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Posted July 13, 2018 - 6:36am

The Butterfly Effect

When the Children of Israel were about to cross over the Jordan and conquer Canaan, the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh petitioned Moses to remain on the east side of the Jordan so they could begin settling into their inheritance. Rather than continuing the conquest along with the other tribes, they had found what they desired (land fitting for their cattle) and wanted to start settling down. They wanted to finally start putting down some roots after forty years of living a nomadic life. But their plan wasn’t in alignment with God’s plan. What was so bad about their proposition? We find out in a rebuke from Moses:

“Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the LORD has given them? Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land … And behold, you have risen in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the LORD against Israel! For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.” (Numbers 32:7–8, 14–15).

To the modern reader it sounds like Moses is making a big deal out of nothing. But maybe there’s more going on that we realize. You’ve probably heard about the butterfly effect. It’s a scientific theory that speculates that the flapping wings of a single butterfly in one part of the world actually has the power to affect the weather in another part of the world over time. In other words, a seemingly small and trivial action has the potential of causing astronomical, and often unanticipated, results.

Posted July 6, 2018 - 8:40am

The Good Shepherd

In this week’s Torah portion we learn about some of the biblical laws of inheritance through the curious incident of the daughters of Zelophehad. Evidently, Zelophehad was never able to bear a son in order to pass on his inheritance according to tradition. He did, however, have five daughters. But within the Israelite legal framework at that time daughters did not have the right to inherit. This was because daughters were assumed to marry into another family and receive the blessing of inheritance from their husband’s side of the family. This particular case created a precedent by which the laws of inheritance were established in the case there were no direct male descendants of the deceased.

Immediately after the case of Zelophehad’s daughters is settled, however, the LORD tells Moses that he must to go up to the top of the mountain and see the Promise Land because he was about to die. Moses didn’t argue. He knew that God was telling him that his time for leading Israel was over and that the responsibility needed to be passed on to someone else. With the laws of inheritance fresh on his mind, it would seem that Moses would petition Hashem for one of his sons to take his place to lead the Children of Israel. But Moses, in his humility, had the welfare of the nation as his priority, rather than giving preferential treatment to one of his sons. Therefore, Moses requests that the LORD appoint a leader over the nation of Israel, but in a unique manner. We read:

Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” (Numbers 27:15–17)

Posted June 29, 2018 - 7:42am

Righteousness, Seduction, & Destruction

If we were to read Parashat Balak in isolation, we would have a pretty high regard for the prophet Balaam. When Balak hires him for the task of cursing Israel, Balaam tells him flat out that he cannot go beyond what the God of Israel tells him. Indeed, each time he offers up his sacrifices and opens his mouth to speak over the Children of Israel, blessings burst forth from his mouth, rather than cursing. And at the end of the parashah he simply leaves Balak and returns home. 

But there must have been something else going on, because in Numbers 31:8 Balaam is killed by the Israelites in their battle against Midian. Not only that, but the rest of the Scriptures paint Balaam as a very wicked person. The Talmud describes him as being blind in one eye and lame in one foot (b.Sanhedrin 105a). But yet he had the insight and persistence to nearly destroy Israel. What did he do that was so horrible and how was he able to accomplish it? Parashat Mattot (Numbers 30:2–32:42) gives us insight into his deeds as it speaks of the Midianite women that Israel had taken captive:

Behold, these, on Balaam's advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD. (Numbers 31:16)

But what treachery did Balaam devise against the Israelites and why? 

Posted June 15, 2018 - 10:45am

Between The Dead And The Living

A cursory reading of Parashat Korach suggests that the main topic of this portion is insurrection. Not only does Korach, Datan, and Aviram rise up against Moses and Aaron, but when the LORD punishes the rebels it seems that the entire Israelite nation decides to turn against them in response. They say, “You have killed the people of the LORD!” (Numbers 17:6 [16:41]). They blame Moses and Aaron for the LORD’s punishment against Korach. This indignation against Moses and Aaron incites the wrath of God against the Children of Israel and a plague breaks out among them. However, Moses and Aaron don’t take pleasure in the punishment of the wicked. Their compassion for the flock under their care drove them to make intercession on behalf of the Israelites. Moses told Aaron:

Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun.” So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. (Numbers 17:11–13 [16:46–48])

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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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