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Shlach: Honoring The Bounty by Rachel Siegal

“A person who is deeply connected to the land around her is a person who can honor its uniqueness, celebrate its bounty, and respect its need to rest.” This week’s parsha, Shlach, contains the well-known scene of the scouts sent to assess the land of Canaan for its habitability. Chosen from each Israelite tribe, the twelve  scouts are charged with reporting back on the people who live there, what the towns look like, how rich the soil is, how wooded the area is, and to bring back a sample of the type of fruit that grows there. This seems like a reasonable request: when we ourselves are considering a new town to live in, we certainly want to know more about what the people are like, whether the houses, say, are mostly in gated communities, what the school options are for our children, and where the open spaces and parks are located.  Do we also want to know what fruits are native to the region? Perhaps, although most are unlikely to factor that question into our modern day assessment, given our ease of access to all kinds of produce from all around the world in most grocery stores. Inspired by […]





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Anna Burke HS

B’haalot’cha: Of Fertility And Infertility In Land And People by Anna Burke

“Action and prayer work hand-in-hand; we cannot rely solely on God for our well-being, but we can derive meaning and support from walking our journeys with God in our hearts and minds.” Parashat B’haalot’cha marks the beginning of the Israelites’ journey from Sinai to the Promised Land as they make their final preparations, set out from their encampment, and grapple with the challenges they face along the way. The Israelites push God’s buttons with their complaining, and in this portion even Miriam and Aaron challenge Moses, and God by extension. God punishes Miriam with leprosy for speaking out against Moses. Upon hearing Aaron’s plea for forgiveness, Moses prays for his sister with the words, “El na refa na la,” meaning, “Please God, heal her.” Moses’ prayer for healing has become a staple of the Jewish tradition that compels us to lean on God as our source of healing. We trust in God to heal the earth in the shmita year as we allow the land to rest, and hopefully, in turn, become rejuvenated. Maintaining faith in God as we remove ourselves from our regular activities and work can be challenging, especially at our most vulnerable times. And yet, we know […]





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Carol Glass

Naso: Lift Up Their Heads – And Notice Them, by Rabbi Carol Glass

“Moving towards equity, inclusion, and diversity by truly seeing others and sharing our bounty with them.” By mandating a 7th year cessation of all agricultural production and the release of intra-Jewish debts, shmita is a highly ‘disruptive’ ancient Jewish practice with important lessons for today’s world. As Kohenet Rabbi Sarah Bracha Gershuny has pointed out: Shmita slows down the race to the top (of production and power), supports more equitable distribution of wealth, and promotes generosity, forward planning, and collective care, while encouraging self-control for the long haul. Shmita is about love of land and it is also about love of and for, all people and creatures. It is by interrupting our drives to produce, accumulate wealth, compete, and establish boundaries, that we learn that drives are not the same as needs—that sharing, reducing what separates us, and watching out for one another make for a holier (holistic) existence. Our parasha, in choosing the word ‘Naso’ (see Num 4:22), emphasizes this message. In Biblical Hebrew the phrase “Naso et Rosh” is used to mean “Take a census of…” however, Naso literally means “carry, lift up”, and also “forgive”; so the phrase ‘naso et rosh…’ literally means ‘Lift up the heads […]





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Rabbi Eli Herb

BaMidbar: Being Sustained, In Eden and the Wilderness, by Rabbi Eli Herb

“To create a society balanced between the curse of civilization and the wildness of being nourished by the Creator.” “When the Holy Blessed One gave the Torah, no bird chirped, no fowl fluttered, no ox lowed … the sea did not roar, the creatures did not speak; the universe was silent and mute.” (Exodus Rabbah 29:7) The Creator brought all into being for this moment of receiving; the whole world was wired with the knowledge that this moment would come. When the moment came, everything was still, receptive. At the beginning, Creator placed the human being in Gan Eden where all received sustenance from Creation herself. Tragically, humanity (and humanity alone) was exiled to become workers of the land, civilized, alienated. Empires and imperialism, slavery and injustice, inequality and exploitation arise from this exile.  Gan Eden remains, Torah tells us, guarded by flaming swords, mostly inaccessible to those of us cursed to live in the civilized world. At the same time, Gan Eden evolved in our tradition to be a synonym for the World that is Coming (and is even now flowing like a great river into the world). It remains a place we can access; like Torah, Gan Eden […]





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Rabbi Dr. Bradley Shavit Artson

BeHukkotai: Why Land is Different, by Rabbi Dr. Bradley Shavit Artson

“Land is imbued with holiness, which means that like God, it is beyond human measures of usefulness or control” As we prepare to close the Book of Leviticus, the Torah’s pinnacle, we are left with a message of responsibility, consequences, and possibilities. God presents us with the benefits of making wise choices and the consequences of choosing poorly. Then the Torah provides for the funding of the sanctuary and its staff: our participation with monetary support, pledges of animals or homes. But when it pivots to pledges of land, the Torah shifts gears entirely. Land, you see, is ours to borrow and to use. But humans presume they can own land. In reality, the land makes its claim on us, and we can either open ourselves to its ground rules, or we risk a rootlessness that leaves us clinging when the next sandstorm swirls. We are, as the book reminds us, “resident strangers (Leviticus 25:23)” on earth. The Land precedes us and the land will bury us when we no longer need our bodies. We are dust, and we return to dust (Genesis 3:19). On some deeper level of reality, it is all just dust, earth, soil.  Judaism directs our […]





