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Reb Barry's Torah Commentaries for 5766 (2005-2006)

                    For this year's sermons click here

                    For sermons from 5765 and earlier, click here
For selected sermons by subject click here

5766 (2005-2006)

Nitzavim 5766.  ...The Slonimer has just tossed the idea of sentencing guidelines for Rosh Hashana right out the window! God will NOT judge you the same way he judges every one else. If you are a greater person, He’s going to have a whole different set of guidelines he uses for you than if you are a person of modest capabilities.  Why? Is that fair? Shouldn’t we all be held to the same standard? What about that idea of “one manner of law?”

Ki Tavo 5766 -- Curses.  Getting cursed is no fun.  This week’s Torah reading, Ki Tavo, contains a section called the tochecha, the rebuke. The rebuke starts out saying if you don’t follow God’s laws – “Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field."... I
was thinking of that rebuke in this week’s Torah reading a few days ago when I found myself being cursed in a very public forum – on the web site of the Jerusalem Post!  And what I find particularly astounding is I wasn’t being cursed for criticizing Israel – quite to the contrary, a bunch of very right wing people were cursing me for praising Israel and the IDF.  Go figure.  It all started with an op-ed piece I wrote that appeared in the Jerusalem Post on September 4th.  Click Here to read the article.

Ki Tetze 5766 Rights and Responsibilities.  When I was a teenager I had hair down to my shoulders and I played organ in a rock band. I did not like rules. I thought rules were a real drag. I just wanted to have a good time, and I didn’t want anyone giving me rules and telling me what to do. I was really into my “rights.” I have a right to do what I want and have a good time, I figured, so everyone should just leave me alone so I could do my own thing. Fortunately, it didn’t take me very long to figure out that my point of view was defective.

Shoftim 5766 Exemptions from Fighting.  And the officers shall speak further to the people, and they shall say, What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest his brothers heart faint as well as his heart. And it shall be, when the officers have finished speaking to the people, that they shall appoint captains of the armies to lead the people.”  Does this make sense? Is this just? When you are going out to war, there is a long list of people exempt from going? Including anyone who is “fainthearted?”

Re'eh 5766 Kosher and Eco-Kosher.  Does God care what you eat?  For a Jew, the answer is yes. This week’s Torah reading, Re’eh, contains five verses that are basis for our entire system kashrut, the dietary laws. Volumes of Talmud and chapters of law codes have been written working out the details given in these few general verses.

Ekev 5766 and War in LebanonThe news out of Lebanon is depressing.  More than 3,300 Hizbollah rockets have hit northern Israel since July 12.  After over a month of intense fighting we do not seem to have dealt Hizbollah any kind of fatal blow.  They still have thousands of rockets left.  Dozens are still falling every day.  Israeli troops are still engaged in intense fighting only a kilometer north of Israel’s border – an area we certainly would have expected the powerful Israeli army to have secured weeks ago.  The press reports that Israel’s cabinet is in disarray with intense bickering, the top generals in Israel’s ground based forces are unhappy with the way Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Dan Halutz, an air force man, is conducting things, and everyone is blaming Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for something.

Vaetchanan 5766.  If there are 613 commandments, one might ask what makes the Ten Commandments that are the heart of this week’s Torah reading so special that they get singled out for special treatment, being written on stone tablets by the finger of God?


Matot Masei 5766.  With a war in Lebanon going on...This week’s Torah portion talks about an earlier war the Jewish people fought. A war fought thousands of years ago – against the Midianites.  The story told in the Torah about the war against the Midianites presents a battle plan that no moral nation today would undertake. Let no one accuse me of ignoring the troublesome passages in the Torah. Here are some of the more challenging verses in Numbers chapter 31:3. And Moses spoke to the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves for the war, and let them go against the Midianites, and do the Lord’s vengeance in Midian.

Pinchas 5766. WorldPride is planning to have their annual massive march and demonstration in support of tolerance and gay rights in Jerusalem in August of this year. This is a huge event for the gay and lesbian community. It is held in a different city each year. The charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community is of course up in arms. Typical headlines proclaim they are coming to defile the holy city. The gays have accomplished what years of struggle and battle couldn't--they have gotten the chief rabbis and chief imams to agree on something, and to jointly condemn the parade. They've even asked the Pope to speak up.

