What Was Isaac Doing in the Field?

What Was Isaac Doing in the Field?

Oct 29, 2021 By Jason Rogoff | Commentary | Hayyei Sarah

The patriarch Isaac is one of the most passive biblical characters. He speaks infrequently and seems to stand still while other people feverishly act around him. His presence in Parashat Hayyei Sarah is no exception. After surviving the ordeal of the Akedah, and experiencing the death of his mother, Isaac is nowhere to be found. Abraham buys the burial plot and only Abraham is mentioned as present at Sarah’s burial. Abraham then sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac, but again we lack any information as to what Isaac is doing or how he is feeling after successive traumatic life events. Isaac only returns to the story when Eliezer returns with Rebekah and she first sees Isaac.

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Lessons from Lot’s Daughters

Lessons from Lot’s Daughters

Oct 22, 2021 By Abby Eisenberg | Commentary | Vayera

Parashat Vayera is the fourth Torah portion after Simhat Torah, the celebration of our annual Torah reading cycle and the culmination of the fall holidays. As we begin the new year, we also begin anew our exploration of ancestral family dynamics. Arguably one of the most famous parent-child scenes in all of literature can be found in Vayera: that of Abraham bringing Isaac to offer him as sacrifice. The parashah also contains another version of child sacrifice when Lot, Abraham’s nephew, subjects his unnamed daughters to assault and danger. From the tragedy of Jephthah’s daughter to the boldness of the daughters of Zelofehad, relationships between fathers and daughters in Tanakh are both deeply troubling and inspiring. The story of Lot and his daughters is certainly the former, and, perhaps surprisingly, potentially the latter.

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Was Avram a Second Language Learner?

Was Avram a Second Language Learner?

Oct 15, 2021 By Avi Garelick | Commentary | Lekh Lekha

distinct groups with mutually incomprehensible languages. This tale of the Tower of Babel accounts for the fundamental question of why human beings can be so different from each other while coming from the same source. It also sets the stage for what follows: a freshly divided world, with the inability to communicate as a driving force of division.

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Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are?

Oct 8, 2021 By Kendell Pinkney | Commentary | Noah

When I received the results, I can’t say I was all that surprised:

67% Sub-Saharan African, 30% Northwest European, 2% Indigenous American, 1% unaccounted for.

I already knew that my ethnic heritage was decently mixed up. I had spent enough years peppering my grandmothers with the kinds of questions only a child feels comfortable pursuing: “Where was your mother from? Where was your father from? Belize?! Which city? Dangriga? Sounds weird. Never heard of it. Wait, grandma, your grandmother was a white woman from Louisiana?!”

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Is the World a Mirror?

Is the World a Mirror?

Oct 1, 2021 By Dianne Cohler-Esses | Commentary | Bereishit

The God of the Torah is driven by loneliness, by a desire to be in relationship with humanity and to God’s chosen people, Israel. As Abraham Joshua Heschel says (quoted by Michael Lerner in his book Jewish Renewal), “God’s dream is not to be alone, but to have humankind as a partner in the drama of continuous creation” (vi). Out of a great loneliness God emerges from royal solitude to create a world and within it humanity as a partner for God.

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What Exactly Is a Sukkah?

What Exactly Is a Sukkah?

Sep 24, 2021 By David Zev Moster | Commentary | Sukkot

Have you ever asked yourself what defines a sukkah? Not how to build one or what makes it kosher, but why have one in the first place? What is its purpose? Was the sukkah part of daily life in ancient Israel? Did it have a role outside the holiday that bears its name?

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In God’s Image

In God’s Image

Sep 17, 2021 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Ha'azinu | Sukkot

What does it mean to be created in God’s image? Or to act in a God-like way? As I reread Parashat Ha’azinu, I was struck by the ways Moses’s song poetically develops God’s care for the Israelites, and I discovered in the vivid and diverse metaphors the beginnings of an answer. From the opening lines, where God’s words are likened to varieties of rain, sustaining and giving life to all, to God as an eagle “who rouses his nestlings” and “bears them along his pinions” (Deut. 32:11), this God builds up, guides, teaches, and protects. God provides for the Israelites’ physical needs with gifts of abundance, nurturing the people with “honey from the crag” as a mother nurses her child (Deut. 32:13). The Israelites’ lack of gratitude inflames God’s anger, but God bestows mercy and forgiveness, despite there being no mention of teshuva (repentance). God gives.

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Moses’s Journey, and Ours

Moses’s Journey, and Ours

Sep 9, 2021 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Vayeilekh | Shabbat Shuvah

Whenever I read the opening verse of this week’s parashah, I recall the other parashah that opens with the same verb: לך־לך (“Go forth”). Told to go, Abram heeded God’s call, uprooting his life and journeying—both physically and emotionally—first to Haran and then to the land of Israel. And now, as we near the end of the Torah reading cycle, Parashat Vayeilekh begins by attributing that very same action of journeying to Moses, as he nears the end of his life. What can we learn from the parallel acts of journeying that these two great leaders of our people undertook?

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Choosing to Choose

Choosing to Choose

Sep 3, 2021 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Nitzavim | Rosh Hashanah

The rabbis taught that Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world, or by some accounts, the sixth day of creation, the day that humanity was created. Liturgically, the day is seen as more than just an anniversary. We pray “Hayom Harat Olam,” today the world is born, suggesting that the world, humanity, and each of us individually, are created “today,” every Rosh Hashanah.

