The Babylonia vs. Egypt Smackdown – A Poem for Haftarah Bo by Rick Lupert


Jeremiah (still not a bullfrog)
told by the Lord (maker of bullfrogs and
Jeremiah, and Egypt, and rivers, and
Babylonia, and Nebuchadnezzar, and
everything really)

that Egypt (former site of all
Israeli construction firms, still conducting
tests after the river turned red, still
working on a backup plan for when the
lights go out, still mourning the loss of
their first born)

is going down (down, as in the Babylonians
are coming down, and on the way they’ll
scoop up our folks for a little exile and
weeping, but when they get into the Sinai
they’re really going to make a nothing
out of everything you’ve got, Pharaoh.)

I don’t think the Babylonians had it
out for us (us, the bagel makers, the
land harvesters, the doers of what
we’re told by the Lord and the ones who
claim to be hearing from the Lord, lest
we get shipped off to Babylonia.)

It’s just that we were in the way (the way,
as in the big area of promised land between
where the Babylonians and Egyptians
separately hang out.) (Hang Out, as in
where they live their lives, conduct their
businesses, eat their food, and hosted their
former slaves or brand new exiles.)

Not to worry says the Lord to Jeremiah
(still, still not a bullfrog) and goes on to
confirm, oh yes, there will be weeping
by the rivers, but, pack light, we’ll be back
in a generation or so.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

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The Day the Fish Left the River - A Poem for Haftarah Va'eira by Rick Lupert

The Day the Fish Left the River – A Poem for Haftarah Va’eira by Rick Lupert


I’m starting to feel bad for Egypt and
all the trouble they’re about to have with their fish.

I realize I was a captive there for hundreds of years
though I have no physical memory of this.

I think there’s a name for this kind of empathy –
a syndrome that didn’t exist back when we

were slinging stones to build pyramids.
But now as we remember getting out

Pharaoh is a crocodile and he’s got hooks
in his mouth, and all the Nile’s fish are

sticking to his scales, and all the fish are
leaving the river altogether, leaving Egypt

nothing to eat, and unbuilt buildings to build
all by themselves, all because Pharaoh,

the crocodile Pharaoh, claims to own the river
Claims to be responsible for the wealth of the river,

the now empty river – And now it’s his people’s turn
to vacate for forty years. (Nobody gets out of

the forty year punishment.) I have no idea where
they went – Just that they were unimportant

wherever that was. Until they got to go back
(did I mention it was forty years?) to their river

to their dust. Forever humbled, and doomed
to topple. I only believe so much in prophesy

but I turn on the news and there’s no-one
called Pharaoh anymore.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Bless This in Moderation – A Poem for Haftarah Shemot by Rick Lupert


For a people whose rituals
invariably revolve around the
consumption of wine

Isaiah surely takes us to task
for drinking too much of it.
We end up in a

valley of fatness, crushed
by wine. We err because of wine.
We stray because of wine.

We become corrupt
because of wine. But look ahead
to Passover, or Purim

or any Shabbat and
we’re not doing it correct if
wine is not involved.

Our sweet and sickly wine
snubbed by anyone who knows
better about wine

our forever ritual punishment
for the too strong liquid which
sent our fore-tribes

before the quill of Isaiah,
the ultimate scolder. The
constant reminder of

who’s in charge.
The man who could use a
good cup of wine.

Use the nice glasses.
We’re taking the grapes back.
The fruit of the vine…


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Everybody Dies – A Poem for Haftarah Vayechi by Rick Lupert


Everybody dies and
here we are the poets
reminding you about

the finiteness of life.
(It’s in our job description.)
David, the King, was a poet

and he now only lives
in the hearts of our people.
Like his great to the power

of nine or ten grandfather
Jacob, who also died and
issued instructions and

blessings on the bed
of his death. This is how it is –
more rungs on the tree

All the people who
came before on the tree
linked to every leaf

yet to sprout.
And it turns out there
really is just one tree

although it feels like
everyone comes from
their own set of branches

just start climbing down
or up or over and you’ll find
you didn’t have to leave

the tree at all to
meet up with them.
Yes, everybody dies

and the twelve tribes
you’ve been watering
will take it from here

or maybe it’s just
the one Solomon.
In any case

keep the water flowing.
You may disappear but
this one tree won’t.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

 

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A Tale of Two Sticks – A Poem for Haftarah Vayigash by Rick Lupert


I’ll never look at two sticks the same
(come to think of it, I never spent a lot of time
looking at sticks so I’m not sure

how significant a statement that is)
after God told Ezekiel to pick up two of them
and then assigned them meanings.

One for the north and
one for the south. A divided kingdom
fused together into one

by an act of holy arts and crafts.
Makes me think of other divisions –
Other lefts and rights which

are still housed within lands
united by one name. Liberals and
conservatives. East coast

and west. Presidents and
those who just use the word “president.”
We need a divine influence to

graft us together, plant us in the ground
maybe add a little water so just
one tree grows.

We all get to be a leaf
nourished from the same place.
Let us be an evergreen

Let us breathe.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Debbie Friedman’s Ancient Leanings – A Poem for Haftarah Miketz by Rick Lupert


I’ve been singing the song Not by Might
for as long as I have memory of Jewish songs.
I’ve learned enough about it to teach
the eager young voices of Southern California
that it’s a secret Hanukah song.
No lights, or oil, or latkes or donuts
just a declaration of spirt over strength –
One of my oldest Jewish memories.
So when the line showed up in the
Haftarah this week – Not by military force
and not by physical strength but by My spirit
I got nostalgic enough to keep
a flame lit for eight nights.
We modernize text with guitar and
the fancy slang of our day, but
we’re still singing text. Ancient text.
This is the chain of Hanukkah that
connects me to the proven exploits of
Kings David and Solomon, and even
to the unproven but even holier adventures
of Father Abraham, and our whole first family.
The children sing, the children dream…
matches up so nicely with the dreams of
Joseph and Pharaoh married in holy text
to the story of Hanukkah via the Rabbis of old
who connected everything so we have
nothing to prove. This one’s for your dream,
Debbie – May we all live in peace.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

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No Cookies For You! – A Poem for Haftarah Vayeishev by Rick Lupert


When I got to the Book of Amos, I was disappointed
he wasn’t the same guy who made the cookies.

In fact, he spent a lot of time admonishing people
for behavior which left them not deserving of cookies at all.

The ones who sold other ones for money,
the ones who took advantage of the poor,

the ones who refused to tell the future despite
the gift they’d been given to see it.

A slew of punishments are given to those who
chose not to behave in accordance with the

holy light they were bathed in. The stout hearted
were sent to flee naked on the day of admonishment.

Can you imagine, instead of prison, you’re stripped
of your clothes and sent on your way.

Hard not to pick out the improprieters in a crowd
with their impropriety on full display.

We who were taken out of the narrow place
given all the love. We who complained and

threw our brother into a pit. This love is
a two-way street. We’d better keep our clothes on

if we ever want a cookie.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Photo from Flickr/401kcalculator.org

Does God Want Higher Taxes?


Last week, Republicans did what they always do when they have power: They passed an across-the-board tax cut.

Not a single Democrat voted for the tax reform bill in the Senate or House. That’s a major shift since the 2001 tax cuts under George W. Bush, when 12 Democrats voted for that bill in the Senate, and 28 voted for it in the House.

Last week, Democrats rightly complained about the process, which was perfunctory and messy, complete with handwritten notes in the final Senate version. They wrongly complained about the structure of the tax reform bill, which they said raised taxes on the poor (false) to decrease taxes on the rich. And they hypocritically complained about increases to the deficit — when’s the last time Democrats complained about too much spending?

