2710 Genesee St.
Utica, New York 13502
Phone: (315) 724-4751 ✡ email: tbeutica@gmail.com

A Conservative Jewish Congregation Established for
the Worship of God, the Study of Torah, and the Practice of Righteous Deeds

Candle Lighting

February 1 - 4:45 PM
February 8 - 5:04 PM
February 15 - 5:14 PM
February 22 - 5:23 PM

Temple Beth El
by Making a Donation
In Honor or
In Memory
to a Temple Fund:

•The Victor H. Flax Fund
•The Dr. Leonard Levinson Cemetery Care Fund
•The Minyanaires Fund
•The David M. Philipson Fund
•The Religious School Education Fund
•The Harry N. & Eleanor L. Savett Scholarship Fund
•The Dr. Albert A Schwartz Education Fund
•Memorial Plaques
•Simcha Plaques
•Tree of Life Plaques

To Make a Donation Contact the Temple Office at
(315) 724-4751

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Please notify Temple of any ADDRESS CHANGES you may have for the winter months, we need these address changes if we are to continue sending the bulletin.
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A Message from Cantor Socolof

CantorOne of the greatest gifts God bestowed upon us is the gift of articulation" speech, certainly, but more fundamentally the ability to express ourselves in words. This facility allows us to convey our ideas, our feelings and so much more in a palette that can achieve spectacular heights of hyperbole or the very subtlest of nuance. As with any tool we wield, language has the capacity to be used for constructive purposes or not.

No doubt, you have seen a movie or read a book that starts out in a particular fashion and then, part-way through, takes a sharp and unforeseen turn and becomes a different kind of work entirely. That sudden switch is more than just a story-telling device. It serves to keep you interested and more engaged with what comes next.

The Torah does much the same thing right about this point in the year. From Parshat B’rayshit to Yitro, which we read on the last Shabbat of January, the Torah is primarily a narrative, with a few mitzvot thrown in. There are only three mitzvot in the entire book of Genesis, and only 22 in the book of Exodus before Yitro (and of those 22, 17 relate to Passover). Up to that point, then, we come across only four percent of all of mitzvot. The fact is, we barely notice their absence, as we are easily caught up in the stories of the creation, the flood, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebeccah, Jacob, Leah, Rachel and their children, Moses and the story of the Exodus. These stories, in their flow, their subtlety and their deep knowledge of the human condition, have proved timeless over the millenia.

But here the Torah does a 180. With little warning, it changes to a book that is a book of laws, with some narrative thrown in. Yes, each of the last four books has at least one parsha with no mitzvot, but over 95 percent of the 613 mitzvot, the bedrock foundation upon which Jewish life is situated, are found in these books. These commandments cover all aspect of life, from whom to marry to how to conduct one’s business, ritual to eating, child-raising, to rules of war.

Why the change? Especially since so many people do regard the Torah as a ”storybook.”  Actually, the answer lies in Rashi’s commentary on the first verse of Genesis.  He quotes Rabbi Isaac saying that it does not seem necessary to start the Torah with the creation; one might expect it to begin in Exodus with the first commandments given to the Israelites as a people. The reason, continues Rashi, is to make clear that God created the world, and can therefore give portions of it to whoever He sees fit. Otherwise, the Israelites’ claim on the Promised Land would have no validity.

We can see, though, that the first 15 parshiyot of the Torah provide more than validation of a land claim; they give us context. It isn’t enough (although you would think it should be) that God gave us these commandments at Sinai after personally delivering us from Egypt. We need to know why God spoke to us. Out of all the nations of the earth, how did we merit this special consideration?

Cantor Socoloff

Contact him at uticacantor@verizon.net