Rabbi Yakov Nagen

What Does God Have to Do with Social Justice? Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen is the director of the Beit Midrash for Judaism and Humanity and the Blickle Institute for Interfaith Dialogue   The Torah addresses both interpersonal relations and the individual’s relationship with God. There are those who think the human, social realm is more important, …

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Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Reeh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “See, I am giving before you this day a blessing and a curse…” (Deuteronomy 11:26) So opens our Biblical portion, making reference to the covenant at Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Eybal which dramatically concludes the Book of Deuteronomy and precedes our entry …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Re’eh 5781 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“When the Torah Challenges our Engagement with God”

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Parshat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

“When the Torah Challenges our Engagement with God”

Our sense of morality feels violated when we see or hear about the murder of innocents, particularly children.
So what are we to do when the Torah itself, to which we turn for moral guidance, calls for that very action?
While it is tempting to gloss over these difficult encounters and some will  question why I bring this up in this parsha talk, it’s important to address them head on, driven by a deep love of God and the belief in the eternal truth of the Torah.
In this week’s parsha, Re’eh, we find an example of this. In Chapter 13 of the Book of Devarim, we read of the punishment for a city in which idolatry takes place.
If it is established that the majority of the town’s residents have rebelled against God by worshipping idols, the Torah requires that the town’s population be executed, that their possessions be destroyed and that the town be burned to the ground, to remain in an eternal state of ruin, never to be rebuilt, as a reminder to the Jewish people.
We can understand why the Torah is so adamant about deterring idolatry, but in any Jewish town, there will be innocents, including spouses and children, who will be condemned to death for something they did not do. 
How can this be? How can the Torah of compassion and righteousness require such a terrible injustice?
Maimonides, the Rambam, based on sources from the Talmud, stresses the very limited scope in which these laws could be implemented. (Rambam [Maimonides], Hilchot Avodah Zara / Laws of Idolatry Chapter 4)
In fact, the requirements that must be met in order for the High court to carry out the punishment are so specific that in reality, it never actually happened.
1. First, all of the negative influencers involved in perpetrating this crime must be all residents of the city, and from the same tribe, not other Jewish tribes. 
2. The courts need to ascertain that the majority of the residents have been involved in idol worship. 
Each person in the city is judged as an individual, and there must be two kosher witnesses that testify that they witnessed each individual worship idols until you get to a majority who have worshiped foreign gods.
3. If anything less than the majority of the population has been found to have transgressed this crime, the city is not classified as an idolatrous town.
4. Even if it has been established that a majority of the town’s population is guilty, a team of positive influencers are to be brought in to see if they can change the attitude of the town to try to get the residents to change their behavior. If that effort succeeds, all is forgiven.
Essentially the focus of this Torah section is on the seriousness of the event – rebellion against God – more than any possible consequence in this world.
It is like the verse an “eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24), where such a consequence for this heinous crime of maiming someone is not possible but the Torah refuses to limit its description to the consequence of paying different forms of financial compensation for a bodily injury.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that according to Maimonides, the law could have theoretically been applied, allowing for the killing of innocent children.
One of Maimonides’ contemporaries, Rav Meir HaLevi Abulafia, a highly regarded Spanish halakhic decisor and author of the sefer, “Yad Ramah”, challenges Maimonides and asks why innocents should face collective 
Citing a verse from the Book of Job (34:10), Rav Abulafia writes: ‎“חָלִלָה לָאֵל מֵרֶשַׁע” – God forbid that He would demand such a wicked act.
According to Rav Abulafia, who also has sources from within the Talmudic tradition upon which to rely, the Torah never meant to include innocents among those to be punished.
Rav Abulafia knew in the Middle Ages that with no Sanhedrin, this commandment was no longer operative and perhaps could never be implemented.
Nevertheless, he debated it as a reminder that Torah scholars must challenge even halakhic giants such as Maimonides in order to ensure that interpretations of the Torah are consistent with the moral norms and values of the Torah.
And this is a call to each and every one of us that we, too, must engage with our understanding of Torah to make sure our understanding is consistent with certain deep values of human life.
While reason does not lay down the path along which the person of faith walk, when we feel that an ideal of Torah will affect our engagement with God, then we need to explore our tradition/mesorah carefully, speak to rabbis, Talmidei and talmidot chachamim/Torah scholars, and learn an approach within our tradition that speaks to us – for, ultimately,
‎דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי ‎נֹעַם וְכׇל ‎נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם
The ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peaceful.  (Proverbs 3:17)
Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Reeh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “But the place which the Lord your God shall choose from among all of your tribes to place His Name there, for His dwelling place, shall you seek and shall you come there. And you shall bring there your whole burnt offerings …

