December 10, 2019

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech with Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky

Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky

Our guest this week is Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, leader of the Anshe Chessed congregation in Manhattan. Rabbi Kalmanofsky was ordained in 1997 by The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he was a Wexner Graduate Fellow, and joined Anshe Chessed in 2001. He regularly publishes essays on Jewish thought and practice, and he serves on the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.

Parashat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20) – begins with Moses gathering the people of Israel to enter them into a covenant with God. Moses then warns of the great desolation that will befall them if they stray from the covenant, but he assures them that if they repent God will bring them back together again from the ends of the world. Our discussion focuses on the idea of acknowledging our human imperfection and choosing life.


Our past discussions of Nitzavim Vayelech:

Rabbi Morley Feinstein on the difficulty of doing mitzvoth, repenting and making Jewish choices

Rabbi Marc Margolius on the evolution of Moses as a leader

Rabbi Richard Block on the nature and scope of Israel’s special covenant with God


Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Ki Tavo with Rabbi Michael Ragozin

Rabbi Michael Ragozin

Our guest this week is Rabbi Michael Ragozin, leader of the Shirat Hayam congregation in Swampscott, MA. Before coming to Shirat Hayam, Rabbi Ragozin led Congregation Sha’are Shalom in Leesburg, Virginia for six years. Outside of the congregation in VA, he was an active participant in Loudoun Interfaith BRIDGES, a board member of Hillel at George Mason University, and an On-Call Chaplain for Loudoun Hospital. Prior to becoming a rabbi, Rabbi Ragozin was a Teach for America corps member (teaching algebra in Baltimore, Maryland), worked as a technology consultant in Seattle, Washington, and was the Development Manager at the Seattle Jewish Film Festival.

This week’s Torah portion — Parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) — begins with Moses instructing the people of Israel to bring the first fruit they reap in the holy land to the Holy Temple in gratitude to God. The portion continues to state the laws concerning tithes given to the Levites and to the poor. Moses then gives the children of Israel instructions on the blessings and curses they must say at Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal (the “Mount of the Blessing” and the “Mount of the Curse”). At the end of the portion, Moses gives lists of good and bad things that will happen to the people of Israel if they follow or stray from the Torah. Our discussion focuses on meaning behind the ritual offerings given by the people of Israel to the community and on what we could learn from this today.


Our past discussions of Ki Tavo:

Rabbi Paul Lewin on the confession of the farmer when he presents the first fruit to the Holy Temple and on the message of historic memory.

Rabbi Serge Lippe on the immigrant experience and professing gratitude

Rabbi Hayim Herring on the order of the curses mentioned in the parasha


Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Ki Tetze

Photo by REUTERS/David W Cerny

While we don’t have a new Torah Talk for you today, we have collected all our past talks on Parashat Ki Tetze.

This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Ki Tetze (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19) – features a vast number of laws and commandments, including inheritance laws;  judicial procedures and penalties for adultery, rape and husbands who falsely accuse their wives of infidelity; laws concerning credit and debt; rules on the treatment of escaped slaves; and divorce laws. Overall, this week’s portion contains 74 of the Torah’s 613 commandments.

Here is Rabbi Michael Werbow on the command to remember Amalek and on the role of remembrance in the Torah in general:


Here is Rabbi Dovid Gutnick on the command to destroy Amalek and on the idea of vengeance as part of Jewish tradition:


Here is Rabbi Jennifer Krause on treating the mitzvot mentioned in the Parasha as a way of helping us uphold the dignity of all people:


And here is Rabbi Aaron Alexander on the eternal ban of the Ammonites and Moabites from the assembly of the Lord:

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Devarim with Rabbi Aaron Starr

Rabbi Aaron Starr

Our guest this week is Rabbi Aaron Starr, leader of the Shaarey Zedek community in Southfield, MI. Rabbi Starr is the author of the book Taste of Hebrew (URJ Press) and Tradition vs. Modernity: The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) and Conservative Halachah, published in the Journal of Conservative Judaism, as well as numerous other on-line publications. He sits on the Board of Directors for Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and the Jewish Community Relations Council. He is also a member of the Rabbinical Assembly and the Michigan Board of Rabbis, and is a past-president of the Metropolitan Detroit Board of Jewish Educators. Certified in Clinical and Pastoral Education (CPE), Rabbi Starr also has received numerous awards for youth work and for adult education.

