Election of 2018-2019 Board of Directors

Mazal tov to the fiscal year 2018-2019 Congregation Etz Hayim Board of Directors and Executive Officers who were elected at the spring State of the Membership meeting on May 6, 2018.

President: Scott Burka
1st Vice President: Mike Stein
VP, Religious Affairs: Naomi Halpern
VP, Youth & Education: Deb Cohen
VP, Membership: Naomi Harris
VP, Fundraising: Jerry Jacobs
VP, Operations: Jonathan Golner
Treasurer: Jeremy Bronheim
Secretary: Stacey Viera
Board Member: Jeanne Briskin
Board Member: Jill Clark-Foulkes
Board Member: Jordan Fried
Board Member: Leslee Friedman
Board Member: Barry Ginsberg
Board Member: Jeanne Howard
Board Member: Mike Jacobs
Board Member: Ron Rosenberg
Board Member: Stephen Schwartz
Board Member: Jill Shenk

Please join us to install the new Board during Shabbat services on Saturday, June 16, 2018. Stay afterwards for kiddush and kibbitz.

Thank you to everyone who served on the Board this past year.

Studying Abroad in Israel by Jenna Alcorn

Hello all! As I wrap up my four and a half months studying abroad in Israel, I thought I’d share some of my experiences! I’ve been living, studying and traveling at Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) in the Israel Spring Semester 2018 program.

Living in Israel is a fantastic experience for me as a Jewish teen who has never been here before. I get to live on a campus where I have to manage my time, live with roommates, and of course still focus on school, even if we are traveling two or three times a week.

Of course, a lot is the same here as in the US — everyone is addicted to their phones, there are still McDonald’s and malls everywhere. But, there’s also fresh falafel and shawarma on every corner. Parents give a lot of trust to their children, as we usually see young kids and their friends out by themselves in the evening. One of the biggest differences is the language! Although most people here do speak English, Hebrew is all you hear in the streets. I take a Hebrew class here which has helped me learn the basics for conversation, which is great to use when ordering food or shopping! Another contrast to the US is simply seeing soldiers everywhere. Here in Israel, all citizens are required to serve in the IDF, both women and men. We see teenagers, not even a year older than us, walking through the streets in uniform with M-16 rifles strapped across them. I got a taste of the army life at a mini basic training at Gadna, a base in the Negev.

Shabbat in Israel is a really special thing. Even the secular majority here in Israel values Shabbat to spend time with family and friends. We have been in Jerusalem for Shabbat twice, where life completely halts. We walk in the middle of the street with no fears of cars, and every restaurant and shop is closed for 24 hours. We have also been in Tel Aviv on Shabbat, where about half of the city shuts down. Tel Aviv is the metropolitan center of Israel and a large secular tourist destination, so many of the establishments there don’t abide by traditional religious customs (some places even have bacon cheeseburgers!). We also spent a Shabbat in Tzfat, which is one of the four spiritual cities in Eretz Yisrael. It’s a religious community, even more so than Jerusalem, and Shabbat in Tzfat brings a mysticism over the city. It’s situated on the mountains of the North, so the beauty of the sunset and the winding streets of blue and white are fantastic there. Life completely stands still on Shabbat, not to mention that us girls had to cover every inch of our bodies.

Some of my favorite places we have visited in Israel include the Golan Heights, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the neighborhood Neve Tzedek in Tel Aviv. The Golan is the most northern area of Israel, with stunning mountains and vegetation. We stood feet away from Syrian mine fields and the Lebanese border. We did a beautiful hike leading to a luscious waterfall where we splashed around for a little. The Old City in Jerusalem is just unbelievable, with the cobblestone corridors and so much history right under my feet. We did a 30-minute-long walk through Warrens Shaft, an old water tunnel in Ir David (City of David). It was pitch black inside and so small we had to go single file and duck! Neve Tzedek was one of the first neighborhoods established in Tel Aviv. The old houses and colorful streets have such a different vibe than downtown Tel Aviv. I am a huge lover of street art, which is all over Tel Aviv!

Halfway through our program, right before Holocaust Remembrance Day, we took a week-long trip to Poland. We visited sites where the Jewish community in Poland once flourished, like Krakow, and saw old synagogues and graveyards. We also toured the devastating grounds of Nazi camps, including Auschwitz, Birkenau, Plaszow, and Majdanek. It was a powerful trip for all of us, and being able to march through these places of terror and death with Israeli flags on our backs is one of the most meaningful things I have ever done. It was sad at times, but it was happy at others, as we explored the city centers of a few bustling European cities. For many students it was their first time in Europe, so our night out in Krakow was a blast. The mix of good, bad, sad (and cold) in Poland shaped our experience at AMHSI and has left us with countless memories.

