The Sorcery in Our Midst

The Sorcery in Our Midst

Jul 20, 2019 By Jonathan Milgram | Commentary | Balak

In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Balak, we read a riveting story of the diviner, Balaam, who was commissioned by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites (Num. 22:2–24:25). Balak’s goal was to weaken the Israelites, encamped at the borders of Moab, so that he could defeat them in battle. Balaam is richly and, at times, inconsistently described in our detailed narrative. Part of the story’s complexity is due to the historical fact that two narratives about Balaam were conflated in the finally redacted text of the Bible. 

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Wrestling the Angels and the Demons within Us

Wrestling the Angels and the Demons within Us

Dec 1, 2017 By Jonathan Milgram | Commentary | Vayishlah

In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Vayishlah, we read of the patriarch Jacob’s journey home with his family after freeing himself and his entire clan from his father-in-law, Laban’s, control. Along the route, Jacob prepares himself for his eventual reunion with his older twin brother Esau, whom he fears to be vengeful. Right in the middle of the parashah, in between the description of Jacob’s preparations and his actual meeting with Esau, Jacob is involved in a transformative experience: a physical struggle with a stranger.

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Law as Response to Its Context

Law as Response to Its Context

Jul 29, 2016 By Jonathan Milgram | Commentary | Pinehas

What social and economic criteria demand a reevaluation—or perhaps even redefinition—of divine law? How does Jewish legal development through the ages illustrate the interrelationship between God and the Jewish people that results in new and relevant Jewish laws? The analysis of one element in parashat Pinehasinheritance by daughters—teaches that, at times, the Jewish people’s response to the divine call may be determined by the social and economic contexts, resulting in a reframing of the divine message for a new age.

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Family Matters

Family Matters

Aug 28, 2015 By Jonathan Milgram | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

Academic talmudists are often asked, “Of what use are the findings of academic Jewish Studies to lay people? Can historical research inform our contemporary dialogue on the pressing issues of our day?” I propose that developments in family law from biblical to Rabbinic times have much to teach us in our evaluating the rapidly changing values and their accompanying changing laws in our own times.

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Fulfilling Our Potential

Fulfilling Our Potential

Sep 28, 2012 By Jonathan Milgram | Commentary | Devarim

When the end of the week arrives and we settle into our Friday night routine of rituals, I often try to encapsulate in a few short sentences what I think is the main thought or idea in the parashah so that my children leave the table with a “takeaway” lesson.

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The Relevance of History

The Relevance of History

Oct 1, 2010 By Jonathan Milgram | Commentary | Bereishit

Although the book of Genesis is exceedingly familiar to us, there is not a year that goes by when most of us are not struck by one aspect or another of the text, as if reading it for the very first time. It is the universal and profound message of Genesis that enables us to look at the parashah, year after year, and find in it something new, fresh, and even inspirational. One of the central themes of the reading, Bereishit, is that God created humankind in God’s own image.

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The Desire for Power

The Desire for Power

Jun 27, 2009 By Jonathan Milgram | Commentary | Korah

This week’s Torah reading, Korah, has a central theme: encroachment on the Tabernacle and its related punishments. No fewer than four separate uprisings are recorded in our reading, all associated with Korah: (1) the Levites against Aaron and Moses, (2) Dathan and Aviram against Moses, (3) the heads of the tribes against Aaron, and (4) the whole community against Moses and Aaron. The punishments for at least two of these rebellions are clearly documented: Dathan and Aviram are swallowed up by the ground and the tribal leaders are burned by a divinely sent fire. Korah’s fate, however, is not as clearly stated. It may be that he dies with the tribal heads or that he is consumed by the earth with Dathan and Aviram.

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