Guided by the Covenant

Guided by the Covenant

Jan 8, 2021 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Shemot

There is a wonderful midrash in Pesikta Derav Kahana that suggests a profound relationship between the arrival of the manna described in Parashat Beshallah and the giving of the Ten Commandments recounted in the following parashah, Yitro. Just as the manna tasted different to each and every Israelite, Rabbi Yosi teaches, so each was enabled according to his or her particular capacity to hear the Divine Word differently at Sinai (12:25).

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Spiritual Poetry Makes the Good Book Great

Spiritual Poetry Makes the Good Book Great

Jan 17, 2020 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Shemot

For many readers, the Torah is more than the good book. It is a great book. The Torah’s greatness can be attributed to its literary uniqueness (there really is no other book quite like it) and to its remarkable place at the foundation of three major religions.

For me, the Torah’s greatness comes from the way it integrates artistry and meaning. 

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A Turn for the Better

A Turn for the Better

Dec 28, 2018 By Ariella Rosen | Commentary | Shemot

It’s an all too familiar image: an individual in distress calling out, seeking help, as person after person walks by, completely ignoring their plight. Many of us prefer to see ourselves as the exception, the one who would stop and offer a hand, but statistics paint a different picture. In social psychology, the bystander effect describes the direct inverse correlation between the size of a crowd and the likelihood that someone will step in and help in a moment of crisis. In other words, someone in distress is much more likely to receive support from a solitary passerby than from a large group gathered around them. It appears to be the case that human beings are much more willing to step up when we are alone.

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Summoning a People

Summoning a People

Jan 5, 2018 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Shemot

Two very different stories about who we are as Jews are forcefully presented in the opening chapters of the Book of Exodus. One of them—captured in the Hebrew title of the book, Shemot or “Names”—declares that we are the Children of Israel: a nation, a people, defined in the first instance and forever after by our ancestors and the paths they travelled. The other story teaches that we are disciples of Moses, the human protagonist of the book, and, like him, are servants of the God Who called to Moses out of the Burning Bush and bound us in covenant at Sinai.

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The Doing that Comes from Knowing

The Doing that Comes from Knowing

Jan 20, 2017 By Joel Alter | Commentary | Shemot

Among the undercurrents in our portion are the consequences of forgetting and remembering on rescue and liberation, and of seeing and knowing on oppression and death. The Israelites’ fortunes are transformed, and transformed again, so rapidly in our portion’s opening, it seems the Torah wants to signal the tenuousness of circumstances that seem secure. The Torah goes to the trouble of naming the eleven sons of Jacob who relocate to Egypt (Joseph already having been there) and reports that their entire generation passed away. In the space of 11 words—and seemingly no time at all—their 70-member extended family explodes in number and becomes an innumerable presence to be reckoned with in Egypt (Exod. 1:1-7).

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Managing Our Disagreements

Managing Our Disagreements

Jan 20, 2017 By Alex Sinclair | Commentary | Shemot

This erev Shabbat is Inauguration Day. Right after the election, This American Life broadcast a conversation between two old friends, one of whom had voted Trump and one Clinton. These two friends disagree strongly with each other, but, thanks to their friendship, mutual respect, and faith in the other’s goodness, they are able to have a civil, thoughtful, reasonable political conversation.

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A Deserved Punishment

A Deserved Punishment

Dec 25, 2010 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Shemot

The only thing juicier than a murder mystery is a murder mystery involving illicit sex. The midrashic imagination has woven a wonderful narrative to excuse Moses of the murder he commits in Exodus 2:12. It is a wonderful story from rabbinic literature that is worth sharing in and of itself.

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The Eternity of Judaism

The Eternity of Judaism

Jan 1, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Shemot

When Solomon Schechter assumed the presidency of the Seminary some 90 years ago, he chose for its motto and symbol a verse from this week’s parasha: “And the bush was not consumed (Exodus 3:2).” I believe he intended to convey thereby his conviction in the eternity of Judaism. It would not perish in the new world as it had not perished in the old, because its power derived not from numbers or wealth, but from the spirit. As a center of Torah, the Seminary would fortify that spirit with a large measure of truthful piety.

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Hearing Revelation

Hearing Revelation

Dec 24, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Shemot

The Torah devotes nearly 40 verses to the exchange between God and Moses at the burning bush. No divine-human encounter of a personal nature gets similar coverage. The wealth of material gives us an idea of how revelation works, then and now. For the Torah is more than a collection of one-time religious experiences beyond our ken. God’s voice continues to fill the universe. We need to relearn how to hear it.

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Justice Is the New Counter-Culture

Justice Is the New Counter-Culture

Jan 4, 1997 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Shemot

The book of Genesis ends on an Egyptian note: after his death, Joseph was embalmed and placed in a coffin to await burial in the land that God had promised his ancestors. Embalming is quintessentially Egyptian, one of a panoply of practices designed to obscure the reality of death. The whole religious tenor of Genesis bristles at the very idea; human life is but an extension of the earth: “For dust you are,” God tells a fallen Adam, “and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19).” To facilitate this merger, Jews in Israel are still buried without benefit of a coffin.

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