Author Archives: Rabbi Andrea Steinberger

About Rabbi Andrea Steinberger

Rabbi Andrea Steinberger serves as a rabbi at the Hillel Foundation at the University of Wisconsin. Rabbi Steinberger received her ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1997 and her BA from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

All The Days Of Our Lives

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Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

This Shabbat we read Ha’azinu, Moses‘ last words to the children of Israel before his death on Mt. Nebo, within view of Canaan, the promised land. After Moses is finished speaking, God speaks to Moses and says:

Deuteronomy 32:49-52

49. Ascend these heights of Abarim to Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab facing Jericho, and view the land of Canaan that I am giving the Israelites as their holding.
50. You shall die on the mountain that you are about to ascend, and shall be gathered to your kin, as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor, and was gathered to his kin;
51. for you both broke faith with Me among the Israelite people, at the waters of Meribath-Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, by failing to uphold My sanctity among the Israelite people.
52. You may view the land from a distance, but you shall not enter the land that I am giving to the Israelite people.

Your Torah Navigator

What would it be like if, like Moses, we knew when we were about to die? Do you think Moses made "teshuvah," repentance, before his death?

A Word

In the Talmud (Shabbat 153a) it says: "What does Rabbi Eliezer mean when he says, ‘Repent one day before your death.’ How can one know when that day comes? Since no person can know this, one must repent every day of one’s life." Moses was a unique individual, for God told him when and where he would die.

However, unlike Moses we do not know the date and place of our death. And so we live life never quite knowing how long we have. It is a sobering thought. On Yom Kippur we remember something very important, our time here on earth is so incredibly precious and often so short. Let us remember this Yom Kippur that each of our days counts. We mortals do not know the date of our death. Let us use our days wisely, not merely living from one Day of Repentance to the next. Let us in turn make teshuvah with the people important to us all the days of our lives.

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The Omer: Meaning for Today

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The following article explores the tradition of “counting the omer,” the days between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. The omer was an offering made during these weeks in the Temple, and was agriculturally focused, like the holiday of Shavuot itself. The omer also serves to tie together the two major festivals of Passover and Shavuot. Reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Now that Passover seders are over, and we are eating matzah and are full of affliction — one might ask, “What’s a good Jewish professional to do during these days?” The answer? Count them. Count every last day until Shavuot [the Festival of Weeks]–50 in all.Montly Calendar

The period of “the omer” begins the second night of Passover and continues until Shavuot. Literally translated, omer means “a sheaf.” It refers to the measure of grain that was once offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Torah commanded that seven weeks be counted for the omer. It says:

Leviticus 23:15-21

15. From the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering the day after the Sabbath you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete.
16. You must count until the day after the seventh week fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to YHWH.
17. You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation offering…
21. On that same day you shall hold a celebration; it shall be a sacred occasion for you; you shall not work at your occupations. This is a law for all time in all your settlements, throughout the ages.

Torah Navigator

1. Why was it important to count the days from the bringing of the omer until Shavuot?

2. Shavuot in the Bible was not connected with the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, as it is now. It was an agricultural festival. And its focus was the Temple. Since the Temple no longer stands, and most of us are no longer involved in agriculture, what’s the point of counting the omer today?

While there is no longer a Temple or an omer offering, the rabbis declared that we should still count the days between Passover and Shavuot. Rambam [Maimonides] even said that the commandment for us to count today comes directly from Torah!

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My Word

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The following article is reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

In the final chapters of the book of Numbers, Moses gives a speech to the Israelites explaining the importance of vows to the Israelite community. From Moses’ speech we discover that human words have a genuine effect on the world and on the lives of other people.

We read in the opening verses of our Torah portion:

Numbers 30:2-3

Now Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel, saying: This is the word that The Lord has commanded: (Any) man who vows a vow to the Lord or swears a sworn-oath, to bind himself by a binding-obligation: he is not to desecrate his word, according to all that goes out of his mouth, he is to do.

Your Numbers Navigator

1. What is meant by not "desecrating his word?"

2. According to this excerpt, is there punishment for such behavior?

3. What do these verses infer about the power of words?

A Word

From Moses’ speech we may infer that the power of the spoken word is holy. We can stretch our understanding of the Torah portion to mean that not just promises are important to us, but words themselves. We must be careful of the words we speak, because they are powerful.

