Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

What is the choice? (5771 Re’eh II)

In Deuteronomy on August 27, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Free will to make
Free will to create
Free will, make right, create wrong?

Isaiah 54:11-55:5
Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17

So the portion that begins with I set before you a blessing and a curse also restates the kosher laws. Why keep kosher?

Modern questions: Why keep organic? Why keep vegetarian or vegan?

If we accept the idea that the command to abolish idolatry can also be understood as a command to abolish ignorance, or a command to abolish the wrong, can we extend this to a command to eat ethically?

Why should we eat ethically? Why, when given the choice, do we pick unhealthy options? Why do unhealthy options exist? Does the food we eat satisfy? How does one measure the price of food? Is money the only measure? Is money the true price?

How do we get to the point where the unhealthy choices are no longer necessary? Is there a substitute? Where is the evolution? Is this an addition to the text? Or a detraction from the text?

Where do these choices come from? Where does free will come from?
If someone makes wrong choices, does that make them wrong?

Final question: Where does the wrong come from, and how can we abolish it?


And you shall tear down (5771 Re’eh I)

In Deuteronomy on August 24, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Feeding only belly
When you can feed stomach and soul
Not logical

Isaiah 54:11-55:5
Deuteronomy 11:26 – 12:10

The Israelites are presented the blessing and the curse, the choice between following the statutes and commandments that have been given them, and the curse of not doing so, and chasing other gods. They are told to pronounce the blessing at Mt. Gerizim and the curse at Mt. Ebal. Is this to say the blessing starts at Mt. Gerizim, and the curse starts at Mount Ebal? Is this a battle plan, Gerizim being the staging point and Ebal the first conquest? Is pronouncing the blessing from Gerizim equivalent to announcing the arrival of the Israelites in the Land, and fair warning to the present inhabitants? What kind of message is this?

Have you ever broken a New Years resolution? How does that look? Do you make the commitment on New Years, and then break that commitment on the next day? Do you pronounce your blessing, and then pronounce your curse?

You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods, whether on lofty mountains and on hills or under any luxuriant tree. Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site. (Deut. 12:2-3)

The Israelites are charged to destroy all the pagan worship sites in the Land. History knows this didn’t happen. Are we any better? What other words can you think of to replace the word gods above? Are they idols? Or virtues?

What should we replace them with?

Final question: how does the story of the Trojan Horse relate to this parsha? Hint: Isaiah.

Impurity against the gathering of olives

In Deuteronomy on August 23, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Shammai, however, did not content himself with the victory for his foreign policy; he took advantage of the situation…to force also the acceptance of his social and ceremonial program.  “If you anger me, I will declare impurity also against the gathering of olives,” he cried out to Hillel...

(Akiba:  Scholar, Saint and Martyr; Louis Finkelstein)

What does this passage say?  How does it make you feel?  Does Shammai seem to act from an interest or a position?  Who else behaves this way?  What words apply?

How does this compare to Isaiah’s statements about food that does and does not satisfy?

What does it mean to give the law?  What does it mean to take the law?  And, finally, what does it mean to force the law?

Is the Torah a Bad Salesman? (5771 Eikev I)

In Deuteronomy on August 17, 2011 at 10:53 pm

You shall do these things.
All of them. In the darkness
You are in the light.

Isaiah 49:14-51:3
Deuteronomy 7:12-8:10

Is perfection a commandment? The first Aliyah of our parsha focuses on keeping all of the commandments, even those that “one would trample with his foot” as Rashi teaches us. Why would we trample a commandment with our feet? Because they are too hard for us? Because there are too many? Because they seem outdated? Because they seem unimportant?

What would it mean for a man to achieve perfection? Isaiah asks “why, when I came, was no man there?” (50:2). Gershwin, two thousand years later, would ask in Porgy and Bess “ain’t there no man here?” The context is a hurricane scene. No one in the community would brave the storm to help their friends. Bess, the heroine, asks the above question. “Ain’t there no man here?”

Is perfection the measurement of our achievements? Is perfection the measure of how scrupulously we observe the commandments? Is perfection measured tangibly? Or is perfection something else entirely?

Both Deuteronomy and Isaiah call the people to service and hardship; Deuteronomy to the shouldering of the commandments, and Isaiah to the shouldering of service, hard and cruel service, to God. Why would the text call us to things that, time and again, are presented as difficult, unappetizing and unjust?

Is the Torah a bad salesman? Or is the answer the sell itself? Isaiah addresses us directly to say that God granted him the tongue and ears of the learned (50:4-5). How does it mean to be learned? Perhaps more importantly, what does it mean to become learned? What does on need to become learned?

Isaiah also says “though he walk in darkness and have no light, let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God.” (50:10) Does this support or deny the existence of a “perfect” Law? Does this support the parsha’s seeming commandment to perfection?

