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		                                    Thinking Torah Blog		                                </span>

07/11/2024 07:35:38 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, Miriam dies, and the people are without water. The rabbinic tradition attributes this lack of water to Miriam’s death, maintaining that Miriam merited a well for the Israelites, which would travel with them through the wilderness. With Miriam’s death, that well dried up, and the Israelites grew thirsty, a problem anywhere, especially in the desert.

Water metaphors abound, some of which come...

07/04/2024 08:20:43 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

Parashat Korach offers profound images of arrogance and humility. In his hubris, Korach projects his own arrogance onto Moses and Aaron, challenging their leadership of the Israelites. In contrast, Moses and Aaron embody humility, standing before the people and God, allowing divine intervention to affirm their roles as the chosen leaders. While the narrative includes the dramatic demise of Korach and his...Read more...

06/28/2024 11:12:35 AM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

This week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach lecha, provides the context for the Israelites' 40-year journey through the desert. God instructs Moses to send scouts from each tribe to explore the Promised Land. Ten scouts return with reports of insurmountable obstacles, while two believe they can conquer the land. The Israelites choose to listen to the ten scouts, and as a result, their journey extends from a few weeks to 40 years. This period marks...Read more...

06/21/2024 11:38:54 AM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

This is the moment the journey begins. For more than two years, the Israelites have been sitting at the foot of Sinai, but the journey to the promised land begins today. God tells Moses that a cloud will cover the Tabernacle, which will be a message to camp and stay put on this journey, but when the cloud lifts, Moses and the people will know to start moving. The metaphor might take us in several different directions, but we can all relate to...Read more...

06/13/2024 06:07:21 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

This week in Parashat Nasso, we encounter the Priestly Benediction, the profound three-fold blessing our ancestor priests offered to the people on behalf of God. Today, Jews invoke this blessing during special moments, often when blessing children at the Shabbat table. In some communities, though typically not Reform communities, Jews who trace their ancestry to the Cohanim, still bless the entire...Read more...

B'midbar בְּמִדבַּר In the Wilderness

06/06/2024 09:34:43 PM



On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, the Eternal One spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying: "Take a census of the whole Israelite company…" - Numbers 1:1-2

TORAH, Numbers 1:1−4:20

•    God...

B'chukotai בְּחֻקֹּתי My Laws

05/30/2024 10:16:16 PM



If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. - Leviticus 26:3-4

TORAH, Leviticus 26:3-27:34


• God promises blessings to the...

05/23/2024 10:16:08 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

I love the way our Torah speaks about the land. As someone who needs to be in the wilderness at least a few times a year—smelling the decay of leaves, feeling the cool wind against my face, the warmth of the sun on my skin, and experiencing the stillness of a summer night surrounded by only trees—it is clear that our tradition understands the nature of the land. In our Western culture, we usually think of land as a commodity, something to...Read more...

Emor, אֱמֹר, Speak

05/16/2024 05:11:19 PM



The Eternal One said to Moses: "Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: None shall defile himself for any [dead] person among his kin, . . ."  - Leviticus 21:1

TORAH, Leviticus 21:1−24:23


-Laws regulating the lives and sacrifices of the priests are presented. (21:1-22:33)

-The set times of the Jewish calendar are named and described: the Sabbath, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and...Read more...

05/10/2024 09:51:09 AM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

For some time now, we have been navigating an important shift towards reorienting power with the hope of achieving greater liberation. This effort resonates deeply with our Jewish values of justice and equity. We are acutely aware of the disparities that plague our society—disparities in wealth, education, and freedom, exemplified by issues like the generational wealth gap and the school-to-prison...Read more...

05/02/2024 05:56:04 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

I am a spiritual seeker. Every time I step onto the bimah, lead morning blessings, or say a blessing as I stand in awe of the natural world, I hope to be spiritually moved and feel my soul alight. It doesn’t always happen. No, spiritual fulfillment is a practice; it doesn’t happen on demand, but regular participation helps prepare me for these moments; it helps ensure I am ready to hold onto the...Read more...

Chol HaMo-eid Pesach, חוֹל הַמֹּעֵד פֶּסַח, Shabbat During the Intermediate Days of Passover

04/25/2024 05:58:28 PM



Moses said to the Eternal, "See, You say to me, 'Lead this people forward,' but You have not made known to me whom You will send with me. Further, You have said, 'I have singled you out by name, and you have, indeed, gained My favor.'"- Exodus 33:12


TORAH, Holidays Exodus 33:12-34:26


04/18/2024 09:13:27 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

Mitzrayim is the Hebrew name for Egypt. Our sages famously suggest rereading that name, not as an actual place but as a reference to meitzar, narrowness. For our sages, Egypt (Mitzrayim) was a place of restriction or narrowness (meitzar).  

This Passover will be unlike any most of us have ever observed; with the ongoing war in Gaza, the possibility of a regional war with Iran, and the hostages literally being held in narrow...Read more...

04/11/2024 09:23:32 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

In the last few days, I’ve heard murmurings from members getting their seder cooking in order. Chicken soup and some of those side dishes are already made and being frozen. I don’t want to raise anyone’s anxiety; my own menu isn’t even set yet, but I know others do these things well in advance. Even if we prepare for Passover in the same old way we always have, we all know this Passover will be...Read more...

04/04/2024 09:53:37 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

There are many ways to categorize the mitzvot in the Torah, positive and negative, between people and God or people and people; commandments that apply only in the Land of Israel and those that apply everywhere are just some of the ways commandments are discussed in rabbinic literature. Another classic categorization is between Chuk and Mishpat. Both words mean “law,” but our sages distinguish...Read more...

