Donate   FAQ   Calendar   Contact               

840 Vernon: The Blog of Am Shalom

This is the blog of Am Shalom, Reform congregation in Glencoe, Illinois.

In God's Image: Kara Marks' 1st Grade

At Sunday on October 25th, 2015, Ms. Kara's 1st grade class learned about how we are all created in God's Image.

All the students then  put their finger print on a class sheet as well as the madrichim and the teacher. We looked at all the finger prints to see the differences and what was the same. 

Each student worked on a mirror project where they put gems on the back or the handle of their mirror. Again this project reinforced the idea of In God's Image because they can look in the front and see how they represent it. 

The article we read and was sent home is called "In God's Image".  As we read the article,the students answered questions. One question was "How do you to show love and respect to your  parents?" They all chose someone to help and explained how they could help them.

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3306.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3307.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3305.JPG

Continue reading
  460 Hits
  0 Comments
460 Hits
0 Comments

Working Hard: Paul Kerman's 6th Grade

Paul Kerman's 6th grade class is working hard on creating Radio Broadcasts that depict the life of Avram and Sarai (who eventually become Abraham and Sarah). Here they are, hard at work!

b2ap3_thumbnail_1025-5.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_1025-6.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_1025-1.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_1025-2.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_1025-3.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_1025-4.jpg

Continue reading
  559 Hits
  0 Comments
559 Hits
0 Comments

Scavenger Hunt: Dana Poncher's Third Grade

We started learning about new letters from the hebrew alphabet today. We learned lamed, kaf, chaf, reish and hay. The kids read the different letters with different vowels strung together. At services the students watched a video about the over-night summer camp, OSRUI. After services we came back to the class and began our scavenger hunt throughout the temple. The kids really enjoyed running around the temple looking at the different things,  and rooms and talking about what they are there for.

b2ap3_thumbnail_image2_20151026-160947_1.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_image3.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_image4.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_image1_20151026-160950_1.JPG

Continue reading
  457 Hits
  0 Comments
457 Hits
0 Comments

Parashat Lech L'cha: Do good for its own sake

Recap: In last week’s parasha, Noach, we met Noah and his family during the great flood, read about the covenant between God and the people (complete with rainbow!), and learned aboutthe tower of Babel. At the end of the parasha, we met Abram and Sarai, descendents of Noah’s son Shem. They just migrated from Ur to Haran. We learned that Sarai is unable to bear children.

 

Cast of Characters:

Abram and Sarai (otherwise known as Abraham and Sarah!)

Lot, Abram’s nephew

People of Sodom

Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant

Ishmael and Isaac

And God, of course!

 

Setting: The route from Haran and Canaan and various towns within Canaan.

 

Lech L'cha

 

Summary: God tells Abram to go forth “to the land that I will show you.” There, God will bless Abram and make him a great nation.

 

Abram and his family set out for Canaan. There is a famine in the land and Abram and Sarai sojourn in Egypt. Sarai purports to be Abram’s sister so that he will not be killed. At first Abram and Sarai benefit from Sarai’s beauty and she resides with Pharoah. After God afflicts Pharoah’s palace with plague and he finds out it’s due to Sarai, their family is ousted from Egypt.

 

When they get to Bethel, Abram and his nephew Lot quarrel over resources. They decide to part ways. Lot settles on the Jordan plain next the town of Sodom while Abram stays in Canaan. Abram journeys to Hebron.

The people of Sodom are wicked. There is a great war there and the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah are plundered. Abram learns of Lot’s plight and pursues all of the way booty. He brings it back to the King of Sodom, who blesses Abram and tries to repay him. Abram refuses the payment.

God tells Abram that his offspring shall be as numerous as the stars in the sky. God says that Abram’s descendants will be enslaved and that God will free them.

Sarai is barren. She tells Abram to reproduce with her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, and Hagar becomes pregnant. Sarai is jealous and drives Hagar away. An angel of God sees Hagar crying and tells her that her offspring will be increased. She bears a son named Ishmael.

 

God appears to Abram when he is 99 years old and makes a covenant with him, promising to bless his offspring in the land of Canaan. God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. Circumcision is the sign of this new covenant. God says that Sarah will bear a son named Isaac. Abraham circumcises all men of the household.

 

Big Questions:

Why does Sarai’s presence in Pharoah’s palace bringGod’s wrath?

Why does Abram refuse payment from the King of Sodom for his efforts?

