How To Praise

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was a great teacher because five of his students became giants in their own right. The mishnah is telling us how he did it: with focused praise.

Reticence vs. Impetuosity

The real contrast here, though, is the difference between Aaron and his two sons. They were, it seems, opposites. Aaron was over-cautious and had to be persuaded by Moses even to begin. Nadav and Avihu were not cautious enough. So keen were they to put their own stamp on the role of priesthood that their impetuosity was their downfall.

A Moment Of Hesitation

There are times when each of us has to decide, not just “What shall I do?” but “What kind of person shall I be?”

Leadership In Judaism

Politics involves difficult judgments. A leader must balance competing claims and will sometimes get it wrong.

Vision and Details: Parshat Mishpatim

So the Torah is a unique combination of nomos and narrative, history and law, the formative experiences of a nation and the way that nation sought to live its collective life so as never to forget the lessons it learned along the way. It brings together vision and detail in a way that has never been surpassed.

How Leaders Fail

There are times when you need someone with the courage to stand against the crowd, others when you need a peacemaker.

Of Priests And Prophets

The Priest was “holy” and therefore set apart from the people. He had to eat his food in a state of purity, and had to avoid contact with the dead.

The Home We Build Together

That, I believe, is what the Sages meant when they said, “Call them not ‘your children’ but ‘your builders’” (Brachot 64a). People have to become builders if they are to grow from childhood to adulthood.

The Narrative Behind The Laws

Torah means “law.” But it also means “teaching, instruction, guidance,” or more generally, “direction.”

A Nation Of Leaders

Israel can learn practical politics from a Midianite but it must learn the limits of politics from G-d Himself.

Looking Up

Look down at the difficulties and you can give way to despair. The only way to sustain energy, individual or collective, is to turn our gaze up toward the far horizon of hope.

The Far Horizon

Moses’ insight was profound. He knew that you cannot change the world by externalities alone, by monumental architecture, or armies and empires, or the use of force and power.

Overcoming Setbacks

Leadership, even of the very highest order, is often marked by failure.

Women As Leaders

Wherever leadership depends on personal qualities and not on office or title, there is no distinction between women and men.

Moving Forward

Joseph had, in double measure, one of the necessary gifts of a leader: the ability to keep going despite opposition, envy, false accusation and repeated setbacks.

The Unexpected Leader

Both said chattati, “I have sinned.” But their fates were radically different.

Three Approaches To Dreams

He did so for the butler and baker in prison and, in this week’s parsha, for Pharaoh. His interpretations were neither magical nor miraculous.

The Power Of Praise

No one has all the strengths. Sufficient if we have one. But we must also know what we lack.

Be Thyself

It is as if the Torah were telling us that so long as there is a conflict within us, there will be a conflict around us.

Light In Dark Times

It is at these points of maximal vulnerability that he encounters G-d and finds the courage to continue despite all the hazards of the journey.

Communication Matters

Isaac never intended to give the blessing of the covenant to Esau. He intended to give each child the blessing that suited them.

Answering The Call

Noah fails the test of collective responsibility. He is a man of virtue in an age of vice, but he makes no impact on his contemporaries.

The Courage Not To Conform

Abraham is the supreme example in all of history of influence without power.

Taking Responsibility

Kayin does not deny personal responsibility. He does not say, “It was not me,” or “It was not my fault.” He denies moral responsibility.

The Two Festivals Of Sukkot

Sukkot celebrates the dual nature of Jewish faith: the universality of G-d and the particularity of Jewish existence.

The Arc Of The Moral Universe

This is a doctrine fundamental to Judaism and its understanding of evil and suffering in the world: G-d is just.

Leaving It Up To The Almighty

It follows therefore that if vengeance is wrong, it could not have been commanded by G-d – not to Christians, and not to Jews. If it was commanded, we must be able to make some moral sense of it, whether we are Jews or Christians.

How To Renew A Nation

Note the inclusivity of the event. It would be anachronistic to say that the Torah was egalitarian in the contemporary sense.

Be Silent And Listen

For me, one of the gifts of this strange, difficult time has been the ability to slow down the prayers so that I am able to listen to them speaking to me. Praying is as much about listening as speaking. And faith itself is the ability to hear the music beneath the noise.


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