Pinhas -- Numbers 25:10 – 30:1

Facebook_CoverDesign_Pinhas"No matter how small a religion is, there will always be people within it who find some reason to break away and make it even smaller, a process that, of necessity, ultimately means conflict."

This comment was offered by Reza Aslan, controversial sociologist of religion and host of Believer.

So do we accept that belief as manifested in world religions is, for Aslan, mostly equivalent to zealotry – the shadow side of every religion? The claws of zealotry pierce the heart of religion once its spirit has been relegated to the oppression of others via a blinkered way of seeing the divine totality in lived life.

The zealotry of Pinhas is rewarded with a brit shalom (covenant of peace) and the priesthood after he publicly spears Zimri, the Simeonite prince, and his paramour, Cozbi, the Midianite princess. Following a census of the people, Moses divides the Land of Israel by lottery among the Israelite tribes, and then transitions leadership to Joshua, who will lead the people into the Promised Land. Rightful inheritance for women is championed by the five daughters of Zelophehad, who petition Moses for justice.

Commitment to reaching out in good will through intentional interreligious dialogue is also important. While it is important to remain vigilant "to insist on freedom of religion and freedom from religion for everyone in the land," recall how the dangers of "anti-fundamentalism" are lurking just around that corner. As American Jews, it is our democratic responsibility to be "holding elected officials, religious leaders, and political pundits accountable" as a most "important way to take citizenship seriously and model for the world the best of what participatory democracy can look like in a very diverse society."

The challenge remains, of course – how to imagine a world where humans will evolve through its religions, enabling a world where zealotry against the other dissolves into a brit shalom, a devotional responsibility for others.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is an abstract depiction of the five daughters of Zelophehad. "The daughters of Zelophehad...stood before Moses and before Eleazar the kohen and before the chieftains and the entire congregation at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting." (Numbers 27:1–2) These sisters are often championed as proto-feminists because they "opened the future for all women." Here, their five figures emerge from the ground – going against the grain. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Zoe & Hana Jaeger Skigen's B'not Mitzvah

Facebook_HanaZoeSkigenShalom. Our names are Zoe and Hana Jaeger Skigen. We are twelve-year-old twins and we just finished Grade 7 at the Synergy School in San Francisco's Mission District, where we also live.

This Shabbat, June 17, we will become b’not mitzvah. We have spent our entire lives doing meaningful things together and the process of preparing to become b’not mitzvah has been one of the highlights. We have been members of Beth Sholom since we were born; we attended "Mommy and Me" and Tot Shabbat programs in addition to the CBS Family Preschool and Shabbat School (religious school). Beth Sholom is literally a "house of peace" for us and our second Jewish home. We are still best friends with the children we met at Beth Sholom from our infancy.

In this week’s parsha, Parashat Shelach Lecha, we learn that Moses sends twelve spies to the land of Canaan as authorized by God. When they return, they bring back incredible things, like enormous grapes, as well as seemingly bad news. Ten of the spies report that the people of the land are unconquerable – that Canaan is filled with giants. Many of the Israelite people panic and want to return to Egypt. As a havruta (learning in pairs), we had lengthy conversations about how and why such conflicting perspectives could emerge about the same land. The process has been both intellectually and spiritually moving for both of us.

I (Zoe) enjoy playing trumpet in a city-wide orchestra and school band. I like all things musical and especially like to teach myself to play new instruments. I am active member of the Gay/Straight Alliance at school and I play on the school basketball team. In my free time, I make videos, arrange music, and I am passionate about tikkun olam and activism. In the summers, I enjoy going to Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa. For my mitzvah project, I taught formerly-imprisoned, mentally ill adults cooking classes.

I (Hana) am on the student council at school, in the school choir, and play on the school futsal, basketball, and cross country teams. I am a proud feminist and activist and I am also a member of the Gay/Straight Alliance. I also have a deep affinity for animals and am an avid reader. I play ukulele and in my free time I enjoy writing songs. For my mitzvah project, I performed a concert at the Jewish Home for the Aged. This is particularly meaningful to me because this is where my great grandmother, Bea, lived and died. Camp Gilboa is a special place in the summer for me as well.

We want to thank our mother and father for supporting us and gently pushing us through the process of becoming b’not mitzvah. We also want to thank our Baba and Savta and our Bubbie, Susan Jaeger, for helping us to develop our Jewish identity. A special thank you to Noa Bar, our tutor, and to Rabbi Glazer for teaching us how to stick with such a large task and the importance of Torah. Most importantly, we would like to thank each other. Having a twin sister always makes life a little easier and we always feel a little safer in the world knowing we have each other.

We are so elated to together share this life cycle event along with our friends and family who are traveling from near and far to witness this simcha!

Naso -- Numbers 4:21 – 7:89

Facebook_CoverDesign_NasoAnother key community building lesson I learned from Dr. Sarale Shadmi-Wortman (Oranim College of Education) during the Rabin Bay Area Leadership Mission to Israel is the importance of Belonging – a sense that "this is mine," a feeling of ownership and full inclusion in a group that allows "a community to become part of the definition of one's personal identity."

This sense of true belonging is something the Children of Israel yearn for during their ongoing journey, and the twelve tribes attempt to retain connection between one another without sacrificing the need to do so on their own terms and in their own particular manner. Offerings are made to inaugurate the altar by each of the tribes. While these offerings appear to be identical, each day is described on its own terms. The offerings that each of us make to bolster community will always be unique.

This week's parsha actually begins at the moment of completion of the grand census taking in the Sinai desert. Parashat Naso tallies those who will be doing the planning and organizing [avodat ha’masah] of transporting the Tabernacle. It is this organization that enables entry into moments of deeper self-reflection [avodat ha’avodah]. Various laws are also revealed including the ritual of the wayward wife, known as sotah, as well as the spiritual practice of the nazir.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts the profile of a woman accused and awaiting the priest's verdict. The sotah ritual requires a wife suspected of infidelity to drink a potion which will determine her guilt or innocence. In our more feminist and gender-aware era, the ritual is controversial, rightly condemned for its severe patriarchal framing. It is worth noting, though, that the outcome would almost certainly render an accused woman innocent. That's a far sight better than public execution, which was the usual punishment for suspected adultery in ancient times. What today appears inhumane and sexist may have been a progressive invention in its own day. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Lola Schnaider's Bat Mitzvah

LolaShalom! My name is Lola Schnaider, and I am a 7th grader at the Brandeis School of San Francisco! I enjoy dancing, playing sports, photography, and listening to lots of music. I love to travel and be out in nature with my friends and family. In a few short days, I will be called to the Torah as a bat mitzvah. To me, becoming a bat mitzvah means accepting my responsibilities as the newest member of the Jewish community, and figuring out my Jewish identity.

I will be reading from Parashat Naso, which is found in the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar. Several topics come up in my parsha including rules pertaining to contact with lepers, adultery, the nazarite vow, and the sacred, threefold Priestly blessing.

The topic that interests me the most is that of the sotah, which translates as "gone astray." Sotah is a ritual test that occurs when a husband suspects his wife of adultery. The wife must drink a mixture of clay and dirt from the floor of the Tabernacle, to prove her innocence or guilt. In my drash, I will offer a feminist perspective on the topic of sotah, as it relates and compares to our lives today. I am honored to be having my bat mitzvah at Congregation Beth Sholom, and I am thrilled to have my family and friends by my side.

I hope to see you all there!