Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Shoftim 5776

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Applied Justice

Posted on September 7, 2016

All Jews, whether Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or something else, come originally from a religious culture shaped by its process of applying divine law to a very human, fallible, earthbound population. Our heritage is based on the kind of thinking that takes great, idealistic proclamations designed to further morality and applies them to mundane daily life with sometimes fascinating results.

A core ideal of Judaism is to work to create a society based on justice, which will lead, ultimately, to peace and goodness.  But it is justice that is always the focus, which is embodied in a Torah portion we’ll read Saturday called Shoftim, “Judges”, that is filled with the concept of justice.

Tzedek tzedek tirdof, we are commanded here: pursue true justice!  It is a powerful and remarkable ideal.  Our societies must strive for absolute fairness, must be just in every way.  But justice is more than high ideals.  It is applying sacred principles to the mundane reality of daily life, including rules of ritual observance.  Judaism makes not distinction between ethical and ritual laws.  All are part of creating a society based on justice.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Shoftim 5776

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Ekev 5776

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Real Cardiac Jews

Posted on August 24, 2016

Have you heard about the new movement in Judaism?  It's not Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox, or even Reconstructionist or Renewal.  It's "cardiac Jews."  You know - "I'm Jewish in my heart."  While we usually think of this as a kind of abdication, meaning "I'm Jewish in my heart but I don't do anything about it in my actual life," there is one sense in which being a cardiac Jew can have real meaning.

 

In the middle of our weekly Torah portion of Ekev a great question is asked: "What does the Lord your God ask of you?  "That you have awe of the Lord your God, and walk in all of God's ways and love God, and serve the Lord your God with

 all your heart and all your soul."   But it then follows this wonderful spiritual and moral instruction with a puzzling passage in which it tells us to do something physically impossible.  We are commanded to "circumcise the foreskin of our hearts."  This is a new kind ofberit milah, and one that smacks of flat-out self-murder.  

 

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Ekev 5776

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Re’ei 5776

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Benefit of the Doubt

Posted on August 31, 2016

We celebrate the new month of Elul on this Shabbat with Rosh Chodesh Saturday and Sunday, the beginning of the last month of the Jewish year.  It's the time of year for us to think about the state of our relationships, to prepare to do a cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the state of our souls, to reflect on where we are in our lives, where we've been, and where we are headed.

The opening lines of this week's parsha, Re'ei, are famously about choice.  In that passage Moses says to us, the people,


Re'ei, anochi noten lifneichem hayom bracha u'klalla.
Et habracha asher tishm'u el-mitzvot Adonai Eloheichem asher anochi m'tzaveh etchem hayom.
V'haklallah im-lo tishm'u el-mitzvot Adonai Eloheichem…

“See, I give you today a blessing and a curse.
The blessing, if you listen to the mitzvot of your God that I command you today.
And the curse if you don't obey or listen.”

On the surface, this seems like a simple restatement of the central message repeated all through Devarim: if you do good, you will be blessed; if you do evil, you will be cursed.  This Deuteronomic covenant lies at the heart of the Torah’s understanding of ethics.

But commentator Nechama Liebowitz points out that these are not really two parallel “if’s” here, “blessing IF you listen, curse IF you do not," though most translations hide that.  The Torah uses two different words: it reads "et habracha ASHER tishm'u", "v'haklalla IM-lo tishm'u".  That is, the blessing, because you listen, and the curse, if you do not.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Re’ei 5776

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Va’etchanan/Nachamu 5776

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Learning to Listen, and So to Love

Posted on August 17, 2016

This week we read the second portion in the book of Deuteronomy in the Torah, the remarkable sedrah of Va’etchananVa’etchanan includes truly spectacular texts: the Shema, the central statement of God’s oneness in the world, Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad, Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One, followed immediately by the Ve’ahavta, the commandment to love God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength.  

As if that were not enough honor for one Torah portion, Va’etchanan also includes the recitation of the Ten Commandments, the Aseret Hadibrot, for the second time in the Torah.  If you were to rank Torah portions you could easily put Va’etchanan near the top in quality of content.  It is no accident that this powerfully affirming portion is read the week after Tisha B’Av, the commemoration of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, on Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of consolation, for we take comfort in our knowledge that morality and holiness will ultimately bring justice.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Va’etchanan/Nachamu 5776

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Devarim/Hazon 5776

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Speech, Listening, and Practice

Posted on August 16, 2016

This week we begin the great final book of the Torah, Devarim or Deuteronomy, which is also known as Mishnah Torah.  The people of Israel have arrived at the very borders of the Promised Land, and our great leader Moses begins a long sermon--three, actually--that will carry us forward through the entire book of Deuteronomy.  If you thought some rabbi's sermons were on the long-winded side, try this: Moses first speech in Deuteronomy starts this Shabbat and doesn't conclude until next week--and that's by far the shortest of his sermons in Devarim.

Nowadays, most rabbis wouldn't dream of delivering a sermon that lasted for several weeks...  Perhaps even rabbis have the capacity to learn from their predecessors!

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Devarim/Hazon 5776

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