This week’s portion – Parashat Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22) – is the first portion from the book of Deuteronomy. In this parasha, Moses begins his review of the story of the people of Israel in the 40 years following their exodus from Egypt. In his narrative, he recalls events such as his appointment of Judges and magistrates; the wandering through the desert; the sending of the spies; the people’s spurning of the Promised Land; the wars fought against the Emorite kings; and his own words of encouragement to his successor Joshua. Our discussion focuses on the role of water and words in the parasha, on their power to build and their power to destroy.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Mattot Massei with Rabbi Elisha Friedman

Rabbi Elisha Friedman

Our Guest this week is Rabbi Elisha Friedman, leader of the Kesher Israel congregation in Harrisburg, PA. Rabbi Friedman, the son of a Rabbi, is a graduate of Yeshiva University’s (YU) Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and is completing a doctorate in Modern Jewish Philosophy at YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies.

This Week’s Torah portion – Parashat Mattot-Massei (Numbers 30:2-36:13) – begins with Moses presenting the heads of the tribes with rules concerning the annulment of vows. War is waged against Midian and the Torah lists the different spoils Israel took hold of in their victory and describes how they are distributed. The tribes of Gad, Reuben and half of Menashe ask Moses for the territory East of the Jordan as their portion of the promised land, and Moses eventually agrees on the condition that they first help conquering the west part West of the Jordan. The boundaries of the Promised Land are stated, and cities of refuge are designated as havens for people who commit inadvertent murder. The portion ends with the story of the daughters of Tzelafchad marrying men of their own tribe (Menashe) in order to keep the estate which they inherited from their father within their own tribe. Our discussion focuses on the curious story of the two and a half tribes.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Pinchas with Rabbi Alexander Davis

Rabbi Alexander Davis

Rabbi Alexander Davis is the senior rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, MN, where he previously served as the associate rabbi. Rabbi Davis received his B.A. in German Studies from Grinnell College and in 1999 graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary with rabbinic ordination and an M.A. in Jewish Education. Since moving to the Twin Cities, Rabbi Davis has served on a variety of local boards and has participated in national conferences on Judaism and spirituality and synagogue leadership.

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1) – begins with Pinchas being rewarded for his problematic act of killing the Israelite and his Midianite paramour in the previous portion. A census is then conducted and God tells Moses how to divide the land between the tribes and people of Israel. The five daughters of Tzelafchad ask Moses to grant them the land of their father, who died with no sons, and God accepts their claim and adds it to the Torah’s laws of inheritance. Moses names Joshua as his successor, and the Parasha ends with a detailed list of daily offerings and of offerings brought on different holidays. Our talk focuses on the leadership transition from Moses to Joshua.


Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Balak with Rabbi Brett Krichiver

Rabbi Brett Krichiver

Our guest this week is Rabbi Brett Krichiver, Senior Rabbi of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation in Indiana. Rabbi Krichiver, an alumnus of UCLA, is a Wexner Fellow and a Bronfman Alum. He is a founding clergy member of IndyCAN, a community organizing group partnering with religious institutions city-wide. He also serves as a Board Member at Second Helpings and Planned Parenthood. He participates in the Northside Clergy Group, creating interfaith programming throughout Indianapolis, and serves on the Advisory Committee for Goldman Union Camp Institute, his childhood camp. He is currently co-chair of the Indiana Board of Rabbis.

This Week’s Torah portion – Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9) – features the famous story of the prophet Bilaam, who was sent by the Moabite king Balak to curse the people of Israel. On his way, Bilaam is berated by his Donkey who sees an angel of God blocking the road. Bilaam tries to curse the people of Israel three times (from three different vantage points) and each time ends up blessing them. He then continues to prophesize on the end of days and the coming of the Messiah. Our discussion tries to examine Bilaam’s odd story, its message, and its special status in Judaism.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Chukat with Rabbi Alan Green

Rabbi Alan Green

Our guest this week is Rabbi Alan Green of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Winnipeg, Canada. Rabbi Green received his BA and MA in the History of Religions from UCLA, and studied Rabbinic Literature for three years at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He received rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder and Dean of the Aleph Alliance for Jewish Renewal, in 1991. Prior to Shaarey Zedek, Rabbi Green served as spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Emet in Montebello and as spiritual leader of Winnipeg’s Beth Israel Congregation. Rabbi Green has been Senior Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek since the fall of 2000.

This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1) – Features the death of Aaron and Miriam, brother and sister of Moses; the famous story of Moses striking the stone; and Israel’s battles against the Emorite kings Sichon and Og. Our talk focuses on the odd Red Cow decree and on the important role of death in the parasha.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Beha’alotcha with Rabbi Rick Winer

Rabbi Rick Winer

Our guest this week is Rabbi Rick Winer of Temple Beth Israel in Fresno, CA. Rabbi Winer was ordained from Hebrew Union College in 1995, and he has been serving congregations ever since. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and is married to Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, an expert consultant in Jewish youth engagement.

