Haazinu

Posted on September 16th, 2018

Deuteronomy 32:1–52 


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.

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Vayeilech

Posted on September 9th, 2018

Deuteronomy 31:1–30


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 … "

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Nitzavim

Posted on September 2nd, 2018

Deuteronomy 29:9–30:20 

 

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).


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Ki Tavo

Posted on August 26th, 2018

Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8 


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.


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Ki Teitzei

Posted on August 19th, 2018

Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19 


RABBI PROFESSOR MARC SAPERSTEIN for ReformJudaism.org


When a Debtor Does Not Repay


Parashat Ki Teitzei is a treasury of Jewish legal and ethical literature. I would guess that more pages of the Talmud are devoted to the discussion of verses from this parashah than any other in the Torah. Many basic principles of marriage law and of civil law find their sources here — generally in verses that are by no means self-explanatory but require extensive discussion, interpretation, and application. The parashah is truly an embarrassment of riches that makes selection of a single topic very difficult.

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