You're the Commentator


Monday, December 20, 2010


When the family of Yaakov first came to Egypt, they were greeted warmly by the Par'o - the ruler.  In fact, they were given choice grazing land for their animals and treated in some ways better than the native Egyptians at the time.

They were lucky enough to thrive in this new country - their numbers increased and the wealth also.  In fact, after some 400 years they were so numerous and powerful that the Par'o at the time began to get nervous.  He began to see them as a threat.

  • Why do you think he felt that way?

When a new family moves into a community, what usually happens?  Does it matter who the new people are?  Who the established residents are?

  • Were you ever the 'new kid' in a school?  
  • What was it like?  
  • Were there a lot of other Jewish kids in the school?  
  • Did that make any difference to you?
  • How do you act when a 'new kid' moves in to your neighborhood?  Why?

Thursday, December 16, 2010


This week's Torah portion tells about the move of the family of Yaakov - the family that would become the Jewish people in the future - from Canaan to Egypt.  Quite a big change for them, and probably for the Egyptians as well.

There is a big change in the population on Long Island - more and more people from different countries and backgrounds are living here, and bringing their customs and traditions to this part of the country.  In particular, there is a growth in the Asian population, as you can see from this flyer about a celebration held at Stony Brook University:  Asian/American Cultural Festival of Long Island.
There is also a growth in the Latino population, as you can see in this publicity for an art festival highlighting Latino culture:  Projecting Art.

Imagine that you are part of the family of Yaakov coming to live in Goshen.  What would you do to honor your culture?  Share your ideas here, please.

Monday, December 13, 2010


This is the final weekly portion of the book of Breisheet, the first of the five books of the Torah.  In it we reach the point in the story in which the entire family of the descendants of Yaakov (who is also known as Yisrael) have come to live in the land of Egypt, in the neighborhood of Goshen.

Why do you think they all stayed in the same neighborhood and didn't move in with the rest of the Egyptians who lived in other places in the country?

  • When you, or your parents, or your grandparents, or your great-grandparents came to live in the United States, did they expect to stay forever or did they plan to return to their country of birth?
  • Why did they come to the United States?
  • Once here, did they stay separate from other groups of people?  
  • Did they continue to speak the language of their former country, or did they immediately begin to speak English?  
  • Did they think of themselves as "Jews", as "Americans", or did they have some other identity?
  • How is the story of the family of Yaakov in Egypt the same as the story of your family in the United States?  How is it different?

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Joseph is the first Jewish fellow who lives outside the land of Israel and seems to forget he's Jewish.  He dresses like an Egyptian, talks like an Egyptian, marries an Egyptian woman, and even gives his first child a name that means, in the Egyptian language, "the person who makes me forget my past."  In fact, I bet if he lived in your city today he would probably have been celebrating Christmas with his friends.

In spite of this, Joseph is called a tzadik, a wise man.  How can this be?  After all, we are reading this during the week of Hanukkah, the holiday that is all about safeguarding the Jewish religion when Antiochus wanted to force us to give it up.

Click here to Read this article about Hanukkah and you may find out some things that you didn't know before, even though you have been celebrating Hanukkah your whole life.

  • What surprised you about what you read?
  • What bothered you about what you read?
  • What do you want to know more about?
  • How has your thinking about Hanukkah changed as a result of reading this article?
  • What do you think is the connection between the story of Joseph and story of Hanukkah?
What do you think?
Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Monday, November 22, 2010


In this section of the Torah there is a long and detailed story about Yosef and his brothers that you have probably read and talked about many times before.  We all know the story - Yosef is his father's favorite child, his father Yaacov treats him better than the other brothers, they hate him, they sell him to a caravan, his father thinks he's dead, yadda, yadda, yadda.
When the caravan gets to Egypt Yosef is sold to a wealthy man and serves in the household as a slave until Potifar's wife accuses him of behaving badly and is sent to jail.  There he interprets dreams and eventually is freed (but that doesn't happen until next week's installment)

This is the longest story about an individual in the entire Torah (except for Moshe, and that's a different story, since Moshe is traditionally understood to be telling the whole thing).  It lasts through four parashot, four weekly Torah readings, and has much more detail than most stories.

Here's the question:  What's so important about Yosef that he gets such a long story?

  • Is it about how bad it is to be jealous of your siblings?
  • Is it about how important it is for parents to treat their kids fairly?
  • Is it about how a kid who is pretty spoiled can turn out OK?
  • Is it about how sometimes bad things can turn out to have good endings?