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Beha’alotcha (Numbers 8:1-12:15) – begins with the lighting of the menorah and then goes on to describe the cleansing of the Levites and the first celebration of Passover in the desert. The Torah subsequently describes a series of bitter complaints made by the people of Israel about life in the desert, and the portion concludes with Moses’ sister Miriam speaking slander about Moses to their brother Aaron and getting punished for it with a terrible skin disease. Our discussion focuses on the family of Moses and on Miriam’s curious punishment.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Nasso with Rabbi Thomas Gardner

Rabbi Thomas Gardner

Our guest this week is Rabbi Thomas Gardner, leader of the Riverdal Temple in NYC. Rabbi Gardner was ordained in 2008 by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. He’s the recipient of the Sarah and Samuel Chernick Memorial Prize in Halakhic Literature and the David G. Sacks Scholarship Prize. Rabbi Gardner also has a M.A.H.L. from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, an M.A. from the University of Michigan and a B.A. from Oberlin College. Prior to the Riverdale Temple, Rabbi Gardner served as the senior rabbi at Beth Shalom Synagogue in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for 8 years.
This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Nasso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) – begins with the completion of the head count of the people of Israel. God then gives Moses instructions concerning the purification of the camp, ‘wayward wives’ (wives which are suspected of being unfaithful to her husband) Nezirim (Jewish ascetics who take a vow to devote themselves to God), and the priestly Blessings. Toward the end of the parasha the tabernacle is consecrated and the chieftains of the different tribes bring their offerings. Our discussion focuses on the perplexing Sotah (wayward wive) ritual in an attempt to examine how cultural context affects our reading of the Torah.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Bamidbar with Rabbi Amy Bernstein

Rabbi Amy Bernstein

Our guest this week is Rabbi Amy Bernstein, Senior Rabbi of the Kehillat Israel congregation in Pacific Palisades. An Atlanta native, Rabbi Bernstein has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Cultural Anthropology from Northwestern University, where she also earned a certificate in Women’s Studies. She is also an alumna of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. Before coming to KI, Rabbi Bernstein was the rabbi of Temple Israel in Duluth, Minnesota for 14 years. She served two terms as president of the Arrowhead Interfaith Council and six years on the Board of Trustees of the College of St. Scholastica, where she was also on the founding board of the Oreck/Alpern Inter-religious Forum. She was a scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Chautauqua Society and lectured widely throughout the Northland. Outside of her rabbinical work, Rabbi Bernstein performs as a member of Three Altos, a vocal trio.

This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20) – is the first portion read from the book of Numbers. The Parasha tells us about an elaborate census of the tribes of Israel conducted by Moses in the desert and continues to discuss the priests’ ceremonial duties. Our discussion focuses on the meaning behind the counting of the people of Israel and on their long, gruelling transformation from slaves to a nation of priests.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Behar/Bechukotai with Rabbi David Greenstein

Rabbi David Greenstein

Our guest this week is Rabbi David Greenstein, leader of the Shomrei Emuna congregation in Montclair, NJ. Before coming to Shomrei Emunah in 2009, Rabbi Greenstein was president and rabbinic dean of the Academy for Jewish Religion, a pluralistic rabbinic seminary in Riverdale, N.Y. He was the spiritual leader of the New Hyde Park Jewish Community Center, on Long Island, from 1993 until its merger in August 2004 with Shelter Rock Jewish Center. At Shelter Rock, he founded and directed the Shiluv Project, an initiative devoted to developing programs and resources for integrated Jewish living. Together with his wife Zelda, Rabbi Greenstein helped start Project Ezra, a social-service program that serves poor Jewish elderly residents of the Lower East Side of New York. The two are also founding members of the Fort Greene Jewish Family Cooperative in Brooklyn, and of what is now the Hannah Senesh Community Day School, a non-denominational Jewish day school in downtown Brooklyn.