Balak 5766. Today I got a good whiff of tear gas for the first time in 33 years. That was not actually my plan for the day.

Korach 5766.  Earlier this week Warren Buffet, the world’s second richest man, announced that he is giving $25 billion to the world’s richest man...For most of us the issue is not are we giving away too much money. The issue is, are we giving away enough? So how much is enough? How much money are we obligated to give to charity?

Shelach 5766.  How many Palestinian children’s lives are worth one Jewish Israeli soldier’s life? How many Iraqi children’s lives are worth one American soldier’s life?  These are difficult questions. But they are very real questions. They are part of a broader question of what are the rules of engagement in war. When we go to war, how are we to conduct ourselves?

Bahaalotcha 5766.  Our ancestors were a bunch of whiners.  God did all these amazing things for them – bringing them out slavery in Egypt, feeding them with manna that fell from the sky.  God gave them His most precious gift, the Torah.  God was with them all the way.  And what do they do?  They kvetch.

Naso 5766The rabbis of two thousand years were a real bunch of radicals.  When they were confronted with something in the Torah that conflicted with the sense of values and ethics they learned from the Torah itself, they resolved the issue by deciding in favor of the values over the explicit law found in the Torah.

Shavuot 5766.  Which comes first--faith or obedience?  Do we obey the commandments because we have faith?  Or do we come to faith because we obey the commandments?

Bamidbar 5766 The Da Vinci Code is a heretical movie...at least for Catholics.  This week's Torah reading provides fodder for what some Jews consider heresy: were there really 603,550 men wandering around the Sinai desert for 40 years?  Or is that a bit of an exaggeration?  What are the heresies we really need to worry about?  To read Lauri Donahue Leff's review of the movie, click here.

Behar 5766.  Is it a mitzvah, a commandment, to make aliyah and go live in Israel?  It's pretty rare that I'm more machmir (strict) than the famed Orthodox rabbi of the 20th century, Moshe Feinstein, but in this case I am.  Unlike Rav Feinstein, I consider it an obligatory positive commandment for Jews to make aliyah.

Emor 5766 -- Intermarriage.   ...in a world where two out of three marriages involving a Jew is an intermarriage, one of our missions needs to be to figure out how to be welcoming to non-Jews. And, as one of my colleagues said, “maybe if we figure out how to be welcoming to non-Jews, we’ll figure out how to be welcoming to Jews!!!”

Acharei Mot - Kedoshim 5766How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…God shows His love for us by giving us rules to live by. In this week’s double parsha of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim we have 79 of the 613 commandments. That’s a lot of rules!

Tazria 5766 -- DarfurAs important as it is for us to remember the people—Jews and others—who were killed by the Nazis, I believe there is an even more important purpose to Yom Hashoah...The more important purpose to Yom Hashoah is to remind us every year, to reaffirm a new covenant that Jewish people have made in the wake of the Holocaust...The new covenant is not a covenant with God.  It is, rather, a covenant with future generations...“Never again!” 

Shmini 5766 -- Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The Holocaust forces us to reexamine our theology.  Richard Rubenstein – a Conservative rabbi, scholar, and former university President wrote “The thread uniting God and man, heaven and earth, has been broken.  We stand in a cold, silent, unfeeling cosmos, unaided by any purposeful power beyond our own resources.  After Auschwitz, what else can a Jew say about God?”  As you’ll see, I disagree with my distinguished colleague and I still believe in a God Who cares, despite Auschwitz.  But Rabbi Rubinstein’s book “After Auschwitz,” published in 1966, was one of the earliest scholarly works to point out that the Shoah forces us to examine what we believe.

Shabbat Pesach 5766When our ancestors lived in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago, they were the underclass in Egypt.  They did the jobs no Egyptians wanted to do.  They spent their days in the relentless sun making bricks and helping build cities....Fast forward a few thousand years and move over a few thousand miles.  Today in America, thank God, slavery has been all but abolished (there are a few pockets of sex workers and domestic help that are basically working in conditions akin to slavery, but they are relatively few).  But we do still have an underclass. We have people who do the jobs no one else wants to do....Those people are variously called “undocumented workers” or “illegal aliens.”  Estimates vary, but it is estimated that 11 million people are in this country illegally.

