Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Naso 5776

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

The Three-Fold Blessing of Presence

Posted on June 8, 2016

This week we read the second Torah portion in the book of Numbers, Naso, which includes a variety of instructions ranging from priestly organization to the ordeal of jealousy to the voluntary-but-binding vows of the Nazirite.  It is a kind of catch-all parshah, but it is a portion raised to the status of greatness by one particular passage. 

Just before the princes of the people bring offerings to mark the beginning of formal worship in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, God instructs Moses to tell Aaron and his sons, the Kohanim, to bless the people.  He ordains a famous formula for that blessing, which we know as the Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing.  This three-part sequence has become the most famous benediction of all:     

“May God bless you and keep you.

May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you.

May God’s face be lifted up to you and place upon you peace.”

In Naso, God makes it clear that this is quite a blessing indeed, adding that it is through this that the Kohanim will “Place My Name on the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” 

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Naso 5776

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Beha’alotecha 5776

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Add a Little Light 

Posted on June 18, 2016

This week we read the Torah portion of Beha’alotecha in the Book of Numbers.  It begins with a description of the menorah, the lamp that burned in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and later in the Temple in Jerusalem, our people’s central worship places for God.  That golden menorah was a way to keep track of the days of the week—a new light was lit each day from Sunday through Friday until, finally, all seven branches shone on the holiest of days, Shabbat. 

Each day, we added a bit more light.  Each day, our ancestors added to the illumination of God’s holiness.  Each day, they remembered to bring just a bit more brilliance into their lives.  And finally, on the Sabbath, all their light truly shined.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Beha’alotecha 5776

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Shelach Lecha 5776

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Got the Blues? Talisses and Rainbows

Posted on June 22, 2016

 

When we see light it usually appears white.  As you may recall from elementary school science projects, white is a mixture of all the possible colors of light.  If you rapidly spin a wheel with a variety of colors it will appear white.  When you hold a prism up to a white light it separates into the variety of colors.  And when light reflects through water vapor in the air a rainbow appears. 

In this week’s Torah portion of Shelach Lecha we are commanded to place fringes on the corners of our clothing, tzitzit.  The fringes are mostly white, the color that includes all the colors of the rainbow.  However, one fringe is to be dyed techelet, a purplish blue. Today most Jews do not wear the thread of blue, since the precise procedure for making the dye has been lost since the destruction of the Temple, although some think it was made from the shell of a mollusk called Murex that lives off the coast of Lebanon.  Almost all tzizit remain white to this day. 

But once they had this colorful thread.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Shelach Lecha 5776

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Bamidbar 5776

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Finding Faith in the Wilderness

Posted on June 6, 2016

This week we read the Torah portion of Bamidbar, the first in the book of Numbers, which is given its English name by the census that occupies a good part of the beginning of the Torah portion. The Hebrew name for this portion, and this book, Bamidbar means “in the Wilderness”.  While the name comes from the first words of the book, it has a greater resonance and meaning than simply its lexicographical location.  It also speaks of place in a unique and powerful way. 

Every time we Jews seek inspiration, it seems, we must head out into the desert.  It was true of Abraham and Jacob; it’s certainly true of Moses; and after the Exodus it is true as well for the whole people of Israel, who wander for 40 years in the Wilderness of Sinai, the Midbar Sinai, seeking God and revelation. 

Why must we head out into nothingness to find truth?

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Bamidbar 5776

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Behar 5776

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Taking Sinai With Us

Posted on May 18, 2016

This week’s portion of Behar, the next to last in the Book of Leviticus, begins with the statement that “God spoke to Moses at Mt. Sinai saying”, a seemingly unambiguous phrase. These rules of holiness and personal conduct must have been commanded at Mt. Sinai.

Yet earlier in Leviticus it is clear that God has given most of these commandments not at Mt. Sinai itself, but in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, the Ohel Mo’eid, the Tent of Meeting, as the people wander in the desert, after we have left Mt. Sinai and begun our journey to the Promised Land. As Behar begins the Israelites don’t actually seem to still be at Mt. Sinai at all.

What gives? Why say these laws were given at Mt. Sinai when they clearly weren’t?

The answer lies in the use of metaphor. For in the rabbinic understanding, Mt. Sinai is not just a geographical location, not a simple matter of a specific place at all. Wherever we learn and do mitzvot, whenever we complete ethical acts, do tzedakah, observe rituals with sanctity, study Torah, or work to perfect the world, wherever and whenever we strive to make this a holier, more Jewish place, we are standing at Mt. Sinai.

As committed Jews we take Mt. Sinai with us, and bring God’s very presence into the world. It’s a powerful message indeed. We can make our own lives as holy as the revelation at Mt. Sinai simply by living Torah each and every day, through our own actions.