BY RABBI IRWIN KULA for myjewishlearning.com
Through The Wilderness
The stage of journeying through the wilderness is an essential part of the transformation from slavery to freedom.
The Book of Numbers, Bamidbar, describes the Israelites’ 40-year journey through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. Why devote an entire book to the desert experience?
Bamidbar represents an important stage in the journey of the people from slavery to freedom. The wilderness, far beyond its geographic or historic reality, enters the Jewish experience as a central metaphor for understanding who we are and what we must do.
BeHAR - BeCHUKOTAI
Leviticus 25:1-26:2 / 26:3-27:34
Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum, USCJ
Once they enter the Promised Land, the Israelites must allow the land to go untouched once every seven years, during which they eat what the earth naturally produces (God will provide enough crops to guarantee that the Israelites will eat well). Once every fifty years is the Jubilee year, in which all people are allowed to return to their land they originally held but later sold. The overriding idea is that the land belongs to God, and its residents must allow the land to be redeemed, even if that means allowing the original land-owner to pay a reduced rate to reclaim his/her land.
Additionally, a fellow Israelite with financial difficulties can be an indentured servant but not a slave. An Israelite who becomes indentured to a non-Israelite retains the right to redemption, and can certainly be emancipated during the Jubilee Year.
The portion ends with an exhortation to avoid idolatry and observe God’s Sabbaths.
Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23
BY RABBI BRADLEY ARTSON myjewishlearning.com
The Pursuit Of Happiness
As identified Jews, our speech and actions reflect on our families and the larger Jewish people.
American culture glories in individuality and autonomy. The foundation documents of the United States affirm the right of each individual to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Pilgrims fled England and Europe, so we are told, to practice religious liberty and to find individual freedom as well.
Justly proud of our national ideals of personal liberty and freedom, we cherish the ability to pursue happiness each in our own way. Even those Americans who came later came in search of economic freedom and personal expression. The ability to move wherever one chose, to work in any field one could, to rise as one’s talent could propel a career, speaks still to the core of our ideals as Americans.
By RABBI NEAL J. LOEVINGER, for MyJewishLearning.com
Reading The Prohibition Against Homosexuality In Context
The sexual relationships forbidden by the Torah are intended to prohibit non-Israelite religious practices and abuses of power.
In the beginning of this portion, the Torah notes that the following laws were given “after the death of Aaron’s two sons.” Then the Yom Kippur service is described, including ritual purifications and the sending of the “scapegoat” into the wilderness. Rules are given for separating meat from its blood, and other dietary laws. Finally, there is a list of forbidden sexual relationships, given in the context of a general prohibition against following the practices of other nations.
“You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is abhorrent” (Leviticus 18:22).
BY JULIA ANDELMAN, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT, JTS
The double parashah of Tazria-Metzora ranks at the top of the list of parshiyot to avoid for a bar or bat mitzvah. Its detailed lists of bodily ailments—rashes, colorations, emissions, and secretions—associated with ritual impurity are not the stuff of religious inspiration in contemporary times. I confess to having once colluded with congregants to subtly move the date of their daughter’s bat mitzvah celebration slightly further away from her Hebrew birthday, in order to provide her with a more palatable Torah reading to chant and speak about than Tazria-Metzora. But this year—the year of #BlackLivesMatter—has caused me to read Tazria-Metzora through a new and painfully relevant lens. The parashah tells us over and over again of skin conditions and other physical states and symptoms that, while not represented by the majority, are, in fact, entirely normal within the varied spectrum of human experience—but that are nonetheless treated as problematic abnormalities, raising questions about who has a full place in the community and who must be marginalized, put outside of the camp, barred from the rites and rights of full citizenship. How sadly contemporary indeed, then, do our parashah’s central themes turn out to be.