Speaking Truth to Power

Speaking Truth to Power

Jan 1, 2011 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Va'era

Might this midrash be intentionally ironic? Surely, the anonymous Sage who imagines this divine monologue would have acknowledged Abraham’s chutzpah in questioning God’s plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Even if that encounter only amounts to an implicit critique of God’s ways, it sets the stage for one of the most important acts of Moses’s career.

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A Hardened Heart

A Hardened Heart

Nov 7, 1998 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era

“To harden the heart” is a figure of speech that goes back to the book of Exodus.

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Reverence for God

Reverence for God

Jan 8, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era

When I was in high school, the name of Immanuel Velikovski was already well known to me. That is because my father took a deep interest in any scholar who tried to confirm the historical accounts of the Bible. And Velikovski did just that with a passion and independence that infuriated the scientific establishment. Like Freud, a psychoanalyst and humanist and also a Jew, Velikovski dared to explain the ten plagues in Egypt on the basis of a heavenly cataclysm.

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Forbidden Magic

Forbidden Magic

Jan 12, 2002 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era

In the Torah magic is forbidden–not because it is ineffective but because it does violence to the sovereignty of God. Exodus commands: “You shall not tolerate a sorceress” (22:17). Deuteronomy elaborates: Let no one be found among you . . . who is an augur, a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, or one who consults ghosts or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the dead” (18:10-11). The length of the list mirrors just how widespread the practice of magic was in the ancient Near East.

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4 Cups of Wine

4 Cups of Wine

Jan 11, 1997 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era | Pesah

As envisioned by Rabbi Yehuda ben Tema at the end of the second century, the standard curriculum of a young Jew begins with the study of Bible at five, Mishna at ten and Talmud at fifteen. Age thirteen marks the transition to adulthood with the onset of obligatory adherence to the norms of Jewish life. Our parasha offers an instructive example of what this curriculum entailed, and a fleeting glimpse of the nature of rabbinic Judaism as a whole.

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Small Acts of Kindness

Small Acts of Kindness

Jan 4, 2003 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era

A careful reading of the Torah narrative would quickly persuade us that not all of the ten plagues are unleashed by Moses. The midrash, in fact, attributes only three to Moses – those of hail, locusts and darkness. The first three plagues – those of blood, frogs and vermin – are attributed to Aaron, while still three others – insects, pestilence and the death of the first born – come directly from God. Finally, one plague – that of boils – is triggered by all three of them jointly.

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Human Experiences of the Divine

Human Experiences of the Divine

Jan 8, 2005 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era

Maimonides’ incomparable twelfth-century code of Jewish law opens with a resounding theological preamble, “The basic principle of all basic principles and the pillar of all sciences is to realize that there is a First Being who brought every existing thing into being” (Isadore Twersky, A Maimonides Reader, 43).

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Creatures of Habit

Creatures of Habit

Jan 20, 2007 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Va'era

Why did God “harden Pharaoh’s heart”? To what extent was God acting justly or fairly? How may we understand God’s gesture in light of free choice? Parashat Va-era presents a classic challenge to our modern sensibilities. Yet ours is not the first generation to ask these questions.

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