Lech Lecha

Lech Lecha

ABRAHAM AND HIS DISCIPLES When Abram and Sarai come to the land of Canaan, they didn’t come by themselves. They arrived with Lot, Abram’s nephew. They arrived with all their possessions. And then the verse adds: “and with the souls they had made in Charan.” (Bereishit 12:25.) Rashi (in his second explanation) observes that the plain meaning of this phrase, is that it refers to the retinue of servants that they had acquired. But Rashi’s first explanation is that “souls” refers to converts Abram and Sarai had made whilst in Charan. The role models they had displayed of faith, trust...

Noach

Noach

AVERTING THE FLOOD What lead to the decay of society that brought about the flood in the time of Noah? The rabbis of the midrash identified what seems to be a tiny defect. Yet, it had catastrophic consequences. “And the world was full of chamas from before them.” (Bereishit 6:13) What is chamas? Said Rabbi Chanina, chamas is the theft of an item worth less than a perutah (a small coin.) A person would set up his stall of beans in the market. Someone would come by and run off with a bean. The amount was too small to be...

Bereishit

Bereishit

WHAT’S IN A NAME? The names that Adam and Eve give to their first children are powerfully symbolic of contrasting approaches to a person’s role in this world. Their elder child is called Kayin (Cain) which means “acquisition.” His very nature seemed to indicate a preoccupation with possessiveness. When he came to sacrifice to G-d, he offered meagre fruits of the ground. He was reluctant to dedicate a significant offering to G-d. His was a grudging gift. His younger brother, who offers a choice sacrifice to G-d, is called Hevel (Abel). This word is familiar to us from Kohelet, (Ecclesiastes)...

Chol Hamoed Succot

Chol Hamoed Succot

THOUGHTS ON VEZOT HABERACHAH MOSES’ HANDOVER “Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands upon him” (Deuteronomy 34:9) Moses had placed both hands on Joshua even though he had been instructed “and lay your hand upon him. (Numbers 27:18) The generosity of spirit which led Moses to give over his authority to Joshua with both hands, is expressed by an aphorism in the Talmud, “the wine is a gift from G-d; the thanks belong to the pourer.” (Bava Kamma 92b.) This is explained to mean that the pourer gives with...

Ha’azinu – Succot

Ha’azinu – Succot

THOUGHTS ON SUKKOT SUKKOT – THE DUAL FESTIVAL More than any other festival, Sukkot represents the dual character of Jewish faith. We believe in the universality of God together with the particularity of Jewish history and identity. All nations need rain. We are all part of nature. We are all dependent on the complex ecology of the created world. We are all threatened by climate change, global warming, the destruction of rain forests, the overexploitation of non-renewable energy sources and the mass extinction of species. But each nation is different. As Jews we are heirs to a history unlike that...

Vayelech

Vayelech

WHAT CHAPTER WILL WE WRITE IN THE BOOK OF LIFE? Judaism takes the simple things of life and makes them holy. Kashrut makes eating holy. Kiddush makes drinking holy. The laws of family purity make the physical relationship between husband and wife holy. Study sanctifies the intellect. Prayer reconfigures the mind. Constant acts of generosity and care sharpen our emotional intelligence, honing our skills of empathy. Judaism, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik put it, sees creativity as the essence of humanity, and our greatest creation is our self. We forge our life in the fire of love: love of G-d, the...

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah

FROM THE INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW KOREN MACHZOR The ten days that begin on Rosh HaShana and culminate in Yom Kippur are the holy of holies of Jewish time. The atmosphere in the synagogue is intense. You can almost touch the Divine Presence. Isaiah said: “Seek God where He is to be found, call on Him when He is close” (Is. 55:6). The rabbis wrestled with this verse. What could it mean? God is the God of everywhere and all time. He is always to be found, always close. The verse seemed to make no sense at all. This was...

Nitzavim

Nitzavim

THE FOURTEENTH PRINCIPLE OF FAITH The thirteen principles of the Jewish faith were enumerated by Moses Maimonides. They are probably most familiar to us in their poetic form in the hymn, Yigdal. Scholars of Maimonides are puzzled why he opts for thirteen principles of faith. If one were ever to talk about Maimonides favourite number, it would be fourteen, rather than thirteen! Maimonides classifies his classic code of Jewish law, the Mishne Torah, into fourteen books, representing fourteen categories of commandments. In his philosophical work, Guide for the Perplexed, he has a different, fourteen-fold, classification of the commandments. In his...

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