Intent of a Question

Intent of a Question

Jan 8, 2011 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

Everyone knows that four children are mentioned in the Passover Haggadah and that one of them is the evil child. Probably fewer of us are aware that the question attributed to this child is a biblical verse found in this week’s Torah portion, “What do you mean by this rite (avodah)?” (Exod. 12:26). 

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Searching for Signs

Searching for Signs

Oct 5, 2010 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Toledot

This week’s Torah portion contains an ambiguity that is rarely noted, and yet it is crucial to how we understand the contest between Rebecca and Isaac. When Rebecca experiences the as yet unborn children struggling, indeed almost crushing each other, she goes “to seek God”—whatever that may mean. She is told that two nations will emerge from her womb, two nations that will contend with each other and, the divine response concludes, “ve-rav ya’avod za’ir.

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The Religious Value of Critical Study

The Religious Value of Critical Study

Aug 28, 2010 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Parashat Ki Tavo begins with a description of the ceremony for bringing the first fruits to the Temple. As part of this ritual, the following is to be recited by the pilgrim bringing the produce:

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he descended to Egypt. There he became a great and mighty nation. The Egyptians did us harm and caused us suffering; they placed upon us the burden of hard labor. We called out to the Lord the God of our ancestors; God heard our voices, and He saw our suffering, our hard labor and our oppression. The Lord brought us forth from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with signs and with wonders. And he brought us to this place, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now behold I have brought the first fruits of the land that You have given to me. (Deut. 26:5–10)

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Aaron’s Silence

Aaron’s Silence

Apr 9, 2010 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Shemini

In Parashat Sh’mini we read of a great tragedy that befalls the people of Israel on the very day that it celebrates the dedication of the Mishkan, the sanctuary in the desert. Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, bring an unauthorized offering and, consequently, they are slain by a fire that issues forth from heaven. We are told that when Aaron was informed of his sons’ death he said nothing: “And Aaron was silent.”

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The Painful Truth

The Painful Truth

Dec 25, 2009 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Vayiggash

Sometimes the midrash takes up a difficult verse and offers an interpretation that is even more opaque. This week’s Torah portion contains an example of this. We are told that initially Jacob refused to believe the brothers when they told him that Joseph was still among the living. However, “when they recounted all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived” (Gen. 45:27).

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Your Zeyde the Pilgrim

Your Zeyde the Pilgrim

Sep 29, 2009 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Try to imagine your zeyde, born and bred in Lithuania, dressed as a Pilgrim. I did. Like any other American schoolchild, I learned how the Pilgrims came to these shores on the Mayflower, how they celebrated their first harvest together with the Wampanoag Indians, and how this celebration became the basis for our holiday of Thanksgiving. For reasons that were not clear to me at the time, I tried to picture my Litvak grandfather as a Pilgrim, but the moment I did I started laughing.

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The Story of a Nation

The Story of a Nation

Jan 16, 2009 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Shemot

The great thirteenth-century biblical exegete Nahmanides, noting that the book of Exodus is a direct continuation of the narrative that concludes the book of Genesis, asks why it is that Exodus is designated as a separate book of the Torah. He answers by observing that Genesis is the story of families, while Exodus is the story of a nation. Genesis relates the history of Abraham and his descendants, whereas Exodus begins with a description of the transformation of Jacob’s clan of seventy souls into a “numerous and mighty nation,” and then proceeds to delineate the events that befall it.

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To Fulfill a Mitzvah

To Fulfill a Mitzvah

Dec 19, 2008 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Vayeshev

There is an interesting moment in this week’s parashah during Joseph’s search for his brothers. Initially, Joseph seeks them in Shechem, where Jacob supposes them to be. As Joseph fruitlessly seeks his brothers, a man who perceives that Joseph is wandering aimlessly asks Joseph the purpose of his search. When Joseph replies that he is seeking his brothers, the man tells him he has heard that they are headed for Dothan. Joseph then follows his brothers there, and the story unfolds of his sale as a slave and his descent to Egypt.

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Redemption: Israel’s Partnership with God

Redemption: Israel’s Partnership with God

Mar 31, 2007 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Shabbat Hagadol

The first teaching attributed to Hillel in Tractate Avot is the following: “Be one of Aaron’s disciples, one who loves peace and pursues it, one who loves one’s fellow human beings and brings them near to the Torah.”

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Free Will and Dental Care

Free Will and Dental Care

Jan 26, 2007 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Bo

After years of neglect and in response to the prodding of my dentist, I have undertaken a much more rigorous program of care for my teeth.

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Tarry a Day Longer

Tarry a Day Longer

Oct 14, 2006 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Shemini Atzeret

For me as a child Sh’mini Atzeret was without question the least memorable among the Jewish holidays of the fall season. Sandwiched between the high drama of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the pageantry of Sukkot on one hand and the revelry of Simhat Torah on the other, Sh’mini Atzeret often seemed more like a way station than a destination. It had only two distinguishing characteristics. The first, the prayer for rain, seemed to me supremely irrelevant and even perverse; I wasn’t a farmer and I liked spending time outdoors, so what was the upside to rain? The second, Yizkor, was depressing; in any case in the synagogue of my youth those lucky enough to have parents who were alive and well repaired to the lobby to schmooze while the sad and serious business of Yizkor took place behind closed doors.

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Trading Pharaoh for God?

Trading Pharaoh for God?

Jan 31, 1998 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

Everyone knows that four children are mentioned in the Passover Haggadah and that one of them is the evil child. Probably fewer of us are aware that the question attributed to this child is a biblical verse found in this week’s Torah portion, “What do you mean by this rite [avodah]? (Exodus 12:26). 

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