All posts by OmerLearning Bot

Omer Learning 2018: Day 49 | Parashah: V’Zot HaBerachah

Today is 49 days, which is 7 weeks of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating a new Sefer Torah on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this joyous occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to take a whirlwind trip through the Torah

Today’s portion is V’Zot HaBerachah from the book of Deuteronomy. Today’s insight was generously provided by Joe and Kitty G.

Verses of note: Deuteronomy 33:3 – 5

What caught your attention in this parashah?

Verse 4 is one that is traditionally taught to all children early in Hebrew school, which we accept as almost a nursery rhyme; “Moses taught us the Torah, as the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob”. I did not know it came from here, and indeed had not thought about it for perhaps 65 years.

What’s one explanation for these verses?

In Verses 3 and 4, Moses states that the Israelites “followed in Your steps, accepting Your pronouncements”, and then apparently Israel responds that Moses charged (commanded) us with the Torah, making it our prime heritage. So then, says Verse 5, God “became King in Jeshurun (among the upright)……” The Creator of the Universe did not need Israel, or any other segment of humanity, to create existence from nothingness. But to become a force in the lives of mankind, to thus become a moral force rather than a merely physical one, i.e. to become a true king, he needed the assent of mankind. And this, it would appear, was and is Israel’s role.

Omer Learning 2018: Day 48 | Parashah: Haazinu

Today is 48 days, which is 6 weeks and 6 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating a new Sefer Torah on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this joyous occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to take a whirlwind trip through the Torah

Today’s portion is Haazinu from the book of Deuteronomy. Today’s insight was generously provided by Irene B.

Verses of note: Deuteronomy 32:2

What caught your attention in this parashah?

Parsha Haazinu is Moses’ swan song, written entirely in poetic verse. Moses begins by addressing the heavens and the earth saying: “May my discourse come down as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, Like showers on young growth, Like droplets on the grass.” (Etz Hayim Chumash, page 1185). Why does Moses compare his words to different types of moisture – rain, dew, showers, and droplets?

What’s one explanation for these verses?

Torah is described symbolically as water. The water in this verse differs in intensity and origin. For example, driving rains come from above, falling quickly and penetrating the ground deeply. But it isn’t easy to be outside in such a downpour. Dew, on the other hand, is a light, pleasant coating on the ground. Moses taught each person on their own level, some responding to strong showers of knowledge and others to more gentle droplets. Moses’s poem seems to use the rain cycle as a metaphor. It’s almost as if human action on earth seeds the clouds, bringing rain needed for growth, and then returning to the heavens through our resulting good deeds. A classic commentator, Sefat Emet (1897-1905) explains that Earth has the power to bring forth fruits, but needs rain to activate that power. So too, humans have a life force within them that can be awakened by means of the waters of Torah. When people follow torah they can activate an ever-flowing energy connecting heaven and earth.

Where to Learn More

The Language of Truth, Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter Ger, Translated by Arthur Green (Jewish Publication Society).

Omer Learning 2018: Day 47 | Parashah: Vayelech

Today is 47 days, which is 6 weeks and 5 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating a new Sefer Torah on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this joyous occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to take a whirlwind trip through the Torah

Today’s portion is Vayelech from the book of Deuteronomy. Today’s insight was generously provided by Jeanne B.

Verses of note: Deuteronomy 31: 7, 12,13,19

What caught your attention in this parashah?

In Vayelech, Moses tells the people of Israel that he is old and so he passes the mantle of leadership on to Joshua. He instructs the people to read the teaching to all the people in the community: men, women, children and strangers. Moses follows God’s instruction and writes down a poem to be taught to the Israelites and their children, and he recited it to them. So, it is understood that this parashah also contains the 613th commandment of the Torah: to “write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel, [and] put it in their mouths…”

What’s one explanation for these verses?

One interesting thing is that the portion twice talks about the importance of having children present when the teaching is read aloud. The reason that is given is that “Their children, too, who have not had the experience, shall hear and learn to revere the lord your God as long as they live in the land …”

So not only are the people to teach their children the Torah, but they are also to write it themselves. It seems that this double approach of hearing the Torah read aloud such as when you are a child, and later writing your own copy of the Torah ensures that the teachings are taken forward in each generation, not only superficially (by listening) but also in depth through learning by writing and studying.

Omer Learning 2018: Day 46 | Parashah: Nitzavim

Today is 46 days, which is 6 weeks and 4 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating a new Sefer Torah on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this joyous occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to take a whirlwind trip through the Torah

Today’s portion is Nitzavim from the book of Deuteronomy. Today’s insight was generously provided by Laura N.

Verses of note: Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20

What caught your attention in this parashah?

