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A Time to Reap

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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 God, our connection to the soil has...

The Hidden Drama We Can Easily Miss Helps Society Function

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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 אֹתָ֑ם וְשָׁמַר֩ יְקֹוָ֨ק אֱלֹקיךָ לְךָ֗ אֶֽת־הַבְּרִית֙ וְאֶת־הַחֶ֔סֶד אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע לַאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ:

Devarim 7:12: And it will be, in return for your hearkening to these ordinances, keeping and doing them, the Lord, your God will keep the covenant and the mercy that He swore to your fathers.

Ramban says societal laws need such adamant...

Holy Mackerel!

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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 impact. To stress our point we break taboos. I find this idea somehow both satisfying and disturbing. It’s clear that the term “holy” carries a lot of power. It both inspires and troubles the listener. OK, so we can see how the word can be used in provocative ways to jar the audience, but what does the word mean in its purest sense? Lo and behold, this is the perfect time of year to explore that...

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

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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 lead to consequences.

Some Warnings

In 3:24, Ramban reads Moshe’s reminding the people that he himself will not be entering the land as closing his list of ways in which the previous generation had damaged themselves and him; through their iniquities and challenges, he too ended up being left back. They, the next generation, are able to do better, but only if...

Shhhh!

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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 against speaking too much and describe silence as one of the great guarantors of spiritual greatness. And this week’s double reading reinforces this tendency, because our Midrashim have long concluded that the spiritual scourge of tzara’at, discussed at great and overly detailed length, strikes as a result of speaking lashon hara or pernicious gossip. Now we don’t know what this dermatological...
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