Exodus Study Group, Week 3 and 4

On January 17 and 24, we revisted Exodus Chapter 1 through the lens of the most prominent medieval Torah commentaries. We used Michael Carasik’s The Commentator’s Bible: Exodus, published by the Jewish Publication Society, which is an excellent reworking of these classic commentaries for modern readers.

In addition, on January 24, we reviewed a piece of contemporary Israeli women’s midrash on the midwives story, from the collection Dirshuni: Contemporary Women’s Midrash. The specific piece we reviewed can be read here:

The Midwives Saw and Feared –  Dirshuni

I unfortunately forgot to hit “Record” on our January 17 class, but the video for January 24 can be found below.

On January 31, we’ll move on to Chapter 2 of Exodus.




Exodus Study Group, Week 2

This week, we continued with our close reading of the first chapter of Exodus, reviewing verses 15-22 in several translations.

Here is the text sheet we used this week:

Exodus, Chapter 1 - Week 2 (PDF)

Next week, on Wednesday, January 17 at 6:30 PM, we'll make another pass through Exodus Chapter 1 through the lens of the most prominent medieval Torah commentaries. We'll be using Michael Carasik's The Commentator's Bible: Exodus, published by the Jewish Publication Society, which is an excellent reworking of these classic commentaries for modern readers.

The video of this week's discussion appears below:



Exodus Study Group, Week 1

Our Exodus (Shemot) study group met for the first time on Wednesday, January 3.

Here is the study sheet that we used during the class:

Exodus Study Group Week 1.

Note that on the sheet, I shared four translations of our Torah text:

1) Jewish Publication Society (JPS)

2) Everett Fox

3) Richard Elliott Friedman

4) Robert Alter

The first two are available online as options for viewing the Torah on the Sefaria website:



JPS is the translation used in our chumash, Etz Hayim

Everett Fox's translation can be acquired in book form  here: https://www.amazon.com/Five-Books-Moses-Leviticus-Deuteronomy/dp/0805211195

Richard Eliott Friedman's translation is here: https://www.amazon.com/Commentary-Torah-Richard-Elliott-Friedman/dp/0060507179

and Robert Alter's translation is here: https://www.amazon.com/Five-Books-Moses-Robert-Alter/dp/B000YITC1G

The video of the class  can be viewed here:



Tisha Ba-Av Resources for 2023


Here are some readings that we'll be using for this year's Tisha Ba'Av service — I'm uploading him here so folks on Zoom can find them easily.

Through our laments for the brokenness of our world, may we ultimately find purpose and hope.

Sources on Judaism and Reproductive Health

Torah Study – Yom Ha-Shoah 2022


I'm attaching the text sheet that we'll be studying after morning minyan on April 28, 2022. The first three texts are from Aish Kodesh (Holy Fire), a collection of Torah commentary from the Piaseczner Rebbe, Kalonymus Shapira, written in the Warsaw Ghetto. The last is a poem by Muriel Rukeyser, written in 1944.

Downloadable PDF: Yom Ha-shoah Texts 2022.pdf


Yom Ha-Shoah 2022

  1. Compassion Fatigue (Aish Kodesh on Chukkat, 7/5/1941)

…We must arouse within ourselves compassion for our fellow Jews. Not only must we give them everything we can; we also need to arouse our compassion for them, because when we arouse mercy in ourselves, mercy is aroused in heaven. We must resist becoming accustomed to the fact that Jews are suffering. The sheer volume of Jewish suffering must not be allowed to blur or dull the compassion we feel for each individual Jew. On the contrary, our heart must all but dissolve, God forbid, from the bitter pain.


  1. Unbearable Suffering (Aish Kodesh on Ki Tavo, 9/13/1941)

“The Egyptians were cruel to us, making us suffer and imposing harsh slavery on us. We cried to God, God of our ancestors, and He heard our voice, saw our suffering, our harsh labor, and our distress.” (Deut. 26:6-7)

We need to understand why our sages [in the midrash quoted in the haggadah] interpret each of the latter phrases — “our suffering,”  “our harsh labor,” and “our distress,” — while ignoring the beginning, “The Egyptians were cruel to us, making us suffer and imposing harsh slavery on us.”

