The Sun, the Moon and the Seasons

This week we mark the beginning of Adar Rishon, or Adar 1, the additional month of a Jewish leap year.  Measuring and marking the passage of time is a universal human preoccupation. At least forty different calendars are in use around the world today.  The most widely used systems are the solar calendar, based on the cycle of the sun, and the lunar calendar, based on the cycle of the ...

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Petty Theft

People often accuse Judaism of being too focused on details. This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, is cited as an example of this focus.  It is full of detailed laws regarding torts, damages, theft, contract law, marriage law, property law etc. etc. It is not a very “spiritual” section of the Torah.  However, I gained some insight into the Parsha during some recent travels.  I witnessed a few cases of theft ...

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God Bless America

Abraham’s relationship with God was rooted in a covenant, an agreement between two parties, each having obligations toward the other.  Abraham and his descendants were obligated to practice circumcision, kindness and justice and to have faith in God.  God in turn promised that Abraham’s descendants would maintain a special relationship with Him.  They would be given the Land of Israel and would be a “blessing to all nations of the ...

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Shevat and the Land of Israel 5779

Now that we are in the month of Shevat I would like to continue my theme of the laws of the land of Israel.  The seventh year of the agricultural cycle, is known as Shmittah, the Sabbatical year. In Israel, no new crops are planted and only maintenance work is done on crops and trees that already exist. Farmers may not sell their produce or prevent people (or animals) from ...

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Why All the Hype?

In this week’s Torah portion, VaEra, and in the Passover prayers and Haggadah, we emphasize the miraculous nature of the Exodus from Egypt. Moses’ staff became a snake, ten terrifying plagues punished the Egyptians, the Red Sea split for the Jews but drowned Pharaoh’s army and on and on. It does not appear however, that all of these miracles were necessary to expedite the redemption. God could have ended our ...

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The Tenth of Tevet

The fast day of the 10th of Tevet is approaching, so before I discuss its history, just a brief introduction to the idea of fasting in general. Six days a year we are forbidden to eat or drink.  About eighty days of the year we are commanded to feast — a 13 to 1 ratio of feasting to fasting.  Rather than being ascetic, Judaism clearly rejoices in life and seeks ...

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Chanukah Celebration!

Chanukah is a celebration of the miracle of Jewish spiritual survival.  After millennia of attempts to assimilate us, whether through force or persuasion, we are still here.   But, it is not mere physical survival that we celebrate.  After all, the genes of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Greeks have also physically survived.  The miracle of Jewish survival is that we have survived with our spiritual heritage intact.  When we ...

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Chanukah Background

Chanukah begins on Sunday night (Dec 2, 2018) so here is a little historical introduction to the Chanukah festival, to which we will hopefully add some spiritual insights in the coming weeks. Approximately 200 years before the events of Chanukah, hundreds of thousands of Jews returned from the Babylonian exile to the Land of Israel.  In time, they rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem and established an independent Jewish monarchy.  Meanwhile in ...

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Jacob's Ladder

Visions of G-d?

In this week’s parsha, VaYetzei, Jacob has a vision of a ladder connecting heaven and earth, on which angels ascend and descend.  At the top of the ladder, in his dream, he “sees” G-d standing over him.  Now, there are many, many prophetic visions in the Torah, and many expressions that seem to assign some type of form or even body to G-d.  We always understand these as allegory and ...

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The Soul, Mourning and the Afterlife

In this week’s parsha, Abraham mourns the passing of his wife, Sarah, and we, in the Jeiwsh world also are mourning the tragic deaths of eleven innocent Jews, gunned down by a rabid anti-Semite in Pittsburgh.  I felt that it would be appropriate, for both ancient and current mourning to discuss some ideas about the soul, death, and the afterlife.  The Jewish view of the human being encompasses both physical ...

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