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The Weekly Torah Portion

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  • #31
    Parshat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10 - 30:1)

    Hooray for zealotry! Wait. It's complicated.

    What Does It Mean To Be Zealous for G-d? ("Interestingly our sages tell us that Elijah and Pinchas were actually the same person. Whether they mean that Pinchas never died or that he was reincarnated or that they shared the same kind of central spirit, I cannot tell you, but these two people seem to be the great zealots in Biblical narrative.")

    What Is True Leadership? ("The parsha begins relating the reward for Pinchas' act of zealotry, in which he killed two public sinners and ended this devastating plague against the children of Israel. Then the parsha continues with a detailed census of the Israelite camp. And then it relates a very legalistic narrative of the daughters of Tzelofchad who sought to receive the inheritance of their father when the normal rules of inheritance didn't apply. Then immediately after these three stories we have this story of G-d's command for Moses to ascend the mountain where he'll die and it seems entirely unrelated to any of these stories. But is there a connection between Moses' death and the three earlier stories? I want to suggest that there may actually be one central theme that wends its way throughout all of these seemingly unrelated stories, and that theme is ...")

    Intimacy and Holiness ("Promiscuity leading to idolatry. And then, sacrifice. And, some sort of idolatrous feast. Does this remind us of anything? Was there another time when the people committed idolatry through worship and sacrificial offerings? And where they were sexually promiscuous? And, they also ate an idolatrous feast?")

    Everyone yaks about Einstein's pantheism, but it's not widely known that the greatest scientist & mathematician who ever lived was in the Noachide wing: The Newton You Never Knew. (Speaking of Jose Faur. He's the author of a dense, difficult, amazing book on Maimonides.)
    Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 07-21-2019, 06:14 PM.


    • #32
      Parshat Matot - Masei (Numbers 30:2 - 36:13)

      Why Is the End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic? ("'The end of the Torah?' you say. 'We are not up to the end of the Torah. This is the end of the Book of Numbers.' But in a certain way, it is. The entire Book of Deuteronomy is really just Moshe's farewell speech. The action of the Torah ends at the end of the Book of Numbers. We hear about these obscure people who go and conquer these Amorite lands. This fellow Jair ben Manasseh shows up and conquers a bunch of towns. He appears again later in the end of next week's Parshat and this obscure conquest just seems very, very anti-climactic. Who cares about it, what does it teach us and why do we need to know?")

      The Art of Negotiation ("When you find yourself at loggerheads with the other side what do you do to make the deal work? Our Parsha deals with this issue, I think, and provides a surprising, if enlightening, answer.")

      Israel's Psychological Journey ("Parshat Masei begins with what appears to be one of the most boring, uneventful chapters in the whole Torah. It's a travel log, a recap of sorts, of everywhere Israel has been so far on their journey throughout the desert. ... And you have to ask: who cares? Why is this here? As we've discussed many times, the Torah is not just a list of laws and stories. Each piece is meant to teach us some sort of timeless lesson. How does this travel log do that?")

      Do the Jews Deserve the Land of Israel? ("The Land of Israel is Heaven’s perfectly suitable gift suited for the Jewish people. By the same token, it is beyond what the Jews can ever deserve.")

      The Three Weeks is an annual mourning period for the destruction of the Holy Temples, culminating with Tisha B'Av.
      Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 08-04-2019, 04:32 AM.


      • #33
        Parshat Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22)

        What Does It Mean To Have Faith? ("One of the great challenges of any religion is faith. Often we think of the central challenge of faith as belief in God, believing that God exists, that He is around – and yet the Torah uses the word Emunah in a way which almost certainly does not mean that. After the splitting of the sea, vaya'aminu baHaShem – the people had faith in God. Was that the first time they believed that God existed? In this week's Parsha, Moshe castigates the people for lack of faith, in the sin of the spies. Does Moshe seriously mean to say that the Jews did not believe in God? They doubted His existence? They got Manna from heaven, experienced revelation at Sinai, saw the ten plagues, saw the sea split; these guys didn't believe that God was around?")