We see now, in our present situation, that we have become numb to each pain and sorrow. We used to experience every hurt, however small.   But if we were to feel now all the pain inherent in each tragic situation with the degree of emotion and anguish that we once felt, it would not be possible to exist for even one day. The straightforward explanation for this is, as the Rabbis say in the Talmud (Shabbat 13b): “The dead flesh of a living person does not feel the knife.” The only thing we feel is that our selfhood is trampled; the world has turned dark for us; there is no day, no night, just turmoil and confusion. It seems as if the whole world lies upon us, pressing down and crushing, to the breaking point, so that we do not feel the particularity of each tragedy or the degree of its pain.

The sages did not interpret the first part of the text, “The Egyptians were cruel to us,” with a detailed breakdown of their cruelty, because the Israelites did not experience each harsh decree individually. Still, the Holy One of Blessing heard our voice and saw the smallest detail of every torment. Then God had mercy and saved us.

  1. Overcoming Despair (Aish Kodesh on Parashat Zachor, 2/28/42)

We have always had the task of self-control with respect to overcoming desires and the inclination to do evil, as stated in the rabbinic teaching: “Who is strong? One who subdues his evil inclination.” But now, a new mode of divine service has been given us: controlling ourselves, overcoming depression and a broken spirit, finding our strength in God. This is indeed very difficult, because the sufferings are beyond endurance, may God have mercy! But at a time when many Jews are being burned alive for God’s sake, and are killed and slaughtered just because they are Jews, then we too must, at a minimum, stand firm in this trial. With the very same selflessness that they display, we too must conquer ourselves and find strength in God.

  1. Letter to the Front, VII (1944) - Muriel Rukeyser

To be a Jew in the twentieth century
Is to be offered a gift. If you refuse,
Wishing to be invisible, you choose
Death of the spirit, the stone insanity.
Accepting, take full life. Full agonies:
Your evening deep in labyrinthine blood
Of those who resist, fail, and resist; and God
Reduced to a hostage among hostages.

The gift is torment. Not alone the still
Torture, isolation; or torture of the flesh.
That may come also. But the accepting wish,
The whole and fertile spirit as guarantee
For every human freedom, suffering to be free,
Daring to live for the impossible.

Shabbat morning Torah study: Zachor

Text study for Shabbat morning, March 12


I'm attaching a text study sheet for Shabbat Zachor, which falls the Shabbat before Purim every year. We'll be discussing this at services Saturday morning, and I wanted to make it available to those joining us via livestream. Shabbat shalom!

Downloadable PDF: amalek text study for shabbat zachor.pdf

Amalek: Out There, or In Here? A Text Study for Shabbat Zakhor

The Shabbat before the holiday of Purim is known as Shabbat Zakhor (“Remember!”). We read an additional Torah passage (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) recalling Amalek, a genocidal enemy from our distant past who is both the spiritual and physical ancestor of Haman, the villain of the Purim story.

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt — how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the LORD your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

The notion of Amalek as a symbol of an eternal murderous enemy is a powerful one. But as the following text study illustrates, not all enemies are external. We explore two different conceptions of Amalek across the centuries. While one strand of interpretation focuses on Amalek “out there” as the embodiment of murderous antisemitic foes, another sees Amalek as manifesting “in here”, as an insidious societal and personal quality of selfishness and indifference toward the disadvantaged: an internal “enemy” that we must root out from our society and from our own impulses.

On this Shabbat Zakhor, our society and our world grapple with both kind of enemies: we are confronted both by violent extremism driven by hatred, and by the devastating impact of the pandemic on vulnerable communities. May we clearly see the challenges before us, remember the values embodied in this week’s teachings, and be moved to action.

Out There?

1. Rashi on Deuteronomy 25:19

“blot out the memory”: Every man and every woman, every babe and every suckling, every ox and every sheep. The memory of Amalek cannot be said to survive even in an animal, such that someone could say, ‘This animal once belonged to an Amalekite.’