This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Behar/Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34) – features regulations concerning Sabbatical and Jubilee years, commerce, and the redemption of slaves. It also contains a description of the rewards for observing God’s commandments and the series of punishments that will face Israel if they choose to disregard them. The Torah then discusses different types of gifts given to the Temple, and the animal tithe. Our discussion focuses on the importance of and meaning behind the Shmita and the Yovel – the agricultural sabbatical and the Jubilee year.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Emor with Rabbi Kenneth Chasen

Our guest this week is Rabbi Ken Chasen, Senior Rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles and an outspoken commentator and author on a wide variety of subjects pertaining to Jewish life, with a special emphasis on social justice in the U.S. and in Israel. His writings have appeared in a wide variety of national and international publications, including the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Reform Judaism and The Jewish Journal, among many others. Rabbi Chasen is also the co-author of two books which guide Jewish families in the creation of meaningful Jewish rituals in the home. In addition, he is a nationally recognized composer whose original liturgical and educational works are regularly heard in synagogues, religious schools, Jewish camps and sanctuaries across North America and in Israel.

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23) – begins with a set of purity regulations for priests. It then continues to list the main high holidays and to tell the story of a blasphemer who is stoned to death by the community. Our discussion focuses on the festival calendar of the Jewish year and on the much misunderstood “an eye for an eye” teaching.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim with Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

Our guest this week is Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, leader of the B’nai David-Judea congregation in LA. Rabbi Kanefsky was ordained in 1989 at Yeshiva University, where he also received a master’s degree in Jewish History. He began his rabbinic career in 1990 as the associate rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York, where he worked under the tutelage of spiritual activist Rabbi Avi Weiss. He came to B’nai David-Judea Congregation in the summer of 1996. He is a past president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, which he helped found. He is a teaching fellow for the Wexner Heritage Foundation.

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1-20:27) – describes the Tabernacle ceremony of the Day of Atonement, establishes general rules for sacrifice and sanctuary, and lays down specific laws about sexual relationships. Our conversation focuses on the role of holiness, justice, and mutual trust in communal life.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Tazria-Metzora with Rabbi Jonathan Aaron

Rabbi Jonathan Aaron

Our guest this week is Rabbi Jonathan Aaron, Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Rabbi Aaron received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater from Emerson College in 1983. He later attended Hebrew Union College, where he received a Master’s Degree in Jewish Education in 1993, and a Master’s Degree in Hebrew Letters in 1994, and was ordained as a Rabbi in 1996. Since ordination, Rabbi Aaron has served Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills in several roles; first as an Assistant, then Associate Rabbi, and now as Co-Senior Rabbi. He has also been Director of Education, and served as the Head of Temple Emanuel Academy Day School for almost a decade. Rabbi Aaron serves as a sworn-in Police Chaplain in the Beverly Hills Police Department, and is on the Board of Directors at The Maple Counseling Center in Beverly Hills. He also has been a visiting professor at Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion, where he has taught speech to second-year rabbinical students for more than 10 years.

This week’s double parashah – Parashat Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33) – features rules concerning the purity and impurity of women and the horrible disease of leprosy. Our discussion focuses on the priests’ curious attitude toward people inflicted with skin disease.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Shemini with Rabbi Daniel Fellman

Rabbi Daniel Fellman

Our guest this week is Rabbi Daniel Fellman, leader of Temple Concord in Syracuse, NY. Rabbi Fellman formerly served as Assistant and Associate Rabbi at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, NJ. He graduated from Colorado College with a degree in political science in 1996 and the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion with a master’s degree in Hebrew Letters in 2004 and was ordained in 2005. He was selected for Forty Under Forty in Syracuse in 2011. He currently serves on the Board of Interfaith Works and on the City/County Human Rights Commission. He also serves on the board of the Jewish Federation, the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Central New York, and the University Hill Corporation. He served as a White House intern in the Clinton administration and was a Japan-US Senate Scholar.

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Shmini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47) – tells us about God’s acceptance of Aaron’s offering, the deaths of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Aviu, and regulations concerning clean and unclean animals. Our discussion focuses on the themes of grief, silence, and holiness in the parasha.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Tsav

As we don’t have a new talk this week, we will be revisiting a couple of our past discussions. This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36) – features instructions given to the priests concerning sacrifices, the holy fire and the rites of ordination.

Here is Rabbi Joshua Rose on the character of Aaron and on the question of why he received the role of Cohen Gadol (Head Priest) even after his involvement in the Golden Calf affair:

And here is Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt on repetition, ritual and holiness:

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Vayikra with Rabbi Shaanan Gelman

Rabbi Shaanan Gelman

Our guest this wek is Rabbi Shaanan Gelman, leader of Kehilat Chovevei Tzion in Skokie, Illinois. Rabbi Gelman was born in Buffalo, NY and grew up in the Bronx. He earned a B.S. in Computer Science at Yeshiva College and Semicha from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanon Theological Seminary. He spent three years studying in Israel, two at Yeshivat Hakotel and later on at the Gruss Institute in Bayit Vegan. He was a Kollel Fellow in the Boca Raton Community Kollel, where he served as spiritual leader of the Explanatory Service as well as held the Gimmelstob chair in Education at the local Jewish Federation.  Rabbi Gelman is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, and serves on the executive board. He is an active member of the Chicago Rabbinical Council as well as serving on the board of the Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago. Rabbi Gelman is a fervent Zionist and is active in AIPAC.

