This week’s Torah portion, Parashat B’shalach, is read on Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song. Music is highlighted on this particular Shabbat: In this portion, the prophetess Miriam leads the other women in playing their timbrels, and the accompanying Haftarah reading features the Song of Deborah. Rabbi Rick Jacobs discusses these texts and remembers Debbie Friedman z”l, the legendary Jewish songwriter, as her yahrzeit approaches. He shares his personal memories of Debbie, paying tribute to her profound gifts and their lasting effect on the Jewish world.
In Parashat Bo, we learn about the last three of the plagues that are visited upon the Pharaoh of Egypt. Rabbi Rick Jacobs focuses on the plague of darkness, and examines how the translations of the ancient Hebrew by Robert Alter allow us to glean new meanings from this portion.
In the opening lines of this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Va-eira of the Book of Exodus, Moses meets God for the first time. Rabbi Rick Jacobs points out the specific name God uses, and discusses the many different ways God is named and described throughout the Torah and other texts, and what hints they give us to understand the elusive nature of God.
The first portion of the Book of Exodus, Parashat Sh’mot, introduces the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob. Citing other Jewish texts as well as examples throughout Jewish history that highlight the significance and pride associated with names, Rabbi Rick Jacobs considers why some people keep their Jewish names, and others change them.
Parashat Vay’chi is the last portion in the book of Genesis, so Rabbi Rick Jacobs takes this opportunity to discuss some of the larger themes from this first book of the Torah that resonate with us today: the defining story of “audacious hospitality”; the challenges of engaging the next generation in Jewish life; the opportunities to encounter holiness that can happen at any moment in our lives; the inherently Jewish value of social justice; our deep connection to the land of Israel; and much more.
In Parashat Vayigash, Joseph, now a high-ranking Egyptian leader, finally reunites with the brothers who sold him into slavery. The moment where Joseph reveals himself has been a dramatic analog in the history of Jewish/Catholic relations. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs describes some major events in the history of Jewish/Catholic relations, and his own relationship with the Catholic Church.
Parashat Mikeitz is the second parashah in the Joseph cycle, which is remarkable for many reasons—one of which being it’s biggest missing character: God. God is almost absent from Joseph’s story, at least in predictable ways, which might be why it agrees well with today’s Jewish experience. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs discusses different forms of religiosity, and how identifying as religious might not be so different from identifying as secular or cultural.
In Parashat Vayeishev, Joseph is asked by his father to go check on the “shalom”—the peace, or wholeness—of his brothers. Those familiar with Joseph’s story know that he had differences with his brothers even though they had the familial connection. We’re all part of something larger—the world, an age cohort, maybe the Jewish community—and at times, we have major differences with those in our communities. Should we always look for commonalities? Rabbi Jacobs gives his take in the episode of On the Other Hand.
In Parashat Vayishlach, Jacob has a transformative night encounter where he wrestles somebody—but who? Is it a guardian angel, an actual adversary, his conscience, or something else? Rabbi Jacobs talks through his theory, and what we can learn from wrestling—and from hugging—in this episode of On the Other Hand.
In Parashat Vayeitzei, Jacob leaves Beersheba and sets out on a journey full of potential danger and panic. Reading this parashah only a few weeks after the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, it especially resonates this year. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs discusses what the Jewish community can learn from Jacob’s journey in our own time.
Parashat Tol’dot tells the story of Esau and Jacob—two archetypes. Most people have a little bit of Esau and Jacob in them, even though Esau hasn’t historically been an honored typology in Jewish life. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs walks us through some prominent Jewish figures who have a little Jacob and Esau in them, and why Esau deserves a little more love.
In Parashat Chayei Sarah, Eliezer sets off on a journey to find a wife for Isaac. Of course, because Isaac is part of the first Jewish family, Eliezer knows that the wife he finds for Isaac might not be Jewish—and that isn’t in conflict with a strong Jewish future. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs discusses why the Reform Movement is committed to inclusion and acceptance.
In Parashat Vayeira, Abraham defines Jewish leadership by challenging the powers that be. To discuss this important Parashah, and what it means to be a Jewish leader in the fight for justice, Rabbi Jacobs is joined by Ruth Messinger, the global ambassador for the American Jewish World Service and social justice advocate with JTS and the Marlene Meyerson JCC in Manhattan.
In Parashat Lech L’cha, Abraham shows what it means to be a Jewish leader of depth, courage, and generosity. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs shares lessons that he’s learned from Abraham’s generosity, and tells a story of modern-day generosity that embodies Abraham’s behavior.
An hour and a half outside Lousville, Kentucky is a sort-of biblical Disneyland that features a replica of Noah’s ark. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs discusses Parashat Noach, why he has chosen not to visit, and why there is truth in Torah even if it’s not literally true.
Parashat B’reishit includes the story of Adam and Eve. It’s a problematic story—one that can define women as subservient, with negative qualities. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs discusses the parts of the Torah that don’t teach the best lessons about gender equality, and where we should look instead.
This week we celebrate Sukkot, the holiday where we take a break from the intensity of the High Holidays and put our hands into the Earth. In thinking about Sukkot, Rabbi Jacobs remembers A.D. Gordon, a pioneer of modern Israel and Judaism who reinvented what it means to be deeply committed to Jewish tradition and ideals.
Parashat Haazinu is known as the Song of Moses—it’s beautiful, and many see it as poetry. Jewish liturgy is filled with poetry, because, as Rabbi Jacobs suggests, it’s one of the best ways to talk about God. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs discusses different poems that help us probe deeper into Judaism, and why they do.
Parashat Vayeilech comes toward the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, and Moses is facing the end of his life. In this episode of On the Other Hand, Rabbi Jacobs looks at the lives of two great leaders who have recently passed away: Senator John McCain and Rabbi Rachel Cowan.
Parashat Nitzavim features the phrase “choose life,” but what does it mean to choose life? One way of choosing life is by becoming an organ donor. Rabbi Jacobs discusses why this lifesaving choice is part of his Jewish values in this episode of On the Other Hand.
Mental illness affects many members of the Jewish community, and there are small things that everyone can do to make those affected by mental illness feel more whole and welcome. Rabbi Jacobs discusses mental illness in and out of the Jewish community, the words we use, and how it all relates to Parashat Ki Tavo, in this episode of On the Other Hand
Parashat Ki Teitzei includes a set of teachings about conducting war. But how can these teachings be applied today, when the state of the world and the way war is conducted have changed so drastically? Rabbi Rick Jacobs explores this question in this episode of On the Other Hand.
This week, for Parashat Shof’tim, Rabbi Jacobs is joined by Dahlia Lithwick, who hosts the podcast Amicus and writes about the courts and the law for Slate. They discuss Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, what the justice system looks like today in the U.S. and Israel, and what the American justice system might look like in the future.
Parashat R’eih includes two important statements about poverty. The first, “there shall be no needy among you,” addresses the core Jewish value that we should live in a society where everybody has the means they need to live. The second phrase, “there will never cease to be needy ones in your land,” acknowledges that no matter what, poverty will never be completely eradicated. How do these two ideas serve each other? Rabbi Rick Jacobs gives his take in this episode of On the Other Hand.
Parashat Eikev contains the second paragraph of the Sh'ma, which is no longer read in many Reform communities. Rabbi Jacobs explains why in this episode of On the Other Hand, and explores the question: Do good things happen to people because of their obedience to sacred teachings?