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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 25, 2016 - 6:06am

[Rabbi Tarfon] used to say: If you have studied much in the Torah much reward will be given you, for faithful is your employer who shall pay you the reward of your labor. And know that the reward for the righteous shall be in the time to come. (m.Avot 2:21)

Sometimes we may wonder how our sages derive teachings such as this. Where do concepts like these stem from? Are they made up out of thin air or do they have some root in the Scriptures. First, the Scriptures are filled with the principle of reward and punishment. The righteous will be rewarded and the wicked will suffer punishment. In our present case the principle of reward is connected to the study of Torah. This may be derived from the proverb that states, “Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the word will be rewarded” (Proverbs 13:13). According to this passage, a person who reveres the Word—i.e. the Scriptures—will be rewarded. Therefore, to labor over the words of Torah is a means by which a person reverences the sacred text. The theme of labor and reward is also a frequent theme of the Apostolic Scriptures. Hebrews 11:6 says that God “rewards those who seek him.” Yeshua often speaks in terms of reward for the faithfulness of his disciples.

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).

Posted November 18, 2016 - 2:10pm

The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:17–19)

Many people are familiar with the children’s song, Father Abraham. It begins, “Father Abraham had many sons and many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you. So, let’s just praise the Lord.” Through repetition and a series of choreographed movements this song engrains the concept into a child that this week’s Torah portion is indeed true. Abraham did become the father of many nations and is affectionately called Avraham Avinu, Our Father Abraham. Paul says that Abraham is “the father of all who believe” (Romans 4:12). We who have put our trust in Yeshua have become the spiritual offspring of Abraham, the father of our faith. He is our father as well.

According to our Torah portion, the LORD chose Abraham as the father of many nations in order “that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness (tzedakah) and justice (mishpat).” In Hebrew, doing righteousness is a synonym for taking care of those in need. And when native Hebrew speakers use the word tzedakah, righteousness, most often they mean charity. By Yeshua’s day this concept was in full force. In Matthew 6 Yeshua uses the word in this manner when he says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people” (Matthew 6:1). Justice, mishpat, on the other hand, often connotes strictness. Therefore, the midrash tells a story to explain one way that Abraham did righteousness and justice.


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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