March 3 2012/9 Adar 5772 Shabbat Tetzaveh/Zakhor

Among our Hebrew High School students (and their parents), I’m notorious for introducing passages from the Torah that they never would have been given the chance to learn when they were children. We call the class “Tantalizing Tales of the Torah,” though the parents of the older students who learned with me four years ago give the class another, less elegant, name.


My goal in teaching this material is not to capitalize on hyperactive adolescent hormones. I want to demonstrate that Torah, and the study of all things Jewish, is not just for children. On the contrary, our sacred texts are replete with content for adult viewing only. It’s my conscious effort to counter the trend of American Jewry to relegate Torah to “pediatrics”–stories to entertain young children, but to be grown out of eventually (usually by age 13).


I was delighted and validated by a column in this week’s Canadian Jewish News by Daniel Held, a doctoral student at the Davidson School for Jewish Education at JTS and a close family friend. You can read the column in full here, but I’ll emphasize its key message: Megillat Esther is more than a children’s story; it “is ripe with ethical questions for debate: domestic violence, sex trafficking, poverty, slavery, exile, identity conservation and assimilation, consumerism, genocide, and the death penalty.”


With Purim less than a week away, we explored some of these themes in our high school classes this week, and on Shabbat morning, I want to look at one in particular–conspicuous consumption. To prepare for our discussion, here is Esther, Chapter 1. What does the Megillah seem to be saying about Persian wealth? And what do we think about similar such displays?


Shabbat Shalom,



Rabbi David Wise