Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Divrei Torah

Finding Inspiration After Purim

We celebrate Purim every year to commemorate the celebration in ancient times, when joy conquered fear and good vanquished evil. The story of Esther and Mordechai, as told in the Book of Esther, takes place over many years. Too often, we skip the dates in the text and miss an important message hiding in plain sight in the

Fashion Passion

Tetzave—Purim 5777

Back in the ‘60s, Ouija boards became a fad. At parties, people would close their eyes, appear to be in a trance and move the little planchette across this board with numbers and letters to “discover mysteries from beyond.” Talking boards or automatic writing have been

Purim Will Never Cease: Rambam, Aggadah and the Eternal Purim

Last time, we concluded a series on Rambam’s inclusions of aggadah in his Mishneh Torah. As I finished, I realized that my plan was to start Aruch HaShulchan’s drashot for Shabbat HaGadol, which seemed odd to do before Purim (next Monday will, at least, be Shushan Purim).

Instead, I

Here Comes Da Judge

Mishpatim 5777

That irreverent reference in my title comes from a famous routine on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In from the late ‘60s, but it originated in a song and skit by Afro-American entertainer Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham. The whole point of the phrase and the skit was to poke fun

The Importance of Praying in Hebrew and the Push Toward Fixed Prayer

This is the last of our random sample of places Rambam inserts aggadic material into Mishneh Torah. Next time, I hope to review them briefly to see if any themes or ideas characterize them all. Here, let’s look at his understanding of how fixed prayer came to the Jewish people.

Remember that

Weapons Rights

People often make fun of rabbis, and I take it personally, so cut it out! No, no. I mean about the way rabbis parse material, whether it’s a verse or a Mishna. Many critics are thrown into a tizzy about the lengths these scholars will go to squeeze out the last drop of meaning from the text. Well, those disapproving onlookers

Introducing Mitzvot to the World and the Jewish People

Laws of Kings includes the obligation for the king to wage war against certain populations. In a passage that seems to me too-little remarked, Rambam advances the theory that any non-Jew who agrees to observe the Noahide laws need not be put to death.

There’s more to it than that, but that’s

Amalek, Esav’s Revenge and the Jewish Destiny

In the long history of the Jewish people, Amalek was the first enemy they had to fight on their own on the way out of Egypt, just barely one month after their miraculous exodus. The people were tired and dispirited, and Amalek thought that this was the right moment to ambush the Jews, the struggling, weak, exhausted and tired nation, and

The God Thing

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

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

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

Mighty

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

Fighting for Faith: Avraham Spreads the Word

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

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