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Showing posts from July, 2016

Pinhas and the Ocean's Waters

In ancient times sacrifices were offered on the heights of the Temple. On Sukkot especially the sacrifices reached their zenith. This week’s Torah portion offers details of the Sukkot sacrifices. (Numbers 29) 70 bulls were slaughtered on the altar, in addition to 14 rams, 98 lambs and seven goats. It was a bloody weeklong celebration. At the conclusion of Sukkot was the long since forgotten holiday of Simhat Beit HaShoeva, the water drawing celebration. Copious amounts of water were poured over the Temple and its altar. In a land where water is so scarce it is remarkable to reflect on the central ritual of this holiday. At the conclusion of the dry season and prior to the beginning of the winter rains water is dumped as if it were a plentiful commodity. My teacher and the chair of Hebrew University’s Bible Department, Israel Knohl, offers two possible explanations. There was the practical and the philosophical. On the one hand this much water was required to clean the Temple.

Balak, Favorite Poems and Enemy's Prayers

A few poems. Pablo Neruda, a 20th century Chilean poet, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, writes: To whoever is not listening to the sea this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up in house or office, factory or woman or street or mine or dry prison cell: to him I come, and without speaking or looking, I arrive and open the door of his prison, and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent, a great fragment of thunder sets in motion the rumble of the planet and the foam, the raucous rivers of the ocean flood, the star vibrates swiftly in its corona, and the sea is beating, dying and continuing. So, drawn on by my destiny, I ceaselessly must listen to and keep the sea's lamenting in my awareness, I must feel the crash of the hard water and gather it up in a perpetual cup so that, wherever those in prison may be, wherever they suffer the autumn’s castigation, I may be there with an errant wave, I may move, passing through the windows, and

How to Stop Terror from Closing Our Hearts

Nice, Brussels, Paris and Paris again. Orlando, Charleston, Boston and Dallas. A litany of terrorized cities grows longer each and every week. We are understandably afraid. In this age of terror the ordinary and everyday can become terrifying. Going to work. Traveling on a plane. Walking through Times Square (or celebrating Bastille Day) can instill fear rather than offer the revelry for which these should only be known. This of course is the very goal of the terrorists who are bent on murder and destruction. They seek to upend the ordinary. They plot to terrify the mundane. Their very goal is to amplify fear.... This post continues on The Wisdom Daily.

Hukkat, Complaints and Tears

Moses, the greatest hero in the Torah and perhaps the Bible, is not allowed to enter the Promised Land. Why? The answer is discovered in this week’s portion. The people were once again complaining. This time they were screaming for water. “There is not even water to drink!” God instructs Moses to order a rock to provide water. Instead Moses twice hits the rock in anger. He shouts at the people, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20) What was Moses’ great sin? How could his actions deserve the punishment of never crossing the Jordan and walking into the land of Israel? For centuries commentators have argued about Moses’ actions. The story affords opportunities for many different interpretations. Some commentators, most notably the medieval scholar Rashi, suggest that Moses’ sin was that he did not listen to God’s instructions exactly. God told Moses to order the rock to provide water. Instead Moses hits the rock, not only once but twic

Who is Korah?

I am in Jerusalem again, studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute where I always find a refuge to recharge my spirit. I am grateful for this opportunity to learn in Jerusalem. I feel fortunate to live in a blessed age in which I can so easily visit the land of Israel. I recognize that my generation is unique in Jewish history. For generations, we only dreamed of such a reality. Now that hope is realized. And that alone is enough to stir my soul. I come here as well because the view from afar is rarely an accurate portrayal. From a distance the State of Israel too readily becomes a caricature of preconceived notions. For some Israel can do no wrong. For others it is rarely, if ever, right. Israel is either idolized or demonized. It is of course neither. Israel must never be reduced to mere talking points. It is a remarkable and complicated place. Dreams never mirror reality. Prayers cannot be squared with the here and now. Israel is a human creation. It is not fashioned by God. It shoul