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

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

Changing Culture:

Posted on June 15, 2017

This week we chant the dramatic portion of Shelach Lecha in the book of Numbers, the story of the meraglim, the spies. The Israelites have journeyed to the borders of the Holy Land, just a year and a half after leaving Egyptian exile. Under God’s direction, Moses sends 12 spies, one from every tribe, princes of the people—wealthy men of standing—into the land of Canaan to scout out the land and see if it can be captured.

The spies take a month and they see the whole land—and report back to Moses that the land is very good, flowing with milk and honey. They bring back a huge cluster of grapes, so large it needs to be carried by two men on a pole, now the enduring symbol of Israel’s tourism ministry. Everything’s going to be great—only it’s not. Ten of the twelve spies then report that the people of the land are huge—“we felt like grasshoppers next to them”—and numerous, the cities fortified and unassailable. The Israelites have no chance, in spite of having God’s support.

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

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Beha'alotecha 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

Talk About It: The Ethics of Speech

Posted on June 8, 2017

This week our portion, Beha’alotecha from the Book of Numbers, is filled with a series of incidents and events from the Wilderness Days, as well as a couple of important commandments.  It’s in this week’s portion that instructions are given to create the first menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum that has become the most enduring symbol of Judaism.  It’s also here that we get the first rumblings of rebellion that will explode into full-fledged revolt against Moses and Aaron in just a few more weeks, the disastrous story of Korach.  But most significant in this week’s sedrah is a peculiar little story about gossip.

Moses has married a new wife, and his brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, don’t think much of her.  So they begin to talk about her, and about Moses, behind his back, circulating rumors and gossip.  She isn’t of the right ethnicity, they don’t like her influence on Moses, she probably laughs inappropriately or wears her hair too long.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Beha'alotecha 5777

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

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

All You Really Need

Posted on June 1, 2017

This week we chant the second portion of the book of Numbers, called Naso, which includes a remarkable blessing.  The Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing, is really three distinct brachot, three separate prayers, with which the ancient priests are commanded to bless the people. 

From its inception this three-part blessing had exceptional importance.  As the Torah quotes God saying, “with this blessing you will place My Name on the people of Israel, samu et shemi al b’nai Yisrael”—that is, this very blessing conveys God’s presence among us, and offers God’s protection. 

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

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

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

Yom Yerushalayim—The City of Peace
On the 50 year-Anniversary of the 6-Day War

Posted on May 25, 2017

This week we read the Torah portion of Bamidbar, which describes a census taken of the people of Israel as we are about to go to war to capture our land.  The timing is fascinating, for today we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim on the Jewish calendar, the holiday that commemorates the reunification of the city of Jerusalem in the miraculous Six Day War of 1967.  It has been exactly 50 years on the Jewish calendar since we were finally able to return to the Kotel, the Western Wall, holiest place on earth for Jews; 50 years since the commander of the troops who captured the Old City from Jordanian forces, Motta Gur, announced, Har HaBayit B’yadeinu—the Temple Mount is in our hands.

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

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Behar/Bechukotai 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

We Bring Mt. Sinai with Us

Posted on May 18, 2017

This week we read the sedrah of Behar-Bechukotai, the double portion at the end of the book of Leviticus.  In these final sections of the middle book of the Torah there are interesting oddities—and lessons—both at the beginning and the end of each portion. 

Behar begins with the statement that “God spoke to Moses at Mt. Sinai saying”, a seemingly unambiguous phrase. And at the end of the opening covenantal section of Bechukotai the Torah reiterates that God gave all the regulations and laws contained here at Mt. Sinai.  Finally, Bechukotai concludes the book of Vayikra by telling us “these are the commandments that God commanded Moses for the Israelites on Mt. Sinai”. 

All well and good.  These rules of holiness and personal conduct must have been commanded at Mt. Sinai.

Yet earlier in Leviticus it makes it pretty clear that God has given most of these commandments not at Mt. Sinai itself, but in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, the Ohel Mo’eid, the Tent of Meeting, as the people wander around.  In fact, the whole book of Leviticus is apparently given after we have left Sinai and begun our journey to the Promised Land.  Clearly, as Behar begins the Israelites don’t actually seem to still be at Mt. Sinai at all.

What gives?

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Behar/Bechukotai 5777

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