2. Midrash Tanchuma Buber, Ki Teitzei 18:3

R. Levi said in the name of R. Hama bar Hanina: The Name of God will not be complete and the throne of Adonai will not be whole as long as Amalek’s seed remains in the world. Only after the seed of Amalek is blotted out from the world will the throne of Adonai be whole and the Name of God complete.

3. Mishneh Torah, Kings and Wars 5:4-5 (Maimonides)

“It is a positive commandment to destroy the seven Canaanite nations.” — Deut. 20:17

If one does not kill any of them that falls into one’s power, one transgresses a negative commandment. But their zecher (memory/identity) has long since perished. [since Sennecherib’s conquests intermixed all the nations by 586 BCE - cf. Tosefta Kiddushin 5:6. The implication is that this commandment has had no real-world force since that time.]

4. Me’am Loez on Ki Teitzei

But you should know that in every generation it is Amalek that rises to destroy us, and each time he clothes himself in a different nation.

5.  Leon Wieseltier, “Hitler is Dead” (The New Republic, 5/27/02)

All violence is not like all other violence. Every Jewish death is not like every other Jewish death. To believe otherwise is to revive the old typological thinking about Jewish history, according to which every enemy of the Jews is the same enemy, and there is only one war, and it is a war against extinction, and it is a timeless war… It is ahistorical thinking. It obscures and obliterates all the differences between historical circumstances in favor of a gross, immutable, edifying similarity. It is an insufficiently worldly way to judge the world… A historiosophy is not a strategy. Is Hamas Amalek? I have no idea. Also I do not care. It is bad enough that Hamas is Hamas. (Was Hitler Amalek? No, he was worse.) Anyway, Amalek is not all that justifies the use of force. But the important point is that Amalek justifies nothing but the use of force. There is no other solution to the Amalek problem. It is a view of history that provides no foundation for… restraint, and sometimes restraint is the intelligent policy.


In Here?

5. Kedushat Levi, Exodus, Homily for Purim 1 (R. Levi Yitzvhak of Berdichev)

Not only are Jews commanded to wipe out Amalek, who is the descendant of Esau, but each Jew has to wipe out that negative part that is called Amalek hidden in his or her heart. So long as the descendants of Amalek are in the world – and since each of us is also a small world, when the power of evil in each of us arises [that which leads us to sin], Amalek is still in the world – the reminder [to wipe out Amalek] calls out from the Torah.

6.  R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, Germany, c. 1860

Do not forget - Do not forget this thing, if the day comes and you will want to become like Amalek, and, like Amalek, you fail to recognize your obligation and do not know God — and rather, you only seek opportunities, in matters small or great, to exploit your advantage in order to harm your fellows.  Do not forget this if the day comes and you ask to relieve your heart of its role and its mission as Israel that you have taken upon yourself amongst humanity.  Do not envy the laurels which a foolish world throws to those happy with having destroyed the happiness of others.  Remember the tear-soaked soil which nurtures the laurels of those wreaths…Keep standing straight!  Preserve the humanity and values of justice that you learned from your God.  The future belongs to them, and in the end humanity and justice will overcome coarseness and violence.  You yourself were sent in order to announce and to bring near – with your very example – that overcoming and that future.  Do not forget – and in order that you not forget, remember from time to time, renew in your heart the memory of Amalek and what you have been told of its future.

7. Itturei Torah

Had the children of Israel not forgotten about the slower ones in back but instead, brought them closer under the protecting wings of God’s Presence, binding the slower to all of Israel, the Amalekites would not have succeeded in their attack. But because you allowed the slower ones to be aharekha (meaning both “behind you” and “other”), because you separated them off from you and made them “other”, forgetting [them],  Amalek could viciously attack them. Therefore, the Torah tells us to remember Amalek, so that we never forget to bring our brothers and sisters who need special attention into our midst.

8. Darash Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein)

In my humble opinion, the point of this mitzvah is to remind us now that it is possible for any creature of flesh and blood to become as wicked as Amalek…that each of us, however great our spiritual accomplishments, must worry that we ourselves might be tricked into committing the most serious sins… even those that everyone considers to be the worst.