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Posted September 28, 2018 - 7:25am

Imitating God

Parashat Vezot ha'Brachah (Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12)

A fundamental concept within Judaism is that we are to imitate God in certain ways. This concept is known as imitatio Dei, or imitation of the Divine. We can see this pattern in several places in the Scriptures, but one of the most explicit is Leviticus 19:2. It says, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” We imitate Hashem’s holiness, His uniqueness, when we imitate His deeds. 

For example, we read about God clothing Adam and Eve in their nakedness. Just as God clothes the naked, so should we give clothes to those who need them. We see the LORD sending three angels to visit Abraham immediately after his circumcision (Genesis 17–18). Just as God visits the sick, so should his children visit those who are ill. Just as Hashem watches over the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner, we are to do likewise (Deuteronomy 10:18–19). Just as Hashem ceased from His own labors and rested on the Sabbath, we are to do likewise (Exodus 20:10–11). This week’s parashah gives us another insight into how we can imitate God.

When it was time for Moses to take his final retirement, God was compassionate toward Moses. When Moses died, Hashem took the responsibility to bury him:

So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. (Deuteronomy 34:5–6)

Posted September 21, 2018 - 6:59am

The Torah And The Resurrection

Parashat Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52)

In the days of our Master Yeshua, the Pharisees and the Sadducees debated the certainty of the resurrection. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, whereas the Sadducees rejected this concept. The reason for the debate was that the Torah does not explicitly mention any kind of resurrection. However, passages within the Torah seem to point to a resurrection. A few of these passages are found within the last two Torah portions. Last week we read:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. (Deuteronomy 31:16)

The allusion in this passage is not obvious in our English translations. However, it is more pronounced in the Hebrew. In English, we read, “You are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise …” There are two separate thoughts: one regarding the death of Moses and the other about what the Children of Israel will do after his death. In Hebrew, however, we can read the first part of this as a single thought: Shocheiv im avoteicha v’kam, “You will lie down with your fathers and arise.” This alternate reading is put forth by Ibn Ezra and others. It is supported by the fact that the Hebrew word for the phrase, “and arise” (וְקָם), is in the singular and can refer back to Moses. This reading doesn’t supersede the literal reading of the passage, but it is an additional insight we can derive from it.

Another passage that supports the concept of a resurrection is in this week’s reading. Toward the end of the Song of Moses, we read:

Posted September 14, 2018 - 8:30am

Torah For The Nations

Parashat Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30)

Parashat Vayelech is a single chapter merely thirty verses in length. It’s primary focus is the transfer of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Moses commissions Joshua in the site of the entire nation and tells him to be “strong and courageous” as he leads the Children of Israel into the land God has promised to them. He also hands the Torah over to the Levites and instructs them to read the Torah in the presence of all the people during the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) at the end of the Shemitah, the seventh year of release. He gives specific instructions for who should hear and learn the Torah during this time:

Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. (Deuteronomy 31:12–13)

We see something curious in these instructions, however. Not only are the native Israelites supposed to hear the Torah being read and taught, but they are also supposed to gather in the sojourner to hear it as well. Even more shocking is that they are to do so “that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law” (v. 12). What does this mean?

Posted August 10, 2018 - 6:58am

Erasing The Name

As we have seen many times previously, the Torah has many levels of understanding as well as application. This week’s portion is no exception. Toward the beginning of our reading we learn of the LORD’s command to the Israelites to obliterate the idols and the high places of the Canaanites when they enter the land given to their ancestors:

These are the statutes and rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place. You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way. (Deuteronomy 12:1–4)

Without an understanding that these commandments are for a specific time, a specific place, and a specific people, there are some who may think these instructions equally apply to those of us today living in the United States or other lands in the Diaspora. In their zeal against false gods, they may use these instructions to justify violent and destructive behavior against other religious depictions or practices. However, since these commandments do not have universal application but are relevant only a specific time, place, and people, how can we find any application for us today?

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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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