Jewish Time

Jewish Time

Jul 13, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

The tantalizingly fragmented book of Numbers closes with a new generation of Israelites, born and bred in the wilderness, poised to cross the Jordan from the west at Jericho.

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Taking Stock

Taking Stock

Jul 17, 2004 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

In these concluding parshiyot of Sefer B’midbar (Numbers), the Israelites are full of anticipation. They camp near Jericho on the plains of Moab looking forward to their entry into the Promised Land. Yet, even at this future-oriented juncture, as it does so often, the Torah takes stock of the past: “These were the marches of the Israelites who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron” (Numbers 33:1). We are reminded explicitly of the Exodus from Egypt. We hear of every stop the Israelites made on their journey. Only then can God give Moses instructions about moving on to Israel (33:50).

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History Does Not Repeat Itself

History Does Not Repeat Itself

Jul 26, 2003 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

History does not repeat itself. The experience of the past is valuable not so much for its similarity to the present as for its differences.

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True Refuge

True Refuge

Jul 6, 2002 By Melissa Crespy | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

The word “miklat” is repeated 10 times in the 34 verses of Chapter 35 of the Book of Numbers. It is designed to be a place of safety, a place of escape, a place free from danger, a place that shelters you. But in this year’s reading of Parashat Mattot—Mas’ei, I couldn’t see these words — “miklat” (refuge), “arei miklat” (cities of refuge), “miklato” (his refuge) — without thinking of the ubiquitous signs in modern day Israeli towns and cities which use the same word — “miklat” — but which in the modern context means “shelter”, as in “bomb shelter” or “air raid shelter.”

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Repeating History

Repeating History

Jul 6, 2002 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

The philosopher George Santayana wrote that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. His words have been often used and more often misused. The past is not a document that can simply be pulled out of a file. The past is what we remember it to have been. How we remember it depends on how we have told it. The Torah is, among other things, a record of how the Jewish people told, or were told, its past.

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Remembering the Holocaust on Tisha B’Av

Remembering the Holocaust on Tisha B’Av

Jul 25, 1998 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Masei | Mattot | Tishah Be'av

My father liked to record in the books he bought the date of purchase. Each book became a marker in the unfolding of his life. Though long gone, my father and I meet often on the pages of the many books from his library that are interspersed in mine. Every year at this time, I take off the shelf his slender Hebrew edition of the Order of Lamentations for Tisha b’Av to ready myself for the fast day. I never fail to be arrested by the date stamped on its first page beneath my father’s name: January 12, 1933. Hitler came to power as Germany’s Chancellor exactly 18 days later on January 30. The pall of Tisha b’Av descended in mid–winter that year and would not lift till the spring of 1945.

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The Power of Jewish History

The Power of Jewish History

Jul 10, 1999 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

No Jewish historian ever had a greater impact on his time than Simon Dubnov. He died at the hands of the Nazis in Riga in December 1941 at the age of 81. Because he was too frail and infirm to deport, they shot him in the ghetto. Those who witnessed the murder reported that Dubnov’s last words were, “Jews, write it down.” And they did, in Kovno, Warsaw, Lodz and elsewhere. In his spirit, Jews organized collective and clandestine efforts to record the many terrifying faces of the Final Solution. Unarmed and unaided, they found solace in assembling the evidence that would one day convict their mass murderers in the court of human history.

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The Treasure of Torah

The Treasure of Torah

Jul 30, 2000 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

Lists are the most rudimentary type of historical evidence. To us they are lifeless and repetitive, devoid of narrative and significance. Yet, for the historian endowed with imagination, they often become the building blocks for first-rate economic, social or political history. Lack of meaning lies in the eyes of the beholder.

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Purifying Our Technology

Purifying Our Technology

Jul 21, 2001 By Joshua Heller | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

Mattot-Mas’ei, which we read this week, portrays the final months of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert, and the skirmishes which would presage their conquest of the land of Canaan. In the previous chapters, the Israelites had had trouble with the Midianites- a nation which posed not a military, but a cultural threat. They attacked Israel not on the battlefield, but with temptation to idolatry and sexual impropriety. In this week’s reading, God commands the Israelites to go to war against them, and the Israelite troops return from battle bearing the spoils of war – human captives, animals, precious metals and household items. Moses, the aged leader, and Eleazar, the new high priest, greet the returning troops with instructions for how to dispose of the spoils.

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The Power of the Spirit

The Power of the Spirit

Jul 26, 2003 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Masei | Mattot | Tishah Be'av

This week’s parashah finds the Israelites routing the Midianites. The victory is total; the five kings of Midian and all their male subjects meet their death. The Torah appears to go out of its way to inform us that the Israelites “also put Balaam son of Beor to the sword (31:8).” It is a passing detail that triggered the rabbinic imagination. The narrative fragments which constitute the interaction of this pagan prophet with the fate of Israel seem little more than dots waiting to be connected midrashically. A form of reader participation, midrash embellishes the spare story line of Torah narrative. In the process, it tends to give the material a refreshingly moral twist.

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