Open Hearts. Open Minds. Strong Values.
Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot
Exodus 33:12-34:26; Maftir Numbers 29:17-22
Rabbi Professor Marc Saperstein for ReformJudaism.org
The Sukkah and the Jewish Experience
The biblical explanation for the sukkah is that the Israelites were commanded to dwell in these habitations for one week during the year “in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Eternal your God” (Leviticus 23:43). This dwelling in “booths” is not just a historical fact that has to be learned, like the account of the binding of Isaac as read on Rosh HaShanah, or the bravery of Mordecai and Esther as read in the M’gillah on Purim. It is more like matzah and maror eaten on Pesach, a message so important that it must be not only learned and memorized, but also experienced, year after year. And the reason for this is that it is not simply part of the distant past. It is a lesson with ongoing experience. Let us focus on two aspects of the sukkah as a symbol of Jewish experience not just millennia ago, but bearing a message of ongoing significance.
By Rabbi Professor Marc Saperstein for ReformJudaism.org
Remember the Days of Old
Haazinu is powerful poetry, often difficult both in its language and in its message. The verses near the beginning of the parashah seem less a farewell address from Moses than a prophetic diatribe and fearsome warning. The basic pattern is clear: it speaks of the unmerited, beneficent gifts God gave to the people of Israel, their insensitive lack of gratitude and betrayal of their Benefactor, and the resulting divine anger leading God to a promise of frightful punishments, stopping just short of annihilation (Deuteronomy 32:8–26). The message is that in times when things seem to be going well, when the Jewish people are prospering, thriving economically, comfortable with their lives, they are most likely to forsake the Eternal and turn to false gods that begin to demand their loyalty and allegiance. Each generation may indeed draw a message for themselves about the implications regarding their own society.
RABBI REUVEN FIRESTONE, FOR REFORMJUDAISM.ORG
On Repentance and Seeking Peace Above and Below
"And Moses went (Vayeilech) and spoke these words to all Israel" (Deuteronomy 31:1). This opening marks the beginning, not only of the parashah, but also of the long death scene for Moses that will not be completed until the very end of the Torah two portions hence. Traditional commentators noticed an unusual locution. Usually the Torah reads "And Moses spoke … " Only here does it say "And Moses went and spoke … "
By Rabbi Reuven Firestone for ReformJudaism.org
Collective Responsibility, One for All and All for One
Nitzavim comes in the cycle of Torah readings just before Rosh HaShanah and is particularly appropriate for the High Holidays because it stresses the importance of repentance. The tone of the passage is at once both lofty and terrifying.
It begins with Moses' inspiring address to the entire people of Israel shortly before he is to die, "You stand this day (Atem nitzavim hayom), all of you, before the Eternal your God — you tribal heads, you elders, and you officials, all the men of Israel, you children, you women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer" (Deuteronomy 29:9-10).
By Rabbi Professor Marc Saperstein, for ReformJudaism.org
God’s Punishments: Or Are They?
Parashat Ki Tavo contains one of the most powerful and frightening chapters of the Torah. Fourteen verses (Deuteronomy 28:1–14) outline all the good things that will happen to the people if they obey God and faithfully observe all of the divine commandments. That’s “the good news.” Then come 54 verses (28:15–69) warning of the antithesis: the curses that will befall the people if they do not faithfully observe all the commandments. This is the most terrifying litany portraying various kinds of Jewish suffering in our classical literature. Because of its content, for years no one wanted to have the aliyah in which this passage was read, and it was sometimes given to the town fool. In traditional practice, it is chanted at breakneck speed in a soft voice, loud enough to hear but only if one strains a little.