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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A Stranger to Israel

A Stranger to Israel

Jan 17, 1998 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Shemot

I find the figure of Moses endlessly fascinating. He is the founder of Israel and its greatest prophet, a sculptor who works with human life, transforming a clan into a nation, a motley multitude into a polity of high moral order. Seized by God, he labors to complete the social vision first glimpsed by Abraham. As his ancestor abjured the religion of Mesopotamia, he rejects the religion of Egypt. In their stead, he voices the full scope of monotheism and lends it both cultic and political form. The measure of the man lies in the odds against him: the might of the Egyptian empire, the unheroic nature of a people impaired by slavery and his status as a stranger to Israelite society.

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God’s Human Partner

God’s Human Partner

Jan 5, 2002 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Shemot

At the end of their gripping biography of Abraham Joshua Heschel (unfortunately chronicling only the European phase of his life), Edward Kaplan and Samuel Dresner report that he arrived in New York on March 21, 1940 aboard the Lancastria. For a moment, after reading that tidbit, I wondered if uncannily the Schorsch family had come on the same ship. I dimly knew that the month of our arrival had been March 1940.

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Midrash in the Prince of Egypt

Midrash in the Prince of Egypt

Jan 9, 1999 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Shemot

Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Prince of Egypt is a midrash on the exodus story, a specimen of reader participation in the recounting of ancient Israel’s foundation epic. While respecting the articulate contours of the biblical narrative, Mr. Katzenberg fills in the gaps with a distinctly contemporary sensibility. To my mind, the most imaginative and effective of these additions to the text is the relationship between Moses and the pharaoh of the exodus. They are portrayed as half-brothers and childhood friends. The film takes advantage of the Torah’s complete silence on Moses’s long years in the pharaoh’s palace to introduce a dramatic twist and humane subtext to the well-known cosmic contest between the God of the patriarchs and the gods of Egypt. It would have us imagine that in the royal domain Moses not only assimilated the mores of the Egyptian aristocracy, but also became the closest friend of Ramses, who was destined to be the next ruler of Egypt. The first quarter of the film is in fact devoted to the escapades of this carefree and destructive twosome, with Moses clearly the dominant figure.

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Heroic Women

Heroic Women

Jan 20, 2001 By Joshua Heller | Commentary | Shemot

In first few chapters of Exodus, the Egyptian Pharaoh enacts harsh decrees to curtail the fertility and fecundity of the Jewish people (Exodus1:9), “pen yirbeh” – lest the Jews multiply. His increasingly genocidal decrees are thwarted by increasingly heroic women. Last, and perhaps most daring of all, is Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopts the young foundling Moses right under her father’s nose, even though she knows that all Egyptians have been commanded to kill any male Jewish baby.

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Stranger in a Foreign Land

Stranger in a Foreign Land

Dec 28, 2002 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Shemot

Moses names his first born son Gershom, still a common Hebrew name. The child is born to him and his wife Zipporah in the land of Midian, to which he fled after he murdered an Egyptian taskmaster. We do not hear of Gershom again in the epic, yet his name bears on the destiny of his father and his people. The name consists of two Hebrew words, “ger sham,” meaning “a stranger there.” By bestowing it on his son, Moses stresses the complexity of his own fate: “I have been a stranger in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22).

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“My voice in everything”

“My voice in everything”

Jan 17, 2004 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Shemot

The Bible came to Broadway years ago. The hit musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat presented a rollicking and hummable version of the Joseph story with a happy ending. Musical theater has not, however, figured out a way of featuring someone whose story is even more important than that of Joseph: Moses. Yet what musical theater has been unable to do, its close relative, opera, has done. Arnold Schoenberg’s opera Moses und Aron is rarely performed (it was featured in New York this season) but makes an important statement.

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A (Fearful) Man with a Mission

A (Fearful) Man with a Mission

Jan 21, 2006 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Shemot

By Rabbi Francine Roston

There is a rabbinic teaching that each of us is to carry two pieces of paper in our pockets. From our left pocket we can pull out the piece that reads: “From dust and ashes I have come.” From our right pocket we can pull out the piece that reads: “For my sake the world was created.” There are moments when we need our feet pulled down to the ground and there are moments when we need to be lifted up from low places. 

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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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Moses on the Nile

Moses on the Nile

Jan 14, 2012 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Shemot

Here we are given a midrash imagining not only Miriam’s role as a young prophet, but also the emotional turmoil she and her father, Amram, endured as Moses is born and then sent off in his basket down the Nile.

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