What do you think?
Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Monday, November 15, 2010


You may be an only child, or you may have siblings.  If you are an only child, you probably think sisters and brothers always get along well.  If you have siblings, you know this is NOT the case!!  In this week's parasha we read about a meeting between the two brothers, Jacob and Esau, who have not seen each other in years.  When they were together the last time, they had a horrible fight - so horrible that Jacob ran away afraid for his life.  (If you don't remember what they fought about, go back and read chapter 27)  Time has passed, both brothers have been successful as adults, but you have to wonder how they feel about seeing each other after such a long time.
Here's what it says in the text:
Genesis, Chapter 32  verse 4) And Jacob sent messengers ahead to Esau his brother...  5) [And he told them to give Esau this message,  "This is your servant Jacob's message - 'I have been living with Lavan.  6) and I have oxen, and donkeys, and sheep and servants, and I sent them ahead to give you this message so you will be happy to see me.

  • How do you think Jacob feels?  

And the messengers came back to Jacob, and this is what they said:
7)...We came to your bother Esau, and he's coming to meet you with four hundred men
  • How do you think Jacob feels now?
Some arguments are simple - you have them and then they are over.  But some are much more serious.  Did you ever have an argument like that?
  • Why was the argument between Jacob and Esau so serious?  Do you think it can be solved?
  • What advice would you give Jacob now?
  • What advice would you give Esau? 
What do you do when you have a serious argument with someone?

What do you think?
Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Monday, November 8, 2010


Rachel and Leah in this story are sisters.  Like most sisters, they probably love each other.  And like most sisters, they are probably jealous of each other from time to time.  Their jealousy is more complicated than most - since according to the text they are married to the same man - Jacob.  That couldn't happen today in our world... or could it?  In this article from Kenya, read what actually happened in one family.

From an article at the site there is an explanation of the rule in Judaism against one man marrying sisters.
we see how important it is in the eyes of the Torah for children to get along with one another. The Torah bans two sisters from marrying the same person for the simple reason that the Torah does not want siblings to fight with each other. Whether we are ourselves siblings or whether we are parents who have children who are siblings, we all know that this is indeed a very big challenge.
What do you think about this idea?  

In the United States and in Israel (and in most modern countries today) no person is allowed to have more than one wife or husband at the same time.  In your opinion, why do you think the rules were different in the past?  What changed?

Monday, November 1, 2010


Do you have any sisters or brothers?  Do you ever think your parents are not being fair?  Here are two verses from this week's Torah portion.
Genesis, Chapter 25, verse 27: And the youths grew up, and Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents.  28  And Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loved Jacob.
What's going on here?  Is it possible that the Torah says that Isaac, their father, loves one son more and  Rebecca, their mother, prefers the other?  How can that be?  Aren't parents supposed to love their children equally?  Or maybe it just feels that way to them!

What if the text read this way:
So the kids grew up, and one was really good at sports - captain of the soccer travel team, champion tennis player, fastest runner on the track team.  The other one wasn't so good at sports - but did really great in school - all advanced classes, on the honor roll every quarter, bringing home 100's on practically every test.
Do you think these two kids could possible be siblings?  I bet they could, and they probably are!

Which kid are you most like - Jacob or Esau?
How can you be the best possible Jacob?  the best possible Esau?
How can you help your siblings (or friends) be the best people they can be?
What would you like to say to Isaac and Rebecca if you had the chance to talk to them?

What do you think?
Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hayei Sarah

In this week's Torah reading we hear the story of how Avraham sends his servant to find a wife for his son Yitzhak.   You can read the whole story in Chapter 24 of the book of B'Reisheet - aka Genesis.  After you read it, try to imagine what was going through Rivka's mind as the story unfolded.  You might also imagine  what was going through the minds of the other characters - Eliezer, Avraham, Lavan, Betuel, Rivka's mother, the nanny.
Become one of the characters in the story and think about how you would be updating your status on Facebook.

  • What does your profile look like?
  • Who are your "friends"?
  • What are you thinking?
  • What do you want your friends to know?
  • What are you excited about?
  • What are you worried about?
  • What thoughts might you NOT want to share on your fb page?  Why?
What do you think?
Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Monday, October 18, 2010


This portion begins with a lovely description of Abraham's hospitality to visitors who arrive unannounced at his door.  Of course, in today's world if strangers arrive at our home we would almost certainly NOT invite them in, but there are other ways in which we invite new people into our lives.  According to Will Rogers, a famous American humorist, "A stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet."