But it was peculiarly perplexing to watch religious Democrats complain about the tax bill by citing biblical text. Conservatives were high-handedly informed that God mandates higher taxes — that to care for the poor and the orphan, governments were instituted among men.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg led the charge, stating on Twitter, “If the Bible is so against systemic solutions to poverty, why is a jubilee year declared that releases people from debt to alleviate intergenerational poverty? What is leket, shikhah, pe’ah, and maaser if not taxes meant to create a safety net for those in need?”

Let’s begin with the bizarre contention that the Bible requires higher taxes. That’s simply untrue. The Bible talks about “taxes” (Hebrew: mas) in the traditional sense in only a few places: Solomon raised taxes, as did his son Rehoboam, with the result that the kingdom of Israel was split in half; Ahasuerus raised taxes at the end of the Book of Esther, a move that isn’t exactly seen as an unmitigated positive in the Talmud. The Torah’s emphasis on tzedakah is about private giving, not about government-enforced giving.

The Torah isn’t a guidebook for government welfare programs. It’s a guidebook for personal goodness.

Now, let’s talk other forms of biblical “taxes.” First, there’s maaser, tithing; Ruttenberg here probably is referring to maaser sheni, which in Deuteronomy 14 is directed toward the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow (maaser is directed toward the priests alone). It applies only in the third and sixth years of the sabbatical cycle, and it’s 10 percent of the produce.

Then there’s shikhah, which occurs when you forget a sheaf in the field; you’re supposed to leave it for the widow and the orphan (Deuteronomy 24:19). That’s a rather de minimis contribution. Leket and pe’ah are referenced in Leviticus 19; leket refers to ears of corn forgotten on the ground, which are to be left there for the poor (again, this is de minimis); pe’ah refers to the corner of your field. The minimum amount for pe’ah is 1/60th of your field.

At best, then, we’re talking about a biblically mandated 11.7 percent of your produce every third and sixth year. Democrats want to maintain the highest tax rates at over 50 percent, if we include state and local taxes.

Finally, there’s shemitta and yovel. Shemitta mandates the waiver of all debts in the seventh year (Deuteronomy 15); yovel restores all land ownership to its original owner in the 50th year (Leviticus 25). Ruttenberg says that these mechanisms were designed to prevent accumulation of wealth. That’s untrue. Actually, they were designed to maintain tribal land ownership, since the Talmud says that yovel applies only when the tribes were living in their prescribed territories. And the rabbis designed an entire system, pruzbul, in order to avoid the impact of yovel and shmitta loans. It turns out that a system that routinely devaluates loans prevents their issuance, thereby harming the poor.

None of this is designed to undercut the notion that the Torah cares about the poor. It most certainly does. But our obligations are personal, not government-created; God wants us to act out of personal desire to help the poor. And not coincidentally, studies show that those who are most religious tend to give the most to charity, not those who point to the Bible in order to justify government cash-grabs.

The Torah isn’t a guidebook for government welfare programs. It’s a guidebook for personal goodness. To turn it into the former is to prevent the cultivation of the latter.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the conservative podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

Rabbi Dr. Zev Wiener discusses “Now That It’s Legal: Halachic and Medical Perspectives on the Use of Marijuana” at the Orthodox Union’s Learn L.A. event. Photos by Ryan Torok

Orthodox Leaders Discuss Marijuana, Torah Values, Day School Tuition and More


Addressing a room of more than 70 men and women, Rabbi Dr. Zev Wiener found himself at the intersection of Jewish law and a contemporary sociopolitical issue on Dec. 3 as he discussed halachic views on marijuana.

The question at hand: What are the potential consequences when the drug becomes legal in California next year?

Appearing at Learn L.A, an Orthodox Union (OU) West Coast event, Wiener, a Los Angeles psychiatrist, presented Jewish wisdom on the subject, ultimately offering more arguments against marijuana than for it.

Jews should treat their bodies with respect, he said, rejecting the secular view that people are allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies.

Motivational speaker Charlie Harary

Since marijuana can impair memory, it can affect one’s Jewish learning, Wiener said —  a risk he said one should consider before using the drug.

There is no proven correlation between smoking marijuana and negative mental health outcomes, he said, but some data suggest that young people who smoke the drug while their brains still are developing might experience schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness.

While many people say marijuana relieves their anxiety, he said, much anecdotal evidence suggests that it can actually increase anxiety.

Learn L.A. drew more than 100 members of the Orthodox community and beyond to Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. The event concluded the Nov. 30-Dec. 1 OU convention, a weekend of teaching and discussion.

Simultaneous L.A. Learn discussions focused on “Current Controversies in Halacha,” “Strengthening Our Torah Values” and “New Insights in Tanach.”

Rav Herschel Schachter of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University’s rabbinical seminary, discussed “Halachos of Tuition: Who Pays? How Much? And with Whose Money?”

He cited the challenges facing observant families who want to send their children to religious day schools but can’t afford the tuition. He said Jewish law forbids schools from turning away families that cannot pay tuition, lamenting how many borderline-observant families opt for secular schools because yeshiva tuition is so prohibitive. That said, the Shulchan Arukh — Jewish legal codes — says a yeshiva may refuse a child if the parents have the means but don’t want to pay tuition, Schachter said.

“Success is not being who you want to be. Success is being who you are meant to be.” — Charlie Harary

About 100 people listened as Schachter, a father of nine, said yeshivas should do whatever they can to accommodate families of all financial backgrounds. The alternative — public school — would be “a disaster,” he said, so if a family can’t foot tuition, others of greater means should help.

Motivational speaker Charlie Harary followed with a discussion called “Seeing the Invisible: The Power of Torah on Your Perspective.” Harary said the core of success is being connected to other people and that the majority of communication is the ability to listen. And if this applies man to man, he said, it also applies man to God.

A member of the OU leadership board, Harary invoked the story of Joseph, who, he said, would top a list of Forbes’ “most successful Jews.” Joseph experienced many ups and downs throughout his life, he said, eventually becoming one of the most powerful people in Egypt.

“Success is not being who you want to be — success is being who you are meant to be,” he said. “And only God can get you there.”

Harary’s discussion fused spirituality, psychology, science and Jewish wisdom. He told personal stories about his family and argued for the importance of training oneself to see how God communicates in invisible ways.

He discussed the “schema,” or one’s preconceived ideas, and said you can expand your schema by training yourself to see things invisible to everyone else.

“The whole purpose of learning is to train your brain to see the invisible,” he said.

Among the attendees was Elizabeth Thaler, a civil litigator and member of the Beverly Boulevard-La Brea Jewish community who was earning continuing education credits for attending. Speaking to the Journal after Wiener’s discussion on marijuana, she said was interested in the day’s variety of halachic teachings.

Michael Anton, a Pico-Robertson resident who works at a logistics company in El Segundo, said he thought Wiener had taken a position on the topic of marijuana despite stating that he wouldn’t speak for or against its use.

“I think it was slanted, but I don’t disagree with it,” he said.

Still, Wiener displayed deep knowledge on the topic of marijuana, making his talk relevant to contemporary ways of consuming it. During his 45-minute discussion, he discussed how eating edibles such as brownies made with marijuana is popular on Shabbat, since Jewish law prohibits smoking on the Sabbath.

But the potency of edibles, which often induce a stronger high than smoking cannabis, should give people pause before they decide to eat a brownie or any other food with marijuana in it on Shabbat, Wiener said.

While eating edibles may be permissible on Shabbat, he said, it is “playing with fire.”

Lay Down Your Spears and Tweets – A Poem for Haftarah Vayishlach by Rick Lupert


Apparently it’s common Jewish knowledge that
the Roman empire descends from Isaac’s son Esau.
I just learned it today from the prophet Obadiah.

