Category Archives: Torah study

Interpretive haftarah for Shabbat Hazon

Here is the translation of the haftarah for Shabbat Hazon (“The Shabbat of Vision,” the special Shabbat immediately before Tisha b’Av) which we read and discussed at CBI today. It was translated by ALEPH rabbinic student David Aladjem.


Haftorah for Shabbat Hazon  

An Interpretive Translation of Isaiah 1:1-27
David Aladjem

The vision of redemption
The vision of peace
The vision of the Prophet Isaiah
Of Judah and Jerusalem reborn.

Hear me, oh earth and heavens
Hear me, my children and the Children of Israel
We all know that G’d is our Parent, Friend and Teacher
But – oh how quickly – we forget.

Rather than turning from evil to do good
We rush to do evil
Even when we could do good
Even when we could heal the world.

And what do we reap from our lust for evil?
A bruised body, heart and soul.
A desolated world
Burning up through our desire for more, ever more.

Yet we ask, why have You forsaken us?
We have brought our sacrifices
We have done Your bidding
Yet You do not answer us.

You have always thought only of yourselves
Not of others’ needs
Not of what might be right and true
But only of what is easiest to do
And that which puffs you up with pride.

Come, let us learn together
You can act justly and heal this world
Clothe the homeless, feed the hungry
Defend the powerless
That is My desire.

Turn your hands to My work
And I will give you all that you desire
Food for your bodies
Contentment for your hearts
And love for your souls.

On that day
Zion will be redeemed with justice
And all will dwell within her walls in peace.
Jerusalem will again be
My holy city

And war and destruction will never come again.

Ten Statements to Live By

After a study of the Aseret ha-Dibrot (the Ten Utterances / Sayings / Commandments) and their implications, the Ne’arim class jointly drafted these ten statments / words to live by. Thanks for your wisdom, Ne’arim!


1. Treat others as you want to be treated.

2. Be non-judgmental.

3. Try your hardest.

4. Do something meaningful with your life.

5. Don’t live in fear.

6. Try to live in a way that makes the world more good than evil.

7. Be awesome and be honest.

8. Don’t lie to purposely hurt someone.

9. Do not destroy the earth.

10. Believe in yourself.

The First CBI Ne’arim Podcast: on Joseph



21.1 MB / 22 minutes

– click on the small triangle to listen
or, download the file: NearimJosephPodcast (mp3)

You can read a little bit about how this podcast came to be in the post Beginning a Torah podcast…with my students.

Here are a few words from the opening of the podcast:

The Joseph novella is one of the richest stories in Torah. We read it every year as we approach the darkest days of winter. I like to teach it as a narrative about descent for the sake of ascent. What goes up, in other words, has to start out by going down.

But rabbinic opinions and teachings about Torah are a dime a dozen. How might the next generation of young minds understand this story? What implications might they tease out through a combination of bibliodrama, midrash, and improvisational theatre? Enter the CBI Ne’arim Podcast.

Act one: the Torah story, narrated by the students in their own words.

Act two: a taste of bibliodrama. We’ll hear segments of an interview with the Biblical characters.

Act three: going further afield. What if the Joseph story took place in outer space, or featured modern political personalities, or happened on a planet full of nothing but cows? Our young scholars will take us into some of these possible realities.

Act four: epilogue. A roundtable conversation with the students. What was this journey like for them? What, if anything, did they learn? Do they experience the Joseph story differently now than they did before?

My thanks are due to the Ne’arim students for entering into this adventure with such enthusiasm. I hope y’all enjoy!

Torah study text: Kedushat Levi on Naso

Here’s the Torah study text we’re going to learn today during our Torah study at CBI — if you’re not able to join us, or if you’re at CBI today but misplace your printed copy, here it is in digital form!

For Torah Study: Kedushat Levi on Naso

Kedushat Levi is the name of the most famous book by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1810.) R’ Levi Yitzchak was known as the “defense attorney” for the Jewish people, because it was believed that he could intercede on their behalf before God. This is a teaching from Kedushat Levi on this week’s parsha, Naso.

“And God spoke to Moshe saying: speak to Aaron and to his sons, and tell them ‘thus (כה) shall you shall bless the children of Israel, saying to them[.]” (Numbers 6:22)

The Baal Shem Tov often preached about our life in this world using the verse from Psalms “God is your shade.” (Psalm 121:5.) As one’s shadow does what one does, just so with the Blessed Creator, Who (as it were) does what humanity does. For this reason a person needs to do mitzvot and to give tzedakah and to be compassionate with the poor, in order that the Creator will do these good deeds along with her/him.

What a person does, so does the blessed Creator do. It is known that the blessed Creator wants to make things better for God’s people; “more than the calf wants to suckle, the cow yearns to give milk.” (Pesachim 112a) It’s incumbent on us to stand and pray before the blessed Creator. In every Amidah, every gate through which words of supplication might pass, we should pray that God be the blessed Creator Who takes pleasure in our deeds. As it is said in the Mishna: “If you learn Torah often, don’t think too highly of yourself, because for this were you created.” The actions of a person exist only so that the Creator might take joy in them.

If a person prays for his own sake, then he’s called “a receiver,” and if a person wants to receive a thing, he grasps with the back of his hand toward the earth and the inside of his hand facing above. But if a person prays only that the Creator be the Creator, and that God take pleasure in this, then we call him “One for whom abundance flows,” [משפיע], since he receives abundance, as it were, from the blessed Creator. And such a one receives with the back of his hand facing above, and the underside of his hand facing below.

