The Portion

Aaron Roller

"The Portion" is a podcast where Aaron Roller, a curious Orthodox Jew, sits down with his brother-in-law, Rabbi Jonathan Bienenfeld, to discuss the portion of the Torah that is read each week by Jews around the world. The conversation is informal and friendly, but not afraid to delve into the wealth of Jewish wisdom and interpretation. Guests ma

All Episodes

In this episode, we are together again and talking about the Sin of the Golden Calf. Was is the id of the Jewish people run amok with their leader missing? Or was it a more high-minded decision that went off the rails? Join us for the discussion. 

Mar 11

27 min

A quick solo show on the important of consistency. 

Mar 6

9 min

This week's Torah portion reads like a complicated set of building specs, as G-d presents Moshe with the instructions for building the Tabernacle. We talk about what it means for the Israelites to engage in a construction project following the splitting of the sea and the revelation at Sinai.  

Feb 27

26 min

In Mishpatim, the Torah seems to take a dramatic turn from narrative into a detailed discussion of Jewish law. How do we explain this change? And how should we think about the way that the word mishpatim is used in Genesis vs. the way it's used in this week's parsha? Join us for the discussion. 

Feb 20

23 min

Something strange about the week's Torah portion, Yitro, is that the greatest divine revelation in human history is preceded by a seemingly unrelated story about Moshe delegating authority and setting up multi-tier courts. On this episode, Aaron wonders why he's so bad at delegating and Rabbi Bienenfeld delves into the details of what makes good leadership. Check it out. 

Feb 13

30 min

On this week's show, we talk about the difficult path the Israelites had to travel to achieve mental freedom even after they achieved physical liberation. We talk about the contrast between manna and matzoh, changing habits, and the deep lessons of Shabbos. Also, here's a reference to last week's episode in the show notes: http://www.buzzsprout.com/217572/2614090-bo-free-flexible. 

Feb 6

25 min

In this episode, we spoke about Pharoah's hardened heart. Has G-d removed Pharoah's free will, or has He strengthened it? We contrast Pharoah's inflexible commitment to a corrupt ideology with the more fleet footed approach of the Patriarchs. 

Jan 30

24 min

In this week's episode, as the Torah portion introduces seven out of the ten plagues, we talk about the role of miracles and how direct divine intervention should impact our own perspectives. 

Jan 20

28 min

In this week's episode, we start Sefer Shemot - the Book of Exodus - with the question of what makes Moshe Rabbeinu the greatest Jewish leader in history. 

Jan 16

25 min

In this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, Yaakov Avinu, the third, and last, of the patriarchs, dies. On this week's episode, we talk about the lessons Yaakov teaches us at the end of his life. 

Jan 8

30 min

In this episode, we look at how Jacob and his children prepare to descend to Egypt and what that has to teach us today about moving into and within the diaspora. 

Dec 2019

33 min

In this episode, we delve into the dispute between Yosef and his brothers to try and understand why it never occurred to them to even suspect that the Egyptian viceroy giving them so much trouble might be their brother. 

Dec 2019

33 min

In this week's episode, we try to make sense of Joseph and his violent journey from Yaakov's favorite child to the depths of a pit, and all his subsequent rises and falls. Along the way, we touch on a couple of points that make Joseph's journey all the more remarkable and draw out some lessons for our moment today.

Dec 2019

22 min

In this week's Torah portion, Yaakov wrestles with a mysterious man, whom tradition considers to the Esav's "angel." In this week's episode, we talk about what this wrestling match represents and how it prepared Yaakov for his encounter with the real Esav the next day. 

Dec 2019

33 min

In this week's discussion, we talk about Yaakov's trip to Padan-Aram to escape his brother and his decision to return back home. We look at the dream he has at the beginning of his journey and the vision he has at the end, and what that tells us about who he is, in contrast to the difficult people around him. 

Dec 2019

29 min

This episode, recorded on Thanksgiving with the turkey in the oven, discusses the question of how Jews give thanks to their host nations in exile, what that tells us about Thanksgiving, and how an antecedent is found in this week's Torah portion in the relationship between Yitzchak and Avimelech, the King of Grar. 