        The Mystery of Moses' Speech ("Is Moses just giving a history lesson of the nation in the desert? Probably not, right, because if it were, he would have told the big stories – and not this seemingly-random collection. Or, maybe it's an inspirational speech for the people of Israel. But the stories he picks don't seem particularly inspirational! No one is going to put 'Remember how we avoided the land of Seir' on an inspirational poster anytime soon. So, what is this introduction to the epic speech of Devarim really about?")

        What's the Purpose of Deuteronomy? (Is it a recap, or does it contain new commandments? From the same cool blog: Is Judaism a Religion?)

        If you will it, it is no dream. Tenak Talk began with a preacher's kid seeking the truth. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow. He built a studio and hosts the shows.

        Dr. Henry Abramson: Lectures in Jewish History and Thought. No hard questions, please.
        Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 08-06-2019, 04:53 AM.


        • #34
          Tisha B'Av

          The Ninth of Av is the saddest day of the year. What happened? Wrong question. What didn't?

          There's a possible world where King Hezekiah was the Messiah. Instead his inaction led to the destruction of the First Temple: He didn't share Israel's transcendent purpose with the other nations. "Israel has a destiny. It’s a nation that’s designed to stand for the idea that there is more to the world than can be seen with the eye or touched with one’s hand. There is a transcendent force that interacts with our world, a force that cares and involves itself in events large and small. This force cares about what happens down here because it’s our Parent in the Sky. This force is our Creator. The destiny of Israel is to stand for that idea, and to help make it known to others. ...

          "If you’re Israel’s king in that moment, it’s your job to point heavenward. It’s your job to open one last concentric circle and invite these people in. You talk to them, you tell them something like this: You know, what happened with Sancherev’s spectacular defeat, it’s the work of our Father. And this isn’t just our own, parochial Father; it’s your Father, too. This is a song you also can learn to sing. Join your voices with ours!

          "But what happens when you don’t do that? What happens when you unwittingly greet a hand extended in spiritual curiosity as if it were a hand extended in mere strategic alliance? When a nation is seeking meaning, and you show them gold and silver instead? When you do that, you’re pointing to a strength that’s not really your strength. You’re betraying your own name, Chizkiah – My Strength is G-d – and trading it in for something far more prosaic, far more ordinary. ...

          "Well, you know, if that’s the message, Isaiah says, if your strength is in gold and silver, well, empires, they take gold and silver and they run. All you are is a regional power, and a small one at that. It will only be a matter of time until you’re swallowed whole." Ouch!

          What will the world be like when the Third Temple is built?
          Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 08-11-2019, 07:00 PM.


          • #35
            Parshat Va'etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11)

            Is "One" a Number? ("To a large extent, the Book of Deuteronomy is a polemic against idolatry. Moshe instructs, cajoles and admonishes as he attempts to inspire the people to follow one G-d. In the portion of Va'etchanan especially, there is a positive declaration, which is often described as the credo of Judaism: "Hear o Israel: G-d is our L-rd, G-d is One." In this same parasha, we find a negative formulation of this same principle: "…for G-d is the L-rd and there is no other aside from Him." Both statements seem to teach the same idea: monotheism, belief in one G-d. There are, however, some nuances that should not go unexamined.

            "Rabbi Soloveitchik offered an interpretation of the shema that may otherwise have been missed: The word ehad, which is usually rendered "one," should in this case be understood as "unique." The distinction is not simply a question of mathematics; it is not that we differ from others in that we limit the number of our deities. This concise statement of our faith does not simply compare Judaism's belief in "only" one G-d with the dualism or polytheism of other belief systems. According to this view, the declaration, "Hear o Israel, G-d is our L-rd, G-d is unique" has implications for the nature of that One G-d: The Deity is completely different, unquantifiable; G-d alone is sui generis, singular and unparalleled. This is our G-d: The One who creates and sustains the universe is not simply quantitatively different from polytheistic deities, but qualitatively different as well.")

