Category Archives: Weekly Torah Portions

Parashat Terumah

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Terumah, God asks Bnai Yisrael to donate materials for the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The final product of the Mishkan will become a dwelling place for God as it states: “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). On this verse, the Midrash in Exodus Rabbah 33:1 asks, “Can you conceive of a transaction in which the seller is sold with his goods?!” The Midrash tells a story about a king whose daughter married another king. Continue reading

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Parashat Mishpatim

At the same time as the rabbis wrote Midrashim, they also worked to perpetuate the importance of practicing rabbinic law, in addition to the laws of the Torah itself. This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Mishpatim, presents the rabbis with a field day of Torah laws and statutes. Several Midrashim explore the meaning of the very first Pasuk of our Parasha, “These are the rules [Mishpatim] that you shall set before them” (Exodus 21:1). Continue reading

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Tu Bishvat

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Parashat Yitro

Parashat Yitro contains the Torah’s first version of the Ten Commandments. On the first commandment, Ibn Ezra, the 12th century Spanish commentator, asks the following question: Why does the Torah state that “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2) rather than “I am the Lord your God who made the heavens and the earth, as well as humanity?” Ibn Ezra explains how the first commandment was designed to accommodate different types of learners. Continue reading

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Parashat Beshalach

This week’s Parasha, Parashat Beshalach, contains a scene that many of us are familiar with from the 1956 film, “The Ten Commandments.” The splitting of the Sea of Reeds is ingrained in our collective Jewish memory. The Midrash in Exodus Rabbah 11:6 asks: Why does the Torah state that the waters “were” divided rather than the water “was divided”? The Midrash explains that this comes to teach that waters in wells and fountains across the world became divided at the very moment of the splitting of the sea so as to showcase God’s miracle to the entire world. Continue reading

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Parashat Bo

Compared to lice, boils, and blood, was the plague of darkness really that bad? The Midrashim that discuss the plague of darkness emphasize the danger and severity of this plague. In Exodus Rabbah 14:2, Rabbi Nechemiah makes it clear that the plague of darkness was not a typical form of darkness as he believed that this darkness came from Gehenom, hell. Exodus Rabbah 14:3 discusses how the this darkness was a physically thick substance. For the first three days of the plague, individuals who were sitting or standing could change their positions, but during the next three days of the plague, individuals could not sit, stand, or even get out of bed. Continue reading

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Parashat Vaeira

Pharaoh would not have been a big fan of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as he truly believed that Egypt was the center for magic arts. In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vaeira, Moshe and Aharon initially tried to prove God’s wonders to Pharaoh by demonstrating how Aharon’s staff could turn into snake. The Midrash in Exodus Rabbah 9:4 states that when Pharaoh’s magicians replicated the ‘trick’ that had been performed by Moshe and Aharon, the magicians teased them, saying: “You are bringing straw to Afarim [a city famous for its straw]!” Continue reading

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Parashat Shemot

This week’s Parasha, Parashat Shemot, sets into motion a sequence of events that will propel Moshe’s leadership of the Jewish people. The narrative about baby Moshe in his basket lacks the mention of one important figure: God. Since the rabbis seek to link God directly with the earliest stages of Moshe’s life, the Midrashim turn their attention to Pharaoh’s daughter and her connection with God. Continue reading

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Parashat Vayechi

Sibling rivalry presents as a major source of conflict throughout the book of Bereshit. At the conclusion of the section of sons’ blessings, the Torah states “Every one according to his blessing, he [Yaakov] blessed them.” (Genesis 49:28) The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 97:1 explains that the Torah states “he blessed them” rather than “he blessed him,” as would be grammatically appropriate, to teach us that Yaakov gave an equally unique blessing to each son. The Torah ultimately emphasizes that in his last days, Yaakov was careful to not use favoritism when distributing the blessings. Continue reading

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Parashat Vayigash

How many of us have family stories that seem to get embellished each year? In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayigash, we read about Yaakov who does a reverse commute from Israel to Egypt. Yaakov, who was overly joyed at the news that Yosef was alive, decided to immediately go down to Egypt with the rest of his family to see Yosef. It was not easy to transport an entire family from Israel to Egypt, without the advent of cars or airplanes, but this did not stop Yaakov from reuniting with his beloved son. Parashat Vayigash features extensive lists of Yaakov’s children and grandchildren, ultimately declaring that a total of seventy people went down to Egypt. Continue reading