Nov 2019

35 min

Aaron visited Chicago and recorded this episode with Alan J. Sufrin and Miriam Brosseau, the hosts of the podcast "Throwing Sheyd." On "Throwing Sheyd," Alan and Miriam examine the wide range of Jewish texts that deal with Sheydim, or demons, to analyze them and ask what they can tell us about our lives. In this crossover episode, we looked at midrashim that tie the death of Sarah that takes place in this week's Torah portion to the work of Satan (or, to put it in more Jewish terms, the Satan). Who is the Satan? Is he different than a sheyd? What is his place within Jewish thought? Join us for the discussion.

Nov 2019

31 min

Following in the same vein from last week's conversation about Abraham's trials, we discuss Abraham's final trial, the binding of Isaac. We look at the full, tragic irony of G-d's request that Abraham sacrifice the son whose very existence was so clearly an expression of the divine will, and we ask whether or not the binding of Isaac challenged Abraham's conception of who G-d is. Join us for the discussion. 

Nov 2019

28 min

In this week's episode, we talk about the idea in Jewish tradition that Abraham was tested ten times. Why? Why is being tested essential for Abraham's character? Does he pass all the tests? And what are we supposed to learn from that? Join us for the discussion.

Nov 2019

38 min

The Portion, Season 2 is on! Aaron and Rabbi Bienenfeld are back this week talking about Noah. This year, they're pretty much skipping the ark and the flood to talk about the vineyard that Noah plants after he gets off the flood. Why grapes? Why a vineyard? Why does Noah get drunk? And does the Torah's negative portrayal of drinking and drunkenness influence Jewish practice today?

Oct 2019

33 min

This is it! The last episode of our first season, which strangely coincides with the conclusion of the weekly Torah readings and the end of the Book of Deuteronomy. The last Torah portion is bittersweet and cryptic, featuring Moshe's blessings to the tribes, which contain far reaching (and some oddly specific) references to future events. 

Oct 2019

38 min

Rabbi Bienenfeld is back and he and Aaron take on the daunting poetry of Parshat Ha'azinu. 

Oct 2019

42 min

This week is an off-week, as Aaron hosts the show alone. Rabbi Bienenfeld is taking a break following the passing of his father, Jeffrey Bienenfeld. Aaron talks about the image of Moshe and Joshua standing at the tent of meeting and whether they are both hearing the same message from G-d, or whether they're hearing different things. He also talks about the double meaning of the word "shira," which, in tradition refers to the actual poem that Moshe teaches the people in next week's Torah portion, as well as to the whole of Torah itself. 

Oct 2019

31 min

How does the Torah expect us to correct other people's misdeeds in a society where being judgmental and telling others what to do is frowned upon? Following a comment by Rashi, in this episode we take up this question (among others). Rabbi Bienenfeld brings the Ohr HaChaim, Tosafot, and Rav Yehuda Amital to bear on the question. Aaron brings William Butler Yeats and Sarah Silverman. Join us for the discussion.This episode is dedicated to Tzvi Yehuda Menachem ben Basya Chana. We are praying for your speedy recovery.

Sep 2019

36 min

In this week's show, we talk about two important rituals that the Jewish people haven't done in centuries, bringing offerings of first fruits to Jerusalem, and proclaiming vidui ma'aser, a declaration that all tithes have been appropriately made. What are these all about and what important messages do they have to teach us on the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5780? Join us for the discussion.

Sep 2019

30 min

This week's Torah portion is chock full of mitzvot but we ended up going deep into just a few of them, particularly the laws surrounding the yefat toar, the war brides that Jewish soldiers are permitted to capture and marry. Commentaries portray this law as a rare accommodation to human passion, which, for the soldier in the heat of battle, might be too strong to overcome, and so the Torah provides a framework for allowing what would otherwise be a sin. But is this law an isolated occurrence, or does it have something to tell us about the nature of all desire. Aaron brings up a provocative passage from the Izhbitzer Rebbe, leading to some very interesting back and forth about how (or whether) sin can be constructive. 

Sep 2019

53 min

In this week's episode, we discuss two ideas that have engaged commentators for centuries: magic and monarchy. Is black magic - which is forbidden in this week's Torah portion - real? Is magic forbidden because it is utterly untrue, or because it is true but inappropriate? What about kings? Should Israel have a king? Is it ideal or an accommodation to human frailty? Join us. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632

Sep 2019

42 min

In this week's discussion, Aaron and Rabbi Bienenfeld talk about the theme of food and eating runs through the Torah portion of Re'eh. From the laws of slaughter, to kosher food, to the sabbatical year, laws regarding how the Israelites are supposed to eat in the land abound. What does it all mean? Why aren't Jews required to be vegetarians? If G-d is everywhere, why is animal sacrifice limited to a single location? And how do the laws that don't relate to food fit in?To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632 And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632

