared G-d and they believed in G-d and in Moshe His servant.

The Torah continues with the passage of az yashir, “Then Moshe and b’nei yisrael sung this song to Hashem and they said the following…”, and the presentation of shirat hayam – the song of the sea – a song of praise of G-d describing His saving the Jewish people from Egypt. The shirat hayam is tightly written verse. The language is dense and subtle. The meter is consistent. It is a beautiful piece of poetry.

Our chachamim debate a very curious issue regarding the shira. How exactly was it recited? The Gemara and the Mekhilta record four different opinions answering this very question.

The first opinion holds that for each verse of the shira, Mo…