If you think about idolatry in the Torah, you might think about Parashat Ki Tisa, where in their restlessness, the Israelites built a golden calf. Many of us view idolatry as far from our contemporary Jewish sensibility, but is the sin of idol worship still alive in today’s Jewish world? Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, explores the difference between reverence and idolatry in this week’s episode of On the Other Hand.
In the opening of parashat T’tzaveh, the eternal light reminds us that as we construct our places of worship, we must honor our role as stewards of the earth, and offer a hospitality that allows all of us to participate with dignity. What makes our prayer spaces sacred? Rabbi Rick Jacobs suggests that being in the right relationship with the world around us is the starting foundation.
Parashat T’rumah presumes that we can ask people to donate and they will freely, lovingly, and generously give of themselves. What is the nature of generosity? Why are some people natural givers, while others are takers? Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism,raises questions about philanthropy and ideas about giving not just money, but of ourselves, and whether we can teach that behavior to others.
There’s a notable phrase in Parashat Mishpatim: “An eye for an eye.” Taken literally, this sentence makes it seem like valuing revenge as a substitute for justice is Jewish tradition. We know that’s not true, so what does “an eye for an eye” mean? Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism discuss what fairness means according to Jewish law.
In Parashat Yitro, Moses gains wisdom and insight from his father-in-law, Jethro. What Moses gains from Jethro changes the course of his leadership, and in turn, has an extraordinary effect on the Jewish people. But there's one important detail about Jethro that's important to mention: he's not Jewish. In this week's episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, talks to Evan Traylor, the URJ's first ever Presidential Fellow for Millennial Engagement. They discuss what it's like to grow up in an interfaith family, and why anyone who wants to be part of a community should be audaciously welcomed.
Did you know that instead of wandering in the desert for 40 years, the Israelites could have used a shortcut that would get them to their destination in only two weeks? But the decision to wander was an intentional one that lead to a deliberate, challenging, and critical journey. Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss Parashat B’shalach, and the journey of the Jewish people from Egypt to Canaan.
This week’s parashah, Bo, tells the story of the ten plagues that convinced Pharaoh to “let my people go.” It’s an important story, but it often makes people wonder whether God really sent these ten plagues to Egypt. Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, describe that it may not matter whether or not these ten plagues really happened, because there is truth to the story regardless.
Moses isn’t charismatic. He doesn’t see himself as a great leader—he’s modest, humble, and he doesn’t speak clearly. But God insists that he lead despite this, because God sees an even more important quality in him: his ability to care for others. When Moses sees mistreatment, he has to intervene, no matter what the consequence might be. Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss how Moses embodies the bedrock of our Jewish tradition in Parashat Va-eira, the Torah portion read on January 28, 2017.
This week we start a new book of the Torah, Sh’mot, or Exodus. The book opens with, “These are the names of the children of Israel,” but it’s misleading. We don’t actually go on to read the names of the children of Israel; we go on to only read the names of the boys. Sh’mot is a stunning moment where we are reminded that sexism dates back to biblical times. In this week’s On the Other Hand, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, takes the opportunity to remind us of the amazing women of Exodus, without whom there wouldn’t even be a Jewish people today.
Va-y’chi, the title of the last parashah of the book of Genesis, translates to “and he lived.” It’s an odd title for a parashah that details the death of Jacob and Joseph. But the thing about Jacob, Joseph, and many righteous people, is that their values and legacies continue to live on after they die. In this week’s On the Other Hand, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, tells us about those legacies, and more.
Do you ever wonder why Judaism is called Judaism? This week’s parashah, Vayigash, has an answer. This is the moment when Joseph and his brothers, including Judah, dramatically reconnect, and Judah demonstrates a deep caring for his people. Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, make the case for why we can all look to Judah for an important lesson in how we can come together, despite differences, in times of need.
Even though the miracle of the oil wasn’t an original part of the Hanukkah story, it has become one of the most enduring narratives in modern Judaism. Even when things seem dark, during Hanukkah we provide a growing light that goes out into the world, overcoming darkness and giving us direction. In this week’s episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discusses the story of Hanukkah, and why it’s fitting that it falls during this week of Parashat Mikeitz.
Parashat Vayeishev is the first of four parashiyot that outline the story of Joseph. Perhaps more interesting than Joseph in this story, however, is the unnamed character who points Joseph in the direction that ends up defining the story of the Jewish people. Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, question what it means to really be in somebody’s life, and the kind of impact that we all can have without even realizing it.
