Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Ki Tavo 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

The Teshuvah of Creating a Just Society

Posted on September 7, 2017

Our portion this week, Ki Tavo, gives us powerful commandments about how to live in society.  We are commanded to protect the rights of the impoverished, the widow, the immigrant, and the stranger among us.  We are to be honest in business, careful of the needs of the hungry and the homeless.  We are to create a society of ethical practice and moral concern.  We are to understand that a nation is judged by how it treats its weakest members.  We are told repeatedly that God knows and expects us to live to this covenant, uphold it, cherish it, make it our own.  And we are told of the blessings that will be ours if we can do this, and the curses we will bring on ourselves if we cannot.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Ki Tavo 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Ki Teitzei 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

The Value of Labor

Posted on August 31, 2017

A question: what are the most important laws?

Our weekly portion of Ki Teitzei in Deuteronomy obligates us to ask this question, for it is filled with an array of laws and ordinances affecting every aspect of life, 72 in all.  They range from rules limiting unorthodox ritual practice to rules limiting conduct in wartime, from personal morality to behavior in society.  Family laws are established concerning marriage, inheritance, and divorce.  Tort laws on damages are instituted, providing moral and financial responsibility for property owners.  Laws of kindness decree human decency in every area of life.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Ki Teitzei 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Shoftim 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

Justice Behind It All

Posted on August 24, 2017

This week’s portion, from Deuteronomy, is called Shoftim, judges.  It establishes a process for the administration of justice, and includes one of the most powerful statements in all religious, philosophical, or ethical tradition: tzedek, tzedek, tirdof, Justice, justice you shall pursue.

In the Torah, which has no kefel lashon, no extra words, a repetition of a word means that it has additional importance and power.  Here, the word for justice, tzedek is repeated, emphasizing that justice is extraordinarily significant.  We must be not only fair in life but truly just.

Even more than that, the Torah teaches that we must not only be just, but tirdof, pursue justice, chase after it, make it a goal for our own lives and our civilization.  It’s not enough to act well in a place where justice is not the norm; we must strive to change an unjust situation into a just one. 

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof—each of us must pursue true justice.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Shoftim 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Ekev 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

How Should We Live?

Posted on August 10, 2017

As a people, we Jews are good at many things: at kvetching, of course; at lashon hara, gossip, telling people things we shouldn’t; at eating.  Perhaps most importantly, we Jews are good at asking questions.

In fact, the greatest of all Jewish questions was asked in this week’s Torah portion of Ekev, the third sedrah in the Book of Deuteronomy.  It reads: 

V’atah, Yisrael, mah Adonai sho’eil mei’imach?, “And now, Israel, what does God ask of you?”

The passage in Ekev then answers this great question, “That you have awe of the Lord your God, and walk in all of God’s ways and love God, and serve the Lord your God will all your heart and all your soul.”

This big question—what does God ask of you?—and Ekev’s answer begin a series of statements in Jewish tradition, attempts to distill from our large moral storehouse just what the essence, the ikar of Jewish ethics really is.  What is it that God wants?  What is the true standard we need to uphold to be considered morally good?

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Ekev 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Va'etchanan 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

Listen = Love

Posted on August 3, 2017

You are all familiar with the most important text in this week’s Torah portion of Va’etchanan.  It might be the very first Hebrew words you ever learned: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad – Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.  Most commentary on the Shema focuses on the word Echad, One, the core idea of our belief in one God, monotheism itself.  But for me the most interesting word in the Shema is not the word Echad, “one”; no, the most interesting word in that seminal sentence is the very first word, Shema.

What does Shema mean?  Essentially, it means “listen” – or, since it is in the Tzivui, the command form of Hebrew, it means “Listen up!  Pay attention!  Hear what is about to be said.”   So why was it necessary to order the Israelite people to listen? 

Well, of course, if everyone was always listening we would never have to command that.  No one insists that people pay attention when they already are doing so. 

This is a verbal effort to grab the wandering focus of the Israelites and get them to hear what is about to be said.  Listen!  Pay attention!  This is important!  And with the Jewish people that is never an unnecessary summons.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Va'etchanan 5777

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