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		                                    Thinking Torah Blog		                                </span>

01/26/2023 05:00:00 PM

Jan26

Rabbi Daniel K. Alter

Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh and his advisors many times throughout the Exodus narrative, demanding that Pharaoh release the Israelites from their captivity. At the start of parshat Bo, after yet another plague, Pharaoh offers what may be generously called a compromise. Pharaoh offers to allow “the notables of Israel” to leave. Moses refuses, demanding: “We will all go, our young and our old, our sons and our daughters, our...Read more...

01/19/2023 05:00:00 PM

Jan19

Rabbi Daniel K. Alter

Amongst our many skills and talents as human beings, we collectively have great ability to perceive patterns. Our neocortex, the outermost layer of the brain responsible for recognizing patterns, is so developed that it outperforms even the most complex computer algorithms. We are so good that we can even find patterns when none exist!

Many readers of parshat Va’era find a pattern in the description of the plagues...Read more...

01/12/2023 05:00:00 PM

Jan12

Cantor Regina Lambert-Hayut

This week’s Torah portion, Shemot, is a very rich portion indeed! We begin the book of Exodus this week and learn of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt, the birth of Moses and his story all the way through his being summoned by God at the burning bush to lead the people out of Egypt.

As I read the portion this year, one of the most compelling sections was when Moses says (Exodus 4:10): “Please, O my lord, I have never been a man...Read more...

12/29/2022 05:00:00 PM

Dec29

Rabbi Daniel K. Alter

So much can be said about this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash. It’s easy to summarize: Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, who then return to Jacob and bring the entire family down to Egypt, where they are given lands by Pharaoh. However, when we read Torah in this manner – focusing merely on the major narrative beats – we miss so much. We miss Joseph’s brothers’ reactions – dumbfounded out of shock, shame, or fear, so...Read more...

12/22/2022 05:00:00 PM

Dec22

Cantor Regina Lambert-Hayut

During Chanukah, we have a special Haftarah portion from Zechariah which contains the famous line immortalized in song by Debbie Friedman: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, said YHWH of hosts. 

Chanukah celebrates the military victory of the Maccabees followed by the miracle of the oil upon the rededication of the Temple. Chanukah, however, offers us much more than this narrow view of Jewish...Read more...

12/08/2022 05:00:00 PM

Dec8

Rabbi Josh Whinston

Sometimes our closest relationships are the hardest. Jacob and Esau never seemed to have much affection for each other. Even before they were born, the Torah tells us they quarreled in Rebecca’s womb. In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob sends messengers to meet Esau and announce that Jacob is returning to the land. After meeting with Esau, the messengers tell Jacob that his brother plans to meet him with 400 men at his side....Read more...

11/25/2022 05:00:00 PM

Nov25

Rabbi Josh Whinston

While there aren’t any turkeys in this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, there are plenty of famous family meals. The first meal being the stew that Jacob uses to acquire Esau’s birthright after Esau returns from the field empty handed, and the second meal being the one in which Jacob tricks Isaac into believing he is Esau and has Isaac bless him instead of his brother. As we all know, family meals can sometimes be dramatic. Food may be...Read more...

11/17/2022 05:00:00 PM

Nov17

Rabbi Josh Whinston

As this week’s parashah arrives every year, I am reminded of a deeply important family moment for our ancestors. Abraham dies in this week’s Torah portion and our text tells us, “His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah…”(Gen. 25:9) We might remember that Ishmael and his mother Hagar were sent away in last week’s Torah portion. According to our sages, Sarah was concerned that Ishmael was not treating Isaac...Read more...

11/10/2022 05:00:00 PM

Nov10

Rabbi Josh Whinston

Do you want to hear about my Sabbatical plans? Keep reading!

Even with a surface reading of the Torah, it is easy to see that the Torah isn’t always interested in the same issues we are interested in today. Information we find pertinent and informative is often missing in the Torah text. One of the classic examples of this is concerning traveling. The journey is often skipped entirely in the Torah narrative, a person sets out on a...Read more...

10/20/2022 05:00:00 PM

Oct20

Rabbi Josh Whinston

This week we begin Torah again as we start reading from Bereshit, the first parashah in Genesis. At this time last year, along with our Shabbat morning Torah study group, we began reading the Torah verse by verse each week. It took us nearly the entire year to get through these first six chapters of the Torah. It has been a wonderful experience! Needless to say, I've become quite familiar with this first parasha as I've prepped each week for...Read more...

