With the synagogue, "Judaism created one of the greatest revolutions in the history of religion"
The Torah is not myth but anti-myth, a deliberate insistence on removing the magical elements from the story and focusing relentlessly on the human drama
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.
Fasting is of no use if at the same time you do not act justly and compassionately to your fellow human beings.
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?
Joseph is helping his brothers to revise their memory of the past. In doing so, he is challenging one of our most fundamental assumptions about time, namely its asymmetry. We can change the future. We cannot change the past. But is that entirely true?
Is there such a thing as an objective basis of morality? For some time, in secular circles, the idea has seemed absurd. Morality is what we choose it to be. We are free to do what we like so long as we don’t harm others. Moral judgments are not truths but choices. There is no way of getting from “is” to “ought,” from description to prescription, from facts to values, from science to ethics. This was the received wisdom in philosophy for a century after Nietzsche had argued for the abandonment of morality – which he saw as the product of Judaism – in favor of the “will to power.”
Abraham gave birth to a new nation whose greatness consisted precisely in the ability to live by that voice and create something new in the history of mankind. “Go for yourself ” – believe in what you can become.
It would be reasonable to assume that a language that contains the verb “to command” must also contain the verb “to obey.” The one implies the other, just as the concept of a question implies the possibility of an answer. We would, however, be wrong. There are 613 commandments in the Torah, but there is no word in biblical Hebrew that means “to obey.” When Hebrew was revived as a language of everyday speech in the nineteenth century, a word, letsayet, had to be borrowed from Aramaic. Until then there was no Hebrew word for “to obey.”
Genesis is not a hymn to the virtue of families. It is a candid, honest, fully worked-through account of what it is to confront some of the main problems within families, even the best.
As soon as we read the opening lines of Terumah we begin the massive shift from the intense drama of the exodus with its signs and wonders and epic events, to the long, detailed narrative of how the Israelites constructed the Mishkan.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you fail. Such is life.
So, as Moses faced his own life’s end, what was there left to do? The book of Devarim contains and constitutes the answer.
The paradox of Jewish spirituality: No religion holds God higher, but none feels Him closer
It was Moses who mediated with God.
What for the prophets was a dazzling vision of a distant future of peace was, for the Sages, a practical program of good community relations.
This is a tale of decline. Why?
While it is true that the enemy always hates us for a reason, it is his reason, not ours.
The story of Korach remains the classic example of how argument can be dishonored. The Schools of Hillel and Shammai remind us that there is another way.
Truthfulness is a fundamental value in Jewish yet truth isn't its highest value. Peace is. Why so?
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!
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.
Parshat Terumah begins the seismic shift from the intense drama of the Exodus, with its wonders and epic events, to the detailed narrative of how the Israelites constructed the Mishkan--the Tabernacle. The Nation begins building its HOME.
When someone exercises power over us, they diminish us; when someone teaches us, they help us grow.
Why did God choose that Israel be blessed by Bilaam? Surely there is the principl “Good things come about through good people” (Tosefta Yoma 4:12). Why did this good thing come about through a bad man?
Whichever way we look at it, there is something striking about this almost endlessly iterated concern for the stranger – together with the historical reminder that “you yourselves were slaves in Egypt.” It is as if, in this series of laws, we are nearing the core of the mystery of Jewish existence itself. What is the Torah implying?
Even before they were born, Jacob and Esau struggled in the womb. They were destined, it seems, to be eternal adversaries. Not only were they different in character and appearance, they also held different places in their parents’ affections.
Chessed has no if-then quality. It is given out of the goodness of the giver, regardless of the worth of the recipient.
In this exchange between two brothers, a momentous courage is born: the courage of an Aharon who has the strength to grieve and not accept any easy consolation, and the courage of a Moshe who has the strength to keep going in spite of grief.
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.