Parsha Thoughts: Rabbi Jay Kelman

VaEtchanan: Learning to Read

Our Torah encompasses all aspects of life: it regulates our existence from the day we are born until the day we die, and from the moment we awake until we retire at night. It is only after one has accepted the binding nature of the Law that one may begin to question the whys of the Law. While clearly some laws are more important than others, our attitude towards them all must be one of absolute obedience. "Be as meticulous in the light mitzvoth as in the heavy ones" (Avot 2:1).

Devarim: Equality for all

With old age comes knowledge of life that can only be gained by experience. Thus, Jewish law insists that all elders, even non-observant or non-Jewish ones, must be given honour and respect. There is no substitute for experience. The more the person has experienced, the more they can teach us about life. Moshe Rabbeinu, as the only person to ever speak "face to face" with G-d, surely had much to impart to all of us.

Balak: Fearless Leadership

Bilaam, the heathen prophet, recognized that the strength of the Jewish people was in their high level of modesty. “How goodly are your tents, Yaakov!” he exclaimed, noting the respect for privacy that pervaded the Jewish encampment in the desert. Yet so soon after his beautiful words, the Jewish people tried to prove him wrong. “Israel was staying in Shittim when the people began to behave immorally with Moabite women” (Bamidbar 25:1).

Chukat: Marching On

Judaism is a religion that celebrates life. "Better one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than the entire life of the world to come" (Pirkei Avot 5:22). It is only while we are alive that we can elevate ourselves through the performance of mitzvot, that we can contribute to the betterment of the world, and that we can become partners with G-d in the process of creation. There is no nobility in death.  Death defiles. "Whoever touches the corpse of any human being shall be contaminated for seven days" (Bamidbar 19:11).

Korach: No Unity Without Diversity

It is in times of crisis that effective leadership is most important--and the years spent wandering in the desert represented the first major crisis of the Jewish people. Aimlessly wandering with little to look forward to, knowing that they would die in the desert, the hope and excitement of the Exodus was long gone. It is not surprising that, when faced with a crisis, instead of looking inward, people often look to blame others for their predicament. Who better to blame than one's leader?

Shelach Lecha: Confirmation Bias

How can two people witness the exact same events and yet offer two distinct and different reports? This question is one that jumps out as we examine the story of the meraglim. The Torah had been received, the mishkan built and dedicated, the census taken. All that remained was the march to the Promised Land of Israel to implement the Torah way of life. 

Naso: Counting Our Blessings

A Jew is commanded to recite one hundred blessings each and every day (Menachot 43b). We need constant reminders to ensure that we recognize the blessings of G-d and to remind ourselves that in all of our actions we are to reflect the Divine image. While most of the brachot we make consist of man acknowledging G-d as the master of the world, the priestly blessings are an exception to this pattern. In this particular blessing the Torah commands man to bless his fellow man.

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