Sunday, August 20, 2017

Divrei Torah

As Good As His Word

Matot 5777

A few years ago, I had to give testimony in a court proceeding. The judge asked the clerk “to swear me in” on the Bible of

Building a Covenant With Hashem

Parshat Ki Tavo opens with different ways in which the Jewish people will in the future or are right then reaffirming their relationship with Hashem. Since “relationship” cannot apply to Hashem in the ordinary way (Hashem is so Other that the use of human language is always either incomplete or incorrect), aspects of these

Clear the Air

Korach 5777

The rebellion of Korach is always a disheartening story, in so many ways. How could anyone question the authority of Moshe? He ascended Mt. Sinai and brought down the Tablets from God; he spoke directly to the Almighty. We still revere him and consider him our mentor, rabbeinu. Well,

Some Expressions of Israel as the Jewish Home

Ramban to Shoftim, Week One

Life Is in Israel

Two comments of Ramban remind us of his view—which has halachic ramifications—that the Jewish people are meant to live in Israel, a life demonstrably richer there than elsewhere.

דברים טז:יח שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙

Using Our Wisdom in Serving Hashem

Ramban to Re’eh, Week 1

After the Torah tells the Jews to destroy the multitude of places where idolaters worshipped alien powers, it warns against treating Hashem that way. Rather,

דברים יב:ה : כִּ֠י אִֽם־אֶל־הַמָּק֞וֹם

A Tale of Two Camps

Beha’alotecha 5777

The material in the Book of Bamidbar takes a dramatic turn in the middle of this week’s Torah reading. The first two and a half readings of Bamidbar are pretty humdrum stuff. We’ve got a lot of counting, and then less-than-exciting mitzvot, like the nazirite and Pesach Sheini. Actually, in the first 10

A Time to Reap

Shavuot 5777

All of our Biblical chagim have both a historical and an agricultural component. As I recently wrote, the agricultural significance of these holidays is lost on us city slickers. We Jews haven’t been famous for our farming for quite awhile, at least in the Diaspora. Thank

The Hidden Drama We Can Easily Miss Helps Society Function

Ramban To Ekev, Week 1

On the first verse of Parshat Ekev (7:12)

דברים ז:יב וְהָיָ֣ה׀ עֵ֣קֶב תִּשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶּה וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם

Holy Mackerel!

Emor 5777

How come we often use the word “holy” in such unholy ways? Why should this term denoting sanctity or piety or godly come to be part of exclamations and even, pardon me, expletives? I saw one explanation that pairing “holy” with profane ideas somehow intensifies its

Ramban to Va’etchanan, Week 1: Techniques and Challenges of Sticking to the Path

As Moshe stands at the end of his life, Ramban reads many of his statements in Va’etchanan as striving to help the new generation enter the land with the best chances for success. The first examples are what are often today confused with or rejected as “negative” reinforcement, the warning or reminder that going wrong can

Shhhh!

Tazria-Metzora 5777

We Jews are a garrulous group. We just love to talk and shmooze and kibbitz. As a result of this, I guess that it’s not surprising that our Sages seemed to be fighting an uphill battle against idle conversation. We’ve begun the Pirkei Avot season, and the rabbis warn

Ramban to Devarim, Week One: Preparing a New Generation for Their Great Adventure

I remember fellows in yeshiva pondering who was greater, Rashi or Rambam, since they seem to be the two most impactful scholars of the post-Talmudic Torah world. I don’t think I’m the first or only who would argue that Ramban belongs in that conversation, since his responses to each of those authors (and others, such as

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