The word nitzavim means “standing together” or “assembled.” In this portion, the Israelites are standing together to seal a covenant with God. Moses uses forceful rhetoric to invoke the sanctity of the covenant.

Moses very specifically calls out to every member of the community. The covenant extends to “your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your overseers, every man of Israel … [y]our little ones, your wives, and your sojourner who is in the midst of your camps, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water…” (Deut. 29:9-10). But the covenant extends even further. Moses says “[a]nd not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this oath but… with him who is not here with us this day.” (Deut. 29:14). By identifying everyone who is present as well as those who were not there, the covenant between God and the Jewish people binds all generations of Jews.

What’s one explanation for these verses?

When I first read this passage, I wondered if the phrase “him who is not here with us this day” meant people living at the time of the covenant, but who were unable to be present at the gathering. I am persuaded, however, by the interpretation of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who teaches that “the phrase ‘whoever is not here’ cannot refer to Israelites alive at the time who happened to be somewhere else. That cannot be since the entire nation was assembled there. It can only mean ‘generations not yet born.’ The covenant bound all Jews from that day to this.

As an educator, I see a connection between the extension of the covenant to future generations and the concept that what we teach in the classroom extends beyond our students. When we teach, we provide our students with information and help them generate ideas that they can share with others. Our students take our lessons and pass them forward in their words and deeds. We honor the continuity of Judaism by providing a learning environment and sharing our knowledge.

Omer Learning 2018: Day 45 | Parashah: Ki Tavo

Today is 45 days, which is 6 weeks and 3 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating a new Sefer Torah on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this joyous occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to take a whirlwind trip through the Torah

Today’s portion is Ki Tavo from the book of Deuteronomy. Today’s insight was generously provided by Glenn C.

Verses of note: Deuteronomy, 26:1 – 11

What caught your attention in this parashah?

Ki Tavo is my Bar Mitzvah parsha. The first eleven verses of chapter 26, and particularly verses five through nine, caught my attention because I thought I learned about them in college while studying parts of the Torah from a secular perspective. I thought I learned that these verses are among the oldest written material in the Torah. Even if that is not the case, these verses are extremely powerful for the breadth of the history they cover and because they show how we collectively started from the extreme anguish of slavery in Egypt and then finished with the joy of arriving in the covenanted homeland.

What’s one explanation for these verses?

The lesson I have drawn from studying verses one through eleven and some related commentary is that the beginning of my Bar Mitzvah parsha was far more significant than I realized. I now know that verses five through nine are a prayer that was the centerpiece of an important annual “First Fruits” ceremony. Commentary in the Etz Hayim Torah and at www.chabad.org show the power of these verses from a formal perspective. The words of this “farmer’s prayer” are prescribed specifically in the parsha A commentator stated that this prayer is one of only two in the entire Torah where the words are specifically prescribed for worshipers who are not Kohannim.

From a more substantive perspective, I think the farmer’s prayer, and Ki Tavo in general, emphasize themes that connect directly to the Omer, to the festivals of Pesach and Shavout, and to Rosh Hashonah. Calling it a “farmer’s prayer” marginalizes it in our modern minds because so few people farm. But I suspect that virtually the entire community of ancient Hebrews was involved in agriculture, and would have therefore recited the prayer, although I don’t know the extent to which women participated in the service. Because agriculture is central to the reasons for counting the Omer and celebrating Shavuot, the farmer’s prayer points toward those important rituals. It also provides a poetic summary of perhaps the seminal event in Jewish history, G-d’s rescue of us from slavery in Egypt. Finally, Ki Tavo is read soon before Rosh Hashonah and it seems fitting that the farmer’s prayer reminds us of the great benefits that G-d’s grace has bestowed upon us: the promise of the Covenant; the deliverance from Egypt; and, the fulfillment of the Covenant when we “enter[ed] the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage,” Deuet. 26:1.

Omer Learning 2018: Day 44 | Parashah: Ki Teitzei

Today is 44 days, which is 6 weeks and 2 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating a new Sefer Torah on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this joyous occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to take a whirlwind trip through the Torah

Today’s portion is Ki Teitzei from the book of Deuteronomy. Today’s insight was generously provided by Rose-Ella S.

Verses of note: Deuteronomy 21:18 – 21:21

What caught your attention in this parashah?

This portion contains more Mitzvot than any other Parsha – 74 of the 613 in the Torah. Do any of them have relevance to me today? Not so much in a literal sense – only in the idea that all people should be treated with dignity. Interesting in a historical sense as the portion is dedicated to the eradication of moral and ritual depravity from the community of Israel, even if it’s one’s own child. One wonders about the moral climate at the time these laws were written.

