Reb Barry's Torah Commentary Archives
129. Ki Tetze 5765 One of the newer internet phenomena is the “blog,” a contraction for “web log.” Many people of an older generation tend to think of their journal or diary as one of their most intensely personal possessions—they don’t share it with anyone, often not even their spouse. Well, welcome to the internet age—younger people nowadays often post their journals on line for everyone to read. If you go to the internet and search on “New Orleans blog” you can find some fascinating first hand stories of what it was like.
128. Shoftim 5765 - A few weeks ago, Ohio governor Bob Taft was convicted on four counts of violating state ethics law, becoming the first sitting Ohio governor to be convicted of a crime. The governor failed to report 52 golf outings, valued at $6,000, which were paid for by other people, as required by state law. Governor Taft claims it was an oversight; he apologized to us citizens of Ohio and he paid a fine. There are some people, like Brian Hicks, Taft’s former chief of staff, who wonder why such a big deal is being made over a few games of golf. Hicks said the outings were a break from the pressure of work; he also said “I don't believe for one minute that anybody got a contract, got an investment, got a policy decision made because they played golf with the governor.” Of course, he might not be the best judge of character, as Hicks himself was convicted of an ethics violation in July and fined $1,000.
127. Re’eh 5765 - Every week we read of large numbers of people killed in Iraq by suicide bombers. One week the death count is 38; another week it’s 47. It happens so frequently that it almost gets hard to take notice. Oh, another few dozen killed in Iraq, what else is new? But the news out of Baghdad on Wednesday (August 31, 2005) was enough to get me to sit up and take notice. The fatality count from an episode caused by terrorism reached a new high: 965 people were killed. But what’s truly astounding is that these 965 people died without the detonation of a single gram of high explosives. They were killed by a rumor.
126. Ekev 5765 - We have all heard the saying “Man does not live by bread alone.” Where do we know those famous words from? Who said them? Even many Jews are under the impression that this is a somehow a Christian teaching. These words ARE found in the Christian Bible in the Gospel according to Matthew. When he says those words, however, Jesus is quoting from a verse from the Hebrew Bible: from the book of Deuteronomy, in this week’s Torah portion, Ekev where we read lo al halechem lavado, not by bread alone.
125. Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts - The scale of the damage from Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding of New Orleans is still unknown. In all likelihood the death toll will be in the thousands. One estimate I heard said that Katrina will have a $100 Billion impact on the US economy. There may be over a million refugees. It’s hard to imagine such a thing here in America.
124. Vaetchanan 5765 - How do you recover from the worst trauma imaginable, from the loss of loved ones and the destruction of what stood at the center of your faith in God? Last Sunday we observed the holiday of Tisha b’Av, the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av. Tisha b’Av commemorates many disasters that have befallen the Jewish people; the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE; the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the city of Beitar was captured, and Jerusalem was ploughed under, left totally desolate. I want to focus on the period of the rabbis of the Mishnaic era in the 1st – 3rd centuries—the rabbis who laid out many of the religious practices that define Judaism today.
123. A painful but necessary move from Gaza: EVERYWHERE you go in Israel today you see orange and blue ribbons streaming from car antennas and clothing, purse straps and backpacks. Orange is for the large minority opposed to "the disengagement," the withdrawal of 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza Strip and West Bank. Blue is for the slight majority who favor it.
122. Masei 5765 begins with a bit of a travelogue. Eleh masei v’nai Yisrael, “These are the journeys of the people of Israel.” And the Torah goes on to record the 42 stages the Hebrew nation went through on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Why should we care about having a copy of the itinerary?
121. Emor 5764 - Two thousand years ago holidays were centered on the Temple in Jerusalem. Our Torah portion this week, Emor, tells us details of what sacrifices were offered on the various holidays. Instructions are given to the Kohanim, the priestly class, on how to conduct themselves. But all of those instructions are somewhat academic now—the Temple is destroyed, those procedures are no longer followed.
120. Mattot 5765 - Qui tacet consentit. Latin for “silence implies consent.” I don’t know where the old Romans came up with it, but it’s a principle we can derive from this week’s Torah portion, Mattot.
Shelach 5765. ...In other words, the disagreement between the ten spies who said “forget it” and the two spies who said “let’s go” was not over the facts on the ground. They all saw the same facts. Where they disagreed was over the interpretation of the facts.
