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
Hasket, which translates to silence or stillness, is a word that appears in the Torah only once, during this week's Parasha, Ki Tavo. With the High Holidays coming up, setting aside time for silence or stillness can be difficult, but it can offer a unique form of spiritual centering. Still, while silence can be positively powerful this close to the High Holidays, silence can also be dangerous. Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss the power of silence and stillness, and how we know when they are appropriate.
Ki Teitzei translates to “when you go out,” but it doesn’t mean going out to dinner or the movies. The full phrase, Ki teitzei l’milchamah, translates to “when you go out to war.” The Torah recognizes that there is an inevitability to war, and because of that, there must be certain moral boundaries and ethical requirements in the ways that we fight. This week, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, examines Parashat Ki Teitzei and what it means to fight a war with strength and humility.
At the core of being Jewish is a fundamental demand for justice. Demanding justice involves asking others to work toward a more just world, but it also involves asking ourselves to do that work. In Parashat Shof’tim, we are introduced to the three-word phrase that has inspired bookshelves of scholarship and controversy: “tzedek, tzedek, tirdof.” In English, the phrase translates to “justice, justice, you shall pursue.” Why would this simple, short phrase incite such controversy? Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss the controversy, the significance of the repetition of the word tzedek, and more.
In life, we are often tasked with a blessing and a curse. In Parashat R’eih, we are reminded to always look at the blessings and the curses in front of us. Chapter four of Parashat R’eih, commands us, “there shall be no needy among you,” only a few verses before it tells us, “and there will never cease to be poor ones in your land.” Being deeply responsible for eradicating poverty is a fundamental commitment of our Jewish tradition, but how can one fully eradicate poverty? Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss what it means to accept responsibility for the hungry and poor in our midst.
It’s natural for people who have much more than what they need to spend time thinking about the things that they do not have, rather than being thankful. In many of our lives, there is an extremely prominent divide between those who have more than they need, and those who struggle. In Parashat Eikev, Rabbi Rick Jacobs highlights the divide between what we are entitled to and what we take for granted each day. How do we give spiritual meaning to what we do have rather than focusing on what we could have had?
Ten is an important number in Jewish tradition, and in this parashah we read the second telling of the Ten Commandments. Though many consider the essence of Judaism to be the Ten Commandments, they aren’t necessarily the most important of the 613 commandments. More important than being able to recite the Ten Commandments from memory is embodying the essence of those commandments and practicing them. God tells Moses, “Go up on the high place and raise your gaze, look out,” challenging him to look up from his everyday tasks and see beyond the present moment to the future. We can all be inspired by that challenge, and look towards a future where each of us can distill Judaism into its essence, perhaps the way Micah taught: “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss Parashat Va-et’chanan.
Parashat D’varim, the opening portion of Deuteronomy, encourages us as individuals, congregations, and communities to avoid getting stuck in one way of thinking. Though there is comfort in the familiar, sticking to the status quo inhibits innovation. Remember that, without innovation and risk-taking in our Reform Movement, there would be no URJ camps or women rabbis. This week, we are encouraged to appreciate how far we’ve come, and all we’ve done in our given spaces, but to also take a step forward into the future. Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss Parashat D'varim.
You have probably heard the saying that life is a journey and not a destination, but what exactly does that mean? Wherever we go in life, we are constantly meeting new people, experiencing new things, and exploring new places. Even if something seems like a destination, like landing a new job or moving, people constantly learn and grow from the experiences that they have in any given place. Parashat Matot Ma-sei reminds us to journey forth, journey far, and journey deeply through life, and that the masa (journey), and not the destination, is home. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discusses the importance of changing environments and making new connections to achieve clarity in life.
In this week’s Torah portion, we read the story of Pinchas who kills an Israelite out of zealous belief. There are many who equate “people of faith” with zealotry, doing anything to ensure the continuation of a religion or peoplehood. But how can we turn that definition around to the idea that "people of faith" are good, kind, caring people who tend to their community? We should not let religion be hijacked by zealots – not in the bible, and not today. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, examines Parashat Pinchas.
Parashat Balak teaches us to draw strength and inspiration from everyone around us. We read the story of how the Moabite King Balak tried, and failed, to destroy the Jewish people with the help of his sorcerer Balaam. How does a curse become a blessing? This week, Rabbi Rick Jacobs highlights how we can welcome all types of people into the family of Judaism, whether they were born into it or not.
In Judaism, mayim, or water, is not only crucial to sustaining life, but it is also a symbol of wisdom and Torah. Parashat Chukat addresses the thirst that the Jews have while wandering the desert after Miriam the prophet dies, which also represents the yearning for the wisdom and nourishment that Miriam provided. The Jewish people are thirsty and eager to drink from the well of tradition. Rabbi Rick Jacobs discusses Parashat Chukat, the Torah portion read on 7/16/16.
In Jewish history and culture, there has been no shortage of arguments; in fact, the entire Talmud is composed of arguments about some of the most important issues in history. In Parashat Korach, Korach is clearly upset and challenges authority – but why does he do this? Is he a rebel with a cause, or is he acting out with no clear intention? This week, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discusses the importance of intent behind leadership and fighting for a cause.
When faced with anxiety about the future, how can one persevere as a strong leader? How have we pushed people to the edges of our Jewish communities, and how do we gather them back? Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, explores Parashat Sh'lach L'cha.
Even with good intentions, when we talk about people who are not present, we run the risk of disparaging them, without giving them the opportunity to respond. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discusses one of the themes of Parashat B'haalot'cha: how the words we use affect ourselves and others.
Do we do things because they bring us meaning, or do things have meaning because we do them? Can your morning yoga class or walk through the park serve as a source of spiritual inspiration? Our personal choices, such as exercising, wearing jewelry with Jewish symbols and writings, or leading creative pursuits, can lead to a more meaningful life full of significant journeys and spiritual commitment. This week, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discusses the Torah portion Naso (read on 6/18/16), and teaches about the Nazarite oath.