Why does Sarai get upset with Hagar, after she suggested that Abram have a child with Hagar?

Why is circumcision chosen as the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham?

 

Musings:

Parashat Lech-l’cha leaves us with a slew of pressing questions (don’t all of our Torah portions?), including one from the famous story of Sodom and Gomorrah: Why did Abram refuse the King of Sodom’s reward for his heroic deeds?

 

Maimonides, one of Judaism’s great philosophers, states the importance of rescuing captives. This is considered one of the most crucial mitzvot (commandments) and derives from this week’s Torah portion!  Although the implications for this in modern-time war situations becomes sticky, Abram’s refusal of rewards teach us an important lesson that cannot be contested: We should perform mitzvot for intrinsic rewards rather than riches or praise. It’s important to remember that the question is not if we will be performing mitzvot—doing mitzvot is our obligation as Jews. The question is how we will do them.

Take a moment to think: What mitzvot have you done lately? Perhaps you have helped feed the hungry, teach your children a worthwhile lesson, or study Torah. More importantly, how did you do these mitzvot? Did you expect praise or reward for your action, or was the value of the action reward enough? May we emulate our role model Abram by doing good for its own sake, rather than for our own benefit.

 Written by second-year Rabbinical Student, Sarah Rosenbaum, who served as the Am Shalom Summer Rabbinic Intern.

Continue reading
  516 Hits
  0 Comments
516 Hits
0 Comments

Kindergarteners Make Mezzuzot

Today our Kindergarten classes made their own mezzuzot and learned all about where it goes (on the doorpost) and what's inside it (the Shema prayer).

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3206.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3208.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3194.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3202.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3204.JPG

Continue reading
  682 Hits
  0 Comments
682 Hits
0 Comments

Noah's Ark: Kara Marks' First Grade

Ms. Kara's first grade class learned all about Noah's ark. They created an ark with two of each animal. They read a book about Noah and his family. When they came back from services, they joined together in singing with the music instructors. They had a lot of fun learning and teaching each other all about Noah and his ark.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3199.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3198.JPG

Continue reading
  565 Hits
  0 Comments
565 Hits
0 Comments

Parashat Noach: Floods, towers, displacements…humanity in trouble!

Noach, Genesis 6:9- 11:32

Recap: Last week’s parasha, B’reishit, was the first in our Torah! We read about the universe’s creation, Adam and Eve’s trials in the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel’s sibling rivalry, and the generation of Noah. The parasha ended with God’s decision to destroy the wicked society, and God’s favor with Noah. 

Cast of Characters: Noah and his wife
Noah’s sons Ham, Shem, and Japeth
Terah and his family (including Abram and Sarai)

Setting: The entire Earth
Babel
Ur and Haran

Summary: God sees that the earth is filled with lawlessness and decides to destroy the people with a flood. God instructs Noah, a righteous man 600 years old, to build an ark and details the specific construction, telling Noah to bring 7 of every pure animal and 2 of every unclean animal onto the ark. God tells Noah about the covenant they will have together with Noah’s family so that they may survive the flood. Noah does as God instructs and rain falls for forty days and nights. All existence is blotted out, leaving only Noah and his family.

Noah sends out a dove 3 times to see if the earth had dried up. The first time, it cannot find a place to rest because of the waters, and so it returns. The second time, the dove returns with an olive leaf to signify the earth’s drying. The third time, the dove does not return.

God tells Noah to come out of the ark with his family and all of the animals, so that they may be fertile and multiply. Noah builds an altar and offers the pure animals as sacrifices to God. God promises never to destroy every living creature again with a flood, blessing Noah and his family and telling them to be fertile and increase. The rainbow serves as a sign of God’s covenant with all flesh that is on earth.  From Noah’s 3 sons, Shem, Ham, and Japeth the entire world came.

Noah plants a vineyard and becomes drunk, uncovering himself within the tent. Ham tells Shem and Japeth, who cover Noah’s nakedness. Noah wakes up and discovers Ham’s deeds, cursing him to be a slave to Shem and Japeth. Noah lives for 350 more years and dies at age 950.

The text details the lineage of Shem, Ham, and Japeth.

All the earth had the same language. One group of people in the land of Shinar decides to create a city and a high tower to make a name for themselves. God sees this and scatters them across the earth, confounding their speech and calling the city Bavel (Babel).

