Derech Tzofeh (“The Path of the Scout”) offers commentaries on Judaism from all diverse Jewish Scouting sources to incorporate the values inspired by the Torah, Talmud and Mishnah and relate them to the Scouting program.
We encourage publishing commentaries on this site, from respected rabbinical authorities to individual Jewish Scouts. The National Jewish Committee on Scouting recognizes all branches of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist – and considers each of equal importance and worthy of inclusion.
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May 31, 2019 – Parsha Bechukosai
Lately we get a lot of messages about the end of civilization. Think of all the movies, television shows and video games bringing you stories about fictional events like the zombie apocalypse, space alien attacks, out-of-control viruses and giant meteors striking Earth. These things probably will not happen, just like the prediction that rock-and-roll music would be the downfall of humanity turned out not to be true.
This week’s parasha, Bechukosai, gives us the Torah’s view of how civilization breaks down. The parasha starts out describing many of the wonderful blessings the Jewish people will enjoy in their Land if they live according to the laws of the Torah: there will be beneficial rain that comes at the proper time, the trees will bear fruit, harvested crops will last a long time, there will be peace and God will walk among the people.
The parasha also describes what happens if we reject our obligations to God: The heavens will not give rain, the land will not produce crops, the trees will not bear fruit, enemies will strike the people, food will be scant and cities will be in ruin.
What could bring about such a catastrophe? The Torah describes it: “But if you will not listen to Me and will not do all these commandments; if you reject My statutes, and if your soul rejects My laws, so that you will not perform my commandments, but break My covenant; I will do the same to you.” (Leviticus 26:14-16)
The sages interpreted this verse as a series of ever-worsening acts:
- People stop studying Torah
- They stop performing the commandments found in the Torah
- They become upset by those who perform the commandments
- They hate the rabbis who teach Torah
- They stop others from keeping the commandments
- They deny that God gave us the Torah
- They deny that God exists.
After terrible suffering, things end well, for when the people repent God will remember them.
The great news is, you are already one of the good guys saving civilization. You are studying Torah – right now. Since you are a Scout, you probably already perform many commandments our Scout Oath and Law borrowed from the Torah.
Keep up the good work!
May 23, 2019 – Parsha Behar
In Parasha Behar, we learn of the Shmittah year. After six days of the week, we rest. After six years of being worked, the Land (literally) of Israel rests. During the seventh year, we are not permitted to plant or work the land, but we can harvest any crops that grow on the land without our preparation. Also, people who contracted themselves as indentured servants – somewhat misleadingly translated as “slaves” – were freed of their obligations to their “master” during the seventh year.
And after seven repetitions of the Shmittah year, or 49 years, we have an additional year of rest, the Yovel, or Jubilee year. During the Yovel, land that had been sold during the preceding 49 years reverted to its original owner.
Recall that when the Children of Israel settled the land, each tribe was given specific territories, and the members of the tribes were assigned lands within the tribe’s territory. This Yovel practice was also a rest. Those who had to sell their lands were given a rest from poor economic circumstances. People kept this arrangement fair by paying a smaller price for land the closer they were to the Yovel year.
This system came with a promise from God. If the land was not tended and planted in the seventh year, it took two more years to plant and grow a crop, so the produce of the sixth year had to last for three years. God told us, “I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year period.” (Leviticus 25:21)
Rabbi Moshe Sofer (the author of the books called Chasem Sofer, who lived from 1762-1839) taught that this mitzvah and the promise of a harvest that would supply food for three years was proof of the divine authorship of Torah, because no human could guarantee such a result.
It was an early lesson in that great Scout practice, conserving our natural resources, and that great lesson of the Torah, all things need rest.
May 16, 2019 – Parsha Emor and Law B’Omer
This week’s parsha, Emor, is named for the seventh Hebrew word in the opening sentence – emor means “say”. The sentence begins, “God said to Moses: Say to the Priests …”
The word “say” usually means “open your mouth and speak words”. But the real meaning of “say” in this portion is different.
Most of the portion deals with holy things:
- the Kohanim (Priests) and the rules of what women they are permitted to marry, what physical disabilities keep them from performing the holy services and what members of their households can eat the food that the Children of Israel set aside for the Kohanim;
- the blemishes on an animal that disqualify it from being offered in the Mishkan(Tabernacle);
- sanctifying God’s name;
- observing Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashonah, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and counting the Omer;
- the Menorah and the Showbread in the Mishkan; and
- disgracing God’s name.
The last point is found at Leviticus 22:32: “You shall not desecrate My holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel.”
The rabbis explain that we desecrate or sanctify God’s Name by the way we treat other people. We assume that people know we are Jewish, and therefore we believe in God. If you walk by your neighbor Mrs. Jones and help her unload the groceries from her car, she’ll mention to your parents that you were Helpful, Courteous and Kind. Mom and Dad will be so proud. If you let your dog tear up Mrs. Jones’s flower bed, when your parents find out they will say “Mrs. Jones must think we are terrible parents who did not teach you right from wrong.”
In the same way, when Jews treat other people well, as we are taught in the Torah, we sanctify the Name of the Giver of the Torah. The way we act is what we “say” about what God has taught us. Actions speak louder than words.
Shabbat shalom and happy Lag B’Omer (next Wednesday night),
Derech Tzofeh, the Path of the Scout, is brought to you by the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. ©2017 Nelson R. Block. Prior Derech Tzofeh are available at the J-Scouts message repository on Yahoo! Groups.