All posts by Rabbi Nehemia Polen

Seventy Faces of Torah Rabbi Nehemia Polen

The Virtuous Circle of Ethical Sensitivity

Parashat Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1-24:18 The set of community regulations collected in Exodus 21: 1- 23: 33, which make up the bulk of Parshat Mishpatim, shows many points of similarity with other ancient legal collections from the Ancient Near East, such as the famous Code of Hammurabi. But, as scholars such as Moshe Greenberg and Nahum Sarna have pointed out, there are significant differences as well, such as the avoidance of… Read Article →

Rabbinical School Divrei Torah Rabbi Nehemia Polen

Tu Bi-Shvat: Nurturing the Tree of Life

To judge by our classical sources, Tu bi-Shvat barely counts as even a minor holiday. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 2a and 14a) mentions the fifteenth day of the month of Shvat as the day which initiates a new agricultural year with respect to the tithing of fruit trees, but specifies no liturgy, ritual, or celebration. There is little reference to Tu bi-Shvat in the early medieval authorities, and even Rabbi… Read Article →

Rabbinical School Divrei Torah Rabbi Nehemia Polen

Chanukah Means Accepting All that is Offered

“I dwell in possibility,” Emily Dickinson once wrote. On Chanukah, the festival of dedication, we take the possibilities of life and invest ourselves within them, making them our own. On Rosh Hashanah, we are told, our decree for the year is signed. On Yom Kippur it is sealed. On Hoashanah Rabbah, it is handed over for delivery. But only on Chanukah is the crucial last step taken: on Chanukah we… Read Article →

Seventy Faces of Torah Rabbi Nehemia Polen

Seeking God’s Presence in the Sukkah (Shabbat Chol ha-Mo’ed Sukkot, Exodus 33:12-34:26)

Our Torah reading this week, for the Shabbat during Sukkot, is surely one of the most gripping stories in scripture, but at first glance it appears to have little connection with the holiday of Sukkot. The Torah passage narrates the aftermath of the Golden Calf episode, when Moses saw firsthand the apostasy of the Israelites just forty days after the Sinai revelation with its clear command not to make and… Read Article →