If words are so powerful, are they magic? If we pray, can we make something happen, something magical, with our words? No, we cannot. But we pray for something holy to happen. We creatures, who have the God-given ability to create, can create a holy moment with our words, facing the ordinary and creating the extraordinary. When we turn to God and to each other with our words of prayer and praise, we create a holy moment in time.

There is an appropriate custom associated for the final words of each book of Torah. At the end of each book, we recognize that the words of Torah are holy and help us to grow in strength. This Shabbat, as we finish the book of Numbers we say, "hazak hazak, v’nithazek," which means, "Be strong, be strong and let us strengthen one another."

As we say these words this Shabbat, we will have said important words to one another. We will have said: "May the words of Torah strengthen us all. May we learn to speak in holy and kind ways to one another. May we learn to make the ordinary extraordinary. May we go from strength to strength."

May it be so.

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Reputation Is Everything

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The following article is reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Parashat Shlah-L’kha describes how twelve spies scout the Land of Israel. When they return, only Caleb and Joshua bring back positive reports. The rest of the spies frighten the people with terrifying accounts of the powerful people who live in the land. Hearing their reports, God threatens to abandon this people for their disloyalty. But Moses pleads with God on behalf of the people not to destroy them, saying that God’s reputation is at stake. In his plea, Moses repeats God’s own words, when God earlier said (Exodus 34:6):

Numbers 14:18-19

"’The Lord! Slow to anger and abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression; yet not remitting all punishment, but visiting the iniquity of fathers upon children, upon the third and fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to Your great kindness, as You have forgiven this people ever since Egypt."

Your Numbers Navigator

1. The words "slow to anger" are interesting. How do they differ from "be calm" or "hide your anger?" Why is "slow to anger" a better description of how to deal with anger?

2. Moses calls God "slow to anger," and yet God has just threatened to destroy the entire people of Israel. Why would Moses say that God is slow to anger?

3. This verse, the listing of God’s attributes, is recited before taking the Torah from the Ark on the High Holy Days and festivals. Why do you think this verse was chosen?

4. Moses infers that God’s reputation is at stake. Why would having a good reputation matter to God?

5. If we are created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, and God is slow to anger, what can this verse teach us about handling our emotions?

The rabbis took a close look at human nature, stating many times in different ways what makes up a person’s character. Here is one example:

Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 65b

"A person’s nature can be recognized through three things: his cup, his purse, and his anger." In Hebrew, the language is alliterative: the Hebrew words are koso (cup), kiso (purse), and ka’aso (anger).

Your Talmud Navigator

1. Why would the rabbis choose these three criteria–one’s cup, purse, and anger–as the most important traits? Do you agree?

A Word

Jewish tradition teaches that we are often judged by others based on how we act when we drink liquor, how much tzedakah (charity) we give, and how well we control ourselves when we are provoked. And, just like God, our reputation depends on it. The Talmud also adds a fourth criterion to the other three, saying that our nature is recognized "by what we do for pleasure."

Like God, we have guidelines. And like God, we often need to be reminded that being slow to anger is better than acting immediately and brashly. We need not hide our emotions, but merely pause a moment before we do something that might destroy our reputation. May we each remember to be like God slow to anger, abounding in kindness…

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Faith In Difficult Times

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The following article is reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Our Torah portion this week, B’hukotai, is the last Parasha of Leviticus. B’hukotai ends with the tokhahah, a warning, promising defeat, massacre, and the pain of exile if one disobeys God.

Jeremiah, a prophet who wrote during the closing days of the Kingdom of Judah struggled to find meaning during the time of the destruction of the Temple. We hear his words in our haftarah portion (reading from the Prophets or Writings that follows the Torah reading) this week. In his bitterness he cried: The guilt of Judah will be inscribed with a stylus of iron… (Jeremiah 17:1).

Despite all that he saw, Jeremiah expressed deep faith that God is the living water that sustains us all. He wrote, "He shall be like a tree planted by waters, sending forth its roots by a stream: It does not sense the coming of heat, its leaves are ever fresh; it has no care in a year of drought, it does not cease to yield fruit" (Jeremiah 17:8).

