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Posted August 15, 2019 - 8:45pm
Parashat Va'etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

Have you ever been overwhelmed at what seemed like an impossible task? We can respond to this in one of two ways. The first is to give up without even trying, because we instantly know that we will not be able to complete the task. The alternative, however, is to get our minds off of the impossibility of the task and onto the responsibility at hand. If we focus on the immediate requirements of the task and work our hardest on what we can do, then we might accomplish more than we realize.

Moses was faced with a similar problem in this week’s Torah portion. In Deuteronomy 4 we read, “Then Moses set apart three cities in the east beyond the Jordan.” But the problem with this verse is that this is not actually what it says in the original Hebrew. If we were to read the actual Hebrew text, we would understand it to say, “Then Moses will set apart three cities.” This helps us understand why most translations change this to read in the past tense. It doesn’t seem to make sense on the surface that Moses will, at some point in the future, separate these cites of refuge. How is Moses going to do this at some future time if he has been barred from entering into the Holy Land? Moses had a problem without a solution in sight. He had been given an impossible task. 

Many people look at the task of living out a Torah-centered life in a similar way. We’ve wrongly been taught for far too long that living out the commandments of Torah is impossible. Therefore, most people shrug it off without much thought. “No one can live it out perfectly,” many have said. But are we required to live out the precepts of the Torah flawlessly? Or are we commanded to give our best efforts each and every day?

Posted August 7, 2019 - 10:29am
Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

In our Torah portion this week, Moses begins by giving a brief overview of the last forty years of the Children of Israel’s journeys in the wilderness. One of the first events he brings to their attention is the evil report about the Land, and how that report put fear into their hearts, keeping them from entering the Land as the LORD intended. He makes a point to remind them that, because of this one event, all of God’s plans for them were put on hold and they had been suffering the consequences of this for the last forty years:

Then I said to you, “Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.” Yet in spite of this word you did not believe in the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 1:29-32).

In this rebuke, he says that the Children of Israel “did not believe in the LORD your God” (1:32). What did Moses mean when he said that they did not believe in God? Does it mean they didn’t believe in His existence? How could they not? They had seen His miracles, His signs, and wonders. They had seen His deliverance firsthand! So what did Moses mean?

Posted August 2, 2019 - 8:14am
Parashat Massei (Numbers 33:1-36:13)

Parashat Massei is the final portion in the book of Bamidbar (Numbers). This portion begins in chapter 33 by recounting the various encampments made by the Children of Israel during their years subsequent to their exodus from Egypt. Chapter 34 defines the borders given to the Children of Israel as their inheritance, and chapter 35 outlines the cities given to the Levites. In the final chapter, Numbers 36, we learn some foundational principles regarding biblical inheritance. But before we get into this account, we need to understand a couple of inheritance issues. 

First, although this matter has been under scrutiny in recent years, according to Jewish law, Jewish identity is inherited through the mother. This explains why Paul, who is very outspoken in his epistles against circumcision for Gentiles, has one of his disciples circumcised and another one remain uncircumcised. According to Galatians 2, Titus, who is clearly not Jewish (“he was a Greek,” Galatians 2:3), is not obligated to take on circumcision. Since he is Greek and does not have a Jewish mother, he is under no compulsion to be circumcised. 

This is not the case, however, with his disciple Timothy. According to the account in Acts 16, Timothy is never referred to as a Greek. He was “the son of a Jewish woman” whose “father was a Greek” (vs. 1–3). This made him halachically (legally) Jewish. His father, being a Greek, probably did not want him circumcised as a child and therefore Paul urged Timothy to fulfill his obligation as an adult to take on the sign of the covenant by way of circumcision. Timothy’s Jewish identity, inherited through his mother, mandated his need for circumcision.

Posted August 2, 2019 - 7:54am
Parashat Mattot: Numbers 30:2[1]-32:42

Now the people of Reuben and the people of Gad had a very great number of livestock. And they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, and behold, the place was a place for livestock. (Numbers 32:1)

When we read the first verse of Numbers 32 in English it seems pretty normal. It tells us how the lush pasturelands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for the large number of cattle owned by the tribes of Reuben and Gad. If we look at the Hebrew behind the first verse, however, we will find a much more dynamic description of what is taking place. Once we discover this we will learn a valuable lesson in priorities.

In Hebrew, this verse should initially get our attention because it both begins and ends with the same word: mikneh, or "cattle/livestock." It also contains word repetitions and several emphasis words, such as rav (great), atzum (vast/numerous), and meod (exceedingly/much). If we were to try and translate this verse awkwardly into English to retain the emphases of the Hebrew, it might sound something like this:

Cattle-abundant-had the children of Reuben and the children of Gad-great and vast amounts- and behold, they saw that the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead-that place-was a place for cattle.

The Torah has a wealth of knowledge to offer on the mere surface level. Often, however, it desires to teach us a deeper lesson that we are not able to perceive through our translations without assistance. Sometimes there is a lesson waiting to be learned just below the surface of the text if we will take the time to unearth it. After all, it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings to search it out.

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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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