            Seeing Layers In The Ten Commandments ("I would like to suggest that there are three levels of structure within this document. You can't see the second structure until you have seen the first, can't see the third until you have seen the second. The first layer of structure is remarkable, the second, well that's really something, and the third is mind blowing.")

            Building an Intimate Relationship with G-d ("Okay, be honest. Did your eyes glaze over, just a little bit? There's so much here, and it's hard to make heads or tails of the speech. As we've said over and over in the Parsha Experiment, the Torah is not made up of scattered, random stories and laws. The Torah is a book – and every sentence of that book fits together, like pieces in a puzzle. But how does that work in this parsha? What is this parsha actually about? ...

            "This may be the most remarkable and explicit description of Israel's mission in the entire Torah. We've seen before that Israel is G-d's chosen people, but here we find out exactly what that means and how it works: We're not supposed to missionize. Instead, by modeling G-d's values and keeping G-d's laws, the other nations will see that there's something special there. They'll see the positive impact of keeping G-d's laws and emulating His values. So this speech is really about Israel's destiny, their special role vis a vis the rest of the world as G-d's chosen people. But the speech doesn't end there. Moses doesn't only tell them what their destiny is and how to achieve it. He also tells them what may distract them from that destiny.")

            What Did Moses Do Wrong? ("Moses in last week's parsha, as well as in this week's parsha, seems to blame the people for the fact that he can't go into the land. ... Why was it the people's fault? They didn't force him to hit the rock back in the Book of Numbers. What we suggested last week is that if you take a close look at the Book of Deuteronomy it doesn't seem like it's relating to that sin of hitting the rock at all; it seems to locate the reason why Moshe can't go into the land in the story of the spies. Somehow Moses is held accountable for that, despite the fact that he was a good guy. He, along with Joshua and Kalev, were exhorting the people to have faith in G-d, and yet somehow Joshua and Kalev are allowed to go into the land, but not Moses. Why of all things would Moses be held accountable for what happened with the spies?")

            Ein Od Milvado refrigerator magnet (Deut. 4:35). Very cool.
            Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 08-11-2019, 06:39 PM.


            • #36
              Parshat Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25)

              What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person? ("This week's parsha contains Moshe's summery of what it is that God asks of us. In just a sentence or two Moshe summarizes everything. Moshe says, 'what is it anyway that God asks of you,' ki im, 'except for,' and then Moshe gives a whole list of things. To love God, to fear him, to serve God, to walk in his ways. What I want to look at with you today is the fact that later on, centuries later we have a prophet who tries to do the exact same thing, boil down for you what it is that God wants in just a few words – and not only does that prophet try to do exactly the same thing, he actually quotes the opening words of Moshe.") Part II: Are Micha and Moses Arguing?

              Why Does the Nation of Israel Merit The Land? ("I'm not asking from a political perspective or about the foundations of the modern day State of Israel. But back in biblical times why is it that the people deserved to get the land? Well if your memory of earlier biblical stories is good you might say, well they didn't deserve it, G-d promised it to them originally in a Brit – a covenant, that G-d made with their ancestor Abraham. Yeah, that's true, but if you take a look at this week's parsha it doesn't seem like the promises of that covenant just came for free, the people had to earn it.")

              Eikev Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14 - 51:3 ("The first half of the reading speaks of kibbutz galuyot (the ingathering of the exiles), the time when the Jewish people will return to the Land of Israel in all their glory.

              Zion, or Jerusalem, speaks and is spoken to in anthropomorphic form. She expresses her concern that the long exile must demonstrate that G‑d has forsaken and forgotten her. But G‑d treasures the holy city, so this is impossible. Would a mother forget her suckling baby? Even if this could happen, G‑d would not forget His people. The ruined city and its exiled people are at all times the focal point of the G‑dly agenda. ... The nations of the world will happily and honorably escort their Jewish populations out of their lands and back to their home. It will be well understood that the Jews did not essentially belong in any country they may have lived in. They may have been taken there by force, or they may have come there on their own but against their will. Now they are returning home.")

              "You ain't in Europe any more, Toto."
              Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 08-19-2019, 08:08 PM.