All human authority needs checks and balances if it is to remain uncorrupted. In particular, political and religious leadership, keter malchut and keter kehunah, should never be combined.
It is not what G-d does for us that transforms us, but what we do for G-d.
If G-d does not want slavery, if He regards it as an affront to the human condition, why did He not abolish it immediately?
Admittedly, the Talmud questions how free the Israelites actually were, and it uses an astonishing image.
In Bereishit Rabbah, it is indicated that the division of the sea was, as it were, programmed into Creation from the outset. It was less a suspension of nature than an event written into nature from the beginning, to be triggered at the appropriate moment in the unfolding of history.
That is the context in which we should read the story of Pharaoh and his advisers. This is one of the first recorded instances of the march of folly. How does it happen?
The aspect of G-d that appears in the days of Moses and the Israelites is radically different, and it’s only because we are so used to the story that we find it hard to see how radical it was.
Korach’s motives were wrong. He spoke like a democrat but what he wanted was to be an autocrat. He wanted to be a leader himself.
Between parents and children, he said, there are often tensions. Parents worry about their children. Children sometimes rebel against their parents. The relationship is not always smooth. Not so with grandchildren.
In Judaism kadosh, holy, means separation. To sanctify is to separate. Why? Because when we separate, we create order. We defeat chaos. We give everything and everyone their space.
Joseph has the misfortune of being the youngest. He symbolizes the Jewish condition. His brothers are older and stronger than he is. They resent his presence. They see him as a trouble maker. The fact that their father loves him only makes them angrier and more resentful.
In the end Joseph and his brothers had to live through real trauma before they were able to recognize one another’s humanity, and much of the rest of their story – the longest single narrative in the Torah – is about just that.
It is one thing to commit a crime, another to witness someone committing a crime and failing to prevent it. We might hold a bystander guilty, but not in the same degree.
What Jacob shows, by his sheer quick-wittedness, is that the strength of the strong can also be their weakness.
Isaac loved Esau because he simply did not know who or what Esau was. But there is another possible answer: that Isaac loved Esau precisely because he did know what Esau was.
The Jewish people mourned and wept, and then rose up and built the future. This is their unique strength and it came from Abraham, as we see in this week’s parsha.
It is this principle that underlies the entire practice of child sacrifice, which was widespread throughout the pagan world. The Torah is horrified by child sacrifice, which it sees as the worst of all sins.
What then does the Torah say about Abraham? The answer is unexpected and very moving. Abraham was chosen simply to be a father.
Laws shape a society, and a society needs space. A sacred society needs sacred space, a holy land. Hence Jews and Judaism need their own land.
The Sukkah represents the singular character of Jewish history, the experience of exile and homecoming, the long journey across the wilderness of time.
As music connects note to note, so faith connects episode to episode, life to life, age to age in a timeless melody that breaks into time.
Judaism turns life into a work of art. It consecrates the love between husbands and wives, and parents and children. It sanctifies our most physical acts, through the laws of kashrut and family purity.
The only way to stay young, hungry, and driven is through periodic renewal, reminding ourselves of where we came from, where we are going, and why.
The answer to the question, Who am I? is not simply a matter of where I was born, where I spent my childhood or my adult life or of which country I am a citizen.
Love is central to Judaism: not just love between husband and wife, parent and child, but also love for G-d, for neighbor and stranger.
It taught me that humility is not thinking you are small. It is thinking that other people have greatness within them.
In Judaism, faith is not a rival to science, an attempt to explain the universe. It’s a sense of wonder, born in a feeling of gratitude.
It is through the word – speaking and listening – that we can have an intimate relationship with G-d as our parent, our partner, our sovereign, the One who loves us and whom we love.
If you want to change the world, start with why.
Only in Israel was G-d seen not just as a power but as the architect of society, the orchestrator of its music of justice and mercy, liberty and dignity.