Parashat D’varim is the first portion of the Book of Deuteronomy, and this year it is read just before Tishah B’Av – a day that, throughout Jewish history, has been one of tragedy and destruction. What does it mean that so many horrible events have taken place on this one particular day? Rabbi Rick Jacobs explores this question in this week’s episode of On the Other Hand.
The double parashah of Matot-Mas’ei introduces the concept of cities of refuge. Today, as American lawmakers are using the bible as justification for the mistreatment of people who are seeking refuge, there is a lot to learn from Parashiyot Matot-Mas’ei. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs discusses what the Torah can teach us about welcome refugees.
Parashat Pinchas is an intense parashah, one with an act of religious extremism—and just because it’s in the Torah, doesn’t mean it should be taken at face value. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs discusses what we can learn from a Torah portion that goes in a different direction than what we believe today.
Parashat Balak’s accompanying Haftorah portion features the famous verse: “God has told you what is good and what the Eternal requires of you only to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” For many, if you wanted to distill Jewish tradition into one verse, this would be it. Specifically, what does this passage mean for Jewish people today? Rabbi Jacobs explains in this episode of On the Other Hand.
Parashat Chukat, we learn of the passing of two of the most inspired biblical teachers: Miriam and Aaron. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs honors the life of Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., z”l, who, like the biblical Aaron, was a remarkable leader. Rabbi Jacobs reflects on a few of the texts that speak to who Rabbi Panken was, and what made him such a great leader.
Korach, Moses’s cousin, proves to be a certain kind of leader: one who cares more about himself than the people he is leading. What can we learn from Parashat Korach today? Rabbi Jacobs gives his take in this episode of On the Other Hand: 10 Minutes of Torah.
Parashat Sh’lach L’cha, the Jewish people are wandering the desert and doubting that they’ll ever make it to the promised land. So, they send 12 spies ahead to scout the land and report back. The spies come back with different takes—10 aren’t so sure the land will provide a comfortable home, but two return with excitement. Is their positive outlook a result of optimism or hope? Rabbi Jacobs gives his take on the difference between optimism and hope in this episode of On the Other Hand.
In Chapter 11 of Parashat B’haalot’cha, the Israelites are wandering through the desert, and they’re kvetching. They’re not happy about the cuisine, the amount of water, and everything they need to schlep. Even though most of us today aren’t tasked with wandering through the desert, we still find things to kvetch about. But what if, when we want to kvetch, we instead focus on building up our community? Rabbi Jacobs explores this question in this week’s episode of On the Other Hand.
This week, Rabbi Jacobs is joined by Rabbi Tom Gutherz and Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA. They discuss Parashat Naso, their experience at Shabbat services during the white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, the current state of Charlottesville, and what it means to fight for social justice with an interfaith community.
Parashat B’midbar is the first parashah in the Book of Numbers, and it’s called the Book of Numbers because it opens with a census. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs uses the occasion to think about contemporary numbers, including a few particular surveys that the Reform Movement has been part of, that give a new and exciting window into Jewish life.
Parashat B’har features an important teaching on environmental justice: that we are to be respectful of our land. Many Reform Jews express their respect for the environment with action, and many Reform congregations have gone zero-waste or are GreenFaith certified. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs discusses why it’s so important that we respect the environment, and shares some easy ways to do so.
Tucked at the very end of Parashat Emor we meet Shlomit bat Divri, the only woman whose name we learn in Leviticus. But, why do we learn her name and not others? In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Rick Jacobs discusses the theories of different commentators, including, surprisingly, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Parashat Acharei Mot/K’doshim includes the holiness code, which, among the holy obligations about relationships and holidays, includes business ethics. These ethics aren’t just for folks who work in business—these ethics apply to everyone, and are some of the most challenging obligations that the Torah gives. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Rick Jacobs discusses why it’s so important to consider ethics in every corner of life.
Parashat Tazria-M’tzora includes teachings about the ancient disease of leprosy and those who were lepers, people who were were cast out of their communities. Their illness wasn’t seen as a cause of biology, but as punishment for sin. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs describes how in many ways, the treatment of lepers in biblical times parallels the treatment of the Jewish people throughout time.
This year, we read Parashat Sh’mini, the same week that we observe Yom HaShoah. We’re still overcome with the extraordinary pain and loss of the Holocaust, and we ask: how do we commemorate? Rabbi Jacobs explores this question in this week’s episode of On the Other Hand.
Parashat Sh'mini details which foods are and are not kosher. And during Passover, there are even more rules to follow when it comes to food. What is there to gain from restricting what we eat? Rabbi Rick Jacobs gives his take in this episide of On the Other Hand.
It’s almost Passover! One thing that makes Passover special is where you celebrate it—in your home, at the home of a friend or family member, or at a community seder. Across all of these different sedarim and celebrations, people have their own traditions and their own adaptions. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Rick Jacobs discusses the new traditions and adaptations that he’s encountered which you may like too.
Parashat Tzav is the second portion in the Book of Leviticus, and it’s said in the midrash that a child’s Torah education should start with Leviticus. So, while we read a book that is for our youngest leaders, let us follow our youngest leaders: those who are fighting against gun violence. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs stresses the importance of fighting alongside, and for, our children.
Parashat Vayikra is the first portion of the Book of Leviticus. Vayikra describes a lot that might not directly resonate with modern spiritual life, but it still offers much for us to think about. What’s the point of these parashiyot that don’t apply to our daily lives? Rabbi Rick Jacobs gives his answer in this episode of On the Other Hand.
Michael Arad, the visionary architect who designed New York’s National 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, joins Rabbi Rick Jacobs in this episode of On the Other Hand. They discuss the double portion of Vayak’heil-P’kudei, what it means when a space fosters community, and Arad’s design for a pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall.
Parashat Ki Tisa features what is arguably one of Judaism’s most powerful teachings: no matter how busy you are, and no matter how important the task at hand is, you must rest. In this episode, Rabbi Rick Jacobs discusses the power and importance of Shabbat, and what Shabbat looks like for Reform Jews today.
Parashat T’tzaveh goes into detail about the ritual garments and dress of the ancient high priests. In almost every religious community, the leaders wear distinctive garments that make their roles clear in their respective communities. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs wonders whether those who wear these garments are the only spiritual leaders in their communities, and shares a touching story about one of his own unexpected spiritual leaders.
In Parashat T'rumah, God asks the Israelites for gifts and there are so many different ways and reasons that people give - but is there a best way? Rabbi Rick Jacobs discusses different perspectives on giving in this episode of On the Other Hand.
Near the end of Parashat Mishpatim, God tells Moses to go to the mountain, and to “be there.” Why would God tell Moses to “be there” after already telling him exactly where to be? In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Rick Jacobs poses the idea that God wants to make sure Moses is spiritually, emotionally, and mentally present—and that being present in that way is just as important for all of us today as it was for Moses.
In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs talks with Rabbi Judy Schindler. They discuss Parashat Yitro, expanding the tent of Jewish life, the legacy passed down by her father, social justice activism, and Rabbi Schindler's book Recharging Judaism. Rabbi Schindler is the Sklut Professor of Jewish Studies and Director of the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University of Charlotte and Rabbi Emerita at Temple Beth El in Charlotte, North Carolina.