We are affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the association of Conservative congregations in North America.
Parashat Aharei -May 7, 2016-29 Nisan 5776
Returning to the immediate aftermath of Nadav and Avihu’s deaths, Aaron is disallowed from entering the Holy of Ho- lies at will. God instructs Moses to guide his brother and remaining nephews in a ritual for the Day of Atonement. In- cluded in the ritual are two goats, one designatd for “Azazel,” which carries the burdens of the people’s sins. Yom Kippur is defined as a day of self-denial to make expiation for all Israelite sins.
General guidelines for sacrificing are detailed, including the need to present slaughtered animals to the Tabernacle, and to avoid consuming blood.
In an effort to avoid Egyptian or Canaanite laws, the people are instructed to steer clear from improper sexual relations, including incest and bestiality, lest the Promised Land become defiled.
Parashat Kedoshim-May 14, 2016-6 Iyar 5776
Amos, a simple shepherd from the hills of Judea, was deeply troubled by man’s cruelty as he saw it, in his time, among his own people. He was driven by his prophetic conscience to leave the peaceful hill country. He came down into the cities where he denounced the corruption of the people, in particular the irresponsibility of the leaders. It was an “age of afflu- ence” when many lived in luxury side by side with the many more who struggled in poverty. The poor, the alien, the wid- ow, and the orphan were ignored. Pagan forms of worship corrupted the land. There was an urgent need for someone to speak out against the wide spread wrongdoing. Amos became the prophetic spokesman.
The Haftarah is a very good sampling of Amos’ larger message to our ancestors. The Prophet criticizes Israel for its smugness in thinking that the future would continue to be pleasant and prosperous. The people are mistaken if they be- lieve that God will favor them under all circumstances. Israel is blessed only when it lives up to the moral and ethical standards that were set, long ago, by Moses at Sinai. Only as Israel fulfills these principles is the people entitled to its “specialness.”
But Amos sees little hope that Israel of his day will change its way for the better. There will have to be judgment and punishment before the Prophet’s people will return to the paths of decency and justice. For God, according to Amos, is One who has a concern for what happens to humanity be it Ethiopian, Philistine, Aramean or Hebrew.
Parashat Emor-May 21, 2016-13 Iyar 5776
Laws of holiness continue in this portion, with the first two chapters focusing on the priesthood. Priests are not allowed to be near a dead body (with the exception of select family members), to cut the corners of their beards, to marry a di- vorcee, to have a bodily “defect,” or to offer sacrifices while ritually impure. Furthermore, lay people are not allowed to eat certain offerings or to offer a blemished animal as a sacrifice; animals must be at least eight days old to be offered (and cannot be offered on the same day as its parent); and thanksgiving offerings must be eaten on the same day they are sacri- ficed.
Holy days are detailed: Shabbat, Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. In addition, a farmer must offer his first grain crop of the year as an offering to God; clear olive oil must be used to light a nightly flame in the Tent of Meeting; and two rows of bread should be offered to God each Shabbat.
Parashat Behar-Behukotai – May 28, 2016-20 Iyar 5776
Once they enter the Promised Land, the Israelites must allow the land to go untouched once every seven years, during which they eat what the earth naturally produces (God will provide enough crops to guarantee the Israelites will eat well). Once every fifty years is the Jubilee year, in which all people are allowed to return to their land they originally held but later sold. The overriding idea is that the land belongs to God, and its residents must allow the land to be redeemed, even if that means allowing the original land-owner to pay a reduced rate to reclaim his/her land.
Additionally, a fellow Israelite with financial difficulties can be an indentured servant but not a slave. An Israelite who becomes indentured to a non-Israelite retains the right to redemption, and can certainly be emancipated during the Jubi- lee Year.