Skip to main content


Showing posts from March, 2016

Shemini and The Fires of Revenge

Leviticus is about rules.  The Torah sets out to govern our lives by legislating even the most insignificant of details.  This week we read about keeping kosher.  This might appear remote and far from our concerns.  And yet the Torah’s contention in general, and Leviticus in particular, is that every detail of our lives matters to God. These laws suggest that the way to create a civilized, and ordered, society begins with the most mundane of activities.  Otherwise we may very well, like Aaron’s sons, create a self-consuming “alien fire.” (Leviticus 10) This past week we read reports of an Israeli soldier killing a wounded Palestinian terrorist.... This post continues on The Times of Israel. 

Purim, Power and Presidents

Power is an illusion. Last week several Israeli tourists were targeted in Istanbul. Three Israelis were among the four murdered. Eleven were among the thirty six injured. We pray for their souls. We pray for their speedy recovery. (We also pray for the thirty four killed and two hundred injured in today’s attack in Brussels.) And so we have come to realize. Despite the fact that we live in an age that knows unprecedented Jewish power, the security and safety of our people is still not guaranteed. Theordor Herzl’s dream that the creation of a Jewish state would end antisemitism appears a fantasy. Persecution remains a continuing nightmare. Power is a blessing. Last week as well most of the remaining Jews living in Yemen, suffering under constant threat of attack, were rescued in a covert operation and brought to Israel... This post continues on The Times of Israel.

Refugees Still and Again!

Just because today's news reports focus on the presidential campaign does not mean that the flood of refugees has ebbed or that their plight has improved.  There is increasing evidence that it worsens.  The conflict in Syria continues to produce unfathomable human misery.  To date 500,000 people have been killed.  7 million people remain internally displaced.  4 million more have fled Syria's borders.  Most live in makeshift refugee shelters, primarily in Jordan and Turkey.  Too few have made their way to freedom.  A mere 2,500 have found a home in the United States. I do not know how else to read this story but through the prism of Jewish history.  We too have known suffering and wandering while the world turned an indifferent eye.     At a remarkable event at Brookings, Leon Wieseltier remarked:  I am the son of refugees. My parents were Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust and came to New York in 1947. I grew up among refugees, and until I was seven or eight, ref

Vayikra and Creating Empathy

I approach the Book of Leviticus that we begin this week with a measure of trepidation. It primarily speaks of sacrifices. It details the sprinkling of blood on the altar. It is obsessed with blood. It worries about the categories of pure and impure. There are chapters about leprosy and others about the scapegoat offering. Its sentiments are not my own. It appears foreign and out of sync with contemporary sensibilities. “This shall be a burnt offering, a gift, of pleasing odor to the Lord.” (Leviticus 1) Really? God smells? Does God truly require such sacrifices? No. But perhaps we do. The not so secret purpose of these sacrifices was to create empathy. Here is how it was done. You had to pick the choicest from your flock. Whether it was a bull, sheep or goat you had to examine the animal to make sure it did not have any blemishes. You would then give the animal to the priest who would slaughter it on the altar and burn it up in the sacrificial fires. Yes I most certain

Pekudei and Our Imperfect World

The ancient rabbis taught that God intentionally left creation incomplete. On most days I find this teaching inspiring and even comforting. God granted us free will. God left creation unfinished, leaving room in the world for us to act. God in effect bowed out of each and every detail in this world so that our actions might be our own and so that we might enhance creation. The Kabbalists added to this notion when they argued that God withdrew from the world. Otherwise, they reasoned, God’s presence would overwhelm creation. Then there would be no room for anything else but God. God made this imperfect world so that there would be the necessity for us to get involved, a call for us to improve ourselves and better the world. God wants us to do more. But after yesterday’s brutal terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, an attack in which an American (may Taylor Force’s memory be a blessing) was murdered, and another ten severely injured, I find myself wishing, and praying, that God would fix

Vayakhel and Inspired Leadership

Sometimes the people are right. And sometimes the people are wrong. We can gather for good. We can gather for bad. The mob can riot. The crowd can protest. “The people gathered against Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who shall go before us…’” (Exodus 32) And the throng cheered. The people jeered with wild abandon. And their leader became more and more animated. He shouted and screamed. “Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings…and bring them to me.’” And they can come together for good. “Moses then gathered (vayakhel) the whole Israelite community… Take from among you gifts to the Lord, everyone whose heart so moved him shall bring them.” (Exodus 35) In Hebrew the difference between the construction of the tabernacle, detailed in this week’s portion, and the building of the golden calf turns on a vowel. The root is the same. The line between good and bad is sometimes as thin as a breath. There is another difference between these stories. It is the difference

Not So Super

Super Tuesday 2016 might very well become the day when liberals and conservatives stood united in common cause. It took their shared opposition to Trump of course to bring this to fruition.  Read here but a few examples. Roger Cohen in today's Times. This disoriented America just might want Trump — and that possibility should be taken very seriously, before it is too late, by every believer in American government of the people, by the people, for the people. The power of the Oval Office and the temperament of a bully make for an explosive combination, especially when he has shown contempt for the press, a taste for violence, a consistent inhumanity, a devouring ego and an above-the-law swagger. And Bret Stephens in this morning's Journal. That’s the future Mr. Trump offers whether his supporters realize it or not. Bill Buckley and the other great shapers of modern conservatism—Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, Robert Bartley and Irving Kristol—articulated a conservatism