Open Hearts. Open Minds. Strong Values.
By Rabbi Steven Nathan for Reconstructing Judaism
The Destruction of the Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah
This week's parashah is Vayera. Within its verses we find some of the most familiar, and troubling, stories in the Torah. For Vayera contains within it the stories of the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac on Mt. Moriah), the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael by Abraham and Sarah, and the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is on this last narrative that I would like to focus my d'var torah for this week.
By Rabbi Jonathan Kligler for Reconstructing Judaism
Go to Yourself: Abraham and the Spiritual Journey
And YHVH said to Abram, “Lekh Lekha (go forth, but literally go to yourself) from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃
For me, the Torah reveals its deepest lessons when I read it as a spiritual guidebook rather than a physical, historical tale. Whatever historical lessons we learn from studying Torah are secondary in importance; the lives of its protagonists are meant to inform our lives here in the present, not some distant past. The word “Torah” does not translate as “history” or even “law,” but “teaching” or “guidance.”
By Mel Scult for Reconstructing Judaism
Kaplan on Creation: An Explanation of Jewish Mission
The account in Genesis is perplexing to the modern person. We inevitably get bogged down with the first chapter of the Bible because it seems to conflict with our knowledge that comes from the scientific study of the natural world. Mordecai Kaplan being the modern man par-excellence accepted the scientific view of the universe but realized, of course, that the Torah has a different perspective in telling us about the origin of things. In this selection he focuses on the connection between the creation of the world and God's attention to Israel. Though Kaplan did not believe in the concept of the chosen people, he did see a special task and destiny for the Jewish people.
Stephen Rayburn for Kehillat Israel
In the beginning, from total and absolute nothing, the Creator brought forth a substance so thin it had no corporeality, but that substanceless substance could take on form. This was the only physical creation. Now this creation was a very small point and from this all things that ever were or will be formed.... If you will merit and understand the secret of the first word, b’reshit, you will know why the Jerusalem translation is “With wisdom God created the heavens and the earth.” But our knowledge of it is less than a drop in the vast ocean. —Moses ben Nachman Gerondi: Nachmanides, Commentary on Genesis
The very first word of the Bible has been mistranslated ever since its first translation into Latin by Jerome in the late fourth century CE and into English, sometime around 1380, by John Wyclif. What’s the problem with these translations?
The problem is that the first word, b’reshit, has been translated as “In the beginning.” If the meaning were, in fact, “In the beginning,” the word would have been vocalized slightly differently, with a qamatz underneath the bet, making the word bareshit. What we have, however, is b’reshit—there’s a sh’va underneath the bet; the sh’va used this way usually indicates an indefinite article while the qamatz shows a definite article.1 So grammatically the word could mean “In a beginning.”
Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot
Exodus 33:12-34:26; Maftir Numbers 29:17-22
Stephen Rayburn for Kehillat Israel
In Hebrew, when we use the term “chag,” we mean “festival.” But when the second-temple period Israelites said “chag” or “ha-chag,” “the festival,” they were referring to only one festival—Sukkot. Even hundreds of years earlier, when the stories that make up the Bible were being composed, Sukkot was called chag; you can look it up (see Lev. 23:39, 41; 1 Ki. 8:2, 12:32). In the tenth century BCE, Solomon chose Sukkot as the occasion to consecrate the Temple and according to Deuteronomy, the public reading of the Torah was to take place every seven years on Sukkot (Dt. 31:10–13).