What’s Inside Matters, Too

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Ki Tavo We live after almost two hundred years of important rabbis and poskim finding ways to accommodate those who have left observance, let alone are not observing for the exact right motives. R. Yehudah’s quote of Rav, Pesachim 50b, that a Jew should observe the Torah without perfect motive, because it will build to better motives, has ...

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Not To Eat Ma’aser Sheni While an Onen

by R. Gidon Rothstein Our mitzvah might seem ho-hum, because we have not eaten ma’aser sheni in many centuries.  Still, the aspect of aninut sheds light on two realms, mourning and the experience of sanctity. Ma’aser Sheni and Aninut: Getting Our Terms Straight Rambam’s Prohibition 151 starts with the basics, Jews may not eat ma’aser sheni while in aninut. Pause to define terms, the easy then the ...

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Hurting Ourselves When We Think We’re Helping

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Ki Tetzei Honest Measures Can Also Be a Problem The Torah warns us not to have two kinds of weights, big and small, 25;14. Were they both, the big and small, off from the truth, the verse could/should have just said do not have false weights or measures. Kli Yakar therefore argues one of these was actually ...

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Ma’akeh and Preventing Danger

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Ki Tetzei The Torah requires us to place a ma’akeh, a fence or girding, around rooftops of our homes, Devarim 22;8. Rambam’s Obligation 184 understands the Torah more broadly, thinks it commands us to protect against all dangers, to the extent possible. In his view, the barrier we put around our rooves, wells, ditches, and backyard pools are ...

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Murder, War, and a King to Lead It All

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Shofetim The end of Parshat Shofetim describes the eglah arufah ceremony, where someone is found murdered between cities (as portrayed in Murderer in the Mikdash, for those who have not yet read it). To atone for the insufficiently safe roads, the nearest city enacts breaks a heifer’s neck in a riverbed, what the Torah prescribed. Among the many questions one ...

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To Listen to Prophets

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Shofetim I return to this mitzvah often, perhaps because it most starkly confronts us with the question of our readiness to bow to authority imposed without our choice, whose commands we often do not understand. S/he Can Tell Us What? Rambam’s Obligation 172 records the necessity to obey all a prophet commands, even should it be ...

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Connect with the Poor, Connect with God, Connect God to Israel

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Re’eh A Muddled Presentation of the Obligation of Charity Chapter fifteen of Devarim speaks of the poor twice in just a few verses, verse four promising there will be no poor among us in the land Hashem gives us, verse eleven saying there will never stop being poor. Sifrei Re’eh 132 explained the basic contradiction, verse four was addressing ...

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Not to Add to the Torah

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Re’eh Apparent simplicity lulls us to undue complacency. Devarim 13; 1 says not to add to the Torah, a phrase rishonim took varyingly. Rambam’s Prohibition 313 renders it most simply, not to add to the Torah, neither the Written nor the received tradition of what it means. But not to add what? Therein lies a tale. Add Within ...

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Getting to Israel, Getting to Judaism, Getting Away from Overconfidence

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Ekev The Extraterritoriality of Shuls and Batei Medrash Devarim 11;21, the end verse to what we call the second paragraph of Shema, says keeping mitzvot will give us long life on the Land Hashem promised. Kli Yakar opens his comment with a story from Berakhot 8a, where R. Yochanan was surprised to hear there were elderly Jews in Bavel, because our verse limits Hashem granting ...

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To Fear God

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Ekev Last week, I made reference to whether halakha can cover all of what it means to serve God, and this week’s mitzvah gives a good test case. Rambam’s Obligation Four says we are commanded le-ha’amin yir’ato yit’aleh, to believe in His fear, He should be exalted, and to fear Him, not to be like ...

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