119. Bamidbar 5765 - Thirty two years ago, journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had clandestine meetings in a Washington DC parking garage with a highly placed source known as “Deep Throat.” Real cloak and dagger stuff—they arranged meetings with signals like leaving a flowerpot in a particular window, or circling the page number of a particular page of a newspaper. Following tips from Deep Throat, Woodward and Bernstein uncovered what has come to be known as the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
118. A visit to Gush - Katif Kfar Darom, population 380, is a truly lovely gated community. As you pass the gates, you are greeted by an oasis of green in the midst of a sandy desert-like area. There are trees and flowers and one of the first things you encounter is a large well-kept community center/yeshiva/museum. The homes are spacious, well-kept, with lovely green lawns and gardens. There are, however, a few hints that this is not your standard gated community.
117. Korach 5765 - Monday afternoon (June 26) we arrived in Israel and on the drive to Jerusalem we were greeted by very slow traffic and lines of cars on the road festooned with orange ribbons and with banners that read otzrim: chayav lachshov mechadash, Stop: you need to think again! It was a campaign of the settlers to get people to pull over and reconsider their thoughts about the disengagement from Gaza for 15 minutes.
116. Korach 5765 - At its heart, the argument between those who support the withdrawal from Gaza and those who protest the withdrawal from Gaza is an argument that would be characterized as an argument l’shem shamayim, an argument for the sake of heaven. I believe that neither side is motivated by selfish considerations: both sides believe that God is on their side, both sides believe what they want is the best thing for Israel and the Jewish people.
115. Baseball and Judaism - There are actually a lot of similarities between Judaism and baseball. Rabbi Avraham Yakov taught 100 years ago that we can learn from everything—we can learn lessons from the train, from the telegraph, from the telephone. What lessons can we learn from baseball? To start with there are two sides. We have a yetzer hatov, our good inclination, and a yetzer hara, a bad inclination. Children play in Little League, but once you get to be past bar/bat mitzvah age, you’re in the game that counts. It is symbolic that baseball season usually starts around Passover time—Jews celebrate starting out on the journey to the Promised Land, while baseball fans start the journey to the Promised Land of the World Series.
114. Bechukotai 5765 - God commands us to be just. Pursuing justice is one of the fundamental commandments and one of the fundamental principles in the Torah. The Torah commands us tzedek, tzedek, tirdof, justice, justice you shall pursue. The prophet Micah tells us what it is that God wants of us – to do justice and to love mercy.
113. Behar 5765 - The Muslims call us Jews “people of the Book.” It’s not a bad description. Look at the elaborate ritual we went through this morning with our book—quoting verses and saying prayers before taking the book out of the cabinet, carrying the beautifully dressed book reverently around the synagogue, people kissing it as it passes by.
112. Emor 5765 - In the fourteenth day of the first month at evening is the Lord's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. ...Leviticus 23:4-6
111. Behar 5765 - We even have novel forms of slavery not described in the Torah--women enslaved to work in the sex trade. And this happens not just in places like Africa or Southeast Asia. There are women who have been enslaved overseas and imported to places like Tel Aviv and Los Angeles. It is estimated there are 20,000 people living as slaves in the United States—where slavery was legally abolished nearly 150 years ago. Nowadays, we find the very idea of one person owning another so offensive that reading rules for owning slaves in the Torah is very troubling indeed. Reading about owning slaves in the Torah, could, God forbid, have the effect of reducing the respect and love we feel for the Torah. When God gave us the Torah, God gave us a new set of rules. Why didn’t the Torah ban owning slaves?
110. Emor 5765 - Lev. 23:4ff - For many people, the commandment to count seven Sabbaths might seem to be one of the Torah's more obscure commandments. To start with, what exactly is it we are being commanded to do? To count fifty days, but starting when? It sounds like this says we should be counting from the first Shabbat after Passover for forty nine days, and on the fiftieth day we celebrate a holiday--so the holiday would always be on Sunday, but the calendar date would move around because the day of the week that Passover, the 15th of Nisan, falls on varies.
109. Tzav 5765 - Fifteen years ago, Terri Shindler Schiavo was a vibrant and lively 26 year old woman. She loved music—she even wrote to John Denver to ask if he would play at her wedding—and was fond of animals. She had been happily married to Michael Schiavo for five years. And then in an instant, life as she knew it came to an end.
108. Kedoshim 5765 - One of the headlines this week was about the trial of Private First Class Lynndie England. Pfc. England was one of the people charged with abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. She is infamous especially for a picture of her grinning while holding a naked Iraqi prisoner on a leash.