The text details Shem’s lineage. One of Shem’s descendants, Terah, has 3 sons and a grandson. Terah’s sons Abram and Nahor take wives. Abram’s wife Sarai is barren. The entire family sets out from the town of Ur, heading towards Canaan, and settles in Haran instead. Terah dies in Haran at age 205.

Stay tuned for next week’s parasha, as we get to know Abram and Sarai … otherwise known as Abraham and Sarah!

Big Questions:
Why does God choose Noah and his family to live?
Why did the dove choose an olive leaf to bring back to Noah?
What about a rainbow makes it a good sign for the covenant between God and humanity?
Why does God scatter the people of Babel throughout the earth?

b2ap3_thumbnail_towerbabel.jpg

Musings:
The tower of Babel story, though only 9 verses long, is one of our Torah’s most well-known. Commentators continuously attempt to understand the mystery of this migdal, this tower, and God’s reaction to it. Why did God scatter the people throughout the earth upon seeing their newly-constructed tower? What is this story meant to teach us?

Many commentators recognize that this is the first mention of technology in our sacred text. The people built bricks and mortar in order to construct a grand tower, and were clearly proud of their handiwork. Perhaps too proud. In a world with one language and one humanity, they strove to stand above the rest and used a physical representation to demonstrate their self-acclaimed superiority. God understood their arrogant motivations and chose to scatter these people throughout the earth, mixing up humanity’s language.

In parashat Noach, we see God’s disdain for arrogance. In what ways do we use technology for our own conceit? Although the folks in Babel had different technology than we do (what, no facebook selfies on the top of the world’s tallest tower?!), we can learn from their experience. Let us use technology mindfully, for the good of our relationships and communities, rather than for self-aggrandizement.

 Written by second-year Rabbinical Student, Sarah Rosenbaum, who served as the Am Shalom Summer Rabbinic Intern.

 

Continue reading
  916 Hits
  0 Comments
916 Hits
0 Comments

Kindergarten Scavenger Hunt

Our kindergarten classes did their annual Synagogue Scavenger Hunt. It was so much fun watching the kids run around the building looking for the clues.

Could you answer these questions?

1. This pretty Torah has pictures and hangs on the wall, The scrolls roll, but we should not touch it at all!

2. Our kindergarten consecration was here the other night, The stained glass windows and ark are such a pretty sight.

3. This area has tea and coffee that are very hot, Its not Starbucks, but the moms and dads all like it a lot.

4. Rabbi Steve has many tzedkah boxes in all shapes and sizes, Baseball, Israel, Noah’s Arc of animals and many surprises.

5. You can come here to read and just chill out, Just keep rather quiet and don’t scream or shout.

6. This is where the juice and yummy challah is stored, So many good things to eat, you could never be bored.

7. In this big room, we have dinners, celebrations, and more, We danced with the Torahs and Rabbis and had fun galore!

Also, our kindergarten students had their first Tefillah (prayer service) today in the Chapel. They had a special visitor -- Noah came to talk about his Ark! (okay, it was really Rabbi Steve!)

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3096.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3097.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3092.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3095.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3103.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3105.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3106.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3113.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3114.JPG

Continue reading
  917 Hits
  0 Comments
917 Hits
0 Comments

Order from Chaos: Dana Poncher's 3rd Grade

Written by David Sommer, class madrich (helper)

Day started. The class trickled in slowly until the were almost all here. We started the class with hebrew. Dana knows that some kids are possibly not in hebrew school but that does not mean they should be ignorant of the hebrew language. The first two letters we start with are ב (bet) and ש (shin). We explain how to remember the letters bet and shin by looking at the physical traits of the letters. I (David) have passed out two packets to each kid, to help learn the hebrew letters. They consist of different letters with different vowels for the kids to speak aloud. After services we came back to class. The chairs were all piled up in a chaotic mess in a corner of the room. As the kids piled in they all had to grab a chair and put it back in its place and help their friends. The idea was to make order from chaos by fixing the problem. This led to how God created order from chaos when he created the world.

b2ap3_thumbnail_image1.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_image2.JPG

Continue reading
  593 Hits
  0 Comments
593 Hits
0 Comments

Parashat B'reishit: Caution -- Sparks of divinity in everyone!

B’reishit, Genesis 1:1- 6:8

Recap: This is the very first portion of our Torah, so there’s nothing to recap this week!

