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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October 11, 2018 – Parsha Noah
This week’s d’var Torah is in memory of my mother, Ethel Block, Etel bas Avraham Avigdor, whose jarhzeit is next week. She was the sister, mother and grandmother of Scouts, including five Eagle Scouts.
When people think about this week’s parsha, Noah, they usually think about water – how it rained for 40 days (there’s even a campfire song about it) and then the waters covered the Earth until an entire year passed. An essay by Rabbi Yehuda Rock helped me understand that the story of Noah and his Ark is all about the land.
Rabbi Rock explains that the story of Noah actually starts in Parsha Bereishit, when God drives Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden for having eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God says to Adam, because you ate of the tree, “cursed is the ground because of you; through suffering shall you eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field.” (Genesis 3:17) As Scouts, we know something about living close to the land. You would not want to hike through thorns and thistles, or lay out your bedroll on a patch of them – you certainly would not want to have to eat them.
Later in Bereishit, we read of the birth of Noah. His father, Lamech, calls him Noah (Noach in Hebrew, from the root word nachum meaning “consolation”), saying “This one will console us (yenachmenu) from our work and from the toil of our hands, from the ground which God has cursed.” (Genesis 5:29) Another interpretation is that Noach is derived from the root “NCh,” meaning “rest” and Rashi gives the explanation that the word yenachmenu means yanach mi-mehnu, meaning “will rest from it.”
After the floodwaters had receded and Noah was able to leave the Ark, he built an altar and made offerings to God. God made a secret promise not revealed to Noah: “I will not continue to curse again the ground because of man, since the imagery of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” That is, even though individuals may be wicked, God will not remove mankind from the Earth, but will punish individuals who do evil.
So we see that God blessed all of humanity with the Earth at least twice – once during Creation, in making the land and separating it from the waters, and again after the Flood in promising not to continue cursing the land because of mankind’s sins.
The story of Noah reminds us that all the lands we love – planet Earth, America, Israel – are gifts from God. It’s up to us to take care of the land itself and to live our lives so as to be worthy of God’s gift.
Want to start on that? Take a look at
The BSA Conservation Good Turn Award http://www.scouting.org/Home/BoyScouts/Resources/ConservationGoodTurn.aspx
The Cub Scout Conservation Award http://www.scouting.org/filestore/cubscouts/pdf/512-036_WB.pdf
The Hornaday Award http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/Awards/HornadayAwards.aspx
Merit Badges like Soil and Water Conservation, Nature and Environmental Science
P.S. Rabbi Rock’s very interesting interpretation is in “Consolation for the Land,” Torah MiEtzion: New Readings in Tanach – Bereshit. Thanks to Danny Chazin, secretary of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting, for the Rashi interpretation of yenachmenu.
October 4, 2018 – Parsha Bereishis
This week, we again start the cycle of Torah portions, with Parasha Bereishis.
In the very first chapter of the Torah God makes everything there is just by saying things. “God said, ‘Let there be light’”. (v. 3) “God said, “Let there be a firmament [the heavens]’”. (v. 6) This was done over a period of six days, and on the seventh day God rested, creating Shabbat. Here is what God created each day with the divine statements:
Day 1 – Light and darkness. The light was intensely spiritual. The darkness is not just the absence of light, but a specific creation.
Day 2 – A firmament separating the waters above and the waters below. The firmament was the heavens, which began forming on Day 1 and now were completed. Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194–1270) says the heavens were created “From the light of the raiment” of God, and thus were also very spiritual.
Day 3 – Dry land, separating the waters on the earth, and vegetation of all kinds.
Day 4 – The luminaries – the heavenly bodies created on Day 1 – are set in their places.
Day 5 – Animals in the sea and in the heavens.
Day 6 – Land animals including humans.
Day 7 – Shabbat.
Pirke Avos (Ethics of the Fathers), a book of the Mishnah, explains, “With ten Divine Statements the world was created. And what does this come to teach? Is it not evident that it could have been created with one Divine Statement?” (5:1)
In his commentary on this verse, the great Italian Torah scholar Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550) points out that certainly God could have created everything with just one utterance. Instead, God chose to use a series of creations progressing to the creation that was in God’s image and likeness, mankind. (Genesis 1:26) Sforno explains our job is to assist God by trying to perfect oneself and the world, thereby trying to be in God’s image and likeness.
As Jews, we do this by trying to live by the Torah. Scouting takes many Torah principles and puts them into a form – the Scout Oath, Law and Slogan – that young people of all faiths can accept and use as guides for living. Just as the Torah helps us perfect ourselves and the world, so does Scouting.
It’s OK that we are not perfect. God’s method of creation was meant for us to keep improving ourselves. So as you work on perfecting your practice of the Scout Oath and Law, you are partnering with God in creation.
September 25, 2018 – Parsha Ki Sisa
I hope you are having good weather for Sukkot!
This Shabbat we have a special Torah reading, because it is one of the chol hamoed (intermediate) days of the festival. The reading comes from Parasha Ki Sisa; the special portion is Exodus 33:12 to 34:26.
In this special portion, Moses is speaking to God shortly after the sin of the golden calf (the chet ha’eigel). In the verses just before the parasha begins, Moses and the Levites had punished those who worshipped the idol and Moses prayed that God would forgive the Israelites. God told Moses to take the people on to Canaan, and God – who had been guiding them directly – would send an angel to guide them because God was angry with the Israelites. When we begin the portion, Moses asks that God, not an angel, guide them, and God agrees because Moses has “found favor in My eyes, and I have known you by name.”
Moses then asks God to show Moses the Divine Glory. God replies that no one can see this, but God will let Moses see His back as He passes by. Moses ascends Mt. Sinai and brings two stone tablets to make a new set of the Ten Commandments. On the mountain, God reveals Himself to Moses, and teaches him the prayer that the Israelites can use to ask forgiveness. We say this prayer several times during the Yom Kippur services: “Hashem, Hashem, God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth; Preserver of Kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of Iniquity, Willful Sin and Error, and Who Cleanses.”
God then gives Moses several commandments, including a repetition of the mitzvah of Shabbat and a description of Pesach and the bringing of the Bikurim (first fruits) on Shavuot. God also commands “the Festival of the Harvest shall be at the first of the year.” This is Sukkot, which comes just two weeks after Rosh Hashonah. Thus, the portion describes all three of the Jewish holy festivals, when Jews would go to the Temple.
Some rabbis see a connection between the fact that this portion picks up with the aftermath of the chet ha’eigel and the commandments to observe the festivals. Each of the festivals is directly involved with God’s gifts to the Jewish people – the fall harvest (Sukkot), the spring harvest (Shavuot) and the Exodus from Egypt (Pesach). They are reminders that God, and not an idol, has protected us and sustained us.
Sukkot is the time to leave your house and sit in a sukkah just as God had us live in sukkot in the desert. During that time God saw to our every need instead of having us work, so that we could focus on our relationship with the God. Upon entering Israel, we became responsible for our needs, and by following His example, we were able to bring God into “our world” just as God had brought us into the world of holiness.
When you leave “your world” on Sukkot, you have the opportunity to renew and improve your relationship with God so that you will Be Prepared to bring God with you when you leave your sukkah at the end of the holiday.
Chag sameach and Shabbat shalom,
Nelson (with thanks to Jordan Block)
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.