Vayikra 5766. ...So Ramban says the sinner should tell himself, I messed up, I really deserve to die, but God in His mercy is accepting this sacrifice as my temurah, as my substitute—as an exchange for the one who really deserves the punishment.  As I was reflecting on Ramban’s words this week, I was wondering whether Ehud Olmert, who will almost certainly be Israel’s next prime minister, feels like this kind of exchange for Ariel Sharon. Ariel Sharon, who remains in a coma, is the one who was the driving force behind starting a new political party in Israel. Yet when anything goes wrong in the next several years until the next election, it is Ehud Olmert who will be offered up as a sacrifice on the altar of public opinion in Israel.

Ki Tisa 5766.  Moses wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone—if God gave me the Ten Commandments today I’d probably write them in my Treo.

Shabbat Zachor 5766.  “I remember what Amalek did to Israel, how he laid in wait for him on the way, when he came up from Egypt. Go and strike Amalek, completely destroy all they have, and do not spare them, but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”  Why does God command us to wipe out Amalek so thoroughly?  Is it vengeance?  Or is it a punishment to Amalek, to bring justice and to act as a deterrent to other nations who might have ideas about attacking Israel in a similar fashion?

Terumah 5766.  My colleague Rabbi Jacob Chinitz raises the question: which is sadder?  When we build a sanctuary and God refuses to dwell in it, or when God is there and we do not respond to the holiness of the place?

Mishpatim 5766This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, commands us “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the ass of one who hates you lying under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving it with him, you shall help him to lift it up.”  Does this mean that if you see some Muslim looking guy on the side of the road with a flat tire you have to stop and change it for him?  It can sometimes take a bit of work to figure out how we apply a commandment contextualized for one time, and understand what it is telling us in another time. But there are principles in these two verses that have important lessons for us today, even if there is a rather slim chance we’ll encounter Osama bin Laden and his donkey walking around Toledo.

Yitro 5766The seeming Muslim sensitivity to prohibition on graven images is hard for us Westerners to understand. We look at what is happening in a few Muslim countries, and we find ourselves asking, “Have these people gone entirely crazy?”...They aren’t even such really outrageously offensive cartoons. At least not to Western eyes. Yes, it’s in poor taste to show Mohammed with a turban that’s a bomb. But is it worth dying for?...To understand the situation, we need to understand what Islam has to say about the Second Commandment.

Beshalach 5766.  "God did not take them by way of the Philistines because it was near."  Sometimes it's better to take the long way around.

Bo 5766God knows everything, right?  God does not need to consult GPS or Mapquest for directions, right?  So why, in this week’s Torah portion, does God seem to need road signs to find the Jewish houses?In this week’s parsha, Bo, we read the exciting climax of the encounter between God, Moses, Pharaoh, and the Jewish people.  The people of Egypt are struck with the dreaded tenth plague, the death of the first born.  God tells the Jewish people that He will pass through the land of Egypt and will strike all the first borns, both man and beast.  God tells the Jewish people that every house should sacrifice a lamb, and put some of the blood on the doorposts and on the lintel.  Then the Torah tells us “And the blood shall be to you for a sign upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”

Vaera 5766 If I were a Palestinian, I would have voted for Hamas in Wednesday’s election.....Hamas is about to find itself in a position they are not accustomed to.  I think Hamas is somewhat dismayed to have won—it’s much easier to be an opposition party, where you can criticize all you want, than to be the governing party that has to deliver.  They are going to have to start delivering more than rhetoric.  They are going to have start acting like a government.

Vayechi 5766. In many ways, believing that there is some kind of intelligent design in the universe lies at the heart of not only Judaism, but every monotheistic religion.  And believing there is an intelligent designer is NOT incompatible with science.

 Einstein said “God does not play dice with the Universe.”

Vayigash 5766 Do you believe in karma?  The idea that “what goes around, comes around,” you get what you deserve?  There is a passage in this week’s Torah reading, Vayigash, which at first reading suggests the very troubling idea that perhaps when the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, they were getting what they deserved.

Miketz 5766.  Does violence beget violence? Is it wrong to attack those who attack you? Steven Spielberg’s new movie “ Munich ” says, over and over again, that violence begets violence.  Several times we are told that killing the terrorist leadership is a pointless exercise, because they simply raise up a new leader who is worse than the one who was killed.

