Parsha Thoughts: Rabbi Jay Kelman

Vayelech: Naming Rights

We tend to think that the names of the weekly parshiot have little intrinsic meaning; they are just taken from the opening word or two of the parsha. Thus, breisheet, being the first word of the Bible, becomes the name for both the first book and the weekly parsha. Upon closer examination we begin to realize that it might not be quite that simple. For example, two of the parshiot in sefer Breisheet begin eleh toldot Noach and eleh toldot Yitzchak, these are the generations of Noach and Yitzchak.

Ki Tavo: Language Barriers

Those of us living in Canada are especially sensitive to the importance of language to the fabric of a country. The language that one speaks is, more often than not, indicative of cultural norms and attitudes. It is thus no surprise that on many an issue, the views of the people of Quebec differ sharply from those residing in the rest of the country. While it may seem strange to us today, the modern-day Zionist movement debated the question of which official language the nascent state would recognize.

Ki-Teze: Let's Make a Deal

"All of man's earnings are decreed on Rosh Hashanah, except for expenses regarding Shabbat and Yom Tov and expenses relating to Jewish education" (Beitzah 16a). The more we spend in the latter two areas, the more G-d will graciously grant us. Though the above is hard to prove, it reflects the fundamental notion that while we are required to work for our sustenance, ultimately it is only through the blessings of G-d that our endeavours are met with success. 

Shoftim: Words are Not Enough

"The hand of the witnesses should be against him first to put him to death, and the hand of the nation at the end" (Devarim 17:7). Giving testimony in a court of law, especially in capital cases, is an awesome responsibility. The Talmud describes the harsh tone and even accusatory statements directed at the witnesses, warning them of the dire consequences of false testimony: "You are responsible for their blood and the blood of their descendants until the end of time" (Sanhedrin 37a). 

Re'eh: Please Join Us

One of the most vexing issues we face today is how to deal with those who violate, wilfully or not, the precepts of the Torah. Whether our approach should be one of rejection, reaching out, turning a blind eye, or even acceptance to some extent is one that has engendered much debate, and continues to do so. Such debate may be reflected in an ancient Talmudic debate regarding our relationship with G-d. 

Eikev: 100 Streams

"And now, Israel, what does G-d, Ma Hashem, want from you but just to fear the Lord your G-d, to walk in all His ways, to love Him and to worship the Lord your G-d with all your heart and all your soul" (Devarim 10:12). in a seemingly strange play on the word ma, The Talmud (Menachot 43b) derives from this verse the obligation to recite me'ah, 100 blessings a day. 

Devarim: Justice Justice You Shall Not Pursue

The true state of health of any society can be determined by an examination of the justice system that it provides for its citizens. Are rich and poor, famous and infamous, powerful and weak treated alike, or does the degree of justice depend on one’s status in society, or ability to afford an expensive lawyer? Do people have confidence that illegal behaviour will not go unpunished? 

The Nine Days: Aharon's Yahrzeit

“Aharon the priest ascended Hor Hahar and died there in the fortieth year... in the fifth month on the first of the month” (Bamidbar 33:38). It is on rare occasions that the Torah actually dates events recorded therein. Even the giving of the Torah at Sinai has no biblical date associated with it. Birthdays, anniversaries and yahrzeits are of little interest to the Bible. The tradition that Moshe dies on the 7th of Adar is one deduced, without 100% accuracy, from the narrative of Sefer Yehoshua.

Massei: Living in Canada

Canada is a wonderful country, and as residents of this country, we are obliged by Torah law to abide by its laws and also pray for its welfare. However, it is not meant to be the home of the Jewish people. Canada is, after all, galut—exile. This is a hard concept for us to truly grasp, in a land with thriving yeshivot, a strong community infrastructure, financial success, and freedom to adhere to our religious beliefs. Yet it is fundamental to Judaism. 

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