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26) – is the first portion of the book of Leviticus. The portion introduces the sacrificial service and describes five different kinds of sacrifice. Our discussion focuses on the Moses and Aaron relationship and on sibling relationships in the Bible.


Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei with Rabbi Tom Heyn

Rabbi Tom Heyn

Our guest this week is Rabbi Tom Heyn, leader of Temple Israel of the Greater Miami. Raised in a secular Jewish family in Baltimore, Rabbi Heyn underwent several transformative spiritual experiences before returning to and embracing his Jewish roots. He earned his BA in History and Hebrew Studies from the University of Wisconsin and his MA and Rabbinic Ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He also completed his clinical education and training in pastoral care (CPE) through leading institutions such as Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Rabbi Heyn has served both urban and rural communities (most recently in Brattleboro, Vermont) as a congregational rabbi, Jewish educator, hospice chaplain, professional musician and spiritual guide.

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei – (Exodus 35:1-40:38) – begins with Moses commanding the people of Israel to observe the Shabbat and continues to tell us in great detail about the building of the Tabernacle. Pekudei, the last reading from Exodus begins with an audit of how the contributions for the Tabernacle (the Mishkan) were used. The portion goes on to describe the completion of the Tabernacle and its assembly and concludes by depicting the glory of the lord entering it. Our discussion focuses on the similarities and differences between the Mishkan and the temples of today.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Ki Tisa with Rabbi Charles Arian

Rabbi Charles Arian with the Kehilat Shalom Cantor Kimberley Komrad

Our guest this week is Rabbi Charles Arian, of the Kehilat Shalom congregation in Gaithersburg, MD. Rabbi Arian joined the Kehilat Shalom in the summer of 2012. Previously, he was the rabbi of Beth Jacob Synagogue in Norwich, CT. He was raised in Brooklyn, New York, and Hazlet, New Jersey, and received his undergraduate degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. He received his MAHL degree and his rabbinic ordination from the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College, and his Doctorate of Divinity, honoris causa, from the New York campus of Hebrew Union College on May 5, 2011. Although originally ordained as a Reform rabbi, he became affiliated with the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly while working for the Hillel Foundations.

This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35) – begins with the census of the people of Israel and with further instructions concerning the Tabernacle and the Shabbat. The portion then proceeds to tell the story of the Golden Calf, Moses’ plea to god, the splitting of the Tablets into two, and the giving of the second tablets. Our talk focuses on the idea of taking personal responsibility for our actions.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Tetzaveh with Rabbi Peter Stein

Rabbi Peter Stein

Our guest this week is Rabbi Peter Stein, leader of Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, NY. Rabbi Stein was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, studying in New York City and Jerusalem. His undergraduate studies were at Cornell University, and he also completed the Jewish Leaders Program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Prior to B’rith Kodesh, Rabbi Stein served as rabbi of Temple Sinai in Cranston, RI and as associate rabbi of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh, PA. Rabbi Stein is an alumnus of the Rabbis Without Borders Fellowship of CLAL and the Brickner Fellowship of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10) – continues giving us the instructions concerning the tabernacle, focusing on the role of the priesthood. Our discussion focuses on the perpetual light as a symbol of hope and responsibility.



Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Mishpatim with Rabbi Daniel Greyber

Rabbi Daniel Greyber

Our guest this week is Rabbi Daniel Greyber, rabbi at Beth El Synagogue in Durham, NC and author of Faith Unravels: A Rabbi’s Struggle With Grief and God. Formerly a Jerusalem Fellow at the Mandel Leadership Institute, faculty member at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles and the Executive Director of Camp Ramah in California, Rabbi Greyber currently serves on the editorial board of Conservative Judaism, and his articles have been featured in a wide range of Jewish publications. In the summer of 2017 he will serve as theTeam USA Rabbi at the 20th World Maccabiah Games in Israel.