  1. What do you think Will Rogers meant by that statement?
  2. What does that tell you about the kind of person he probably was?
  3. Where do you meet most of your friends?
  4. How do you decide whether someone you meet will become a friend or not?
  5. In what ways do you reach out to make new friends?
  6. Is a 'friend' on Facebook the same as a 'friend' in real life?  Explain your answer.
  7. How is the internet a good place to meet new people?
  8. How is face-to-face a good way to meet people? 
Abraham's guests turned out to be very important.  You never know if the people you meet are going to play a role in your future or not.  It's a good thing Abraham welcomed the strangers to his home - and it can be a good thing for you to welcome new people into your life.

What do you think?
Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lech Lecha

This is the part of the story where God tells Abram to leave his family and go to the place God will show him.  Here's what it might have said if it were being written now:
Now Adonai said to Abram:  Get out of town, leave your friends, your parents, and go to the place I'll show you [but I'm not showing you yet!!  You'll have to trust me on this one]
And if you do what I'm telling you, you'll be successful.  You'll have thousands of friends (on Facebook, at least), everyone will want to 'friend' you, and anyone who isn't nice to you is gonna be in serious trouble.
How does this sound?  Why do you think Abram believed it was God who was talking to him?  Do you think you would have done what Abram did?  Who do you listen to?  Whose advice do you follow?  How do you decide important things?

What do you think?
Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Monday, October 4, 2010


At the end of the story of Noah and the flood, there is a small story about how Noah planted a vineyard, made some wine, got drunk, went into his tent, and was naked.  Pretty embarrassing, but after all, he was inside his own tent, not walking around outside.  One of his sons came in and saw him lying there - then told his brothers about it.  They decided to cover their father up.

Something to think about:  If someone is in his own room, is he entitled to privacy?  If someone is doing something inside his house, is it anyone else's business?  If we know something about another person that might embarrass him or her, do we have the right to tell other people?

Social networks make it easy to share information.  How do we decide if what we share is appropriate?

What do you think?
Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Monday, September 27, 2010


Below are three quotations from three different sources.  Please read them and think about them.

  • Which is true - the first or the second?
  • Is it possible for both to be true?
  • What do you think Mr. Ferris mean when he says we should stop setting them up on blind dates

In the Torah, the first passook [verse] of the first parasha [weekly portion] we read:
א  בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
In The Grand Design, a new best-selling book by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow,  we read:
...creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god.  Rather, these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law'
In The Whole Shebang, Timothy Ferris writes:
Religious systems are inherently conservative, science inherently progressive.  [Religion and science don't have to be hostile to each other, but we can stop setting them up on blind dates.] This may be an instance where good walls make good neighbors.

What do these three quotations mean to you?

What do you think?
Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sukkot - Design Your Own

Whether or not you build a sukkah in your own home, you can use your imagination to design one if you follow the rules here:

You can also see what some other people have designed here at the website:
Sukkah City

What will your sukkah look like?

  • Will it be made of an elephant?  A whale?
  • Will it be on a wagon?  A boat?  A camel?
  • How many walls will it have?
  • What will they be made of?
  • Why would someone want to design a sukkah?
What do you think?
Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Monday, May 31, 2010

Shelach Lecha

There is a section in this week's parasha which talks about tzitzit - fringes which some Jews wear every day as part of their clothing, and others wear as part of a tallit only when praying.  Still others don't wear them at all.
Some Jews wear items of clothing which identify them as Jewish to everyone who sees them.  These might include a kippah, tzitzit, or even a particular style and color of suit or hat.

Some Questions to Think About:

  • How do people know you if are Jewish?
  • Does it make a difference to you if people know you're Jewish?
  • How are you proud to be Jewish?

What do you think?
Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Monday, May 10, 2010


The 4th book of the Torah - B'Midbar - means "in the desert."  You probably know that according to the Torah the Jews spent 40 years in this desert after coming out of Egypt before they came into the land of Israel.  And God seems to think that the desert is a good place for them to learn some very important lessons about how they are supposed to behave.
Did you ever hear of a program called "Outward Bound?"  Look at the website by clicking on the link, and see if you can imagine why God chose the desert as a place for the Jews to learn.