10/13/2022 05:00:00 PM

Oct13

Rabbi Josh Whinston

Sukkot may not be our only festival connected to the cycles of our planet; all 3 of the harvest festivals rely on these cycles. Still, Sukkot certainly feels like the most planetary-related of our festivals. Between dwelling in the sukkah for seven days, shaking the lulav, and generally being outside to celebrate the holiday, Sukkot places our planet and its climate centrally in its celebration. As we end the festival, we even begin praying...Read more...

09/29/2022 05:00:00 PM

Sep29

Rabbi Josh Whinston

Fasting on Yom Kippur is a privilege. Making a choice not to eat for a day is not something all of us can do. Some can’t make that choice for health reasons, and Judaism entirely supports this. One must eat if fasting puts one’s health at risk. Others may not choose to fast because it is not a choice at all. Some of us just don’t have enough food. If you are someone who has the privilege to fast, or even someone who cannot fast for...Read more...

09/22/2022 05:00:00 PM

Sep22

Rabbi Josh Whinston

This past Sunday I stopped by Apples and Honey at the JCC and ran into a few of our members. I also ran into Rabbi Alter Goldstein of Chabad. After a few pleasantries, Rabbi Goldstein brought up the end of the sabbatical year with this Rosh Hashanah, the seven-year cycle of leaving fields fallow in the Land of Israel. We talked about the tradition, called Hakhel, of Jews gathering together at Sukkot to celebrate the completed sabbatical...Read more...

09/15/2022 05:00:00 PM

Sep15

Rabbi Josh Whinston

High Holy Days are just around the corner. Have you prepared? Are you ready for the introspection of the holy days? Have you found time to ask forgiveness for words spoken too sharply? Have you done a Heshbon Hanefesh, an accounting of your soul over this past year? The time is now. The more we can show up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur having done the preparatory work, the more meaningful the days can be for each of us. Find the time...Read more...

09/08/2022 05:00:00 PM

Sep8

Rabbi Josh Whinston

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, among the many commandments, we find commandments such as, “If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your peer.” (Deut. 22:1) And commandments like, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.” (22:8) There are many others,...Read more...

08/18/2022 05:00:00 PM

Aug18

Rabbi Josh Whinston

In coordination with JFS, members of TBE gathered together with the rest of the Jewish community to create Jewish Congregations Organized for Resettlement (JCOR). Our community did this in anticipation of new refugee families coming into the Washtenaw County area and needing support. JCOR’s first family arrived just yesterday, and help is needed! We Jews have known the pain of being a refugee, the pain of needing to flee our country of...Read more...

08/11/2022 05:00:00 PM

Aug11

Rabbi Josh Whinston

You may not know this, but Judaism has its own version of Valentine’s Day. On the Hebrew calendar, tomorrow is the fifteenth of Av or Tu B’Av, and for over 2,000 years, this day has been celebrated as a day of love. There are a few reasons this day remains a part of our calendar, albeit a minor holiday. According to the Talmud, young people would go out into the vineyards on this day to dance and celebrate. We are coming up on the grape...Read more...

07/28/2022 05:00:00 PM

Jul28

Rabbi Josh Whinston

This week marks the end of the Book of Numbers and a significant shift in the Torah narrative. The Israelites have arrived at the doorstep of the Promised Land and Moses spends the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Masei, mentioning all the places the Israelites have encamped over the last 40 years. He is in a reflective mood, as he knows that his time with the people is also coming to end. When I was getting my MA in Jewish...Read more...

07/21/2022 05:00:00 PM

Jul21

Rabbi Josh Whinston

Reading through some sections of the Torah are harder than others. At the moment, we find ourselves in the latter half of Numbers, and the zealotry and genocidal tendencies in the text are beginning to show themselves. Last week, Pinchas was given a covenant of peace from God after he impaled an Israelite and non-Israelite woman while they were being intimate with each other. This week, Moses gets upset with his army commanders after they...Read more...

07/07/2022 05:00:00 PM

Jul7

Rabbi Josh Whinston

I write to you from Jerusalem, where I am in the midst of 10 days of learning at the Shalom Hartman Institute. The Hartman Institute is an incredible center of learning, deeply dedicated to pluralism, Zionism, and Jewish peoplehood. Every year, Hartman welcomes rabbis from across the spectrum of Judaism to learn together and grapple with some of the most challenging questions of Jewish peoplehood today. This year's theme is "Why Israel?," a...Read more...

