Terumah

Terumah

ACCESSING THE TABERNACLE AND ACCESSING THE SYNAGOGUE The sidrot from now till the end of Shemot, deal with the Mishkan or Tabernacle. Here is a guide to its essential components: Outer Court – enclosed by curtains supported by pillars, 100 cubits long and 50 cubits wide. The entrance was on the eastern side, while the Altar of Sacrifice, covered with copper, stood facing the entrance. A little further to the west was the basin of copper for the washings of the priests. Tent of Meeting – the western part of the court contained the Tent of Meeting. A parochet or...

Mishpatim

Mishpatim

OUR INTERCONNECTED WORLD The laws of charity are introduced in this week’s portion. The rabbis in the Midrash make use of what appears to be a strange homily to explain these laws: Come and see how all of G-d’s creatures borrow from one another. The day borrows from the night and the night borrows from the day…the moon borrows from the stars and the stars borrow from the moon…the light borrows from the sun and the sun borrows from the light…Wisdom borrows from Understanding and Understanding borrows from wisdom…Heaven borrows from earth and earth borrows from heaven…kindness borrows from righteousness...

Yitro

Yitro

DID JETHRO MISUNDERSTAND? The advice that Jethro gave to Moses about how to delegate and administer justice is famous and was accepted by Moses, and implemented. Jethro was concerned that Moses was carrying the burden of the people by himself and it was essential that he had others who could assist him in his role. Yet, Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik (1903 – 1993) raises the intriguing possibility that maybe Jethro understood what he was seeing? The section begins with the words: “It was, on the following day that Moses sat to judge the people and the people stood (vaya’amod) before...

Beshallach

Beshallach

CLEAR VISION One of the key parts of the magnificent Song of the Sea that we sing this Shabbat, is the phrase, “this is my G-d and I will exalt Him…” (Shemot 15:2) Rashi, citing the Sages of the Midrash, tells us that at that moment, everyone enjoyed sublime heights of prophecy. “Even a maidservant saw things at the Red Sea that were not perceived by the prophets Ezekiel or Isaiah” (Rashi, Shemot 15:2.) This raises a striking question: what was so special about the experience at the Sea that it surpassed even our greatest literary prophets of the bible?...

Bo

Bo

DID G-D GIVE PHARAOH HEART DISEASE?! Throughout the episode of the Ten Plagues, described in last week’s sidra and this week’s sidra, we read of the ‘hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.’ For the first five plagues, it is Pharaoh who hardens his own heart. For the subsequent plagues, we read that it is G-d who hardens Pharaoh’s heart. What does this mean? Obviously, G-d didn’t harden his arteries or give him angina! We need to appreciate that the Torah uses the term ‘heart’ to refer to the source of a person’s moral, spiritual and intellectual capacities. (Indeed, the medieval work, Chovot...

Va’era

Va’era

ENLISTED The drama of the Exodus story has begun. Moses’ initial meeting with Pharaoh has had its setback. G-d promises to redeem his people with no less than four expressions of liberation. Then, in the entire sheni or second portion, the narrative is interrupted with a genealogical list. We are treated to the family background of Moses and Aaron in the tribe of Levi. Moreover, the lineage of the preceding tribes of Reuven and Shimon is also included. We are treated to a listing of not only Moses and Aaron, but also their uncles and cousins, great uncles and second...

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...

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