Do the Clothes Make the Man? What Ishay Ribo and the Kohen Gadol Can Teach Us About Transformation

Note: A version of this post was originally delivered as a d’var torah at Darkhei Noam in New York City for Parshat Ki Tavo in 2019.

On the off chance you’ve missed it, there’s a song called Seder HaAvodah by Ishay Ribo that is going around the Jewish internet right now. If you haven’t heard it yet, I could not recommend giving it a listen more highly. The song is essentially a recounting of the Avodah, the service of the Kohen Gadol, which is at the heart of the liturgy for Musaf on Yom Kippur. …

A small piece of Pesach Torah:

The magid section of the haggadah, which is the heart of the seder, opens with the famous words of הא לחמא עניא. We say, כל דכפין ייתי ויכל. כל דצריך ייתי ויפסח. Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who are in need come and celebrate Pesach. Until I began studying Talmud, I always struggled through these words, which are in Aramaic, a language even less comfortable for most Jews than Hebrew. However, it seems to me that reading this part only in Aramaic (unless you table is made up of Talmud scholars or Aramaic experts) is a mistake. At the time the Haggadah was written, Aramaic was the vernacular for many Jews. Therefore, the authors are saying: Listen up! This part is important. We are saying it so you can understand. …

“Take a knee.”

When I signed onto Facebook after three days offline for Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat, the message I saw over and over was “take a knee.” At first, I was confused by the sudden call to take a knee, knowing that Colin Kaepernick still hadn’t been signed by any NFL team, and that there had been an effort by many in the NFL to put last year’s protests behind them. Once I saw the transcripts from the President’s rally in Alabama on Friday, though, everything came together. Surely a president who calls white supremacists very fine people, but people who engage in peaceful protest sons of bitches, is deserving of protest. However, as many commentators have noted, taking a knee isn’t about this president. Instead, it’s about America’s failure to face its oppression of its own citizens citizens. It’s about people of color who feel unsafe when they see a cop. It’s about the idea that our flag and national anthem represent the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of its citizens, and the myriad of ways that that promise has not been fulfilled. …

What do you say on a day like today? 16 years. The sky is blue again. The world moved on, except that it hasn’t really, because nothing ever will be the same again. We will never forget, but we are somehow already surrounded by people who were too young to remember.

One of the things I find helpful about Judaism is the degree to which it helps us ritualize grief. From individual grief, through the frameworks and milestones of the year of mourning, to communal grief through fast days, we have a framework which helps us process our experiences, and also sometimes to feel things we might not be able to feel otherwise. However, 16 years ago today, we, as a country, and I, as an individual, were faced with a sort of tragedy that didn’t offer a clear framework for mourning. …

Note: A version of this post was originally delivered as a d’var torah at Darkhei Noam in New York City for Parshat Re’eh.

I don’t know what to say.

I’m not supposed to say that. I’m an educator. I learn and teach Torah for a living. I talk for a living. I get up and tell charming stories or jokes, and then I talk about what the Torah or the rabbis have to say, and then explain what that teaching can teach us in today’s world. I admit that it’s sort of a formula, but one I’ve used with a fairly high success rate over the years, both for myself and with my students. But this time, I’m stumped. …


Rachel Rosenthal

Rachel Rosenthal holds a PhD in rabbinic literature and teaches Torah throughout New York. You can learn more about her at

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