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Posted October 27, 2017 - 11:13am

Abraham The Soul-Maker

At the end of last week’s Torah portion we were introduced to one of the most important characters in the Torah: the patriarch Abraham. At this time, however, he is simply known as Abram. Abram is the foundational material that Hashem uses to build both a people and a faith. Today, he is affectionately referred to as Avraham Avinu, Our Father Abraham. In the Apostolic Scriptures he is also called the father of all who believe (Romans 4:16). In this week’s Torah portion we read about the calling of Abram and how God commissioned him with a special purpose. The LORD also changes his name from Abram to Abraham as a promise of what the LORD was going to do through Abraham.

There is a curious passage, however, in our portion that begs to be explored. When God calls Abram to leave his family and his homeland, we read of Abram’s response:

And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:5)

The Torah tells us that Abram and Sarai left with Lot, their possessions, and “the people that they had acquired.” A hyper-literal reading of the original Hebrew, however, says that Abram and Sarai set out with “the souls they had made.” The midrash takes issue with this phrasing by saying:

If all the nations assembled to create one insect, they could not endow it with life. Yet the Torah says, “And the souls that they had made in Haran!” This refers to proselytes. (Genesis Rabbah 84:4)

Posted October 20, 2017 - 8:24am

The Rainbow Covenant

When Noah and his family came out of the ark, God told them to be fruitful and multiply, repopulating the earth. He also entrusted them with certain moral obligations regarding the treatment of both man and animal. Last, He made a covenant with humanity to never again destroy the earth by water and created the rainbow as a testimony to this covenant:

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Genesis 9:12–15)

Now, whenever one sees a rainbow in the sky we are to recite a blessing: “Blessed are You, O LORD our God, King of the universe, who remembers the covenant, who is faithful to His covenant, and who stands by His word.” Whenever we see this sign of the covenant we are reminded of God’s promise to never destroy the world through water. Because of this, many people are excited when they see a rainbow, because they view it as a sign of God’s favor and blessing. However, we should examine the concept of the rainbow more fully to understand it's meaning. 

Posted October 13, 2017 - 10:39am

The Devil Made Me Do It

Generally, when we study Parshat B’reisheet we focus in on either the days of creation or the Fall of Man. However, there are many more lessons to be learned from this brief account of the origins of humanity and sin. We can learn an important lesson from the story of Cain and Abel about how we are the masters of our own destiny.

As we know, Adam and Eve’s first two children were Cain and Abel, respectively. Cain was an agrarian, one who worked the land to grow produce. Abel, however, was a herdsman, raising livestock. They both brought offerings before the LORD:

Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. (Genesis 4:3–4)

Immediately after this we read that the LORD accepted Abel’s offering, but rejected Cain’s. Because of this Cain became jealous of his brother, Abel. He allowed his hatred toward his brother to grow until, unfortunately, he lured his brother out into a field where he killed him. Before this happened, however, the LORD noticed Cain’s sullen attitude and his resentment toward his brother. He warned Cain about this, saying:

Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it. (Genesis 4:6–7)

Posted October 2, 2017 - 5:27am

The Loving Inheritance

In our morning prayers, one of the first passages of Scripture we recite is this: Torah tzivah lanu Moshe morashah kehillat Yaakov--The Torah Moses commanded for us is a possession for the congregation of Jacob. This is taken from our current Torah portion:

Yes, he loved his people, all his holy ones were in his hand; so they followed in your steps, receiving direction from you, when Moses commanded us a law, as a possession for the assembly of Jacob. Thus the LORD became king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people were gathered, all the tribes of Israel together. (Deuteronomy 33:3-5)

This passage should remind us of a few things. First, it reminds us that the Torah was an inheritance given to the Children of Israel through the hand of Moses. It was not given to them as a ball and chain, or a burden, or a mockery (“You can’t keep it!”), but a loving inheritance from the One who delivered them from the yoke of slavery. The Torah is a gift from Hashem to a redeemed people in order to define the parameters of what it means to live a righteous life.

Second, this passage reminds us not only that we are to always give another person the benefit of the doubt even when they have let us down multiple times, but also that we can never become who we were intended to be until we are unified with our brothers and sisters. How do we derive this interpretation? Let’s look at the very next verse:

Thus the LORD became king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people were gathered, all the tribes of Israel together. (Deuteronomy 33:5)

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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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