Tonight marks the holiday of Tu B’Av, commonly thought of as Israel’s answer to Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love. Ironically the most famous Torah verse of all occurs in this week’s parashah: the V’Ahavta—the statement of Israel’s obligations to love God “with all your heart, and all your might, and all your soul”. This paragraph stands at the very heart of Jewish liturgy. But what can it mean to “love God”? After all, the Torah reinforces again and again that God is incorporeal and totally above anything we can imagine. How are we to love something we can’t imagine? It turns out, this week’s Torah portion offers us some useful advice on maintaining a lasting relationship.
A Thought for Tu b’Av – Rabbi Akiva’s time capsule
Imagine that the earth was going to be destroyed within five years, and that you were tasked with deciding what literary treasures to preserve? That is the background of the Tanakh that we have today. The Talmud records the bare bones of discussions where scholars fought for the inclusion of those writings that were dear to them, often against ferocious opposition from their colleagues. Amazingly, of all the possible things to include, the famous Rabbi Akiva chose a collection of bawdy wedding songs! What lay behind such an odd choice?
Sukkot and the Paradox of Joyfulness
Sukkot is called by our sages “The Time of our Joy” ( זמן שמחתינו ). While other holidays are said to be times of joy as well, Sukkot is singled out in particular by the Torah (D’varim 16:15): “You shall be altogether/only joyful.” (והיית אך שמח) But can we ever be “altogether” joyful? Is there […]
Elul – The forgiving month
Elul is called “the season of reconciliation.” It is a time of quiet, when our crops have been planted and are nearing harvest. We are reminded that the deeds and thoughts that we have sown among each other are also coming to fruition.
Tisha b’Av – Learning from the past
Many in Israel wonder whether we should still mourn on Tisha b’Av, with Jerusalem rebuilt, surrounded by a thriving Jewish state. I would argue that especially now, in the midst of national rebirth, the lessons of Tisha b’Av take on a new urgency. For the past 2,000 years we were not in a position to repeat the mistakes of the past. Now we are.
Purim Torah: Or questions meant to cross a rabbi’s eyes!
Following are my contributions to Rabbi Cardozo’s Purim-themed “Thoughts to Ponder“. I hope they will be a worthy addition to the weighty matter of getting thoroughly silly on Purim. Enjoy!
Purim: The Covenant ratified in Exile
The rabbis of the Talmud sought to anchor Purim in the Biblical tradition, with varying degrees of success. But one of the most striking rabbinic comments appears in a surprising place: in Massechet Shabbat, we find a curious reference to the events on which Purim is based: “’The Jews confirmed and accepted’—on that occasion they confirmed what they had accepted long before.” What exactly, did the Jews living in the Persian exile accept?
Tu b’Shvat: A Tree planted in Hope
This year, Tu b’Shvat, the New Year for Trees, falls only a few days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Here is a poem that encompasses both.
The Great Hanukkah Cover-up: self-censorship and national survival
What does the mitzvah of Hanukkah teach us about Jewish survival in a world of declining nation-states? And why does the Gemara never even mention the historical circumstances of Hanukka—the military victory and the re-establishment of a Jewish state? It turns out that these two questions are bound up together in some surprising ways.
Sukkot: Dancing over the abyss
While other holidays are said to be times of joy as well, Sukkot is singled out in particular by the Torah (D’varim 16:15): “You shall be altogether/only joyful.” But can we ever be “only” joyful? Is there ever a time when we are completely without other emotional states? Is the Torah asking of us the impossible?