Entries for July 2012

Tisha B'Av: Not Just for the Orthodox!

Tisha B'Av: Not Just for the Orthodox!

We all know that much “history” – what happened during andbefore our lifetimes -- greatly affects “who we are” and how we self-identify.   Yet, fewof us consciously define our lives in an expressly historical way.   Unlesswe experienced a traumatic or clearly life-changing event, we don’t say or eventhink “I am who I am because of what happened.” Nor do we think or say, “I am a link in a chain of many generations.”  But doing so would likely enrich the meaning inand of our lives.  In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, the first inDeuteronomy, Moses knows that he is soon to die.  How does he begin his last oration?  Rather than praising G-d or reiterating theCommandments, he begins with a narrative history of Israel’s experiencessince receiving the Commandments.  Perhapshe realizes that to ensure the future of the “Jewish people,” his mostimportant task is to ensure that they don’t forget theirpast –especially the bitter parts.

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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

A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
Jewish Proverb