Questions to think about:

  • Do you think you learn better in some places than in others?  Does it matter what you are learning?
  • Where do you learn the best?  Why?
  • The desert was really different from life in Egypt.  Did you ever move from one place to another that was very different?  What was it like?  What do you think it was like for the Jews?

Monday, May 3, 2010


This Shabbat we read together the last two parshiyot of the book of VaYikrah - Leviticus.  This book has been filled with laws - laws about sacrifices, about agriculture, about kashrut, about honorable behavior, and in general about what God will expect from the people of Israel as they go forward as free people to settle in the land of Israel.

The first of the two parshiyot - B'Har - describes the laws of shmitah and yovel - each one a time when Jews in the land of Israel are not to work the land.  Shmitah, which occurs each seventh year, is still observed today.  Every seven years Jews are to allow the land to rest - a shabbat for the land, just as every seven days we have a shabbat for people.  

Question to think about:
  • You may have heard about sabbatical leave in some professions - particularly teaching.  How do you think this is related to the law of shmitah - letting the land go unworked every seven years?
Another important issue in this parasha is the mitzvah not to charge interest when lending money (to another Jewish person).

Question to think about:
  • When the Torah was written, most people didn't have businesses.  Just about the only 'business' was farming or herding.  People didn't use money - they exchanged things they had for things they needed.  Why do you think there is a mitzvah not to charge your friends or neighbors or family-members interest if they needed to borrow from you?
The second parasha, B'Hukotai, tells us that we will be rewarded when we do things the way God wants us to, and punished if we don't.

Question to think about:
  • Which would you rather happen - be rewarded when you do something right or be punished when you do something wrong?  Which is similar to the ways laws usually work?  Which do you think works better? Can you create an experiment in your class to test your ideas?  Explain your thinking.
What do you think?
Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Monday, April 26, 2010


This week the parasha repeats something that was already stated in the book of Exodus.  It says that:
24:19  ... a person who causes an injury to another person, just as he did, so shall be done to him 
24:20 A fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Just as he injured another person, he shall be injured.
 Does this seem fair to you?  If someone bullies you, should you bully them back?  If someone trips you on purpose, should you trip him the next time you see him?  What about if you trip over someone's backpack by accident?  Should you insist that she trip over your backpack?  What if when you tripped you didn't really get hurt.  Does that make a difference?
The rabbis decided a very long time ago that it was impossible to carry out this kind of punishment fairly.  Why do you think they thought so?  Do you agree with them?

Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Monday, April 19, 2010

Aharei Mot and Kedoshim

The two portions of Torah we read this week have some of the most famous sayings in the Torah.  Here are some examples:

  • When you harvest your fields you shall not pick up what is accidentally left behind (19:9)
  • You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind (19:14)
  • You shall not be a bystander when something bad happens to someone else (19:16)
  • You shall love your neighbor as yourself (19:18)
  • Treat a stranger who lives with you the same way you treat everyone - remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt (19:33-34)
  • (The land of Israel is) a land of milk and honey (19:24)
Choose one of the above quotations and explain why you think it is in the Torah.

Here is a famous story you may have heard before.  Read it and decide whether you agree with Hillel.  Be prepared to support your opinion.
in the Talmud [Shabbos 31A]. A gentile [non-Jew] approached Shammai and said to him: "Convert me but teach me the entire Torah as I stand on one foot." Shammai, feeling that he wasn't serious, chased him away. This gentile then approached Hillel with the same offer/request but was met with a very different reaction--Hillel agreed. The entire Torah on one foot that Hillel taught him was "that which you hate, don't do to others--a paraphrase of the command to love your neighbor. "That is the entire Torah," Hillel told him, "the rest is simply an explanation. Go and learn it!" (Parsha Insights, by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner)
 This week we are celebrating Earth Day.  What connection is there between any idea in this week's parashot and Earth Day?

Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

Monday, April 12, 2010


The two Torah portions read this week seem to be about a disease called 'leprosy'.  It is a disease which we understand today is caused by a virus and which can be controlled with medication.
But in the time of the Torah it was not understood the same way.  It seemed to be a punishment from God. According to Maimonides, a great rabbi and philosopher (and doctor, by the way) who lived in the 12th century, this disease (tzara'at in Hebrew) was caused by gossip - talking about other people.