The priestly blessing is in that latter category, because the gesture is made with the back of the hand facing their faces, as in the case of those who wish to receive abundance from on high. This is the interpretation of the verse “Thus shall you bless the children of Israel.” Which is to say: they will bless Israel in a way that gives the blessed Creator joy, and in this way will make Israel receivers of abundance from on high, and afterwards the blessed Creator will cause all good things and blessings to flow to us. This is the quality called כה, in which we ourselves do what God would do, and thus we cause God to do good things for us and causes abundance of blessing and goodness, life and peace, to flow.

Questions for reflection:

1) What do you make of the idea that God, like our shadow, does whatever we do? What are the ethical implications of this teaching?

2) What does the metaphor of the cow and the calf have to teach us about how we might see our relationship with prayer? With God? With blessing?

3) Have you ever received the priestly blessing, or given it? What did that feel like for you?

4) What do you make of the distinction between asking for something with the palm facing upward, and with the palm facing downward? What does that metaphor say to you about the appropriate posture for asking and receiving?

Torah study text for Shabbat Vayekhel-Pekudei, March 17, 2012

For those who are interested, here’s the Torah study text we studied this past Shabbat.

Kedushat Levi on parashat Pekudei

“These are the things (דברים) which God commanded that you should do: six days you shall do [work], etc…” (Exodus 35:1-2.)

The sages interpreted this (in the Talmud, tractate Shabbat) to refer to the 39 forms of labor. As it is said, “these [are the things]” — this hints at externals [external forms of labor rather than internal ones], as the Ari (of blessed memory) noted in his commentary on the verse (Lamentations 1:16) “For these things I weep, etc,” arguing that we need to heal them by means of work. When we say “to do,” [as in: “these are the things which God commanded that you should do,”] we’re speaking in terms of healing. [So: what Torah is really saying is, these are the  things which God commanded we should repair / heal.]  And that’s in secular/profane/workday time; but on Shabbat one doesn’t do the work of clarifying externals, and therefore doing work is forbidden.

It is said with regard to Shabbat “God commanded to do,” and with regard to the [building of the] mishkan it is written “which God commanded, saying.” The Tur raises a question [about why one verse uses language of “doing” and the other verse uses the word “saying”],  and notes that although creating the mishkan involved the mitzvot of making/doing, by means of the the work of the mishkan they repaired the world of speech. That’s what Torah means when it says “which God had commanded, saying.” [Kedushat Levi is saying here that the reason Torah notes “saying” is that God’s commandment to build the mishkan was really a commandment to create a repair, a healing, in the world of our speech.]

And on Shabbat, when they weren’t doing work, only (engaging in) mitzvot of speech, such as Torah and prayer — for this is the essence of Torah and prayer — on Shabbat, by means of this, they repair the world of work. And this is “Which God commanded them to do,” as it is said, repairing the world of making/doing.

Questions for reflection:

What is Kedushat Levi saying about external work vs. internal work? Which one do we do during the week, and which on Shabbat?

How do you like his idea that when we say “doing,” we’re really talking about healing?

What do you make of the idea that in building the mishkan, we were repairing the world of our speech?

How about the idea that through Torah and prayer on Shabbat, we repair our workweek?

Torah Study text for Shabbat Shemot January 14, 2012 / 19 Tevet, 5772

For Torah Study: The Sfat Emet on Shemot

Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, known as the Sfat Emet (“Language of Truth”), was a Hasidic rabbi in the late 1800s. He served the community of Ger. He was one of the great lights of his generation. Here is a piece of his commentary on this week’s Torah portion, translated by R’ Arthur Green.

“In a flame of fire from the midst of that bush.” (Ex. 3:2) The Midrash says that this is to show [that] “there is no place devoid of the divine presence—not even a thornbush.” This is the purpose of exile: that Israel make visible His kingdom, which is indeed everywhere. The true meaning of the word galut (exile) is hitgalut (revelation), that the glory of God’s kingdom be revealed in every place. This task is completed by the souls of Israel in this world, as the Midrash says in the verse “I am asleep but my heart wakes. The sound of my beloved knocking: ‘Open for me!'” (Song of Songs 5:2)

The Blessed Holy One has chosen us and given us the Torah. Torah is beyond time; just as for the Holy one, past and future are all one. In that case, the choosing of Israel and their attachment to God that happened when Torah was given were already revealed to God “beforehand” as well. This powerful attachment to Torah—even though it was still hidden and unrealized by Israel—was still “the sound of my beloved knocking: ‘Open for me!'” calling them to make this attachment real by opening “as wide as the eye of a needle.”

Holiness can be revealed in this world only through the opening that Israel make. When we said: “We shall do and we shall listen” (Ex. 24:7), we were making real the light of Torah, to which we were already attached somewhere deep within ourselves. Now that we have accepted the Torah, this is even clearer. The sound of Torah pounds in Israel’s hearts. Even though exile hides it, we need only long that it be revealed. Thus it was in the galut (exile) of Egypt that “the Holy One nigleh (was revealed) upon them and redeemed them.” [—Haggadah.]

It is out of this that Scripture says: “As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show you wonders.” (Micah 7:15)

The pounding of my own heart,
the sound of Torah
the voice of my Beloved —
Help me to learn again that they are all one voice! –Rabbi Arthur Green

Questions for consideration:
What is the Sfat Emet saying about the true purpose of exile?

What do you make of the idea that the souls of Israel are able to reveal God’s presence in the world? Is this our ability alone?

Who is the beloved knocking?

The Sfat Emet is making a pun on galut (exile) and galui (revealed.)  What might be revealed to us in our exile?

How are we in exile now? And how does the Sfat Emet think we can end that exile? (Hint: it has to do with yearning.)

What does this teaching from the Sfat Emet offer us, as a way of relating anew to the story of the bush which burned but was not consumed?