Who Are You to Judge?

Who Are You to Judge?

Aug 18, 2023 By Ellie Gettinger | Commentary | Shofetim

Writing about Shofetim (Judges) feels like too much at this particular moment, when the judiciary of both the United States and Israel are beset by challenges. In Israel, judicial reform pursued by the ruling party is shifting the balance of powers, pushing Israeli society to a schism. In the US, questions of judicial ethics are at the forefront. What does it mean to have a lifetime appointment, and what is the line between friendship and bribery? Shofetim positions the need for righteous people to preside over courts while acknowledging the ever-present challenge human nature presents to this ideal.

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Would Our Mother Forget Us?

Would Our Mother Forget Us?

Aug 4, 2023 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Commentary | Eikev

This Shabbat is the second of the seven Shabbatot of consolation that follow Tishah Be’av, and, as on all these Shabbatot, its haftarah comes from the last part of the book of Isaiah. These are highly appropriate passages to console us after we commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem, because they were written by a prophet who lived in exile roughly a generation after the Babylonian empire demolished the Jerusalem Temple, destroyed the Judean state, and exiled much of its population. Because the name of this prophet is unknown, scholars refer to him (or perhaps her; women served as prophets in ancient Israel, as the examples of Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah show) as Deutero-Isaiah or Second Isaiah.

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The Words Upon Our Hearts

The Words Upon Our Hearts

Jul 28, 2023 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

In this week’s parashah we encounter anew perhaps the most well-known words in our tradition, the first paragraph of the Shema. In these verses, we are commanded to place before us at all times words of Torah. They are to be in our hearts, in our mouths, on our heads and hands, and at the entrances to our homes.

Indeed, according to the rabbinic tradition, the commandment in verse 6 to place these words on our hearts is intended to teach us how to fulfill the foundational commandment to “love God…”

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Taking Life’s Journey with Torah

Taking Life’s Journey with Torah

Jul 21, 2023 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Devarim

“Hear, O Israel,” the book of Deuteronomy proclaims over and over, the verb always in the second person singular. The Torah wants every one of us to listen carefully, whoever we are, at whatever stage of life. It knows that each person will hear its words somewhat differently—and will perhaps listen differently—this day than in the past.

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Upgrading the Torah—and the World

Upgrading the Torah—and the World

Jul 14, 2023 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Commentary | Masei | Mattot

Is God’s law perfect? Most of us would assume that anything created by an omniscient and omnipotent being must have no flaws. But a story in today’s parashah suggests otherwise—in a manner that shows a surprising similarity to a key concept of Jewish mysticism.

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Life After Moses

Life After Moses

Jul 7, 2023 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Pinehas

In chapter 27, God announces Moses’s impending death and Joshua is appointed successor. Like his brother Aaron before him, Moses is instructed to ascend a mountain and view the Promised Land. Moses too will not enter the land because of a transgression (in his case the striking of the rock). But there is one key difference in God’s announcements to the brothers of their impending deaths. To Aaron, God explicitly commands the passing of the priesthood to his son Eleazar, a process marked by the stripping of Aaron’s priestly garments and their transfer to his son. But Moses must initiate the appointment of his successor. Why would God announce a successor to Aaron and not Moses? Did God not have a plan for Moses to hand over the reins?

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Dreaming of Being Balaam

Dreaming of Being Balaam

Jun 30, 2023 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Balak | Hukkat

The story of the heathen prophet Balaam—hired by Moabite king Balak ben Tzippor to curse the people Israel—is altogether strange. It concerns events happening outside the Israelite camp and seemingly unknown to them, characters we’ve not yet met, and a talking donkey. Its tone ranges from burlesquely funny to surreal.

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Did Korah Get a Bum Rap?

Did Korah Get a Bum Rap?

Jun 23, 2023 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Korah

The memory of Huey Long, and the continued concern over the role of demagoguery in American politics, comes to mind this week because we see a prime example of it in Parashat Korah—the figure of Korah himself. (The character of Dathan, played by Edgar G. Robinson, in The Ten Commandments, was essentially based on Korah). Korah was long vilified by the Rabbinic Sages, and of course the Torah itself condemns him as the paradigmatic rebel against the divinely sanctioned leadership of Moses and Aaron.

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