Thursday, April 26, 2018


AHARE MOT and KEDOSHIM, Lev. 16:1-20:27, for Saturday, 4/29/2018

1.     This is a combined Torah portion. Some portions are attached one to another, in order to make sure the entire book of the Pentateuch is read within a prescribed yearly cycle.
2.     According to Lev.16, on Yom Kippur, the High Priest brought forth 2 goats; one he slaughtered on the altar, and the other one he sent off to “Azazel,” a desert demon. The dispatch was done as a means of getting rid of all the sins--a primitive concept.
3.     Lev. 19:18, mandates that we “love” our neighbor. In biblical times, “to love,” as seen in various ancient Near Eastern texts, basically meant, “to be loyal” to someone else. In his book, The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm, understands this to mean, “to feel responsible for someone else” (p.130).
4.     According to Lev. 19:14, we are not to “place a stumbling block before the blind.” For the rabbis in the Sifra, this meant: “Do not give self-serving advice to one who is ignorant and inexperienced.” For the Talmudic Rabbis, this ordinance comes to tell us not “to tempt another person to sin” (Pes. 22b).

Monday, April 16, 2018


SONSINO’S TORAH COMMENTS: TAZRIA/METZORAH, Lev. 12:1-15:33, for 4/21/2018

These combined Torah portions mainly deal with various ritual impurities and discharges. Most of them are obscure.
1.     Chapter 13 refers to something called TZARAAT. What is it?  It appears on the human body as well as on garments and walls, and is often translated as “leprosy,” but the original meaning is not known. Today, most scholars understand it as some kind of a plague. The ancient Rabbis, playing on words, interpret TZARAAT as MOTZI RA, namely, a slanderer. For them, the worst sin is “sowing discord among people” (Midrash Rabba, 16:1)
2.     The biblical text also mentions TUMAH? This is often translated as “impurity.” The fear is that we will be contaminated because of our association with something that is dangerous.
3.     The priests, upon examination, declared affected people either “clean” or “unclean” (these people were removed from the community).
4.     The challenge for us living in the modern world is to turn a NEGA (affliction, trouble) into an ONEG (joy)—using a play on word.
5.     What are the plagues of our time? I would say, global warming, religious fundamentalism, inequality between poor and rich, curse of racism etc. Can you add others?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


1.     Our Torah portion deals with the duties of the priests; their responsibility in the Temple and community.

2.     The text begins with “And it happened-vayehi (Lev.9:1).” The Midrash comments: “Everything created in the six days of creation needs further treatment.” (Lev. R. 11/7). In other words, by our contributions, we need to improve the world and society.
3.     Aaron’s two sons offered a “strange fire” on the altar, and they were killed by God (Lev. 10:1-3). The message: do not go for the fanatics who claim that only their passionate approach to religion is the correct one. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (Orthodox from NY) states, “A passionate religion that is not guided by the yoke of reason is a dangerous religion.”
4.     Aaron, the High Priest, begins his duties when God tells him: “make expiation (kapper) for yourself and for the people” (Lev.9:7). The meaning of kapper is uncertain. Maybe, it is related to the Akkadian kuppuru, to wash away. “Expiation” means to remove sin from God’s sight. Rabbi Plaut adds: “Until Aaron himself had been purified from guilt, he could not intercede for the people’ (URJ, Torah Com. p.707). In other words, before you criticize others, clean your act first.