Mishpatim. Blind Faith?

Who is the greater believer, the person who follows God blindly, or an individual who makes well-reasoned, informed decisions? Is commitment to God supposed to be a “leap of faith,” a jump into the absurd; or does Judaism embrace instead cognition and reason? Our parsha ends with one of the most famous declarations ever stated by the Jewish nation: “נעשה ונשמע - Naaseh ve-Nishma – We will do and we will hear” (Exodus 24:6). But the order is awkward. Usually we “listen,” and after consideration and possibly further investigation, we “do” – we move to action. Why does Israel reverse the normal order of things? This textual observation is the stimulus for a celebrated reading of this statement

Yitro. A Human Torah

This week we read about the powerful revelation at Mount Sinai when God’s descended upon the mountain (Ex. 19:18) and communicated the Ten Commandments to Israel. Following this moment of revelation, Moses ascends the mountain to receive the tablets of stone (Ex. 24:12). It is interesting to ponder this dual motion. Does God “descend” to humanity, or do humans need to ascend to God? (See Talmud Sukka 4b-5a for a riveting discussion of this question.) This tension is at the core of a wonderful Talmudic passage (Shabbat 88b-99a) that relates the legend of what happened when Moses ascended the mountain to receive the Torah: Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: When Moses ascended on high [to receive the

Beshalach. The Tests of Freedom

What challenges do a slave-people face once they are free? This week, we read of Israel’s journey through the hostile wilderness, and the complaints of the Israelites regarding the scarce food and water. God responds with the Manna, introducing it in the following manner: “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not.” Think about this question and read the commentaries below: If the Manna is a test, what is this “test”? How does the Manna test “whether you will walk in My law or not? Here we offer several approaches of the medieval commentators: Rashi: Will they

Bo. Actions Speak Louder!

Why does Judaism have so much law? Why is halakha so detailed, penetrating every aspect of life, and concerning itself with minutia? Parashat Bo narrates the story of Israel’s Exodus, but it also marks the first chapter (ch.12) of the Torah that occupies itself with legal matters, carefully detailing the instructions and laws of the paschal lamb, and the symbolic rituals – Pesach, matza, tefillin, the sanctity of firstborn animals and humans – that will conserve and perpetuate the collective memory of the Exodus. Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzva #16) raises a great question. Why are there such a plethora of mitzvoth dedicated to the Exodus? After all, in addition to the listing above, Shabbat, all th

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