Tag archive for "Rashi"

Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly Parasha: The Name “Israel”

No Comments 14 December 2016

With his commentary to Parashat Vayishlach, Rabbi Mordechai Goldberg reminds us of the wisdom in following in the path of Jacob, despite (or perhaps because of)  his mistakes along the way.  Continue Reading

Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly parasha: When human rights becomes as strange fire

2 Comments 30 March 2016

Israeli human rights organizations work within a very sensitive and delicate balance. In the time honored tradition of freedom of the pulpit, this week’s dvar Torah on Parashat Shemini by Rabbi Gideon Sylvester includes ideas that could be seen as criticism of RHR and our partners.”

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Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly Parasha: The Transformation of Judah

No Comments 14 December 2015

The Bible is saturated with conflict between brothers. In Parashat Vayigash, Rabbi Simcha Daniel Burstyn shows how despite Judah’s many mistakes, he is worthy of fathering the line from which the messiah will come. What can we learn about injustice, love and conflict resolution from the transformation of Judah and subsequent reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers?  Continue Reading

Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly parasha: A Surprising Story of Reconciliation

No Comments 24 November 2015

Jacob expects violence when he encounters his brother Esau, accompanied by 400 men. Instead, shockingly, he receives a kiss. What can we in modern society learn from the actions of Esau, who, when in a position of power, falls to his brother – once a bitter enemy – and seeks reconciliation? In this week’s Torah commentary by Rabbi Ron Kronish, we see how it is possible for bitter enemies to choose to act with humanity towards one another. 
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Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly Torah portion: To Create a Perpetual Lamp

No Comments 23 February 2015

In Parashat Tetzaveh, Rabbi Dov (Dubi) Haiyun explores the meaning of true leadership, and reminds us, in an election time, that it is the leader’s charge to inspire, model and most importantly, serve. Continue Reading

General, Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly parasha: Reconciliation Must Come Eventually

No Comments 12 November 2014

 In Parshat Chayei Sarah, Rabbi Ehud Bandel reveals how our sages sought to remind us, again and again, of our obligation to be sensitive to “the other” – both to those who are voiceless, like Sarah and Hagar, as well as to our enemies. With this in mind, we praise Isaac for seeking reconciliation with his estranged brother Ismael despite decades of conflict, fear and hatred.

Will we be like our Patriarch Isaac and seek reconciliation to a seemingly endless conflict with our brothers? According to Rabbi Bandel, it is inevitable- so the real question is “when”? Continue Reading

Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly parasha: Even in the Darkest Times

No Comments 15 September 2014

In his commentary of Parshiot Nitzavim-Vayelech, Rabbi Gideon D. Sylvester invokes the wise words of a Hassidic rebbe and survivor of the Shoah as a reminder that even in the darkest times, when despair and fear to move forward seem to engulf us, there is potential for redemption. Continue Reading

General, Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly parasha: On Moses, Zipporah and the Rights of Every Wife

No Comments 03 June 2014

In Parashat Beha’alotcha, Rabbi Yehonatan Chipman offers a different explanation for Aaron and Miriam’s criticism of their brother Moses’ marriage, and reminds us of the rights that every married woman has. 


IMAGE: Miriam Shut out from the Camp circa 1896–1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot CC-Wikipedia

By: Rabbi  Yehonatan Chipman

The final section of this week’s parasha describes how Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses “because of the Kushite woman he had taken” (Num 12:1), Miriam’s subsequent punishment, and Moses intervention with God on her behalf.

At first glance, contemporary readers might think that their criticism had to do with the fact of his marrying this specific woman, and may even have had racist overtones (the term “Kushite” refers to the inhabitants of Ethiopia, who are dark-skinned). But Rashi reads this text otherwise: the criticism relates to his behavior towards his wife, specifically the fact that he had ceased having sexual relations with her (an intimate fact which Zipporah had told Miriam “woman to woman”). This is reflected in Rashi’s reading of the subsequent verses in the chapter, based on the midrash.