03/28/2024 05:15:00 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

Parashat Tzav opens with two chapters regarding our ancestors' sacrifices at the Tabernacle and eventually at the Temple in Jerusalem. One of the sacrifices is called Zevach Shelamim and is often translated as a sacrifice of "well-being." This translation echoes ancient ideas of offerings made by kings of besieged cities to the commanders of the sieging forces. Our sages, however, often would translate this sacrifice as a "peace" offering. In...Read more...

Vayikra, וַיִּקְרָא, [God] Called Out

03/21/2024 09:50:21 PM



The Eternal One called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: "Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Eternal: You shall choose your offering from the herd or from the flock." - Leviticus 1:1-2

TORAH, Leviticus 1:1−5:26



03/14/2024 09:48:31 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

Last week I informed the congregation that I had signed a T’ruah letter supporting President Biden in his efforts to, among others things, free the hostages in Gaza and work toward a bilateral ceasefire. I began my statement to the congregation by affirming, “I am a Zionist.” The next day during Shabbat services I opened up a conversation about my public shift on ceasefire and engaged folks at services...Read more...

03/07/2024 09:46:22 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

I am a Zionist. I feel that more strongly today than ever before in my life. While living in Israel during the Second Intifada, I witnessed horrifying bus bombings and saw the carnage left at cafes after an attack. Yet, the intifada never instilled in me a sense of existential threat to Israel. However, everything changed on October 7th, leaving an indelible mark on my consciousness. My subsequent trip to...Read more...

Ki Tisa, כִּי תִשָּׂא, When You Take a Census

02/29/2024 09:44:31 PM



The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: "When you take a census of the Israelite men according to their army enrollment, each shall pay the Eternal a ransom for himself on being enrolled, that no plague may come upon them through their being enrolled." - Exodus 30:11-12

TORAH, Exodus 30:11−34:35



T'tzaveh, תְּצַוֶּה, [You] Shall Further Instruct

02/22/2024 09:03:58 AM



You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly. - Exodus 27:20

TORAH, Exodus 27:20−30:10


• The children of Israel are commanded to bring pure olive oil for the ner tamid "a constantly burning light,"...Read more...

T'rumah, תְּרוּמָה, Gifts

02/15/2024 09:01:54 AM



The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: "Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved." - Exodus 25:1-2

TORAH, Exodus 25:1−27:19


• God asks the Children of Israel to donate gifts (t'rumah) for the building...Read more...

Mishpatim, מִשְׁפָּטִים, [These Are the] Rules

02/08/2024 09:10:52 AM



These are the rules that you shall set before them. - Exodus 21:1

TORAH, Exodus 21:1−24:18


• Interpersonal laws ranging from the treatment of slaves to the exhibition of kindness to strangers are listed. (21:1-23:9)

• Cultic laws...

02/01/2024 05:00:31 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we encounter the Ten Commandments, a cornerstone of Jewish ethics and law. These commandments are not just historical relics but continue to guide our moral compass and religious practice today. Interestingly, our sages cautioned against the notion of hierarchizing these divine directives. They believed that the entirety of Torah is God’s word, making no one commandment inherently more significant than...Read more...

B'shalach, בְּשַׁלַּח, Now When [Pharaoh] Let [the People] Go

01/25/2024 09:35:16 PM



Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, "The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt." - Exodus 13:17

TORAH, Exodus 13:17−17:16


• The Children of Israel escape across...

01/18/2024 05:00:41 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

In this week's Torah portion, Bo, before the final plague in Egypt, the Israelites marked their doorposts with lamb's blood. In the Torah, blood was typically considered ritually polluting, but here it becomes a symbol of protection, keeping the Israelites safe from the final plague. Today, our community faces a different kind of plague – one of division and disagreement.

Last night, the Ann Arbor Board of Education and the...Read more...

Va-eira, וָאֵרָא, I (God) Appeared [to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]

01/11/2024 09:26:52 PM



Rabbi Whinston encourages you to read over a summary of this week's Torah portion from the URJ and contemplate for yourselves.

Va-eira, וָאֵרָא, I (God) Appeared [to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]

God spoke to Moses and said to him, "I am the Eternal." - Exodus 6:2



01/04/2024 05:00:33 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

In our culture, we love to lionize the hero. We tend to focus on the successful individual as the pinnacle example of being rather than the efforts of a group. We focus on the JJ McCarthy’s of the world rather than the defensive lines (who obviously won the game for Michigan). We love our heroes. In real life, individual heroes don’t exist. Life is a group effort. This fact is true even when it comes to our relationship with...Read more...

12/21/2023 05:00:18 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

In one of the most dramatic moments in the Torah, Joseph can no longer contain himself and hide his identity from his brothers. Joseph has been the viceroy of Egypt for some time, and his brother came to Egypt looking for food during the famine. They don’t recognize Joseph, though Joseph does recognize them. Eventually, Joseph reveals himself and says in Genesis 45:6-7, “It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and...Read more...

12/07/2023 05:00:56 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

Anyone who reads these weekly emails knows I rarely veer away from the weekly Torah portion or current holiday when writing. Today, I am going to do that. The last two months have been excruciatingly painful for many of us. The shocking atrocities on Oct. 7th left many of us frightened for the future of Israel, and the war that Hamas started has been horrible as well. Seeing the images of dead or wounded Palestinian children is no less...Read more...

Sat, July 13 2024 7 Tammuz 5784