Not him personally, we’ve never met, but in
the book he wrote. He was a minimalist whose
entire book was one chapter, twenty-one verses.

As a fan of all things very short, I like his style.
I’d like him to take a crack at rewording some of
the more wordy portions of the Bible.

Though he does get a bit warny in the process.
All great empires will fall in deference to the liberators.
I’m paraphrasing but you don’t see

too many Roman Centurions building aqueducts
these days so I guess he was on to something.
Rome who destroyed the second Temple

who was descended from Edom, also known
as Esau, brother to Jacob, grandchildren of Abraham
parents to us all.

Can we trace every living person back to
one family? Does this make all earthly conflicts
nothing but family squabbles?

I think it’s time we lay down our spears and tweets
and tricky bowls of soup. I think it’s time we
got the family back together for a festive meal.

Here’s to tents without walls.
Here’s to earth without borders.
Here’s to identifying people with only
the words fellow human.

Here’s to Obadaiah.
We won’t hear from him again.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

A Road Poem for Haftarah Vayetzei by Rick Lupert


The road is long
The road is long but
still leads to where you are going

The road may take fourteen years
Don’t let the u-turn at seven alarm you
Keep on the road

The u-turn is all
part of the plan
The road will not lie to you

You may not be prepared for
the weather along the road
the fork in the road

the spoon in the road
the Golden Calf in the road
Don’t jump off the road

Don’t wander into the woods
Don’t hire people to
build a different road

This is the road built
by the Great Road Builder
in the sky

The sky where there
are no roads but
we’re all on our way there

after this road
this road with the turns
and confusing signs

and uncomfortable surfaces
Despite all this
I would drive this road

any multiple of
fourteen years to end up
in her arms


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Don’t Shoot the Malachi – A Poem for Haftarah Toledot by Rick Lupert


Don’t shoot the Malachi,
he’s just the messenger
and it may not have

been his name because
Malachi means my messenger.
In fact don’t shoot anyone.

It’s uncomfortable for them
and makes the news and
causes arguments about

whether instruments that
shoot should exist or not.
Just listen to the messages.

You don’t have to agree with
the messages, but hear them out.
They come from on high.

They are responses to
what you have given. So
not only should you

not shoot the Malachi, but
when it’s your turn to give
from what you have

give the best you’ve got.
Don’t give the blemished offerings
the sickly sacrifices, the calf

with the broken leg.
The One who sent the messenger
will know the difference.

Don’t shoot the messenger
for reminding you to do what
you promised you’d do.

We children of Jacob
We who came second
after a foot.

We who forever got to
go first just for a bowl of soup.
Don’t shoot the messenger.

That’s the kind of thing
that will come back to
bite you in your foot.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Why I’m Not a Rabbi


I never thought I’d find myself in the position of deciding whether or not to be a rabbi. After all, I came from a secular family and from a young age I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a writer.

But after four years of studying creative writing in college and one summer working at a literary nonprofit in Manhattan, I found myself in a crisis that would eventually lead to the rabbi question.

I was 21 years old and writing was the center of my life, to the exclusion of almost anything else. A good writing day made me feel like a good person. A bad writing day made me feel like a worthless excuse for a human being. This, I began to sense, was a form of idolatry; writing could not be the most important thing in the world. Life had value apart from words on a page!

Meanwhile, I had begun to grow interested in my Jewish heritage. And I’d also begun to fall in love, inconveniently, with God.

So, at 21, I decided to stop writing entirely. Instead, I would build my life around something eternal.

I quit my job, left everything I knew and traveled to Jerusalem for the first time, with nothing but a backpack and my violin. There, I enrolled in a progressive, coed yeshiva called Pardes.

I ended up staying at Pardes for two years, studying Torah during the day and playing music in clubs or on the street at night. By the time I left, there was no question about what was at the center of my life as I prayed, studied Talmud and led Friday-night services.

When I returned to the States, I continued to play fiddle; I began to teach Torah; and slowly, very slowly, I also began to write. Like an athlete learning to hold her body correctly after a bad injury, I had to craft my sentences carefully, watching for signs of too much ego or ambition. But I was able to build a serious writing practice back into my life.

I continued to write, play music and teach Torah through my 20s, without feeling a need to choose between these sometimes disparate ways of life. But as my 30th birthday approached, I realized I was going to have to make some decisions.

What was I? An artist who loved Jewish texts and traditions or a rabbi who loved music and writing? I knew titles like “rabbi,” “musician” and “writer” were never fully accurate, that every human transcended a simple title. But I also understood that they mattered. I sensed that the path I chose would define the way I spent my days, how I paid my rent, and what was appropriate to say in public.

I found that when I leaned toward one possibility, the other self would materialize strongly. When I placed art out front, the Hebrew letters shone through, seeming to be the inner essence of that practice. But when I foregrounded the sacred books, I would feel the gentle curves of my violin’s body, notes inside my fingertips, poems burning on my tongue.

I agonized over this decision for months.

In the end, as silly as it sounds, it was cursing that finally led me to decide not to be a rabbi. I am not particularly foul-mouthed, but I wanted to be able to drop F-bombs with impunity, in my writing and in my life.

Really, looking back, I see that this was symbolic. I wanted to be able to say anything, from the esoteric to the vulgar, without the pressure of representing my people and my tradition.

So I finally recycled the rabbinical school application.

Thankfully, Judaism is not terribly hierarchical, at least in the communities in which I live and work. As a layperson, I can lead services, teach the traditions, counsel seekers, and officiate my students’ bar and bat mitzvahs.

Thank goodness for all the rabbis who bear the honor and the burden of communal representation. As for me, I’m just a wandering melamed, grateful for the tools I have to find as much holiness as I can in the world: Torah, music and writing down the meditations of my heart — from the sacred to the profane. n


Alicia Jo Rabins is a writer, musician and Torah teacher who lives in Portland, Ore.

King David of Thrones – A Poem for Haftarah Chayei Sarah by Rick Lupert


As a fan of subscription television
I’m as concerned as the next person about
who is in line to sit on the throne.

And if this saves you the trouble
of reading it yourself, rest assured
King David’s top pick, Solomon

is guaranteed that spot
despite the chariot infested uppityness
of his brother Adonijah.

What concerns me more though
is how cold King David is and
extra blankets aren’t doing the job.

This is long before space heaters
and a local virgin is brought in to
provide the warmth.

This is all to tell us David is
getting old and the matter of
the ascension is at hand.

But in this post Biblical era
where our most beloved famous people
practically modern kings

are tumbling because they
attempted to get Biblical with
local virgins, I’m finding it difficult to

focus on the Royal election.
Keep driving, oh charioteers.
Warmth is earned by love

or at least warmth.
A king is not entitled to
grab what he pleases

especially not when
it is my subscription dollars
funding the operation.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Waiting for the Sky to Explode – A Poem for Haftarah Vayera by Rick Lupert


I remember the time I was at Disneyland with my beloved.
We were just a year into our love and everything was magic.

So when the voiceover came on in the park and said
anything’s possible, if you believe, I believed.

And then, as if to confirm my conviction, the sky exploded
as it does every night in that place, which is holy to anyone

who has fended off adult cynicism as long as I have.
So it’s not hard to believe the stories of the prophet

Elisha, holy man with a woman’s name, (we were the first
line crossers…) who gave a poor woman so much oil

she started a fossil fuel company and lived comfortably
on the profits all her days. Or the story of the woman

as old as our mother Sarah, who also had a child when
Elisha made a special arrangement with the original

Walt Disney on high. Or later how that child took to death
after a headache, but was immediately revived when

the prophet’s mouth was put on his. It may have been the first
mouth to mouth resuscitation but the implication is divine magic.