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Reliving Sinai Every Day

Reliving Sinai Every Day

Aug 27, 2021 By Alisa Tzipi Zilbershtein | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Parashat Ki Tavo opens with Moses addressing B’nei Yisrael: “The Lord your God commands you this day to observe these laws and rules; observe them faithfully with all your heart and soul. You have affirmed this day that the Lord is your God, that you will walk in His ways, that you will observe His laws and commandments and rules, and that you will obey Him” (Deut. 26:16–17). During my years at JTS, one of the themes that always captivated me was the mystical understanding of the concept of time in the Torah. That is why my attention was immediately drawn to this quote. The specific timeframe “this day” occurs twice here and is repeated multiple times in the parashah. What does “this day” mean? Or rather, when is “this day”?

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Before Going Out to Fight, Look Inside

Before Going Out to Fight, Look Inside

Aug 20, 2021 By Jeffrey Kress | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

We know that every extra word in the Torah invites exploration to arrive at its deeper meaning. The opening words of Parashat Ki Tetzei require such consideration: “When you go out to war against your enemies . . .” Why mention enemies? Who else would one be going to war against? Rabbinic interpretations focus on the use of the plural (enemies) as signifying a distinction between categories of conflict, each requiring different rules of engagement. This helps explain why the rules of war that open the parashah differ from the closing instructions about how to fight Amalek. The Torah is talking about two different categories of conflict.

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Making Space for Community

Making Space for Community

Aug 13, 2021 By Rafi Cohen | Commentary | Shofetim

For two weeks this summer, I was a visiting educator at Ramah Sports Academy. My responsibilities were fairly typical for a visiting rabbi at camp: leading classes for campers and staff, supporting a particular edah (age group). But I also had an opportunity to assist the summer mashgiah in assessing and repairing the eruv before Shabbat. The camp’s eruv—a ritual legal enclosure fixed for the purpose of allowing activities such as carrying from one domain to another on Shabbat—was constructed using some of the natural boundaries around camp. To identify the sightline of the trees at the far end of a field or a stream of water that connects one part of camp to another as part of the created boundary, string and small wooden posts (lehim) were affixed along parts of the camp periphery.

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Can We Mourn Too Much?

Can We Mourn Too Much?

Aug 6, 2021 By Katja Vehlow | Commentary | Re'eh

When someone dies, this week’s parashah tells us, we should not ritually cut ourselves or our hair. In other words: we should not mourn excessively.

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A Legacy of Peace

A Legacy of Peace

Jul 30, 2021 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Eikev

Why do we still need kohanim? What purpose do hereditary priests—the descendants of Aaron—serve in a culture that appoints religious leaders based primarily on education? Whatever authority rabbis have stems mostly from their knowledge and individual personalities, but the kohanim inherit theirs. Leviticus 21 describes the kohanim as a holy caste who, due to nothing other than heredity, assume the religious leadership of B’nei Yisrael. Their heritage is not land, like the other clans of Israel; rather, their legacy is God, Sanctuary, and sacrifice alone.

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The Commandments We Need

The Commandments We Need

Jul 23, 2021 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

The act of retelling is, by virtue of necessity, an act of interpretation. Certain details sharpen and others fade as we place a past experience in the context of our needs and thoughts in the present moment. As Yosef Chayim Yerushalmi famously argued in his seminal book Zachor, there’s a difference between history and memory—both are deeply important, but they play different roles in our lives.

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4K Torah Test

4K Torah Test

Jul 23, 2021 By 4K – Test team member | Collected Resources | Commentary | Short Video | Aharei Mot | Behar | Bemidbar | Hanukkah | Shabbat Hagadol

This is the excerpt

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Rebuilding the Temple Within

Rebuilding the Temple Within

Jul 16, 2021 By Eitan Fishbane | Commentary | Devarim | Tishah Be'av

With this parashah, we begin the book of Deuteronomy, the opening of a book of memory—a recalling of the forty years of desert wandering while simultaneously anticipating the entrance of the people into the Land of Israel.

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Who Gets the Last Word?

Who Gets the Last Word?

Jul 9, 2021 By Judith Hauptman | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

Mattot and Masei, the last two portions of the book of Numbers (30:2–36:18), are usually read one after the other on the same Sabbath. Are these portions linked by something other than the quirks of the Jewish calendar?

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In the Face of Violence, a Covenant of Peace

In the Face of Violence, a Covenant of Peace

Jul 2, 2021 By Marc Gary | Commentary | Pinehas

Karen Armstrong, the scholar of religion and popular author of such works as The History of God, relates that wherever she travels, she is often confronted by someone—a taxi driver, an Oxford academic, an American psychiatrist—who confidently expresses the view that “religion has caused more violence and wars than anything else.” This is quite a remarkable statement given that in the last century alone, tens of millions of people have been killed in two world wars, the communist purges in the Soviet Union and its satellites, and the Cambodian killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, none of which were caused by religious motivations.

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Greater than Moses?

Greater than Moses?

Jun 25, 2021 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Balak

Although this week’s Torah reading is named for the Moabite king Balak, who sought to curse the Israelites, the real star of the show is the gentile prophet Balaam ben Be`or—with a special comedy cameo by his talking ass. Three whole chapters of the Torah (Num. 22–24) are given over to the efforts of Balak and Balaam to curse the Jews. In the end, of course, God prevails, and on Friday nights in Schul we still sing Balaam’s blessing, “Mah tovu ohalekhah Yaakov—How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel.”

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