Your Haftarah Navigator

1. According to Jeremiah, who is like a tree planted by waters?

2. How does faith in God help us through difficult times?

3. In your experience, have you turned to God, to prayer, to faith when life was difficult?
Jeremiah experienced tumultuous times. He was a sensitive soul who saw it all. Destruction. Defeat. Hopelessness. And yet, Jeremiah was also able to find within himself his hope, his faith that rose from the deep recesses of his heart.
The following text, expanded, became one of the nineteen blessings in our Amidah (silent benediction). Jeremiah saw much of life. Still, the Haftarah ends with a hopeful note, "Heal me, O Lord, and let me be healed; save me, and let me be saved; for You are my glory" (Jeremiah 17:14).

Your Haftarah Navigator

1. What is the relationship between prayer and healing? What does God have to do with healing?

2. Have you ever prayed for someone who is ill? Does it work? What is the purpose of a prayer for healing?

A Word

This is indeed a sobering text. Jeremiah understood Jewish suffering as something that was deserved. A rebellious people are finally punished by a God whose patience has finally run out.
Thousands of years after Jeremiah, we human beings still experience these evils: defeat, pain, suffering. We experience the devastation of illness, the pain of a breakup of a family. Today, though, most of us do not see these tragedies as punishment for our sins.

Conversely, many people wonder at these moments of pain and disappointment if God is indeed there at all. The question of today is different. We ask ourselves, "How does one continue to believe, to let God in, when such devastation surrounds us at times?" Pain can harden one’s heart. It can make a person cynical, mistrustful of others.

These days are the in-between days–days of reflection and sadness between Pesach and Shavuot. Why? Because during these days we commemorate the wandering in the wilderness. The time between our freedom from Pharaoh and our receiving the gift of Torah at Mt. Sinai.

During that time we were lawless. We had no Torah. We had too much freedom. Instead of it being a wonderful party, it was awful. We complained bitterly. The law, as the midrash learns, brought true freedom to the world, a freedom that we could sustain.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, this season also means that the summer warmth is coming. Some of us feel relief, now that the academic year is ending, granting us a liberation from the constraints of imposed order. Now, as summer approaches, we experience the freedom without laws. We feel rootless.

Maintaining faith in difficult times is a struggle for each of us. And yet, Jeremiah’s beautiful, poetic words strike a chord for us, who want so desperately to feel God’s presence beside us as we struggle. Jeremiah offers these words of consolation and hope, describing that a person who has faith in God can survive even the toughest times.

Lag B’Omer, a holiday day that is a reprieve in our 50 days of mourning between Pesach and Shavuot, also occurs during this time. In the spirit of Lag B’Omer, let us feel the reprieve of the water around us, soothing our roots, caring for our leaves. And may we soon yield fruit again. As Jeremiah says, "Heal me, O Lord, and let me be healed. Save me, and let me be saved. For you are my glory."

Parashat B’hukotai ends the book of Leviticus. When the Torah reading is completed, it is customary for the congregation to chant, "Chazak, chazak, v’nithazek." Be Strong. Be Strong. And let us be strengthened by one another.

So may it be.

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Clean Up Your Act

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Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

Tazria presents us with a description of skin disorders and how to deal with them. In these chapters we not only have a handbook for ancient medical treatments and rituals, but also receive instructions about how to live as a community.

Leviticus 13:43-46

When the priest looks at him, and here: the swelling of the affliction is white (and) reddish, on his bald spot or on his forehead, like the look of tzaraat (leprosy) on the skin of flesh: He is a man, with tzaraat, he is tamei (unclean), (yes) tamei, tamei shall the priest (declare) him, on his head is his affliction.

Now the one with tzaraat that has the affliction, his garments are to be torn, his head is to be made-bare, and his upper-lip is to be covered. "Tamei! Tamei!" He is to cry out.

All the days that the affliction is on him, he shall remain tamei. Tamei is he. Alone shall he stay. Outside of the camp is his staying-place.