I don’t think I laughed like Sarah when I was told a child
was on the way. In fact it was one of the only speechless

moments of my life. But I see the miracles every day.
Something made from nothing, food purchased from

the sale of art, and the astonishment that breath continues
to come in and out of my lungs no matter what I do.

I believe in magic and I’m always ready for
the sky to explode.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

I Still Find Idols Enchanting – A Poem for Haftarah Lech Lecha by Rick Lupert


These are the idols I cling to
despite the ancient encouragement
not to

The large television
The multi-function toaster
the well assembled hand-held
communication device that feels
so significant in my fingers

These are the idols I cling to
despite the initial spark of Jewish –
one guy, breaking them all down

Feeding anything with fur
I think the ancient Egyptians were
really on to something when they
elevated the common house-cat

These are the idols I cling to
despite my admission that I am
but a worm of Jacob

Artistry over solvency
Lottery over hard work
The joke that destroys the
necessary silence

These are the idols I cling to
and the list is longer than the promises
made to me by the Ultimate Promise Maker

The One who told me I could crush the mountains
with Her at my back
The One who lets me say Her.
The one who told me the wind will
carry all this dust away.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Photo from Pixabay.

TABLE FOR FIVE: Five Takes on a verse from the weekly parsha


Parsha Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:11-13:

“Now it came to pass when he drew near to come to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, ‘Behold now I know that you are a woman of fair appearance. And it will come to pass when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife,’ and they will slay me and let you live. Please say [that] you are my sister, in order that it go well with me because of you, and that my soul may live because of you.’”

Rabbi David Woznica, Stephen Wise Temple

Abram (whose name later became Abraham) understood that while Egyptians
respected the bond of marriage, they did not value human life. Therefore, he believed, if an Egyptian “wanted” a married woman, he would first murder her husband, thereby rendering her unmarried and available.

The Torah entered a world in which murders such as this were deemed acceptable and where widows were routinely abused. It sought to change both. The sixth of the Ten Commandments, “Do not murder,” prohibited all murder (although, of course, not morally justified killing). And there are countless Torah commandments to protect the widow, the woman left with no husband to protect her.

When Abram heard God tell him, Lech lecha (“Go forth”), those words meant far more than “Leave your father’s home.” They meant, “Leave the moral world in which you lived” — and become the father of a nation that will lead humanity to a new moral plane.

Those words changed history. And just as God promised, through Abram and his descendants, “all the families of the Earth will be blessed.”

Rabbi Arielle Hanien, Rabbinic adviser, International Trauma-Healing Institute

This script pokes out from the unfolding story of Avram and Sarai in uncomfortable ways. Was Avram, who inspires us with his faith, so unsure of God’s providence that he would flee to Egypt during a famine? Was our courageous ancestor so afraid of Egyptians even without encountering them? Was our righteous forefather willing to lie about his marriage — and was he callous to the implications this would have for his wife?

This year, in this story, the detail that cries out loudest to me is silence.

Sarai’s voice is absent. Her feelings — even her presumed consent to Avram’s plan — are masked from us.

“Please pretend we are not married,” says Avram, “to spare my life and make things go well for me.” Indeed, the Torah affirms, every word he says is fulfilled.

Meanwhile, we can only imagine Sarai’s wordless feelings, if not her protests.

This year, we read this story as #MeToo reveals to our society how often this script plays out even today. Your body is a problem. My needs come before yours.

It strikes me as fitting that the stories of our foremother, Sarai, are all read in the month of Cheshvan, the barren month. The one whose very name sits at a nexus of yearning and silence — the beginning of desire (cheshek) and the end of whisper (lachash). It is a month to dwell with Sarai in her silence until she dies of pain, say the rabbis, a month to hear what is suffered in silence — to pause to listen.

Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, Rav and Dean at Yeshivet Yavneh

The Torah is a perfect Divine document — no word is superfluous. Our verse could easily have said, “Behold, now I know you are beautiful.” Why is the word “woman” added? Each of the patriarchs and matriarchs goes through an evolution, from simplicity to sophistication.

Jacob, for example, initially is called “a simple man who dwelled in tents.” Yet, in a short matter of time, he becomes a cunning warrior. Joseph is an innocent child, oversharing his dreams. Kidnapping, accusations and dungeons quickly mold him into a far different individual.

The same is true of Abraham. Up until this point, he recognized Sarah’s beauty, but in his innocence, he didn’t understand the ramifications of her appearance in a world that can objectify a woman. At this particular moment, as he was traveling through unfriendly soil with his beautiful wife, he noticed the hooting, catcalling and gazes. For the first time, he understood the type of cruel world that women are often born into. With this in mind, he advises his wife, “Say you are my sister.” In the spirit of fraternity, perhaps they will see Sarah as somebody’s sister — not somebody’s object, waiting to be taken.

Salvador Litvak, Founder of the Accidental Talmudist

Our Sages generally extend themselves to justify the actions of our Patriarchs. Jacob lied to Isaac, for example, and David sent Uriah to the front lines. The commentator Ramban, however, calls Abraham’s ruse a “great sin” because it put Sarah in danger. I agreed, until I thought about Sarah’s role in the subterfuge. She never did anything she didn’t want to do.

Sarah joined the plan because she and Abraham were partners in a Divine awareness project. They weren’t going to halt that work for anything, including famine or forced relocation to the most depraved nation on Earth.

In fact, they viewed their descent into Egypt as a chance to reach those who were most in need of their message. Accordingly, they devised a structure that would enable them to interact with as many people as possible. Rather than hide Sarah in a box, as one midrash suggests, they shielded her with common parlance, calling her Abraham’s sister — a truth, since she was his niece as well as his wife, according to a midrash. They might even have called her Abraham’s “sister in faith.”

Their plan was wildly successful. Not only did they gain followers and financial support for their outreach organization, they also brought awareness of the One God to Pharaoh, who thought he was God until HaShem afflicted him and his household for encroaching on the Jewish priestess’ honor.

In a time when popular culture blazes with immodest and immoral behavior, people of faith would do well to emulate Sarah and Abraham’s commitment to spreading Divine awareness.

Rabbi Miriyam Glazer, Professor of Literature Emerita at American Jewish University

With not us, but me. Not “our souls,” “my soul.”

How Abram’s words troubled our commentators. How incisively they noticed that Abram says “now I know” that Sarai is lovely. Had he not known before? Before leaving Haran; while, as midrash says, busy converting others, had either gazed upon the other in appreciation? Passion? Love? Before trudging from Haran to Canaan, through the searing/freezing desert to Egypt, had Abram ever pleasured in his wife’s beauty?

Had there been any intimacy between our ancestral parents?

Or is that very lack of intimacy, that failure to see one’s partner, the price one pays for focusing on one’s own life’s vision, one’s own mission? Does one have to choose, as the poet Yeats said, “perfection of the life or of the work”?