Aug 2019

37 min

In this week's episode, we continue to discuss Moshe's long parting address to the Jewish people and derive lessons that it has to teach us about working, self-righteousness, and the Land of Israel.To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Aug 2019

38 min

In this week's Torah portion, Aaron and Rabbi Bienenfeld look at how the Book of Deuteronomy develops thematically, as Moshe's address to the people continues. They talk about why Moshe might have thought that his final plea to enter the land might have been granted, what Moshe is trying to convey to the people, and how an impressively large number of important principles of Jewish thought are taught in this week's portion. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632 And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Aug 2019

31 min

In this episode, Rabbi Bienenfeld is back! He and Aaron sit down to begin a new book of the Torah and try to figure out what to make of Sefer Devarim, the Book of Deuteronomy. Why is almost the whole book comprised of speeches by Moshe? Why is there so much review of things that the Torah has already covered, and how are we to make sense of what gets mentioned and what gets glossed over? To further complicate matters, why do some incidents seem slightly different when Moshe recounts them? Through the discussion, our hosts develop a couple of concepts that will hopefully help shed light on the final book of the Pentateuch. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Aug 2019

37 min

In this week's episode, Aaron is joined by Kohelet Yeshiva High School's Esther Konig to talk about the double portions of Matot and Masei, and the end of Sefer Bamidbar.  To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Aug 2019

54 min

In this week's episode, Aaron journeyed across the Ben Franklin Bridge to Bala Cynwyd, PA to talk about Parshat Pinchas with Rabbi Gil Perl, Head of School at Kohelet Yeshiva High School and the Kohelet Yehshiva Lab School. Rabbi Perl is an expert on nineteenth century Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (known as the Netziv), and he shared a number of profound insights from the Netziv's commentary to shed light on this week's Torah portion. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Jul 2019

45 min

This week, Aaron journeyed to Camp HASC to speak with Rav Judah Mischel about the perplexing Torah Portion of Balak. Why does the Torah all of a sudden shift perspectives to focus on the neighboring nations? What are we to make of the prophet Bila'am and his talking donkey? Is there a hint in this week's portion regarding the commandment to love your fellow Jew? Give a listen and find out. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Jul 2019

29 min

This is our first episode with Rabbi Bienenfeld on vacation and we were so grateful and honored to have Rabbi Yisroel Serebrowski, the leader of Torah Links on the East Side of Cherry Hill, sit in with Aaron as guest host this week. On this week's episode, we talked about two mysteries, the mystery of the red heifer, a colorful animal whose ashes bring purity, and the mystery of what Moshe did to deserve the consequence of not being able to enter the land of Israel. We also talk about the leadership styles of Moshe, his brother Aharon, and his sister Miriam. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Jul 2019

41 min

In this week's Torah portion... rebellion. Moshe's cousin Korach leads a revolution against Moshe and Aharon, claiming everyone is equal in the eyes of G-d. But it that's the case, how does Korach justify wanting to be in charge? And why do the people continue to glorify Korach even after he is swallowed by the earth in a clear repudiation of his claims? On this week's episode, we look at the aftermath of the sin of the spies and discuss how the Israelites go on even after learning they will not be able to enter the Promised Land.To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Jul 2019

48 min

Why do ten of the twelve spies sent by Moshe come back with such terrible things to say about the Land of Israel? And why are the Children of Israel so quick to believe them? In this episode, we delve into the mentality that led to this debacle and the lessons we can derive for our own religious lives. Also, an explanation for the spies' sin with a sci-fi twist!To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Jun 2019

38 min

This week's Torah portion sees a stark divide, two nuns that serve as a parenthesis and divide the first part of the Book of Numbers, which is optimistic and centered around a holy encampment moving swiftly towards the Promised Land, with the rest of the book, largely centered on everything that goes wrong. In this week's episode, we talk about the root of the complaining that marks the start of the negativity. We also talk about Moshe's relationship with his sister Miriam, who is punished for speaking badly of her little brother. Join us. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Jun 2019

50 min

This week's Torah portion presents us with some interesting laws that seem to have little practical application today. Does the case of the sotah, the wife accused of adultery, have anything to tell us today? What about the nazirite? And how do the priestly blessings that are recorded here relate? Join us for this week's discussion. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Jun 2019

