Rabbi Wolpe - ADL Impressions




Sukkot – Acts of Love

The Talmudic sages enumerate three great miracles in the desert. First was the manna, which fed the wandering Israelites. Second was Miriam’s well that provided water. Third was the covering of clouds that offered shade in the scorching days. Although we usually think of the sukkah as the booths of harvest, one interpretation of the sukkah is that it commemorates the cloud covering in the desert. The Steipler Gaon (Rabbi and Scholar Yaakov Kanievsky) (1899-1985) asks an intriguing question and gives a beautiful answer. Why of all three desert miracles does only the cloud covering deserve a holiday? There is…

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Jewish Defibrillation

Human gestures are almost always ambiguous. A person whose hands are raised toward the sky could be praying, cheering, or the victim of a hold up. Without the context and the intention, one cannot know. So what does it mean when Jews beat our chests in the confessional of Yom Kippur? Is it self-punishment, an attempt through a long day to keep ourselves awake akin to slapping one’s own face, or perhaps, ritual theater? To me, it most resembles an attempt to jump start our hearts. Moving through the world each day we glide over the possibilities as well as…

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Nitzavim/Vayelech – Lost and Found

Many years ago, I listened to an interview with neuroscientist Colin Ellard, who wrote a book called You Are Here: Why We Can Find Our Way to the Moon, but Get Lost in the Mall. He explained that when we get lost, we tend to make two mistakes. First, we do not stop. Instead, we tend to speed up, often in the wrong direction. Panic induces us to undo the mistake, only to end up compounding it. On Yom Kippur, one of the confessions reads, “For the sins which we have committed by running to do evil.” I have often…

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Ki Tavo – The Past and the Promise

Imagine that each year at tax time you made a declaration recounting American history — the origins of the country, its battles, its failures, its triumphs. Finally, you concluded, “and therefore I bring these taxes to the government.” It is hard to envision Americans enacting such a ritual. Yet that is what the Torah prescribes in a passage made famous by its inclusion in the Passover Haggadah. As one brings first fruits to the Temple, which is indeed a tax, we read in Deut. 26: “You shall then recite as follows before your God: My father was a fugitive Aramean….

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Ki Tetze – Do Not Disappear

Perhaps the oldest magic trick is to make something disappear.  As an audience, we are astonished – how does anything suddenly vanish? The Torah reminds us that we perform this astounding bit of prestidigitation all the time, only we do it with ourselves.  Deuteronomy 22 teaches that when you see another’s oxen or sheep that is lost, you should not remain indifferent. In other words, the Torah takes people’s property seriously and speaks of the responsibility to help others regain what they have lost. Each of us has an obligation to care for the belongings of others.  Deeper than the civil legislation, however, is…

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Shoftim – The Secret of Rosenfeld

My brother Paul and I had a record of Bible songs when we were children. We listened to them constantly as we learned about biblical heroes, like the mighty King Rosenfeld, featured in the “Daniel” song: “Dan-Dan-Daniel, came out of Israel, looked on the Good Lord and prayed. Mighty King Rosenfeld, and honored Daniel…” Perhaps you have never heard of mighty King Rosenfeld. That makes sense. When we got a little older, we realized with hilarity and embarrassment that the lyric was “mighty kings rose and fell.” Rose and fell indeed. At a time of unlimited power for kings, the…

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Re’eh – Contradictions

In the space of seven verses, the Torah seems to contradict itself three times. First, we are told, “There shall be no needy among you” (15:4), then “If, however, there is a needy person among you” (15:7) and finally, “The needy will never disappear from the land,” (15:11) So, will there be needy or not, one or many, and why the confusion? We might follow the medieval commentator Nachmanides, the Ramban, who writes that while it is theoretically possible that the poor will cease to exist, it will not happen in practice. The Torah is wise about human nature. People…

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August 4, 2023

For those of you who missed Off the Pulpit – it is back in a new form. Each week, I will be writing 4-500 words on the Torah reading, the parasha, for the ADL, and we are sending to the Off the Pulpit list. I hope you enjoy! Best Wishes — Rabbi Wolpe Hate is generic, but hatreds are specific. Different kinds of prejudice play out in different ways, and the Jewish people have spent many centuries thinking about prejudice — and love — and how each flourishes in God’s world. When the CEO of ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt, asked me…

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