04/20/2018 12:31 PM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar

Tazria - M’tzora (Bearing Seed / A Leper)

The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: "Speak to the Israelite people thus: When a woman at childbirth bears a male, she shall be impure seven days;" - Leviticus 12:1-2
The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: "This shall be the ritual for a leper at the time of being purified ..." - Leviticus 14:1-2

Sacredness, Purity, and Separation

Separation is a big theme for schools.  As much as togetherness and community are goals, we deal every day with those who need to be separate – and those who are separated from the group against their desire.  Sometimes being separated happens as a result of a group and their peer pressure.  Sometimes it is because of a bully or a group of bullies.  But sometimes it is a subtle separation that can happen through insensitivity in the form of careless words, physical distancing, and sometimes physical or psychological harassment.

Much of our dual Parashah this week is about medical conditions.  But much more of it is connected to conceptions of purity, holiness, and communal separation.  While there is some credence to the risks associated with menstruation – for those living at the time of the Biblical narrative - we know that today, we do not have that same practice of separation for most cultures and for most in the Jewish community.  That is not to say that cleanliness is not important.  It is simply that we have found ways to address cleanliness without ritual separation or fear of menstruation.

As for leprosy, the term that has been imprecisely translated for centuries, studies have shown that what we know of today as leprosy may not have existed until the middle of the first century CE.  The origins in the text come from Miriam’s punishment for spreading rumors – or committing lashon harrah.   Did Miriam really come down with an immediate illness that required her to be separated or is "leprosy” about being ostracized for perceive violations of community norms.  And if that is the case, as many scholars have claimed, this Parashah is incredibly relevant beyond the illness we read about on the surface.

In speaking with students this week about this Parashah, the focus was on this idea of communal or group norms, and the way groups sometime separate from those who do not conform.  In the spring, sometimes thoughts of summer break down a student’s focus both on school work and our communal values.  Sometimes their judgment lapses and their choices are not their best.  Sometimes their patience for those who are "different” is not as it could or should be and this is what we discussed - on a global level.

The history of communal separation – for many reasons – can be seen in many tragic episodes.  I asked our students questions about how a community begins to target people who are different, unwanted, or thought of as evil and asked them to think back to just last week when we had our incredibly powerful Yom Hashoah program for 3rd through 5th graders.  The idea that ostracizing an entire people could begin with small acts of bullying, discrimination, or jokes, was an incredibly relevant connection for them and one we hope they took to heart as they reflect on the Chesed week that also just passed. 

The tool to combat communal targeting of scapegoats are core values like B’tselem Elohim and Chesed.  If we are commended to be kind.  If we are told that every person should be treated as a holy vessel since we all have that spark of the divine inside of us.  Then to treat people as jokes or as less than human is going against what we teach here at Shlenker and what our values tell us is the right and good thing to do.  These are lessons we said, that can have our students be the guardians of their own communities and the only protection we have to prevent things like the Holocaust from happening ever again.   
Categorized under:  Torah

04/13/2018 11:49 AM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar
Sh'mini II - The Eighth [Day]
Moses spoke to Aaron and to his remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar


As our "Chesed” or Kindness week comes to a close – it is fitting to ask the question; What is Holy?
In our Parashah we are not only presented with many of our dietary laws which are meant to set our minds to what is sacred – and what is not.

In modern times we do still use the tool of food to help us actualize holiness for our thoughts.  Passover is a perfect example of that.  We are to think of Freedom – and physically deprive ourselves of bread to connect the idea to something tangible.

But our lives face this dilemma in a larger sense. What are the values and actions that create holiness?  What is it that can bring us closer to the Holy One?  Some would say the rituals we do on a daily basis.  Others would say the actions the bring good and caring into the world.

Kindness Week at Shlenker follows through on that idea that our actions can create a better world and bring us close to a state of holiness.  When those around you are spreading kindness in small and large ways we should feel that the Holy has entered the world at that moment.  When we elevate ourselves to do good, we do become closer to the Holy in that moment.

Our Chesed Essay award winners all exemplify how seemingly small actions can not only show this act of holiness – but that these actions reflect the Jewish values and connections we teach about on a regular basis.

Additional Torah Study Resources: Torah Study / Leading a Family Torah Discussion

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04/06/2018 02:06 PM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar

Sh'mini I - The Eighth [Day] - Leviticus 9:1–10:11

On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons.




It is fitting that as Passover ends and we read the story of the song of the sea, we also contemplate sacrifice with Sh’mini I. 

All week we have been speaking with students about the significance of giving up bread as a symbol of our appreciation for the freedom of our ancestors and our own modern freedom.  

And as we return to our cycle of Torah readings, we recount more of how we are to sacrifice to honor the gifts we have received in this life.  

To add an additional layer, we are also counting the Omer - another traditional sacrifice we give to acknowledge the wonders of creation.  

For each of these examples of sacrifice, we are reminded that there is so much more to sacrifice than we see on the surface.  

If we did not give up something, would we truly stop to contemplate the meaning behind our gratitude.  The physical and the intellectual are so often bound in our tradition - it is no wonder we wrestle with which is more important. 