Cast of characters: God
Man (Adam)
Woman (Chava/Eve)
The Serpent
Cain
Abel
Adam and Eve’s descendants
Noah

Setting: Earth
Garden of Eden
East of Eden
Land of Nod

Summary: God creates the earth in 6 days. On day 1, God created light and darkness. On day 2, God created the sky. On day 3, God gathered the water to form Seas so that Earth could appear, and the Earth brought forth vegetation. God saw that this was good. On day 4, God created the sun, moon, and stars, and saw that this was good. On day 5, God created sea creatures and birds of all kinds and saw that this was good. God blessed them, telling them to be fertile and increase. On day 6, God created land animals and saw that it was good. God created man and woman in his image to rule all of the creatures and the entire earth. God blessed male and female and told them to be fertile, filling the earth and mastering it. God said that all of the plants shall be food for the humans and the animals. God saw everything God made and found it very good. On day 7, God finished the work and ceased working, blessing the day and calling it holy.

God forms man from the dust of the earth. God plants a garden in Eden with a tree of knowledge of good and bad in the middle. God places man in the garden and tells him to eat from any tree within it, except for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, warning him that eating from it will cause him to die.

God says that it is not good for man to be alone. He allows man to give names to every creature but no fitting helper is found (this is the first point that the name Adam is used for the man!). God puts Adam in a deep sleep and creates a woman from one of Adam’s ribs.

Adam and the woman are naked in the garden. A serpent asks woman if God had said not to eat from any trees in the garden. The woman tells the serpent that they may touch and eat from all trees except for the tree in the middle of the garden, lest they die. The serpent tells the woman that they will not die, but rather, when they eat from it they will know good and bad. The woman sees that the tree is good for eating and a source of wisdom, and she eats its fruit. She gives some to Adam and he eats. They realize they are naked and make loincloths out of fig leaves. Adam and the woman hear the sound of God and hide in the trees. God calls “where are you?” and Adam says he heard God, and was afraid because of his nudity, so he hid. God asks if he ate from the tree, and Adam says that the woman gave him the fruit. The woman says that the serpent duped her, and God tells the serpent that he will therefore will be more cursed than all the animals. God tells the woman that her childbirth will be painful because of this. God tells Adam that he will need to toil the land in order to eat from it, because of his actions. The man names his wife Eve and God clothes  them. God casts them from the garden of Eden to till the soil.

Eve gives birth to Cain and Abel. They both give offerings to God, and God pays heed to Abel’s offering but not to Cain’s. Cain is distressed and kills his brother Abel in the field. God curses Cain, and Cain complains about the punishment. God marks Cain, saying that anyone who kills Cain shall be avenged. Cain travels to the land of Nod and bears Enoch, founding a city and naming it Enoch. The lineage reproduces.

Adam and Eve bear Seth, who bears Enosh. The text details Adam’s lineage through Noah’s 3 sons.

God sees the wickedness on earth and decides to destroy humanity. The parasha ends by telling us that God favors Noah.

Big Questions:
Why are all the creations considered “good” but God declares humans “very good”?
Why did the serpent trick Eve?
Why does Cain resort to killing Abel? Why does God protect Cain from murderers after he murdered his brother?
Why does God decide to destroy humanity entirely after seeing wickedness?

Musings:

Our Torah’s first parasha is ripe with complex plotlines, and the nuances of its very first chapter, the creation of the world and its inhabitants, cannot be underestimated. Of note is the creation of human beings. Three times the text repeats that God chose to create humans in God’s image, B’tzelem Elohim. Why is this phrase so important that it occurs 3 times within 2 verses? Many commentators have dissected this phrase’s meanings. Some say that these words indicate people's’ unique status in creation, dominating the other creatures of the world. Others say that being created in God’s image gives humanity the ability to reach a high moral ground, mimicking God’s morality.

Perhaps the most beloved interpretation of B’tzelem Elohim is that every human soul contains a spark of God’s divinity within. You might ask: “What about people I don’t like? Or people who act in immoral ways? Certainly they are not created in God’s image!” Although people may not always behave in ways we expect to be God-like, our failure to find something holy about each person is a failure to know another’s soul deeply.  We must approach every individual knowing that there is a spark of God within. It is our task to help each person’s spark shine, thereby brightening the entire world.

 Written by second-year Rabbinical Student, Sarah Rosenbaum, who served as the Am Shalom Summer Rabbinic Intern.

