Shabbat Shalom! Shmini

This week’s Torah portion‘s name is a great example of how the transliteration of Hebrew is an inexact science. You may see it listed as “Shemini,” “Shmini,” or as “Sh’mini” – all are more or less correct, none of them are quite right. This portion is properly spelled שמיני and it means “eighth,” from the first line of the parashah: “And so it happened on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron and his sons.”

The first word of the portion is Vayehi ( וַיְהִי) which translators render in many ways, most of them awkward: “And it came to pass” or “And so it happened,” “Thus it came to pass” – you get the idea. Probably the most literal translation is more like “And it was [on the eighth day]” which is also quite awkward.

What’s that about? Biblical Hebrew has some subtle tricks that we don’t have in modern English. The “and” here is a way of saying that this passage is connected to the passage before it. It also takes the future form of the verb “to be” and turns it into something that works like a past form. This gets even fussier when you realize that in Biblical Hebrew, there really isn’t a past or a future, just a finished or an unfinished action. There is no way in English to say succinctly that this passage is connected to the action before it, and that it denotes events that happened once but still have significance. That’s why the translations sound stilted – or, as one of my students pointed out, “like the Bible.”

For some drashot on the passage that aren’t entranced with fine points of spelling and grammar, try these:

Are You Really Eating Kosher? by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopez Cardozo

Why Parah Adumah (Red Cow) Now? by Rabbi Amitai Adler

Savor Every Joy For We Never Know When It May Suddenly End by Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

More than Just a Nosh by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Refining Our Souls by Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater

Back to Basics by Rabbi Ruth Adar

The Kosher Animal Song by g-dcast (VIDEO)



Shabbat Shalom! Tzav

Parashat Tzav takes us deeper into the Book of Leviticus, and into the minutiae of Temple sacrificial practice. What can it possibly have to say to 21st century Jews? Take a look at these divrei Torah and see!

Leadership, Precision, and the Power of Ritual by Rabbi Rachel Sabath- Beit Halachmi

Ner Tamid a Nightlight? by Rabbi Eve Posen (VIDEO)

Tending the Fire by Rabbi Yaakov Reef

Video Parshah: Tzav by Rabbi Mark Borovitz (VIDEO)

Understanding Sacrifice by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Raising Up by Dan Glass

“Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes” by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Shabbat Shalom! Vayikra

This week we begin the book of Leviticus with Parashat Vayikra. Leviticus is unique among the books of Torah in that it reads like a manual for the kohanim, the priests of Israel. It lays out the laws of korbanot, or sacrifices. The word korban has as its root the Hebrew letters kuf, bet, and nun. That puts it in the family of Hebrew words having to do with closeness: to draw close, to be close. Sacrifices are the way the ancient Israelites sought to be close to God.

Even though the topic seems dry and far removed from us, you will be surprised at some of the great divrei Torah available on the subject, such as these:

Generation to Generation? by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Vayikra: Back to Eden?  by Rabbi Rafi Mollot

Two Truths – Or One? by Rabbi Dan Fink

Thinking about Sacrifice by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Respecting the Kohanim and their Successors by Rabbi Amitai Adler

Creating I-Thou Moments by Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay

Consuming with Kedushah by Rabbi Maurice Harris


Shabbat Shalom! Vayakhel

Image: The Ark of the Covenant, Drawing by James Tissot, c. 1986-1902. Public Domain.

Vayakhel (“And he assembled”) is the name of this week’s Torah portion, Exodus 35:1 – 38:20. Moses assembles the people and says to them:

On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.

– Exodus 35:2

Because this explication of the commandment to keep Shabbat is made in the midst of the building of the Mishkan [Tabernacle,] later when the sages were trying to define “work,” they looked to the various activities required to build the sanctuary. Those 39 categories of labor, called melachot in Hebrew, became the basis for all activities traditionally forbidden on Shabbat.