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18) – contains a vast number of laws given to the people of Israel, including laws concerning slaves, murder and theft, restitution, and a myriad of other social and religious matters. Our discussion focuses on the ways in which revelation can affect our everyday lives and on a curious episode of post-revelatory eating and drinking described at the end of the parasha.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Yitro with Rabbi Ari Weiss

Rabbi Ari Weiss

Our guest this week is Rabbi Ari Weiss of Cornell Hillel at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. Rabbi Weiss received his rabbinical ordination from YCT Rabbinical School. He has studied philosophy and Jewish studies at graduate schools in New York and Jerusalem and received his B.A. from Yeshiva College, where he studied Philosophy and Religion. Rabbi Weiss recently served as the Interim Managing Director and Senior Director of Jewish Education at NEXT: A Division of the Birthright Israel Foundation. Prior to joining NEXT, Ari was the Executive Director of Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization, and grew it to engage tens of thousands of people in 15 cities.

This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23) – begins with the advice given by Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, to the people of Israel, and continues to tell us about the gathering of the people of Israel at Mount Sinai and about the giving of the Ten Commandments. Our discussion tries to find out how many commandments there really are in the Ten Commandments.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Beshalach with Rabbi Rachel Timoner

Rabbi Rachel Timoner

Our guest this week is Rabbi Rachel Timoner, Senior Rabbi of the Beth Elohim congregation in Brooklyn. Rabbi Timoner grew up in Miami, Florida, received a B.A. from Yale University, and received s’micha from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2009, where she was a Wexner Graduate Fellow. From 2009 to 2015, Rabbi Timoner served as Associate Rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles. During this period she also served as a leader of Reform CA, a state-wide movement of more than 120 rabbis and many lay leaders to serve as a powerful voice for social justice in California, winning protection for 1.5 million undocumented immigrants and more than a billion dollars in affordable housing. From 1998 to 2004, she was a facilitator and consultant in organizational development and strategic planning. Prior to that, Rabbi Timoner raised funds to rebuild the San Francisco Women’s Building, a community center for low-income women; worked to mitigate the impact of welfare reform in California; worked in San Francisco City Hall for Supervisor Harry Britt; and founded two leadership programs and a peer hotline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered youth.

This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16) – features the people of Israel being led out of Egypt by pillars of cloud and fire, the dramatic parting of the Red Sea, the song of Miriam, the bread from heaven, Moses hitting the rock, and Israel’s war with Amalek. Our discussion focuses on the fearful moment the people of Israel experience when the Egyptian army are closing in on them and on the deep effect this moment has on their liberation process.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Bo with Rabbi Adam Zeff

Rabbi Adam Zeff

Our guest this week is Rabbi Adam Zeff, leader of the Germantown Jewish Center in Philadelphia. Rabbi Zeff has served the Germantown Jewish Centre community since 2002, as Student Rabbi, Assistant Rabbi, and now as Rabbi. He received his rabbinic ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2007.  In addition to his other responsibilities, Rabbi Zeff enjoys bringing music and storytelling into his rabbinic work at GJC, where he also serves as the hazzan and choir director. He has trained as a singer and musician for many years, studying western classical music, South Indian classical music, and diverse Jewish musical traditions. Rabbi Zeff holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania.

This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) – features the final three plagues of Egypt, the People of Israel’s departure from Egypt, and the first Passover celebration. Our discussion focuses on the idea of maintaining positivity and recognizing the point of view of the other in our struggle for Justice.

A divine call to action: Parashat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26)

Once, on a mission to Israel, we needed a minyan for a prayer service during the airplane flight. We were a total of six men in our group, so we began to scan the plane for the remaining four for the requisite 10 men.

As I went up and down the aisles, one fellow turned to me and said, “Rabbi, make sure you get Jews for the minyan.” I looked at him in astonishment and assured him that I didn’t have any other plans. But why was he worried?  He replied that many years ago on a flight to Israel, they also needed four men to complete a minyan. They went around calling out, “We need four for a minyan—four for a minyan.” Before they knew it, four guys got up and joined them. They handed the men kippot and started the service. Suddenly the newcomers stopped the proceedings and asked what was happening. The others explained that they needed four more men to make the minyan. The newcomers, astounded, said, “We thought you were asking for four Armenians, so we joined you. We are not even Jewish.”

These fellows responded to the call but misinterpreted the message. This week’s Torah portion teaches the same lesson about the importance of hearing the call correctly. The portion begins with the words, “And the Eternal called unto Moses,” (Leviticus 1:1). Our sages point out that this wording is unusual. Generally, in Scripture, we encounter the expression that “God said to Moses,” or “God spoke to Moses.” As one rabbi noted, you don’t have to be a Biblical scholar or even barely familiar with Hebrew grammar to appreciate that the phrase “and He called” suggests that the mind of the person addressed is not attuned to or in communion with the mind of the speaker. One doesn’t call a person with whom one is in intimate conversation or rapport. One calls a man to attract his attention.