I will be boarding my flight back to JFK Airport in only three weeks, and then back to life in Arlington. I hope to return to Israel soon in my future, either in college or after. Learning about Israel in Sunday school for years all became a reality when I landed here. I feel so connected to this country, its people and my history. It’s so important for Jews to visit Israel if they have the chance, because being here has completely changed my perspective on my religion.

AMHSI has given me a chance to explore Israel while giving me lifelong friends from all over the US. It has prepared me for college life, independent living, and responsibility. If anyone is interested in this program or any that AMHSI has to offer, I am always open to talking about my experiences and showing off all of my amazing photos from the trip.


–Jenna Alcorn

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).

How to Use the Etz Hayim Kitchen

The following guide addresses how to properly use the Etz Hayim kitchen, as well as food rules for the building and for events held off-site. The complete guide can be downloaded from our Links/Resources page.


This Guide is addressed to all people who work or volunteer in the food services at Congregation Etz Hayim. Its purpose is to acquaint everyone with how the laws of kashrut are interpreted at Congregation Etz Hayim to provide our congregation with a kosher food service that the entire Jewish community will feel comfortable using. Only persons who are appointed by the Rabbi are approved to supervise Kashrut at Congregation Etz Hayim. Therefore this Guide is not intended to be a comprehensive or exhaustive study of kashrut, but a reference manual for maintaining a high standard of kashrut in our synagogue. As with every matter of Jewish law in the synagogue, the rabbi is our Marei d’Atra (halakhic authority) for all questions involving kashrut.

The Rabbi shall have sole authority for appointing mashgichim, other authorized supervisors or those allowed to work in the kitchen independently.


The rabbi is the ultimate halachic authority to rule on any issue that arises in kashrut supervision. In general, Congregation Etz Hayim follows the kashrut guidelines of the Conservative Movement. However, not all of the leniencies of the Movement are permitted in the synagogue kitchen, in order to ensure that more traditional members of the community will feel comfortable attending functions held at Congregation Etz Hayim.

Mashgichim and Authorized Users

Kashrut for the synagogue is supervised by mashgichim, or authorized supervisors, appointed by and under the authority of the rabbi. These supervisors are the only persons authorized to work without direct supervision in the kitchens. However, if an authorized supervisor is engaged in food preparation, it is desirable to have another mashgiach functioning as supervisor. Whenever possible the mashgiach should not supervise her/himself. A mashgiach must be present for all phases of food preparation in the synagogue, including (1) bringing food into the synagogue, (2) all food preparation and cleanup in the synagogue, and (3) all cleaning activities that occur for the purpose of kashering kitchen equipment.


Congregation Etz Hayim allows only kosher food to be brought into the synagogue (with the exception of foods brought in for personal use by the non-Jewish synagogue staff, and which may only be eaten in designated areas of the office). All packaged food must bear a heksher. All food and kitchen equipment that enters the synagogue must be inspected by an authorized mashgiach. Call the synagogue office at (703) 979-4466 to arrange for a mashgiach to be present when bringing food into the synagogue. Hekshered foods must be sealed when brought to Congregation Etz Hayim. Kosher packaging may not be opened before inspection by the mashgiach in the synagogue. All food served at Congregation Etz Hayim must be prepared at Congregation Etz Hayim or at another kosher facility. Food cooked at other kosher sites should be sealed under the supervision of a recognized mashgiach, marked, and then inspected by our mashgiach when brought into Congregation Etz Hayim.

Because we cannot be certain of the level of kashrut at an individual’s house, no food cooked in a private home may be brought into the Congregation Etz Hayim kitchen or used at any Congregation Etz Hayim function. Only foods made in the kitchen may be stored in the kitchen, refrigerator, freezer or stove.


The sole exception is for Potluck night, the first Friday of every month. At this event, food may be brought from individuals’ homes but may not be brought into the kitchen. This food must be dairy or vegetarian and come in a disposable container. Specifically designated serving utensils will be used and will be taken home by a designee to be washed after the event. These utensils are then returned to the custodian for storage.

Foods Allowed without Heksher

Fresh foods that have not been processed in any way may be brought in without a heksher. Fruits and vegetables brought into the kitchen must be whole and not pre-cut; only whole fruits and vegetables are allowed into the kitchen. This rule includes packages of frozen vegetables and fruit with no added ingredients: frozen fruits and veggies must be whole, or have a heksher mark on the packaging if they are cut or pre-prepared. Check with the mashgiach if there is any doubt.

