Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu-El

The Little Shul with the Big Heart

8339 Old York Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027
Phone: 215-635-1505 | Email:

Divrei Torah (Commentary Prepared by MBIEE Board Members)

   At the beginning of each monthly meeting, a Board member delivers a Dvar Torah  – a talk on the portion of the Torah read in our shul that week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 – Shelley Schwartz


      I try not to read the newspaper anymore.  I try not to listen to the evening news. Every day begets yet another tragedy.  On almost every day, another war, another devastation to mankind.  In all of this senselessness, where do we put our faith
     In his book Homo Deus, written by Yuval Noah Harari, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he writes that Humanism has gone array:  it has become its own religion which worships man’s intellect instead of G-d.  Humans, in search of perpetual happiness, sovereignty, eternity ….  turn into machine-like creatures to create eternal life.  Man conquers disease, and hunger, and moves towards immortality and power.  Man, no longer has meaning in life.  This evolution of supreme intelligence of Man uncouples itself from consciousness.  Man becomes algorhrthmic and in that sense— Man’s essence has been destroyed.  We are only data-driven and have lost what’s in our heart. We have lost Faith.   Man has become the equivalent of machines, as they have no heart.  But G-d is in our heart….  Consequently, In Harari’s book, he projects that in Mankind’s current course, G-d will be lost and all that will be left is AI (artificial intelligence).  Humanism and faith in G-d will cease to exist. 
     Tonight, in the secular calendar, it is January 16, 2019.  In our Hebrew Calendar, it is 10 Shevat 5779.  In the secular calendar, next Monday we acknowledge MLK day—a day of service to mankind and community—a rebirth of giving back.  In our religious calendar, next Monday we celebrate Tu B’Shevat which celebrates a symbolic tie to the land of Eretz Yisrael where it is Spring, the season of rebirth. 
     The planting of trees, particularly fruit trees resonates throughout our ancient Hebrew literature as in Deuteronomy (20:19-20) where G-d commands that the cities may be conquered and destroyed, but not the trees.  Or, in the Talmudic story of the Emperor Hadrian who meets an Elderly Jew planting a carob tree.  The Emperor questions the Jew stating that the man will never see the tree bear fruit as it takes 70 years to mature.  The elderly man replies: “my father performed the mitzvah of planting a carob tree whose fruit I have enjoyed.  As such, I will plant this carob tree for my children to enjoy”.   Traditions and rituals that we carry out are rooted in our rich Jewish past.  The future of Judaism depends on our performance of mitzvot and teaching our children the importance of it to our future generations.
     The 10th of Shevat, January 16, falls during Shabbat Bo and is followed by Shabbats B’Shallah and Yitro, all of which lead to the expulsion of the Jews from Egypt and the celebration of the Passover.  Taking snippets of each Shabbat gives relevance to the upcoming events both secular and religious.
     The parashah from Shabbat Bo introduces the last 3 plaques and culminates in the collective fleeing of the Israelites from Egypt.  It is in this parashah that G-d commanded that the Hebrew calendar be formed and that the Passover Seder be celebrated.  An interesting concept arising from theses commandments is that both are dependent on the phases of the moon.  Passover is celebrated on the 14 Nissan which is always a full moon; and of course, the Hebrew Calendar is in congruence with the phases of the moon.  The full moon is symbolic to our Sages of rebirth:  renewal:  commitment—a reaffirmation of Faith.  Faith in G-d, faith in the strength of our Jewish Community
     Next, parashah B’Shallah which is presented in poetry and song, the Haftarah by D’vorah and the Torah reading by Moses.  D’vorah’s song depicts the victory of the Israelites over the Canaanites—a portrayal of the power of G-d on behalf of his people, the Covenant.  The force of the Canaanites was a divine punishment to the Israelites for their defiance of Faith in G-d.  Only when faith is returned to G-d, can the Israelites conquer their enemy. 
     The Torah reading is highlighted by the parting of the Red Sea to allow the Israelites safe passage and ultimately the destruction of their enemy.  However, the seas would not part until the Israelites united in one voice with Moses thus proclaiming their Faith in God.  But not merely in G-d, but as it is written, “The G-d of my fathers”,.  This revelation taught faith from generation to generation not only because they believed in the G-d of their ancestors, but because they experienced G-d first hand in united faith.
     And lastly, parashah Yitro.  Here, Isaiah is the central figure where the Torah reading and the Haftarah both present the juxtaposition of judgement and revelation.  In the Torah, a blueprint of justice and judgement for the nation.  In the Haftarah, a spiritual revelation for Isaiah depicting the failure of the people of the Covenant to perform the commandment of G-d to be a nation of priests—this failure, this impurity—can only be remedied in, as described in the Etz Hayim, by a “holy seed” a new generation.  The underlying theme joining the Torah and Haftarah is one of future generations.  The predominant theme:  The Planting of The Seed.
     In summation, in a world, where it seems as though every day we are besieged by plague after plague, let us not loose Faith in what is good.  Let us not loose Faith in G-d.  Let us not turn into the machines Harari describes defunct in terms of soul, but fill ourselves with heart and giving, and maintaining our Faith in G-d, and teaching our children our ritual and the importance of l’dor va dor.
     Where do we put our faith?  We must put it in the hands of G-d.  May G-d’s hands lead us, as he did our ancestor’s, to unite in Faith.  As we approach MLK and Tu’Beshevat, may G-d lead us to the betterment of ourselves, of our families and of community as a whole.  May G-d lead us to continue to plant these Seeds of Faith for generations to come.

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