Counting Ourselves As Israel

Counting Ourselves As Israel

Jun 7, 2019 By Leonard A. Sharzer | Commentary | Bemidbar | Shavuot

Sefer Bemidbar, the Book of Numbers, which we begin reading this week, opens with the taking of a census. After the rather arcane matters we have been reading about in recent weeks—the sacrificial cult, laws of purity and impurity, skin eruptions, bodily discharges, and so on—the monotony and repetitiveness of this week’s parashah comes almost as a relief.

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A Love That Transforms

A Love That Transforms

Apr 21, 2017 By Leonard A. Sharzer | Commentary | Shemini

This week’s parashah includes the tragic story of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s two eldest sons, who died, consumed by divine fire, after bringing an offering of alien fire within the sacred precincts of the Mishkan. Considering the dramatic nature of the narrative, and its compelling pathos, the story is told with remarkable terseness.

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An All-Too-Easy Transgression

An All-Too-Easy Transgression

Jun 24, 2016 By Leonard A. Sharzer | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

The concluding episode of this week’s parashah is one of the most well-known and intriguing stories in the Torah, that of Miriam and Aaron publicly maligning Moses and the consequences thereof. The basic elements of the narrative (Num. 12:1–16) are these: Miriam and Aaron speak out against Moses regarding the Cushite woman he has married, and complain that he is not the only prophet in the family. God has spoken through the two of them, as well. God hears all of this. 

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Ultimate Values and the Akedah Story

Ultimate Values and the Akedah Story

Oct 30, 2015 By Leonard A. Sharzer | Commentary | Vayera

Can there be anything left to say about the Akedah, perhaps the most discussed and analyzed story in the Torah? Clearly if this were simply the story of an old man who hears voices and travels to a nearby mountain with his son in order to kill him there, and who, at the last moment, sees a ram and kills it instead, we would not still be fascinated talking about the story more than two millennia later. No, this is an allegory. . . and therein lies it survival and its power, and our task is to find meaning in the story for ourselves and for our lives.

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Father, Have You No Blessing Left for Me?

Father, Have You No Blessing Left for Me?

Nov 21, 2014 By Leonard A. Sharzer | Commentary | Toledot

In Parashat Toledot, the saga of our somewhat dysfunctional ancestral family continues, and included within is one of the family’s saddest and most poignant episodes. Yitzhak, scion of the family and heir to his father’s covenant with God, has just married at the age of 40. He and his wife, Rivkah, remain childless for 20 years, when, in response to his entreaties to God, she conceives. Unlike her late mother-in-law’s easy pregnancy at an advanced age, Rivkah’s pregnancy is complicated. We are told right away that “the children, the ‘sons’ in fact, were struggling within her womb” (Vayitrotzetzu habanim bekirbah; Gen 25:22). However, she does not know the reason for her discomfort and distress.

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Separation and Connectedness

Separation and Connectedness

Jul 17, 2013 By Leonard A. Sharzer | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

In Parashat Va-ethannan, Moses seems to have finally come to accept that he will not enter the Promised Land with the People, whom he liberated from Egyptian slavery and guided during a 40-year trek through the wilderness. As he concludes his first oration, he recalls his pleading with God to allow him to enter the Land, a plea that was denied because of his response to the demand of the People for water. Now, no longer pleading for a pardon, or even a commutation of the sentence, he exhorts the People to follow God’s commandments and the teachings he, Moses, has transmitted to them.

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How Now, Brown Cow?

How Now, Brown Cow?

Mar 17, 2012 By Leonard A. Sharzer | Commentary | Pekudei | Vayak-hel | Shabbat Parah

I would like to review several components of the Red Heifer ritual that I find most challenging and ask two questions: (1) Is there any way to understand this arcane ritual that has resonance in modern times?; and (2) Why do we read this passage shortly before Pesah?

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Metzora: Disease or Dis-ease?

Metzora: Disease or Dis-ease?

Apr 9, 2011 By Leonard A. Sharzer | Commentary | Metzora

When I tell people that Parashat Metzora and Parashat Tazri·a, which we read last week, are among my favorite parashiyot, they often respond, “Well of course, you were a physician and they are filled with medical information.” But if Tazri·a and Metzora are to be read as medical texts, there would be very little point in reading them at all. For one thing, the dominant subject of the texts is something called tzara’at and we really have no idea what that is. Though often translated as leprosy, modern scholarship is quite consistent that whatever the condition is, it is not what modern medicine knows as leprosy. More importantly, besides not knowing what the described condition really is or precisely what some of the specific terms mean, I would like to suggest that these chapters were never intended to be read as medical texts.

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Counting Ourselves As Israel

Counting Ourselves As Israel

May 23, 2009 By Leonard A. Sharzer | Commentary | Bemidbar

Sefer Bemidbar, the Book of Numbers, which we begin reading this week, opens with the taking of a census. After the rather arcane matters we have been reading about in recent weeks—the sacrificial cult, laws of purity and impurity, skin eruptions, bodily discharges, and so on—the monotony and repetitiveness of this week’s parashah comes almost as a relief. The chieftains of each tribe are named, and an identical formula is recited, concluding with the number of men over the age of twenty—fighting men—in each tribe. For this is not a census of the entire people, rather it is an accounting of those who will make up an army to cross the desert. The Israelites have just celebrated the first anniversary of their liberation, and they are about to embark on a journey that will last thirty-eight years, although they do not know that at the time of the census. They are forming an army to take the population on what should be a short sojourn to the Promised Land. That they should form an army to cross the desert is not surprising; but, we may ask, why the apparent preoccupation with numbers?

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