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Yom Rivii, 9 Sivan 5775

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Posted on May 20, 2015

This week we read the portion of Bamidbar, first in the book of Numbers, which is given its name by the census that occupies a good part of the beginning of the Torah portion. Superficially it’s just a listing of names and numbers and not a very interesting text for study or inspiration. But it also teaches us a primary lesson: that every human being counts in God’s eyes—and should similarly count in our eyes, as well.

There is an unusual phrase in the beginning of the portion. The survey is to be taken of the entire nation, and b’mispar sheimot, “by the numbering of names.” In other words, even though by definition a census is an accounting, a totaling of sums, each individual is to be accounted for not by number but by name. Each person has a unique identity, a human face. Each is an image of God.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Bamidbar 5775


Posted on May 13, 2015

Im bechukotai teileichu v’et mitzvotai tismhoru va’asitem otam
“If you follow my laws and observe my commandments and do them…”
       --beginning of the Torah portion of Bechukotai

In Jewish tradition there is considerable discussion about which of the commandments are the most important. This is probably inevitable, in view of the fact that we have 613 of these mitzvot, both ethical and ritual rules for living a sacred life, and it is only natural to try to determine which ones take precedence. In truth, out of the 365 negative commandments, the “Thou shalt not” kinds of laws, and the 248 positive commandments, the “You must do this” sorts of rules, many are no longer even applicable. The world has changed over the course of the 3200 years since the Torah was putatively given on Mt. Sinai, and while these Jewish laws remain on the books they are not all equally applicable, not even for Orthodox Jews.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Bechukotai 5775

SAMUEL COHEN TALITSabbatical Rejuvenation

Posted on May 7, 2015

This week we read the portion of Behar, from the book of Leviticus, which establishes the rules for the sabbatical and jubilee years, the most important form of environmental legislation in the ancient world. This is a particularly notable portion this year, which is the Shmitah, the anniversary of the sabbatical year itself. For perhaps the first time Jewish communities around the world have become aware of and focused on commemorating this important ancient legislation in contemporary ways. Thanks to our Shmitah Minutes and Sabbatical classes and activities, encouraged and lead by Louise Greenfield, Sharon Geiger, and Ruth Reiter, we at Temple Emanu-El have been celebrating this Shmitah year with special services, classes, and remembrances.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Behar 5775

SAMUEL COHEN TALITSpeak Low When You Speak Love

Posted on April 30, 2015

Rabbi Cohon returns to authoring a weekly Torah Talk this week after his return from a three-month Sabbatical in mid-April.

Emor, our Torah portion this week in Leviticus, begins as so many others do: God gives commands to the people of Israel. But the language this time is a little different. Usually, commandments begin with the Hebrew word "Dabeir, speak to the Children of Israel" or occasionally, "Tzav, command the Children of Israel." This time the much softer word "Emor, say to the priests, the Children of Aaron" is used. Why?

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Emor 5775


Posted on December 31, 2014

This week we complete the story of Joseph—and of his great father Jacob, also known as Israel—with the final Torah portion of the book of Genesis, Vayechi. It begins with the description of the death of Jacob, and perhaps even more importantly, the final blessings that Jacob gives to his many sons. But one of the most interesting aspects of this section is a brief episode in which Joseph, who knows his father is dying, brings his own two sons, Jacob's grandsons Ephraim and Menasseh, to him for a blessing.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Vayechi 5775