What’s one explanation for these verses?

I found the most troubling section to be about a defiant son who continues to disobey his parents even after they discipline him. The parents can take him to the elders of the town and “Thereupon the men of his town shall stone him to death.”

Really? The Torah doesn’t state how egregious the disobedience must be, only that the mother and the father must both agree (and we know that mothers didn’t necessarily have much power to contradict fathers). This idea of a rebellious son is also found in the Passover Seder.

By the time of the Rabbis, they tried to mitigate these verses and show that they are only hypothetical; included in the Torah to emphasize the “Honor thy father and mother” commandment. I have trouble with this interpretation because it leads to the question: if this law is hypothetical, then which other laws in the Torah are hypothetical?

Where to Learn More

http://learn.conservativeyeshiva.org/ki-tetse-5777/

https://reformjudaism.org/transgressions-transformed

Omer Learning 2018: Day 43 | Parashah: Shoftim

Today is 43 days, which is 6 weeks and 1 day of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating a new Sefer Torah on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this joyous occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to take a whirlwind trip through the Torah

Today’s portion is Shoftim from the book of Deuteronomy. Today’s insight was generously provided by Sam Y.

Verses of note: Deuteronomy 16:20

What caught your attention in this parashah?

As the Torah talks about due justice near the beginning Shoftim, it delivers the famous line “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” The reason that this line is so important is because the word “justice” is repeated twice. Since the Torah is very particular about its wording, the fact that this word is repeated means that it was very intentionally emphasized. The question here is whether the usage is just as a literary device, or a description about how to be just.

What’s one explanation for these verses?

One interpretation of this line is that the first “justice” is used to describe the second “justice”. Because justice is so important to a society, the Torah might be saying that we must pursue justice in a just way. Creating a system to determine fairness is very difficult, and if one part of this system creates an unbalance, the whole system would be thrown off. Therefore, in order to create a working system, every element must be pursued in the fairest way and looked at from all angles before put into law.

Where to Learn More

Youtube channel BimBam: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAYQOwOpViCsUL7sKiCg9gg

Omer Learning 2018: Day 42 | Parashah: Re’eh

Today is 42 days, which is 6 weeks of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating a new Sefer Torah on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this joyous occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to take a whirlwind trip through the Torah

Today’s portion is Re’eh from the book of Deuteronomy. Today’s insight was generously provided by Naomi H.

Verses of note: Deuteronomy 11:26 – 11:29

What caught your attention in this parashah?

27: the blessing, if you shall listen to the commandants of the Lord you God, which I command you this day;

28: and the curse, if you shall not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods which you have not known.

29: It shall happen, when the Lord your God shall bring you into the land whither you go to possess it, that you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim, and the curs on Mount Eival.

In his last speech to the Israelites, Moses begins his speech by telling the people that, if they follow God’s laws, they will be blessed more than all the other people on earth. However, if they worship other gods and disobey God’s commandments, they will be cursed and perish. If Moses were merely informing the people, why would he choose the word ‘Re’eh’ (see)?

What’s one explanation for these verses?

The Talmud teaches: “Who is wise? One who sees the future.” (Tamid 32a)

The word Re’eh is a way of drawing attention to what is happening or about to happen. Moses wants the Israelites to not only hear and remember what he is about to say, but he wants them to use their imaginations and to visualize the future that they will have should they choose either to heed or to disobey God’s commandments. Moses is telling the Israelites that the choice is theirs. I find the idea that the individual and the Jewish people as a community have the opportunity to influence their future by the choices they make very uplifting and one of the reasons I love being Jewish.

Omer Learning 2018: Day 41 | Parashah: Eikev

Today is 41 days, which is 5 weeks and 6 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating a new Sefer Torah on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this joyous occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to take a whirlwind trip through the Torah

Today’s portion is Eikev from the book of Deuteronomy. Today’s insight was generously provided by Linda S.

Verses of note: Deuteronomy 9:10; 9:17; 10:16; 11:10-11

What caught your attention in this parashah?

Leading the people in Moses’ absence, Aaron gave orders to make the golden calf and to set up an altar before it (Exodus 32.2-5); but he was not killed when Moses asked the Levites to slaughter all those who had been involved (Exodus 32:27). Instead, he became priest, and his descendants after him, while Moses’s kids never did amount to much; their fate is not explicitly recorded. Moses is not allowed to cross the Jordan because his faith or his temper failed him when he struck the rock to get water (Numbers 20:7-20); but there is no negative comment (here or in Exodus) on his purposefully breaking the first tablets, which seems worse. The advice on crop irrigation (Deuteronomy 11:10-11) is unusually specific.

What’s one explanation for these verses?