The cost of Abram’s choice is dear. “Sarai” disappears. Like the enslaved women of the American South, the Yazidi women under ISIS. Like any woman viewed as an object, Sarai is erased. The Egyptians saw the woman … the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house (Genesis 12: 14, 15). Only God’s intervention — afflicting Pharaoh — restores her identity, and then with bitter irony, she is again “Sarai, Abram’s wife.” (Genesis 12:17)

But just as Isaac will disappear after the Akedah, Sarai now disappears from the text. When she returns, it is to offer “Hagar her handmaid the Egyptian” to Abraham. I wonder, when she did so, whether she looked her husband straight in the eye.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

TABLE FOR FIVE: Five Takes on a verse from the weekly parsha


Parsha Noach, Genesis 8:20-22:

“And Noah built an altar to the Lord, and he took of all the clean animals and of all the clean fowl and brought up burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled the pleasant aroma, and the Lord said to Himself, “I will no longer curse the earth because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, and I will no longer smite all living things as I have done. So long as the earth exists, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”

Rabbi Nicole Guzick, Sinai Temple

I can only begin to imagine the destruction Noah witnesses while living in the ark. The world weeps. Outside, humanity drowns in chaos, and inside the ark, Noah and his family have one choice to make: succumb to the fear of a now unknown world or re-enter the world and rebuild anew. And with the building of an altar, Noah’s choice is clear. Time and time again, in the face of desolation and despair, it is within the human spirit to rebuild and repair. As difficult as it sounds, even as death knocks on the door of the ark, Noah chooses to thank God for the gift of today. 

It is God’s reaction that is most astounding. It seems in response to Noah’s courage and resilience, God whispers, “If you’re not running away, I guess I won’t, either.”

Life continuously presents challenges and frustrations. Noah’s choice is the one we make daily: drown or rebuild. Look out at the world and determine that we are no match for the uncertainty and unpredictability of our life’s course, or wholeheartedly remember that our souls have the capacity for constant growth and resurgence. We are meant to get out of the ark and live.

Perhaps the most comforting message is that in life’s tumultuous journey, we are not alone. God is reassured by our willingness to survive. It is a partnership of faith — humanity’s faith that God will guide us through the murky waters and God’s faith that humanity will continue to swim.

Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman, Jewish Mindfulness Network

We are taught that God is all-knowing and constant. Yet, in our verse, we experience a God that changes. The reason God gives for sending the devastating flood in the first place, wiping out humans, is because humans “act in corrupt ways and incline toward evil.” Yet, after the flood, God’s response is different. God recognizes that humans still have evil tendencies but proclaims acceptance and vows to never wipe out humans again! The people are the same. God changes. God’s severe judgment gives way to compassion and commitment. Perhaps God accepts the reality of human nature and decides to love the people, anyway. To cement this new relationship, God confirms the stability of the seasons, and the sure cycle of day and night. Humans participate in this order by planting and harvesting. In these three verses, we can learn two profound lessons. First, if God’s heart can change from harsh damnation and give way to compassion, perhaps so can ours. Second, we can be conscious and grateful each day for the constancy of the natural order that we so often take for granted. In the midst of darkness, it is of great comfort that the sun comes up in the morning. In times of evil, the seasons continue to turn. Where (or against whom) in your life do you harbor judgment that your heart might turn toward compassion? Today, how might you appreciate being held by the rhythm of life itself?

David Brandes, film producer and screenwriter

On the sixth day of creation, God creates man and is pleased. But in the next few chapters of Genesis, it’s all downhill for man. Adam and Eve disobey God and are expelled from the “Garden.” Cain slays Abel.  The rebellious generation of the Tower of Babel descends into perversity and evil. God’s cataclysmic response: the flood, in which man, animals and nature are decimated. As the story progresses, Noah leaves the ark and offers sacrifices to God. God accepts the sacrifices but reveals a damning observation: “Man is possessed of an evil nature from youth.”

This bleak story raises troubling questions. If God knew that man was flawed, why save him? Why not destroy everyone and start again? And for us mortals: If we are evil by nature, doesn’t that leave us in a state of hopelessness and despair?

If we look at the Bible as drama, and man as the ultimate flawed hero, a resolve emerges. The first part of the story, man’s ugly history, is the setup presented to explain and justify the Torah given by God to Moses later in the narrative. At its core, the law is about dealing with our fellow man, to make life pleasant for all, to overcome the evil inclination within.  For it is in the laws of the Torah that the redemption of man rests. Elegantly put by Hillel, “What is hateful unto you, do not do to your friend. …  This is the whole Torah.”

Redemption is hope.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Director of the Sephardic Educational Center

Dear God,

In the beginning, you created heaven, earth and everything else, and you “saw that it was good.” You created me, and you “saw that it was very good.” But just a few chapters later, I went from being “very good” to becoming the source of your deepest regret. I was continuously thinking evil thoughts, so you decided to blot out my existence. Save for one “righteous” person, I wouldn’t be here.

After your destructive deluge, the sole survivor expressed his gratitude by offering a sacrifice. Your reaction was perplexing: You’ll never bring on another destructive flood, because “man’s imagination is evil from his youth.” But is it not you, dear God, who created me this way? Why the sudden epiphany? It took creating and nearly wiping me out to realize that I’m doomed to live with this built-in factory defect?

No wonder the “human condition” is so harsh. It’s not surprising that in the great 2 1/2- year talmudic debate on human existence, Shamai’s pessimistic conclusion — “It would have been better for man not to have been created” — ultimately won the day.

Be that as it may, I’m alive and here, leaving me no choice but to follow Hillel’s optimistic position: “Examine my deeds carefully.” In other words, I’ll try to make morals, ethics and love, as per your commandments, my sole mission on this earth. Despite the defect, dear God, I’ll try to be the best I could be.    

Respectfully,
Humankind

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, senior editor at Chabad.org

This is amazing. Everyone expects a miracle to be unexpected. It’s gotta break the patterns of nature. The stuff cinematic eye candy is made of.

But here is a divine promise for the greatest of miracles: The innumerable atoms, cells, organisms and celestial bodies that make up this world will harmonize into cyclical seasons so that we can plant and harvest, plan and build, raise our children and tell them to take care of this place.

That is wondrous. The more we understand, the more wondrous it becomes. Why should anything be constant in a world defined by change?

When the sun rises just a little south of where it rose yesterday, when the trees shed their suntime wear and squirrels obsess over hoarding seeds, nobody sees a miracle. Winter comes and goes, life erupts again in green, yellow, purple and red — still, nobody is surprised.

But a Jew makes a blessing in the morning to “He who spreads the earth over the waters.”

Get that? You went to sleep, there was a floor beneath your feet. You wake up, it’s still there. So you say, “Gevalt! What a miracle! God, I love how You do this!”

A Jew grabs a sandwich and makes a blessing for the miracle of “bringing bread out of the earth.” Amazing. Earth to bread! You’re eating a miracle!

So why aren’t we living in constant wonder?

That is the days of Moshiach — when we will be amazed each morning by the rising of the sun.

How Judaism Helps Us Regain Our Balance


Each period of history has a title bestowed by historians, one meant to reveal some key characteristic of that age. Thus, the medieval period is the Age of Faith; the Enlightenment is the Age of Reason; and the 19th century is the Age of Progress. The name for our age, I would venture to guess, is the Age of Busyness.

Everybody is busy. Americans routinely complain that they work too many hours — and they do. They complain that they have too little time to spend with their children — and they’re right. They complain that they have little time left for quiet reflection, for learning and for celebrating.

Well, actually, they don’t complain about that — because they don’t have enough time to notice its absence, or because they’re so busy that they no longer miss it.

But part of being human, part of living our lives fully, is the inner need to grow and to explore and to play. Contemporary psychology tells us that people continue to grow throughout every phase of their lives, and that the playfulness of children continues into adulthood, as well. To be human is to play, to change and to grow.

Where, in our serious culture of business, work and productivity — or in its flip side of infantile recreation and foolish escapism — do we make room for adult play, adult study and adult growth? America’s Achilles’ heel is its excessive busyness, which spawns equally excessive foolishness to blow off steam.

We’ve lost our balance.

