Matot-Masei: How it looks matters, too.

Matot-Masei: How it looks matters, too.
Before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to conquer Canaan, they encamped on the fertile land to the East.  Two of their tribes told Moses that they preferred to inherit that land rather than the Promised Land.  To “clear their obligation to the Lord and to Israel,” they offered to lead the Israelites into battle and then return to their new homes, their flocks, and their families. Moses agreed.  Our sages were not satisfied to read this narrative only as an event in Jewish history.  They asked, more generally, what it means to be “clear of obligation to the Lord and to Israel?”  And they derived a principle that a Jew’s behavior should not only be correct, it should avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Continue Reading »
Jul 20

Pinchas: Surprising vote for most important Torah verse.

Pinchas: Surprising vote for most important Torah verse.
If asked: “which is the most important verse in Torah?” you might choose “Shema, Israel,” “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself,” “I am the Lord Your G-d,” “Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue,” or some other familiar pasuk.  It’s very unlikely that you would cite Numbers 28:3 from this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas.  It requires the bringing of regular sacrifices to the Temple (interpreted during the past two millennia as daily prayer).  

Yet, according to a midrash ...

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Jul 12

Balak: Why Do Americans Celebrate July 4th?

Balak: Why Do Americans Celebrate July 4th?

Why do Americans celebrate the Fourth of July?  The simplest answer is, of course, that this date is America’s consensus“birthday,” since the Declaration of Independence was signed on that day in1776.[1] A more philosophical explanation might mention that Americans designate this day to contemplate, venerate, and celebrate our nation’s foundational principles of liberty, equality, and democracy. An even deeper explanation for the festivities might express some version of what political theorists call “American exceptionalism.”  This is the idea that our nation, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,”[2]has a unique mission “as a citty upon a hill. [T]he eies of all people areuppon us.[3] 

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Jul 05

Chukkat: Facing Our Fears

Chukkat: Facing Our Fears
The image of one or two snakes coiled around a staff is the familiar symbol of the medical profession. Depicted in several variations, it is called the “Caduceus,” the “Rod of Asclepius,” or “Hermes’s staff,” and dates from Greek mythology.   But we Jews have a much older tradition of a serpent on a staff.  It appears in this week’s Torah portion, Chukkat, and evidently played a significant part in our history for at least half a millennium.  By looking at it psychologically, we can continue to derive deep significance for our lives.

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Korah: Is the Torah true?

Korah: Is the Torah true?

Is the Torah true? Millions of Jews (as well as non-Jews), particularly those raised in traditional, religiously observant homes, schools, and communities, would answer an unqualified “yes.” Millions of others would respond “of course not.” But what does “true” mean for purposes of answering this question?

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Jun 21

Don't Say Nice Things About People!

Don't Say Nice Things About People!

“If you can say something nice about someone, don’t!”  This seems like an illogical and mean-spirited miscasting of the familiar maxim: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  But, taken as a general rule, “don’t say nice things about people” accurately reflects both Jewish ethics and human nature.  This week’s Torah portion helps explain why.

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Jun 15

Be-Ha'alotekha: Scattering our Enemy

Be-Ha'alotekha: Scattering our Enemy

I have a good friend who is “ultra-orthodox.”   Only, he is not haredi; quite the opposite.  You might say that he is ultra-orthodox in his secularism.   Or, to put it another way, he “religiously” avoids and is even hostile to religion.  Recently, he said to me “I want to ask you a question, not as a friend, but as a rabbi.”  (Whether this meant that, in his mind, the two are mutually exclusive, I don’t know).   Here was his question: “Why do otherwise intelligent people engage in absurd religious rituals?”  He was referring, of course, to the other kind of “ultra-orthodox.”

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Jun 07

Response to LA Times Op-Ed "Six days, 45 years later"

Response to LA Times Op-Ed "Six days, 45 years later"

Letter to the LA Times Editor: Miko Peled’s Op-Ed “Six days, 45 years later” (6/6/12) is highly misleading.   While opposing the policies and decisions of one’s government, past and present, on principle is perfectly legitimate and even noble, spreading hateful misinformation in the guise of “activism” is unconscionable.   As the son of an Israeli general, Peled surely knows that the Arabs, not Israel, are primarily to blame for the Palestinian refugee situation, for the “occupation” and most of its unfortunately necessary evils, and for the fact that there is still no Palestinian state.   Yet his Op-Ed is little more than vituperative Palestinian propaganda against Israel.  He has either forgotten the history he learned in school or is determined to ignore it.   Those who seek a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should do neither. At the end of WWI, ... 

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Jun 07

Naso: G-d's Will?

Naso: G-d's Will?
Most of my synagogue experience has been in Reform schuls.  Near the end of Shabbat services, the rabbi and/or cantor recites the “threefold benedictions of Torah” – the Birkat-Kohanim (Priestly Blessings/Benediction):    
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A View of the Knesset and of Changing Israeli Society

A View of the Knesset and of Changing Israeli Society
The Knesset building (Israeli Parliament) looms prominent on the hill opposite my Jerusalem apartment(see photo taken from my balcony).   My view of the seat of the Israeli government reminds me that Americans whom I’ve heard express hostility toward Israel usually make two major complaints: 
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Jun 01
Posted in: Israel
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A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
Jewish Proverb