Devarim: Finding New Forms of Leadership

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Devarim: Moshe Rabbenu and the People He Had to Lead Torah for the New Generation Ramban thinks the whole book was Moshe’s idea and initiative. He knew the new generation of Jews, none of whom had been twenty at the Giving of the Torah, needed to hear it from a living witness, so they could enter ...

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Matot and Mas’ei

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Matot: Building Our Lives, Sometimes the Wrong Way Shaping Personal Obligations with Words Tradition understands the commitment at Sinai to constitute an oath. The Torah lays out the fascinating option of creating a new Biblical obligation with an oath—a Jew who foreswears cigarettes, for example, has it become Biblically prohibited for him/her to smoke; or, a Jew ...

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Pinhas: Putting Moav Behind, Getting Ready for the Land

by R. Gidon Rothstein This week’s portion opens with Pinhas’ reward for his role in stopping the plague of last week’s parsha, brought on by the Jews’ falling for Midianite women and worshipping their god, and then Zimri publicly challenging Moshe on the matter. The Atonement of the Nation The Torah says Pinhas had been mechaper the people, 25;13, a verb we usually take ...

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Balak: Bil’am Teaches Us About the Jewish People

by R. Gidon Rothstein Most of Parashat Balak happens away from the purview of the Jewish people. While they suffer the consequences of his parting advice to Balak—as we will see—for most of the time, the events would have become known to them only second hand. Nonetheless, the Jewish people are portrayed extensively and illuminatingly, mostly in the words Gd puts in ...

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Hukkat: People’s Power to Frame Life

by R. Gidon Rothstein The events of Parshat Hukkat remind us of our significant role in shaping our experience of what happens, and therefore how we react to it. The parsha opens with rules of the parah adumah, the red heifer whose ashes would be mixed with water and then could be the way to remove the ritual impurity associated with contact with the deceased. ...

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Korah: What We Don’t Understand Can Feel Threatening

by R. Gidon Rothstein Korah’s rebellion annually confronts us with issues of trusting leaders, warns us of the self-interest that can delude us completely, can give us mistaken confidence we are correct as we head down a disastrous road. This time around, I think Onkelos, Rashi, and Ramban raise the possibility it was the introduction to the sanctity associated with ...

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Shelah: Misplaced Fear and Ingratitude of the Jewish People

by R. Gidon Rothstein The opening incident of the parsha dominates much of the conversation around the parsha as a whole, because it is the nadir of the Jewish people in the desert, where they cross a red line and lose their right to enter Israel. Rashi and Ramban first struggle to explain how the spies came to be sent at all. Whose Idea ...

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Be-Ha’alotecha: The Generally Kind Divine

by R. Gidon Rothstein What the Moving Aron Teaches Us Just about the middle of this week’s parsha, the Torah describes how the camp would move, with the blowing of trumpets and procession of each sub-camp. Only later in the chapter, 10;35-36, does the Torah tell us about when the Aron itself (the Ark of the Covenant, for Raiders of the Lost Ark fans) would move. Moshe ...

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Naso: Sotah, Kohanim, Nazir, and Nesi’im

by R. Gidon Rothstein What a Woman Does to Become a Sotah For a sotah ceremony to happen, the woman must have been ma’alah bo ma’al, 5;12, betrayed her husband. Rashi identifies the ma’al as her affair, except the ritual comes to test if an affair occurred. Onkelos translates the phrase as le-shakara shakar, to have lied to him, although it is not clear what constitutes the lie. I think he ...

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Bamdibar and Counting

by R. Gidon Rothstein Counting the Jewish People Bamidbar is known as Numbers because of its many censuses, starting with three right at the beginning of the book, the Jewish people twice in a row (once by tribes only, then by encampments), and then the Levi’im separately. The Torah refers to the count of the Levi’im as having been al pi Hashem, 3;16, as if Gd did ...

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