Why God Needs a Dwelling Place

Why God Needs a Dwelling Place

Feb 8, 2019 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Terumah

Recent portions of the Torah have dealt with the arrival of the Israelites at Mount Sinai; the great theophany of God, in which God spoke the Ten Words, or Decalogue; the revelation of the Book of the Covenant, containing the first extended legal section of the Torah; and the covenantal ceremony sealing the everlasting special relationship between God and the people of Israel (Exod. 19–24). Our portion this week turns to the subject of proper worship of God (a subject with which the Torah will be concerned formally for the next eight portions), and opens with a command from God that Moses organize the people to build God a sanctuary in the wilderness: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the Israelites that they may take for me a contribution; from everyone whose heart so moves him, take my contribution . . . and let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them’” (Exod. 25:1–2,8).

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Exodus 18: The Proverbial Visit of the In-Laws

Exodus 18: The Proverbial Visit of the In-Laws

Jan 15, 2014 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Yitro

“Come and listen to my story ’bout a man named . . . Jethro!”

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The Fruits of Close Reading

The Fruits of Close Reading

Sep 16, 2013 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Sukkot

“In order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23:43).

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Who Is Getting Stoned?

Who Is Getting Stoned?

May 29, 2013 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Shelah Lekha

Among other subjects, the parashah narrates the story of the spies, one from each tribe, whom Moses sends to scout out the Land. Specifically, let us join the narrative at the point that Joshua and Caleb (the two good or “heroic” spies) attempt to encourage the community—largely ineffectively—after the People express their fears that any effort to conquer the Promised Land will not be successful.

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“Truthiness” in the Bible

“Truthiness” in the Bible

Feb 7, 2013 By Robert Harris | Video Lecture

What the Bible Means, What it Meant, and Why the Difference Matters: A recorded live stream lunch and learn

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“He Taught Him a Tree” (?!)

“He Taught Him a Tree” (?!)

Jan 23, 2013 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Beshallah

This week’s parashah contains some of the most memorable narratives in the entire Torah: the splitting of the Reed Sea, the miracle of the manna, the battle with Amalek. In the midst of all these narratives comes a pithily told “little tale.”

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“Alas, Poor Yorick”: A Grave Affair

“Alas, Poor Yorick”: A Grave Affair

Aug 25, 2012 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Shofetim

I wish to call your attention specifically to the Torah’s prohibition of “inquiring of the dead.” Rashi seems to adumbrate Shakespeare, when he includes “one who asks questions of a skull” among the possible actions that would represent a violation of the biblical commandment. But the Torah is not imagining a philosophical discourse about life when it prohibits “inquiring of the dead,” but rather, in what is likely its original context, necromancy.

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I Stayed with Laban

I Stayed with Laban

Dec 10, 2011 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Vayishlah

The opening verses of this week’s parashah recount Jacob’s decision, upon returning home after 20 years of “living abroad,” to get in touch with his brother, Esau. You may remember that they—ahem!—had not parted on the best of terms (see Gen. 25:27-34 and especially Gen. 27:1-41 for the gritty details). At the beginning of the parashah, it is not yet clear to what extent Jacob is motivated by fear, by friendliness, by craftiness—or by some combination of these and potentially other concerns.

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Shabbat in the Bible – and Not in the Bible Part 1

Shabbat in the Bible – and Not in the Bible Part 1

Oct 30, 2010 By Robert Harris | Video Lecture

A surprising look at the description of Shabbat in the Hebrew Bible
Part one of the six-part series, “Shabbat: From Here to Eternity”

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Shabbat in the Bible – and Not in the Bible Part 2

Shabbat in the Bible – and Not in the Bible Part 2

Oct 29, 2010 By Robert Harris | Video Lecture

A surprising look at the description of Shabbat in the Hebrew Bible
Part two of the six-part series, “Shabbat: From Here to Eternity”

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Shabbat: Mountains Hanging by a Thread

Shabbat: Mountains Hanging by a Thread

Oct 28, 2010 By Robert Harris | Video Lecture

Shabbat in Midrash and Talmud
Part three of the six-part series, “Shabbat: From Here to Eternity”

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Hitchcock and the Sages: The 39 Steps

Hitchcock and the Sages: The 39 Steps

Oct 27, 2010 By Robert Harris | Video Lecture

Part four of the six-part series, “Shabbat: From Here to Eternity”

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You Are One and Your Name Is One

You Are One and Your Name Is One

Oct 26, 2010 By Robert Harris | Video Lecture

Part five of the six-part series, “Shabbat: From Here to Eternity”

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Mizmor Shir Leyom HaShabbat: Shabbat in Liturgy and Song

Mizmor Shir Leyom HaShabbat: Shabbat in Liturgy and Song

Oct 25, 2010 By Robert Harris | Video Lecture

Part six of the six-part series, “Shabbat: From Here to Eternity”

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Teach Us to Number, O God!

Teach Us to Number, O God!

May 15, 2010 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Bemidbar

Our Torah portion this week begins the fourth book of the Torah (see? I’m numbering already!), B’midbar. This Hebrew name of the book comes from one of the first significant words in the book, and means “in the wilderness of . . . ” (see below). But in rabbinic antiquity, another name of the book circulated, and that was humash (orseferHa-piqqudim, which essentially means “Book of Counting” (see, e.g., Mishnah Yoma 7:1). This name corresponds to the ancient Jewish Greek version, Arithmoi, which was rendered by the Latin Vulgate Numeri, from which comes our current English title, “Numbers.

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The Meaning of Aaron’s Holy Garments

The Meaning of Aaron’s Holy Garments

Feb 27, 2010 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Tetzavveh

The Torah portion of T’tzavveh continues God’s instructions to the Israelites for building the Tabernacle in the Wilderness—the central concern of the previous week’s Torah portion (T’rumah) and the next three portions as well (Ki Tissa, Va-yakhel, and P’kudei). Altogether, the Tabernacle and its accoutrements are the most prominent subject matter of the entire last section of the book of Exodus, comprising chapters 25 through 40. These portions cover many details, the precise explanation for many of which remains somewhat uncertain to this very day.

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The Torah and Its Clearly Ambiguous Message

The Torah and Its Clearly Ambiguous Message

Oct 17, 2009 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Bereishit | Simhat Torah

There is a verse that I love to invoke whenever I teach about “the poetics of biblical narrative,” and it doesn’t come from this week’s portion (but who’s keeping score, anyway?). Instead, it is found in the first extended legal section, Parashat Mishpatim (Exod. 21–24). Loosely translated, this is the text: “In all charges of misunderstanding . . . whereof one party alleges, ‘This is it!’—the case of both parties shall come before God” (Exod. 22:8); the Hebrew phrase underlying the words “this is it!” is: כי הוא זה (ki hu zeh). The verse seems to be addressing a case in which no one side has a total claim on the truth; in such a case, then, one is bidden to consider both possibilities.

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“The More the Merrier?”

“The More the Merrier?”

Feb 24, 2007 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Terumah

We have all heard and used the expression, “the more the merrier.”

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A Question of Translation

A Question of Translation

Dec 30, 2006 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Vayiggash

Parashat Vayiggash (or, as it is sometimes known in Hebrew school circles, “parashat omigosh”) serves as the denouement of the “Tale of Joseph and His Brothers.”

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Examining the Word Moriah

Examining the Word Moriah

Nov 11, 2006 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Vayera

Years ago, in a national television program called Laugh In (yes, I lived during the Stone Age — the Rolling Stone Age. Never mind.), a comedian lampooned the song “They Called the Wind Moriah” from the Broadway show Paint Your Wagon.

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