BY BARRY HOLTZ, JTS
The King’s Torah and the Torah’s King
This week’s Torah portion focuses on a wide array of topics, but underlying virtually everything we can see a thematic coherence well reflected in the parashah’s name (“judges”). The sidrah contains one of the most famous lines in the entire Bible, tzedek, tzedek tirdof: “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20). And throughout the parashah we see the Torah outlining various aspects of the pursuit of justice.
Re'eh - Rosh Chodesh Elul
BY MALKA STRASBERG, ADJUNCT INSTRUCTOR IN BIBLE, JTS
To Know or Not to Know
The centralization of cultic worship is one of the major themes in the book of Deuteronomy. However, the place of that worship, the Temple, is described as “the place that God will choose,” with no mention of where that place is to exist. This week’s parashah, parashat Re’eh, introduces the theme that once in the Land of Israel, the Israelites are to worship their God in “hamakom asher yivhar Hashem” (the place that God will choose). This vague phraseology, which only alludes to a specific place but does not specify where that place is, is repeated 21 times throughout the book of Deuteronomy, with 16 of those occurrences in our parashah alone.
BY TIM DANIEL BERNARD, JTS
Walking in God’s Paths
Walking at our own pace creates an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion. . . . When we choose a path through a city or forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, construct a mental map of the world, settle on a way forward, and translate that plan into a series of footsteps.
—Ferris Jabr, “Why Walking Helps Us Think,” The New Yorker (September 2014)
Three times in Parashat Eikev, we are instructed to walk in God’s paths (Deut. 8:6, 10:12, 11:22). The context clearly indicates the meaning of the phrase: the Torah is telling us to observe its laws. In fact, the same root as the verb walk, ה.ל.כ, is found in halakhah (הלכה), Jewish law. Perhaps, then, walking can teach us something about what following Jewish law might look like.
Va’et-chanan - Shabbat Nachamu
BY NICOLE WILSON-SPIRO, JTS
Experiencing the Light of Torah
This summer I returned to Jewish overnight camp after a 15-year hiatus. After all this time, s’mores, a love of cheering in unison (has the cheering gotten louder or am I older?), and earnest, hard-working counselors (I was one, once) are still to be found at camp. I am happy to report that the food is now much, much better than I remembered, and the supervision and attention to camper care have improved vastly, as well.
Devarim - Shabbat Hazon
BY LILLY KAUFMAN for JTS
Judge Justly, Four Ways
Most of us are rarely called upon to judge other people, so when we read in the first chapter of our parashah about how we ought to judge ethically, we may not ever expect to act on this mitzvah. Then the jury summons comes in the mail, and suddenly we’re in a jury pool of over 100 people, awaiting selection for a massive white-collar criminal case. The issues of power, influence, and impartiality come up early.