107. Shmini 5765 - Lev. 9:1-2 If you’re normal, you’d feel ashamed that you could have done such a thing, and using a purple magic marker, especially in front of Mom, would remind both you and her of what you did. Maybe you’d even be afraid that Mom would get mad at you all over again just when she saw the purple magic marker. So here Aaron did this great sin with a calf, and he’s now being told to bring a calf to atone. I can imagine his discussion with Moses: “Oh man, Moe, come on, do I have to bring a calf? Couldn’t I bring a nice sheep? I REALLY don’t want to remind God about that calf. I want to put the whole calf business behind me.”
106. Vayikra 5765 - Lev. 1:1 - Christians often talk about someone having a “calling.” Christians will ask me “when was I called to be a rabbi.” Jews don’t use that language—Jews ask me “when did you decide to become a rabbi.” There is a huge difference in world view expressed in those two different ways of phrasing the same question.
105. Vayakhel 5765 - On Tuesday night, I was there. Having studied 5,422 pages of dense Aramaic, I was enjoying my reward of being a part of that crowd celebrating the completion of the study of the Talmud. What I would like to do this morning is share with you some of the things I learned and some of the things I felt at this amazing gathering of Jews.
104. Ki Tisa 5765 - Bar Acha comments on this: "It's impossible to understand the character of this nation: they were asked to give for the Golden Calf and they gave; they were asked to give for the Tabernacle, and they gave!" Is this a bad thing? Jews are among the most philanthropic of people--we're big givers! Is it so bad if we're sometimes a little indiscriminate?
103. Yitro 5765 Kabbalat HaSiddur In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we read the story of God giving the Torah to the Jewish people. Moses climbs the mountain, God descends tot he mountain, and there, in one of the most important moments in the spiritual history of the world, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, engraved on two stone tablets, symbolizing their eternal significance.
102. Bo 5765 "I was just following orders." This is the heart of the defense that Specialist Charles Graner, Jr., is mounting against charges of conspiracy, assault, and committing indecent acts relating to the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.
101. Vaera 5765 There is something that seems patently unfair about the plagues. None were spared. How could that be? God is just, isn’t She? Where’s the justice in smiting all those innocent people along with all those wicked people? Why couldn’t God just smite the ones who deserved smiting?
100. Vayigash 5765 And Joseph was not able to bear it any longer. He called out to all those standing around, "everyone get out!" And no one was with him when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. ... Genesis 45:1.
99. Miketz 5765 And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manashe; For God, said he, has made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house. And the name of the second he called Ephraim; For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction. ... Genesis 41:51-52. In this week’s parsha, we see a Joseph who has totally assimilated: he has an Egyptian name, Zaphnath-Paaneah; he is married to the daughter of an Egyptian priest. He has risen to a position of high authority in the government.
98. Yuval Zaliouk wrote in in the November Toledo Jewish News that another Arab country (Palestine) would be a bad idea. To paraphrase what Churchill said about democracy, "Another Arab country (Palestine) is the worst possible solution, except for all other solutions." In other words, there really is not any other choice.
97. Chayye Sarah 5765 - This week much of the attention of the world is focused on the death or imminent death of someone who has been one of the most powerful players in the field of global politics: Yasser Arafat.
96. Vayera 5765 - We don’t really know what were the sins of the Sodomites. Many people assume that since the word “sodomy” has the meaning which it has, the sin of the Sodomites was homosexuality. That is actually NOT what the Jewish tradition teaches
95. Lech Lecha 5765 - We, the Jews, children of Isaac, are fighting with the Palestinian Muslims, who are children of Isaac’s brother Ishmael. The logical first step is for us to separate: to each have our own “room,” a Jewish state, and a Palestinian state. Leave us together, at least for now, and like Abraham and Lot’s shepherds, or little kids, we will fight.
94. Noah 5765 - Rashi explains that the meaning of “God walked with Noah” is that Noah needed God’s help and support: God walked alongside him, helping along. There is a teaching in the Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) which says that man cannot conquer the evil inclination without God’s help. The Gaon Vilna explains that a person can reach a level where he is doing everything that he possibly can—everything that is in his power to do—but to really have an internalized love and awe of God is something that depends on God. This is a very curious teaching ...
- Note I did not say “in THE beginning.” That would not be an accurate
translation of the Hebrew. It says “b’reishit,” not “bareishit.” There is no
definite article, at least not according to the Masoretic tradition which added
the vowels to the Torah. The significance of this little grammatical detail is
that this is one way of telling the story of the
Yom Kippur 5764 - The Danger of Fundamentalists -
“The border security fence is comprised of many sections totaling scores of
miles. Some sections are concrete, others sheet metal. The barrier is three
layers deep in parts, fifteen feet high and surrounded by razor wire. The area
around it is lit by spotlights, monitored by cameras,