 

Continue reading
  594 Hits
  0 Comments
594 Hits
0 Comments

Sukkot: Dana Poncher's Third Grade

by Elie Zieserl and David Sommer, class madrichim (helpers)

Today in class we talked about Sukkot, and the meaning of this holiday. The meaning of the lulav and the etrog. We talked about how Sukkot was named after the huts that the farmers built during harvest season called Sukkahs. When we went to services we all got to see a soferet begin to write a new torah for the temple. After Services David read a story called Bubbe Isabella and the Sukkot Cake by Kelly Terwilliger. David had all the kids cracking up at his funny voices they loved it! After he finished reading we recapped and talked about how the sukkah covers were used for Simchat flags. Elie introduced the Yad art project, explaining how to use the pencils and string and lots and lots of beads she brought While they made the yads Dana read about Simchat Torah tying in yads and the Soferet and the Torah started here at Am Shalom today.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_dana2.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_dana1.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_dana3.jpg

 

Continue reading
  646 Hits
  0 Comments
646 Hits
0 Comments

Shakin' in the Shack

Today Rabbi Steve had a great time with our kindergarteners, first graders, and fifth graders as they sang and learned in the Am Shalom sukkah! (Other grades will visit the sukkah on Wednesday and next Sunday.)

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_2712.JPG

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_2708.JPG

Each year, we decorate our sukkah with mittens, gloves, and hats that will then be donated to help those in need. It's a great way to help learn one of the important lessons of sukkot -- the fragility of life and our need to care for others. Our students helped to put the gloves and mittens into plastic bags to hang them from the roof of the sukkah! You can still bring mittens and gloves all week long to help decorate our sukkah and help keep hands warm all winter long.

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_2710.JPG

Also, check out this fun video of Rabbi Steve shakin' in the sukkah! (And follow our Facebook page for more live updates from Religious School!)

Continue reading
  603 Hits
  0 Comments
603 Hits
0 Comments

Talking about Forgiveness: Dana Poncher's 3rd Grade

by David Sommer, class madrich (helper)

Today in class we talked about God’s forgiveness. Dana taught them all the word "atone." They had never heard of this word, so Dana explained it. She talked about how during Yom Kippur we look at the things we did wrong and ask for forgiveness. But to be able to be forgiven, you must be able to forgive. Elie (one of our madrichim/helpers) wrote on the board, “I am ________ years old. Our Jewish year is 57__. I am proud that I_______. I am sorry that I________. I will try to do better next year by________. “ The kids were then told to write that down and fill in the blanks. 

We read about Rosh Hashanah and discussed that even though we already celebrated the holiday, it is still important to know the meaning and why we celebrate it. Yom Kippur is the holiday of repentance and we talked and read about the things we do, including lighting a yahrzeit candle, going to a Kol Nidre service, fasting and other things as well.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Screen-Shot-2015-09-27-at-2.16.47-PM.png

Continue reading
  580 Hits
  0 Comments
580 Hits
0 Comments

Jewpardy in the 6th Grade: Gregg Kalman's Class

In an attempt to make learning fun, Mr. Kalman got his sixth grade class engaged in a challenging game of Jewpardy on topics related to Yom Kippur.  There were three teams of three, divided by gender lines.  Team names were even chosen.  The categories were Prohibitions, Prayers, Practices, Plainsong and Potpourri.  The contest was close and came down to the wire, where the final question was answered just as the school bell rang.  Some of the students thought that the questions were too hard, as even the Madrichim struggled with some of them.  In the true Yom Kippur spirit, all was forgiven.  

b2ap3_thumbnail_sixthgrade1.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_sixthgrade2.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_sixth3.jpg

Continue reading
  807 Hits
  0 Comments
807 Hits
0 Comments

First Day of Kindergarten!

by Rabbi Anne Persin, Am Shalom Education Specialist

What a fantastic day with the youngest (and possibly cutest) students at Religious School!

For our first day of Religious School EVER, of course we learned about Shabbat and even made placemats for all of the symbols. In honor of Yom Kippur, we talkeda bout what we are sorry for and for each sorry, we threw a sugar cube into the warm water and watched it dissolve. It was so cool how our sins could melt away if we said we were sorry.

At the end of the day, we got to sing with the Jam Band: Cantor, Sam and Meryl -- we are already learning our songs for Consecration! It was a really fun day!

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0464.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0451.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0454.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0460.JPG

Continue reading
  785 Hits
  0 Comments
785 Hits
0 Comments

Asking Questions: Lora Kogan's 2nd Grade

by Jack Bender, Am Shalom Madrich (student helper)

In Laura Kogan's 2nd grade classroom, the kids are quick to raise their hands and share their answers. Beginning the day with learning each other's names, the kids quickly befriended each other and whispered answers to the neighboring friend.

