Shemot

Shemot

RIGHTEOUS GENTILES We are introduced, in this week portion, to the first large-scale persecutor of the Jews in Pharaoh’s extermination policies of throwing Hebrew babies into the Nile. At the same time, the Torah informs us of gentiles who refused to obey such orders. Pharaoh instructs women who are called Hameyaldot Ha’Ivriyot – the Hebrew Midwives to carry out his plans. They are called Shifrah and Puah. Whilst Rashi, following the Midrash, identifies these women as Yocheved and Miriam, the mother and sister of Moses, other sources disagree. ‘Hebrew Midwives’ could mean Midwives who are Hebrews, or Midwives to the...

Vayechi

Vayechi

JOSEPH’S FINAL ALIYA The sidra of Vayechi and the book of Bereishit conclude with Joseph making his brothers promise that when they (i.e., their descendants) leave Egypt, they would take his remains with him. A number of commentators are puzzled by this request. Why doesn’t Joseph make his sons promise that they would do this for their father? After all, the sidra begins with Jacob making Joseph swear that he would bury him in Israel, not Egypt. Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik (d.1993) in Chumash Mesorat Harav p.373, offers the thought that Joseph was not only concerned about his final resting...

Vayigash

Vayigash

REVERED OR REVILED The blurb on Niall Ferguson’s biography of Henry Kissinger (Volume I: The Idealist, 1923-1968) reads: No American statesman has been as revered or as reviled as Henry Kissinger. “Once hailed as ‘Super K’ – the ‘indispensable man’ whose advice has been sought by every president from Kennedy to Obama–he has also been hounded by conspiracy theorists…” Despite having arrived in the USA in 1938, Henry Kissinger, to this day, sounds like an outsider. His Jewish-German origins are unmistakeable, both to his credit and potential misfortune. In the portions of the Torah we are currently reading, Pharaoh has chosen...

Miketz

Miketz

CHANUKAH POWER The festival of Chanukah recalls the military victory of the Maccabees over the vastly superior Greek army as well as the miracle of the jug of oil in the Temple, with the seal of the High Priest, which miraculously lasted for eight days, instead of just one. The great Chassidic leader, Rabbi Levi Yitchak of Berditchev (1740-1810) poses a fundamental question. Why did our Sages institute a holiday to recall these miracles and not to recall other miracles? In the Bible we read of a number of inspiring miracles. For example, there is the account in the fourth...

Vayeshev

Vayeshev

DO YOU RECOGNISE YOURSELF? A key phrase in this week’s portion, is used in two startlingly contrasting contexts. When Joseph’s brothers want to communicate to Jacob that Joseph is lost, they kill a goat, dip Joseph’s coat in the blood, send it to their father with the words, Haker na – “do you recognise this item?” When Tamar, Judah’s daughter-in-law, has been accused of adultery and is about to be executed, instead of publicly revealing Judah as the man who made her pregnant, she takes out the pledges that Judah had sent her and sends them to Judah with the...

Vayishlach

Vayishlach

THE QUESTIONS ESAU ASKS US Occasionally, a biblical passage will leap off the page indicating that it has a relevance not merely to the time and place in which it was originally uttered, but for all generations. Such a passage occurs when Jacob sent his agents with gifts to bring to Esau, ahead of their meeting. Jacob told his emissaries; Esau will ask you three questions: To whom do you belong? Where are you going? For whom are these before you? (Bereishit 24:18) Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik (d.1993) explains that these questions are addressed to all of us, whoever, wherever,...

Vayetze

Vayetze

CREATING HOLINESS When Jacob wakes up, after dreaming of a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending, he exclaims: “How awesome is this place. This is none other than the House of G-d and this is the Gateway to Heaven.” [Bereishit 28:17] Jacob realized that the place he had chosen for his sleep was already a holy site. Actually, it was the same site where his father, before him had rested his head when he was bound on the altar. Jacob could foresee that this site would be the place of the future Temple. The Temple location was intrinsically...

Toldot

Toldot

DON’T BE A PHILISTINE To call someone a philistine is to label them as indifferent to culture and the arts. [The usage seems to have originated from a conflict between the cultured university students and the townspeople in 17th century Jenna, Germany. In a sermon on the conflict, a preacher invoked the passage, “the Philistines are upon you” (Judges 16), which led to an association with the townspeople and those hostile to culture.] The original Philistines are referred to in this week’s parsha. We encounter them stopping up the wells that Abraham had dug. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz makes the observation...

Chayei Sarah

Chayei Sarah

LIVING THE GOOD LIFE The first verse of our parsha seems unnecessarily repetitive in its use of the word, ‎‎‎‘years.’: “And Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years and seven years, the years of Sarah’s lifetime.”(Bereishit 23:1) Our major commentator, Rashi (d. 1105) makes an observation that, at first glance, strains credulity. He says: The repetition of “the years of Sarah’s lifetime” teaches us that all were equally good. How can Rashi say this? Surely, by any standard, Sarah lived a very difficult ow  How life. At age sixty-five, she was uprooted from her birthplace to travel to a...

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