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Divrei Torah

The God Thing

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Va’era 5777

It wasn’t only the ancient world who deified their heroes. We often refer to our sports icons (another word with religious overtones) as “gods,” and some enthusiasts seem to be praying to them at crucial moments in the big game. As a Red Sox fan, my favorite prayer is, “Please, don’t let it go...

The History of the Place of the Mizbeach, and Rambam’s View of Sacrifices

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As the Jewish people return to Israel and rebuild Jewish life there, enthusiasts periodically raise the idea of restoring the sacrificial service, because halacha allows at least some sacrifices to be offered even if the Beit Hamikdash has not yet been rebuilt. For that, we would need to know the exact location of the mizbeach, the altar. It is in asserting the exactness of its placement that the Rambam makes the next comment that incorporates aggadic elements within the Mishneh Torah.

Hilchot Beit HaBechirah (Laws of the Select House) 2:1 starts by declaring the place of the mizbeach “mechuvan be-yoter, very exact,” that it cannot be changed [that is one of the central reasons we...

Mighty

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Vayechi 5777

In 1839, the English playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton (don’t feel bad, I never heard of him, either) put the famous words “the pen is mightier than the sword” into the mouth of his villainous character, Cardinal Richelieu, for his play “Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy.” By 1870, it was recognized that Bulwer had written a line that was destined to live forever. But the idea goes back to antiquity, the earliest-known mention was in the seventh century BCE by the Assyrian scholar Ahiquar, and Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “Many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose quills.” I hate to nitpick (I really do, lice freak me out), but doesn’t this depend upon the...

Fighting for Faith: Avraham Spreads the Word

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Last time, we had space to discuss Rambam’s reconstruction of how and when Avraham found his way to understanding Hashem’s role in the world. Once that happened, Rambam tells us in the section we’re reviewing this week, he began to argue with those around him (Rambam’s phrase is “made responses to… and litigated with them, to say they were not taking a true path”).

He broke their idols and vigorously spread his view that the only Being worthy of worship was Hashem, that they should destroy all the other forms they worshipped so that others not make the mistake of following them. When he started winning—i.e., being convincing—the king wanted to kill him, but a miracle...

Dichotomy

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Chanukah 5777

Everybody loves Chanukah. It’s actually quite cool to go to a mall or major department store and see “Happy Chanukah” right up there next to “Merry Something or Other.” Even those venues that exclude mentioning the specific celebrations and just say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” still make us feel included and welcomed. Plus, there’s the added bonus of upsetting the folks at Fox, who claim that there is a war against their holiday. We Jews are so integral to the festivities, that traditionally the holiday season began when Santa alighted from his sleigh at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. You know, Macy’s, even though it...

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