Confronting Our “Concealed Things”

Confronting Our “Concealed Things”

Sep 23, 2022 By Gordon Tucker | Commentary | Nitzavim | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

The concealed things concern the Lord our God; but with overt matters, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching. (Deut. 29:28)
There is, however, another reading of this verse, given by Nahmanides (Ramban), in the 13th century, and it is one that forces us to a certain deeper level of introspection at this time of year.

Here’s a paraphrase of what he says: The “concealed things” are not sins committed by others that are out of our view, and thus out of our control. Rather, they are the sins committed by us, but that are nevertheless out of our view and awareness. As long as we are not aware of them, they will be known only to God. But they are only out of our control because they are not known to us.

Read More
Count Your Blessings

Count Your Blessings

Sep 16, 2022 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Ki Tavo is a Torah portion with three parts of interest. First, there are the curses and imprecations with which God threatens the Jewish people if we do not do God’s will. As we do when we read the Torah in synagogue, we will quickly and quietly move past the scary stuff.

Second, we are commanded to bring our first fruits to the Jerusalem Temple once we have settled the land. And then we are commanded to offer them to the priest in acknowledgement of God’s beneficence. When we do so, we recite a fixed liturgy, reinforced, no doubt, by hearing the many Israelites ahead of us in the line reciting the exact same words as the priest prompts them. “Repeat after me . . .” he says.
Arami oved avi—My ancestor was a wandering Aramean.” (Deut. 26:5)

Read More
What Does the Torah Really Say about Cross-Dressing?

What Does the Torah Really Say about Cross-Dressing?

Sep 9, 2022 By Joy Ladin | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

Every year, Ki Tetzei returns us to the only verse of the Torah that seems to speak about transgender and nonbinary people, particularly about those like me who used to be known as “transsexuals,” people born physically male or female who identify so strongly with the opposite gender that we can only live authentically as that gender: A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to your God. (Num. 22:5)

Read More
Prophets of Faith

Prophets of Faith

Sep 2, 2022 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Shofetim

I often distinguish between faith and belief and consider myself to be a person of faith. Whereas belief implies a degree of certainty that I am uncomfortable with, faith embraces doubt. To my ear, the statement that I believe something to be true communicates that you know something is true. The statement that I have faith that something is true suggests that you desire or suspect something is true. Belief seems restrictive to me—confined by only what is known or can be known—and is at risk of dogmatism.

Read More
The Meaning of Repetition, Repetition

The Meaning of Repetition, Repetition

Aug 26, 2022 By David Zev Moster | Commentary | Re'eh | Shabbat Rosh Hodesh

When it comes to reading the Tanakh, much is lost in translation, so even a bit of knowledge of Biblical Hebrew can go a long way. Here is one grammatical insight into this week’s parashah, Parashat Re’eh. According to Deuteronomy 14:22, Israelite farmers must tithe the produce of their field שָׁנָה שָׁנָה, shanah shanah, which […]

Read More
Raising Children in a Land of Plenty

Raising Children in a Land of Plenty

Aug 19, 2022 By Gavriella Kornsgold | Commentary | Eikev

The book of Hosea captures the problem of human nature in Parashat Eikev when God proclaims, “I did know you in the wilderness, in the land of great drought. When they were fed, they became full; they were filled and their heart was exalted; therefore they have forgotten me” (Hos. 13:5–6). There are endless historical and contemporary examples that mirror this cycle, such as the immigrant parent who achieves worldly success and becomes worried about the spiritual well-being of their children. Or, to take a scene from popular culture, after the beloved Rocky wins the heavyweight boxing title, he succumbs to the lure of fame, spoils his child, and loses his edge—the eye of the tiger. A close reading of chapter eight in this week’s parashah teaches us how our tradition responds to the perennial problem of raising children in a land of plenty.

Read More
Never Too Late to Get Close

Never Too Late to Get Close

Aug 12, 2022 By Benjy Forester | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

From a young age, I knew I was supposed to like Neil Young. The stereo was turned up whenever his signature falsetto voice came on the radio, and before my bar mitzvah I was taken to see the 2006 documentary concert/film Neil Young: Heart of Gold. My initiation was complete with my first Neil concert […]

Read More
Moses’s Retirement Speech

Moses’s Retirement Speech

Aug 5, 2022 By Raymond Scheindlin | Commentary

Deuteronomy, which we begin reading this week, is devoted to Moses’s farewell to his people. Deuteronomy is preeminently Moses’s book; in it, Moses mostly speaks in his own voice, so that instead of the ever-recurring third-person opening line “And the Lord spoke to Moses . . .,” we read “The Lord spoke to me” (Deut. 2:2). Deuteronomy contains not one but a series of farewell speeches and prophetic poems in which Moses recalls the forty years since the Exodus from Egypt and looks ahead to the future in the promised land.

Read More