Chumash Musings

How Much Love?

by R. Gil Student I. The Limits of Love The Torah obligates us to love each other as ourselves (Lev. 19:18), a formulation that while powerful opens a large loophole. This fundamental principle creates a giving society, a community of chesed. However, there may be a simple way to avoid this obligation, taking some of the shine away from the ...

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Of Sacks and Packs

I remember once hearing a liberal Conservative rabbi speak from his pulpit and challenge the congregation. He liked his sermons to be interactive, so he asked the gathered crowd whether anyone could explain, without resorting to the Documentary Hypothesis, why the Torah alternates between using the words “sack” (sack) and “amtachas” (pack) for essentially the same word in the Joseph ...

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Were the Egyptians Right?

by R. Gil Student I. Enslaving the Jews Were the Egyptians right in enslaving the Jews? The question seems outrageous at first. However, Pharaoh and the Egyptians fulfilled God’s prophecy to Avraham that his descendants would be enslaved in a foreign land (Gen. 15:13). Why, then, were the Egyptians punished? Ramban’s answer to this question reflects an attitude that is ...

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More Than Just God’s Name

by R. Gil Student I. Proving God You expect members of an enslaved nation to ask many questions before agreeing to rebel against their masters. However, asking the name of their proposed redeemer’s deity seems only marginally relevant, a low priority considering the logistical issues they face. Yet Moshe, before asking how to prove his ability to redeem the Jews ...

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The Limits of Creativity

by R. Gil Student I. Prioritizing Commandments What is the most important mitzvah? We don’t quite know. We can try guessing, based on the severity of rewards and punishments. The Mishnah (Avos 2:1, 4:2) refers to severe and light mitzvos but we can only speculate which fall into each category. Ultimately, we don’t know. That is why the Torah has ...

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Tzelofchad’s Daughters and Open Orthodoxy

R. Ysoscher Katz, in an attempted rebuttal to Rav Hershel Schachter’s responsum on girls wearing tefillin, offered a number of arguments. In the past, we examined his claim that Rashi held the bar low for issuing halakhic rulings (link). Here I would like to discuss his statement that Tzelofchad’s daughters successfully requested equal inheritance rights, thereby contradicting Rav Schachter’s claim ...

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Was Korach Swallowed By A Miracle?

R. Gil Student The dramatic demise of Korach and his fellow rebels reads like a spectacular miracle. “The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their houses, along with all the men who were with Korach and their property” (Num. 16:32). [1]Although exactly who died this way is unclear. R. Aryeh Kaplan writes in a footnote to The Living ...

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The People’s Princes

by R. Gil Student The longest chapter in the Torah is also the most repetitive. Twelve times, Num. 7 tells us in detail that the nasi (prince) of each tribe brought the same exact inaugural sacrifice as all the other nesi’im. The repetition is tedious and problematic. Why waste all that precious textual space on the same information? This has ...

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The New Ethic of Pleasure and Its Unintended Consequences

by R. Gil Student In studying the commentary surrounding the biblical passage of forbidden marriages (Lev. 18), I was struck by a statement repeated by multiple commentators that rings hollow today. This got me thinking about why many would find it unacceptable. I arrived at a surprising explanation that combines modern history and theology. I. Forbidden Relations Medieval commentators debate ...

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Why Does God Test Us?

by R. Gil Student The notion that the all-knowing God needs to test us to determine whether we will follow His command is absurd. He knows the future and therefore gains nothing from the exercise. Yet the Torah discusses in multiple places God’s tests. For example, regarding the man (manna) that fell in the desert, God states: “So that I ...

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