Sandwiched between explicit promises (livestock and humans will prosper) if the people remember the Lord and threats (destruction, drought) if they do not, are events that show no such clear linkage. Aaron was not killed along with the other 3000 involved in the Golden Calf incident, although he was leading the people at the time. Moses was punished for striking the rock to get water, but not for breaking the tablets of the law. Aaron’s descendants inherited the priesthood, while those of Moses are lost to history. The link between conduct and consequence is missing, or hidden: “it’s complicated”.

Most current behavior is not based on a specific link between good or bad action and subsequent events, either individually or for the Jewish people. If a cow is sick, one summons a veterinarian rather than asking what bad acts have been perpetrated. Whatever strains in Jewish thought viewed persecutions in Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a punishment for sin is now a minority view. Bad things happen to good people (Harold Kushner). However, if a people loses faith in its leadership and its institutions, it will not be able to respond coherently as a community to challenges from outside, and is more easily overwhelmed (Jonathan Sacks).

Omer Learning 2018: Day 40 | Parashah: Va’etchanan

Today is 40 days, which is 5 weeks and 5 days of the Omer

Instructions for counting the omer are found on our Omer Overview Page. You can find the specific blessing for today at chabad.org.

We’re dedicating a new Sefer Torah on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this joyous occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to take a whirlwind trip through the Torah

Today’s portion is Va’etchanan from the book of Deuteronomy. Today’s insight was generously provided by Stacy and Andy

Insights by Stacey V.

The parsha contains the shema, v’ahafta, and Ten Commandments, but what struck me most was the final verse: “Therefore, observe faithfully the Instruction—the laws and the rules—with which I charge you today.” This passage struck me because of how many thousands of years ago that “today” signified. Which of those laws and rules still relevant thousands of years later? Can we pick and choose which rules to follow based on our values and the relevance to our modern lives?

We could read this verse literally and take it to mean that as Jews we must each observe the rules handed down by G-d and not ever stray from those laws and rules. Most are pretty easy to follow: thou shalt not kill/commit adultery/steal (5:17). No problem. It gets decidedly trickier in 7:3 when we are warned against intermarrying. While I’m *technically* disobeying G-d’s instructions in that area, I’ve brought two additional Jews into our community, and together we’re leading a life filled with mitzvot, rachamim, and chesed. It reminds me of the quotation attributed to Voltaire that “the best is the enemy of the good.” Rabbi David Movsas had a similar idea in this essay, in which he contends that we need to strike a balance between adhering to the word of G-d while also reading between the lines in the Torah. That interpretation is “good enough” for me.

This link contains several insightful interpretations regarding this significant parsha: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/torah-portions/parashat-vaetchanan/.


Insights by Andy L.

Vaet’hanan is blessed with incredibly important and inspiring content. After all, it is the home for both the Shema and the repetition (or rather the second version) of the Ten Commandments. Here, I will focus only on the Shema, in fact only on its first verse: “Shema Israel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad” (ch. 6, v. 4). Beyond doubt, this verse is the central tenet of the Jewish religion. It is the first prayer we are taught as children and the last words we attempt when death is imminent. It is the prayer we say in the morning upon arising and in the evening before we go to sleep. It also marks the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.

But what does this verse mean? There is no ambiguity about the first two words (Shema Israel = Hear, O Israel). But the four critical words (Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad) have a couple of different interpretations. The siddur we use in our Congregation (Siddur Sim Shalom) translates them as “Adonai is our God, Adonai Alone”. Similarly, the Torah book we use (Humash Etz Hayim) translates them as “The LORD is our God, the LORD Alone”. For me, this translation is not optimal (even though it was favored by many rabbis in the Midrash): I think it is very limiting and inward-looking. What this translation is saying is that for the Jewish people (“Hear, O Israel”) our only God is Adonai. OK, fine, but then couldn’t any other people use the same construction for their own gods, e.g. Hear, o Canaanites: our god is Baal, Baal alone? So, is this all the Shema is saying? The problem with this translation is that it discards the central contributions of the Jewish religion to the history of humankind, namely monotheism and the oneness of God.

I therefore far prefer the more traditional translation, “Adonai is our God, Adonai is One” (or, its equivalent in the older siddurim and the Hertz Humash, “The LORD Our God, the LORD is One”). This translation makes monotheism the critical aspect distinguishing Judaism from all the polytheistic religions of the time (and even of later times). But it goes even further: “God is One” is not only Judaism’s proclamation of monotheism, it is also our declaration of the Oneness, the Unity of God. It thus rejects the dualistic concepts in some religions over the centuries (e.g., Zoroastrianism or Manichaeism) or the concepts in others of three different natures or substances of God.