How We Acquire Our Names

How We Acquire Our Names

May 18, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bemidbar

I am not the same person I was last year when we read the book of Numbers in the synagogue.

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Death and Life

Death and Life

May 4, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Emor

Death has been a frequent visitor this year at the Seminary, felling young and old alike, as if the assassination of Mr. Rabin on November 4 was a harbinger of things to come. Rarely have young people, so sheltered from death in our self–indulgent society, been more sorely tested. Some of the deceased, like Professors Shraga Abramson, Moshe Davis and Cantor Max Wohlberg, died in old age after long careers of lasting achievement, both in Israel and in America, including many years of teaching at the Seminary. Others were cut down in the prime of life: Professor Seth Brody, a graduate of our Rabbinical School and frequent visiting member of our faculty, by cancer, at the height of his powers, just a few years after attaining a full–time appointment at Haverford College, and Matt Eisenfeld, a second year rabbinical student at the Seminary, and his fiancee to be, Sara Duker, a graduate of Barnard College and active member of the Seminary community, by a suicide bomber on February 25 in Jerusalem, denying the world the fulfillment of their radiant promise.

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The Word is Flesh and Bread

The Word is Flesh and Bread

Apr 20, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

For Jews, the Hebrew Bible has always been a canon without closure, and the key to that historic paradox is the way we read it. Midrash posits more than one meaning to a word, verse or book. The literal meaning does not begin to exhaust the contents of the sacred text. Beneath the surface lie deeper meanings waiting to be tapped by resourceful readers. What distinguishes a divine from a human text, the Rabbis contended, is a multiplicity of meanings. In their sensitive hands, Scripture (the Tanakh) never lost its pliability: a finite number of books were made to yield an infinity of new readings.

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A Beacon for the Years that Lie Ahead

A Beacon for the Years that Lie Ahead

Mar 30, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Tzav | Tishah Be'av

The Talmud tells that at the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in the year 586 B.C.E., the following poignant scene unfolded: “Many clusters of young priests ascended to the roof of the sanctuary with its keys in their hands and said: Lord of the Universe, since we lacked the merit to be trustworthy caretakers, let these keys be returned to Your possession.’ They threw them in the air and half-a-hand, so it appeared, stretched forth to take them in. The young priests then jumped directly into the flames.

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To Be Heard Is to Be Helped

To Be Heard Is to Be Helped

Mar 23, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayikra

Translations conceal as much as they convey.

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Torah in the Face of Tragedy

Torah in the Face of Tragedy

Mar 9, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Ki Tissa

The month of Adar has hardly been a herald of joy for our people this year, as it traditionally is.

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Memory: Judaism’s Lifeblood

Memory: Judaism’s Lifeblood

Mar 2, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Purim

My father died 14 years ago. This week I will observe his Yahrzeit once again.

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Forging Faith: Persistent Human Effort Vs. Divine Miracles

Forging Faith: Persistent Human Effort Vs. Divine Miracles

Feb 3, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Beshallah

The end of a story often illuminates its beginning.

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Asking Questions

Asking Questions

Jan 27, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bo

Isidor I. Rabi, who was born in Austria in 1898, won the Nobel prize in physics in 1944.

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Judaism and the Afterlife

Judaism and the Afterlife

Jan 6, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayehi

The title of this week’s parasha is full of irony.

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Abraham the Noble Warrior

Abraham the Noble Warrior

Nov 4, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Lekh Lekha

The Torah does not give us a complete biography of Abraham, only a series of striking vignettes.

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A Bold Exegetical Gambit

A Bold Exegetical Gambit

Nov 2, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayetzei

Why does Jacob abandon the security of his parents home in Beer-sheba?

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Conquering Passions

Conquering Passions

Oct 28, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Noah

My favorite Jewish ritual is the recitation of havdalah at the end of Shabbat. It is a love rooted in childhood.

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Isaiah Berlin and Kant

Isaiah Berlin and Kant

Oct 21, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bereishit

I like Isaiah Berlin’s favorite quotation from Kant: “Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made nothing entirely straight can be built.”

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The Power of Prayer

The Power of Prayer

Oct 3, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Yom Kippur

The High Holy Days don’t play to our strength. The extended services put a premium on prayer, an activity at which we are no longer very adept. Yom Kippur asks of us to spend an entire day in the synagogue immersed in prayer. But we find it easier to believe in God than to pray to God. It is this common state of discomfort that prompts me to share with you a few thoughts on the art of Jewish praying.

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On Baseball and Jewish Endurance

On Baseball and Jewish Endurance

Sep 25, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Rosh Hashanah

Seminary lore has it that Solomon Schechter advised the young Louis Ginzberg, when he joined the faculty, to master the game of baseball.

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Praying for Rain

Praying for Rain

Sep 25, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Sukkot

Rainfall has been sparse this summer in much of the northeast, and the reservoirs of New York City are some 24% lower than normal for this time of year.

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The Pursuit of Peace

The Pursuit of Peace

Jul 2, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Pinehas | Sukkot

Experience often has a way of eroding our ideals. While the evidence for this sad fact abounds, I wish to illustrate it anew in the exegetical fate of a passage in this week’s parasha. The parasha concludes with a succinct statement of the sacrifices to be offered in the Tabernacle throughout the year.

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On Korah and Spinoza

On Korah and Spinoza

Jul 1, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Korah

When I was a rambunctious kid growing up in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, the name of Benedict de Spinoza came to me as easily as that of Ted Williams or Stan Musial or Sid Luckman. If the latter three were among my childhood heroes, the former meant a great deal to my father. He spoke often of Spinoza’s grand conception of God as the sum total of all that exists. Indeed, body and mind were but two attributes of God’s infinite nature. There were countless others which we would never know. For my father, Spinoza represented the fullest and finest expression of Judaism’s historic quest to understand the endless diversity of existence in monotheistic terms. On many a Shabbat I was treated to a discourse that eluded the grasp of my inattentive mind. I remember only the stirring intensity of his fascination. Spinoza provided a haven in which the rational bent of my father’s mind and the religious hunger of his heart could both find comfort.

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Biblical Espionage

Biblical Espionage

Jun 24, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Shelah Lekha | Tishah Be'av

The story of the twelve spies is well-known and straightforward. As Israel approaches the Promised Land from the south, God instructs Moses to assemble a band of spies, one prominent man from each tribe to measure the strength of its inhabitants: “Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell, good or bad? Are the towns they live in, open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not? And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land” (Numbers 13:18-20).

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