His Father’s Son

His Father’s Son

Dec 12, 2014 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Vayeshev

We stand in a very long line of children of Israel who have been fascinated with Joseph, the first person to have stood in that line. It’s hard in 2014 to see him, like the Rabbis, as a great tzadik, even if he did resist the temptation of betraying Potiphar by sleeping with his wife; brought his brothers to teshuvah (repentance) through an elaborate and risky ruse; forgave them for selling him into slavery; and apparently administered the entire wealth of Egypt without ever profiting personally from his position. Joseph seems too worldly for the role of tzadik, too complex, too much a man of action rather than reflection.

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Innovation and Tradition

Innovation and Tradition

Jan 30, 2010 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Beshallah

I’d like to suggest that from the first words of this week’s portion to the last, we find lessons of direct relevance to issues of revelation and commandment, faith and covenant that have been on the minds of thoughtful Jews for centuries and remain matters of concern today.

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The Four Parents

The Four Parents

Mar 27, 2015 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

Let’s think for a moment, inspired by one of the seder’s most famous passages, about the four kinds of parents who are found around the seder table: wise, wicked, innocent, and not knowing how to ask.

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A Tale of Two Dreamers

A Tale of Two Dreamers

Dec 18, 2015 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Vayiggash

Shortly after Jacob arrives in Egypt Joseph—undoubtedly eager to introduce his father and his patron to each other—arranges an audience with Pharaoh for his father. Following the time honored traditions of polite conversation, Pharaoh asks a prosaic question: “How many are the years of your life?”

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God’s Earth: Between Blessing and Curse

God’s Earth: Between Blessing and Curse

May 15, 2015 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

Here is Leviticus—in many ways the most intimate of the Torah’s five books, because it usually meets us frail, mortal, human beings where we live, in our skins and with our families, in private spaces of home and tabernacle—instructing us as a society, as a species, that divine blessings of rain and sun will turn to curses if we do not do our part in stewarding God’s earth properly. The text insists that a fateful choice is in our hands. And it seems far from confident that we will make the choice wisely.

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Covenant and Cattle

Covenant and Cattle

Jul 17, 2015 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

As the Children of Israel prepare to enter the Promised Land, their backs to the wilderness after 40 years of wandering, the Torah, too, seems to change direction—and even tone. It trades instructions for the priests and narratives of Israelite disobedience for details of land distribution, inheritance and other laws that will regulate life inside the Land. It is as if the Torah wants to underline the transition about to occur—from wilderness to settlement, disorder to order—by changing the visual image before the reader’s eyes.

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Love in Hiding

Love in Hiding

Sep 11, 2015 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Vayeilekh

When I prepared to chant Parashat Vayeilekh at my Bar Mitzvah, I don’t think I paid much attention to the theological import of the announcement that God would “hide My countenance” from the children of Israel. Nor is it likely that I felt the pathos of Moses giving up the mantle of leadership, on the far side of the Jordan, as his life’s journey came to an end.

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Why Did God Flood the World?

Why Did God Flood the World?

Oct 1, 2013 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Noah

The end of Parashat Bereishit finds God regretting the creation of humankind and resolving to wipe it out along with “beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky” (Gen. 6:7). A note of optimism creeps into the concluding verse (6:8), however, with the statement that Noah, whose birth and naming were noted in 5:29, “found favor” with God.

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Species Purity and the Great Flood

Species Purity and the Great Flood

Oct 24, 2014 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Noah

Omnicide is a dramatic move, on that we can all agree. But what causes the Creator to grow violently disgusted with the creatures that had just recently been praised as “good” and blessed with fertility?

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Minding Our Words

Minding Our Words

Oct 17, 2014 By Anne Lapidus Lerner | Commentary | Bereishit

On Simhat Torah, we complete the reading of the humash—all 79,796 Hebrew words of it—and when we’re done, what do we do? We roll it up to the very beginning and start to read it all over again. Words, words, words. Devarim (Deuteronomy)—which, of course, means “words”—ends with Moses’s death after the conclusion of his lengthy final oration; Bereishit opens with God demonstrating the power of words by creating the world with them.

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