David’s Corner – April 26, 2021


Just as Achrei Mot and Kedoshim assert and command ways that the Israelites are separate from their neighbors (diet and behavior), so does Emor assert and command ways the Priests of Israel are separate from other Israelites.

One way that Priests separate themselves is by staying away from bodies of the dead, with the exception of their closest relatives.  They are not, further, to shave smoothe any part of their heads or their sideburns for this makes them unholy, not worthy of offering “food” of HaShem.

Other unholy acts that defile the priest include marrying a harlot or a divorced woman.  Only a virgin of his own clan may be taken as a wife.  Physical defects such as a broken leg or arm, or yes, crushed testes or any of the eruptions cited in previous parashot make a priest ineligible to participate in sacrifices.

Lay folks are not allowed to eat any of the sacred donations at all.  The only exception is a person who is the priest’s property (not an Israelite, though that is not mentioned specifically), or those born into his household.  If a priest’s daughter marries someone who is not a kohen, she may not eat the donations either, though if she is widowed or divorced and living back at home, she may.

As with other parashot in Leviticus, Emor is punctilious about sacrifices.  What is offered may not have a defect.  Newly born animals may not be sacrificed until they have spent a week with their mother.  In addition to regular daily sacrifices, there are special sacrifices on the Sabbath and extra special sacrifices for Rosh Hashana (though it is not mentioned by name); the Day of Atonement, and Succot, during which everyone is supposed to live in booths.  Israelites are expected to abjure work on the Sabbath, on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and the first and last day of Succot.

In addition to maintaining the sacred calendar, it is the responsibility of the priests to insure a constant supply of olive oil to light the menorah and a supply of flour and frankincense, a token offering for the bread and a  display.  Lastly, the priest is to adjudicate whether someone has committed blasphemy, a crime punished by death.


David’s Corner- April 12, 2021

Tazria-Metzorah (Leviticus 12:1 - 15:33)

In this double portion of Tazria-Metzorah concerning impurity, the priest has a most important role. It is he who must discern if various skin eruptions on a person’s clothing or flesh warrant that person being made to separate him or herself from the community until the eruption has disappeared.

It would be easy to see this as merely a medical precaution. That is, preventing others from catching this disease would seem paramount. Remember, however, that as long as the person is deemed impure, he is not allowed to come into HaShem’s presence, a great privilege. Being denied that privilege probably caused a great deal of suffering.

While modern commentators and most medieval commentators viewed the eruption on clothing as a natural phenomenon, according to a commentator in Aitz Chayim (p,658), Maimonides and Ramban saw it as supernatural, and something that could only occur in the Land of Israel.

Why Israel? Because of a sensitivity to immorality in the land. Impure clothing would indicate that the wearer was immoral and anyone who witnessed this would know it. Further, dumped as it were, outside the camp, separated from friends and family for at least 8 days, imagine the sense of desperation experienced by the sufferer until he/she was readmitted as “pure.”

Imagine the sense of relief when readmission did occur. Imagine being all too happy to follow whatever sacrifice ritual was prescribed. Imagine, finally, being able to come back into HaShem’s presence, rejoining the community, accepted as “pure.”

Questions for discussion: Is there a connection here with the current pandemic? How? What was your honest reaction when you first heard that someone you knew in the community had caught the virus? Was there a feeling you had that at the very least they had done something wrong and so morally they were due to be unapproved of?


David’s Corner – March 15, 2021

Va-Yikra. (Leviticus 1:1- 5:26)

“It is a burnt offering, a gift, of pleasing odor to the Lord.” (Lev. 1:13)

I have always found this verse quite weird.  Does HaShem really like the smell of burnt meat?  

Maimonides thought not. He believed HaShem did not necessarily appreciate animal sacrifice, or else people might assume they were feeding HaShem.  Moreover, today hardly any liberal Jew would want a return to animal sacrifice.  The practice is seen as cruel to animals, and smacks of superstition.

So why bother to read the exhaustive instructions for such sacrifice today?  Is it purely a matter of historical interest, a way to sit back and say, “Boy are we lucky we don’t sacrifice animals any more”?

If so, that tone of self-congratulation may be out of place.  It is not as if  trying to be close to HaShem has disappeared.  We may no longer expect that HaShem is thrilled to consume the smell of our barbecue,  but we hope HaShem will listen to our prayers.   

The connection through the centuries has been the spirit of offering.  As Debi Buckland once put it, “Imagine you have been invited to a birthday party.  Do you bring the absolute cheapest present you pull out of a drawer or do you consider what the celebrant might enjoy?  Do you present the gift in a department store bag or do you meticulously wrap the gift?”  

The sacrifices mentioned in the Book of Leviticus reflect the later choices rather than the former.  The very best, unblemished animals are reserved for sacrifice.  The process of a sacrifice and the intention behind it (expiation, elevation, for example) is laid out in careful detail.   