Most soft drinks are kosher. All Coca-Cola products, all Pepsi products, Canada Dry Ginger Ale, Dr. Pepper, and all 7-Up products other than Cherry 7-Up are certified kosher. Any flavored waters or iced teas need to have a visible heksher.

Prepackaged cheeses which do not contain meat, which are made in the United States and served cold do not need to be hekshered.


In order to ensure strict adherence to our standards of kashrut, the Congregation Etz Hayim kitchen cannot be used without prior permission from the synagogue office or rabbi under any circumstances. All food preparation in the Congregation Etz Hayim kitchen must conform to the practices outlined in this manual. The mashgiach may stop any or all kitchen operations to prevent a violation. A big part of keeping our synagogue food services kosher is the proper use of the kitchen and careful food preparation.

A mashgiach must be present for all food preparation in the kitchen. If necessary, the synagogue office can assist in providing for the presence of a mashgiach. Congregation Etz Hayim’s kitchen is provided with separate dishes, pots, pans, utensils, serving trays, preparation areas, and sinks for meat and dairy. Mixing of meat and dairy kitchen equipment is absolutely forbidden. Meat and dairy foods are not to be prepared at the same time in the kitchen facilities. To avoid setting off the sprinkler system, fans in the hoods over the stoves must be turned on before using the stoves. Nothing can be reheated in the microwave, stove or oven unless it complies with the above rules.

The only parve materials are the challah board, knife, Kiddush cups, and handwashing cups/bowls. They may not be washed with, or stored with any other items.

Congregation Etz Hayim does not have any parve cooking utensils or cookware. Everything prepared in the kitchen becomes meat or dairy.

Common Hazards:

There are several common hazards that should be avoided to maintain the integrity of the Congregation Etz Hayim kitchen.

  • Make sure non-dairy creamers are served for coffee with a meat meal. Check the heksher carefully; not all “non-dairy” creamers are truly hekshered as parve. When storing such creamers in the kitchen, make sure they are separate from the dairy creamers and clearly marked.
  • Butter is always dairy. Parve margarine may be used with any meat meal.
  • Pay attention to the dessert planned for a meat meal; many desserts and candy are dairy by nature.
  • Meat and Dairy cannot be cooked in the same oven at the same time. Drippings must be wiped up immediately to ensure that other materials don’t contaminate the cooking process.
  • Meat and Dairy cooking pots may not be on the stove top at the same time. Pots may not rest on the stove top or in the oven while something else is cooking.

Equipment and Storage

Kitchen equipment is color coded. Red and Black items are meat. Blue and White items are dairy. The Kiddush cups, challah bread board and knife, handwashing cups, and wine glasses are parve. Each category has corresponding shelves. Dairy shelves are denoted by blue painter’s tape on the shelf supports. Meat shelves are designated by red painters tape and parve shelves are designated by green painter’s tape.

Non-colored items, such as pots and pans, shall be clearly marked by paint, marker, tape or other indelible method. Look for these markings on the bottom, sides and/or handles.

Any new equipment brought into the kitchen must be inspected by the mashgiach, determined if it will be used for meat, or dairy, and marked appropriately.

Minimal food storage is available and is color coded. Food must be stored in containers corresponding to the meal for which it was prepared and may only be used for the same type of meal. For instance, food left over from a dairy meal must be stored in dairy (blue or white) storage containers and may be used with dairy meals only. Food stored in meat containers is to be used with meat only.

Eggs and Vegetables

Eggs that contain a drop of blood are considered treife (non-kosher). To keep a single egg from ruining an entire dish, each raw egg should be broken separately in a small cup or bowl, inspected for blood, and then added to the main dish. Eggs boiled in the shell are allowed without individual inspection.

Many leafy vegetables may contain insects, and insects are not kosher. To prepare these vegetables, they must be soaked in a vinegar/water solution and then rinsed with clear cold water. “Leafy vegetables” include (but are not limited to) asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, parsley, lettuce, kale, scallions, and any other densely packed leafy vegetable. If you have any questions on a particular vegetable you are using, contact the mashgiach or rabbi.

When storing leftovers, clearly mark the container with any restrictions (e.g. meat, dairy, parve) and store the container in the appropriate kitchen area. Disposable gloves are provided in the kitchen and should be used during food preparation.