The place to recapture what we have lost is to be found in Judaism’s unparalleled ability to sanctify time. Through the observance of Shabbat, of holy days and festivals, our tradition provides a timeout for adults — not to lose ourselves in fantasies or escape, but to rediscover ourselves and the depths of our own creativity and love. We immerse ourselves in sacred time in order to live better and more fully during the rest of our days.

Now that the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are behind us and we emerge out of our sukkah booths back into our busy, contemporary lives, our immersion in rest, renewal and community is our passport back into a better way of living our lives. Instead of “spending time,” Judaism gives us the gift of learning to savor it.

The Talmud teaches that “rejoicing on a festival is a religious duty.” What a remarkable idea! A day devoted to a special kind of joy. The rejoicing of the festival has little in common with sitting in a dark room staring passively at an on-screen fantasy, or risking life and limb to thrill ourselves into forgetting what drones we’ve become. The rejoicing of the festival is not one of escaping, but one of returning to our own centers — our own families, friends, community and God.

As it says in the Talmud: “Rabbi Eliezer said, ‘One has nothing else to do on a festival except to eat, drink, sit and study.’ Rabbi Joshua said, ‘Divide it — devote half the day to eating and drinking, and half of it to the house of prayer and study.’”

Our sense of self emerges in cultivating our character, our curiosity and our relationships.

What a fascinating way to rejoice. Recall that the word “recreation” involves creating something anew — in this case, our own souls. By spending part of the day together in prayer, song and Torah study, we rebuild our identities as messengers of God and as bearers of God’s covenant. We restore our sense of belonging in a specific synagogue community and in the Jewish people worldwide. Having restored that essential base, the rabbis of the Talmud then tell us to take the rest of the day for feasting and spending time with those we love.

What a marvelous blend of devotion and relaxation, of heightened identity and then simply being.

What this regimen of holy days and festivals makes clear is that mastery of our work — rather than allowing our work to master us — requires setting clear boundaries and limits to our chores and our work. Our sense of self emerges in cultivating our character, our curiosity and our relationships. By rejoicing with one another on these holy days, festivals and on Shabbat, we declare ourselves to be free in the service of holiness and goodness, of Torah and togetherness.

After the end of the fall holy days, take the lessons of the shofar, the fast and the sukkah with you into our busy world. Remember that we each are children of royalty, and we thrive best when we thrive together. 


Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson holds the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University.

A Jewish cemetery in Svaliava, Ukraine. Photo from Wikipedia

We Are Dying of Overexposure to Death


Let me tell you what has scarred me for life. 

It wasn’t just the machete, or being beaten to a pulp, or the shock that I might soon be dead as my friend and I were attacked by Palestinian terrorists in 2010. It wasn’t even the humiliation that came from begging for my life from those who thought themselves strong. 

It was witnessing the death of another human being. 

It occurred to me that, should I ever again get into the dreadful situation of witnessing a person being hacked to death, somehow it would be easier — less shocking, less traumatic.

Not just watching, but listening, too. Kristine Luken’s prayers, her pleas with her executioners and her expiring breaths blended to form the last sounds of this innocent woman as she went to meet her Maker.

Invading my friend’s final moments with God was like bursting into the Holy of Holies. Violating her sanctity by unwillingly eavesdropping on her as she was about to die is what has scarred me for life.  

Months later, when I faced the murderers in an Israeli court, I realized just how deep the scars were. As I stared at those whom I had encountered in the Jerusalem forest, I watched them yawn and roll their eyes. Death had anesthetized their souls. They were soulless zombies, bored by death. 

Yet it wasn’t their indifference that horrified me the most. It was me. 

It occurred to me that, should I ever again get into the dreadful situation of witnessing a person being hacked to death, somehow it would be easier — less shocking, less traumatic. In a way, I realized I had the potential to become like them: dead inside.

There is a passage in the Torah (Deuteronomy 21:22-23) in which the children of Israel are commanded to take down before sunset the body of an executed person hanged from a tree. Rashi notes that for the body to be left up there too long would be a degradation of the Divine. It also was a violation of those made in the image of God.

Our forefathers knew that looking at death for too long had a price. We, too, are in danger of paying that price. Metaphorically speaking, we are looking too long at bodies hanging on a tree. 

At our own peril, we are becoming accustomed to death because watching murder is accessible today like never before. However far away we are from the carnage, news and social media see to it that we can satiate our macabre yet natural fascination with death. We observe slaughter in real time, eavesdrop on the pleas of the dying and listen to the desperation of loved-ones trying to help.

With deluded spiritual impunity, we put up our feet and watch footage of people as they breathe their last breaths. One moment we click on a red-faced emoticon after reading about the day’s latest atrocity, and seconds later scroll down to click on a heart, showing our friends how much we love hamsters eating broccoli. Ignorant of the fatal blow the death of others has on our souls, each time we become less moved and less shocked.

We are dying of overexposure to death.

Death has a task. It serves to remind us that life is not forever. The role of death is not to arouse in us fascination or voyeurism as it comes to claim others. The role of death is to instill in us appreciation for life so we can take on the yoke of responsibility that comes with the business of living.

Death reminds us that we are here for a limited and unknown amount of time during which we must act for the good of our families, our communities and the world. It is the certainty of our own death that should spur us to become kinder people.

If and when we do bear witness to the murder of others as they go to meet their Maker — online, on television or by other means — let us do it with appropriate trepidation and caution, because if we look for too long, we stand to invade the Holy of Holies, desecrate others and the Divine. 

In doing so, we deal an irreparable deathblow to ourselves. 


Kay Wilson is a British-born Israeli tour guide, cartoonist, musician and educator for StandWithUs.

7 haiku for Parsha Vezot Hab’rachah in which everything ends and begins again by Rick Lupert


I
The final blessings
Line up you tribes – these words come
from right hand of fire

II
God is not above
striking Levite foes in the loins
Loyalty’s treasure

III
Flashback to Joseph
the ending montage includes
the colors we’ve missed

IV
Descendants of Gad
and Zebulon be proud – For
your parents did good

V
What would you do with
the sky or the sea if they
were your divine gifts?

VI
Moses takes his last
steps – a one way trip up a
mountain – God is there

VII
In the beginning
No, the record didn’t skip
Let’s make a new world


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Rabbi Arie Folger

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Yom Kippur with Rabbi Arie Folger


Our special guest for this Yom Kippur talk is Rabbi Arie Folger, Chief Rabbi of Vienna. Rabbi Folger was ordained by Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, as well as by the Szmigrader Rebbe of Antwerp, Belgium, and he holds an MBA from NYU‘s Stern School of Business. Prior to his current position, he served as the senior rabbi of the Israelitische Gemeinde Basel and of the Israelitische Kulstusgemeinde of Munich and Upper Bavaria. Rabbi Folger is active in several organizations, such as the Conference of European Rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany.

In this Yom Kippur discussion, we focus on Rav Kook’s understanding of repentance (Teshuva), an interpretation that is radically different from what most of us are used to.

 

Our past Yom Kippur talks:

Rabbi Walter Homolka on the relation between Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, on God as a source of forgiveness and on the different mindsets that lead us to atonement

Rabbi David Gelfand on the Kol Nidrei prayer and on the special power of the communal experience this prayer offers for members of Jewish congregations

Rabbi Meir Azari on the Book of Jonah and its relevance to Yom Kippur

Chatima Tova!

7 Haiku for Parsha Ha’azinu (in which arrows and swords drink like pirates) by Rick Lupert


I
The final concert
A solo performance – Words
of Moses like rain

II
We are protected
with clouds – like eagle babies
We are like God’s eye

III
When we drank the blood
of grapes – When we sucked honey
from rocks – Who did that?