The midrash in the Yalkut Shimoni uses this insight to provide a beautiful homily. The midrash points out that the one, who flees from positions of honor and authority, achieves honor and authority. The Yalkut provides many examples of great Jewish leaders who illustrate this principle and comments that Moses represented the best example of all.

The Yalkut tells us how Moses tried to reject the appointment to be the savior of the Jewish people and lead them out of Egypt. God, however, was adamant, and Moses performed admirably. At this point the midrash comments:

“In the end he brought them out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, brought down Manna from heaven, provided water from the well and quail from heaven, and caused them to be surrounded with the clouds of glory, and erected for them the sanctuary. Having reached this stage, Moses said, ‘What more is there for me to do?’ And he sat in retirement. Thereupon the Holy One, Blessed be He, reproved him saying, ‘By your life! There is still a task for you to perform that is even greater than that which you have done until now; to teach my children my laws and to instruct them how to worship Me.’ ”

If “Vayikra,” the call to continue his task, applied to the greatest leader we ever had, how much more does it apply today?

Why, for example, is philanthropy for Jewish causes suffering among the most affluent and generous of Jewish generations?

Why is higher education in Jewish studies absent among the most educated and cultured in Jewish history?

Why is commitment to a Jewish homeland missing after only one generation past the Holocaust?

At a similar juncture in Jewish history, the great sage Hillel asked, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” That question challenges us today to go back to work, “Vayikra,” to achieve a positive response to God’s call.

This column originally appeared in 2004. 

Elazar Muskin is senior rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

Courage to Lead: Parashat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

We ended last week’s parasha with the Jewish nation crying as quasi-leaders sinned publicly with Midianite women, who had come into our camp at the Moabites’ behest.

We would have no rest from these Midianites, nor from their Moabite agitators. God ultimately would warn us to avoid such nations utterly — not even to wish Moabites or Ammonites well (Devarim 23:7).

The Moabites and Ammonites stemmed from Lot, Avraham’s nephew. The Midianites were our “cousins,” descended directly from Avraham and Keturah, whom Rabbi Yehudah identifies as Hagar, mother of Yishmael. Although Yitro, high priest of Midian, had proved himself a friend, opening his home to Moshe and even giving his daughter Tziporah to be Moshe’s wife, Yitro had been unique — a theological dissident who alienated his people by rejecting their idolatry. Brazen locals brutalized his daughters at the well.

Our problems with our “cousins” among the nomadic Midianites, the Ammonites and the Moabites continued through the generations. In the Age of Judges, Ehud had to save us from Moav, Gideon saved us from Midianite persecution, and Yiftach later saved us from Ammon. Thus it continued through the era of the Kings: Shaul’s wars with Moav and Ammon (I Shmuel 14:47), David’s (II Shmuel 8:2-3, 23:20) and through the books of Kings. There was no simple Peace Now plan or clever Oslo accord that could solve the interminable and insoluble problem defining Jewish destiny from time immemorial: being surrounded by “cousins” sworn to uproot Jews from Israel.

We saw in last week’s parasha that standing around, crying and wringing hands solved nothing. It never does. Most people knew right from wrong but maybe did not know what to do or lacked the courage to get involved. In the face of national paralysis, Pinchas emerged and, seeing catastrophe consume the camp, acted boldly. For that courage, he was awarded an eternal covenant of the Kehunah (priesthood).

We all see the need for action in the face of compromised Torah values — assimilation, self-hating Jews joining flotillas to Gaza and the like. And we cry. Very few emerge to lead. Yet the Jewish leader’s role often is difficult. Jewish history is replete with stories of rabbis standing alone when the demand of the hour fell on their shoulders, while others buried their heads, grateful for his presence, but remaining cowardly silent, afraid to lose friends or business associates.

The Chofetz Chaim shares his father’s parable of a merchant who is about to travel the seas in search of wealth. He asks others to accompany him, but only one man accepts his offer. They depart, and no one hears from them again until years later, when they both return with precious gems, wealth beyond description. From that day forward, others live with regret that they had not journeyed, too.

Although some rabbinic families are multi-generational, the American rabbinate is not dynastic. Most everyone has the opportunity to attain Torah greatness. In Bereshit 46, Dan numbers only one son (and hard of hearing, at that) compared to Binyamin’s 10. But by this week’s parasha Binyamin numbers 45,600 while Dan numbers 64,400 (Numbers 26:41-43). Yesterday’s numbers are not today’s. Today’s realities are not tomorrow’s. Yeshiva doors are open to new, future leaders. Moses did not become a leader until he was 80. How old are you?

