The first three commands establish the single most important principle of a free society, namely the moral limits of power.
While it is true that the enemy always hates us for a reason, it is his reason, not ours.
In Judaism, the stories are not engraved in stone on memorials…. They are told at home, around the table, from parents to children as the gift of the past to the future.
Freedom in the deepest sense, the freedom to do the right and the good, is not a given. We acquire it, or lose it, gradually.
This is the first recorded instance in history of civil disobedience – refusing to obey an order, given by the most powerful man in the most powerful empire of the ancient world, simply because it was immoral.
Forgiveness does not appear in every culture. It is not a human universal, nor is it a biological imperative.
In order to choose between right and wrong, between good and bad – in order to live the moral life – we must make sure not only to look, but also to listen.
We became the people whose heroes were teachers, whose citadels were schools, and whose passion was learning and the life of the mind. The end result was that Judaism did survive and thrive throughout the centuries, whereas Ancient Greece … declined.
This moment is a turning-point in history: Judah is the first person in the Torah explicitly to admit he was wrong
Who was in the right and who in the wrong are left conspicuously undecided in the text.
Albert Einstein said it was the ‘almost fanatical love of justice’ that made him thank his lucky stars that he was born a Jew.
Isaac fully understood the nature of his two sons. He loved Esau but this did not blind him to the fact that Jacob would be the heir of the covenant.
Providing shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry, assistance to the poor; visiting the sick, comforting mourners and providing a dignified burial for all became constitutive of Jewish life.
The test was not whether Abraham would sacrifice his son but whether he would give him over to G-d.
The word “Torah” means “teaching” or “instruction,” and it is difficult to teach ethics through stories whose characters are fraught with complexity and ambiguity.
If you are prepared to learn something new, you can be 103 and still young. If you are not prepared to learn something new, you can be 23 and already old.
It is almost as if Sukkot were two festivals, not one. It is. Although all the festivals are listed together, they in fact represent two quite different cycles.
It is that power of hope, born whenever G-d’s love and forgiveness gives rise to human freedom and responsibility, that has made Judaism the moral force it has always been.
We are a hyper-verbal people. We talk, we argue, we pontificate, we deliver witty repartee and clever put-downs. Jews may not always be great listeners but we are among the world’s great talkers.
Our faith – Moses is telling us – is not like that of the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, or virtually every other civilization known to history.
Gardner’s argument is that what makes a leader is the ability to tell a particular kind of story – one that explains ourselves to ourselves and gives power and resonance to a collective vision.
The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites, planned a program against them of slow genocide, and then refused to let them go despite the plagues that were devastating the land. Are these reasons not to hate?
Maimonides holds that the appointment of a king is an obligation, Ibn Ezra that it is a permission, Abarbanel that it is a concession, and Rabbenu Bachya that it is a punishment.
Do not think that we can survive as a nation among nations, worshiping what they worship and living as they live. If we do, we will be subject to the universal law that has governed the fate of nations from the dawn of civilization to today.
The tension between the counselors and the rabbis grew almost to the point of crisis, so much so that we had to stop the course for an hour while we sought some way of reconciling what the counselors were doing with Torah.
What happened to all the promises of Bereishit, that Abraham’s children would be numerous, uncountable, as many as the stars of the sky, the dust of the earth, and the grains of sand on a seashore?
Other nations, says Moses, will recognize the miraculous nature of the Jewish story.
Moses succeeds not because he is weak, not because he is willing to compromise on the integrity of the nation as a whole, not because he uses honeyed words and diplomatic evasions, but because he is honest, principled, and focused on the common good.
This means: a leader must lead from the front, but he or she must not be so far out in front that when they turn around, they find that no one is following.
Bilaam was a man with great gifts, a genuine prophet, compared by the Sages to Moses himself, yet an evil-doer mentioned in the Mishnah as one denied a share in the world to come.