Each side of the kitchen also contains its own dishwasher. However, care must be taken not to mix or confuse the racks. Blue racks belong to the dairy dishwasher and green racks belong to the meat dishwasher. The soap and rinse products used for dishwashing must bear a heksher.


On Shabbat, we are not allowed to do any melachah. I purposely use the word melachah because not every kind of work is forbidden on Shabbat. Melachah is a very specific kind of work. The Rabbis in the Mishnah (Shabbat 7:2) enumerated 39 kinds of work, called Avot Melachah, which are not to be performed on Shabbat. These melachot (plural of melachah) are understood as the kinds of work needed to create the Tabernacle, the moving structure that was built by and accompanied the Israelites while they were in the desert for 40 years. From these categories the rabbis derived other kinds of work that are not to be performed on Shabbat. To this day, we continue to shape our modern lives by reinterpreting these melachot.

Part of the 39 melachot relate specifically to cooking. For example, sorting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, extinguishing a flame, lighting a flame, and carrying from one domain to the other are forbidden. From these melachot we derive the rules for our kitchen during Shabbat.

These rules are not exhaustive, and questions may arise about the use of our kitchen. Please do not hesitate to ask the Rabbi about any clarification you might need to be able to use our kitchen.

Carrying:  We are not allowed to bring in or take away anything from our Synagogue on Shabbat. That means that during Shabbat, no one is to bring in something they forgot to bring in before Shabbat for Kiddush, or alternatively, take home (or anywhere else) leftovers from Kiddush. Even if you plan to bring Kiddush leftovers to a shelter, that must be done after Shabbat is over.

Extinguishing and lighting a flame:  For the purposes of our kitchen, no one should be lighting or turning off the ovens. Foods may be warmed in our kitchen for Shabbat, in an oven that has been kept at a low temperature, lit before Shabbat started. The temperature of the oven should not exceed 200 degrees Fahrenheit during Shabbat. There is a Jewish legal fiction that allows a person of another faith to turn on and off an oven, if it is for their own benefit. In our Congregation, only our custodian is allowed to light or extinguish a fire, since we believe that this action will be done solely for their benefit and enjoyment. To be clear, no person other than our custodian may turn on or off the ovens during Shabbat.

Sorting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking:  All of these activities transform grain into baked goods and are forbidden on Shabbat. For this reason, any activity in the kitchen that changes a food from inedible to edible through the use of heat is not acceptable on Shabbat. In other words, we cannot cook pasta, or bake, or even finish off a dish that is not at least ¾ ready on Shabbat. We can, however, cut vegetables, plate food that was previously prepared, and open packages and cans on Shabbat. Those activities are not considered melachot, and they can be performed on Shabbat without a question.

Other considerations regarding the use of the kitchen on Shabbat:  We are not allowed to write or erase on Shabbat, or to permanently glue things on Shabbat. For this reason, we cannot write labels to be put on leftovers during Shabbat, or write an explanation of the food to be served. Pre-written sticky labels may be used, as long as they do not permanently seal any package.


Food Brought In for Personal Use

The only non-kosher food that may be brought into the synagogue is the food intended for the personal use of non-Jewish synagogue personnel. Such food may only be eaten in the designated area of the office. Any food brought into the synagogue for personal use of Jewish staff or congregants must be dairy or parve, in new unopened packages with acceptable kosher certification or directly from approved vendors. No meat prepared in one’s home or any non-kosher facility may be brought to the synagogue. No food brought into the synagogue for personal use may be carried into the kitchen of the synagogue. Utensils from the kitchen are not to be used with such food.

Nothing can be reheated in the microwave, stove or oven unless it complies with the above rules.

Other Kosher activities in the Synagogue Family

The laws of Kashrut are observed in all activities of the congregation that are held outside the building. So, for example, if Congregation Etz Hayim holds a picnic, or a Shabbat service at a congregant’s home, the food provided would follow the rules outlined in this manual. See the mashgiach or rabbi for exact details on any situation that you may encounter.


There are well over 800 different heksher marks used worldwide, and it is impossible to list them all here. There are also changes going on at any given time; not all hekshers are trusted at all times. If you are in any doubt, contact Rabbi Bass. A list of acceptable hekshers is available in the full guide (download here).

The mark of a simple “K” is not considered a trustworthy heksher. Because there is no trademark on a “K” (a single letter cannot be trademarked) there is no way of knowing what authority stands behind this mark. Products marked only with a K cannot be brought into Congregation Etz Hayim unless the specific product has been verified by the rabbi as kosher. (Such verification cannot be done at the last minute, so in general the use of such products should be discouraged.)

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



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