No, it does not.

Final question: what is the difference between someone with heart and someone without?

In Front Of Your Nose (5771 Vaetchanan)

In Deuteronomy on August 15, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Sign upon your hand
Frontlets before thine eyes
Isn’t it obvious? 

Isaiah 40:1 -26
Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11


The prophet says it best.   Where did the ten words come from?  Where did they come from twice?  Where do they come from, and whither do they go?

Final question:  Are make-up exams forever with answers at the end?

May his name always be for blessing…

In General on August 6, 2011 at 11:55 pm

He was always there
And then he was gone, vanished.
Funny. Brilliant. Missed

Posts may slow down for a few days on account of the passing of a family member. Faithful readers, please hold us in your thoughts during this difficult time. We’ll be back soon.

Is it Just that our loved ones be taken?

Frank Aronson, uncle and beloved


Do What You Say You Will Do (5771 Devarim V)

In Deuteronomy on August 5, 2011 at 5:50 pm

He gave you His word
And He gave them His word
According to their Words

Isaiah 1:1-27
Deuteronomy 2:2-30

Our fifth aliyah recounts the journey of the Israelites following the incident with the scouts. Moses describes God’s covenants with other peoples, Edom and Moab and Ammon, in some detail. Wouldn’t a verbatim recounting of the locations the Israelites passed through, and reminders of God’s specific promises to Israel concerning the Land have sufficed?

What is covenant? Let’s ask again. What is a contract? Or, what is an agreement? In lay terms, these are commitments made between people, and run the spectrum between formal compacts and simple gifts. Covenants are transactions. How we honor them reflects on our peoplehood.

Does Moses’ attention to God’s behavior towards other covenants contrast with Israel’s covenant and their subsequent behavior with the scouts?

Rabbi Ari Jacobson writes in Love and Land on My Jewish Learning (previously commented on here) that Deuteronomy shifts the focus of the Torah to Love. What does this mean for God’s other covenantal obligations? What does this mean for God’s covenant with Israel? Do these covenants have anything to do with each other?

On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we ask forgiveness for breaking any covenants we’ve made. This isn’t a blanket absolution. The machzor states, For sins against God the Day of Atonement atones. For sins against other men the Day of Atonement does not atone. What does this say about our obligations to one another? Does this say anything about the human condition?

Final question: how did God create the world?

Good Shabbos

A New Book: Deuteronomy

In Deuteronomy on August 4, 2011 at 10:07 pm

A New Book: Deuteronomy

Rabbi Denise Eger offers an excellent introduction to Deuteronomy, providing a roadmap of the book from Moses’ speech to the repetition of the Law and the ending narratives.  This is particularly helpful this year, when the extra month gives us time to look at passages we normally gloss over.

I love the statement “Moses will help this generation who will settle in the Land of Israel and help fulfill the covenental promise made to Abraham” and the imagery of the ancient chain.  Is this Moses’ share in the future world?  What does this mean for us?

Love And Land – My Jewish Learning

In Deuteronomy on August 4, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Love And Land – My Jewish Learning.

Rabbi Ari Jacobson discusses the Torah’s shift of focus from origins and behaviors to the relationship between God and Israel in Deuteronomy, with particular focus on Love.

The story of the Hasid illustrates this point very well, in addition to the point Rabbi Jacobson makes.  When the Rebbe said “make this place Eretz Yisrael”, he not only said “Eretz Yisrael is … an ideal, to be carried within the Jewish heart regardless of … location” but also Eretz Yisrael is an ideal, to be carried in G-d’s heart, everywhere.

What do these ideas mean for other traditions?  Contrast with this statement from the article, that “only Israel is described as a land constantly under the direct watchful eye of Hashem”.  What does this imply?

“There is simply not enough room in the world for both Hashem and the haughty.  It is for this reason…that the land of Israel retains elements of Eretz Canaan.”  Why do we interact with haughty, pushy,  self-centered people every day?

If the locations listed stand for “assorted Jewish iniquities”, as Rashi suggests, does this passage have to be a rebuke?  Or could it be a reminder, in Love, to all of us that “nobody’s perfect”?

Deuteronomy does introduce laws and behaviors we haven’t seen before.  Does it’s presentation of these differ from other legal/behavioral parts of the Torah with its shifted focus, and what does this shift in focus mean for the other books themselves?

On History and Memory – My Jewish Learning

In Deuteronomy on August 4, 2011 at 7:46 pm

On History and Memory – My Jewish Learning.

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky discusses the portion and Moses’ intent to call the people to responsibility for their actions.  He asks the excellent question, how does one acquire memory?  His answer is, “by retelling the story again and again.”

Consider, however, that some events portrayed in this retelling have changed from their original telling.  What does it mean when the story changes?