34 min

We start the fourth and penultimate book of the Torah... "Numbers," or, in Hebrew, Bamidbar (which translates to "In the Desert," not "Numbers"). What is the significance of the desert and why is this book named after it? We talk about the theme of this book (Aaron's suggestion: it's about failure) and how the grandeur and pageantry described in this week's Torah portion may have some dark foreshadowing hiding beneath the surface, all while working in references to Maimonides, Freud, and Leonard Cohen. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Jun 2019

44 min

Sefer Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus, comes to a close with a harrowing account of G-d's vengeance if the Children of Israel fail to adhere to the vision and build the society described throughout the earlier sections of the book. In this week's episode, we talk about the role of punishment, how to relate to something so frightening, and why the book closes on a strange note. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

May 2019

51 min

In this week's portion, Behar, the Torah teaches the laws regarding the sabbatical year and the jubilee year. In the sabbatical year, farmers must let the land lie fallow for one out of seven years. And every fifty years, in the jubilee year, all real estate sales are canceled and the land goes back to its original owners. In this week's episode, we talk about how these laws present an approach to politics and economics that tie the Jewish people to G-d and to the land. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

May 2019

38 min

In this episode, we discussed the Torah portion's exclusion of priests with disabilities or physical blemishes from serving in the Tabernacle or Temple. It was a difficult discussion but it was good to talk about the Torah's different models of leadership and how we respond when specific laws do not conform with our sense of fairness (or what we might see as the Torah's own system of values). We hope that we approached this topic with sensitivity. Also, we both turn out to be pretty big Zionists. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

May 2019

44 min

This week's Torah portion is a bit of a grab bag, filled with all different kinds of laws that somehow comprise "holiness." But what does it mean to be holy? We talk about the differences between holiness and purity, a famous interpretation by the Ramban, and whether shmura matzoh should be described as artisanal. Join us! To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

May 2019

39 min

After a short break for Pesach, we're back discussing the weekly Torah portion. In this week's portion, Acharei Mot, we see how the laws we studied earlier in Sefer Vayikra are applied by the High Priest on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. We talk about the mysterious scapegoat, its possible relationship to demon worship, and what it means to wipe the slate clean. Also, how does the end of the Torah portion - on Jewish sexual ethics - relate to the Yom Kippur ceremony? Join us.To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

May 2019

51 min

What is the story with the two birds that the healed leper needs to bring to the Temple as part of their process of healing and purification? Are they supposed to identify with the one that is slaughtered as a sin offering, feeling that the bird goes in their place? Or should they feel more like the other bird, the one that gets dipped in the blood of its fellow and then flies to freedom? We take on these and other questions in this week's episode. Join us.To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Apr 2019

40 min

In this week's episode, we talk all imprecise translations. Does tameh really mean impure? Does tzara'at really mean leprosy? And what is a discussion of a spiritual skin disease doing in the aftermath of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu? Perhaps of greatest relevance, how does this Biblical skin affliction impact our view on sickness and health?To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Apr 2019

46 min

In this week's episode, Aaron makes the case that the Torah portion of "Shmini" has all the suspense and tension of a submarine movie with an intense drama that largely takes place between the lines of the Torah's text. We talk about Aharon the High Priest's silence and Moses' humility and discuss whether the transition from the story about the Tabernacle's inauguration to the laws of kosher food is as jarring a segue as it first appears. 

Mar 2019

45 min

Maybe it's because this episode is coming out on Purim 2019, or maybe it's because we digress a bit when talking about animal sacrifice, but either way, this week's show feels a little looser. There are a few moments we talked about editing out... but then we left them in, including when Rabbi Bienenfeld's printer started printing mid-episode. This conversation yielded a lot of good Torah, including ideas about why the priests get to eat sacrifices that atone for sins and why the flour offerings cannot be leavened. Check it out. Plus, Aaron uncharacteristically makes a sports reference. To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Mar 2019

51 min

We pop into the Book of Leviticus with some unconvincing champagne sound effects and then we're off, with a discussion of what the institution of animal sacrifice is all about. Is it about achieving closeness with G-d? Reconciliation? Keeping G-d's presence in the Israelite camp? We explore all these avenues and Rabbi Bienenfeld brings some illuminating analogies, drawing from board games, barbecue and a recent article in the New York Times about unplugging from social media.To stay up to date and to comment on this week's episode, please Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Portion-1840699399318632/?view_public_for=1840699399318632  And please review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Mar 2019

49 min

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