The sages believed with great force that an agreement must be free to be binding. Yet we did not agree to be Jews. We were, most of us, born Jews. We were not there in Moses’ day when the agreement was made. We did not yet exist. How then can we be bound by the covenant?
The more we learn about the psychology of bereavement and the stages through which we must pass before loss is healed, so more the wisdom of Judaism’s ancient laws and customs becomes ever more clear.
At the heart of Judaism is a twofold understanding of the nature of God and His relationship to the universe.
Where then does Jewish singularity emerge? The clue lies in the precise wording of Bilaam’s blessing: “Behold it is a people that dwells alone.”
In the Torah, law and narrative are intertwined for the very profound reason that G-d’s law is not arbitrary. It speaks to the human condition, arising out of human history.
We identify with the heroes of the Bible because, despite their greatness, they never cease to be human, nor do they aspire to be anything else. Hence the phenomenon of which the sedra of Beha’alotecha provides a shattering example: the vulnerability of some of the greatest religious leaders of all time, to depression and despair.
Maimonides holds there is not one model of the virtuous life, but two. He calls them, respectively, the way of the saint and the sage. It is this deep insight that led Maimonides to his seemingly contradictory evaluations of the nazirite
Judaism survives due to Divine Providence and the foresight of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai who resisted cognitive breakdown, created solutions for tomorrow's problems, who did not seek refuge in the irrational, and who quietly built the Jewish future.
Why should unintentional sins require atonement at all? What guilt is involved? Had the offender known he would not have done what he did. Why then does he have to undergo a process of atonement?
In the sanctuary, the specific domain called “the holy” is where we meet God on His terms, not ours. Yet this too is God’s way of conferring dignity on mankind.
The Sanctuary as a human construct, mirrors the Divine creation of the universe. Each creation culminates in the Sabbath placing the sanctity of place in subordinate position to the holiness of time.
In parshat Tetzaveh, for once Moses, the hero, the leader, the liberator, the lawgiver, is offstage. Instead our focus is on his elder brother Aaron who, elsewhere, is often in the background.
The story of the Creation of the World is told with the utmost brevity: a mere 34 verses. Why take some 15 times as long to tell the story of the Sanctuary?
There are 613 commandments in the Torah. Why does Mishpatim, the first law code, begin where it does, concerned with slavery and freedom?
In parshat Yitro, Israel receives its first system of governance: a hierarchical structure of authority with Moses at the top. Why did this important development come, as it were, from outside?
What happens at the sea is poetic justice of the most exquisite kind. The powerful are now powerless, while the powerless have made their way to freedom.
Judaism is not a religion of blind obedience. Astonishingly of 613 commandments, there is no Hebrew word that means “to obey.” Judaism is the rarest of phenomena: a faith based on asking questions,
Pesach represents the start of the great journey of Jewish history – from slavery to freedom, Egypt to the Promised Land.
When Moses asks, “Who am I?” He feels himself unworthy and uninvolved. He may have been Jewish by birth, but he had not suffered the fate of his people. How, then, could he become their leader?
Only a civilization based on forgiveness can construct a future that is not an endless repetition of the past. That, surely, is why Judaism is the only civilization whose golden age is in the future.