The Gap between the Rich and the Poor

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

According to Proverbs (13:7), “There are rich people who have nothing, and poor people who have great wealth.”

When Warren Buffett announced that he was giving away 99% of his net wealth to charity, he said it was because he can’t spend more than 1% of it. True, his 1% is a lot of money, but his magnanimous gesture begs the question: Why did he work so hard for the 99% just to give it away?

The Symbolism of the Menorah

Written by Rabbi Moshe Taragin on . Posted in Torah

Parshat Beha’alotecha details the daily lighting of the menorah in the mishkan (tabernacle). This description of the menorah is juxtaposed with the inauguration of the mishkan in the previous parsha, Naso. This juxtaposition establishes the menorah as a symbol that launches the period of the mishkan and, potentially, the golden era of Jewish history. Sadly, we squandered this potential with the debacle of the meraglim (spies). Had we actualized this potential, we would have rapidly entered Israel and introduced monarchy and utopia.

An Intense Juxtaposition

Written by Rabbi Sarah Krinsky on . Posted in Torah

When we zoom out the calendar and look at the month of May, we see a month that is very full. Full not just in terms of days to note — though, with all of May falling during the period of the Omer, each day is a day to note. Full not just in terms of holidays — though between Yom HaShoah, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Ha’atzmaut, and Lag B’Omer, there are lots of commemorations and celebrations.

More than this — or, more accurately, because of all of this — May is a month that, overlaid with our Jewish calendar, feels very emotionally full.

Part of this is because of the intense emotional valence of the sanctified days themselves. Yom HaShoah and Yom Hazikaron mark moments of extreme horror and tragedy — some of the darkest hours of Jewish history, and some of the most challenging corners of the Jewish present. Yom Ha’atzmaut and Lag B’Omer, on the other hand, are times of raucous celebration — communal gatherings, bonfires, fireworks, and song.

Even more than the days themselves, though, is the acute juxtaposition of these events, one right after the other. This is felt most profoundly with Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, which blend one into another. Experiencing this transition in Israel — and watching the country move so intentionally and so powerfully from deep mourning to deep celebration — really made clear for me how jarring it can be to move so quickly from one spiritual extreme to another.

This emotional whiplash reminds me of a passage from the Babylonian Talmud that I often find myself reflecting on or referring to — the section in Masechet Ketubot that asks what happens when a funeral procession and a wedding procession collide. In a small alleyway or narrow street, which procession would have the right of way?

The Talmud does (unusually!) give a clear answer to this dilemma. But what strikes me more about this passage is not the answer, but rather the question itself. It seems like the Talmud is facing a month like May — an intense juxtaposition of joy and sorrow, of celebration and mourning. It is acknowledging what so many of us know to be true: In a community that is large and full, or even in an individual life that is complex and multifaceted, there is often cause both for joy and for sorrow at one and the same moment. This time of year, then, gives us permission to experience, explore, and bring to the forefront all of these different parts of ourselves and our lives, even — or especially — when it feels like they might conflict or be in tension with one another.

Rabbi Sarah Krinsky


Rabbi Sarah Krinsky is an assistant rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.

Herzl Goes to Shushan

Written by Rabbi Steven I. Rein on . Posted in Torah

Born in 1860, Theodor Herzl grew up secular and spoke of Judaism with mocking cynicism. As a late 19th century westernized Jewish intellectual, he believed that complete assimilation was both desirable and inevitable.

Love Love and Hate Hate

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

I don’t want you to think I smile at everyone and have endless patience for even the biggest of fools. Far from it! But I do want to tell you why you will be happier when you love more and hate less.

How Pleasant It Is

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

Both this week’s parsha (Torah portion) and the Book of Genesis end on a bittersweet note. The brothers worry that Joseph still holds a grudge against them; and, despite claims to the contrary, that he will take revenge on them for selling him into slavery. This is why they concoct a story for Joseph that their father, Jacob, gave them clear instructions on his deathbed to tell Joseph to forgive his brothers.

Cow Tears

Written by Rabbi Baars on . Posted in Torah

It’s easy to miss a most stunning idea smack in the middle of this week’s parsha (Torah portion).

Making the Seder Relevant

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

Each Jewish holiday is a lesson in life. On Sukkot, we learn about joy. On Rosh Hashanah, it’s goals. Yom Kippur is about learning from our mistakes. And Passover is all about freedom. It is the type of freedom that has given the Jewish people its power to survive and to thrive; not a freedom of the body as much as a freedom of the spirit. This same freedom is available at Passover, booster shot style, to help you achieve whatever you want. After all, people with true freedom are free to change themselves and change the world!

Esther, The Thriller

Written by Haim Ovadia on . Posted in Torah

Of all the gripping tales of the Tanach (Bible), the story of Esther, intricate and elaborate, stands out as one that could have been written for the stage. The omniscient narrator describes the location, setting, wardrobe, and mood for each episode. The narrative contains all the elements of a great story: intrigues, power plays, religion, a ruthless villain, a wise man, a captured princess, and a love triangle.

Know Your Value

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

“And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horse[emphasis added], his chariots, and his horsemen” (Exodus 14:23).

The medieval commentator Rashi asks, “Was there only one horse?” Obviously not. He explains the deeper message of this word choice: That no one horse had more value than any other.

The Mitzvah to Plan for the Future

Written by Rabbi Dov Linzer on . Posted in Torah

What does the Torah have to say about a person making concrete plans for the eventuality of her death? Is it appropriate to sign a health care proxy or to make out a will?

There is no better example than our patriarch, Jacob. When this week’s parsha (Torah potion), Vayechi, opens, Jacob is getting older and sees that his death is not far off. So, what does he do? He plans for it. He calls Joseph to his bedside, refers explicitly to his impending death (“I will lie down with my fathers”), and makes arrangements for his burial.