Your Torah Navigator

1. The word tamei here is translated as "unclean." Is it a good translation? How would you translate tamei?
 

2. Why do you think the person who is tamei tears his clothes?
 

3. Why do you think he must announce to others that he is tamei? To protect himself? To protect others?
 

4. How does the person contract this affliction? Is it contagious?
 

5. Why must he stay away from others, even other people with this affliction, outside of the camp?

The rabbis have many questions about this passage and its meaning. In particular, the rabbis wonder about two aspects: how a person contracts this affliction, and why he must stay away from others while he has it. Rashi (medieval French commentator) attempts to answer these two questions.

Rashi

And (he) shall cry, "Unclean! Unclean!" announcing that he is unclean, so that (people) should withdraw from him.

He shall dwell alone, "(Other) unclean people shall not dwell with him. And our Rabbis have said, ‘Why is he different from other unclean people to dwell alone?’ Since he caused a separation through evil talk (lashon hara) between husband and wife, or between a man and his friend, (therefore) he also should be separated (isolated)."

Your Rashi Navigator

1. What does Rashi say is the sin that caused his affliction?
 

2. What is lashon hara?
 

3. How does the punishment fit the crime?
 

4. Do you think it is a proper punishment?

A Word

"Have you heard something about someone? Let it die with you. Be of good courage, it will not harm you if it ends with you" (Ben Sira 19:10).

Judaism defines lashon hara as slander, gossip, tale bearing, and all the other forms of damage to the individual and society that may be caused by words. We learn that talking about others is not recommended, even if what we say is true. And in some cases, even if what we say is positive.

Learning how to live as a community means learning how to communicate with other people. But it also means learning when not to communicate with others. There are times when saying little is better than saying a lot. Judaism encourages us to use our words thoughtfully and carefully. Otherwise we might say something we regret. And if we cannot prevent ourselves from talking to others, we might just have to remove ourselves from a situation for awhile so we can clean up our act.

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Go Down, Moses!

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Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

These last weeks Moses has been atop the mountain gathering information from God about the building of the tabernacle and all of its features. It has been an awesome and holy experience for him atop Mount Sinai. Meanwhile, down below, the people are getting anxious waiting for Moses. “He said 40 days! Where is he?” The people begin to question their leadership. Here is what happens:

Exodus 32:1-7

1. When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, “Come make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt we do not know what has happened to him.”

2. Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”

3. And all the people took off the gold rings that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.

4. This he took from them and cast in a mold and made it into a molten calf. And they exclaimed, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

5. When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron announced: “Tomorrow shall be a festival of YHWH!”

6. Early next day, the people offered up burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; they sat down to eat and drink, and then rose to dance.

7. YHWH spoke to Moses, “GO, GO DOWN, for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted basely…”

Your Torah Navigator

1. Why did the people build the golden calf

2. Why did Aaron help them?

3. Was Moses a good leader in this situation?

4. Was Aaron a good leader in this situation?

Rashi 32:7

And YHWH spoke, “spoke” and not “said.” This implies rough speech [God spoke (roughly) to Moses]… GO, GO DOWN from your high position; I have given you distinction only for their sake! At that moment Moses was excommunicated by a decree of the heavenly court.

Your Rashi Navigator

1. Even God is angry with Moses. Why is God angry?

2. Who is at fault here? Moses? Aaron? The people?

3. What could have been done differently by Moses, Aaron, or the community?

A Word

The golden calf incident seems to be a case of bad leadership all around. Rashi shows us how God chastises Moses for his poor leadership of the people. If Moses had communicated better with the people before he left to climb the mountain, perhaps they would not have doubted him so much.

And yet, Aaron too, was at fault. He had allowed the people to riot by not providing them with any clear leadership instructions. Some interpreters say that Aaron was only trying to stall for time until Moses came back. And yet Aaron’s advice created havoc and rioting among our people! Ramban even suggests that Moses later yells at Aaron saying: “What kind of hatred did you have for this people that you thought to cause their destruction and annihilation?” Clearly, Aaron was partly to blame for this disaster.

And finally, responsibility also lies in each member of the Israelite community. The commentator Sforno points out that if there had been even one or two Israelites righteous enough to speak out, Aaron would have had enough support to desist from making the golden calf.

Indeed, when a situation of chaos and defeat arises in a community, it is easy to blame others. But in truth, each of us is responsible for our actions. And when a community fails, it causes each of us to GO DOWN for a time. May each of us RISE UP to make our communities a place of responsibility and holiness.

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