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Posted November 11, 2016 - 7:19am

Partnering With God

In Parashat Lech Lecha we begin learning about a character by the name of Abram. As we know, his name will eventually be changed to Abraham, and our knowledge of his life is pivotal to our understanding of God’s plan for humanity. In fact, the entire Scripture hinges around this one person. When we read this week’s portion, Abraham’s courageous faith immediately becomes apparent when we read of him leaving everything behind in order to obey God’s command and move to the land of Canaan. This is the first of several of Abraham’s trials we read about in this small section of Genesis. 

The next trial we learn about is his encounter with Pharaoh and how he attempts to protect his family from the Egyptians. Then we read of the dispute between his nephew Lot’s shepherds and his own, and the trial of dividing the land between his nephew and himself. We also read about his trial of rescuing Lot when he and his household were captured in a by invading armies. The next trial is overcoming the pain of being childless and results in the taking of his wife’s servant Hagar as an additional wife through which his son Ishmael is born. The last trial in this portion is the commandment for Abraham to circumcise himself and all the males of his household. But there is something unique about how this trial is introduced.

When the LORD began instructing Abraham in regard to circumcision, He began by saying, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be perfect, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly” (Genesis 17:1–2). When God made His covenant of circumcision with Abraham, it was with the intention of making Abraham something greater than what he was. Somehow this act of obedience through altering his physical nature would produce in Abraham a partnership with God that could not be achieved otherwise. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, but one that is deserving of our attention.

Posted November 7, 2016 - 7:54am

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” (Luke 10:33–35)

Previously we discussed some possible underlying reasons that both the Kohen and the Levite might have passed over the man left half dead in Yeshua’s parable. First, we looked at some halachic (legal) issues which seemed to justify their doing so. But then we followed that up with the Talmudic obligation to not pass over a possible corpse, based on a deeper look at the biblical prohibition against corpse contamination for the Kohen in Leviticus 21. Now we will turn to examine Yeshua’s choice of hero in this parable.

In Yeshua’s day, his audience would have understood the progression of Yeshua’s characters going from Kohen to Levite, and would have anticipated the last character to most likely be a common Israelite. However, Yeshua, the master story teller, puts an unexpected twist into the storyline by removing the anticipated character of the Israelite and replaces him with a Samaritan, one of the most unlikely candidates they could have imagined.

Posted November 4, 2016 - 1:07pm

Our parasha opens with the words, “These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). In this passage, the word “generations” is the Hebrew word toldot (תולדת). Most of the time the word toldot is used in the Scriptures it is in relationship to genealogy, since its primary meaning is descendants or offspring. For instance, toward the end of this week’s parasha we read, “These are the generations of Shem” (Genesis 11:10). Immediately following is a list of Shem’s descendants. When it comes to Terach it repeats this pattern saying, “Now these are the generations of Terah” (Genesis 11:27) followed by a list of his children. It is the same when it lists the sons of Ishmael in Genesis 25, etc.

However, in the case of the Bible’s description of Noah (and a few other select individuals), rather than listing his children, his character traits are listed instead. It appears that the Scriptures are emphasizing that more than his literal offspring—the very ones that would repopulate the world after the flood—the legacy of Noah was to be found in his character. The Scriptures list three “offspring” of Noah: his righteousness, his blamelessness and his relationship with God. Let’s briefly explore these concepts.

Noah was righteous. What does this mean? Righteousness is a legal status by which one person is declared to be in right relationship with another. It means that Noah held to the standard which the Lord had given him, as it is written, “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence … For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.” (Psalm 11:5, 7). When the Lord told Noach to enter into the ark, he reminded Noah of his righteousness by saying, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation” (Genesis 7:1).  

Posted October 31, 2016 - 9:51am

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:30–32)

In our last article, we discussed some of the potential issues going on “behind the scenes” in the story of the Good Samaritan. We pointed to the fact that most people are unaware of the implications of Yeshua’s parable. We began by exploring one potential reason the Kohen and the Levite may have chosen to pass up the opportunity to help this dying man: fear of ritual impurity. Another consideration we need to explore is an obligation of both the Kohen and Levite that Yeshua’s listeners would have known.

If the man was indeed dead, then according to the Talmud (Berachot 19b-20a) both the Kohen and the Levite would still have been obligated to stop and bury the body of a person found lying out in the open. Although the Talmud was not codified until much later than the time of Yeshua, it serves as a collective memory of thousands of years of Torah interpretation. In this situation the Talmud explains that the laws of ritual purity would have been overridden by another principle called met mitzvah, the commandment or obligation toward the dead: 

You say, he should not defile himself … but he does defile himself for a met mitzvah (Berachot 19b-20a)

Within Judaism, the act of attending to the unattended dead is a very weighty matter and a strict obligation. It is considered one of the most selfless mitzvot (commandments) as it is one of the few where the recipient of the honor cannot repay the service.

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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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