In reading Leviticus we can ask ourselves what we are really offering, our intention behind the offering, and whether we are really offering the best of ourselves. 

Questions for discussion:  What sorts of offerings can we make today that maintain the spirit of offering we read about in Leviticus?


David’s Corner- March 1, 2021

Ki Tassa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)

The instructions from HaShem continue in this parasha.  The finest materials are now applied toward three elements:  the creation of the Priest’s vestments, the procedure for consecrating the priests, and construction of the altar for burning incense.

And then there was the big screw-up on the part of some Israelites, or the big explosion on the part of HaShem.  Was the Golden Calf episode inevitable?


Consider this.  The Israelites had no real antecedents to the new laws of HaShem.  As we saw in past parashot, there was no conception of rights, in Egypt.  The Israelites were to obey the Egyptian overseers, period.


Now, they were out of Egypt and, according to HaShem, have only to obey the word of HaShem in order to be happy.  Perhaps, though, some Israelites feel they needed a break from obeying authority, even if that authority sounds more reasonable than the Egyptians, even if that authority is truly looking after their welfare.


Perhaps, too, after the excitement of fleeing Egypt, perhaps because of so many wonders in rapid succession, the Israelites expect Moses to pick up the stone tablets quickly and to skate down the mountain to deliver them to the people.  When Moses doesn’t return after some days, some of the people grow restless and revert back to old polytheistic ways.


The people are creatures of habit, creatures who have not fully integrated the new habits of worshipping only HaShem and the habit of keeping the Sabbath.  The key to understanding this is Aaron’s behavior in the midst of the Golden Calf episode.  Aaron provides to Moses the lame excuse that Moses took too long coming down the mountain. It might be inferred that Aaron’s old habit before the Exodus was polytheistic sacrifice.


Both HaShem and Moses are furious at the lapse in the Covenant.  HaShem understandably instructs the Levites to kill the offenders.  But Moses, once calm, gets HaShem to calm down as well, or at the very least to realize that his anger could destroy all the Israelites.  HaShem creates a distance between himself and the Israelites so this does not happen.


Questions to be discussed:  What does Moses get HaShem to understand about his wayward people?  How does this affect HaShem’s expectations regarding the Israelites?

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Torah Study

“Talkin’ Torah Together!” 
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The weekly Torah portion is the starting point for FASCINATING discussions. No preparation is necessary, and no Torah knowledge is required. 
The leader summarizes the portion and from there EVERYBODY has something to say! What makes a cubit relevant? How does the part about Hebrews wandering in the desert give you a Midnight insight into your own life? Does it matter if the Biblical stories are true or not? Is your COVID isolation part of what the Torah covers? 
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David’s Corner – February 22, 2021

T’tzaveh (Exodus 27:20 - 30:10)

The instructions from HaShem continue in this parasha.  The finest materials are now applied toward three elements:  the creation of the Priest’s vestments, the procedure for consecrating the priests, and construction of the altar for burning incense.

Nothing is improvised.  Every detail is to be carried out exactly.  To be created are a breastplate, an ephod (a long vest), a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash; priestly garb for Aaron and his sons to wear as they serve HaShem.  

The materials are exquisite.  Here are those used for constructing a breastplate:  absolutely beautiful yarns of gold, blue, purple and crimson are employed, as well as beautiful stones of carnelian, chrysolite, emerald, turquoise, sapphire, and amethyst among others. (28:15)

The vestments must be consecrated, as must their wearers, the priests.  Here the instructions deal with the procedure.  With each vestment there is a pouring on of oil.  Yet the exacting procedure is only beginning, for a purification rite demands that unblemished bulls and rams be led to the altar to be sacrificed.  The blood of these animals is dripped on the right ear of Aaron and his sons.  Aaron’s vestments, once consecrated are passed on to the sons, and the purification right repeated every day for seven days.  Only Aaron and his sons may consume the meat of the animals. (29:1-28)

The odor is strong, to say the least.  Perhaps this is why instructions are made to construct an altar of the finest acacia wood in order to burn incense.  Incense can help neutralize or sweeten the odor.  No foreign incense is to be used, nor is a grain offering or a burnt offering to be made on this altar. It is to be cleaned once a year. (30:1-10)

In this worldview, the care that is taken in fulfilling these instructions is a mark of holiness, and obedience to them is the highest spiritual discipline.

Questions to be discussed:  Does holiness have its place today?  Is obedience still considered a virtue?  If not, what has replaced it in importance, now that we no longer have temple to make sacrifices?


David’s Corner – February 15, 2021

T’rumah (Exodus 25:1 - 27:19

The process of building a traveling Tabernacle is most impressive.  This week’s parasha, T’rumah, and next week’s parasha, T’tzavveh, contain HaShem’s instructions for the process.