It seems to me that, even though Miriam and Aaron were guilty of lashon hara (slander), in speaking critically of Moses, it was not without justification: it seemed to them that Moses had arbitrarily deprived their sister-in-law of her conjugal rights. Even if Moses had the best of reasons for doing so, as we shall see below, Zipporah was also entitled to her rights as a wife. We thus find that Miriam and Aaron were acting out of concern for the woman, and her expectation that her own needs be fulfilled within marriage.  

250px-14440_The_mikve_in_besaluMoses’ abstinence was rooted in the fact that he was a prophet, who might be called upon to speak with God face-to-face at any given moment; hence it would be inappropriate for him to have had sexual relations, which would generate impurity and require immersion in the mikveh before speaking with God. Thus, Rashi comments on verse 3, “And God spoke to Moses and Aaron suddenly” {פתאום) — that when God addressed them unexpectedly they cried out in a panic: “Water! Water!” This is also the reason for the verses, which might otherwise seem to be non sequitur, explaining the nature of Moses’ prophecy:

“[Ordinarily] if there shall be among you a prophet, the Lord shall speak to him in a vision or a dream; not so my servant Moses… I speak with him mouth-to-mouth [i.e., face to face]; appearing directly and not in riddles” (vv. 6-8).

We are accustomed to thinking of Judaism as holding a positive attitude towards sexuality, and frowning upon celibacy; indeed, this is a common theme of modern Jewish apologetics. Marriage and childbearing are seen as among the first mitzvot, not only in terms of their chronological position in the Humash (Torah), but also in terms of their importance per se. Hence the practice of Roman Catholicism, in which the clergy are required to be celibate, is seen as contrary to the Jewish way of thinking, if not to human nature generally.

But at least in this case — the admittedly exceptional case of Moshe Rabbenu, who was a prophet of the highest order, if not uniquely so—separation from woman is seen as a virtue, and his siblings’ criticism thereof as reflecting a fundamental misunderstanding of why he behaved as he did.


IMAGE: Old Mikve in Besalu, Spain CC-Wikipedia


Parasha / E-Letter

Our joy is not whole: On resistance in Exodus

1 Comment 24 December 2013

In parashat Vaera, Rabbi Moshe Yehudai untangles the complicated implications of the ten plagues, identifying them, however uncomfortably, as the collective punishment that they were. Though the Exodus is the most important story in the history of the Jewish people,  how can we reconcile it with the suffering it  caused? How can any struggle for liberation reconcile the suffering it causes?


Image: Crossing of the Red Sea, Nicolas Poussin, 1634 cc: wikipedia

Our Joy is Not Whole: On Resistance in Exodus

by Rabbi Moshe Yehudai

The main subject of the first portions in Exodus is the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt and their exodus thereof–hence, the book’s name. The story of the exodus is the story of the transformation of the children of Israel from a mass of oppressed and humiliated slaves without self-awareness to a united people with common religious, spiritual and cultural values, embodied by the Torah, which they are given at the beginning of their journey through the Sinai. They also have a common destination: to settle in the land of Canaan and there to build themselves an independent national home where they will live in the spirit of the Torah.

But as we know it was not a simple or smooth exodus. We all know the story of the duel between Moses and Pharaoh – a prolonged duel in which Pharaoh refused Moses’s basic demand that became a resounding battle cry: “Let my people go!” Pharaoh wanted the Israelites as slaves, and why should he give up such a cheap workforce without a fight? Then begins the series of the Ten Plagues, and only after the hardest plague of all, the death of the firstborn sons, does Pharaoh heed Moses’s pleas and the exodus begins.

The story of the plagues raises many questions. One is about the important principle of free will, which Pharaoh is denied when God hardens his heart so that he does not listen to Moses. Whether the plagues actually occurred is another question. Both questions deserve separate discussions but I would like to focus on a different aspect, the moral aspect, which to me is the most important and significant question, beyond the other philosophical questions.

The question is what ethical-educational lesson we learn from the story of the plagues. Like any other mythological story, whether it actually happened or not is irrelevant.