Jumping right in to education, the kids discussed with Ms. Kogan and her Madrich what is special about the High Holy Days, engaging the kids in thinking and treating the classroom with respect and thought. The kids smiled and were overjoyed when they got the right answer! They are not afraid to ask questions and continue to question "why."

They are off to a great start and will have a successful religious school year.

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0128.JPG

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0133.JPG

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0124.JPG

 

Continue reading
  728 Hits
  0 Comments
728 Hits
0 Comments

Bursting With Excitement: Rachel Powers' 5th Grade

by Jack Bender, Am Shalom Madrich (student helper)

Rachel Powers's 5th grade classroom is filled with interactive games and peer engagement. The kids are bursting with excitement as Ms. Powers leads an interactive name-game getting everyone out of their seats and engaging with each other, sharing what they bring into the classroom. Her Madrichim, or student helpers, take attendance and help keep the noise down and by doing so, turn chaos into order.

You can tell, through the smiles bursting through their faces, that the kids thrive on Ms. Powers enthusiasm and cannot wait to come back next week.

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0100.JPG

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0113.JPG

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0118.JPG

Continue reading
  1125 Hits
  0 Comments
1125 Hits
0 Comments

V’zot Hab'rachah: Always depart with words of blessing

V’zot Hab'rachah, Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12 

 

Recap: In last week’s parasha, Ha’azinu, Moses recited a poem to the Israelites, exulting God’s power and justice. God told Moses to prepare for death by ascending Mount Nebo and viewing that land he is not permitted to enter.  

 

Cast of Characters: Moses and the Israelites

 

Setting:  Moab, in present-day Jordan. Deuteronomy is Moses’ final address to the Israelites before he dies and they enter the Land.

 

Summary: Just prior to his death, Moses addresses the people for a final time. He grants unique blessings onto 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel. Moses ascends Mount Nebo to view the land that God promised the Israelites, and Moses dies atop the mountain at age 120. He is buried in a valley of Moab, and the Israelites mourn his death for 30 days (this is why our traditional mourning period is 30 days). Joshua comes to power and the Israelites follow him. The text declares: “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses.”

 

Big Questions:

Why does each tribe receive a different blessing from Moses?

Why is the tribe of Simeon missing from the blessing?

Moses is still not permitted to enter the Promised Land, despite receiving the highest praise in the Torah’s final 3 verses. Why is this?

 

Musings:

Last week’s Torah portion, Haazinu, showed us a tougher version of our protagonist Moses. He gave it to the people straight: Follow the commandments, your lives depend on it! In this week’s parasha, Moses becomes more gentle again, offering blessings to 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel (Simeon is not included, possibly because of its incorporation into the tribe of Judah). Why is the change in tone from Ha’azinu to V’zot Hab'rachah so stark?

 

Moses is in a liminal state. He is literally approaching his deathbed (Mount Nebo) and must bid farewell to the community he’s led for generations. At times Moses’s task of leading the Israelites has required force and discipline, but we remember Moses as an example of gentleness and humility. His final blessings to the people represent his righteousness. As the first verse of the parasha reads: “This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, bade the Israelites farewell before he died.”

 

Like Moses, we are all people of God, created b’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image). Unlike Moses, we don’t need to be in a vulnerable state to measure our speech. Do our words reflect our inherent holiness? How do we want to be remembered? This week and always, let us be mindful to end every interaction with words of blessing.

 

 Written by second-year Rabbinical Student, Sarah Rosenbaum, who served as the Am Shalom Summer Rabbinic Intern.

 

Continue reading
  518 Hits
  0 Comments
518 Hits
0 Comments

Parashat Haazinu: Remember the past, change the future

Ha’azinu, Deuteronomy 32: 1-52 

 

Recap: In last week’s parasha, Vayeilech, Moses passes his leadership to Joshua as he prepares to die. God prophesied that the Israelites will desert him when they enter the land, and tells Moses to teach a poem to the entire community. 

 

Cast of Characters: Moses and the Israelites

 

Setting: In Moab, present-day Jordan. Deuteronomy is Moses’ final address to the Israelites before he dies and they enter the Land.

