Author Archive | Eliezer Weinbach


Vayakel-Pekudei: Work on Your Connection by Eli Weinbach

Rest requires work. Without putting in the prep time, we may find that a day off is spent thinking about what has yet to be done. Without planning, vacation may not be much more exciting than staying home. Extended conversation with friends about where to go for dinner cuts into dinner time if plans aren’t made ahead of time. When hosting a guest, we make sure their stay is easy, but that ease is the result of extra work. Vayakhel and Pekudei are accounts of work done by the Israelites to ensure that God would have a resting place in their midst. Moses gives many instructions, and Betzalel the architect orchestrates production with his assistant Ohaliab. The population is galvanized to contribute either their materials or time. In the final chapter of Exodus, the monumental work is finished. The nation watches with baited breath, and their hard work is rewarded. The Shechina descends upon the newly built Mishkan (Exodus 40:35), and divine respite in the physical realm is achieved. All that planning and work seems like so little when the payoff arrives. An immanent God! The Most Holy, right in the middle of the camp! And all that had to […]

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dvir cahana

Ki Tisa: Believe in Equality and Leave the REST to G-d by Dvir Cahana

The story beats of Parshat Ki Tisa teach us two Shmita-esque concepts. The Parsha begins with the democratized call to cooperatively erect the Mishkan, where each individual was commanded to evenly contribute a half-shekel to the project. The purpose of this census, says the commentator Chizkuni, is to atone for the sin of the golden calf, found only a chapter away in this very Parsha. Examining these nation-wide aggregations of funds to build something to worship — seen in both the establishment of the Mishkan and the sin of the golden calf — will reveal their shared relationships to Shmita. Shmita conjures up the importance of rethinking ownership. It is easy to get swept away and lose sight of our humanity when each individual places the expansion of their grasp on material culture above all else. Capitalist forces have rooted the “worship of possession” so vigorously in our collective psyche that it is almost unfathomable to institutionalize a national Tzimtzum (constriction). The lesson found in the Machazit Hashekel, the half-shekel collection, is that it undermines of the value of possession. By forbidding anyone from contributing more than anybody else, the holiness of the Mishkan gets spread evenly throughout the camp. […]

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Vayechi: Brotherly Love by Eli Weinbach

This week, Jacob, like his father before him, sets out to bless his progeny. The first to receive his blessings are Joseph’s sons, the brothers Ephraim and Menashe. Those who have been following since Bereshit will know that being a brother in the main story of the parsha is a fraught position. This lineage is riddled with kin-strife – Cain and Abel, Shem and Ham, Issac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. There is a family history of choosing one son and abandoning the other. Jacob, still not fully recovered from the fallout of his own sons’ conflict, is determined to heal this intergenerational trauma. What is his advice to Joseph?  “אֶפְרַ֙יִם֙ וּמְנַשֶּׁ֔ה כִּרְאוּבֵ֥ן וְשִׁמְע֖וֹן יִֽהְיוּ־לִֽי – Ephraim and Menashe will be for me as Reuben and Shmion.” (Genesis 48:5) Jacob is telling Joseph that the way forward is for brothers to be brothers. Siblings ought to love each other, not to vie for blessings or paternal adoration. Ephraim and Menashe will be like Reuben and Shmion, not like Joseph and his brothers or Jacob and Esau.  In the laws of Shmita set out in Leviticus, we are told:  “אַל־תִּקַּ֤ח מֵֽאִתּוֹ֙ נֶ֣שֶׁךְ וְתַרְבִּ֔ית וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ וְחֵ֥י אָחִ֖יךָ […]

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shoshana friedman

Vayigash: We Need Emotional Shmita Now by Rabbi Shoshana Friedman

Deep into the Joseph story, we come to a moment that catches my breath and makes me tear up every year. Joseph, sold to slavery long ago, stands now as the viceroy of Egypt. He has designed a system of rations that saves Egypt from famine and consolidates the Pharaoh’s power. Meanwhile, his birth family is starving in Canaan, and his brothers go down to Egypt to plead for rations. Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they – begging for food, and seeing a uniformed Egyptian officer before them speaking a foreign language – do not see Joseph for who he is. Joseph sets before them a series of tests. Then, after an impassioned speech from Judah, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. But first we read the line: “V’lo yuchal Yosef l’hitapek l’chol hanitzavim alav…” Joseph could no longer contain himself in front of all who stood before him (Genesis 45:1). It is the word לְהִתְאַפֵּק/l’hitapek, the root א.פ.ק/aleph.peh.kuf which arrests my attention year after year. It means to compel oneself, to restrain oneself, to hold oneself back. When Joseph can no longer do it, when he can’t contain himself anymore and finally makes himself known to his brothers, “his sobs […]

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Vayeirah: The Shaping of the Land by Eliezer Weinbach

Inherent in the concept of Shmita is an understanding that as much as we toil to shape the land, the land shapes us as well. How does it shape a person to raise children where their great-grandparents were raised? How does it impact a child to rest in the shade of a tree planted by their grandmother? How does it change a family to observe Shmita together, to support each other through a year with no harvest? What would it mean to observe many cycles of Shmita and to know from family experience that getting through each one is achievable with planning and cooperation?  The story of such a family would be filled with resilience, generosity, and trust. When we put our faith in the land, the land responds and instills in us an equal measure of faith. Last week, Abraham and Lot parted ways. Abraham gives Lot the choice of where to settle, and he chooses Sodom, in the lush valley of the Jordan, because it was “entirely watered.” It seemed to be a fertile land that would provide for him with little work. Sodom was a land where the people took without giving. They took from the land, […]

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Moving from the Real to the Ideal – Rabbi Dov Linzer

The Torah commands us in the laws of Shmita for the first time in Shemot 23:11: “And six years you shall sow thy land, and shall gather in the fruits thereof. But the seventh year you shall relinquish it; that the poor of your people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner you shall deal with your vineyard, and with your oliveyard”. The Shmita year is one in which we cease our working of the land to recognize that all that we have is God’s. It is a year when the poor eat freely from the land and when all debts are released, a year of greater economic and social equality. The vision of Shmita is a utopian vision, but can it be translated into reality? The mitzvah to free one’s slaves presents a similar vision and a similar challenge. The very first in the long list of laws in Shemot states that any slave purchased must be freed following six years of servitude. This is the first law given to Bnei Israel – newly-freed slaves themselves – by God, who declared at the theophany at Mount Sinai that, “I am […]

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The Dream of Shmita – Deirdre Gabbay

I have been wanting to write in response to the situation we are all in for several weeks, but each time I’ve begun, I’ve gotten confused and had to stop. There are so many facets of this time and situation that no words can embrace it in all its various aspects. My mind and heart have been crowded with disorganized and conflicting thoughts and emotions. But here we sit, with time to reflect, under these unique and unforgettable conditions. Shmita, described as the Sabbath of the Land, is part of a relationship between the Earth and God. The human being’s role in this relationship is precisely to step back and permit it take place – to cease our exploitation of the Earth for one year out of every seven and enable it to rest. It seems obvious and forgivable for me at this moment to write about Shmita, since it is my special topic. This is in no way the golden version of the Year of Release that I have unabashedly dreamed of and that I had hoped to play some part in bringing about with care and intention. It is humbling and terrifying to witness the devastation that the […]

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