Parsha Thoughts: Rabbi Jay Kelman

Noach: Coming Apart, Coming Together

“And the entire land were of one language, and the same words” (Breisheet 11:1). What a beautiful description of a world at peace! A world in which people are speaking the same language, literally and figuratively, and pursuing similar goals sounds almost like Gan Eden. Yet apparently, G-d did not approve. “From the place, G-d scattered them all over the face of the earth, and they stopped building the city” (v.8). While the Torah does not specify any actual sin by the builders of the tower—nor is it easy to detect what exactly they did wrong—something was amiss.

Breisheet: Purposeful Ambiguity

"G-d said: What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is screaming to Me from the ground" (Breisheet 4:10).

G-d approached Cain after the murder of Hevel with a question, hoping that Cain would do teshuva for the murder of his brother. Did he? The text is unclear: "And Cain said to G-d: gadol avoni mi'n'so, [Is?]my sin is too great to bear" (Breisheet 4:13). Whether this is a question or statement of fact is unclear; without hearing the tone of voice that Cain used, we are left in the dark.

V'zot Habracha: A Man of G-d

Even though Parshat Vezot Ha'beracha is read over and over again during Simchat Torah it is probably one of the least understood and studied parshiot of the Chumash. With all the hustle and bustle of the Yamim Tovim in general, and with the atmosphere of Simchat Torah in particular, serious study of the parsha tends to be neglected. Compounding the problem is the generally obscure nature of the parsha, with its difficult wording and opaque nature of the blessings that Moshe bestowed upon the Jewish people.

VaYelech: The Last Message

The time has come for new leadership. “I am no longer able to come and go, and G-d has told me you will not cross the Jordan” (Devarim 31:2). While the people complained plenty about Moshe's leadership, clearly they were very nervous about him leaving the scene. Moshe reassured the people that all will be fine with Yehoshua, and that he, too, will have Divine assistance in his mission.

Nitzavim: Near and Dear

One of the most vexing issues in Biblical interpretation is the relationship between pshat, loosely translated as the plain meaning of the Biblical text, and derash, the additional levels of interpretation that can be derived from that same text. At times the two appear contradictory; as, for example, the Torah's obligation of "an eye for an eye". The phrase seems to imply just that, but has always been understood in our tradition as demanding monetary payment, and no more.

Ki Tavo: The Presence of G-d

In the secular world in which we live it can be—and often is—hard to feel the presence of G-d. The Western world has turned religion into a private issue by establishing a wall separating church and state. Undoubtedly, this separation of church and state has had great benefits for the Jewish community. The tremendous growth and confidence of American Jewry is in no small measure due to the constitutional barring of the public endorsement of any religion.

Shoftim: Enabling Evil

Evil does not exist in a vacuum. A culture is needed for evil to be nurtured, in which it can grow and develop. And when that happens, aveirah gorreret aveirah; one misdeed leads to another, greater sin. Perpetrators of corporate wrongdoing do not begin by defrauding shareholders of billions of dollars. Rather, they might begin with a little plagiarism in college, and some padding of a resume. They may then move on to borrow office supplies for personal use, to fail to declare some income, and then on to some misleading advertising.

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