Promises on a Bumpy Road

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Mattot, Numbers 30:2-32:42
July 16, 2014

Soon we will enter the land. There will be bumps in the road. Things we swore we would do may go undone. Things we promised we would refrain from may become commonplace. Here in parashat Mattot, the Israelites are already encamped on the Plains of Moab, having finished their forty years of wandering in the […]

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Religious Zealotry, Then and Now

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Pinhas, Numbers 25:10-30:1
July 9, 2014

Hot-blooded anger. Self-righteousness. Unflinching certainty. Extreme measures. These are some of the hallmarks of violent religious zealotry. We see its vicious resurgence all over the world today: the headlines from Iraq, Syria, and much of the Middle East are filled with Islamist jihad, as Sunnis slaughter Shiites and vice versa; Boko Haram, a radical Islamic […]

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Models of Prophecy

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Balak, Numbers 22:2-25:9
July 2, 2014

When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?’ Balaam answered the donkey, ‘You […]

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We Do Not Live by Reason Alone

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(Chukat, Numbers 19:1-22:1)
June 25, 2014

The law of the red heifer in this week’s reading from the Book of Numbers, to put it plainly, makes no sense. The Torah mandates an elaborate ritual of purification by which a red cow is slaughtered and burned and its ashes used to purify those rendered ritually impure by contact with a corpse. Such […]

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From the Trenches of the War of Ideas

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Korach, Numbers 16:1-18:32
June 18, 2014

We find ourselves at a time of growing dispute and polarization. The political discourse is increasingly toxic, and instead of engaging in a deeper exchange, disagreeable ideas are labeled as “outside the camp” which “cannot be tolerated.” With our back against the wall, it feels almost impossible to extend the other side the “benefit of […]

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The Divine Presence in Time and Space

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Shlach, Numbers 13:1-15:41
June 11, 2014

Lord, where shall I find You? Your place is lofty and secret. And where shall I not find You? The whole earth is full of Your glory! — Judah Ha-Levi (1075-1141) In ancient times, animal sacrifice at temples and shrines was the primary form of worship and it was believed necessary in order to bring […]

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Shavuot: Divine Light and Earthly Vessels

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Director, Center for Global Judaism
June 3, 2014

In preparing for the celebration of the holiday of Shavuot — “The Time of the Giving of Torah,” as it is referred to in countless rabbinic sources — I have been reflecting on a striking teaching from the great Hasidic sage Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berditchev (1740-1809) on the relationship between spiritual inspiration and religious […]

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Overhearing God’s Voice

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Naso, Numbers 4:21-7:89
May 27, 2014

How do we hear God speak, if, that is, we hear God speak at all? Would the world be a better and safer place if we did; or would it be even more frightening and unstable? The Torah describes the great procession with which the Children of Israel marked the dedication of the Tabernacle in […]

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The Numbers of Those Who Wandered in the Wilderness

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Be-Midbar, Numbers 1:1-4:20
May 22, 2014

This week we begin reading the fourth book of the Torah, known in English as the book of Numbers. This text, however, carries a different name in Hebrew. The English/Latin title is all about the census of those who wandered in the desert; the Hebrew title, Be-Midbar, is all about the wilderness in which they […]

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Heeding the Call to Protect the Land

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Bechukotai, Leviticus 26:3-27:34
May 14, 2014

I have a vivid memory from a Bible class from the late 1980′s in which we were learning the classic formulations, seen in this week’s Torah portion, that if the Israelites obey God’s laws, the rains will come in the right season and all will be well.  If, however, the Israelites abandon the covenant, the […]

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