Rabbi Elazar says that Pinchas actually had not been designated a Kohen until he killed Zimri. Yet the “late-blooming” Pinchas ultimately is progenitor of the Kohen Gadol dynasty. He merited greatness because he opted to risk life, not merely to wring hands. By acting, he brought atonement to the entire Jewish people. Sforno explains that God forgave because at least they did not criticize Pinchas after he arose.

He saved the nation even though, as Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch observes, he was but one man, performing but one deed. As Rav Hirsch writes, a true peace advocate fights against the enemies of truth. Cynics, claiming the mantle of “peace-loving,” may condemn him as “Disturber of the Peace — dividing the community.” It is the paradox of history that peace often comes only when — amid hand wringing — the courageous few risk their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Their risks are great, but they are the people of spirit to whom we owe all. In the end, we tell them, “We were behind you all along.” And it is true.

Recognizing a Community: Parashat Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38)

When looking for biblical themes on the importance of community, one needs look no further than those portions at the end of Exodus that deal with the construction of the mishkan (Tabernacle). This special structure represents the collective spiritual power of the Jewish people, which is far greater than the sum of the individual parts. Separately, the individual Jew does not have enough spiritual energy to bring the Divine Presence, the Shekhinah, into this world. But when the Jewish people join in the construction of a communal edifice, a structure that represents their collective worship and spiritual energy, the Shekhinah eagerly embeds Itself within the people.

A curious midrash relates that when Moses was making an inventory of all the donated materials for the mishkan, he couldn’t account for 1,775 silver shekels that had been donated but were nowhere to be found in the final construct. He began to panic and thought: The people will accuse me of being an embezzler! At that moment, God enlightened him and he saw the silver hooks, meant to hold up all the mishkan tapestries, hanging on the beams of the mishkan. This was where the missing silver had gone.

The midrash has profound meaning, as do all midrashim of this genre, because it tells us something vital about community. The word “hook” in Hebrew is vav, which also happens to be the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This letter is actually shaped like a vertical hook; it’s a simple straight bar with a protruding head. Not coincidentally, the letter vav serves the same function as a hook: it attaches two things together. Just as a hook attaches a tapestry to a beam or a wall, so does the letter vav serve in Hebrew as the conjunction word “and,” which conjoins phrases and ideas in a sentence.

Sometimes we look at a community and we see a disjointed and disconnected group of people. We fail to see the vavs, the vital ingredients that hold these people together and make them a community. This blindness is potentially disastrous, for without knowing about the hooks, we have no way of knowing how to keep the community together should a crisis strike that threatens to tear us apart.

Sometimes the vavs of the community are a common organization; sometimes they are a common edifice; sometimes (and hopefully most importantly), they are Judaism and Torah themselves. But we must remember those things that bind us or we are doomed to be torn asunder.

When Cain killed Abel, God cursed Cain and consigned him to be a wanderer for the rest of his life. But he also gave him “the sign of Cain,” which was some insignia on his forehead that would remind everyone who he was. What was this symbol? According to the Zohar, it was the letter vav. Why? Rabbi Meir Shapiro (d. 1933) aptly surmised that any person who could ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” needed to be reminded that there are other people in the world. The letter vav, Hebrew’s “and,” needed to be permanently emblazoned on Cain’s head to constantly remind him that he is not the only person — there’s me and my brother; there’s me and my sister; there’s me and the rest of the community. Cain had lost sight of the vavs, and he paid the ultimate price of living the rest of his life with the remorse of having destroyed his brother.

The Shulhan Aruch — the Code of Jewish Law — states that when writing a Torah scroll, it is customary to start each new column of words with the letter vav. The vav reminds us that the Torah is not a disjointed set of disparate ideas, but one unified corpus of Divine literature. The vavs in the mishkan reminded Moses that the Jewish people are not just individuals. Surely, every Jew has an individual tapestry that is colorful and uniquely beautiful. But in order for the tapestry to radiate its beauty properly, it must be hung upon the Tabernacle hooks and become part of the larger edifice, the larger community of the Jewish people.

It is so easy to lose sight of the vavs in our community, especially when each of our voices is so passionate, so unique and so different from the other voices. But without the vavs, we are merely just individual voices; together, our collective voice — if we dare to find it — can bring the Divine Presence back to our community and, ultimately, to the entire world.

Rabbi Korobkin is rosh kehillah of Yavneh in Hancock Park, a community mohel and provides synagogue services for the Orthodox Union.