Turning to the Internet to understand Torah portions

The Internet is increasingly becoming a source for Torah commentary and home-study materials, for all levels of Jewish knowledge and interest.

The following is a look at several Web sites that discuss the weekly parashah, or Torah reading. The offerings range from pure commentary to a line-by-line recap of the portion. Some offer the option to sign up and automatically receive the weekly portion through e-mail.

I used Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech, from the book of Deuteronomy, to compare a few sites.

In the parashah, Moses is offering his farewell speech to the Israelites. He tells them that they are standing before God to conclude a covenant that will bind all the Israelites to God — not just those present today, but those in the past as well as those yet to be born. The concepts of repentance and redemption are explored. Joshua is announced as the next leader of the people. And the Israelites are instructed to write down the Torah and teach it to the people.

*Torah Tidbits on the Orthodox Union Web site — www.ou.org/torah/tt — offers the most exhaustive discussion of the parashah.

It summarizes and comments on each aliyah. Commentary focuses on the message of Jewish unity, as well as the concept that repentance is open to all who take the first step and must contain three elements: thoughts, words and deeds.

Torah Tidbits elaborates on one aspect of the weekly reading and discusses the question of whether or not tshuvah, or repentance, is a mitzvah. According to the commentary, God prefers repentance to punishment.

*Torat Hayim through the Reform movement — www.uahc.org/torah/hashavua.html — offers commentaries based on parashah themes.

The first one for this parashah focuses on repentance and redemption and introduces the idea that each act of repentance on the part of the Jewish people is matched by an act of redemption on the part of God.

The second focuses on the essence of what it means to be part of the Jewish people and to keep the covenant while living as a minority in another culture. It likens MTV to a foreign god and highlights the need to create boundaries against this type of god.

*Family Shabbat Table Talk, also through the Reform movement — www.uahc.org/shabbat — presents two major themes.

The first is that the laws and instructions given to the Israelites were not too difficult for them or beyond their reach. The second is the passing of leadership from Moses to Joshua, and Joshua's suitability for leadership. Table Talk also poses a series of thought-provoking questions as a way to bring Torah discussion to the Friday night dinner table.

Other addresses of note:

*The Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary site — www.jtsa.edu/pubs/parashah/ — covers chancellor Ismar Schorsch's views on the weekly parashah.

*Torah Aura — www.torahaura.com — offers Learn Torah With.

*Shamash — www.shamash.org/reform/uahc/torahnet/#torah-study — is a good resource for those who try these sites and find themselves wanting more. This Shamash page indexes dozens of Torah commentary Web sites ranging from beginner to advanced levels.