IV
Poseurs – pretending
they could bring us down – God burns
up their vanities

V
You know you’ve lost God’s
favor if your wine tastes like
serpents’ bitterness

VI
Let your arrows and
swords drink ’til they’re drunk – Let them
vanquish enemies

VII
Did you hear the song
Moses sang? It is the last
one you’ll hear from him


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

7 haiku for Parsha Nitzavim (in which the Jewish people have a dance party with God) by Rick Lupert


I
A deal is brokered
between God and those standing
here – and those long gone

II
Choose wisely – this deal
applies not only to you
but to your children

III
God is a party
dancing above – a joy our
parents remember

IV
If we sin and have
to leave, don’t pack everything
God says, we’ll be back

V
The Torah refers
to itself, in itself – is
still being written

VI
Moses – last day on
Earth – takes to writing a song
puts it in our mouths

VII
On the day of his death
Moses predicts we’ll rebel
Reminds us – choose life!


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

This savory life: Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)


Rabbi Avivah W. Erlick

My name is Avivah and I am addicted to sugar.

When I am free to eat sweets, I do so with abandon. I may eat entire packages of cookies, one slice of every cake being served, whole pints of ice cream.

I don’t actually like these things. The sugar craving says sweets will make me happy, but eating them never does. Once I start, there’s no stopping me until I feel glutted and sick.

I didn’t realize this was an addiction until I attended a training program for rabbis at Beit T’Shuvah, the Jewish residential treatment center. My sugar craving seemed silly compared with alcoholism, drugs, gambling and such. But it was no less real. I was following a voice that was not acting in my best interest. I was not being my best self.

I am able to speak of my sugar problem now because I made a break and stopped eating sweetened foods this summer. The only sweetness I eat now is fresh fruit. It’s incredibly difficult. I had to go through everything in my house, throw away sweetened foods, and buy new ones without sugar. “Unsweetened” isn’t a category that restaurants are set up to offer, unlike gluten-free or vegetarian, so I have to call ahead and walk through the ingredient list with the staff, or see if it’s posted online.

Otherwise, I have to eat at home, pack my own meals or just go hungry. Being without the convenience of America’s sticky-sweet food industry, I’m on my own.

I share this with you because in this week’s parsha, Nitzavim-Vayelech, we are reminded by Moses of the covenant that God struck with the Jewish people for all time, and how covenants give us fortitude.

Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Hashem Eloheichem — All of you stand today before God … to enter into the covenant … that He may establish you this day as His people, and be your God (Deuteronomy 29:9-12).

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidism and author of “The Tanya,” taught that the covenant struck by the Jewish people with God was made in a time of great joy, when the miracles that brought freedom from slavery were still fresh in their minds. Like lovers who commit to marriage, we made this covenant with God when the passion for it was strong, and the reasons self-evident.

But that’s not when a covenant is needed. Lovers need their wedding contract later, when the love they felt becomes strained by the vicissitudes of daily life. Then, the mutual commitment they had made could give them strength in a way the memory of new love might not. It’s the same for us and God.

This is the mighty power that religion can have in life: to turn self-improvement efforts into something bigger than ourselves, a commitment not just to betterment, but to Hashem.

Deciding to make a major life change for the good is the easy part, but it’s only Step One. After that comes Step Two. For me, that meant rethinking everything I ate and everything I thought about eating, and sustaining it for 10 weeks, the length of time needed to establish a new pattern.

Now, my initial commitment has passed, I’ve lost some weight, I’m thinking more clearly, my palate has adjusted to find the subtle richness in savory foods, and I don’t want sweets. That leaves me with one thing to be done, and it’s the hardest part of all — Step Three: vigilance. I need to be proactive so I’m never in a position where I feel desperate — out on the road, extremely hungry, and without a plan for what or where to eat. I need to think ahead about my meals, or just plan to end up back home.

I’m reminded of the thinking behind tzit-zit, the fringes on our prayer shawls. As part of the Shema prayers, we take the tzitzit in hand, kiss them, and say that they are a helpful reminder not to allow our hearts to stray off the path that God sets for us.

This is the mighty power that religion can have in life: to turn self-improvement efforts into something bigger than ourselves, a commitment not just to betterment, but to Hashem.

So I may feel “on my own” on the American food landscape, but I’m not without support. I have my friends and family with me, encouraging me to be strong. My bulwark against that insidious, lying voice of sugar consumption is love. I love my life and my health, and I love the Holy One, blessed be God, who has brought me to this season.

L’Shanah tovah!


RABBI AVIVAH W. ERLICK is a board-certified health-care chaplain in private practice. She owns a referral agency for Jewish clergy (CommunityRabbis.com) and a private chevrah kaddishah (Sacred-Waters.com), is a spiritual counselor for hospice and serves as a chaplain in the Los Angeles County jails.

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

There are now Christian mezuzahs


It’s affixed upon the doorpost. It’s wooden, thin and rectangular, but with rounded corners. It’s meant to fulfill a biblical commandment.

And it bears a verse from the Gospel of John about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That’s right: It’s a Christian mezuzah.

Karen Goode calls her creation the Doorpost Blessing, and it looks nearly identical to the small, oblong case that has adorned the doorways of Jewish homes for millennia. Both Goode’s creations and traditional Jewish mezuzahs are based on the same scriptural passage in Deuteronomy that commands Jews to inscribe the words of the Torah “on the doorposts of your house.” Observant Jews recite the passage twice a day with the Shema.

Except, instead of placing parchment bearing two paragraphs of Torah verses inside the mezuzah, as Jews do, Goode engraves a verse on the outside of the Doorpost Blessing, either from the Old or New Testament. She also offers Doorpost Blessings bearing lines from Christian hymns. Altogether, Goode sells 25 varieties, in English and Spanish.

“I’m following what the Bible says,” Goode told JTA. “I’m taking it to modern-day standards. I’m reminding us of our blessings. We all need something to hold onto. God is much bigger than any of us.”

Goode, who lives in the New York City borough of Staten Island and works at a hospital, launched Doorpost Blessings as part of her interest in carpentry. She came upon the concept in 2014, and began making and selling Doorpost Blessings in their current form this year. She would not disclose sales figures, but said the most popular ones bear Old Testament verses both from the books of Jeremiah and Joshua.

“The inspiration was from God, but I was looking for something that would speak of my faith and also carpentry,” she said. Goode is Christian but did not elaborate on which denomination.

Goode isn’t the first person to market mezuzahs to Christians. In 2014, a financial adviser in New York, Henry Zabarsky, created the Christoozah, a hollow red cross containing scripture on a parchment meant to be affixed to a doorpost. But Zabarsky, who is Jewish, told JTA that he is no longer involved with the Christoozah company, and though there remains a working website, it appears not to have been updated in nearly three years. A contact number with a Colorado area code was unresponsive.

Nor is Goode the only Christian to take on a Jewish practice in the name of fulfilling Old Testament dictates. Some evangelical Christians wear ritual fringes or kippahs, and some hold Passover seders — something Goode says she has done in the past. Several fringe evangelical denominations, including the Living Church of God, eschew mainstream Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter in favor of observing Old Testament festivals on the Jewish calendar.

But unlike Christoozah and the Living Church of God, Goode does not credit Jews — and specifically the practice of hanging mezuzahs — with inspiring the product she sells. There is no mention of Judaism or mezuzahs on the Doorpost Blessing website, though Goode told JTA she finds the Jewish mezuzah “a beautiful item.”

“I’m not referring to a mezuzah,” she said of her creations. “I’m doing what the commandment says. I’m doing it from a Christian perspective, not a Jewish perspective. I would see similarity in that there’s a blessing hung around the door frame, but other than that I credit the Bible.”

