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A Covenant of Salt
Mar 27, 2020 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Vayikra
Covenant is a central concept in Judaism. The Torah and later tradition make clear that the people Israel have a special relationship with God, and Jews have acquired the epithet “the chosen people” (though Jewish particularism need not preclude other peoples having their own unique relationships with God). Rabbi David Hartman, z”l, titled his exposition of Jewish theology A Living Covenant. Rabbi David Wolpe, in a speech at JTS, proposed highlighting the mainstream ideological approach of Conservative Judaism by rebranding it as “Covenantal Judaism.”Read More
Whose Opinion Is It Really?
Jun 15, 2018 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Text Study
In capital cases, we do not hear the words of the senior [judge] until after everyone else, as if the senior [judge] were to start, the others would be forbidden to disagree, as [the Rabbis understand the Torah to say] “Do not speak against the greatest [judge]” (Exod. 23:2). (Moses Maimonides, Commentary on the Mishnah to M. Sanhedrin 4:2)
Finding the Golden Apple
Jan 26, 2018 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Text Study
The Sage has said, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings (maskiyyot) of silver” (Prov. 25:11). Hear now an elucidation of the thought that he has set forth. The term maskiyyot denotes filigree traceries . . . When looked at from a distance or with imperfect attention, it is deemed to be an apple of silver; but when a keen-sighted observer looks at it with full attention, its interior becomes clear to him and he knows that it is of gold. The parables of the prophets, peace be on them, are similar.
—Moses Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed (trans. S. Pines) (11–12)
Walking in God’s Paths
Aug 11, 2017 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Eikev
Walking at our own pace creates an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion. . . . When we choose a path through a city or forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, construct a mental map of the world, settle on a way forward, and translate that plan into a series of footsteps.
—Ferris Jabr, “Why Walking Helps Us Think,” The New Yorker (September 2014)
What Would You Pack?
Jun 2, 2017 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Naso
1 pair of pants, 1 shirt, 1 pair of shoes and 1 pair of socks
Shampoo and hair gel, toothbrush and toothpaste, face whitening cream
Comb, nail clipper
100 U.S. dollars
130 Turkish liras
Smart phone and back-up cell phone
SIM cards for Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey
—contents of Iqbal’s backpack on arriving in Lesbos, Greece (emphasis added)
A Ladder to the Heavens
Dec 9, 2016 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Vayetzei
As Jacob sleeps, he sees a ladder with its base on the ground and its top touching the heavens (Gen. 28:12). The seemingly unreachable realm above the earth, Jacob discovers, is actually relatively accessible, almost within our grasp. The images from the Hubble Space Telescope—and space exploration more broadly—play a similar role for us. One might have expected that humanity’s newly found ability to discover more about space would have blunted our sense of wonder, as more and more of the universe ceases to be so mysterious.Read More
Notifications Now and Then
Jun 24, 2016 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Beha'alotekha
How often do we hear this sound, or feel the vibrations of a mobile device demanding our attention? Breaking news, emails, traffic, and game updates—alerts both trivial and critical are brought to us by beeps, bars of music, and buzzes.Read More
The Blasphemer’s Twin
May 20, 2016 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Emor
This week’s parashah ends with a sin:
וַיִּקֹּב בֶּן-הָאִשָּׁה הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית אֶת-הַשֵּׁם וַיְקַלֵּל.
The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the name [of God] and cursed. (Lev. 24:11)
Maybe we don’t need to overthink why a law code seen as given by God would determine that cursing God is problematic, but how severe a crime is this? Evidently, Moses was uncertain: the culprit was detained while Moses checked in with God (Lev. 24:12). Perhaps the negative consequence of this act seems unclear. After all, what harm can possibly come to God through human words?Read More
A Noble Freedom
Apr 22, 2016 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Pesah
Many Virginians of middle and upper ranks aspired to behave like gentlemen. In the early seventeenth century an English gentleman was defined as one who could “live idly and without manual labor.” The words “gentleman” and “independent” were used synonymously, and “independence” in this context meant freedom from the necessity of labor.
—David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, 366
Bronze Bull, Golden Calf
Feb 26, 2016 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Ki Tissa
The metal bovine with a peculiar magnetism that is known as the Golden Calf (Exod. 32) brings to mind Arturo Di Modica’s Charging Bull (1989). A potent Financial District icon, it exerts a remarkable pull on passersby (on its webcam you can see the crowd so often around the statue). According to the artist’s website, it was designed as a “symbol of virility and courage” and “the perfect antidote to the Wall Street crash of 1986,” but it was also created without the invitation of the Wall Street community and was promptly removed from its original location in front of the New York Stock Exchange.Read More
What Did Abraham Actually Know?
Oct 30, 2015 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Vayera
“But was he really as strongly convinced of such a revealed doctrine, and also of its meaning, as is required for daring to destroy a human being on its basis?”
—Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason §4, transl. George di Giovanni
What would you do if a voice told you to sacrifice your child?Read More
Cities of Refuge
Jul 17, 2015 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Masei | Mattot
Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau, the City of Refuge, on Hawaii’s Big Island was functional into the early 19th century, when kapu, Hawaii’s system of ritual taboos, was overturned by King Kamehameha II. Until that time, many breaches of the kapu could result in death, including for an offence as ephemeral as allowing your shadow to fall over a chief’s house. However, by entering a pu`uhonua (a place of refuge), often by swimming across a bay, and performing a ritual facilitated by the priest there, the punishment could be annulled.Read More
A Narrative for Our Lives
Dec 26, 2014 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Vayiggash
No matter if we are philosophers, scientists, or grand viziers of Egypt, we all constantly engage in the process of slotting the “disordered fragments of raw experience” into an overarching framework.Read More
Between Cursing and Blessing, Peace and Truth
Jul 4, 2014 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Balak
That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.” Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. And God was very angry when he went. (Num. 22:20–22)
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