06/16/2022 05:00:00 PM

Jun16

Rabbi Josh Whinston

In this week’s Torah portion, we encounter the most consequential moment the Israelites have in the desert. Moses sends spies to scout the land before they enter, and 10 of the 12 spies return, saying they cannot defeat the people living there. God punishes the Israelites for their lack of faith by ensuring they wander in the desert for 40 years until a new generation of Israelites can take the leadership of the community. When the scouts...Read more...

06/09/2022 05:00:00 PM

Jun9

Rabbi Josh Whinston

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how we perceive time and divide time in our lives. What are the touchstones that help us define periods in our life? How do we relate to critical moments that have happened or are going to happen and imagine how they cause us to change? In what ways does shared time establish connection and identity between groups of people?

For our ancestors in the desert, there are several guideposts of...Read more...

05/26/2022 05:00:00 PM

May26

Rabbi Josh Whinston, Cantor Regina Hayut, Rabbi Daniel K. Alter

We are heartbroken by yet another senseless and cruel mass shooting of innocents, a shooting that took the precious souls of so many children and teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. This was the 27th school shooting, one of more than 200 mass shootings in the US just this year.
 
We also lament two more recent mass shootings: at the Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, NY, and at a Taiwanese church in southern California....Read more...

05/20/2022 05:00:00 PM

May20

Rabbi Josh Whinston

When we heard about the leaked draft decision from SCOTUS that will likely regress our country 50 years, we were all angered but not surprised. A few of us decided to head to Washington D.C. to share our outrage. The words below were written by Sagen Fuller, our Religious & Hebrew School Coordinator and member of our congregation:

On Tuesday, Rabbi Whinston, Rabbi Alter, Cantor Hayut, and over ten other representatives of TBE...Read more...

05/05/2022 05:00:00 PM

May5

Rabbi Josh Whinston

In quick order on Tuesday evening, we were able to organize a “teach-in” on reproductive rights in Judaism. Nearly 80 of us gathered in person and on zoom to learn together from Rabbis Nadav Caine, Daniel Alter, and me. We also were able to learn with Rabba Yael Keller, a new member of the Ann Arbor Orthodox community. Reverend Anne Clarke spoke from the Episcopal tradition and Cantor Hayut and Aly Halpert brought meaningful reflective...Read more...

04/28/2022 05:00:00 PM

Apr28

Rabbi Josh Whinston

Today is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day for the Jewish community. In our congregation, we are blessed to have Generations After, a group of children of survivors who write about their parent’s experience in the Shoah and their own coping with survivor parents. As has been the case for many years, last night, Generations After led an extraordinary Yom Hashoah service. As I was sitting in the sanctuary, looking around at those in...Read more...

04/21/2022 05:00:00 PM

Apr21

Rabbi Josh Whinston

Jews worldwide read the same Torah portion each week for most of the year. However, this coming Shabbat, there is a divergence between what we read for a few weeks. What is going on? Reform Jews and Jews in Israel only observe seven days of Passover (Yes, you can eat bread on Friday night!), but the rest of world Jewry typically observes eight days. Because the eighth day of Passover falls on Shabbat, many Jews will be reading a...Read more...

04/14/2022 05:00:00 PM

Apr14

Rabbi Josh Whinston

When I was in my high school youth group, the songleaders with their acoustic guitars were often the center of energy around which others orbited. Those songleaders usually had bumper stickers plastered across their guitar cases. One sticker I remember distinctly read, "Straight But Not Narrow." Coming of age in the 90s, thank God, the world was beginning to change concerning the LGBTQ community, and in NFTY (the Reform Movement's youth...Read more...

04/07/2022 05:00:00 PM

Apr7

Rabbi Josh Whinston

There is always a lot to say about this week's Torah portion, Metzora, and its explanation of expiation for the person with scaly skin disease. The rituals involved are fascinating and mirror the priests' appointment rituals. As is often the case, expiation on behalf of the afflicted involves a sacrificial offering, and yet the Torah knows that now all people have the means to make an offering. The Torah acknowledges the different means...Read more...

03/31/2022 05:00:00 PM

Mar31

Rabbi Josh Whinston

With this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, we transition from the ordination of the priests and the bulk of the sacrificial system to skin diseases. In Hebrew, the skin disease in question, called tzara’at, is often translated as leprosy, but it was probably some type of psoriasis. It seems odd that the Torah would spend chapters discussing a skin infection that was not deadly and did not cause much harm to the infected person. For this...Read more...

Tue, January 31 2023 9 Sh'vat 5783