  • What if gossiping made someone break out in a rash?
  • In your opinion, is there a difference between gossiping and bullying?  Explain your answer.
  • According to Jewish thinking, three people are harmed by gossip - the one who is telling, the one who is listening, and the one being talked about.  Do you agree that all the people involved are hurt? Why?
  • What happens when people post mean things about other people on the internet?
  • What do you think you SHOULD do to help stop bullies who use words to hurt others?
  • What do you think you CAN do?
  • What WILL you do?
Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010


    Passover is over - some of you may have eaten differently during this holiday - matzo instead of bread, matzo brei instead of French toast.  Some families may have completely changed what they cooked and ate during Passover, using different utensils as well as serving different foods.
    This week's parasha, Sh'mini, has a lot of information about which animals are considered kosher - and which are not.  There are no reasons given, just names of animals, birds and insects that are permitted and that are not.

    • Today there is a lot of attention paid to what we eat and how it affects us - some people eat only organically grown food, some eat only things grown locally, and so on.  How do you decide what to eat and what not to eat?
    • When Antiochus ruled the land of Israel as representative of the Syrian/Greek empire, one of the things he outlawed was eating kosher food (he also outlawed circumcision, study of Torah, and observing Shabbat).  Why do you think he chose to forbid kosher food?
    • If you know someone who follows the rules of kashrut, ask that person why.  Does the answer make sense to you?  Do you think religion should be a factor in what you eat?  Explain your answer.

    Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog

    Monday, March 22, 2010


    There's probably TMI about sacrifices in this week's parasha than you need, but there are always some good questions to think about.

    In the beginning of the portion, in chapter 6 verses 3 and 4, it says:
    3. And the kohen shall put on his linen shirt, and he shall put on his linen trousers. And he shall lift out the ashes which are left after the fire has completely burned the sacrifice on the altar, and put the ashes down next to the altar. 
    4. He shall then take off his clothes and put on other clothes, and he shall take out the ashes to a clean place outside the camp.

    1. Who takes out the garbage in your household?  Is it anyone's favorite job?
    2. The Kohanim have a very special status in the Torah.  They do important work in the tabernacle in the desert, and will be the chief sacrifice operators in the Temple when it is built in Jerusalem.  Why do you think a Kohen is supposed to take out the ashes?
    3. What do you wear special clothes for?  Why do you wear them?  What happens when you put on these special clothes?  What do you think that has to do with the ashes on the altar?
    Be sure to share your answers by commenting on this blog.

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    VaYikrah (Leviticus)

    This is the first parasha (portion) of the third book of the Torah.  The book is called VaYikrah in Hebrew, Leviticus in English.  It's right in the middle of the five books.  Breysheet (Genesis) was mostly about the creation of the world and the first Jewish family - the family of Avraham.  The second book, Shmot (Exodus), was mostly about being in Egypt, coming out of Egypt and receiving the Ten Commandments.  At the end of Shmot the people of Israel were in the desert.

    1. What do you expect this next book will be about?  Why?
    2. A big part of this week's parasha tells the people what they are supposed to do if they do something wrong by mistake, without knowing it was wrong.  Think of at least one good reason there should be consequences if you do something wrong by mistake.  What do you think the consequence should be?
    3. The commandments in this parasha are about sacrificing animals in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Today there are no sacrifices, and most Jews don't expect there ever will be again.  So why do you think we are still reading about sacrifices today?  

    Monday, March 8, 2010

    VaYakhel and P'kuday

    This week there are two portions of Torah (It has to do with the calendar and how many portions there are to read in a year) - the first is VaYakhel and the second is P'kuday.
    Both of them are about building the special tent/vehicle that will carry the tablets Moshe received from God on top of the mountain.
    God invites everyone to contribute materials for the building, but selects Bezalel as the person in charge.  Here are some questions for you to think about:

    1.  Why do you think everyone is invited to contribute to the building?  Couldn't God just create whatever is needed?  What difference would it make?

    2.  Here's some of what the Torah says about Bezalel:
    35:30  Moses said to the Israelites:  See, Adonai has selected Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, from the tribe of Yehudah.
    35:31  And God has filled him with God's spirit, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge, and with the ability to do good work. 
    Why do you think there needs to be one person in charge?  According to the verses in the Torah, what is special about Bezalel?

    3.  What is the most special thing you have in your family?  How do you keep it safe?  Where is the Torah kept in your synagogue?  What keeps it safe?

    I want to know what you think about these questions.  You can comment in the space below and other kids can see your opinions.  That way we can all learn together.