This week's Torah portion, Parashat Tzav, is read around Purim, a story of mythic (and even improbable) proportions that remains enduringly relevant to Jewish Diaspora life and anti-Jewish persecution throughout the centuries. Rabbi Rick Jacobs talks about how sometimes, just like Esther, we are called upon to make risky, dangerous, and courageous choices.
This parashah introduces many laws and rituals that might seem irrelevant to our modern lives, but what do these laws teach us? How do we bring them into our lives? A.J. Jacobs, acclaimed author of The Year of Living Biblically and Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey joins Rabbi Rick Jacobs to discuss the roles of laws, rituals, and gratitude in our lives.
Art exists beyond the binary of rational and irrational. Art has the ability to reshape our perspectives on our world - which is precisely why great artists have designed synagogues, museums, and other sacred spaces - including... the mishkan, the Israelite's portable ark
Constructing the Miskhan brings us to ask - how can we build our communities? What do we need besides a synagogue space in order to engender a communal environment? Even something as simple as seating makes all the difference.
Stand up and be counted! In this parashah, a census is taken. To be counted, you must give half a shekel. From this, we learn that while all must contribute to the community, each and every one of us is also individually important, both alone and as a member of the Jewish people. Rabbi Rick Jacobs focuses on this message, specifically discussing the importance of the diversity of the Jewish community.
Parashat T'tzaveh goes into the elaborate sacred garments worn by kohanim, the priestly class. Ritual and sacred garb in faith communities - Jewish as well as other faiths - can be a source of identity and inspiration, as well as a link to our shared past. But sometimes, the rules and restrictions of religious garb can clash with expectations and experiences in modern life. Rabbi Rick Jacobs asks us to consider: what is it we wear that expresses who we are?
Parashat T'rumah describes building a mishkan, a sacred space, and the first central praying place in Jewish life. People were asked to give both their skills and their material possessions to build it, and together they created something both beautiful and portable. Rabbi Rick Jacobs asks us to consider: how do we learn how to build our own sacred spaces? What makes a space sacred? How do we balance the tensions between a modest, spiritual space and humbling grandeur? How do we define the heart of a community? How do we define what's real?
Parashat Mishpatim presents a full catalog of laws, rituals, observance, and obligations that guide us in living a Jewish life of moral depth and courage. But, Rabbi Rick Jacobs asks, how do we, as liberal Jews regard these laws – which of them are we obligated to observe, and how? And how do we apply these teachings to urgent issues we face in today’s world?
This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Yitro, is named for the Midianite Priest, Jethro, and depicts his first encounter with Moses in the desert. The two forge a relationship despite their different faiths and ethnicities, and Moses ends up marrying his daughter, Tziporah. Rabbi Rick Jacobs recounts theirs as well as other interreligious relationships that are depicted in Jewish texts, and he asks us, what can we do to break down ethnic (and other) labels, and build even deeper connections.
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.