Torah Insights

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z’l: Bamidbar The Sound of Silence

Bamidbar is read on the Shabbat before Shavuot, and the rabbis have connected the two. One interpretation is that since the Torah was given in the open, in a place that is not owned by anyone, then anyone may come and accept it. Another interpretation is that the wilderness is free, so is the Torah free. However, the most spiritual reason is that the desert is a place of silence, with no distractions. In Kings, Elijah heard the still small voice because he was listening. However, Judaism is highly verbal, and silence is frequently seen in a negative light. But not all silence is bad.

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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z/l: Bechukotai The Rejection of Rejection

Rabbi Sacks describes the last parashah of Leviticus as a “rejection of rejection”. In this, he reminds us to the original basis for much of the anti-Semitic history of our civilization—that God rejected the Jews—Abraham’s physical descendants—for Christians—Abraham’s spiritual descendants. He quotes Lev. 26:44-45, which states that God will not cast away His people, nor break His covenant with them.

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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z/l: Parashat Behar Minority Rights

Rabbi Sacks observes that while the Torah commands us once to love our neighbor, it commands us 36 times to love the stranger. The obligation to the ger includes the right to live in the Holy Land and the right to share in its welfare provisions. This is an ancient law, way before the Talmudic principles of charity and care to non-Jews as well as Jews.

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Rabbi Deena Cowans: Parashat Emor Parashat Emor and Disability Justice

Rabbi Cowans addresses the conflict over the different standards for people with “normative” bodies and people with “other” bodies, and how the text seems discriminatory and ableist. She raises the concept that sacrificial work in the Temple was physically challenging. However, she asks, ‘why shouldn’t the Torah be more inclusive?’ She continues to say that “the messianic future is not one without disability. It is one where inclusion is innate.”

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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z/l: Parashat Emor The Duality of Jewish Time

Holiness of time is the key essence of Emor in its list of festivals and holy days. Rabbi Sacks reminds us that the first thing God declared holy was a day: Shabbat. The first mitzvah was the command to sanctify time. The Prophets were the first people in history to see time itself “as the arena of the Divine-human encounter”. Rabbi Sacks continues to address the myriad was in which the holiness of time forms an essential aspect of Judaism.

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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z/l: Acharei Mot Holy People, HolyLand

Rabbi Sacks explores the theme of why Jews need their own land. On the one hand, the Torah is based on the theme of the promised land, and the journey there. On the other hand, cannot Judaism be practiced anywhere? The text of the parashah stipulates exile from the land for defiling the laws. Parashat Bechukotai also makes the same stipulation. He raises the issue that “Jews never relinquished the dream of return.”

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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z/l: Metzora Is there such a thing as Lashon Tov?

Rabbi Sacks carries over the theme of speech in his drash on Metzora.  Intriguingly, the Talmud doesn’t address the corollary, lashon tov.  Shouldn’t it be a mitzvah to speak well of someone if it’s a sin to do the opposite?  Please follow the link below to read his analysis of different Talmudic passages on the topic of speech, both good and bad, where the most common perspective is that both are not advisable:

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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z/l: Tazria Othello, WikiLeaks, and Mildewed Walls

Tsa’arat, as translated in the Septuagint as leprosy, was not correct. Rambam describes it as a variety of dissimilar conditions, which the Sages attributed to lashon hara. It was, in fact, a Divine punishment, applied not just to individuals, but the location where the wrongdoing occurred. Rabbi Sacks compares this to Shakespeare’s Othello, wherein evil speech literally killed 3 individuals.

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Sharon Safra: Parasita Tazria-Metzora From Isolation to Healing

Sharon Safra confronts the challenge of rituals for purification the seem so anachronistic in our contemporary society. She questions the requirement to ostracize members of a community when inclusion is so important in our tradition. She interprets the text by emphasizing the purpose of ritual purity to end isolation and establish wholeness. Her drash was written during the time of the pandemic, yet its relevance continues.

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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z/l: Tzav Why Civilisations Die

Rabbi Sacks writes of the complexity of societies who, after generations of incredible accomplishments, die off.  He evaluates  potential theories, including how the society responds to severe challenges, e.g., with religious sacrifices or changes in religious observance.  Unlike the Mayans, who resorted to extensive human sacrifices to appease deities, the Jews transitioned from a Temple with sacrifices to gemillut hasadim, or Torah Study. 

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