Was Avram a Second Language Learner?

Was Avram a Second Language Learner?

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

At the conclusion of Chapter 11 of Sefer Bereishit, the peoples of the world are divided by Divine command into 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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Korah Had Options and So Do We

Korah Had Options and So Do We

Jun 11, 2021 By Stephanie Ruskay | Commentary | Korah

Korah is most famous for challenging Moses’s authority, framing rebellion in the guise of populism, and calling on Moses to share power and religious titles. The Rabbis understand Korah’s call for shared leadership and responsibility as a selfish desire to see himself awarded the role of the kohen gadol. He did not actually want “people” to have power; rather, he personally wanted authority and prestige and framed rebellion as something he was doing for the greater good.

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Heroes and Humans

Heroes and Humans

Jun 18, 2021 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Hukkat

One of the things I love most about the Bible is that it presents humans, not heroes. Even the Bible’s greatest figures have virtues and vices.

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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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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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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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