Ahad Ha’am, the great Zionist leader and illustrious publicist, writes in his essay “Moses”:

“We have one Moses, our Moses, whose image has been fixed in the hearts of our people through the generations and whose impact on our national life has not ceased from the days of antiquity to the present. And just like I have no doubt as to the reality of Moses, so is his essence clear to me and will not be changed by any archaeological finding.”

The same is true for the plagues, which we have been well aware of for dozens of generations, especially when we sit around the Seder table on Passover and read about the plagues and the acronyms they were given by Rabbi Yehuda.

In various degrees, the ten plagues were a sort of collective punishment given to the whole Egyptian people.

And the LORD said unto Moses:

“Say unto Aaron: Take thy rod, and stretch out thy hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, over their streams, and over their pools, and over all their ponds of water, that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.” (7:19)

Rashi and other commentators explain the words “in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone” to mean that even the humidity in the wood and stones turned into blood, or in the idols.

Even if we take into account the fact that many Egyptians collaborated with the oppression of the Hebrews, we must still completely reject this punishment of preventing water from all the residents of Egypt for a week. There is no way we can view that as appropriate and just. The same is true to different degrees for the rest of the plagues.

Rabbi Yaacov Halevy Ben Moshe Moelin, Hamaharil (1360-1427), is considered the father of the customs of Ashkenaz. In his book “Customs of Maharil” he writes:

“It is the custom to discard a little bit from the cup with your finger when you come to ‘blood and fire and pillars of smoke,’ as well as when the ten plagues are mentioned collectively and separately, a total of sixteen times.”

The famous Torah commentator Rabbi Yitzhak Ben Yehuda Abarbanel, or Don Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508), an economist, diplomat, philosopher and commentator, wrote in his commentary on the Passover Haggadah, “Zevach Pesach”:

“The custom is to drip drops of wine out of the cup when counting the plagues to indicate that our joy is not whole because on our account an entire people was punished. Even though the enemy deserved that defeat, it does not cause us real joy.”

The non-Orthodox Haggadahs have adopted that custom, such as the American Reform Haggadah:

“Though we descend from those redeemed from brutal Egypt and have ourselves rejoiced to see oppressors overcome, yet our triumph is diminished by the slaughter of the foe, as the wine within the cup of joy is lessened when we pour ten drops for the plagues upon Egypt.”

The same appears in other liberal Haggadahs, including the Israeli Haggadah.

The Hallel, recited fully on Sukoth, Shavuoth, Hannukkah and, in Zionist congregations, on Independence Day as well, is also recited on the seventh day of Passover, the day when according to tradition our ancestors crossed the Red Sea only partly, by skipping. And the reason is this:
“In that hour the ministering angels wished to utter the song [of praise] before the Holy One, blessed be He, but He rebuked them, saying: My handiwork [the Egyptians] is drowning in the sea; would ye utter song before me?” (Sanhedrin 39:2 and elsewhere).

Assuming it occurred, the enslavement in Egypt was a massive violation of human rights, and the fight against it was totally justified. But like in any struggle for liberation, whether of a class, nation, race, religion or anything else, we must always question the price of the struggle and its justification, for both sides.

And I will end with a passage from the British Liberal Haggadah:

“Oh God, teach us to rejoice in freedom, but not in its cost for us and for our enemies. Let there come a day when violence is no more and we shall be free to rejoice without sadness, to sing without tears.”

Amen, so be it.



Can we be identified without the other? – Dvar Torah to Parashat Chayei “Sarah”

2 Comments 06 November 2012

Hagar, Ishmael, Abraham/Abraão  By Light in Action  cc: flickr

Rabbi Ariela Gretz-Bartov wonders why did Sarah have to take out Hagar and Ishmael from the family circle. Following this, she also asks questions on identity, private and collective, as a part of establishing the Israeli society. Dvar Torah to parashat Chayei Sarah.

By: Rabbi Ariela Gretz Continue Reading

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