Mendel Kugel, a Manhattan rabbi who runs MezuzahMe, a service for selling and examining mezuzahs, says Goode’s project is a testament to the mezuzah’s resonance as a ritual item. But he worries that the presence of Christian mezuzahs will make it easier to mistakenly purchase a non-kosher mezuzah.

“It just shows that it’s such an important thing that Christians also want it,” Kugel said.

“Jews don’t try to convince non-Jews by copying their religious customs, to try to bring them into our religion. We have so much belief in our own religion, we have no reason to copy others.”

Goode, however, doesn’t see her Doorpost Blessings as copies. She prefers to see the commonalities between Christians and Jews — after all, both faiths revere the same holy book.

“We Christians celebrate quite a few holidays that the Jewish people celebrate,” she said. “We do have similar history in that we both acknowledge the Old Testament.”

7 Haiku for Parsha Ki Tavo (in which God and the Jewish people ‘make it official’) by Rick Lupert


I
Wheat, barley, dates, figs
grapes, pomegranates, olives –
The first ones are God’s

II
Tithes is a word that
makes me feel like I should go
and see a dentist

III
God and the Jewish
people make it official
like sweet Valentines

IV
All that we have done
and all we’ll do – carved on stones
pulled from a river

V
We shout blessings and
curses to two mountains – What
did they ever do?

VI
For the love of God
please don’t curse my kneading bowl
I’ll follow the rules

VII
Gifts – A heart to know,
eyes to see, and ears to hear
Creation goes on


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

The Inconsistency in the Torah exchange, part 2: Between biblical criticism and religious belief


Joshua A. Berman is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Hebrew Bible at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He is the author of Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought.

This exchange focuses on Professor Berman’s new book Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient Literary Convention and the Limits of Source Criticism (Oxford University Press). You can read part 1 here.

***

Dear Dr. Berman,

A big part of your research — as you mentioned in your first response — is searching for examples of inconsistent narratives and laws similar to those of the Torah in other ancient Near East texts. I would like to ask you how this could affect the attitude of practicing Jews toward the Torah.

Now, on the one hand, it seems that challenging the multiple texts and “the editor did so out of duress” explanation could result in a more unified, less chaotic Torah. This reading could present the Torah as a book with more internal coherence than most scholars assume, perhaps making it easier for some to treat it as divinely-inspired scripture.

On the other hand, examining the logic of the Torah in juxtaposition with sources like the Kadesh Inscription of Ramesses II or Babylonian law could be seen as stressing just how much the Torah is a work of a distinct time and place, one that shares a Mesopotamian way of thinking and writing that is very different from ours. This could make it harder for some believers to accept the uniqueness and singularity of the Jewish book of books.

My question: what kind of effect, if any, do you expect your book could have on its more religiously-inclined readers’ understanding of the Torah as a divine text?

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

Indeed, many people ask: Is not the Torah eternally valid and above time? Don’t we slight the Torah when we propose that it expresses itself in a manner that is culture-dependent or more relevant for one generation than another? These questions are crucial not only when we consider Orthodoxy’s engagement with biblical criticism. They are critical whenever we wish to study the Torah on its surface, peshat level.

My approach to the issue derives from that of Maimonides. He maintained that reading the Torah in its ancient context is a sacred enterprise and does not denigrate the sanctity or “eternal” nature of our sacred Scriptures. Instead, he believed that many matters in the Torah can be understood only by gaining access to the cultures of the ancient world. In fact, such study for Maimonides has theological significance: it allows us to discern God’s caring and fostering nature.  Maimonides knew, as we all do, that healthy development of all kinds is always a process. When the Torah issued commandments that were cloaked in the language of the ancient world, and resembled the practices common in the ancient world, he saw this as evidence of the Almighty’s guiding path of slow, spiritual growth afforded Israel.

Maimonides bemoans the fact that he is so removed in place and time from the ancient world and cannot fully appreciate the reforms inherent in many of the mitzvot. He writes that he sought out every book in the world about ancient practices so as to understand as much as he could about ancient Near Eastern culture. Doing so enables him to discern the prudence and wisdom of the Divine hand and the Divine plan. Maimonides maintains that many of the Torah’s commandments are a broad mélange of continuities and discontinuities with ancient Near Eastern practice. A deep recognition of the interplay between the two enables us to apprehend how the Almighty nurtures Israel’s spiritual development in incremental steps. As I have argued elsewhere, seeing the Torah in this comparative light allows us to see it as a treatise of political thought that was light years ahead of its time, and at an astounding divide from anything that existed anywhere in the ancient world.

Even as I propose engaging ancient Near Eastern texts to help us understand the Torah, I realize that for many there is a certain hesitation to do so that stems from the realm of religious psychology. When you open up James Pritchard’s classic work, Ancient Near Eastern Texts it just doesn’t feel like a holy endeavor; it certainly doesn’t feel like you’re in any way engaging in the sacred command of Torah study– talmud Torah. In fact, there’s almost a feeling that such materials, even if not forbidden, somehow encroach upon the holiness of the endeavor of Talmud Torah. In our world, where an atmosphere of holiness—kedushah—is such a fragile thing, the feeling is understandable. However, figures like the Rambam—and I would add, other Torah luminaries such as R. Levi b. Gershom (Ralbag), and Abarbanel—freely and seamlessly integrated non-Torah materials into their study of the Torah.

Yet, if there are aspects of the Torah that are indeed best understood in ancient context, in what sense is the Torah “eternal”?

The supposition of the Torah’s “eternity,” while correct, needs to be defined. Do we mean that its meaning is fixed, singular and eternal? Such a position contravenes fundamental tenets of rabbinic Judaism. If this is the sense in which the Torah is eternal, then there is no room for any interpretation at all. All ages would need to understand the Torah in exactly the same manner. The “eternal” nature of the Written Torah, its multifaceted richness, is found only through the medium of the interpretative process of the Torah She-be’al Peh. The Sages teach that there are seventy “faces” to the Torah. The simplest meaning, the peshat, is sometimes time-dependent, addressed to the generation that received the Torah. But our tradition has never limited itself to understanding the Torah according to its peshat level alone. Rather, it has put a premium on rabbinic engagement with the text, enabling other meanings to radiate throughout the millennia, and allowing new perspectives and interpretations to thrive. This is not some apologetic innovation of the rabbinic period. Rather it is part of the warp and woof of the five books of the Torah themselves: for many great sages—R. Zadok of Lublin, the Zohar, the and R. Isaiah Ha-levi Horowitz (the Shel”a)—the commandments of the book of Deuteronomy are the interpretations and reapplication by Moses of God’s earlier laws, now calibrated for the new challenges of life in the land of Israel.

 

Video: Do You Think Science and Religion Can Coexist?


SoulPancake, a popular YouTube channel, recently asked me to participate in a discussion with other faith leaders about the environment. That was something I could not pass up.

The interviewer is Zach Anner, a self-proclaimed “climate change idiot” who is on a mission to, “find out what the hell climate change is and what people across America are doing (or not doing) about it!”

In this Earth Your While adventure, Zach talks with a Rabbi, an Imam, and a Reverend about their religion’s perspective on caring for the environment.

Seven haiku for Parsha Ki Teitzei (you’ll need an extra bag for all these laws) by Rick Lupert


I
I am not sure I
would leap right to stoning the
rebellious child

II
Don’t crossdress says the
Torah – lifetimes and lifetimes
before tolerance

III
Flat roofs require
rails. Israeli contractors
get your license here

IV
So many laws in
this Parsha – I should have brought
an extra suitcase

V
These laws of divorce
our love is so strong – I’m not
going to read them

VI
If you do not want
to go to war, your best bet
is to get married

VII
Don’t forget what
Amalek did to us, or
anyone like him


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

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