Rabbi Wolpe - ADL Impressions


2024  |  2023


A Passover Reading

Blessed are You O Lord our God, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to eat bitter herbs. We sit in ease at the Seder table and eat bitter herbs to recall the hardships of our ancestors and the ordeals of those who still suffer. We cannot forget the images of our brothers and sisters who are hostages, in cruel captivity; those families who sit at the seder in bitter anguish wondering about the fate of those whom they love; families who sit at the table that is not full, for loved ones killed in battle, injured…

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Metsorah – Passover Then and Now

Throughout Jewish history, the Passover has operated on two levels of time. The Haggadah recounts the past, the story of both the Exodus and the Talmudic Rabbis who expound on it. The words make all of the ideas come alive for the participants: slavery, freedom, study, storytelling, song, and symbol. Passover is quintessentially a celebration of the events of the Jewish past. At the same time, the Passover is about the present. In medieval times, Jews felt their predicament as parallel to their ancestors, and the despotism and persecution with which they lived lent power to the tales of the…

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Tazria – Appearance and Reality

This week’s Torah portion describes an uninspired procedure – the Priest examining an afflicted person’s skin disease. Yet it contains an essential truth about life, and a critique of our word. In Leviticus 13:3, the Priest is deciding if the skin lesion denotes an impurity. One of the criteria is if “it is more than skin deep.” In other words – are we dealing with something that goes beyond the appearance and touches the character of the person? The Torah is not fixated on appearances. Strange as it seems, for most of the major figures of the bible, we have…

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Shmini – The Art of Beginning Again

In Leviticus, Aaron is ordained as the High Priest. This week we are told (Leviticus 9:1): “On the eighth day, Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel.” Why was the eighth day chosen? Eight is a time for renewal. Seven represents fullness, completeness. There are seven days to creation, seven days to a week. Then comes the eighth. When a male is born in Judaism, after a week the brit milah signifies a new beginning as one ushered into the covenant of Israel. Conversely, when someone passes away, the mourners sit shiva, literally seven, before they…

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Tzav – Turning Despair to Hope

Anyone familiar with a Jewish wedding has to be shocked by the reading from this week’s haftorah. The prophet Jeremiah declares bleakly to the people in God’s name: “Then will I silence, in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of joy and gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the bride: for the land shall be desolate (7:34).” Jeremiah’s words made sense in his time. He lived in a tumultuous age when the Assyrian empire declined and the Babylonians arose. Israel was defeated by the Babylonians and went weeping into exile. There was no joy…

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Purim – Finally Taking Off Our Masks

Purim is a holiday of masks. A mask doesn’t fully change you, but it obscures identity, distorting who you are. The boy who dresses as Mordechai can act old and wise, but everyone recognizes him as a boy playing a role; the girl who dresses as Esther can play at being bold, heroic, and a queen, but everyone knows she is still a little girl. There are many reasons why Purim is associated with masks, but surely a deep meaning is that it is a diaspora holiday. Purim takes place in ancient Shoushan, Persia. The plot revolves around Haman, who…

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Pekuday – Stops and Starts

At the very end of the book of Exodus, we read that a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night led the Israelites “in all their encampments.” The word for “encampments” is Masa, which refers to travel as well. Rashi, the great medieval commentator, says that an encampment is also a journey. In that profound observation, we learn something about Jewish history and about life. Jewish history demonstrates that every stop along the way before the land of Israel is temporary. Since the destruction of the Temple and the exile thousands of years ago, Jews have prayed…

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Vayakhel – Never is Now

In our parasha for the very first time, Moses calls the people together. He does not do so in the face of Amalek or another enemy. War is not Moses’s method of unity. Rather, he calls upon all of Israel and starts to tell them of Shabbat and of donating to the Tabernacle. The ideal of gathering in Judaism is to do it for joy – to celebrate, to worship, or simply to feel the glow of another’s presence. But over the centuries Jews have also gathered for solidarity. In an often hostile world, rather than dissipating and leaving one…

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Ki Tissa – Why Break the Tablets?

Coming down from Sinai with the carved tablets from God, we can understand Moses’s anguish at witnessing the Israelites worship the golden calf. Still, it is hard to understand why Moses then takes the tablets and smashes them on the ground. One explanation among many offered is that it was pure rage. Once he saw the Israelites dancing about an idol, Moses could no longer contain himself. But this seems inadequate. Would Moses really allow anger alone to lead him to destroy the work of God, the most valuable single item in the history of the world? Was he that…

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Tetzaveh – Institutional Wonders

Prophets are dramatic. Everyone loves a prophet (so long as the prophet is not angry at them.) The prophetic voice is rich with indignation, laced with scorn and elevated by righteousness. By contrast, no one loves a bureaucrat. The person who files papers, insists on the correct manner of filling out forms, the one who draws lines and limits – it seems to bespeak a timidity of soul. Prophets are lone figures thundering from mountaintops. Bureaucrats are paper pushers who write bullet-pointed emails from the office. Of course this is a caricature. This week, however, we turn in the Torah…

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