Does Bible Criticism undermine faith? I would argue that, if understood correctly, it has the potential to strengthen it! We can try to peer back into history to see the stages of the Torah’s development without in any way detracting from its divine origin. The idea that the incredibly meaningful work that we have today may have been the end result of centuries of development only heightens the wonder. Certainly it doesn’t lessen it. If anything, it makes it seem even more miraculous, that out of all the possible things that might have gone in, just the right bits did make it into the mix, in just the right proportions to create the multi-layered text that we have today.
Sefer BaMidbar is the story of a great test: Can the disparate tribes of Israel put into practice the lessons learned during the revelation at Sinai and the subsequent building of the Mishkan. Can they forge themselves into a nation capable of conquering their ancestral homeland and building a just and lasting society?
A poem in honor of Yom HaShoah 5779. A Sonderkommando’s memories and the role of the living.
Hiding between the seemingly dry—and to the modern ear, somewhat esoteric—laws of Parashat Metzora is a fascinating insight into the nature of reality and human knowledge. The laws of the “plague-afflicted house” and the zav teach us about living in a world where certain things are in principle unmeasurable, and where observation can change reality.
Parashat Shminit: What was the crime of Nadav and Avihu, who were consumed by divine fire while offering incense? It turns out that by comparing this incident with a later one, in which Moshe strikes a rock to bring forth water, we can learn a lot about miracles, holiness, and leadership.
Can we do Teshuvah for acts committed under compulsion? Should we be denied the healing power of Teshuvah, just because we aren’t actually guilty? Even in the absence of responsibility, the need for atonement can be met. We feel contaminated by being brought to the point of ultimate helplessness, but healing comes from our learning to take responsibility for our own lives from this point on. We feel guilty for living through our own deaths, but healing comes from the ability to partake of life and give life as much and as selflessly as possible.
In our parashah, the phrase: “Beit Yisrael”, the House of Israel appears for only the second time in the entire Torah. The first was in regard to the manna, where the Torah tells us that, not knowing what it was, “the House of Israel” called it “man”, that is, “what’s this?” Is there a common denominator in these two cases, or is this merely a coincidental quirk of style? I believe that not only is there something in common between these two appearances, but that the commonality has much to teach us.
This week’s parashah opens with an odd juxtaposition. Just before explaining to the Israelites how the Mishkan is to be constructed, Moshe pauses to exhort the people to sanctify the Shabbat. Why is the commandment of the Shabbat inserted here? The usual answer is that building the Mishkan—as important as it is—nevertheless does not over-ride the prohibition of work on Shabbat. But this only puts off the question: why are we are told to sanctify the Shabbat by ceasing all creative work on that day?
How could Moshe, who, more than any other figure, stands for Torah…how could he destroy the precious written record of the Covenant, inscribed by God’s own hand? Moreover, how is it that the sages of the Talmud praised Moshe’s actions and hailed him as a hero for breaking the tablets? The answer lies in the difference between the first set of tablets and the second.
our parasha heralds a political revolution in Israel, though this can be easy to miss among the details. We’re so used to thinking of Aharon and his sons as the “normal” kohanim of Israel that we come to take this from granted. But the tribe of Levi was not always set apart for Divine service, nor were the kohanim originally from that tribe.