Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Divrei Torah

R. Yitzchak Arama’s View of the Akeida Itself

Last time, R. Arama set up the Akeida as an opportunity for Avraham to show his readiness to listen to Hashem on a most difficult task. Now, he fleshes out some of the challenges Avraham faced in building his way to proving his readiness.

Questions About the Akeida

To Discuss Hashem’s Knowledge, Remember Not to Think of Hashem in Human Terms

My summaries of R. Arama’s Akeydat Yitzchak minimize a remarkable aspect of the work, his ability to yoke his expression of his philosophical worldview to his consecutive reading of the Torah. In a way which reminds me of Sefer Ha-Chinuch’s structuring his presentation of mitzvot by the order in which they appear in the Torah, R. Arama

The ‘Little Things’ Count

Joe Wallis was a very successful weapons and aircraft dealer. He was once giving a tour of his facility to a prospective purchaser, a representative of a helicopter manufacturer, who asked about two identical buckets of bolts. Wallis explained these were special bolts to hold helicopter rotor blades in place. One bucket was filled with

Safe Haven

No other weekly parsha is visited during the year as often as Pinchas, which is this week’s reading, at least in all those places within two week’s walking distance from Yerushalayim. Everyone else must save this message until next week. The good news is that the first group is larger than the latter, because for the first time in over

Prophecy, the Jewish Way

R. Arama tips his hand at the beginning of the nineteenth sha’ar, telling us he intends to contrast the Torah’s version of prophecy to the one advanced by philosophers, among whom he includes several traditional thinkers (he singles out Ralbag, as we will see). He is invested in the topic, in other words, because a common view seems to

Spying Out Good Qualities

There are many puzzling aspects to parshat Shelach. One of these is Moshe changing Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua. The gemara, brought down by Rashi, states Moshe changed his student’s name as a prayer. Moshe asked that HaShem save Hoshea/Yehoshua from the spies’ counsel. This of course raises numerous questions.

The Traits of Perfection Are Inextricably Intertwined

All or Nothing Perfection

R. Arama tells us he plans to make two points in the seventeenth sha’ar. First, admirable qualities are not separate from mitzvot, and, second, Avraham was shown the spiritual rewards for goodness, which became part of his belief in Hashem.

Are We There Yet?


Someone once asked me, ‘Aren’t road trips with your kids just amazing?’ I answered, ‘If by ‘amazing,’ you mean better than being locked in a room with mosquitoes, then I agree.’ For the record I hate mosquitoes! 

Judge vs. King

Parshat Naso

Our haftarah this week relates to us the well-known story of Shimshon HaGibor. Over the past few years I have written about the difficulties in understanding the decisions and actions of this final Shofet, as well as the behavior of the nation itself. But the truth

Two Kinds of Knowledge of Hashem

R. Arama introduces his readings of sections of the Torah with long theoretical discussions. Those have often been rich enough to make his textual readings of the actual parsha almost redundant, and I have often taken only snippets.

In this sha’ar, R. Arama offers a rich reading of Avraham’s

Yom Yerushalayim: A City of Magnets

The Book of Bereishit portrays three vastly different visits to Yerushalayim. Avraham first encounters this city after intervening in a raging world war. Years later, an acquiescent Avraham and his son voyage to the mountain to execute the Divine command and perform the akeidah. Finally, Yaakov flees his murderous brother and

Remembering Hashem’s Beneficial Control

Many times when I drive from a meeting or an errand and head for a quick stop at the grocery store, I find myself pulling up in front of my own house instead. I seem to have an automatic “home” setting in my brain, unless I really focus.

The midrash at the start of Parshas Bechukosai, which discusses

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