The Mystery of the Red Heifer

The Mystery of the Red Heifer

Jun 19, 2010 By Barry Holtz | Commentary | Hukkat

This week’s Torah reading opens with one of the most mysterious and incomprehensible rituals in the entire Bible. Numbers 19:1–22 describes the ritual of the red heifer—the complex practice that allows a person who has come in contact with a dead body to become “purified” of the contamination (tu’mah) that accompanies connection to those who have died. A red heifer is slaughtered, its body and blood are burned in a fire with certain woods and plants, and the ashes that remain after that burning are used in a mixture with water to create a kind of paste that is sprinkled on those who have come in contact with a corpse.

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The Sin of Moses

The Sin of Moses

Jul 4, 2009 By Deborah Miller | Commentary | Balak | Hukkat

Everyone knows how Romeo and Juliet ends, and yet we still cry when they die. The same is true of the first of the two Torah portions we read this week, Parashat Hukkat/Balak. In this portion, we learn that Moses will not enter the Promised Land. We have heard or read this story every year, and yet we are still upset, still angry that, on the threshold, Moses is denied admission to the Land to which he has been leading the Israelites for forty years.

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Recognizing God’s Gifts

Recognizing God’s Gifts

Jul 5, 2008 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Hukkat

There is a voice that echoes in my memory; so distinctive that I can recall it clearly even today.

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Hearing God’s Voice

Hearing God’s Voice

Jul 8, 2006 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Hukkat

We communicate with each other and with God through our voices.

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On Writing Torah Commentaries

On Writing Torah Commentaries

Jul 9, 2005 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Hukkat

As I begin my twentieth and final year as Chancellor, I am mindful of the cautionary verse from Proverbs, wisely inserted by our sages in the morning liturgy: “Many are the designs of the human heart, but in the end, it is God’s plan that will prevail.”

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In Memory of Zvia Ben-Yosseph Ginor

In Memory of Zvia Ben-Yosseph Ginor

Jun 26, 2004 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Hukkat

Great art is often a triumph over great suffering. In 1999, The Jewish Theological Seminary faculty suffered the grievous loss of one of its own, Zvia Ben-Yosseph Ginor, to cancer at the height of her literary power. With her keen intellect and exuberant personality, she cut a figure larger than life. Zvia had come to JTS in mid-life with impressive credentials, to pursue a doctorate in Jewish literature. She was the daughter of the founder of Israel’s airplane industry, a published Hebrew poet and a sterling adult educator. For her dissertation, she wrote on the Hebrew poetry of Abba Kovner, the legendary Vilna partisan and creator of the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv. Shortly after completion, the work was published in Israel.

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Infusing the World with Holiness

Infusing the World with Holiness

Jul 12, 2003 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Balak | Hukkat

After two impressive victories against the Canaanites of the Negeb and the Amorites in Transjordan, the looming military might of Israel throws the leaders of Moab into a panic. Only the land of the Moabites separates Israel from the Jordan River and the conquest of Canaan. Balak ben Zippor, King of Moab, knows that he is next. In desperation, he takes recourse in an unconventional pre-emptive measure. He summons Balaam son of Beor, a sorcerer from Mesopotamia to curse Israel, making it susceptible to defeat on the battlefield. Though Balaam comes, God frustrates the plan. Within the monotheistic framework of the Torah, Balaam can utter only what God imparts to him. Hence he ends up in rapturous praise of Israel, to the consternation of Balak.

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Words Are Sacred

Words Are Sacred

Jul 12, 2003 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Balak | Hukkat

Words are sacred. I remember the sanctity of words being inculcated in me as a high school student. My history teacher, Mr. Reilly, an admired, knowledgeable and articulate pedagogue (not to even mention his black belt in karate), instilled within us the fear of God with regard to proper attribution of words. His definition of plagiarism was ‘two or more words copied and unattributed.’ I remember being shocked by this Puritan definition, but it also instilled a respect for the written word. So valued are words that numerous violations, in addition to plagiarism, are attributed to their misuse. On occasions, words are distorted – in transmission, either knowingly or unknowingly; such distortion leads to the promulgation of lies and deception. And words are used to hurt – to curse, to destroy, and to instigate.

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Making Peace on High and on Earth

Making Peace on High and on Earth

Jun 22, 2002 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Hukkat

Some years ago, during a visit to Japan, I met with a sociology professor at Tokyo University. She mentioned that she had just returned from her first trip to Israel, and I asked what her impressions were. The professor paused for a moment and then said — “The Israelis, they argue a great deal.”

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What Happens to Us After We Die?

What Happens to Us After We Die?

Jun 22, 2002 By Lauren Eichler Berkun | Commentary | Balak | Hukkat

We are challenged to reflect upon death when we read parashat Hukkat/Balak. Our double parashah begins with the elaborate purification ritual for one who has come into contact with a corpse; it ends with Pinchas’ zealous killing of an Israelite man and Midianite woman; and in the middle we learn about the deaths of both Miriam and Aaron. As we confront mortality throughout our Torah reading, it is natural to question Jewish views of the afterlife – a topic which has been the subject of many books of late.

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The Centrality of Torah Study

The Centrality of Torah Study

Jun 30, 2001 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Hukkat

For the Rabbis, the words of Torah are infinitely plastic because they are infinitely meaningful. If God be infinite, so is God’s language. Via creative interpretation, midrash, the Rabbis dismantle and reassemble individual words, phrases and verses to pour new meanings into old vessels, turning a static text into one that is ever in formation.

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Miriam’s Death

Miriam’s Death

Jun 16, 1999 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Balak | Hukkat

Biblical narrative begs for reader participation. Time and again we come across a story short on context, background and human emotions, traces of an event barely recalled and crying out for elucidation. This week’s parasha contains a gem of an example.

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The Torah’s Lesson for Effective Leadership

The Torah’s Lesson for Effective Leadership

Jul 12, 1997 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Hukkat

Death hangs heavy over this week’s parasha. We are nearing the end of Israel’s forty–year trek into the wilderness. In quick succession, Miriam dies without forewarning or fanfare, God judges Moses and Aaron as unfit to bring Israel to its promised destination and Aaron expires after transferring his priestly authority to his son Elazar. The proximity of these related stories inspired the midrashic imagination to join them into a conception of integrated leadership.

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The Death of Miriam

The Death of Miriam

Jun 19, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Hukkat

Biblical narrative begs for reader participation. Time and again we come across a story short on context, background and human emotions, traces of an event barely recalled and crying out for elucidation. This week’s parasha contains a gem of an example.

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Hukkat-Balak

Hukkat-Balak

Jan 1, 1980

1 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 2 This is the ritual law that the Lord has commanded:

Instruct the Israelite people to bring you a red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid.

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Hukkat

Hukkat

Jan 1, 1980

1 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 2 This is the ritual law that the Lord has commanded:

Instruct the Israelite people to bring you a red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid.

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Hukkat

Hukkat

Jan 1, 1980

1 Jephthah the Gileadite was an able warrior, who was the son of a prostitute. Jephthah’s father was Gilead; 2 but Gilead also had sons by his wife, and when the wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out.

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