For the past couple of days, I’ve been adding and organizing a group of links to the blog, which appear below the search box in the sixth section down the right hand column of the page. Currently, the links fall into two categories:
- Selected blogs from other rabbis who I think have interesting things to say; and
- Selected website that offer weekly divre Torah on the Parasha or Haftarah.
Right now, the links only feature material from the Conservative movement, but I expect to add material from other perspectives as well. My only rule is that I have to find the D’var Torah or commentary interesting, intellectually challenging and honest, and spiritually meaningful.
I tend not to give credence to Torah commentaries that don’t distinguish between p’shat (literal, contextual, historical meaning) and d’rash (metaphorical, allegorical, or other attributed meaning). I like midrash (an alternative form of the word d’rash), but in my Torah study I think it’s important to remember that the words of Torah had an original meaning that might be quite different from the accumulated layers of interpreted meaning. It’s also important to realize that every commentary has an agenda. I always ask myself, when reading an interpretation, ‘what’s motivating the commentator to read the story in this way?’
I believe that the Torah contains eternal truth, but I do not believe that every interpretation, even or especially those of the classical mefarshim (commentators) such as Rashi, Ramban, or Ibn Ezra, is equally true or equally valid. Their commentaries are often influenced by historical circumstances and may include assumptions that we no longer accept today.
I also do not believe that every commentary, even those authored by the classical mefarshim, needs to agree with every other commentary. There is no such thing as “The” Midrash. There are midrashim, and the corpus of midrash is not internally consistent. Different historical strands and styles of commentary, such as Talmudic sources, mystical interpretations, and hasidic commentaries, do not necessary agree with each other. Attempting to harmonize them is more often than not a waste of time and a misreading of the Tradition.
Bottom line — my purpose in engaging in Torah study is to better understand myself and the world in which I live; to develop a better relationship with my family, my community, and the broader world in which I live; to seek understanding of why I was created and what my role in the world ought to be; and to make my every decision and action bring the Divine spark within me closer to its source, the Blessed Holy One.
Posted in Text Study - The Embodied Torah of Study Tagged: commentary, D'var Torah, Haftarah, Parasha, Torah study
For Judaism to be a fully embodied religious behavior, we need to be aware moment by moment of the actions we are taking and the decisions we are making, and how Jewish wisdom might inform us. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in “The Halakhic Man,” [sic] poetically explains how everything we see, hear, and touch, all of our input, as it were, should pass through the filter of halakha. For example — the sight of a leafy pear tree might engender thoughts of the appropriate berakha for fruit, the suitability of his branches to use for s’khakh to cover a sukkah, and the impermissibility of building the sukkah under the tree.
As I remember his book, Rabbi Soloveitchik was primarily thinking about traditional Jewish practices such as Shabbat, kashrut, celebration of holidays, prayer, etc. However, his philosophy also applies to Jewish ethical behavior. In the course of an average day, how many moments do we experience when we are faced with some kind of ethical decision? I kept track of a number of those moments over the course of a weekend – questions that did prompt – or should have prompted – thought about the Torah’s response to my situation.
- • Following services at Ahavas Israel, I was asked to help make another minyan – I declined. Are we obligated by Jewish ethics to be the 10th person in a minyan? Does it matter if the minyan is populated by people who would not reciprocate? Might we ever ethically decline to help another Jew in need of a minyan?
- • May one publish a possibly embarrassing incident online, if we change the name of the subject of the story?
- • At what point does a parent helping a child with homework cross the line from teaching the child to doing the child’s work?
- • Does using profane language violate Jewish ethics?
Remember — The purpose of this blog and the mission of the synagogue is to explore what it means to make our lives embody Torah. How does our eating, our Shabbat practice, our prayer experience, embody Torah? How do we internalize and embody our Torah study? How do we embody Torah in our ethical decision making? Please join me in this exploration — I welcome your comments and suggestions.
Posted in Embodied Torah, Ethics - The Embodied Torah of Jewish Behavior Tagged: Jewish Ethics