Vayishlach 5766.  So if you struggle with God-if you have doubts about God, or if you can't understand how God could allow certain things to happen-take comfort that you are being authentically "Yisrael," a God-wrestler. As Elie Wiesel said, "The Jew may love God, or he may fight with God, but he cannot ignore God."

Vayetze 5766.  In this week's parsha that power to bestow blessings is extended not just to Abraham, but to all of us. The verse reads through you and your descendants - through all of us - all the families of the earth will be blessed. We have the power to bestow blessings on others.

Toldot 5766.  --The current state of Jewish-Catholic relations.  Anyone who has a brother or a sister-or anyone who has more than one child-has been exposed to the effects of sibling rivalry. If you have had problems because of sibling rivalry, you will be glad to know that scientists have recently discovered what causes sibling rivalry.

137. In Chaye Sarah, Abraham gives his servant Eliezer explicit instructions. He tells Eliezer to put his hand under his thigh (apparently an ancient way of swearing), and says “swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live.”  Abraham further instructs Eliezer “go to my country, and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” Eliezer retorts, “maybe the woman won’t want to come with me; should I bring your son back to the land you came from?” Abraham, aghast, says “Take care that you do NOT bring my son there again.”

136. Lech Lecha 5766 - Abraham had no interest in going to war. He wasn’t interested in trying to find glory on the battlefield, or in plundering and looting. But when his family was attacked, he felt he had no choice. He had to do something to save them from slavery. When someone who escaped during the battle came and told Abraham his relatives were captured, Abraham put together a strike force of 318 soldiers—his trained servants, who Abraham armed—and went after the bad guys.

135.  Yom Kippur 5766 - This past summer I sat in a living room in Neveh Dekalim, a Jewish settlement in Gaza which no longer exists, and watched a clash between two competing visions of Zionism. One of the Gaza residents told us that her husband grew up in a house that used to belong to an Arab in Ashkelon, a city south of Tel Aviv which has always been part of Israel. She said “what’s the difference? Why should we have to give up Neveh Dekalim, but we get to keep Ashkelon?” To her, all of Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea belongs to Israel, there is no difference between Tel Aviv and Gaza, and if we’re entitled to any of it we’re entitled to all of it.

134.  Noah 5766 - I think most of us would reserve the term tzadik, righteous person, for someone who raises the bar a little bit higher than that. To be a tzadik you need to be an exemplar, someone whose behavior provides a model that other people will aspire to.

133.  Bereishit 5766 - Yehuda ben Temah tells us in Pirkei Avot that different ages are suitable for different things. Keep in mind that the following teaching was written at least 1800 years ago: HE USED TO SAY: FIVE YEARS [IS THE AGE] FOR [THE STUDY OF] SCRIPTURE, TEN-FOR [THE STUDY OF] MISHNAH, THIRTEEN-FOR [BECOMING SUBJECT TO] COMMANDMENTS, FIFTEEN-FOR [THE STUDY OF] TALMUD, EIGHTEEN- FOR THE [BRIDAL] CANOPY, TWENTY for serving in the military ...

132. Shabbat Sukkot 5766 - Last Shabbat was not the city of Toledo’s finest hour. We found ourselves on the national news, for all the wrong reasons. A hate group—about two dozen neo-Nazis from out of town—came to Toledo to demonstrate in1 opposition to what they claimed were black gangs harassing a white homeowner.

131. Kol Nidre 5766 - A story is told of a Beverly Hills tycoon who was dismayed by his son’s decision to study in a yeshiva instead of joining the family business.  After several years the son returned home to his father’s sardonic question: So what have you got to show for your years of study? “I know that there is a God” replied the young man. Angrily the father leapt to his feet and pointed out the window at the elderly gardener patiently mowing the vast lawns. “He also knows there is a God” shouted the older man. “No father” the boy quietly responded. “He believes there is a God, I know.”

130. First Day Rosh Hashanah 5766 - Today is the great Day of Judgment. Our prayers today reflect a teaching from the Talmud that tells us that God has two books open today, the Book of Life and the Book of Death. The totally righteous—those who have all assets and no debts, all mitzvot and no sins—go straight into the Book of Life. Those who are totally wicked—all debts and no assets, all sins and no mitzvot—go straight into the Book of Death. Everyone else has their judgment suspended for ten days until Yom Kippur. It’s not that God needs more time to do the accounting—rather God is giving us more time to get our affairs in order.



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