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Parshat Behar: To Dwell Within Them, by Arthur Green

״אין לך פרשה שאין בה תחיית המתים אלא שאין בנו כח לדרוש״  (ספרי האזינו ש״ו) There is no portion in the Torah that cannot be brought back to life, if only we had the strength to interpret!” (Sifrei, Ha’azinu 306:35) 1 וידבר יהו״ה אל משה בהר סיני לאמור…ושבתה הארץ שבת ליהו״ה  “Y-H-W-H spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying…the land shall rest in a godly Sabbath (25:1-2). Rashi famously opens by asking: “What does the Sabbatical have to do with Sinai?” Why, among all the many commandments, should this be specifically designated as spoken at the Mountain? The Talmud (b. Sanh. 39a) explains the commandment this way:  “Plant for six years and rest in the seventh, so that you will know that the land belongs to Y-H-W-H.”  But, in the broadest sense, that is the purpose of all the other commandments as well! The earth is filled with God’s presence since its creation. That did not begin at Sinai. Torah was given to provide us with a way to discover that presence, and a path of living in response to it. “The world was created by ten divine utterances,” says the Mishnah (Avot 5:1). These ma’amarot are the ten times […]





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Parshat Emor: Making It All Count, By Rabbi Jon Kelsen

“Counting the Omer – like the shemitah cycle – invites us to believe that each day, week and year is count-worthy, valuable and unique.” One after the other, the days proceed. The slog continues on, with no progress or forward movement in sight. Familiar mistakes are made again. Regrettable habits deepen, and the hours between getting up and lying down start to look all alike. The only thing passing is time itself. This “Groundhog Day” experience of ennui is familiar now to so many. On those gray days and listless years, many of us find ourselves asking: Does this all add up to anything? Do my days, weeks, and years count?  The Torah indicates that, indeed, they do. Literally.  Parshat Emor consists of two major components: first, laws relevant to the priest (mourning, eating sacred foodstuff) and second, an elaborate discussion of the yearly festival cycle. This includes discussion of the Omer period, bridging Pesach and what we call Shavuot (the feast of weeks), in which we find ourselves today.  The Torah commands (Lev. 23:21) that, at the time of the wheat harvest, on the day following the “Shabbat” (i.e. the beginning of the Pesach holiday, according to rabbinic tradition), […]





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Od Lo Avdah Tikvatenu, Our Hope is Not Yet Lost

Today is Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, the 74th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel in 1948. Yesterday was Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Day of Remembrance, a day for grieving the loss of 24,000 fallen Israeli soldiers and 4,000 civilians killed in terrorist attacks over the years. In Palestinian society, Yom Ha’Atzmaut is known as the Nakba-Catastrophe, mourning the 1948 loss of Palestinians’ homeland and the displacement of a majority of the Palestinian people. For me, these days–back to back and inside-out–are the most powerful holy day(s) of the year. And especially in the diaspora, how do we relate to this land, this country, and this time of year? Really, how do we orient to all of this? And not just personally but organizationally – for Hazon & Pearlstone – how do we approach our relationship to Israel, and Palestine? This is just the beginning of a long journey, but I want to take this opportunity to share our orientation to these important questions. Our mission is to lead a transformative movement deeply weaving sustainability into the fabric of Jewish life. We connect people to the earth and to each other, catalyzing culture change and systemic change through […]





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Parashat Kedoshim: How To Be Holy Now?, by Rabbi Atara Cohen

“Taking a step back to envision a holy, caring society – especially in light of the oppression perpetuated by this very parasha.” Parashat Kedoshim begins with what one might call a “greatest hits” compilation of mitzvot. Here God lists the ways in which we are to become holy: honor our parents, keep shabbat, treat our employees fairly, give away parts of our crops to those less fortunate than us, and many other obligations which often align with our modern values. Famously, we are commanded to love others as ourselves. Kedoshim offers a glimpse of what holiness might be: creating a society of caring for others.  However, amidst these beautiful mitzvot which offer structures of justice, we find prohibitions of certain sex acts. One of these prohibitions in particular has been appropriated to oppress LGBTQ+ people for millennia. Among verses which call for care, our parasha has verses which historically have caused physical, emotional, and spiritual harm — harm which continues to be perpetuated today. It is not clear how to reconcile these challenging prohibitions with the parasha’s call for loving others as ourselves. However, the parasha presents us with the mission to be holy. If holiness is aligned with care, […]





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Yom HaShoah | Legacy & Responsibility

Friends, Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. One of my early memories is the moment my father told me that almost all of our family–his parents’ families–were murdered in the Holocaust.  My grandparents, Saul & Lonia, grew up in Lodz, Poland. They lived through the ghetto and the camps, the death marches, and found each other in an American army-operated displaced persons camp in Germany after the war. They fell in love, got married, and had their first child–my aunt Blanche–while still living in the camp. Eventually, with support from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, they came to America, arriving at Ellis Island and then welcomed into the Pittsburgh Jewish community where they began a new life. That’s when my dad was born.  My legal name is Jeremy K Manela; my Hebrew name is Jakir (pronounced Yakir), because I am named after my great-grandfather, Jakir Kompel, Lonia’s father. Jakir died in the gas chambers at Birkenau. Grandma survived, and somehow found the strength with Grandpa to live on, find love, build a family, and give with all her heart all her life. I remember being at Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Pittsburgh as a young child–we really loved that […]





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