Mishpatim: The Choosing People

Mishpatim: The Choosing People

“Am Yisrael Chai” – the Jewish People Live!  Why?  Judaism is very clear about this.  G-d redeemed us from slavery and gave us the Torah (written and oral) to live by in order to bring about righteousness in the world.  Even the most liberal Jewish ...

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Feb 08

Yitro: G-d and Satan discuss the 10 Commandments

Yitro: G-d and Satan discuss the 10 Commandments

G-d and His servant, Satan, were having another conversation. (Cross-ref. Book of Job).  G-d said: “I’m so proud of My Jewish people!  This Shabbat they’ll read Parashat Yitro, which includes what they call My “Ten Commandments.”  These are the core rules that set forth how I expect them to live, both in their relationship with Me and with each other.  They’ll even stand up while the Ten Commandments are read, which shows how important they consider them.” Satan was distinctly unimpressed. ...

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Reflections Before Voting in Israeli Election

Reflections Before Voting in Israeli Election

I am about to do what more than 100 generations – untold millions – of Jews could not: help shape the future of a sovereign, democratic Jewish nation. As an American lawyer and historian, when I head to the polls in the US I think not only about the issues and candidates, and my choices, but more generally about the great privilege and responsibility of voting in American elections.  Still, voting for the first time as a citizen of Israel is sure to be profoundly moving.  How should I vote?  ...

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Jan 25
Posted in: Israel

B'shallah: Consulting with trees.

B'shallah: Consulting with trees.

This week we read the Torah portion B’shallah, in which, most famously, G-d splits the sea and the Israelites are saved from destruction.  We celebrate the “holiday of trees” -- Tu B’shevat (the 15th day of the month of Shevat) and, here in Israel, we voted in national elections.  Coincidentally, this week I also learned, in Ulpan (Hebrew language school), that the word for “consult” is: להתייעץ  (“l’heet-ya-etz”).  Because the last two letters – etz -- are the word for “tree,” our teacher suggested that we remember the word for “consult” with the sentence:  “I consult with a tree.” ...

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Bo: How About a Date?

Bo: How About a Date?

A couple of years ago I read about a group of American Jewish teens on a Birthright or similar trip to Israel.  After a meal, one of them apparently said: “It’s time to say the Birkat.”  One of the soldiers guarding them said: “You must not even know what that word means; you can’t say “the Birkat;” it’s not a word you can use by itself.  (The subtext to the remark was, “You think you are superior Jews because you say a prayer in Hebrew, but you don’t even understand what you are saying!”   The kids responded ...

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Va-Era: Revenge: Dig Two Graves

Va-Era: Revenge: Dig Two Graves

The first seven plagues upon Egypt are recounted in this week’s Torah portion, Va-Era.   The seventh plague is a hail storm so destructive that it “struck down all that were in the open, both man and beast; the hail also struck down all the grasses of the field and shattered all the trees of the field.” (Exodus 9:25).   A few verses later, though, we learn that “the flax and barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and flax was in bud; but the wheat and the emmer were not hurt, for they ripen late.”  (Exodus 9:31-32).  But if ....  

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Jan 11

Sh'mot: Make a "Know" Year's Resolution

Sh'mot: Make a "Know" Year's Resolution

In this week’s Torah portion of Sh’mot, the first in the Book of Exodus, a new Pharaoh arises after Joseph’s death who (in)famously “did not know Joseph.” (Ex. 1:8).  Of course, this new Pharaoh could not actually have been ignorant that Joseph both saved Egypt from famine and, in the process, obtained for Pharaoh title to all Egyptian land except the priestly holdings.  So, “did not know Joseph” must mean that Pharaoh chose to ignore Joseph’s contributions and legacy.

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Jan 04

Va-Yehi: Blessing your children

Va-Yehi: Blessing your children

This week’s Torah portion, Va-yehi, contains a sequence that initially seems surprising.   Joseph, Viceroy of Egypt, brings his sons, Manesseh and Ephraim, to see their aged grandfather Jacob for the last time.  Jacob places his hands on their heads.  The text then says “And he blessed Joseph saying …. ‘May G-d … bless the lads.’”  (Gen. 48:15)  That is, Jacob blessed his son by blessing his grandchildren! ...

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Vayigash: Ask "How (not what) do you do?"!

Vayigash: Ask "How (not what) do you do?"!

After Joseph dramatically revealed his identity to his brothers, he told them: “When Pharaoh summons you and asks, “‘What is your occupation?’ You shall answer, ‘Your servants have been breeders of livestock from the start until now, both we and our fathers’ – so that you may stay in the region of Goshen. For all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians.”  (Genesis 46:32-34).  Joseph was concerned that Pharaoh would judge his brothers by the kind of work they did, rather than by who they were.  In this respect, little has changed in 3,500 years.  When we ...

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Dec 21

Hanukah's Message

Hanukah's Message

In recent years at this time, I have researched the story of Hanukah, dressed up as Simon Ben Mattathias to give “dramatic historical presentations” at synagogues, and even lectured about Hanukah aboard cruise ships.  This year, I’m doing something quite different … 

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If charity cost nothing, the world would be full of philanthropists.
Jewish Proverb