Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Tetzaveh/Shabbat Zachor 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

Memory and Redemption

Posted on March 8, 2017

This week we observe Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance in Jewish tradition.  By custom, after reading our weekly Torah portion of Tetzaveh from Exodus we add a short section of text that recalls the attack by the enemy nation Amalek on our Israelite stragglers as we escaped Egypt during the Exodus.  This vicious and cowardly attack is memorialized each year on the Shabbat prior to Purim.  The short maftir section both begins and ends with words of memory: Zachor et asher asa lecha Amalek, it begins, “Remember what Amalek did to you,” and it concludes with the powerful statement timcheh et zecher Amalek mitachat Hashamayim; al tishkach, “Obliterate the memory of Amalek under heaven; don’t forget!”   

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Tetzaveh/Shabbat Zachor 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Terumah 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

What the Heck Can Ritual Sacrfice Teach Us Today?

Posted on March 1, 2017

Asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham, “Make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them,” God commands in this week’s Torah portion of Terumah, and the sanctuary ordained is for the purpose of ritual animal sacrifice. Defunct in Jewish tradition for over 1900 years, since the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 CE, just what the heck can ritual sacrifice teach us in the year 2017 CE?

One of the central teachings of Judaism, one of our great and most influential revelations, is that God does not require human sacrifice of us.  From the time of the binding of Isaac, the Akeidah we read on Rosh Hashanah, through the creation of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness of Sinai that is the heart of our Torah portion of Terumah this week, Judaism repeatedly affirmed that children are not bred to be sacrificed to an angry or vengeful God. Instead, sacrifice is ritualized to animals, and used to supplant the dangerous pagan tendency to sacrifice human beings.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Terumah 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Mishpatim 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

Building Society One Law at a Time

Posted on February 23, 2017

This week’s Torah portion of Mishpatim includes as many laws as any other part of the entire Torah. After the last few weeks of spectacularly dramatic Torah portions featuring some of the greatest highlights in the entirety of Jewish tradition—indeed, of all religious history—Mishpatim comes as a major let down.

Last week, amid the smoke and thunder of Mt. Sinai, we received the Ten Commandments; the week before God parted the Sea for us and we miraculously crossed on dry land; and in the weeks before that 10 plagues struck the Egyptians, and Pharaoh and Moses had their duel of wills in the desert.

But Mishpatim is nothing more than a collection of laws about how to interact with other human beings—civil legislation. How exciting: how to handle someone else’s property fairly. How to assess punitive damages for a man who injures another person, or destroys someone else’s property. How to act when someone puts his or her property in trust with you. The laws of manslaughter and theft and damages.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Mishpatim 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Yitro 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

By Heart

Posted on February 16, 2017

Can you recite the Ten Commandments by heart?

I suspect not; most of us can’t.  We usually remember, “Thou shalt not murder”—often misstated as “Thou shalt not kill”—and “Thou shalt not steal.”  Most people kind of recall that there is something in there about honoring father and mother, and not swearing. Others might get the adultery part, or perhaps even the Sabbath.  Few people remember all ten.

But whether we know them by heart or not these “Ten Statements” (the translation of the Hebrew Aseret haDibrot)  from this week’s Torah portion of Yitro are supposed to be the only words God ever spoke directly to our people.  Yet they are not really at the heart of our Judaism today.  Why not?

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Yitro 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On B'Shalach/Shabbat Shirah 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

Song to the Violent God

Posted on February 9, 2017

“God (YHVH) is a man of war!  YHVH is His Name!”  -- Exodus 15:3

The Torah portion of B’Shalach is justly famous for two reasons.  First, it tells the great tale of the crossing of the yam suf, the Sea or Reeds (or perhaps the Red Sea itself) and the redemption of the people of Israel from destruction at the hands of Pharaoh’s army.  Second, after the crossing, Moses and the people of Israel sing the magnificent Az Yashir Moshe, Moses’s Song, about their salvation through divine action.  B’Shalach is always chanted on Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song, and it is celebrated with special musical services in virtually every Reform and Progressive synagogue in the world.

The story itself couldn’t be much more familiar, not only from the Torah text itself and every Passover Seder you have ever attended, but from the arts.  The Exodus is featured in paintings, novels, and poems, and there have been a variety of mediocre film interpretations, ranging from “The Ten Commandments” to “The Prince of Egypt” to last year’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”  Still, the story is worth hearing yet again.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On B'Shalach/Shabbat Shirah 5777

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