The Value of Humility Parshat Yitro

Ours is nothing if not a tradition of speaking truth to power. Abraham does it to God near Sodom and Gemorrah. Moses does so to Pharaoh in Egypt. And in this week’s portion, Jethro speaks truth to Moses in the wilderness. “The thing you are doing is not right,” Jethro admonishes Moses for hoarding his… Read More

Genealogy Only Goes So Far Parshat Bo

Why is the killing of the firstborn the final, and most significant, plague? True, it brought death into every household, rattling Egypt at its foundations, but certainly the plagues of hail — really, fire in blocks of ice falling from the sky — or total, crippling darkness for three days and nights were not inconsequential… Read More

The True Purpose of the Plagues Parshat Vaera

Parashat Vaera is all action: The first six plagues descend on Egypt and Pharaoh responds in kind, creating the dramatic and suspenseful story that will culminate in God redeeming the Israelite slaves from Egypt. The plagues are high drama, a fast-moving blockbuster film. Blood. Frogs. Lice. Insects. Pestilence. Boils. My skin crawls and my scalp… Read More

The Power of Women Parshat Shemot

In decreeing the destruction of the Israelites in Egypt, why does Pharaoh distinguish between the genders? Apparently afraid to keep the Israelite men alive lest they wage a rebellion against him, Pharaoh is confident that the Israelite women will not pose a threat, as they will presumably marry Egyptian men and assimilate into Egyptian society…. Read More

Righting a Wrong Parshat Vayechi

My parents always bless my siblings and me on Friday night. Unlike families in the Torah, they don’t do it in any special order. They just start with the closest child. In this week’s parshah, Vayechi, Yosef asks his father, Yaakov, to bless his children. Chizkuni, who lived in France in the 1300s, said that… Read More

The Importance of Helping Others Parshat Va-yiggash

This week we are reading Parshat Va-yiggash, which means “and he approached.” It is the story of how Judah defends his brother, Benjamin, who is accused of stealing Joseph’s goblet. This parshah takes place in Egypt several years later now that Joseph is a top Egyptian official. The parshah opens with a beautiful monologue by… Read More

Forgiveness, Reconciliation with the Past Parshat Miketz

Many years ago, I taught an adult education class on biblical heroes. Among those we studied was Joseph. We focused on Parshat Miketz and discussed Joseph’s contentious relationship with his older brothers and their later reconciliation. Although intellectually I believed that Joseph had indeed matured; emotionally I felt otherwise and sensed that somehow we hadn’t… Read More

Which Is the Greater Chanukah Miracle?

As we prepare for the festival of Chanukah, it behooves us to revisit the significance of the lights of the chanukiah, as well as the Al Hanissim and Hallel praises that mark our eight-day celebration. Based on the text of the prayer of Al Hanissim (literally, “for the miracles”), which appears in the thanksgiving blessing… Read More

A Biblical Text of Terror

In the midst of this week’s parshah is a lengthy story about Jacob’s only daughter, Dina. While Jacob briefly appears in this story, he plays a surprisingly insignificant role. Indeed, after Jacob hears that Dina has been raped by Shechem, a local Hivite prince, he neither tells anyone nor takes any  action, choosing to wait… Read More

Monumental Portion about Monuments Parshat Vayetzei

Our Torah portion, Vayetzei, tells of Jacob’s journey into exile and, not coincidentally, the first instance of a monument, matzevah, to God in Jewish history. Until this point, the great biblical personalities have erected altars to God: Noah when he exited from the ark, Abraham when he first came to Israel, Isaac when he dedicated… Read More