Was Laban Really Worse than Pharaoh?

Was Laban Really Worse than Pharaoh?

Dec 2, 2022 By Avi Garelick | Commentary | Vayetzei

According to the Passover Haggadah, Laban, Jacob’s father-in-law, is the archvillain of Jewish history, even more dangerous than the Pharaoh who enslaved the people of Israel and launched a campaign of male infanticide. Yet, after this provocative comparison, the Haggadah leaves the rest as an exercise for the reader. Laban “sought to uproot it all,” but how? What makes Laban so dangerous?

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Two Nations in Your Belly

Two Nations in Your Belly

Nov 25, 2022 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Toledot

In the world of the ancient Rabbis who gave us Judaism—the world of the Talmud and the Midrash, from the first century through the seventh century CE—our Rabbis identified Esau / Edom with the Roman Empire. In doing so, they took on both aspects of that Empire—the earlier pagan Roman Empire and the later Christian Roman Empire, and conflated them into one image of Esau, forever at odds with Jacob / Israel. For the Rabbis, Esau most often was depicted as the enemy, our oppressor, “The Man” who kept us beneath his boot.

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Rebecca the Patriarch

Rebecca the Patriarch

Nov 18, 2022 By Judith Hauptman | Commentary | Hayyei Sarah

This week’s parashah, Hayyei Sarah (Genesis 23:1–25:18), is about continuing the line, producing progeny. The parashah opens with a report of Sarah’s death at 120 years old. It closes with a list of Abraham’s children from concubines and Ishmael’s many offspring (25:1–18). But the central story of the parashah, the entire chapter of Genesis 24, is about finding a wife for Isaac.

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Women of Faith

Women of Faith

Nov 11, 2022 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Vayera

Abraham passed God’s litmus test of faith. God commands Abraham to take his beloved son Isaac to the land of Moriah and kill him. Faithful Abraham does not hesitate. Genesis 22 may be the most loved and hated story in the Torah by every reader, no matter what their faith. Certainly, generations of Jews have struggled to make sense of this story, and of the father and God it portrays.

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Learning as a Lifelong Experience

Learning as a Lifelong Experience

Nov 4, 2022 By Edward L. Greenstein | Commentary | Lekh Lekha

An attentive reading of the Torah and of Parashat Lekh Lekha in particular leads to a very different understanding. Abraham was a learner—he needed to grow in his trust of the Deity, and in himself. In this sense, Abraham’s career models the path of a lifelong learner.

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After the Flood

After the Flood

Oct 28, 2022 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Noah

Today it’s common to find divrei torah that use Parashat Noah to raise awareness about our impact on the environment. Yet I recently discovered a voice from the first stirrings of modernity that seemed to already intuit, within a theological framework, the devastating impact of humans on the global environment. For Obadiah Sforno (1475–1550), the “lawlessness” during the days of Noah did not just cause God to flood to earth. It was a force capable of ruining the climate and planet, and thereby shaping the course of human history ever after.

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The World of Creation in Each of Us

The World of Creation in Each of Us

Oct 21, 2022 By Israel Gordan | Commentary | Bereishit

One of the most well-known, and controversial, passages in the Torah comes after God creates man and woman: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea the birds of the sky, and all living things that creep on earth’” (Gen. 1:28).

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Impermanence by Design

Impermanence by Design

Oct 14, 2022 By Grace Gleason | Commentary | Sukkot

If your sukkot are anything like mine, something usually falls off or blows away at some point during the week. This was true of my backyard sukkah in North Carolina, whose hanging decorations were not securely fastened enough to withstand the wind, and the skhakh of my Upper West Side balcony, which unfortunately ended up on someone else’s roof.

Sukkot are impermanent by design. This is our lesson and our meditation throughout the week. In the Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 23a), our rabbis argue about how strong a wind a sukkah should be able to withstand in order to be considered kosher: does it need to be able to withstand a strong wind, or just average wind? We can feel the tension—on the one hand, we want our sukkot to be strong and sturdy, on the other hand, the holiday pushes us to acknowledge that they may just blow away. The Mishnah in Sukkah 22a suggests that in the ideal sukkah, one should be able to see stars through the roof—in order, I think, that we might contemplate the great expanse of the universe, and our relative temporality and insignificance.

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