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Parashat Miketz

Have you ever woken up and tried to analyze the meaning of your dream? Thanks to the efforts of Sigmund Freud and others, dream interpretation is now a hallmark of psychoanalysis. Long before Freud, there lived another Jew who came to be known for his cutting-edge dream interpretations, namely, Yosef. In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Miketz, Pharoah is plagued with confusing dreams that contain images of undernourished and overfed cows, as well as healthy and dried-out ears of grain. Continue reading

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Parashat Vayeshev

“Don’t give up Joseph, fight till you drop, We’ve read the book and you come out on top!” These words, from the popular musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, ring true in this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayeshev. We are initially introduced to Yosef who has “come out on top,” as he is the favored son of Yaakov, and is bestowed with a multicolor coat. Yosef is not afraid to boast about his favored status, as he subjects his family to hearing the details of his self-aggrandizing dreams. Continue reading

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Parashat Vayishlach

While reunions are often celebratory occasions, they sometimes evoke mixed emotions. Yaakov is one person who certainly knows from pre-reunion anxiety. As Yaakov’s reunion with his twin brother Esav approaches, he is plagued by fears about how this reunion will play out. After all, the last time Yaakov and Esav were in the same town, Esav wanted to kill him!
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Parashat Vayetze

While American soap operas might be on their last legs, there is one soap opera that we tune into every year: the story of Yaakov, Rachel, and Leah. Since JDate had yet to be created, Yaakov needed to find a wife the old fashion way, by heading to the well. In Parashat Vayetze, Yaakov meets his gorgeous first-cousin Rachel and immediately kisses her and cries. The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 70:12 states that kissing is “indecent” behavior except for in a few cases, including when family members unite (which is why the Midrash rates the scene in our Torah portion as “PG”). Continue reading

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Parashat Toledot

“Two nations are in your womb” (Genesis 25:23) This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Toledot, highlights how the sibling rivarly between Yaakov and Esav began in utero. The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 63:5 teaches that whenever Rivka stood near a house of Torah study, Yaakov attempted to exit her womb, and whenever she passed idolatrous temples, Esav struggled to get out. Continue reading

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Parashat Chayei Sarah

Parashat Chayei Sarah introduces us to the first human matchmaker, Avraham’s servant Eliezer. Eliezer is on a mission to find a wife for Yitzchak, and his first stop is a hot spot for singles: the well. At the well, Rivka graciously draws water for Eliezer and his camels. Israeli Torah scholar Nehama Leibowitz points out that the Torah emphasizes on three occasions that Rivka drew water for Eliezer and his animals in order to highlight her virtuosity and selflessness. That is a lot of shlepping for a complete stranger! Continue reading

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Parashat Vayiera

Heat Wave Parashat Vayiera begins by telling us that there was a heat wave on the very day that Avraham welcomed some unexpected visitors. The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 48:8 wonders why God created such hot weather that day. The Midrash states that when Avraham was recovering from circumcising himself, God thought, “Why should Avraham be in pain while the entire world is at ease?” Therefore, God created a heat wave while Avraham was in recovery as it says, “the day grew hot.” (Genesis 18:1) Continue reading

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Parashat Lech Lecha

Idols for Sale! Why did God choose Avraham to be the first Jew? Parashat Lech Lecha states that God told Avraham to leave his homeland for “the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1) but the Torah does not give any details about Abraham’s past. The following Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 38:13 gives us a glimpse into Avraham’s childhood: Continue reading

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Parashat Noah

Noah is in the 1% of ‘Occupy Ark!’ “Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9) The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 30:9 states that when the Torah says that Noah was righteous in his generation this means that Noah was righteous by the standard of his generation. Had Noah lived during the generation of Moses or Samuel, he would not have qualified as righteous!
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Parashat Bereshit

The book of Midrash entitled “Genesis Rabbah” is a compilation of Midrashim based on the book of Genesis, and the first 18 chapters are devoted to the creation story, found in Parashat Bereshit. Below are highlights from Genesis Rabbah’s take on the creation story: Continue reading

