Picture of Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Can Purity Last?

In this week\’s Torah portion, Moses elaborates the laws of impurity. Touching or holding something impure will render people, clothing, food, beverages, containers, wood, leather, earthenware and ovens impure. Shemini is concerned with the consequences of contact with living, ritually impure animals, as well as carcasses.

Lessons of the Season

Imagine the Jewish calendar as three concentric circles: the Torah reading cycle, the holiday cycle and your personal life cycle.

Blessings Over Curses

This week\’s Torah portion presents the blessings and curses that follow from observance or defiance of the law. Some people understand this as a rigid system of reward and punishment. Keep the covenant, and all will be well; violate it, and you will suffer.

Righteous Indignation

Last week\’s Torah portion ended with a dramatic cliffhanger. A plague was in progress, punishing the Israelites for worshipping the false gods. Despite earlier prohibitions and the snare of idolatry, an Israelite man openly brought a Midianite woman into the camp. (Commentators infer that the two had sex.) While others wept, Pinchas pierced the couple with a spear, and the plague was suddenly halted. Pinchas risked both his life and the priesthood. The families could have sought revenge, and priests who kill are normally ineligible for service.

Holy Boundaries

This week\’s Torah portion includes the verse: "Do not lie with a man as with a woman. It is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22).

Why Keep Kosher?

What do cloven-hoofed cud-chewers have to do with ritual purity, much less holiness? In what way do fins and scales on a fish acknowledge God as the One who redeemed us from slavery? The \”explanation\” for kashrut demands further explanation.

Torah Portion

It is wonderful to volunteer more, do more, commit more. But our tradition, with love and practicality, offers this caution: Check first that your basic obligations are met.

Who is greater: a person who is obligated to perform a certain act and does, or a person who is not obligated to perform the act but does it anyway? According to modern sensibilities, the second person is a hero, whereas the first may just be a drone. According to the Talmud, however, the first person is the hero. It is often easy and fun to volunteer. Whatever you do is appreciated, and when you get bored, you can stop. It is difficult and rare, however, to fulfill one\’s own obligations constantly.


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