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Posted December 2, 2016 - 6:57am

Was Isaac really Abraham's son?

This week’s parashah begins with the words, “These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac” (Genesis 25:19). Like parashat Noach, this passage uses the word “generations,” toldot (תולדת) in Hebrew, to begin the story of Isaac’s adulthood. As we had described in the story of Noah, most of the time the word toldot is used in the Torah it is in relationship to genealogy, since its primary meaning is descendants or offspring. However, like we discovered of Noah, sometimes a person’s character or unique traits are listed as their toldot, rather than listing their physical offspring. This is the case again with Isaac. Rather than beginning with the birth of Jacob and Esau, the Torah describes the toldot of Isaac as, “Abraham fathered Isaac.” Why is this?

If we look back just a few chapters previous to parashat Veyeira, we are reminded of an event that happened with Sarah in Genesis 20. When Abraham and Sarah were journeying through his land, Abimelech, king of Gerar, abducted Sarah and took her for himself. He intended on making her either a wife or a concubine. However, the Torah explains that “Abimelech had not approached her” (Genesis 20:4) when God appeared to him in a dream and revealed to him that Sarah was married to Abraham. He explained to Abimelech that “it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her” (vs. 6). Mortified at the thought of taking another man’s wife and paying for it with his life, Abimelech promptly returned Sarah to her husband. After she was returned, Abraham prayed for Abimelech and his household to bear children, because “the LORD had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech” (vs. 18).

Posted November 28, 2016 - 7:47am

Note: This Dust of the Master is a revised and updated version of an article from three years ago. Click here to read Part 1.

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins. (Mark 2:21-22) 

In Part 1 of “Old Disciples, New Disciples,” we took note of how the historical and cultural context give us insights into Yeshua’s parables of the Torn Garment and the Wine Skins. In Part 2 we will take a look at the popular interpretation of these parables and see if it is congruent with Yeshua’s other teachings.

According to traditional Christian interpretation, the meaning of these parables seems obvious: Yeshua is chastising the current religious system of his day and showing the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. According to this interpretation, Judaism is the old garment / old wine, whereas Christianity is the new garment / new wine. Yeshua seems to be saying that the old religion of Judaism is being replaced by the new religion of Christianity, and that these two religions are incompatible with one another. This concept seems to be confirmed by Paul in his epistle to the believers in Rome:

Posted November 25, 2016 - 9:21am

And these were the life of Sarah: one hundred years, twenty years and seven years; the years of the life of Sarah. (Genesis 23:1)

What can we learn from Sarah's death?

This week’s Torah portion begins by giving us the lifespan of Sarah. If one is not familiar with the breakdown of the Torah portions we would expect to begin reading more about the life of Sarah, since the portion is entitled Chayei Sarah, “The Life of Sarah.” But the very next words we read are, “And Sarah died.” It’s not quite what we expect of our Torah portion. 

Despite the fact that we begin our portion reading about the death of Sarah, there is something we can indeed learn about the life of Sarah from this passage. Although our translations render the first verse so that it reads better in English, in Hebrew this verse contains an unusual repetition. It uses the same phrase, chayei Sarah (“the life of Sarah”), two different times. After it is used at the beginning of the verse, it seems to be used redundantly at the end of the verse. Our sages teach us, however, that the Torah does not waste even a single letter, much less entire words. Therefore, the seemingly redundant expression, “the life of Sarah,” must offer us some insight into a deeper meaning of the text. But what is the Torah wanting to teach us through this?

Posted November 21, 2016 - 9:43am

Note: This Dust of the Master is a revised and updated version of an article from 2013.

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins. (Mark 2:21-22) 

In Mark 2, Yeshua tells the double parable consisting of the Parable of the Torn Garments and the Parable of the Wine Skins. In this passage we hear the words of Yeshua speaking about things that are foreign to us today. It is no longer common practice to patch clothes or make wine in wineskins. However, in the days of the Master, everyone would have been familiar with these analogies. Patching garments and adding wine to wineskins were simply a part of daily life. Up until recent times clothing was a precious commodity and the common family did not have the means to purchase new clothes once the old ones became tattered. Rather than running down to the local clothing store, garments that had developed holes were routinely patched. The patches, however, could not be from a new cloth, but had to be made from “preshrunk” material. This would ensure that the patch would not shrink and therefore tear the garment.

Wine and winemaking were also a part of daily life. Wine was a staple of almost every home because it provided a safe alternative to water that had the potential of being contaminated. It was also a flavorful beverage highly praised for its medicinal value. Paul tells Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23).

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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