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V’Zot HaBrachah & Shemini Atzeret

In our whirlwind of holidays in the month of Tishrei, Shemini Atzeret tends to escape the spotlight. Why are we are commanded to celebrate Shemini Atzeret? The Babylonian Talmud in Sukkah 55b tells the story of a king who invited all of his children to join him in a feast for a certain number of days. When it came time for his children to leave, the king begged them to stay on for an additional day, as the prospect of separation from them was hard for him. Continue reading

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Sukkot

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Yom Kippur

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Rosh HaShanah & Parashat Haazinu

Did you hear that God has gone digital? Moses must have forgotten to mention this in his final speech to the people of Israel mentioned in this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Ha’azinu. This year God will inscribe us in the newest version of the iPad, rather than the typical Book of Life. We have become what a graduating senior from the Jewish Theological Seminary called “People of the Nook.”
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Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech

The Midrash in Devarim Rabbah 8:6 asks “What is the meaning of ‘it is not in the heavens?’”(Deut. 30:12) The Midrash explains that this Pasuk, found in Parashat Nitzavim, is meant to teach that the Torah is not to be found among astrologers whose primary work is to gaze at the heavens. It’s not that the rabbis were against star-gazing, but that they were against Torah-gazing. Continue reading

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Parashat Ki Tavo

“Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the country.” (Deuteronomy 28:3) The Torah, unlike the character of Carrie Bradshaw from Sex & The City, does not make a judgment call for which is a better place to reside, the city or the country. The Midrash in Devarim Rabbah 7:5 teaches that the phrase “in the city” refers to the rewards for the active mitzvot we perform while in a city, including sitting in the Sukkah and lighting candles for Shabbat. Continue reading

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Parashat Ki Tetzeh

“Do not take the mother together with her young” (Deuteronomy 22:6) Parashat Ki Tetzeh contains what some might view as an odd commandment, namely, “Shiluach HaKen,” the mitzvah for us to remove the mother bird from the nest before taking her young. This mitzvah is meant to inspire us to become more compassionate through sensitivity toward the mother bird. The Midrash in Devarim Rabbah 6:3 teaches us that even if we are not engaged in any particular work but are traveling along a road, the mitzvah of Shiluach HaKen, will always be with us. Continue reading

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Parashat Shoftim

The prophet Samuel is notorious for chastising the Jewish people when they asked for a king. In Parashat Shoftim, however, we see that God permits Bnai Yisrael to appoint a king for themselves when they settle in the land of Israel. Why would Samuel take such offense at the people’s request for a king when Parashat Shoftim explicitly mentions that God will allow this to occur?
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Parashat Re’eh

Parashat Re’eh contains a list of “clean” and “unclean” animals which became the basis for practices of keeping kosher today. According to Sue Fishkoff, author of Kosher Nation, only 14% of individuals who buy kosher products do so because they are following the laws of Kashrut. Many people simply believe that Kosher products are cleaner, safer, and higher quality, than non-Kosher products. Continue reading

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Parashat Ekev

“In order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that God decrees.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) While Bnai Yisrael were journeying through the desert God provided them with a special kind of food, namely manna, in order to soothe their hunger. Food alone, though, was not enough to sustain Bnai Yisrael. Bnai Yisrael needed God’s love and God’s Torah in order to make it through the desert of their lives. Continue reading

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Parashat VaEtchanan

“You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it” (Deuteronomy 4:2) At first glance, Moses’ instruction to Bnai Yisrael seems a bit extreme, given that the written Torah could not possibly cover every law that would ever govern society. In its context however, it is clear that Moshe is referring to the issue of pagan worship, as he makes reference to the fact that God wiped out the 24,000 members of Bnai Yisrael who worshiped Baal Peor. Continue reading

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Parashat Devarim

Standing on the brink of death, Moshe rebukes the generation before him, but promises that the future generation, those who do not yet know good from bad, will possess the land. The children who comprise the future generation are caught between the baggage of their parents’ desert experience and their own hopes for a future in the land of Israel. How will the children inhabit the land? How will they continue with the traditions from their past? Continue reading

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Parashat Masei

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Parashat Balak (2011)

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