Learning from God to Anticipate the Reactions of Others

Learning from God to Anticipate the Reactions of Others

Apr 2, 2021 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Pesah

Why do we eat matzah on Passover? According to the instructions that God conveyed to Israel prior to the Exodus we eat matzah because we are commanded: “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread (matzot)” (Exod. 12:15). However, according to Exod. 12:39, where the narrative of the events is related, we eat matzah because the Israelites, having been driven out of Egypt, were unable to linger to allow time for the dough to rise: “And they baked unleavened cakes (matzot) . . . because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not tarry.” If so, why does the Torah present the mitzvah (the command) before the Exodus has actually taken place? 

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The Nature of Peace

The Nature of Peace

May 15, 2020 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

The description of peace and prosperity in this week’s Torah portion seems particularly fitting for our current situation.

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Modeling Behavior for the Sake of Humankind

Modeling Behavior for the Sake of Humankind

Jun 21, 2019 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Text Study | Beha'alotekha

In the last narrative in Parashat Beha’alotehkha, it seems that Miriam and Aaron are speaking against their brother Moses—though the nature of the complaint is far from clear. Whatever the complaint may be, God summons Miriam and Aaron and takes them to task for not being “afraid to speak against My servant Moses.”

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Six Takes on a Leader’s Attributes

Six Takes on a Leader’s Attributes

Apr 13, 2018 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Shemini

In chapter eight of Leviticus, Moses is essentially serving as temporary kohen gadol, high priest, during the dedication of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. On the eighth day, according to Rashi, Aaron and his sons are officially inaugurated into the priesthood. Moses transfers the position to his brother Aaron, who along with his descendants will officially serve as priests and high priest. 

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Why Did Moses Listen to Yitro’s Advice?

Why Did Moses Listen to Yitro’s Advice?

Feb 17, 2017 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Yitro

Yitro heard that God had done wonders for Moses and Israel and had redeemed them from Egypt. He journeyed from Midian with Moses’s wife and sons to the Israelites’ encampment at the mountain of God. We hear nothing of Moses’s reunion with his wife and children, but rather a detailed account of Yitro’s organizational advice to Moses.

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“You Shall Fear Your God”: Theological, Moral, and Psychological Implications

“You Shall Fear Your God”: Theological, Moral, and Psychological Implications

May 13, 2016 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Kedoshim

There are many exhortations in Leviticus 19, but only two of them conclude with “you shall fear your God, I am the Lord.” We will focus on Leviticus 19:14

You shall not curse the deaf, and before the blind you shall not place a stumbling block; rather you shall fear your God, I am the Lord

—and five traditional Jewish interpretations, to examine how the phrase “you shall fear your God” informs our understanding of the injunctions not to curse the deaf and not to place a stumbling block before the blind.

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“They Said”/“They Said”

“They Said”/“They Said”

Jul 2, 2013 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

In this week’s parashah, we are told that the children of Reuben and Gad “had a very great multitude of cattle” (verse 1) and the land of Gilead on the eastern side of the Jordan was an excellent “place for cattle.” They, therefore, hoped that Moses would permit them to stay on the eastern side of the Jordan and not cross over to Canaan/Israel proper when the time would arrive to enter the Land.

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Good for the Midwives

Good for the Midwives

Dec 30, 2012 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Shemot

What exactly was the good that God did for the midwives? This question has engaged the commentators throughout the generations.

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A Threefold Method of Biblical Interpretation

A Threefold Method of Biblical Interpretation

Mar 3, 2012 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Tetzavveh | Shabbat Zakhor

Why are these two seemingly unrelated matters—the law against harboring dishonest weights, on the one hand, and the exhortation to “remember” Amalek’s treachery, on the other—juxtaposed?

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How to Read a Text

How to Read a Text

Nov 28, 2009 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Vayetzei

Michael Fishbane’s book Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology is a scholarly work that I find compelling, especially in those instances where the author places emphasis on experiencing the act of biblical interpretation, which “is understood to foster diverse modes of attention to textual details, which in turn cultivate correlative forms of attention to the world, and divine reality.” In other words, paying close attention to the details in the Torah is the path to deriving meaning from the Torah.

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Rashi’s God and Ibn Ezra’s God

Rashi’s God and Ibn Ezra’s God

May 16, 2009 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

I am in the midst of reading Michael Fishbane’s recently published book Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology. Especially compelling, from my perspective, is the emphasis he places on experiencing the act of biblical interpretation which “is understood to foster diverse modes of attention to textual details, which in turn cultivate correlative forms of attention to the world and divine reality” (page xi). To quote my student Rachel Isaacs (rabbinical student in my Advanced Exegesis class), “Fishbane articulates most clearly the reason why rabbinical students are engaged in the types of learning they are. Close reading [of the Torah text] is not a useless skill or a rite of passage. It forces us to have an intimate, thoughtful, and challenging relationship with the text. As a result, we acquire new revelations through the process of encountering the text as much as we do from the content itself.”

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