The sephirot, or mystical attributes we reflect upon during the Omer are the gift we have only because we stop to physically count the days and take time to consider our progress as evolving and maturing individuals.  

The time we take to pray or meditate on the wonders are god is a modern sacrifice.  But it is also a gift.  We take the time and are then are rewarded with new insights, new thoughts, new appreciation for the good things in our lives. 

And as Passover concludes, we realize we can only be as grateful and appreciative of Freedom because we have given up just a little of it to better connect with our family, our community, and our inner soul.  

Additional Torah Study Resources: Torah Study / Leading a Family Torah Discussion



Categorized under:  Torah

03/29/2018 12:27 PM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar
Yom Rishon shel Pesach
1st Day of Passover
Exodus 12:37-42, 13:3-10 (Bo)
The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot … 

Freedom, Equality and Redemption

These were the three main themes that our students mentioned when asked what they had learned were the most important values we learn from Passover.

This week, we read from the Passover selection that brings us back to Bo (go!)  Consistently in services, we have been awaiting this time of year because as we have been reading about the Exodus from Egypt since early February and we have been foreshadowing Pesach.

The centrality of the Exodus narrative in our tradition is undeniable.  Mitzrayim is one of the most frequently occurring words in the Torah and there is good reason for that.  Mi Chamocha – a song about moving from bondage to freedom – has the singular privilege of bringing us back to that moment in every service we are a part of.  So we ask the question, why?  Why is this story so central, so important and so relevant?

Well, if our students are correct, the themes of Freedom, Equality, and Redemption are probably some of the most important concepts one might need to live a good life.  And Passover – and the references throughout our narrative and liturgy – remind us to reflect on those themes more often than any other.  We can be slaves to so many things.  How do we free ourselves when that happens?  Enslaving another – either literally in the common usage or figuratively in other more nuanced ways – is something we never want to be a part of and should work to eradicate.  And redemption – the idea that we can always be freed or that we can always recover from a moment of weakness – what an amazing concept for people to understand.  For a student to realize that a wrong can quickly be atoned for and a behavior quickly changed is most likely a liberating concept in the pressure filled world of youth today.

More importantly, our students also understand these concepts are not just about history and philosophy.  Passover comes around every year and is referenced in every service so we can remember that we were once slaves in Egypt.  Therefore it is our obligation to make sure that doesn’t happen to us or any other group of people ever again.  And to do that we need to act.  We need to care.  We need to notice.  We need to remember what it must have been like for the slaves of Pharaoh so that we can realize how hard we must work against those evils today.

In a concluding conversation and in response to one student’s question, we focused on the phrase "mixed multitude” in this Parashah.  A diverse group of people, Israelites and others, left Egypt.  And later on in the Parashah, there is explicit reference given to those people who were not children of Jacob, but who wanted to be a part of our community.  If those people wanted to fallow the God of Abraham and were willing to adopt the teachings of Moses, they could.  They were welcomed.  Even then, the stranger was welcomed.  We live in a diverse world and in a diverse country.  Our tradition teaches us that remembering Passover and the joys of freedom are for everyone.  

Additional Torah Study Resources: Torah Study / Leading a Family Torah Discussion

This week’s Parasha for Tweens

Categorized under:  Torah

03/23/2018 10:12 AM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar
Command [Aaron and His Sons]
Leviticus 6:1−8:36

Sacrifice and Connection

In the week’s Parashah, Leviticus continues with its focus on guidelines, rules and regulations.  More specifically, Tzav, commands certain requirements for the ritual sacrifice that was an ancient part of our tradition.  

When asked about the importance of this kind of "sacrifice” some of our students went back to the construction of the Mishkan when Israelites gave of their most prize possessions.  Likewise, the literal sacrifice of the animals or crops we needed for sustenance were no less valuable than the jewels or gold that were collected for the Mishkan.  In fact, the sacrifice of what you need to live as opposed to the sacrifice of your wealth may be even more important.  

In modern times, we think of the word sacrifice in terms of giving something up for someone.  We will give of our time to help someone.  We will give of our strength to protect someone.  We will often sacrifice health and well-being for those we love.  Yet, our students see that each kind of sacrifice is about giving up what is of value to you for the sake of another or for the sake of something important.

So, what was so important for the ancient Israelites to make the sacrifices they did for God?  Some would say that they would have been asking God for things – for protection, for good health, for help.  Some might say that this was their way of communicating with God.  Today we are very used to the concept of prayer that has been handed down by our Rabbi’s to replace our sacrifice at the ancient Temple.  After the fall of the Temple – what were we to do?  If we could not go to the dwelling place of God and sacrifice as we had – how would we approach God?  How would we ask God for things without our "sacrifice” to show our seriousness?  Well the answer for the Rabbi’s was that we would sacrifice in other ways.  Prayer allows us to proclaim our commitments to be better people, to love others, to repair the world.  The product of our actions and intentions to be better people are the tools now with which we approach God.  When we pray, we can’t really go in as empty handed as it seems.  We go in with reverence for creation, with an appreciation for family, with a dedication to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  These may not be the animals and crops that were brought to the Temple, but they are powerful commitments that require incredible sacrifice on our part.

Categorized under:  Torah

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