 

Summary: 

Our Torah’s penultimate portion, Parashat Haazinu, is known as The Song of Moses, which God commands Moses to recite in front of the entire Israelite community prior to his death. This poem praises God and his constant redemption of the Israelites, even though they strayed from God throughout their history. Moses states that the Israelites’ enemies should not think themselves mightier than God. The poem states that, rather, God is the only force that can punish the Israelites. 

 

After he finishes reciting the poem, Moses tells the people to remember his words when they enter their new land. God tells Moses to ascend Mount Nebo to view the land of Canaan. God says that Moses will die on Mount Nebo and bee gathered to his kin, stressing that Moses may not enter the land because he lost faith in God during the rock-striking incident in parashat Chukat. 

 

Big Questions:

Why are these final words given as a poem, instead of prose?

Why is God intent on telling the Israelites that only God has the power to punish them? 

 

Musings:

In verse 7 of our parasha, Moses says: “Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past.” What is the Torah’s obsession with the past all about? The Israelites are constantly being reminded of their past, their triumphs, and their failings. It’s not just the Torah that’s consumed by history -- WE are! We read our peoples’ history book (the Torah) again every year. As Rabbi Lowenstein likes to say, the Jews are the world’s oldest book club! 

 

Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel says that memory is key in shaping the future. It’s clear that our holy text agrees with him, as the Israelites are told to remember their past as they embark on a new phase filled with promise. As we begin a new year and new adventures, how will we fulfill Moses’s charge to remember our past? Our new year book lists can include Jewish texts, we can piece together some family history, and we can share stories from the past with our loved ones. Then, how will we utilize the past to influence the future?  May our collective and individual successes and failures guide us to create a better future. 

 

 Written by second-year Rabbinical Student, Sarah Rosenbaum, who served as the Am Shalom Summer Rabbinic Intern.

 

Continue reading
  451 Hits
  0 Comments
451 Hits
0 Comments

Parashat Vayeilech: Moses is dying -- what happens now?

Vayeilech, Deuteronomy 31:1-30 

 

Recap: In last week’s parasha, Nitzavim, Moses continued his final speech to the Israelites and reminded them of their covenant with God. He encouraged them to act in accordance with God’s law in order to receive blessings, and not to stray from God’s commandments. 

 

Cast of Characters: 

Moses and the Israelites

Joshua, Moses’ successor 

 

Setting: In Moab, present-day Jordan. Deuteronomy is Moses’ final address to the Israelites before he dies and they enter the Land.

 

Summary: Moses’ farewell address to the Israelites is almost over. He informs the people that he will soon die, and that Joshua will take over his leadership position. Moses reminds Joshua that God will remain with him and that he should not be afraid. Moses writes down “this teaching” (the Torah!) and instructs the elders to read it every 7 years at Sukkot. 

 

God speaks to Moses and tells him that the Israelites will break the covenant with God upon entering the land. God tells Moses to write down this poem and teach it to the Israelites. Then, when they realize that their evil is the source of their trouble, they can study the poem. Moses calls upon the Levites to gather the people in order that they should all hear the poem. (Stay tuned for next week’s post when we’ll hear what the poem is about!). 

 

Big Questions:

Why does Moses remind Joshua again that God will be with him?

Why do all the people have to hear the Torah recited publicly every 7 years? Why is it read on Sukkot?

Why does God “doom” the people by saying they will sin?

If God has predetermined the fate of the Israelites, why should they live by the law? What about free will?

 

Musings:

The Israelites are at a crossroad: Their great leader Moses is about to die, leadership is being transferred to Joshua, they’re about to enter the Promised Land…and they’re being told that they’re going to forsake God? And that, when they do, God’s face will hide from them?! What an omen! 

 

Verse 18 is particularly striking: “Yet I will keep my countenance hidden on that day, because of the evil they have done in turning to other gods.” At the time when the Israelites need God most, God will remain secluded from them. We must ask: Is God hiding from humanity, or have humanity’s actions alienated God? Perhaps they are shutting God out, rather than God turning away from them. 

 

During these Days of Awe, we take a long pause to consider our behavior over the past year. We think of our actions that have pushed away the Divine. We vow to return to holiness, thinking: How can we transform into people who help reveal God’s face, who help God become proud of creation? May we use these High Holy Days to become more righteous individuals, increasing holiness in our communities.

 

 Written by second-year Rabbinical Student, Sarah Rosenbaum, who served as the Am Shalom Summer Rabbinic Intern.

 

Continue reading
  466 Hits
  0 Comments
466 Hits
0 Comments