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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 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.

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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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