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Rabbi Michael Laitner

Parshat Re’eh: How to create an experience An alumnus of Yeshivat Hamivtar who received semikha from the Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary (2003), Rabbi Michael Laitner serves as the rabbi of the United Synagogue’s Jewish Living Education team and as Assistant Rabbi at Finchley Synagogue (Kinloss) in London. ‘Tithe all the produce that you …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Reeh 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Transforming Adversity Into Opportunity

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“Transforming Adversity Into Opportunity

The year was 1969, and Shirley Chisholm had just made history as the first Black woman ever elected to Congress. She represented a heavily-urban district that included the neighborhood of Crown Heights, New York, where she resided.

Chisholm had high hopes of improving the lives of her constituents, many of whom were poor and uneducated, by serving on the House Education and Labor Committee.

But instead, powerful politicians  maneuvered to blunt her influence and popularity back home by forcing her to focus on issues irrelevant to her inner-city constituency: they relegated her to an obscure subcommittee of the Agriculture Committee.

Representative Chisholm was understandably frustrated. But one day, she received a phone call from the office of a rabbi who lived just one block away from her: none other than Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

At the Rebbe’s urging, Chisholm shared her feelings of hurt and anger at being sidelined from a position in which she could truly help her district.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s response surprised Chisholm – and changed the trajectory of her career. “What a blessing God has given you!” he said about her appointment to the Agriculture Committee. “This country has so much surplus food, and there are so many hungry people. You can use this gift that God gave you to feed the hungry. Find a creative way to do it.”

Shortly afterward, Congresswoman Chisholm met with Bob Dole, then a first-term senator from Kansas, who told her that Midwestern farmers were producing more food than they could sell and losing money on their crops.

Chisholm immediately recalled her conversation with the Rebbe, and knew what to do. Together with Senator Dole, she led the way in ensuring that those most in need would have access to food through what became the Food Stamp Program and WIC.

In other words, the infrastructure of welfare in the United States changed forever as a result of a meeting between Congresswoman Chisholm and the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

When Chisholm retired from Congress in 1983, she credited the Rebbe: “A rabbi who is an optimist taught me that what you may think is a challenge is a gift from God. And if poor babies have milk, and poor children have food, it’s because this Rabbi in Crown Heights had vision.”

This week’s parsha opens with the words,

“ראה אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה”

“Behold I set in front of you today, blessing and curse.” Deuteronomy 11:26

Nachmanides comments that deciding whether something is a blessing or a curse is up to us. Ramban on Deuteronomy 11:29 As Representative Chisholm learned from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, we can decide whether to view things as a challenge or as an opportunity.

Whether it involves our physical health, our mental health, our economic health, or any aspect of our lives; whether in the context of this COVID-19 pandemic or anytime, we always have the power to choose whether we see the glass half empty or half full.

May we always be blessed with the ability to transform what may seem to be a curse into a blessing and to turn challenges into opportunities.

Shabbat Shalom.

This week’s “Shabbat Shalom” is dedicated in celebration ofYakira Bryna Elison’s 6th Birthday— 28 Avby her loving grandparentsIan and Bernice Charif of Sydney, Australia Shabbat Shalom: Reeh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “If there will arise in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of dreams and he gives you a sign …

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