Then Moses asks the people to bring materials to donate, and collects them. He announces God’s choice of Betzalel and Oholiav as master builders. The parashah describes the building of the Mishkan itself and of much of its furniture.

If all of this sounds familiar, there’s a reason. In an earlier part of Exodus (Ch 25-31) God gave the commands to Moses. Now, in this and the upcoming parashah, Moses has gathered the people and is transmitting those orders to them. In many ways, this is a repetition of the earlier chapters, only with a different speaker and a different audience.

Some divrei Torah from around the Internet:

O Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz? by Rabbi Kari Hofmaister Tuling

Collaboration by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Power in the Assembly by Rabbi Don Levy

Breath of Fresh Air by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

39 Ways Not To Work by Benjamin Elterman

“The Collector” by Ari Shacher

A Song About Wise Hearted People by Alicia Jo Rabins


Shabbat Shalom! Ki Tisa

Image: The Adoration of the Golden Calf. Painting by Nicolas Poussin. Public Domain.

This week’s Torah portion is full of drama. God commands a tax of a half-shekel, based on the census. This will go for upkeep of the Tabernacle [Mishkan]. We meet a central character of the wilderness years, Betzalel, who will be the general contractor and chief artist for the Mishkan.

God gives two stone tablets to Moses, who carries them down Sinai, only to find that in his absence, the Israelites have panicked and build a calf-idol of gold. (There is a great midrash on this story about what happened when the men asked the women of Israel for their golden earrings.) The Golden Calf story ends in disaster, of course. Moses shatters the tablets and the people who messed around with idolatry get a terrible punishment. The aftermath of these events leaves Moses with rays of light coming from his head, rays that a later generation of Biblical scholars will mistranslate as “horns.”

Some excellent divrei Torah on this portion:

Please Let Me Know Your Ways by Rabbi Robin Podolsky

Can You Really Ask God That? by Rabbi Beth Kalish

Behind the Veil by Anita Silvert

In the Face of It All by Rabbi David Kasher

All that Glitters is not Gold by Rabbi Lisa Edwards

2 Minutes of Torah – Ki Tisa by Rabbi Ellie Steinman [VIDEO]

Can You Teach an Old Calf New Tricks? by Rabbi Seth Goldstein

Shabbat Shalom! Tetzaveh

Image: An open Torah (photo by Susan Krauss, all rights reserved.)

Parashat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20 – 30:10) begins with instructions for the oil and the great lamp [menorah] of the Tabernacle. After that, it is concerned  with the appointment of Aaron and his sons as Cohanim, priests of Israel, with their vestments and with instructions for their ordination. It concludes with instructions for the altar.

Some interesting divrei Torah on this portion:

Nurturing Art: The Sacred Work of Creativity by Rabbi Adina Allen

Responsible Clothing by Rabbi Dorothy Richman

Mortified! by Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

The Most Important Verse in Torah by Ben Elterman

Creating Holy Space by Turning to Each Other by Rabbi Seth Goldstein

The Love We Choose to Give by Rabbi Joel Seltzer

What are Urim v’Tumim? by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Within the Mess, There is Holiness by Rabbi Ruth Adar

Shabbat Shalom! Terumah

Image: The Ark of the Covenant, Drawing by James Tissot, c. 1986-1902. Public Domain.

Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1 – 27:19)  begins the process of building the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that will be a dwelling place for God in the midst of the Israelites. Some divrei Torah from around the Internet:

When Humanity Creates with God by Dr. Vivian Mann

Terumah, Gift-Giving, and Valentine’s Day by Rabbi Steven Moskowitz

Structural Integrity by Rabbi David Kasher

Parashat Terumah by Student Rabbi Anna Posner, Leo Baeck College

Every River Has Its Own Course by Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr

The Mishkan: Some Assembly Required by Rafael Kushik

The Torah of 40 by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Bring What You Can, Be Who You Are by Rabbi Ruth Adar