Have you ever dreaded seeing a friend or family member that you don’t get along with, only to end up having a positive experience? After twenty years away from home, Jacob dreads his reunion with Esau, but our text teaches the two end up embracing and healing their tumultuous relationship. What can we learn from the story of Jacob and Esau? Find out from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, on this week’s On the Other Hand. (Read the transcript.)
Rabbi Israel Salanter wrote that it’s easier to learn the entire Talmud than to change one character trait in ourselves. Even Jacob, when he dreams of the ladder that connects heaven and Earth, is still on his path of growth and awakening. Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss how we can see ourselves in Jacob, and how we, like him, can become our best selves.
Many of us know the story of Jacob and Esau, the brothers who could not be more different from one another. But what do these brothers have to teach us about reimagining our Jewish present and a new Jewish future? in this week’s On the Other Hand, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, puts the story into a new perspective as he teaches about Parashat Tol'dot.
Translated, Chayei Sarah means “the life of Sarah.” It’s an odd title for a parashah that opens with Sarah’s death, but even though this parashah doesn’t detail Sarah’s life, it does teach us about the kind of life she lived. Rashi tells us that in Sarah’s 127 years of living, all of her years were equally good. We know that Sarah lived with immense heartbreak, but she still saw the blessings in all of her days. Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss what it means for all of our years to be equally good.
Parashat Vayeira starts with a cliffhanger. We’re told that God appeared before Abraham, but that’s it—we never find out where God appears or what God says. Instead, we get three desert wanderers, who have important news for Abraham. So, where is God in this story? Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discusses where God may have been, and where God could be now.
Parashat Lech L’cha tells us the story of the very beginning of Jewish history, when God says to Abraham and Sarah that they are to “go forth” and begin the story of Jewish commitment. We learn a lot about the first Jews from this parashah, but perhaps one of the most important lessons is about what it means to be a hero. Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss the part of the story that is too often skipped over, and what we have to learn from it.
Almost everybody knows the story of Noach. God tells Noach that there is going to be a flood that will destroy all living things, and it’s up to Noach to build an ark in order to save his family and repopulate the Earth. But how many of us have looked deeper into the story, and noticed those details that may not jump out at first look? Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discusses those details that often get left out of the story, and even tells us how those details relate to our current US election.
This week we enter the beginning of a brand new cycle of Torah reading with a parashah that has become controversial in today’s political climate: B’reishit (in the beginning). The creation of the world is described beautifully and poetically in the Torah, but in our world where we’re always trying to figure out what’s true and what’s false, people seem to get stuck on this first portion of Genesis. Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, describe his interpretation of B’reishit, and the difference between factual and moral truth.
Five days after Yom Kippur, we turn our gaze out to the world around us and take notice of the harvest season. Sukkot is a holiday that teaches us to appreciate what we have, while reminding us that life is fragile. Just like a sukkah, everything is fleeting, and everything is temporary. Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss how Sukkot reminds us to have empathy for those who are in need, and to enjoy life.
Parashat Haazinu includes the word tzur, or rock, eight times. But in this case, tzur isn’t referring to just any rock; it’s referring to God, as the rock of Israel. Sometimes, a rock can have a positive connotation, like our friends that are always there for us. But other times, it can signify something that’s cold, unfeeling, and unbending. What can be understood about these conflicting implications of a rock when we’re talking about God and the High Holidays? Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discusses Parashat Haazinu, and tzur yisrael, God as the rock of Israel.
Parashat Vayeilech is read between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a time of transition for all of us. We've brought in the new year with hopes, prayers, and the shofar, and we look toward Yom Kippur, where we are tasked with letting go of the last year and moving forward. Letting go and coming to terms with change can be difficult. What does the Torah teach us about how to move on? Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss Parashat Vayeilech and the sacred art of letting go.
At the beginning of Parashat Nitzavim, we hear the phrase, "Today you are all standing." This phrase isn't referring to people simply standing, it means that the Jewish people stood together and entered into a Covenant, affirming the things that matter most. But, what are the things that matter most today? Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss Parashat Nitzavim, and what it means to continue the Covenant.
See also: The Reform Movement's call to action: Nitzavim: Standing Up for Voter Protection and Participation