Lifting Up Our Communities

Lifting Up Our Communities

Jun 2, 2012 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Naso

“Carrying capacity” might be a good explanation for our parashah’s title, Naso, which literally means, “lift up.” In these chapters God gives Moses precise orders for the leaders of the people—both the clergy and the tribal chiefs. It ends with a somewhat stultifying litany of the identical offerings of the chieftains. This portion lacks exciting narratives, and yet there is a sense of vast power embedded in its orderly universe.

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Transformative Women

Transformative Women

Jan 16, 2012 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Vayeshev

Male characters and voices dominate biblical literature, yet the near-absence of female characters is particularly striking in Parashat Va-yeishev. Here is the story of Jacob (his wives don’t appear) and his 12 sons (his daughter doesn’t appear) exploring the world of men—in the field, on the road, in the city, and in prison. These narratives are rough and even violent, and this tone carries over to the two stories in which women do appear: Judah’s coarse treatment of Tamar and Joseph’s encounter with Potiphar’s unnamed wife, who physically accosts him.

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Freeing Today’s Slaves

Freeing Today’s Slaves

May 13, 2011 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Behar

“Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” These words from our parashah (Leviticus 25:10) are famously inscribed upon the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, and they have resounded as a message of hope for the oppressed throughout the world. Yet our parashah also contains a darker message that endorses slavery, just as America has paired proclamations of liberty with cruel practices of slavery and discrimination throughout its history. In the same chapter of Leviticus, we read that non-Israelite residents of the land may be acquired as permanent slaves, and may be kept “as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property for all time.”

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Questions of Life and Legacy

Questions of Life and Legacy

Dec 17, 2010 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Vayehi

This final parashah of Genesis bears a cryptic title: Va-yehi, “He (that is, Jacob) lived.” Well, of course he lived, and soon he will die, but how has he lived? What legacy does he bequeath? These are the questions that concern Va-yehi. What is the Torah’s final judgment of Jacob, a man who has wrestled, mourned and rejoiced, deceived and been deceived; a man who has been wounded and yet prevails, who has been humbled by his sons and yet manages to retain enough vigor and authority to command them until his dying breath? How has he lived?

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The Jewish “Lost and Found”

The Jewish “Lost and Found”

Aug 21, 2010 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

Few sights are as pathetic as the mountain of lost items accumulated at a summer camp or school at the end of the season. Clothes that once were valuable to their owners (or at least, to their parents) now lie dirty and discarded in a noisome heap that no one wants to touch. Perhaps in the premodern world, where people stayed put and personal effort was required to manufacture each item, fewer things got lost.

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Israel’s Self-Emancipation

Israel’s Self-Emancipation

Jan 16, 2010 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Va'era

There is a lot of action in Parashat Va-era, but not much of it directly involves the people of Israel. Their role is primarily to witness the increasingly violent confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh. Given last week’s negative response of the Israelite elders to Moses and Aaron, this passivity is quite understandable. His early experience with Israel has demoralized Moses, for he objects to God’s renewed command this week with bitter words: “In fact, even the Israelites haven’t listened to me, so how will Pharaoh ever heed me, and I have impeded speech!” (6:12).

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Connecting to an Ancient Text

Connecting to an Ancient Text

Oct 31, 2009 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Lekh Lekha

A wondrous quality of Torah study is that you can link the parashah to nearly any time, place, or subject. This puzzle is enjoyed by rabbis every week—how can I connect the ancient text to our contemporary context? I embrace this challenge, yet sometimes it makes me wonder: how much are we gleaning from the text, and how much are we interpolating?

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The Torah’s Middle Path

The Torah’s Middle Path

Jul 11, 2009 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Pinehas

Is there ever a discernible gap between God’s morality and the Torah, or is the Torah itself our only window into the realm of divine values? Put another way, is it permissible for a reverent Jew to challenge the morality of a law, and to base this challenge on his or her own understanding of justice and thus God’s will?

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The Electricity of Awe

The Electricity of Awe

Feb 14, 2009 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Yitro

Parashat Yitro is a play in three acts, starting with Act I, a backstory in Exodus 18. Moses reunites with his family, notably his wise father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro), who rejoices at the miraculous reunion and then mentors his inexperienced son-in-law in the art of religious leadership. Yitro teaches Moses how to bless God, offer sacrifice, and administer justice among his restive and distressed people.

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A Strong Woman in the Bible

A Strong Woman in the Bible

Nov 29, 2008 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Toledot

What do you make of our matriarch Rebecca? Certainly she is the boldest and most independent of the mothers. When as a girl she sees a stranger at the well, she rushes to water his caravan of thirsty camels, and then invites him to stay at her house. When offered the chance to travel with this man back to a distant land and a mysterious husband, she volunteers without hesitation. When her pregnancy becomes difficult, she seeks out God and challenges Him with the bold question, “Why do I need this?” When her husband seems ready to bless the wrong son, she quickly conspires to rearrange the action so that Jacob will receive the primary blessing. In all of these actions, Rebecca is seen as a woman of strength and decisiveness.

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Reading Like the Rabbis

Reading Like the Rabbis

Jun 28, 2008 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Korah

Grab a thick book and a cold drink and head for a comfy chair at a lake, beach, or pool. Lose yourself in luxurious chapters of artful narrative and savor the unique culture of a well-constructed novel or the incisive analysis of a work of nonfiction. This is the great joy of summer reading: to slow down enough to indulge in what is otherwise impossible, to enter the world of literature.

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Dressing to Lead

Dressing to Lead

Feb 16, 2008 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Tetzavveh

Which candidate looks most presidential? Sadly, this question often determines our votes.

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Moed Katan 1:5

Moed Katan 1:5

Jan 1, 2008 By Daniel Nevins | Text Study

In talmudic times, the dead were initially placed in burial caves to decompose. After a year, their relatives would gather the bones for “second burial” in an ossuary. Could this be done during the festival? 

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Berachot 9:2

Berachot 9:2

Jan 1, 2008 By Daniel Nevins | Text Study

Does prayer come from the heart, or is it a response to the world around us?

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Arakhin 3:5

Arakhin 3:5

Jan 1, 2008 By Daniel Nevins | Text Study

When is verbal assault considered worse than physical damage?

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Hagigah 1:5

Hagigah 1:5

Jan 1, 2008 By Daniel Nevins | Text Study

On the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, Jews were required to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem and bring two sacrifices. The re’iyah (appearance offering) was an olah (burned sacrifice). The hagigah (festive offering) was a sh’lamim (edible sacrifice). The latter was shared by the family as a simhah, or “happy meal.” The Torah does not specify the size of these sacrifices.

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Bava Batra 2:11

Bava Batra 2:11

Jan 1, 2008 By Daniel Nevins | Text Study

What is the responsibility of a landowner to prevent his foliage from damaging the property of a neighbor?

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Temurah 4:2

Temurah 4:2

Jan 1, 2008 By Daniel Nevins | Text Study

What happens to recovered property that had once been dedicated for a sacrifice?

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Yevamot 15:1

Yevamot 15:1

Jan 1, 2008 By Daniel Nevins | Text Study

This tractate deals primarily with complicated cases that test the Torah’s dictate that if a man dies childless, his younger brother is obligated to marry the widow (Deut. 25:5-6). Mingled with these discussions are the consideration of many other situations involving widowhood, divorce, and remarriage.

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Pesahim 3:4

Pesahim 3:4

Jan 1, 2008 By Daniel Nevins | Text Study

What precautions are necessary to prevent dough from becoming chametz?

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