The ancients saw the gods in nature, never more so than in thinking about the harvest and all that accompanied it.
Remarkably, despite the exiles and horrors of history, Jews did not see themselves as victims. This is the message Moses imparts throughout sefer Devarim: Never define yourself as a victim
The negotiation between Moses and the tribes of Reuven and Gad is a model of conflict resolution.
The biblical covenant has the same literary structure as ancient near eastern political treaties.
When we cry from the heart, someone listens; When we cry on Yom Kippur, God hears us.
The great leaders of Israel were the great defenders of Israel, people who saw the good within the not-yet-good. That is why they were listened to when they urged people to change and grow. THat is how it was in the time of Moses; that is how it remains today
In her book The Watchman’s Rattle, subtitled Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction, Rebecca Costa delivers a fascinating account of how civilizations die. Their problems become too complex. Societies reach what she calls a cognitive threshold. They simply can’t chart a path from the present to the future.
With the revelation at Sinai, something unprecedented entered the human horizon...the politics of freedom was born
Who then were Esau and Jacob? What did they represent and how is this relevant to Yom Kippur and atonement?
On the one hand, Sukkot is the most universalistic of all festivals with the sacrifices brought by the 70 nations; on the other, it is the most particularist of festivals, the festival of a people like no other, whose only protection was its faith in the sheltering wings of the Divine presence.
Jacob and Esau are about to meet again after a separation of 22 years. It is a fraught encounter. Once, Esau had sworn to kill Jacob as revenge for what he saw as the theft of his blessing. Will he do so now, or has time healed the wound? Jacob sends messengers to let his brother know he is coming. They return, saying that Esau is coming to meet Jacob with a force of 400 men. We then read: “Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:8).
Without belief in the covenant, there would be no State of Israel or any significant Jewish history after the Holocaust. Jews kept hope alive; Hope kept the Jewish people alive.
From Joseph we learn three principles. The first: Dream dreams. Second: Leaders interpret other people’s dreams. Third: Find a way to implement dreams:
Is it permitted to tell a white lie? Not only is it permitted to tell a white lie to save a life; it is also permitted to do so for the sake of peace. And we learn this in this week's
Kedoshim is not just about order. It is about humanizing that order through love – the love of neighbor and stranger. Love needs order.
Despite the Divine anger, the people were not condemned to permanent exile. They simply had to face the fact that their children would achieve what they themselves were not ready for.
The setting: Jerusalem some twenty centuries ago. The occasion: bringing first fruits to the Temple. Here is the scene as the Mishnah describes it. Throughout Israel, villagers would gather in the nearest of 24 regional centres. There, overnight, they would sleep in the open air. The next morning, the leader would summon the people with words from the book of Jeremiah (31:5): “Arise and let us go up to Zion, to the House of the Lord our God.”
What do porcupines do in winter? asked Schopenhauer. If they come too close to one another, they injure each other. If they stay too far apart, they freeze. Life, for porcupines, is a delicate balance between closeness and distance. It is hard to get it right and dangerous to get it wrong. And so it is for us.
A society takes all types... Shabbat Shalom!
Hidden beneath the surface of Parshat Chayei Sarah, for example, is another story, alluded to only in a series of hints. Here are three clues in the text...
It was the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, that translated tzara’at, the condition whose identification and cleansing occupies much of Parshiyot Tazria and Metzora as lepra, giving rise to a long tradition identifying it with leprosy.
In Bamidbar, the fledgling Jewish nation is ready to move on. This time they are looking forward, not back. They are thinking not of the danger they are fleeing from but of the destination they are traveling toward, the Promised Land.
At the center of the mosaic books is Vayikra. At the center of Vayikra is the “holiness code” (chapter 19) with its momentous call: “You shall be holy because I, the Lord your G-d, am holy.” And at the centre of chapter 19 is a brief paragraph which, by its positioning, is the apex, the high point, of the Torah:
The most influential man who ever lived, does not appear on any list I have seen of the hundred most influential men in history. He ruled no empire, commanded no army, His name, of course, is Abraham
God’s “name” is therefore His standing in the world. Do people acknowledge Him, respect Him, honor Him?
Judaism is “gratitude with attitude.” And this, according to recent scientific research, really is a life-enhancing idea and the source of the command to give thanks is to be found in this week’s parsha
We think of a sin as something we did intentionally, yielding to temptation perhaps, or in a moment of rebellion. That is what Jewish law calls b’zadon in biblical Hebrew or b’mezid in rabbinic Hebrew. That is the kind of act we would have thought calls for a sin offering. But actually such an act cannot be atoned for by an offering at all. So how do we make sense of the sin offering?
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,
The contemporary world continues to be scarred by violence and terror. Sadly, the ban against blood sacrifice is still relevant. The instinct against which it is a protest – sacrificing life to exorcise fear – still lives on.
Moses did not speak about today or tomorrow. He spoke about the distant future.