Monday, November 7, 2011


Here are some of the Big Ideas you may want to explore in this week's parasha.

1. Women in the Torah often act on their own, even though they live in a deeply patriarchical society (Sarah and Hagar, Lot's daughters).
2. It's hard to be a good person when the people around you are evil people (Lot living in Sedom faces ethical challenges).
3. Some stories seem to be worth telling more than once (Avraham says Sarah is his sister, not his wife; Noah and Lot both get drunk with bad outcomes; Avraham and Lot both welcome visitors; the world appears to be destroyed in the eyes of Noah and in those of Lot's daughters). Sometimes the meanings are similar, sometimes there are differences.

Here are some of the questions you might want to ask yourself and your students:

1. How can you be a good person when there is evil around you?
2. Can one person alone change the world? Explain your answer.
3. Often we have upsetting experiences with our family or friends. What can we do to get past these and repair relationships?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lech Lecha

Big Idea:
Our relationship with God is complex, multidimensional. The Torah describes us as connected religiously, nationally, historically.

As of this Shabbat we will have read about three covenants, "britot" that God has made with humans. The first, the Brit with Noach, was a Brit with all humanity never to destroy the entire world again.
The other two are both in this parsha
In chapter 15 we read about the "brit bein habetarim". You can read the story here

The story of the second brit is a description of Brit milah which you can read here verses 9-14.

So why are there two different covenants? How are they the same? How are they different?
Rav Alex Israel shares his ideas and those of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag to understand these two separate britot. You can read his article here

Here is another thought from Rabbi Arnold Samlan, aka the Notorious RAV about Jewish connectedness you may want to read

How do you feel connected Jewishly? Are you part of the Jewish nation? The Jewish religion? Part of some other aspect of Judaism?

Monday, October 24, 2011


Most of our students over the age of 7 or 8 have heard the story of Noah, probably more than once if they attended a Jewish preschool program. So I'd like to focus in this post on the 'rest of the story' - the story of the Tower of Babel.

Many people wonder what the great wrong was that this generation committed. In the opinion of Dr. Isaac Gottleib of Bar Ioan University it was the intent rather than the action that was
punished. You can read his thoughts here:

Do you think people should be punished for what they are PLANNING to do before they actually do it?
Can you think of instances where this might be a good idea?
Can you think of the problems with this approach?

Rabbi Daniel Gordis has a different idea. He suggests that the story of the tower is a foreshadowing of the existence of Am Yisrael - the Nation of Israel. You can read his opinion here:

Which idea makes more sense to you?
Which explanation is most meaningful to you?
Can both ideas be true?
What other ideas do you have about this story?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yom Kippur

I'm seeing a lot of people asking forgiveness on Facebook this year. Am I the only one who finds this a little disturbing? Not that I don't want to ask forgiveness, but to all of my "friends" at once? Pretty sure that's not what we ought to be doing. There has to be a better way - oh, wait, there is! In person, with sincerity, and with thoughtfulness...and no, twitter won't work either!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ki Tavo

I was just thinking - Moshe is speaking directly to the people (in this book of D'varim). Suppose he had just emailed his thoughts. Would the understanding be the same? Is it possible that the tone of voice, the facial expressions, the body language might have impacted the way in which the words were heard?
We lose so much of the subtlety of communication when we give up the person-to-person that has so largely been superseded by the tweet, the email, The bbm. The Im.
Maybe Moshe didn't sound threatening during the tochechah - maybe he sounded worried. That would certainly change things, I think.
A teacher once asked me, "are you saying it's not just what I'm saying? It's the way I'm saying it that matters?

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

For the Seder this year

How can we NOT mention what is going on in the Middle East at our Seder table this year? But what should we say?
Here's what I will say at our Seder -
If our Passover story is about freedom from the Egyptian tyranny, how can we ignore what is happening in Egypt now? On the surface the stories are similar. There has been an oppressive ruler, a tyrant, a 'Pharaoh' even who has been ruling the Egyptian people for 40 years (ok, not 400, but a long time nevertheless.). He has been overthrown by people who wish to be free of his control. So far, so good.
But now we read that the army, which is now in control, is beginning to act much the same way. Already, according to the news reports, they have arrested a blogger deemed opposed to the ruling powers .
So what is the fundamental issue? We were redeemed from Egypt not just to be free from, but to be free to - to become a people devoted to God.
Freedom 'from' is one thing. Freedom 'to' is quite another.

Hag sameach

Monday, January 10, 2011


How ironic that the person who brought so many beautiful songs to the Jewish world died during the week leading to Shabbat Shirah - the Shabbat of Song.  We all mourn the loss of Debbie Friedman this past Sunday, and yet she continues to live in the music she shared with everyone.

This week's parasha is the source for one of her most well-known and widely-sung compositions - Miriam's Song.  You can read the lyrics and hear the song here:

Here is another song based on this section of this week's parasha:

Click on this link to read the original text from which these two songs are taken:

What do you picture when you read the lyrics to Debbie Friedman's Miriam's Song?
What do you picture when you read the lyrics to the next song, Shirat Hayam?
What do you picture when you read the entire chapter 15 of Exodus?
Why do you think each of the two composers chose the words they used in their songs?
What words would you choose to emphasize if you were writing music to remember the exodus from Egypt?

As always, please click on Beshalach in the "Labels" column for more ideas and suggestions for teaching.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wonderful Article on Play

Not strictly Jewish, nor focused on Jewish education, but wonderful nevertheless
Importance of Play

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bo Revisited

The Torah as a text is probably at least 2000 years old, and has been the foundation text for Jewish thought and action for as long as it has existed.  Over time there have been hundreds if not thousands of explanations written by a myriad of sources.
The Constitution of the United States - while not as old as the Torah - was written over 200 years ago.  Over time there have been amendments made that reflect the differences in the culture of our country over time. 

The challenge:  How do we remain faithful to a foundation text while bringing its ideas into a contemporary setting?  We cannot ignore this challenge, not in our religious lives nor in our secular settings. 
  • Which parts of this parasha convey ideas that are uncomfortable to you?
  • Which sections are as easily understood in the context of today's thinking as they were in the time of the original writing?
The calendar being what it is, this year parshat Bo does not come on the weekend we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday.  With the exception of that difference, the suggestions for analyzing the text in last year's blog are as relevant as they were last year.  In the unlikely event that you thoroughly examined all the articles suggested, I welcome your suggestions for other resources.  Please share your thoughts with other readers by commenting below.