D'VAR TORAH BY: RABBI VERED L. HARRIS for ReformJudaism.org
Changing the Plan in a Holy Way
For the final parashah of the Book of Numbers, imagine we are with our ancestors on the east side of the Jordan River. This week is a double portion of Matot/Mas’ei. The episode we will explore begins in Numbers 32 in Matot.
The tribes of Reuben and Gad owned a lot of cattle. They saw the regions of Jazer and Gilad, outside of the Promised Land, were good for cattle. Representatives from Reuben and Gad went to Moses, Eleazer the priest, and the chieftains of the community to ask permission to settle outside of the Promised Land.
BY: RABBI VERED L. HARRIS for ReformJudaism.org
Their Father’s Sin Is Not Their Own
The popular use of ancestry websites speaks to our curiosity about where we come from and the history of our families. Some of us want genetic information for medical reasons. Others want a connection to the past: What did our ancestors do for a living? Where did they live? Is there anything in our lives that resembles those who came before us? Placing ourselves as a link in a chain of ancestors can both satisfy curiosities and add meaning to our lives. It may also remind us that we are a link in connecting the chain to the future.
RABBI VERED L. HARRIS for ReformJudaism.org
Distracted by Blessing
In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, the king of Moab, Balak, is afraid that the Israelites’ encampment will ravish his land. He sends emissaries to a diviner named Balaam with the intent of hiring him to stop the Israelites. A summary of their encounter demonstrates a classic misunderstanding:
BY: RABBI VERED L. HARRIS
Living in the Golden Mean
Parashat Chukat opens with a description of the parah adumah — often referred to as the red heifer. The ashes of this sacrifice were used for purification. The laws of the red heifer are a classic example of accepting the yoke of the commandments without explanation. The laws of the red heifer do not apply today, as they are specific to a time when the Temple is standing in Jerusalem. But those of us who rinse our hands upon leaving a cemetery or prior to entering a shiva house are observing a remnant of this law.1 Other laws for which the Torah does not give rational explanations but that are enmeshed in Jewish identity include the instruction not to wear garments that mix linen and wool, and many of the dietary restrictions. Without reasons given in the Torah, the most traditional rationale is: God said so.
This story in B’midbar Rabbah2 teaches about this law:
By Rabbi Vered L. Harris, RJE, for ReformJudaism.org
Learning How to Go from Stress to Empowerment
In Parashat Korach, Moses’ cousin, Korach leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, demanding, “All the community are holy ... Why then do you raise yourselves above the Eternal’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3). Often, Korach’s actions are interpreted to be the jealous behavior of one who sees himself as entitled to power. But what if his behavior reflects something different — a feeling of helplessness and a fear of being disenfranchised?