The first really impressive element is unstated.  It is clear by its omission that the Israelites are not to turn their experience of receiving the law at Mount Sinai into a regular yearly event at Sinai.  Thus the intention behind having a mobile Tabernacle is likely that eventually it will find its more permanent home in the promised land once that land has been entered and conquered.

A further incentive is that HaShem appeals to the Israelites’ sense of participation in the construction of the Tabernacle by having Moses tell them to “bring Me gifts, and that Moses is to “accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” (25:2)

Let’s be clear, however.  No chintzy, cheap materials in the construction of the Tabernacle are acceptable.  Rather Moses shall accept “gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood.” (25:3-5)

The reason for these fine materials quickly becomes evident: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”  (25:8) Daddy is joining the kids for this road trip.  

But lets not get too familiar, alright?  HaShem will instruct the Israelites as to which spaces are open to the people, and which are so sacred that only the Cohanim may enter, and then there will be a space that only Moses can be near HaShem.  This will be all by design, HaShem’s design.  (25:9)  

Questions for discussion:  Can the Israelites live up to HaShem’s expectations in the construction of the Tabernacle?  What happens if they don’t?


David’s Corner – February 8, 2021

MIshpatim (Exodus 21:1 - 24:18)

The tone of the Torah changes with this parasha.  Whereas up to now the focus has been principally on narrative, the Torah now presents the rules by which the the Israelites are expected to live.

 Where to start? So much is necessary beyond the initial commandments which frame essential truths.  Now there is to be a Book of the Covenant which spells out in greater detail what those truths mean in practice.

 Slavery and the liberation from it has been the great cause of the exodus from Egypt.  So perhaps that is the reason the Book of the Covenant begins with slavery.  A clear precedent is established.  Unlike in Egypt, the status of being a Hebrew slave is not a permanent condition unless a slave formally requests it.  The slave is to be released after six years of service, and his wife, should he have one, can join him. (21:2-6)

 A female Hebrew slave who has been sold by her father cannot be freed after six years. But if her owner finds her displeasing, he must let her be redeemed.  And if he designates her for his son and he marries another, he is not permitted to withhold her food, her clothing or her conjugal rights.  However imperfect this appears to 21st century eyes, it marks a clear distinction to what previously occurred in Egypt, for unlike then, Hebrew slaves now have some rights. (21:7-11)

 From the discussion on slavery, the topic jumps to murder.  “He who fatally strikes a man shall be put to death.”  (21:12)    However, “If he did not do it by design, but it came about by an act of God I will assign you a place to which he can flee.” (21:13) Discerning intent thus becomes of paramount importance:  accidental or deliberate?   Certainly, as far as former Hebrew slaves are concerned, this is revolutionary.  No Egyptian cared much that Moses’s slaying of an Egyptian overseer was impulsive, with the intent of stopping the beating of a helpless Hebrew slave.

Questions for discussion:  Do you think that the intention of the Book of the Covenant is to draw a clear distinction between what the Hebrews had experienced as slaves and the new society of freedom?  If not, why not?  If so, were there other considerations as well?


David’s Corner – February 1, 2021

Yitro (Exodus 18:1 - 20:23)

Why does Jethro have a full chapter devoted to him when the big story of the parasha is the giving of the ten commandments?  Perhaps the story of Jethro is not so small.   There are really at least five reasons Jethro demonstrates that he is the ideal father-in-law.  

First, while Moses is away in Egypt, Jethro takes care of Moses’s wife, Zipporah (Jethro’s daughter) as well her two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.  True, one would expect Jethro to assume this responsibility, but there is no guarantee that the headache of rivalries won’t once again rear its head.  Yet when, after the exodus, Jethro brings Moses’s family to him, there isn’t a hint of discord between the brothers nor between their mother and them.

Second, though Jethro has himself lived comfortably in the region, he has tolerated Moses naming his first son, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land,” and his second son, “The God of my father was my help, and He delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.”  

Third, though he is a priest in another religion, that of Midian, Jethro is very tolerant and supportive of Moses’s faith in HaShem.  He insists that Moses tell him the complete story of the Exodus in detail. Then Jethro makes a burnt offering to HaShem which he shares with Aaron and other elders of Israel.

Fourth, Jethro offers just the right piece of advice in just the right way.  Jethro has known Moses intimately for many years, and Moses trusts him.  So after observing how Moses tends to adjudicate all by himself, Jethro advises him to delegate lesser matters to others, and to concentrate on the big stuff.  Moses listens and follows through on Jethro’s advice.  How essential this is, because Moses must concentrate on much in preparation for the giving of the law!

Fifth, and finally, Jethro quietly takes his leave.  He has fulfilled his role, and now, generously, he leaves Moses and his family to their destiny, while Jethro returns to his own land.  It’s hard to find a more modest servant in the Torah.   

Questions for Discussion:  Have you ever had someone like Jethro in your life?  How did he/she influence your life?